The chipekwe was a cryptid reported from lakes, rivers, and marshy wetlands in Zambia, particularly around the Bangweulu Wetlands, but also Lakes Mweru, Mweru Wantipa, and Tanganyika, the Kafue Flats, and several Zambian affluents of the River Congo. The name was most commonly applied to a horned, amphibious pachyderm which was often called the water rhinoceros, and is thought to be identical to the emela-ntouka.
As the term "chipekwe" is thought to be equivalent to "water monster," disparate cryptids from the region have been termed chipekwes, including animals similar to the emela-ntouka, mokele-mbembe (a type also called mbilintu at Lake Bangweulu), and water lions, as well as the similar but distinct nsanga. This confusion of descriptions has given rise to a popular image of the chipekwe as a neodinosaurian cryptid similar to a theropod or sauropod dinosaur, and it has been mistakenly associated with two infamous hoaxes: the Great Brontosaurus Hoax and the "Kasai rex" hoax.
German explorer Hans Schomburgk (1880 – 1967) published early information on a monster in Lake Bangweulu in his book Wild und Wilde im Herzen Afrikas (1910). Upon arriving at Lake Bangweulu, Schomburgk discovered that hippopotamuses were rare in the marshes, despite ideal habitat for them. Local people told him that hippos avoided the area because of a somewhat smaller animal inhabiting the lake, which killed and possibly fed on them. Schomburgk initially took this killer of hippos to be a myth, but changed his mind after hearing the other accounts gathered by Hagenbeck. Schomburgk also heard stories of an unknown Rhodesian lake animal from a Sandford or Stanford of Fort Jameson. These accounts, alongside several others, interested Schomburgk's employer Carl Hagenbeck (1844 – 1913), who outfitted an expedition to search for the animal, which he believed to be sauropod-like.
During the media attention given to Hagenbeck's Brontosaurus theory in 1910, an anonymous but supposedly-well known Rhodesian sent a letter to the Bulawayo Chronicle, which he had previously sent to zoologist E. C. Chubb, in which he describes a "three-horned water-rhino" living in Lake Bangweulu, which he thought might have something to do with the Brontosaurus.
However, the first mention of the chipekwe, described as a mythical, hippo-eating water rhinoceros inhabiting Lake Chirengwa in the Kafue region, was published some years before this, in 1907, and in 1909, the year Hagenbeck first published his Brontosaurus rumours, British administrator and hunter Chauncey Stigand (1877 – 1919) referred to native rumours of a "water rhino" in Lake Bangweulu.
At the same time, big game hunter Owen Letcher (1884 – 1943) was collecting reports of the chimpakwe, again described as a water rhinoceros, from the Awisa people, and in 1911 he was able give an account of it in a paper on Rhodesian big game read before the Rhodesia Scientific Association.
The following year, Letcher also described the chimpakwe in his book, Big Game Hunting in North-Eastern Rhodesia (1911), repeating what he had mentioned in his 1910 paper while adding some more physical and behavioural details:
By 1911, the chipekwe was well-known within Rhodesia, though it was described as having three horns, unlike in later reports. In 1912, Lieutenant Friedrich Paul Graetz (1875 – 1968) published a description of the nsanga, a reptilian animal allegedly found in the Bangweulu Wetlands, which has subsequently been incorporated into the chipekwe's story. In late 1919, at the height of the Great Brontosaurus Hoax, which had probably been partially inspired by the reports of Hagenbeck and Schomburgk, C. G. James wrote to the Daily Mail reporting...
James also said that, while the chipekwe was a frequent topic of conversation among the Africans he knew, nobody ever claimed to have seen it for themselves, although several people told him that their fathers had seen one. The closest encounter known to James was that of a man named Suamhula, who claimed to have examined a hippopotamus which had been killed by a chipekwe, which had been found near some very large, hippo-like tracks. Shortly afterwards, in 1922, explorer Thomas Alexander Barns (1881 – 1930) referred to stories of...
In June 1925, naturalist John Guille Millais (1865 – 1931) communicated information on the "chimpekwe" to big game hunter Denis David Lyell (1871 – 1946). Later, in 1931–1932, when Schomburgk led an expedition to Angola, his Portuguese interpreter Guimaraes told him that an animal called the chimpekwe was said to live in Lake Dilolo in that country. Schomburgk's chauffeur, Franz Grobler, claimed that local people told him the chepekwe (as he spelled it) of the Dilolo Marshes, also referred to as a "water lion," was an enormous lizard-like animal known to eat hippos and elephants, which left tracks like those of a crocodile, but much larger. Grobler subsequently mistook the "Kasai rex" photograph for a genuine photo of the chipekwe, inadvertently embroiling Schomburgk in a third dinosaur-related media circus. Also in 1931, linguist Clement Martyn Doke (1893 – 1980) published a description of a similar animal known to the Lamba people of Zambia, the ichisonga, which he belived to be mythical.
The most concrete chipekwe reports were gathered by Joseph Edward Hughes (1876 – 1935), a colonial administrator turned hunter and trader who spent the years 1901–1919 on Lake Bangweulu and its environs, and whose book Eighteen Years On Lake Bangweulu (1933) features accounts of the chipekwe from that timeframe. In the same year, Arthur James Siggins (1880 – 1970) claimed that the chipekwe was also reported from Lake Amaramba, in Mozambique. Big game hunter Major Hubert Conway Maydon (1884 – 1944) reported to Frank Lane the supposed existence of a similar water monster in the nearby Lake Mweru. In 1935, Denis Lyell recorded receiving his own accounts of the chipekwe, described to him as a hippo-sized animal with horns on its face like a rhinoceros. None of Lyell's informants claimed to have seen a chipekwe for themselves.
Two years later, the famous Rhodesian pioneer Chirupula Stephenson (1873 or 1876 – 1957) included a chapter on the chipekwe in his book Chirupula's Tale: A Bye-Way in African History (1937), which featured descriptions and alleged sightings of the cryptid supposed to have been collected in early 1901. Stephenson found that, although almost everyone he spoke to believed in the chipekwe, very few people actually claimed to have seen one for themselves. Stephenson described the chipekwe as...
Anthony Lawman, a Rhodesian civil servant during the 1940s and 1950s, found that Bangweulu locals still greatly feared the chipekwe at that time. Believing that it had a powerful sense of hearing, they would often remain silent while passing places where the chipekwe was said to live. During an expedition to the Luengue region of Angola in the 1950s, big game hunter Josef F. Fénykövi interviewed local people regarding the chipekwe, but found that, although it was known in the region, nobody had seen it for themselves. According to Fénykövi, the Mucusso and Ganguela peoples of southern Angola called the animal ricongolo.
The most recent accounts are those of Ukrainian-Russian journalist Sergeĭ Fedorovich Kulik (b. 1939), who claimed to have received information on the chipekwe from a Zambian biologist identified only as Peter or Pete. According to Kulik, people living in the marshland between Nsumbu National Park and Mweru Wantipa National Park, in the extreme north of Zambia, still claimed that hippos were uncommon in the wetlands because of the predatory chipekwe. Kulik published this information in one of his books, possibly Safari: Puteshestviya po Vostochnoy (Сафари: Путешествия по Восточной; 1971).
At least three disparate cryptids of Lake Bangweulu and the Bangweulu Wetlands have been termed "chipekwe": one like the emela-ntouka, one like the mokele-mbembe, and one like a water lion. The latter two are known only from single sightings, while the former is better-attested.
