Imagine this: two big game hunters are sitting around Lake Victoria, reminiscing and being racist as one was wont to do in the early nineteen hundreds.
As Edgar Beecher Bronson recounts in his 1910 memoir In Closed Territory, he was chatting with his fellow big-game hunter John Alfred Jordan. After musing about the okapi or forest giraffes, Bronson reports that Jordan said the following:
- “Then there’s the infernal horror of the reptilian ‘bounder’ that comes up the Maggori River, out of the lake the Lumbwa have christened Dingonek. And it’s real prize money that beauty would fetch, five or ten thousand quid at least, and you bet I’ve got my Wanderobo and Lumbwa always on the lookout for one when the Maggori is in flood.”
Bronson expressed skepticism; Jordan described his encounter:
- “Presently I heard the bush smashing and up raced my Lumbwa, wide-eyed and gray as their black skins could get, with the yarn that they had seen a frightful strange beast on the river bank, which at sight of them had plunged into the water as they described it, some sort of cross between a sea serpent, a leopard, and a whale. Thinking they had gone crazy or were pulling my leg, I told them I’d believe them if they could show me, but not before. After a long shauri palaver among themselves, back they finally ventured, returning in half an hour to say that IT lay full length exposed on the water in midstream.”
Jordan hurried to the river and saw the beast:
“Holy saints, but he was a sight fourteen or fifteen feet long, head big as that of a lioness but shaped and marked like a leopard, two long white fangs sticking down straight out of his upper jaw, back broad as a hippo, scaled like an armadillo, but colored and marked like a leopard, and a broad fin tail, with slow, lazy swishes of which he was easily holding himself level in the swift current, headed up stream.
Gad! but he was a hideous old haunter of a nightmare, was that beast-fish, that made you want an aeroplane to feel safe of him; for while he lay up stream of me, I had been brought down to the river bank precisely where he had taken water, and there all about me in the soft mud and loam were the imprints of feet wide of diameter as a hippo’s but clawed like a reptile’s, feet you knew could carry him ashore and claws you could be bally well sure no man could ever get loose from once they had nipped him.”
Bronson cross examined members of Jordan’s party, who corroborated the story.
Finally, he met with “ex-Collector James Martin” who told him that “a great water serpent or reptile was seen on or near the north shore of the lake, which was worshiped by the natives, who believed its coming a harbinger of heavy crops and large increase of their flocks and herds.”
the Dread Plague:
Bronson concludes by saying:
- Again, in December, while dining with the Senior Deputy Commissioner, C. W. Hobley, C. M. G., at his residence in Nairobi, the very night before starting on this safari, in speaking of the origin of the sleeping sickness Mr. Hobley told me that the Baganda, Wasoga, and Kavirondo of the north shore of the lake had from time immemorial sacrificed burnt offerings of cattle and sheep to a lake reptile of great size and terrible appearance they called Luquata, which occasionally appeared along or near the shore; that since the last coming of Luquata was just shortly before the first outbreak of the sleeping sickness, the natives firmly believe that the muzungu have killed Luquata with the purpose and as the means of making them victims of the dread plague. Of the existence in the lake of such an unclassed reptile, Mr. Hobley considered there was no question.
In 1913, Charles William Hobley published an article in the Journal of East Africa Uganda Natural History Society, in which he discussed “Some Unidentified Beasts” and mentioned Bronson’s account:
- At the time this story appeared it was considered that this was probably a traveler’s tale, told to entertain a newcomer, but I have sine met a man who a few years back wandering about the Mara River or Ngare Dubash which rises in Sotik, crosses the Anglo-German boundary and runs into Lake Victoria in German territory. He emphatically asserts that he saw the beast. He was at the time where the Mara River crosses the frontier, and the river was in high flood. The beast came floating down the river on a big log, and he estimated its length at about sixteen feet, but could not certain of its length as its tail was in the water. He describes it as spotted like a leopard, covered with scales, and having a head like an otter; he did not see the long fangs described by Mr. Jordan. He fired at it and hit it; it slid off the log into the water and was not seen again.
In 1918, Canadian magazine Maclean’s reprinted material from an article by Jordan and declared that his evidence for the dingonek “is very positive and believable.” According to Jordan:
It lives in Lake Victoria Nyanza and its numerous tributaries, and there is no record of the monster having been seen in any other part of the world. Whether it is a descendant of one of the huge prehistoric saurions that has by a process of adaptation — living as it does in impenetrable regions far away from the encroachments of civilized man – continued with but slight modifications through prodigious ages to the present time, or whether it is an unclassified reptile or amphibian, it is equally impossible to say, as no specimen exists either of its bones or of its skin. That this monster does exist, however, there can be no particle of doubt, as the testimony of authoritative eye-witnesses cannot be reasonably discredited.
And what’s the take away?
Believe what you read.
Dingoneks cure the dread plague…