Monster Blog – by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría

SOUTHERN MONSTERS

by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría

About fifteen years ago, a group of paleontologists made a discovery (just one of many that often take place in Argentine territory) that caught my attention. It was the fossil of a mosasaur, a marine animal that lived on this planet seventy million years ago. The name that the Argentine paleontologists gave to that fossil and the place where they’d found it really impressed me.

It is common that the denomination of a dinosaur or other prehistoric animal is based on the name of the region where it was discovered or after its discoverer. However, this mosasaur, this particular species, received a different name: Lakumasaurus antarcticus.

Yes, the specimen had been discovered in the southernmost place on Earth and bore the name of a mythological animal.

I loved the idea of a dinosaur with the name of a mythical spirit belonging to the Yámana culture, the original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego and a large number of islands that mark the end of the American continent. “The end of the world”, as Jules Verne called that region … except for Antarctica.

That animal had lived on a very different Earth. What today is composed entirely of perennial ice at that time was a tropical, fertile and warm land. A landscape gone millions of years ago that could well have been another world.

When I was still studying astrophysics (later I decided to change my career and got my PhD in philosophy), I used to spend many hours at the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata (which is inside the campus). And every day I used to admire the replicas of the prehistoric animals that had lived on a planet very different from mine and, even so, the same one.

When I heard the news of the discovery of Lakumasaurus antarcticus I was already studying philosophy, in Buenos Aires. I could not help but to join the memories of my hours with those ancestral and gigantic bones with the myths that I was investigating at the time for my thesis. Yámana myths among many others. And the myth of Lakuma, the Spirit of the Waters, especially.

I felt that many things in my life were being reconnected by de magic of a very distant creature and place.

When, a few months ago, I was asked to write a story about a South American monster, I had no doubt about what it would be. It would have been impossible to speak of another monster that was not Lakuma: a “monster” that, at the same time, is mythical and scientific (indirectly, of course). And a monster that, far from being “terrible” to me, is deeply evocative.

After years of studying astrophysics and visiting the dinosaur room of the museum, after a PhD in philosophy and research, one day I decided to dedicate myself completely to my passion: writing. It seemed that I had always been jumping from one island of reality to another, just as the Yámanas had lived moving from one south island to another in search of food and dreams.

As a writer, Lakuma became a symbol of my life, of what it was and what it is, of worlds as different as the Cretaceous Earth and the Earth of the present … or as Mars, Jupiter or the space between asteroids. A symbol of the possibility of living completely different experiences and, from a certain point of view, all of them “in solidarity” with each other.

Thus my story was born, one that unites very different times, that interweaves mythical and factual realities, and that ultimately seeks to portray the importance of dreaming and creating “better worlds” (as the writer or the artist does) in the midst of a society that constantly attacks human dignity (a society that often considers its members an statistic).

There was a time when there were not in the South Pole, as there are today, miles and miles of ice as vast and deep as the geological abysses. A time where those lands exuded a green and exuberant vegetation. Days in which immense fusiform reptiles dominated the life and death of its warm seas, as if they were the spirit of its waters.

For millions of years, day after day, this was so. And if there had been humans at that time, they would never have hesitated to consider those landscapes and that life as “inevitable” or “eternal”. But now we know that was not the case.

Probably (hopefully) there will be a future in which humans will populate the Solar System and beyond as if we had always belonged to space. And surely there will also be those who will think of that reality as something “eternal” and “immutable”.

If science fiction is the literary form that announces change (all change), it is also the literary form par excellence that announces the possibility of the different, of the other. The non-immutability.

In our human history, monsters have always been “the Others”, the different ones, those who do not conform, those who demand to be respected for who they are.

Science fiction talks about monsters to be able to talk about the different in a symbolic way and show the need for that difference. The beauty of the monster.

Society loves the status quo, of course, but life shouts with all its strength that change is not only necessary but inevitable. The “monsters” exist, but they are not what people should fear.

We are all monsters as we seek our originality and we separate ourselves from “the establishment”.

Lakuma is my monster, the symbol of what adapts to the sway of the times (just like its body adapts to the waves of the sea), but also of what is capable of anchoring itself to the ideals of a better world (ideals dreamed and put into practice, like those of the Yámana shamans).

And what are those dreams that give me roots but also wings? Those that imply that everything can and should change, but that it is necessary to work so that this change is for the better. Those of a world in which we see the end of inequality between genders, the freedom to be what we are and want to be (and yes, I speak of the right to be LGBTIQ +), and where there is a true human brotherhood (beyond of cultures, socioeconomical differences, skin colors, countries of origin, capacities, etc.).

The Lakumasaurus antarcticus teaches us that nothing is permanent. That the kings of the sea, like the retrograde and inhuman ideas that are dominant in an era, must evolve or perish within the framework of the long marathon of time.

Lakuma, the mythological being of a vanished people, teaches us that the best of a human group, the noblest of what the human being can be, remains beyond themselves in those ideas that prove to be “monsters” before the dead and cold eyes of ossified prejudices.