The horned version is described as a large and tough amphibious animal with smooth hairless skin, always distinguished by a large horn, tusk, or rhinoceros-like horns, which are often alleged to be smooth white ivory; earlier accounts sometimes gave it multiple horns, occasionally up to three, but usually only a single horn is alleged. Stephenson's informants described it as smaller, just four feet in height, but otherwise gave the same description of a water rhinoceros with a long, white horn on its nose. According to Sergeĭ Kulik, the Twa people, who inhabit remote wetlands in Zambia, describe the chipekwe as resembling a rhinoceros calf, but hairier, and with a longer neck. An alleged eyewitness from the Bangweulu Wetlands gave a different description, allegedly claiming that the chipekwe was a large, flippered animal with long tusks or fangs as opposed to horns–and, like Kulik's informants, he claimed that the chipekwe was covered in shaggy hair, instead of smooth skin.
Its supposed tracks are like those of a hippopotamus or a rhinoceros, but larger, and are sometimes said to bear a sharp middle toe (like the emela-ntouka). Like many other African cryptids, it is said to kill hippos, but does not eat them. Most recorded sightings do not include physical descriptions. Very few people claimed to have seen a chipekwe, which was reputed to be shy and extremely rare, inhabiting deep pools and rivers.
An Ushi or Aushi tradition tells of a chipekwe hunt in the deep water of the Luapula River, an affluent of the Congo which joins Lakes Bangweulu and Mweru. According to the version given to Joseph Hughes by Kanyeshia, son of the Paramount Chief Mieri-Mieri...
Although Chirupula Stephenson found only two alleged direct chipekwe eyewitnesses in 1901, he did receive a number of second-hand accounts from people living in the Mkushi District:
In later years, a number of chipekwe accounts were transmitted to Joseph Hughes by Robert Young, former namesake of Lake Young (now Lake Ishiba Ngandu). In the early days of British administration of Rhodesia, Young was exploring the lake which bore his name when he took a shot at what looked like a duck among some floating vegetation; when he did so, the object dived, leaving a wake like that made by a screw steamer. At Livingstone, the explorer Frederick George Jackson (1860 – 1938) heard a similar but third-hand story, in which a white man had shot at and wounded an animal with a duck-like body, a long neck, and a large head, in Lake Chirengwa.
Hector Croad (1865 – 1894), a retired magistrate who was District Commissioner of Kasama, told Hughes of an incident which had occurred by a small, very deep lake which he had camped by. He heard a loud splashing during the night, and found unidentifiable tracks the following morning. Croad was in North-Eastern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia from 1894 to 1924, and was believed to be capable of identifying the tracks of all local animals. Croad also passed on another chipekwe account to Hughes, this one originating with Rhodesian pioneer R. M. Green, who arrived in the region in around 1906. Local people told Green that a chipekwe had torn the throat out of a hippopotamus in the nearby Lukula River.
During the 1940s or 1950s, several elderly men living on Lake Bangweulu told Anthony Lawman that a chipekwe had been seen on the western shore of the lake many years ago. They described it as having a massive head and long horns. In a letter written to Frank Lane, Hubert Maydon stated that he had met "an old hunter-prospector" in Livingstone who claimed to have seen an unknown aquatic animal, the tracks of which he had got a good look at, in Lake Mweru.
A Muslim elephant tracker named Kalowa told Stephenson that he had once seen a chipekwe chasing a hippo in Lake Tanganyika, from the east shore in Tanzania, but his memory of the sighting, which had taken place some sixty years previously (~1840), was hazy:
Louis de Fries (1867 or 1868 – 1956), a trader, naturalist, and noted big game hunter working for the Rhodesian government, allegedly saw and shot at a chipekwe in early 1901, in a very deep lake near Kapopo, in the Kafue region. Thomas Alexander Barns and Chirupula Stephenson both published accounts of de Fries' sighting, received directly from the alleged eyewitness himself. Barns' account appeared first, in his 1922 book...
In his 1937 book, Stephenson reported that, in 1901, de Fries had informed him and Francis Emilius Fletcher Jones (1868 – 1930) that he had just seen, and shot at, a horned rhinoceros-like animal in the water of Lake Choa. According to Stephenson's telling...
