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The n'yamala ("nya mala", Fang: "mother of canoes" or "animal that resembles a large canoe") is a river monster reported from Gabon's Ogowe and Ngounie Rivers. It is described as a dinosaur-like animal, and has been equated with the mokele-mbembe, as well as Gabon's own amali.


According to the Fang people, the n'yamala is an animal with a long neck and tail (it has been identified with images of sauropods and plesiosaurs), about ten metres long from the tip of its snout to the tip of its tail, and weighing as much as an elephant: it is reputed to be as strong as a caterpillar tractor. It is also reputed to have "fillets," thread-like filaments, on the back of its head and neck, and a pair of pouches around its shoulders, in which it stores nuts and fruits. It is said to be a very rare animal found only in remote lakes deep in the jungle, which is only ever seen by the greatest hunters. It has no horn, and, like the mokele-mbembe, feeds on malombo lianas. It is said to remain in the water during the day, and come out at night - between midnight and about five in the morning - to feed. A n'yamala supposedly "never dies," and is never killed by hunters. Despite its herbivorous behaviour, it, like many central African cryptids, is said to have a great hatred of hippopotamuses, which it kills.[1]

A different description of the n'yamala was given to Bernard Heuvelmans by his Gabonese correspondent Anne Avaro. According to the Orungu people, who inhabited Gabon before the Fang, the n'yamala resembles a big hairy lion or dog, with its feet turned inwards, and, according to two eyewitnesses, a ventral pocket or pouch. It is a very rare animal, inhabiting great lakes and forests in the hilly regions, and hides in lakes and rivers to ambush animals which go down to the water to drink or cross. However, is is also reputed to be a herbivore, as it is believed to arrange mangoes and nuts into piles, alerting hunters to its presence. It is considered a dangerous animal because it has no fear of man, but is seen only rarely; its powerful, carrying call is heard more often. The ugliness of the n'yamala is proverbial among the Orungu, leading to the expression "ugly as a n'yamala".[2]


circa 1946[]

Michel Obiang, a Fang witch-doctor, claimed to have seen a n'yamala when he was twenty-six years old, which would have been in around 1946. He observed it emerging from the water in the early morning hours at the spot where the Ikoy River diverges from the N'Gounie River, where he was camped. When he returned to the area with James Powell, Obiang seemed genuinely frightened.[1]


Living dinosaur[]

See also: Mokele-mbembe - Theories - Living sauropod

Several Fang people interviewed by James Powell identified illustrations of Diplodocus and Plesiosaurus as the n'yamala, after being unable to identify a picture of a bear, which are not native to Gabon. They were also unable to identify pictures of Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops.[1]

N'yamala is widely regarded as a regional name for the mokele-mbembe.[3][4] Roy P. Mackal theorised that the n'yamala was simply a Fang folk memory of the mokele-mbembe - their path of migration to Gabon crossed that cryptid's territory - and that the animal itself is not actually found in Gabon.[3]


In light of its dog- or cat-like shape, Anne Avaro suggested that the n'yamala could be a living cynodont, prehistoric therapsids, the carnivorous forms of which are believed to have gone extinct in the Triassic. Bernard Heuvelmans agreed that, if the n'yamala were a reptile, it would be likely to be an "extinct" therapsid such as a cynodont or dicynodont, given the presence of mammalian features on a supposedly reptilian animal; however, he believed that the evidence more strongly suggested that the n'yamala was, in fact, a mammal.[2]

Sabre-toothed cat[]

Heuvelmans speculated that the n'yamala could be a living sabre-toothed cat, a Gabonese population of water lions, which he theorised are sabre-toothed cats adapted to an amphibious lifestyle. These animals, which have been compared to lions, have several features in common with the Orungu's version of the n'yamala, including shape, predatory aquatic habits, a very loud roar, and no fear of man. Heuvelmans suggested that the supposed pouch of the n'yamala is simply a fold of skin, which is common in mammals, especially aquatic ones.[2]

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Mackal1980
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 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
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Mackal1987
  4. Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5