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In Lakota mythology, Unhcegila (uŋȟčéǧila or uŋkčéǧila) is a serpentoid creature which was responsible for many unexplained disappearances and deaths. It is also related to the version of a Lakota Sioux Serpent named Unk Cekula, pronounced (Unc-Check-Yula). Her male counterpart is known as Unktehi.
She was described at first as having no real shape or form; she had eyes of fire, and a fanged mouth that was shrouded in a smoky or cloudy mass. As time went on further, her form was exposed as being massive, with a long scaly body whose natural armor was almost impenetrable. Her eyes burned with wrathful hunger, her claws were like iron, and her voice raged like thunder rolling in the clouds.
Whoever looked upon her will get blind, go insane, and die on the fourth day.
Her weakness is a seventh spot on her head, behind of which a flashing red crystal lies within, which functioned as her heart. To kill her, one has to shoot a medicine arrow at it. This crystal was much sought after by many warriors, as it grants its bearer great power.
The ancient Lakota tribes of the Northwest had heard rumors, from neighboring tribes, that a nameless shadow had emerged from the icy Atlantic waters of the far Northeast. In time the creature had come to the Black Hills (Ȟe Sápa) seeking a new home in the mountains. Once she arrived and made a place in the mountains, she coexisted with everyone, from the tribes to the Wamakaskan and the other spirit beings, before she became the cause of chaos and fear.
Over the many years in which she wreaked havoc in the hills, she was challenged by many warriors from the Lakota tribe. It was learned that the creature had offspring, and the tribes had to kill them when they began feeding on people.
In one myth, Unhcegila fights with and kills a giant bear, whose fallen body produced the Bear Butte in the Black Hills.
She was slain after she ate the family of a great warrior from the bear clan. This warrior was told by a Weasel spirit that if he was to get swallowed by Unk Cekula, he could use his knife to cut his way out of the belly of the beast, and free the other victims.. Alternatively, two twin brothers, one of whom was blind, killed Unhcegila using arrows given to them by a medicine woman.
Some accounts state that the brothers' arrows did not kill Unhcegila, but only injured her so greatly, that she damaged the land as she writhed away. As she finally died, the Sun scorched her flesh and dried up the land, resulting in the arid rock formations and skeletons found in the Badlands (Makȟóšiča).
In another myth, Unhcegila emerged from the primordial waters to flood the land. The resulting devastation angered Wakinyan, who flapped his wings to create a great storm to dry up the land and shoot lightning, killing Unhcegila. Her heart was destroyed, but her bones were scattered across the land.
She appears in a story told in the 2003 film Dreamkeeper, in which Eagle Boy is the one who slays her with weapons given to him by an old woman.
She appears in the urban fantasy novel "Boundary Lines" by Melissa F. Olson.
- Horned Serpent, including Unktehi, and her other counterparts from other Native American cultures.
- Apep, another monstrous serpent defeated by gods.
- Tiamat, a primordial ocean goddess from Mesopotamia who is also associated with serpents.