According to Stephenson, his own headman identified the animal de Fries had seen as a chipekwe. However, when Jackson, who had heard from officials at Livingstone a rumour of "mysterious apparitions" in the lake, investigated prior to the publication of Stephenson's claim, he found that the nephew of the chief of Kapopo had never heard of any unknown animal being seen in Lake Choa: the man claimed that the rumour had originated with "a white hunter amusing himself by 'pulling the leg' of a visiting missionary". However, neither Stephenson nor Jones were missionaries, and a similar origin story has been told regarding the Great Brontosaurus Hoax.
In 1928, when at Broken Hill, colonial administrator Farquhar Baliol Macrae heard an account of the chipekwe given to E. B. H. Goodall, who was then Native Commissioner at Broken Hill, but was later Senior Provincial Commissioner for Northern Rhodesia. Their informant, a Chiwemba man, claimed to have seen chipekwes multiple times, and he gave a unique description of the animals. Macrae was unable to speak Chiwemba, but claimed he could understand the man's statement due to his proficiency with other Bantu languages. According to Macrae...
Sergeĭ Kulik's informant Peter claimed to have sometimes seen an unidentifiable animal while flying over the eastern shores of Lake Bangweulu, though he believed the chipekwe to be a myth. Peter later persuaded two of his friends to import a herd of young hippos from Lusenga Plains National Park and release them in Mweru Wantipa National Park, but, over the next few weeks, they all disappeared.
While Robert Young believed the chipekwe still existed in the lakes, Hughes thought it had recently gone extinct when water levels in the region fell, as his searches in the marshes and waterways had revealed no evidence of the chipekwe, and the reward which he offered for evidence of its existence went unclaimed. Denis Lyell also believed that it had gone extinct sometime during the 19th Century. Heuvelmans argued that one is unlikely to succesfully seek out a rare animal in such a vast region of marshes, but Roy P. Mackal considered Hughes' conclusion reasonable, while remaining open to the possibility that the chipekwe had left the Bangweulu region for more remote wetlands. Although local belief in the chipekwe persisted into the late 1950s, Alain Chevillat, a correspondent of Bernard Heuvelmans, wrote in 1966 that all the Bangweulu locals he spoke to used to term chipekwe to refer to known animals, leading him to suspect that, if it did exist, it was by then extinct. However, Sergeĭ Kulik later collected reports from the far north of Zambia, centered on the wetlands around Lake Mweru Wantipa.
The term "chipekwe" is thought to be applied to any large, strange, or dangerous animal, and has certainly been applied to disparate cryptids, all of which have apparent equivalents elsewhere in Africa. The horned chipekwe, known from hearsay sightings and traditional attestations, has been compared to the emela-ntouka; the long-necked mbilintu, known from a single sighting, is considered a regional version of the mokele-mbembe; and the sabre-toothed chipekwe, also known from one sighting, is classified as a water lion. Most sighting reports include no physical descriptions whatsoever. The name has also been applied to a variety of known animals, most commonly solitary and aggressive hippos, but also to the predatory goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath), venomous mambas (Dendroaspis sp.), and possibly aggressive turtles. Alain Chevillat, while open to the idea that the chipekwe had once existed as a distinct, unknown animal, suggested that it may have been a myth inspired by the afformentioned solitary hippos. This was also the explanation given by a cook interviewed by Chirupula Stephenson, the only man he met who did not believe in the chipekwe, who claimed that the word chipekwe was a corruption of the Swahili peke yake, meaning "by himself". However, the cook could not explain the chipekwe's physical description.
The alleged ivory horn of the chipekwe has been a source of debate among cryptozoologists, as an ivory horn is a contradiction in terms. Horns, which project from the head, are usually composed of keratin or bone, whereas ivory consists mainly of dentine, and comes from the tusks–elongated teeth–of animals such as elephants, walruses, and hippos. An animal's tooth cannot grow from its head, and the closest things to an ivory "horn" in terrestrial animals are probably the tusks of the male babirusa (Babyrousa sp.), which grow through the snout. A possible explanation for this description is provided by anthropologist Frank Melland (1879 – 1939), who is noted in cryptozoology for reporting the kongamato. According to Melland, the name chipekwe refers, in the Kaondé language, to an African elephant (Loxodonta sp.) with a single (ivory) tusk.