In my case, these monsters allowed me to see myself (accepting myself as the “good monster” I want to be, without the fear of being different), and to think, to dream and to create worlds where the landscape is wide enough to shelter each and every one of the people (wonderfully different from each other, as we are all) who want to read my stories.

Monster Blog – Gustavo Bondoni

The Story Behind My Choice of Gualicho

A quick google search will inform anyone interested that a Gualicho (or Gualichu) is a spirit from the mythology of the original people of Patagonia.  It’s the kind of evil spirit that every mythology has, and was often used to explain away every misfortune that befell the tribe. 

Now, I’ll be honest: I knew very little about the Mapuche people—the native population of parts of Patagonia—until very recently.  Argentina is a mainly European country and native populations represent a tiny percentage of the overall population.  The history and traditions of the original inhabitants of the country are only superficially studied in school.  When one encounters a person of evident native ethnicity, most assume that they are more recent immigrants from Bolivia or Paraguay.

These attitudes are the result of initial wars of conquest followed by a few centuries of assimilation—unlike in other areas, the original sparse native populations succumbed mainly to intermarriage with the much more numerous Europeans.

 Nevertheless, I’ve heard the word “gualicho” countless times in everyday conversation.  It has lost its original meaning to become synonymous of any kind of magic spell cast by a witch or shaman.

But it survived.

Somewhere in the wars of subjugation of a people who were far from most centers of commerce and population, one concept burned so strongly that not only was it understood by the conquerors, but it survived and entered the dominant Spanish language to live on in the vernacular.

Two hundred years later, an Argentine writer of mainly Italian ancestry (only a quarter of my forebears were from Spain) sat down to choose a traditional monster from South America. 

My research identified dozens of candidates, from legendary monsters to native gods and from spirits only a handful of indigenous people ever believed in to entities that frightened the superstitious colonists hundreds of years later.

The process ended as soon as I found the Gualicho.  I became fascinated with the fact that a word could morph and survive one of history’s truly definitive wars of annihilation.  It must have had some powerful mojo.

As a term that reaches us through an essentially oral evolution, the etymology is pretty confused, but in my imagination, I can see the Mapuches repeating it again and again every time they came into contact with those Europeans who, through firearms or disease, had become so intimately connected to the unimaginable evil befalling their people.

There was nothing else you could call them, was there?  Those pale-faced interlopers must have seemed to be perfect stand-ins for the evil spirit that haunted their people.

It must have been a powerful spirit indeed, powerful enough to find a way to survive.  But surely a spirit strong enough to be familiar to someone unconnected to the history of the region two hundred years after the people whose legends it had sprung from were gone would find a way to abide, to plan for the time when it could vanquish not only its original victims but also the new interlopers…

But who would it fight?  Would it attempt to ally itself with the Mapuche against the new enemy?  Would it continue to torment the Mapuche’s descendants? 

The answer, once I understood the spirit, was obvious.  This thing would fight agains everyone.

But how?

Well, to get that answer, you’ll have to read the story.

American Monsters – Christopher Kastensmidt

The Many Faces of Kalobo

Hello all! I’m Christopher Kastensmidt, author of The Elephant and Macaw Banner series and “A Parlous Battle”, a story in that series published in American Monsters.

The Kalobo (or “Capelobo”, as it’s known in Brazil) is a relatively unknown legend in Brazil. Dozens of people have told me over the years that they’d never heard of it before the Brazilian publication of “A Parlous Battle” way back in 2011. In fact, if you Google images with “Capelobo”, the most popular images of the creature are those related to my series. I’d like to share a few of those here.

Since it was one of the first creatures that appeared in the stories, it was also one of my first art commissions. Brazilian artist Paulo Ítalo produced two drawings of the creature for me. I worked very closely with him on these and they are the closest to my own personal concept of the creature:

After that, I allowed other artists liberty to create their own interpretations, without any interference from me. U.S. artist Jay Beard created two very different pieces inspired by the creature:

When Czech magazine Pevnost published the story, the artist Jan Štěpánek drew this amazing illustration:

Finally, one of the most well-known illustrations is this gorgeous painting by SulaMoon:

Many thanks to Margrét Helgadóttir for the chance to introduce this creature to readers around the world in the American Monsters anthology. For those looking for more stories from The Elephant and Macaw Banner, the complete series is now available in one volume from Guardbridge Books.

American Monsters – Editors blog

Editing American Monsters
By Margrét Helgadóttir

Five years ago, we demanded that something had to be done. We strongly felt that the monsters of this world are watered down and overused in the popular media and that only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—all from Western popular culture. We wanted to give the monsters a renaissance as real and scary monsters, a comeback so to speak, and we wanted to bring all of the world’s glorious and terrifying creatures out in the open.

On December 24th, Fox Spirit Books released the fifth volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, a seven-volume series with titles published annually from 2014 to 2020. The series is like a grand world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monster tales continent by continent. The genres used span from horror, fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, YA, crime, and the more literary. The journey started in Europe in 2014 before it continued to Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. This year we stop in Central and South America.

