A large flying animal, possibly a giant unknown bat or more improbably a Jurassic pterosaur (which includes the subgroup of animals called pterodactyls) seen throughout sub-Saharan Africa, is called Kongamato or, less frequently, Olitiau or Sasabonsam. Kongamato, which means “overwhelmer of boats,” appears in a magic spell of the Kaonde tribe, natives of Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia). The charm, muchi wa kongamato, is used to protect travelers from floods, which are blamed on the creature. Olitiau’s origins, apparently localized from the Cameroons, appear to be a misunderstanding for ole ntya, “the forked one.” The use of Sasabonsam seems restricted to Ghana.
Today, Kongamato is the word of choice, because it received the earliest and most widespread publicity. The giant flying monster got its first Western attention when Frank H. Melland wrote about it in his book In Witchbound Africa in 1923. When Melland asked local informants about the Kongamato, he was told it was a huge flying animal with membranes on its wings instead of feathers, teeth in its mouth, generally red, and from four to seven feet across. Melland showed them a picture of an extinct, prehistoric pterodactyl, and the locals identified it as a Kongamato. Melland, who apparently felt he was dealing with reports of a flying reptile, showed the witnesses only the pterodactyl drawing.
Other accounts of pterosaur-like flying monsters came from the distinguished British newspaperman G. Ward Price. Price was with the future Duke of Windsor in Southern Rhodesia in 1925 when they learned of the recent attacks of one of these creatures on a local man in a swamp. Here again, shown a book of animals, the man picked out the pterodactyl. In 1928, game warden A. Blayney Percival found tracks of a strange creature that the Kitui Wakama tribespeople told him flew down from nearby Mount Kenya at night. In 1942, Captain Charles Pitman wrote in his book A Game Warden Takes Stock that a large pterodactyl-like beast existed in the swamps near the Angola-Zaire border. In the 1950s, the man connected to the coelacanth, Dr. J. L. B. Smith, investigated, then wrote in his book Old Fourlegs about the superstition—circulating near Mount Kilimanjaro—of flying dragons.
The Kongamato received the most widespread notice, however, when a well-publicized sighting was featured in newspapers in 1956. Engineer J. P. F. Brown saw two prehistoric-looking creatures flying overhead along a rural road near Lake Bangweulu, Northern Rhodesia. They had a wingspan of about three and a half feet, a long narrow tail, and a dog-like muzzle. When they circled around and flew over again, he saw that they had a mouth full of sharp teeth. Quickly, other credible witnesses in Northern and Southern Rhodesia came forth with their own sightings.
More modern accounts of the Kongamato have been recorded in Namibia. These southwestern African sightings so interested University of Chicago biologist Roy Mackal that he traveled to Namibia in the summer of 1988 to investigate. Mackal managed to collect many accounts of the giant flying beast, but left before he spied one. However, one of his party stayed behind, and James Kosi reported he saw a giant black glider with white markings. Reportedly these Kongamatos liked to fly between the local hilltops.
The ostensibly related Olitiau is featured in only one well-known sighting, but since it was seen in Africa by the author Ivan T. Sanderson, it generally is discussed in conjunction with the Kongamato. In 1932, zoologist Sanderson was leading an expedition with naturalist Gerald Russell in the Assumbo Mountains of Cameroon. When crossing a river, Sanderson and Russell witnessed the passage of a creature nearly the size of an eagle. It dived at them, then flew away. That evening, Sanderson, Russell, and their party saw the black, sharp-toothed animal again. Locals called the animal olitiau.
Sanderson theorized that this unknown flying monster was an exceptionally large specimen of the hammerhead bat (Hypsignathus monstrosus), a particularly ugly-looking fruit bat. Bernard Heuvelmans agrees that the Kongamato may actually be an unknown huge variety of bat or the hammerhead bat. Other cryptozoologists, such as Karl Shuker and Mackal, have toyed with the idea, perhaps not too seriously, that the Kongamato may be a surviving pterosaur.
The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark