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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

DALE DRINNON: Plesiosaurian Taniwhas

I had mentioned this in my yahoo group Frontiers of Zoology before. Tony Lucas is a member of the group. When we were discussing the Australian depiction of a plesiosaur on Lindsay's blog recently I mentioned it again and I sent Tony a reminder message separately. Since then I received the suggestion that I post the information to the blog.

The petroglyph long-necked Taniwahas are a traditional design and I include a modern piece of jewellery based on the design as confirmation the matter is already known locally. In the case of the two long-necked Taniwhas, I have taken a scan of the petroglyphs from the rock face (which also include a thunderbird design and what could well be an elephant seal with a long nose) and rearranged them to be side by side. The creatures are about 60 feet long if human scale is accurate; female is shorter than male (neck not included in copy).

Among other useful observations: the species has one opening in the rear (a cloaca) and the male has a single penis (not like snakes). And the limbs and limb girdles resemble those of plesiosaurs. The limb girdles also correspond to the equivalent water monster in the Phillipines and I attach a re-drawing of a textile illustrated in the Hamlyn Treasury of Primitive Art. I do not know the name of the creature but it seems to be called by the generic name of "Shark" (Chacon. Shark is one of the possible translations for Taniwha). And the Plesiosaurian design of the limbs is mentioned obliquely in other traditions. Different descriptions of water monster's feet in different parts of the world include the curious detail that there is a "Tiger's Palm" in the middle of the limb. This included the traditional description of the Chinese dragon. This is also told of the "Patagonian Plesiosaur". Circled in red of the plesiosaur's flipper skeleton illustration is the "Tiger's Paw". I also include some Precolumbian "Patagonian Plesiosaur" depictions, which seem to be the direct parallel to the long-necked Taniwha depictions in New Zealand.

'Taniwha' is a generic and not a specific name, I might hasten to emphasise. You might say it was the equivalent to the English word 'monster.'

The Bagabo textile does not show just the one creature; it shows a pattern of two different things repeating in alternation. One image shows the whole creature between the legs of a human being (not shown in earlier reproduction) and this alternates with a depiction of a human in the belly of the beast.

I was not certain whether to include it because it is not certain the same creature is being depicted, but one interpretation is that the larger head of the creature in this version is seen much closer to and its size is exaggerated in perspective (after all, that excuse is used in standard lake monster reports at Lochs Ness and Morar). At any event, it is not a crocodile since it has a "Snakehead"
(Bagabo Textile, Mindinao, Phillipines, Hamlyn Treasury of Primitive Art, Plate 39, redrawn)

There is a problem in getting information about any of these creatures. The actual names of the creatures are taboo and must not be mentioned. Thus, I do not know the name of the creature illustrated on the textile. Water tigers are reported in Indonesia but they are referred to as "Dogs" for the same reason that you must not mention them by name.

PS: I did go hunting through my storage boxes to find the original source for the New Zealand petroglyphs. They are drawn in charcoal at Ophi, South Canterbury. The absolute size is three feet long for the main bodies of the creatures, approx. six inches for the human figure, which is not measuring the legs (the legs are not indicated for their full length, or else the charcoal has rubbed off). The possible elephant seal and thunderbird are also about a yard long (or rather wingspan for the thunderbird). The elephant seal also seems to have a flipper with fingers, but it is not drawn the same as in the long-necked figures. The male long-necked creature is following the female, nose-end (without any apparent head) near the female's genital region, and has an erection, presumably preparing to mate. They are one after the other and not side by side as in my rearrangement for convenience's sake. Credit is given as The Polynesians: Prehistory of an Island People, Peter Bellwood, Thames and Hudson, 1978, London, p. 140, fig. 92.

PPS: The charcoal drawing is evidently from the inside wall of a rock shelter (cave dwelling) and is from between 1000 and 1500, date assumed because of other similar sites with similar artwork. The observation is also made that the makers were Polynesians and the artistic style is similar to other early Polynesian sites in the Pacific.

I say this because the text makes these points adjacent to the figure 92 and not because the text explicitely states the date for that site. So this part is basically going on my inferrence that this was meant to be taken that way.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dale sent the last two pieces to me, but I thought that they were pertinent and have enclosed them as addenda

1 comment:

stormwalkernz said...

I am extremely glad you posted this. It is interesting that the word Taniwha is a very, very generic term. Under this heading comes sea creatures, land creatures and creatures of the air. The large " Thunderbirds" seen in the rock drawings could well be depictions of Harpogornis moorei - Haasts Eagle, which has been proven to have still been around during the time of early colonisation. This massive Eagle was quite capable of taking down a man, and was considered a threat. If this is correct and gives credence to the other creatures drawn as being actual live creatures that the artist saw.