In the latest book we present you tales of beasties and monstrous terror from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Equador, Uruguay and Guatamala, told by fourteen authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching region. This book is the first of two volumes covering the American continent. In American Monsters part two— out in November 2019—we will visit North America including Mexico and the Caribbean.

As editor for these books, it is always very exciting to start researching for a new volume and the most nerve-racking part is when I try to find contributors. I wish to give my thanks to the editors and authors who helped me out with the research and pointed me in direction of other talented authors. I regret to tell you that one challenge turned out to be too difficult to overcome; the search for authors able and willing to contribute from Central America has been extremely difficult. It is thus with sorrow that we can’t give you more stories from authors in Central America. I feel however that we are still bringing you enough stories to give you a small hint about the immense folklore and diversity of monster tales in the southern parts of America.
Language has been a barrier. Some of the authors in Central and South America don’t write fiction or even communicate in English, and I quickly realised that we needed to have several stories translated if I should be able to present this part of the American continent seriously. I am thus very pleased to tell you that we have five translated stories in this volume, four of these are translated (from Spanish) exclusively for this book. Thanks so much for the excellent translations from Fabio Fernandes and Mercedes Guilloux.

It’s been a steep learning curve. This is the first time I have been editing translated stories but even if the process on the translated stories stretched over more time than the other stories, we managed somehow—even though not all the authors communicate in English—to edit and polish these stories too. I have learned very much from this process, something I will use the next time I need translations.

So, language has been a demanding but a fun challenge. In general, I am struck by how language itself reveals an identity in storytelling. There is a certain poetic undercurrent in the voice in many of the stories, both translated and not. The stories feel dark yet oddly personal and honest. Also, I believe that the choice of words and sentence structuring give the tales a peculiar but mesmerising flow—you have no choice but to read them to the end without pause. I have been reflecting on this while editing: maybe it is the identity, the cultural identity of this geographical region that shines through? I don’t know but I hope you will like it as much as I have.

And then it’s the monsters. Humans of all times, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created stories and myths about beasts and monsters. You can find traces of them in old texts and even in old sea maps. Monster folklore is passed down from generation to generation, and these stories are important in traditions and customs. The tales serve not only as entertainment, but often teach a lesson as well.

Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another.

In the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters I don’t just wish to scare people with monsters they have probably never heard of, but I also want the books to give their readers an insight into the continents we cover. The stories in American Monsters part one are dark and complex, several are a mixture of magic, realism and science. Most of the stories are tales about contemporary life set against a historical blend of the Catholic Church’s influence, indigenous questions, invasion and colonialism, dictatorships, and political struggles. Quite many of the stories tell tales about forbidden taboos or the struggle of minorities, be it indigenous, gender or sexuality.

The monsters portraited is also a complex mix. We have many shapeshifters, more than in previous volumes. There are beasts and spirits too. Then there are the weirder and mysterious creatures and creations, such as light, waves, mountains or even islands—all dark stories that will leave you in utter terror.

I wish to give my thanks to Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books and her wonderful crew, and all the artists and authors for making such a lovely book. I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it. There are some monsters here I have truly fallen in love with, they are so hideous and horrible, they don’t sparkle or want to be our friend. They are the truest monsters. Enjoy!

Monster Tales : Margrét Helgadóttir

Links to the Pacific Monsters blog posts are available on the book’s page.

Pacific Monsters

by Margrét Helgadóttir

Pacific Monsters is out and one year of work is completed.

Pacific Monsters is the fourth volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, a seven-volume series with titles published annually from 2014 to 2020. As editor it is a fun challenge to work on a book series stretching over so many years. At the same time as I have to concentrate on each book production – it takes about a year from when I start to research and plan the book until it is published – I need to bring out the word about the other volumes and work on the series as a whole. The to-do-list never seems to become shorter.

I love it!

It feels like I am on an adventurous journey around the world. I am so grateful to Adele Wearing and Fox Spirit Books for wanting to publish this series. The books is a world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monsters tales continent by continent. One of the greatest blessings with working on this series is the opportunity to meet authors and the artists from around the world, and to have glimpses of the multitude of cultures and monster folklore within and between all the continents.

For those not familiar with the book series, one of the goals is to show all the talented artists and authors from around the world, probably many you haven’t heard about. I spend much time researching each book. I strive to have diversity in the series and the voices and topics represented. I want to have a wide-stretched geographical representation, and I encourage the authors to tell their monster tales using many genres, like horror, fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, YA, crime, and the more literary. It is amazing to see how many of the authors challenge themselves and use genres new to them, and how many of them manage to put old myths and legends about ancient monsters into a contemporary setting.

This tells me that not all of the monsters have lost their meaning and place in this world.

I am fascinated by how humans of all times, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created monsters. No matter where you are in the world, monsters have been something to blame when bad things happen or a way to explain things like thunder and lightning. Many monsters also challenge our thoughts and fears of what will happen when we die, or the relationship between humans and animals in the wilderness.