Bernard Heuvelmans offers a different explanation. Noting that the only actual observation of a horned chipekwe was old and hearsay, with the description being otherwise based on tradition, he suggested that the idea that the chipekwe was horned may have been based on the existence of one or more horn-shaped teeth, initially preserved to commemorate the killing of a formidable beast which had since been forgotten or modified by myth, which had been reinterpreted as horns. This long-fanged beast would have been a water lion like that reported in 1928, an aquatic sabre-toothed cat. Heuvelmans also theorised that the reptilian nsanga was more likely to be a mammal which appeared smooth from afar, thus bringing the number of unknown animals in Lake Bangweulu and its environs down to one–the hippo-killing water lion, a name which Franz Grobler claimed had been appplied to the chipekwe.
On the other hand, Roy P. Mackal and Herman Regusters later collected accounts of a similar horned neodinosaur, the emela-ntouka, from the Republic of the Congo. Lucien Blancou had already transmitted vague stories probably referring to this cryptid to Heuvelmans, but Mackal and Regusters obtained more detailed descriptions. Bill Gibbons also heard of horned, rhinoceros-like cryptids, termed ngoubous, in Cameroon in 2000. The abūqarn of Chad and Sudan, reported in the mid-19th Century, was also similar, as was the supposedly-reptilian ntambue ya maï of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mackal, Karl Shuker, Michel Ballot, and Bill Gibbons argue that the horned chipekwe is probably synonymous with the emela-ntouka, for which there are two main competing identities: a ceratopsian dinosaur (~161–66 MYA) or a species of semiaquatic rhinoceros. Ceratopsian fossils, however, have never been discovered in Africa, despite a rich Mesozoic fossil record. Regarding this theory's relevance to the chipekwe, Shuker suggests that the horns of a ceratopsian may have resembled ivory more than those of a rhinoceros. However, the rhinoceros theory is regarded as being both more likely and generally more consistent with the emela-ntouka's description. Less conservatively, survivors from the Early Cenozoic have also been proposed as identities for these cryptids, such as the rhinoceros-like, double-horned Afro-Arabian afrothere Arsinoitherium (~34–24 MYA), which inhabited wetlands and rainforests, and is believed to have been amphibious to some degree.
Similarly, Denis Lyell was convinced that the chipekwe was a large marsh-dwelling pachyderm similar to the hippopotamus, but with a horn, which he called the "water rhinoceros". Heuvelmans observes that Lakes Bangweulu, Mweru, and Tanganyika, are all part of the same hydrological system, and that it would not be surprising for Lyell's water rhinoceros to inhabit all three lakes. He also suggested some connection with the nzéfu-loï ("water elephant") of the Kamolondo Depression marshes, part of the same system, a relatively long-necked cryptid which Heuvelmans felt was unlikely to be a proboscidean, but which may also have been a water lion. Richard Freeman also suggests that the coje ya menia of Angola, another water lion, may be synonymous with the chipekwe and emela-ntouka.
According to Captain Hichens, it had been theorised that the chipekwe (or the long-necked mbilintu) was a surviving chalicothere (~46–1 MYA), a clade of horse-like perrisodactyls known for the clawed forelimbs of many genera. Although fossils of one of the youngest known chalicotheres, Ancylotherium (~7–1 MYA), have been discovered in East Africa, it is a different cryptid, the Nandi bear, with which chalicotheres are usually connected. Chalicotheres are thought to have been terrestrial browsers inhabiting moist forests and wooded savannahs, and no description of the chipekwe resembles a chalicothere in either appearance or behaviour. However, French cryptozoologist Florent Barrère does speculate that the long-necked mokele-mbembe is an amphibious, horned chalicothere similar to Tylocephalonyx.
In popular culture
- In popular Czech sources, the chipekwe (čipekve in Czech) is frequently depicted as a Baryonyx, a spinosaurid dinosaur from Early Cretaceous Europe, which had African relatives such as Suchomimus and Spinosaurus. Jirka Houska has painted this concept of the chipekwe, as well as an alternative version depicting it as a horned, long-limbed crocodilian. However, Baryonyx's only known real relevance to cryptozoology is in Cameroon, where local people claim to recognise images of this dinosaur.
- The chipekwe was popularised in Russia by Kulik's reports. In contrast to the Czech Baryonyx, Russian sources associate it with the horned theropod Ceratosaurus.
- The chipekwe appears in Volume 3 of the graphic novel Carthago Adventures (2017), in which it is depicted as a theropod dinosaur similar to Ceratosaurus.
Notes and references
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1978) Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique, Plon, ISBN 978-2259003872
- Mackal, Roy P. (1987) A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe, Brill, ISBN 978-9004085435
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
- Letcher, Owen (1911) Big Game Hunting in North-Eastern Rhodesia
- Stephenson, John Edward (1937) Chirupula's Tale: A Bye-Way in African History
- Ballot, Michel "Que Représente la Sculpture Trouvée par Michel Ballot en 2005?," Cahiers Cryptozoologiques Africains, No. 1 (December 2007 — January 2008)
- Heuvelmans, Bernard & Rivera, Jean-Luc & Barloy, Jean-Jacques (2007) Les Félins Encore Inconnus d’Afrique, Les Editions de l'Oeil du Sphinx, ISBN 978-2914405430
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- "The Brontosaurus: More Hearsay," Bulawayo Chronicle (14 January 1910)
- Wallace, L. A. "North-Eastern Rhodesia," The Geographical Journal, Vol. 29, No. 4 (April 1907)
- Stingand, Chauncey (1909) The Game of British East Africa — Online
- Letcher, Owen "The Geographical Distribution of Big Game in Northern Rhodesia," Proceedings of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, No. 10 (1910)
- Cullen, Gouldsbury (1911) The Great Plateau of Northern Rhodesia — Online
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
- Barns, Thomas Alexander & Johnston, Hary H. (1922) The Wonderland of the Eastern Congo — Online
- Lyell, Denis David (1935) African Adventure — Online
- Schomburgk, Hans (1936) Meine Freunde im Busch
- Doke, Clement M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia: A Study of Their Customs and Beliefs — Online
- Siggins, Arthur James (1933) Man-Killers I Have Known
- Lawman, Anthony (1958) The Long Grass
- Fénykövi, Josef F. (1958) Sendas Incógnitas: En Busca del Rinoceronte Blanco
- Nepomniachtchi, Nikolai (2013) 100 Velikikh Zagadok Afriki, Izdatel'stvo Veche, ISBN 9785444472613
- Hughes, Joseph E. (1933) Eighteen Years on Lake Bangweulu
- Jackson, Frederick George (1935) The Lure of Unknown Lands: North Pole and Equator
- Brelsford, William Vernon "Hector Croad – District Commissioner, Kasama," Northern Rhodesian Society
- Macrae, Farquhar Baliol "More African Mysteries," The National Review, No. 111 (December 1938)
- Hughes, Joseph E. "The Haunts of the Sitatunga," Field (23 September 1911)
- Melland, Frank (1923) In Witch-Bound Africa — Online
- Gibbons, William J. (2010) Mokele-Mbembe: Mystery Beast of the Congo Basin, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616460105
- Killer of Elephants Revisited (2018) — Online
- Freeman, Richard Richard Freeman on Africa's Mystery Rhino forteanzoology.blogspot.com (22 September 2012) [Accessed 31 December 2020]
- Barrère, Florent [n.d.] "Les Grandes Créatures Lacustres du Bassin du Congo: l'Enigme Animale et ses Propositions"
- Norman, Scott T. "Aye, and Behind the Cameroons There's Things Living," Elementum Bestia: Being an Examination of Unknown Animals of the Air, Earth, Fire and Water (2007), Lulu Press, ASIN B001DSIB2W