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In Congo river basin folklore, Mokele-mbembe (/mo-'kɛ-lɛ m'bɛm-bɛ/, Lingala 'one who stops the flow of rivers') is a water-dwelling entity, sometimes described as a living creature, sometimes as a spirit.
During the early 20th century, descriptions of the entity increasingly reflected public fascination with dinosaurs, including aspects of particular dinosaur species now known among scientists to be incorrect, and the entity became increasingly described alongside a number of purported living dinosaurs in Africa.
Over time, the entity became a point of focus in particular among adherents of the pseudosciences of cryptozoology and Young Earth creationism, resulting in numerous expeditions led by cryptozoologists and funded by Young Earth creationists and groups with the aim of finding evidence that invalidates scientific consensus regarding evolution. Paleontologist Donald Prothero remarks that "the quest for Mokele Mbembe ... is part of the effort by creationists to overthrow the theory of evolution and teaching of science by any means possible". Additionally, Prothero observes that "the only people looking for Mokele-mbembe are creationist ministers, not wildlife biologists."
1909 saw the first mention of a brontosaurus-like creature in Beasts and Men, the autobiography of famed big-game hunter Carl Hagenbeck. He claimed to have heard from two independent sources about a creature living in Rhodesia which was described to them by natives as "half elephant, half dragon." Naturalist Joseph Menges had also told Hagenbeck about similar stories. Hagenbeck speculated that "it can only be some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurus." Another of Hagenbeck's sources, Hans Schomburgk, asserted that while at Lake Bangweulu, he noted a lack of hippopotami; his native guides informed him of a large hippo-killing creature that lived in Lake Bangweulu; however, as noted below, Schomburgk thought that native testimony was sometimes unreliable.
Reports of entities described to be dinosaur-like in Africa caused a minor sensation in the mass media, and newspapers in Europe and North America carried many articles on the subject in 1910–1911; some took the reports at face value, others were more skeptical.
According to German adventurer Lt. Paul Gratz's account from 1911:
The crocodile is found only in very isolated specimens in Lake Bangweulu, except in the mouths of the large rivers at the north. In the swamp lives the nsanga, much feared by the natives, a degenerate saurian which one might well confuse with the crocodile were it not that its skin has no scales and its toes are armed with claws. I did not succeed in shooting a nsanga, but on the island of Mbawala I came by some strips of its skin.
Another report comes from German Captain Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz, as described by Willy Ley in Exotic Zoology (1959). Von Stein was ordered to conduct a survey of German colonies in what is now Cameroon in 1913. He heard stories of an enormous reptile called "Mokéle-mbêmbe" alleged to live in the jungles, and included a description in his official report. According to Ley, "von Stein worded his report with utmost caution," knowing it might be seen as unbelievable. Nonetheless, von Stein thought the tales were credible: trusted native guides had related the tales to him, and the stories were related to him by independent sources, yet featured many of the same details. Though von Stein's report was never formally published, Ley quoted von Stein as writing:
The animal is said to be of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size is approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck and only one tooth but a very long one; some say it is a horn. A few spoke about a long, muscular tail like that of an alligator. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed; the animal is said to attack the vessels at once and to kill the crews but without eating the bodies. The creature is said to live in the caves that have been washed out by the river in the clay of its shores at sharp bends. It is said to climb the shores even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. This feature disagrees with a possible explanation as a myth. The preferred plant was shown to me, it is a kind of liana with large white blossoms, with a milky sap and applelike fruits. At the Ssombo River I was shown a path said to have been made by this animal in order to get at its food. The path was fresh and there were plants of the described type nearby. But since there were too many tracks of elephants, hippos, and other large mammals it was impossible to make out a particular spoor with any amount of certainty.
Aye, and behind the Cameroon there's things living we know nothing about. I could 'a' made books about many things. The Jago-Nini they say is still in the swamps and rivers. Giant diver it means. Comes out of the water and devours people. Old men'll tell you what their grandfathers saw but they still believe its there. Same as the Amali I've always taken it to be. I've seen the Amali's footprint. About the size of a good frying pan in circumference and three claws instead of five.
He also speculates that "some great creature like the Amali" could be responsible for finding broken and splintered ivory in (now known to be mythical) elephants' graveyards, as well as claiming to have given a chiseled out cave painting of the amali to Ulysses S. Grant.
- Regusters, Herman A. (1982). Munger, Ned, ed. "Mokele-Mbembe: An Investigation into Rumors Concerning a Strange Animal in the Republic of the Congo, 1981" (PDF). Munger Africana Library Notes. Pasadena: California Institute of Technology (64): 4. ISSN 0047-8350. OCLC 810484029. OL 12484505W. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 February 2017.
In ... Lingala ... the animal is called 'mokele-mbembe,' interpreted as 'one who stops the flow of rivers.'
- Loxton & Prothero (2013), p. 266–267.
- Loxton & Prothero (2013), p. 262–295.
- Prothero, Donald R. (25 August 2015). The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution. Columbia University Press. pp. 233–235. ISBN 978-0-231-53942-5.
- Hagenbeck, Carl (1912) . Beasts and Men. Translated by Elliot, High S. R.; Thacker, A. G. London, England: Longmans, Green, and Co. pp. 95–97 – via Internet Archive.
- Green, Lawrence G. (1961). "12: Graetz of the Great North Road". Great Road North. pp. 201–202 – via Internet Archive.
- (Ley 1966, p. 69)
- (Ley 1966, p. 70)
- Young, Rory (November 15, 2013). "Do Elephant Graveyards Exist?". Slate. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
- Horn, Alfred Aloysius (1927). Lewis, Ethelreda, ed. Trader Horn. New York, NY: Simon and Shuster. pp. 257–258 – via Internet Archive.
- Loxton, Daniel; Prothero, Donald R. (13 August 2013). Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other Famous Cryptids. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-52681-4.
- African Pygmies Culture and mythology of pygmy peoples from the Congo River basin
- Episode 43 - "Crypt O’ Zoology: Dinosaurs in Africa!" of the Monster Talk podcast which features an interview with Donald Prothero about his involvement with the 2009 MonsterQuest expedition to find Mokele-Mbembe.
- Prothero, Donald (22 June 2011). "A Living Dinosaur in the Congo? (Part 1)". Skepticblog.org. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
- Prothero, Donald (29 June 2011). "A Living Dinosaur in the Congo? (Part 2)". Skepticblog.org. Retrieved 1 June 2013.