One mission with the book series is to give the monsters a renaissance as real and scary monsters, a comeback so to speak. I have started to think that despite all the monsters crawling around our world, all the important roles they fulfil, can’t they be allowed to be just scary monsters? Can’t we just allow them to put terror in our hearts?  Do we have to categorize them all and try to make meaning of them all? These are questions I will ponder further.

It might seem that the monsters today are either forgotten or watered down and overused in the popular media. Also, only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—and they are almost all from Western popular culture.  Another mission with the book series is to bring all of the world’s glorious and terrifying creatures out in the open.

Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another. A signifier in the third volume, Asian Monsters, is the close link between spirits and ghosts and Asian folklore. This is very different from the second volume, African Monsters, where the stories were more about place and origin, about immigration and going home—maybe a strong witness of how much soil means to the African authors.

In Pacific Monsters we present you 14 tales of beasties from Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and Pacific islands like Hawaii and Guam, told by authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching region. I had been warned and sadly it turned out they were right; the search for authors able and willing to contribute from the Pacific islands have been extremely difficult. It is thus with regret that we can’t give you more stories from authors on the islands. I feel however that we are still bringing you enough stories to give you a small hint about the immense folklore and diversity of monster tales in the Pacific region.

When I edited Pacific Monsters, I was struck by the strangest feeling of being at the end of the world, isolated, where the sun arrives first and you are surrounded by the vast ocean, the stars and the weirdest and breathtaking wildlife and fauna.

A large amount of the monsters the authors chose to write about, reside in water. One reason is of course the endless Pacific Ocean, being both a threat and a blessing from ancient times, and the Antarctic Ocean, a world of extremities. But, even a few of the stories from Australia, even though they take place in the bush, the monsters still dwell in fluid environments—billabongs, lakes, rivers, swamps. There are some monsters here I have truly fallen in love with, they are so hideous and horrible, they don’t sparkle or want to be our friend. They are the truest monsters.

I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it.

Monster Tales : Tihema Baker

My Identity

by Tihema Baker

Ko Tainui te waka

Ko Tararua te maunga

Ko Ōtaki te awa

Ko Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga, ko Te Āti Awa ki Whakarongotai, ko Ngāti Toa Rangatira ngā iwi

Ko Tihema Baker tōku ingoa.

This is my pepeha – my identity. It includes the vessel that brought my ancestors to Aotearoa New Zealand, to the mountains and river that geographically ground me, and the nations I belong to. For the Māori peoples of Aotearoa, identity is inextricably tied to whakapapa (genealogy), which demonstrates our worldview: we are the sum of everything that came before. It’s a profound recognition of the past and understanding of how it shapes the future. Everything that transpired, everything that aligned, everything that fell into place and resulted in our existence defines us. From the emergence of raw potential from the void, right up to the mothers who gave birth to us. By stating my pepeha, I am introducing myself as definitively as I can as Māori.

If you were to meet me face-to-face, however, it’s unlikely you would think I’m Māori. To most, I look white, or what we would call Pākehā; my skin is the freckly type that burns within a few minutes of summer sun, my hair is fair, my eyes are blue. Undoubtedly, if you met me on the street, you would assume I was white.

It’s a symptom of the world we live in, which insists on defining people by their skin colour or physical attributes. This directly contradicts that Māori worldview that identity has absolutely nothing to do with skin colour. I am the sum of everything that came before me. And if that means I am Māori, then I am Māori. There is no other qualifier.

That worldview doesn’t sit so well in a western, colonised society built on the exact premise that people are defined by their skin colour. Sure, today in New Zealand we don’t have laws that directly prejudice brown-skinned Māori (for the most part), and we don’t have overt displays of white supremacy (for the most part). But the remnants of a society built on racial profiling still infect our lives.

Like so many Māori children, I suffered through an education where teachers mangled my Māori name in almost every way imaginable. As an adult, I suffer through the same in professional environments, often having to correct colleagues on something as simple as calling me what I wish to be called. But there’s a unique element to this that comes exclusively with being a “white Māori”; having to justify being Māori to everyone else.

My mum recalls taking me as a toddler to the doctor, where the receptionist asked why she hadn’t given me a “nice” name like “Reuben”. Just a few weeks ago I caught an elevator with a woman who works at the same place I do and she asked, “How come you have a Māori name?” When I told her what I thought would have been the obvious answer – that I am Māori – she responded, “But you have red hair,” like the two are somehow mutually exclusive. Before I knew it, my well-trained, instinctive response churned itself out, “Well, my mum’s Australian and…”

This is how my ability to engage socially has been conditioned by a lifetime of pre-empting the quizzical looks, the interrogation on how Māori I really am, the automatic “othering” that occurs the moment I introduce myself. I am programmed to explain myself, to contextualise my appearance so it makes sense to other people, to whom a white face with a brown name does not compute. As a human being biologically wired to seek acceptance by others, I often unconsciously just compromise my own sense of identity for their benefit. And I’m not even innocent of this ignorance myself; my own instinctive defence of my whiteness – that “my mum’s Australian” – is a glaring oversight of Australia’s own indigenous peoples. 

And that’s the irony; this “othering” isn’t only committed by Pākehā. I remember, at 6 years old, being pushed by a Māori girl for being a Pākehā who had stolen her land. When I defiantly told her I was from Ngāti Raukawa, she refused to believe me based on how white I was. At 8 years old a Māori relief teacher read my name from the roll, looked over her glasses at me and said, “You’re not Māori, are you?” Again, those experiences weren’t just limited to my childhood; I played a game of netball just yesterday and introduced myself to a new Māori teammate who, when I gave him my name, looked me up and down and said, “Not the name I was expecting.”

I could rattle off examples of these micro-aggressions all day, but I think the picture is clear. This is the bizarre space I occupy as an apparent “white Māori”; possessing too brown a name to fit in with Pākehā but too white-skinned to fit in with Māori.

Frustratingly, these attitudes extend to my writing too. When I was first in talks with my publisher, which specialises in Māori literature, about my novel, I was asked if either of the two main characters were Māori and, if not, why not? I hadn’t really thought about it; I had described one of them as having fair hair and skin only because I vainly wanted him to look like me. Just because I hadn’t explicitly jammed in somewhere that he was Māori didn’t mean he wasn’t. It just meant his appearance wasn’t an indicator of him being Māori or not.

As a Māori writer, this expectation – that my writing should “look” Māori – has been incredibly challenging to break through. People are surprised when they find my novel doesn’t reflect their view of what “Māori literature” is; I’ve had friends tell me they assumed my novel was written entirely in Māori for no other reason than I am Māori. Basically, my novel is about teenagers with superpowers, inspired by comic books, superhero movies, and Harry Potter – it’s about as nerdy and un-Māori in “look” a book could get. But it’s what I enjoy. That’s why I wrote it.

This just doesn’t add up in a lot of people’s heads. They can’t fathom a Māori writer producing a YA sci-fi novel, instead expecting something about Māori gods or taniwhā. It undermines all the aspects of my identity as Māori that shaped the book and therefore absolutely make it – like everything I write – a piece of Māori literature; my novel explores fundamental Māori concepts like life-force and spirit, the complex relationship between older and younger siblings, among others. They’re just not explicitly labelled as such. And they shouldn’t have to be; just like I shouldn’t have to reconcile my identity as Māori with my white skin so it makes sense to others, I shouldn’t have to tokenise my writing with as many Māori references as possible for it to be accepted as Māori literature. In line with that Māori worldview, my book is the result of everything that influenced it, all my experiences that moulded the words I put on the page. If those were the experiences of a Māori person, then the literature is unequivocally Māori too. 

Of course, not all Pākehā and Māori have these views. I have been fortunate throughout my life to be surrounded by Pākehā and Māori who simply accept me for who I am, and who protect me when I get tired of sticking up for myself. I must also acknowledge that my skin colour often affords me privilege that others do not have. I do not get stopped by police while driving or walking through the streets. I receive smiles from strangers, am asked for directions or assistance, when my brown friends and family are avoided. I’ve also never been killed or blamed for terrorism based on my skin colour. Who knows how many other scenarios I have been advantaged in due solely to my white skin – probably more than I’ll ever know. And that’s not even beginning to scratch the surface of my privilege as a white man; even if I was brown I still wouldn’t face as much prejudice in New Zealand as a brown Māori woman does. I acknowledge that. This is just an account of my experiences as a Māori with white skin, in a colonised society built upon the distinction of skin colour. It’s one I’m not sure has been explored in literature often.

So I decided to write about it because it’s a theme I touch on in my story “Children of the Mist.” There’s a passage that describes the narrator’s experience having to justify his white appearance to other Māori. At first read it probably seems quite out of place; a monologue that delves much deeper into the narrator’s psyche than any other passage in the story. Mechanically, it serves an important function in the story’s overall conclusion, but it’s also an example of a specific story element inspired by my lived experience. I thought it would be interesting to delve into, because in reading my story – and any other, for that matter – you are not just reading a text that exists independent of anything else. You are reading a text inspired by history, by opinion, by experience. You are reading the sum of everything that came before.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou katoa.

 

Monster Tales : Rue Karney

Finding the Words

by Rue Karney

When editor Margret Helgadottir first asked me to contribute to the Pacific Monsters anthology I faced a dilemma. Margret asked for a monster that came from Australian history and culture. But as a non-Indigenous person living in a country steeped in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, I needed to invent a monster that reflected this country and its existing First Nations’ peoples while not stepping into cultural appropriation.

My first thought was to write about a mass murderer — a monstrous human. Margret gently vetoed that idea because it was outside the aims of the anthology. Nevertheless I wanted to come up with a way to portray the violent men who made it their mission to kill, maim and destroy in their quest to steal land from those who had cared for it for more than sixty thousand years. These men, and there were many of them, were the mass murderers I wanted to write about. My challenge was to take their actions and create a believable monster within a story that accurately reflected their deeds but also contributed towards a conversation around the truth of Australia’s frontier wars.

Australia’s First Nations peoples have never ceded this land. In the 150 or so years after Captain James Cook landed at Botany Bay, an event that started the colonisation of Australia, there were hundreds of battles as the white invaders drove the Indigenous peoples off their country. There are several excellent books on this part of Australia’s recent history but as I live in the state of Queensland I took Timothy Bottoms’ The Conspiracy of Silence: Queensland’s Frontier Killing Times as my guide.

In his book, Bottoms provides the statistic that, conservatively, the figure of Aboriginal peoples killed in Queensland in the frontier wars is around 48,000. These men, women and children were killed because they were fighting for their own land, land that the Europeans stole from them. Bottoms quotes multiple original sources that detail attacks that occurred across Queensland including shootings, poisonings, rape, bashings and other horrific violence. There are no words to describe the horror of these atrocities that led to this devastating figure. Yet, that was the goal I set myself as a fiction writer approaching the task of writing a story for Pacific Monsters: I had to find the words.

I had a conversation with a close friend, an Aboriginal woman who grew up in the far north of Queensland around Cape York, about a particularly brutal man who was responsible for several massacres. This man’s name brands the country up there. A major river is named after him, as is a national park. Streets are named after him. A hotel is named after him, and to this day there are First Nations’ peoples who refuse to set foot in it. My friend told me that, such was the horror of this man, there is a legend that when he died he was buried upside down to make sure he could never return and terrorise the land again.

Here was my monster. A violent man, guilty of mass murder, who returned from the dead but because he was buried upside down he could only walk on his hands. Thanks to Bottoms’ research, I had first-hand accounts of the type of atrocities my monster, and others like him, committed. My next challenge was to build the story around him. And for that I needed a name for my central character.

I can’t recall what name I used when I began my first rough drafts of the story but I do know that nothing came together until I settled on the name Providence Slaughter. Her name is intentionally literal because it marries the two key aspects of the story — death and wisdom. Providence is a woman ignorant of her own ancestry and so ignorant of her family’s involvement in this horrendous part of Australia’s history. In writing her story, I wanted to bring this history to light in a way that her character would not only accept its truth but also do something with the knowledge.

Providence must reconcile the truth of her past with her present situation. She is disconnected from the land, as many non-Indigenous Australians are, in part because of her inability to recognise and accept past wrongs. The monster in my story is her past and her present just as the frontier wars that took place in Australia are our nation’s past and our present.

This is probably the most political story I have written because, despite the overwhelming evidence, the truth of the frontier wars is something some Australians find too unpalatable to accept. Yet the ramifications of the actions taken by white invaders continue to echo in today’s political, cultural, economic and social landscape. Young Aboriginal men in Australia are more likely to end up in jail than in university. The life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women is around a decade lower than that of non-Indigenous Australians. First Nations peoples are six times more likely to suicide than non-Indigenous Australians. These statistics are the result of inter-generational trauma; trauma that cannot start to be healed until Australia owns its bloody recent history and starts to make amends.

My monster story is not going to make a dent in these horrifying facts. But it tells the truth of the frontier wars, and the more stories out there telling this truth, the closer Australian society will be able to shift towards acceptance.

Rue Karney https://www.facebook.com/RueKarney/

Monster Tales : Octavia Cade

Wishful Monsters
By Octavia Cade

Monsters are strange things.
We’re fascinated by them. There’s whole industries devoted to bringing them to life, to packaging them up in consumable form so that we can be briefly entertained by fright. And it’s fun because it is brief. I can enjoy spending two hours watching a zombie horror film precisely because zombies don’t actually exist. If my life revolved around fending them off, I’d not be turning towards them for my leisure hours. I’d be refilling the flame-thrower and any moments I could snatch for escapism would tend to the absolutely harmless.

We generally don’t want the monsters to be real. But sometimes it’s just so disappointing when they’re not.
Especially when we hold the burden of having removed them ourselves. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend turns an individual amongst monsters into the monster those monsters fear, and on a species level Matheson isn’t far wrong. Extinction took a lot of monsters from this world long before humans came alone, but we’ve certainly done our best to slaughter the rest.

This can best be seen in the lands where humans are not. And, for longer than anywhere else, New Zealand was that land. The last major land mass to be colonised, absent of any native mammal but small bats, it was for millennia a land belonging to birds. Flightless, many of them, and some not. The most dangerous was the largest eagle to ever exist – Haast’s eagle. It died out when humans killed its food to line their own stomachs.

That food was my Pacific monster. The tallest bird ever known, the giant moa. Females were as much as 3.7 metres in height, and all of them were flightless.
All we have left of it are bones. Bones, and stories…

Every so often the rumours start back up. That down in the remote, unexplored back blocks of Fiordland the moa survives. Perhaps not the giant moa, which would be genuinely hard to miss, but one of the smaller species of the genus. There’s sightings, a blurry photo or two. Tracks in the earth.

When my Pacific Monsters story was being edited, Margrét commented on the character who’d just found a moa footprint. Wouldn’t she wonder what it was?
There isn’t a person in this country who would see a three toed footprint that size and not think – not hope – that it was a moa. We’re a young country. We take our monsters where we can get them.
Do I think they’re still out there? Honestly, no. Do I want them to be? Oh, so much.

Jurassic Park

It’s wishful thinking, I know. Imagination layering itself over science, and with just enough hook to cling to, because, Jurassic Park-like, there is an astronomical outside chance that discovery of ancient DNA might be enough to bring them back.
But what would we do with them if we did? If we found them, alive still, in the dark and distant corners of the bush?
I’d like to think we’d be happy. That, as a nation, we’d pull of the mother of all conservation efforts, exceeding even that of the black robin – a native bird pulled back from the brink when once there were only seven individuals remaining.

But then I remember the context of monsters, and how the moa met a monster new-come to their shores… and it was us.
They didn’t survive the human race.
If they’re still out there, I hope they stay far, far away. That they’re rumours forever, because some monsters survive best in wishful thinking.

Monster Tales : Michael Lujan Bevacqua

The Taotaomo’na of Guam

by Michael Lujan Bevacqua

The Chamorro people of Guam have an interesting saying about our ancestral spirits. We say that they came before us, but they also wait ahead of us. It might seem contradictory in a way, but it makes sense in Chamorro cosmology, as exemplified by the most commonly used term that we use for the spirits of our ancestors, taotaomo’na.

The word taotaomo’na can refer to anything from malevolent spirits, to watchful ghosts, to demons, to magical animals and shape-changers. These spirits will haunt or frequent certain areas, usually the jungle, abandoned areas, cemeteries or even family homes. They are closely associated with the nunu or the banyan tree, which can look particularly menacing in the twilight. They can play tricks on hunters and fishermen and also steal children away from inattentive parents.

Despite the various forms that a taotaomo’na may take in the beliefs of Chamorros and others in contemporary Guam, what unites these variations is the notion that they are ultimately the spirits of the ancestors of the Chamorro people of before, and therefore they represent a force for balance, a memory for the land. There are stories of taotaomo’na tricking and cursing those who behave in loud or destructive ways in the jungle. They can also act as harbingers, warning omens of some tragedy that may soon befall a family. Because of this, even though there is a great deal of fear with regards to the taotaomo’na, there is also respect.

For example it is common in Guam today, that prior to entering the jungle you ask these spirits permission. A common version of this is “Guella yan Guello, kao siña yu’ maloffan gi tano’-miyu? Anggen måtto hamyo gi tano’-måmi siña maloffan ha’ sin mamaisen.” This translates to: “Grandmother and Grandfather, can I pass through your land? When you visit our land you can pass without asking.”

Guam jungle image from shutterstock.

The contradiction that contemporary people in Guam experience around the taotaomo’na can be tied the island’s history of colonialism. In the 17th century, Spanish missionaries came to Guam with the intent of forcing Catholicism on the Chamorro people. There was sporadic resistance for three decades, with tens of thousands of Chamorros dying from fighting and disease.

Chamorros at the time of Western contact, had a religion focused around ancestor veneration. In life each person carried an ånte or soul, but upon passing into death the soul transformed into an aniti, the term used for the spirit of an ancestor. The plural term for them was manganiti, and Chamorros believed the unseen world around was filled with the manganiti, who would protect them or punish them.

Chamorros would keep the skulls of revered relatives in their homes and the leg bones of great warriors would be carved into bones and daggers. The thinking being that when you went into battle, the spirit of your father would fight with you. The skulls were known, according to one account, as maranan uchan, which translates to “a miracle of rain.” It is because the skull acted as a spiritual anchor, and with it you could request of your ancestors that they protect the family, provide a good harvest or drive fish towards your nets.

Living a good life, acting honorably with your family, taking care of them, respecting your elders and being courageous in battle were all things that made the manganiti happy and encouraged them to bless a clan with protection and success. Behaving in cowardly, selfish and disrespectful ways would likely lead the manganiti to withhold their aid and letting tragedy upon tragedy befall the family.

The Spanish, after silencing all active resistance, sought to cement their political control, with ideological control as well. They sought for generations to break the connection that Chamorros had with their ancestral spirits. They tried to replace them, giving Chamorros a pantheon of saints, who could provide the same favors and protection as their ancestors. They tried to replace the strong matrilineal symbols of Chamorro culture, with an array of Mary figures. Over a century they slowly pushed the beliefs of Chamorros to the point where they began to see these ancestral spirits as malicious and malevolent beings, that would haunt, trick and curse.

If you turn to Chamorro dictionaries today, you’ll find the effect of the Catholic Church’s ideological onslaught in the entries for aniti, in the following terms: devil, Satan, hellish fiend, demon, evil spirit. The term has become heavily stigmatized, and so many Chamorros today refuse to use it because of the heavy negative connotations. But this does not mean that Chamorros lose their connection to their ancestral spirits, but there is a change in terminology. After more than a century of Spanish colonization, in the 19th century Chamorros start using the term taotaomo’na.

While Chamorros as a people eventually accepted Catholicism, the connection to their ancestors was not cut, but modified. Although Chamorros did begin to feel a greater distance from the taotaomo’na, they nonetheless retained a respect. They did not develop a zealous hatred for the spirits as the Catholic priests had wanted, but rather respected their place on the island, which was now largely relegated to the jungle and natural settings. This is why people on Guam continue to ask permission prior to entering the jungle, because so long as you act with appropriate decorum, not only will the taotaomo’na not trick or menace you, but you may receive their protection as well.

Returning to the opening thought for this article, the idea that Chamorro ancestors are both in front of us and behind us, we find this in the term taotaomo’na but also in this history of both colonization and resilience. The term first emerges to represent the epistemological and cultural break between Chamorros and their ancestors that the Spanish had in some ways accomplished. Chamorros began to refer to their ancestors as taotaomo’na or “the people of before,” meaning the people of before colonization and the civilizing of the Spanish. But in the contemporary moment, where Chamorros have been carrying out a decades-long cultural renaissance, where they are seeking to reconnect to their ancient ancestors, the other meaning of the term is becoming ascendant. This has manifested today in terms of dance and chant groups that are meant to reflect ancient motifs and be homages to Chamorro ancestors. It has also lead to efforts to preserve the Chamorro language, which has endured despite hundreds of years of colonization and attempts to eradicate it. You can also find it in how colonial heroes, explorers and missionaries celebrated during the Spanish era, are now being replaced by Chamorro resistance figures who fought Chamorro subjugation. In so many ways, the things that colonizers have sought to silence or erase from the island, are being embraced and celebrated again.

And it is because of this element that we can see the other meaning of the word taotaomo’na, namely “those who wait ahead of us. “ In this way my comic in the Pacific Monsters anthology represents another way in which Chamorros today are seeking to reconnect and establish a healthy and respectful relationship to the spirits of our ancestors. Centuries of colonization drove our people to see the spirits of our ancestors as agents of the Catholic devil, and in many ways disconnected us from the very land of our homeland. But with changes in our consciousness, they are no longer distantly behind us, but rather wait before us. They are no longer chained in negativity by Catholicism, but once again important guides who travel with us on life’s journey.

 

Monster Tales : Michael Grey

Pacific Monsters

Michael Grey

The modern world sucks.

No wait, I have a point, bear with me.

Now, I may be showing my age but I was partly raised by my elderly aunt and uncle, and in the 80s on rainy Saturday afternoons (there’s few other kinds in Yorkshire outside summer), it was TV time.  After wrestling (Kendo Nagasaki was my favourite) and maybe the A Team if it was on, we’d get to the black and white films. My uncle loved the westerns, but they were never my thing. No, but give me a good Jason and the Argonauts, or even better, anything to do wit 19th century pirates and you couldn’t prize me away from that television for all the M.A.S.K. toys in the world.

I’ve thought a lot in the time since at why I loved those particular films since, and others set in what’s often called – if you’re being diplomatic – simpler times, and it always comes down to a unifying factor – the unknown. I grew up watching films and television programmes (think more Tin Tin than A-Team at this point) where there were still parts of the worlds considered unexplored, where a ‘Here Be Dragons’ scrawled on a map had to be taken seriously, because there’s might be a bloody dragon there.

And that’s why the modern world sucks. Because there are so few unknowns anymore. But one of those unknowns is the sea, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to contribute a story to Fox Spirit’s Pacific Monsters because it allowed me to tell a story about the kinds of monsters once thought to inhabit the less frequented corners of the world. Only, in this case, it just might.

For anyone who follows these things, more and more information about our oceans is being discovered. One those facts which keeps rearing its head is the ‘we know less about our oceans than we do about the moon’ and I love that. But that’s all oceans. What about the least-visited ocean? What percentage of that is explored?

The story the ningen hits all my interest points. Tales have been told about their (it’s, there?) existence for well over a century, there’s some (dodgy… yeah, let’s admit it, dodgy) photographic evidence (stop laughing, I said it was dodgy), and, best of all, it’s every so slightly and tantalisingly – maybe – plausible.

Dodgy Photo (mostly they lead to even dodgier youtube footage.

When I went to write ‘Grind’ for the collection I went a bit beyond my usual scope of research (IE, watching youtube videos and shouting “cool!” at the screen) and found one of those weird-arse conspiracy theory channels which in this case linked everything to the bible. While I’m sure these channels are filled with the kind of people who not only think fluoride has mind control properties, but also makes your skin glow, this one channels did link a particular bible passage to the potential existence of the ningen, and made a good enough linke between the two that I couldn’t help but include it in Grind. I won’t say what ti is, that, dear reader, is for you to discover and decide yourself.

And on that note – Pacific Monsters is out from November 30th at all good book shops and some dodgy ones too.

http://michaelgrey.com.au/pacific-monsters