Creature Myths of Africa: Werehyenas and More

The legends and myths of Africa involve some of the most interesting creatures. From animals that resemble the infamous unicorn to dwarfs that live in the forest, you will encounter a range of African creatures that represent a variety of cultures throughout the continent, including central Sudan, central Africa, and Nigeria.

A creature similar to a unicorn, the Abada is different, as it has two crooked horns instead of the single horn that the unicorn we know possesses. The horns of the Abada are believed to create an antidote for poison. Descriptions of this unicorn-like creature often state that it is the same size as a small donkey. It also has a tail that resembles a boar. This tale originates from a former province of central Sudan called Kurdufan.


With the ability to transform into the shape of a hyena, the werehyena was a mythological creature that sometimes appeared in folk stories. The beasts are found in African and Eurasian tales. Not much different from the werewolves that appear in European stories. They were shapeshifters, but are also described as once being human at one time in their lives. It was not uncommon for villagers to fear having at least one or two werehyenas in their community.

Another take on the hyena was seen in Ethiopia, where tradition saw people believing that every blacksmith had the ability to change into a hyena. It was thought that this trait was passed on as some sort of wizard power that was common amongst the trade of blacksmiths. Tales described werehyenas that robbed graves when the clock turned midnight. Countrymen often had a habit of scrutinizing the blacksmiths that they came in contact with. The belief in this particular kind of hyena transformation was popular in Sudan, Morocco, and Tanzania.

In the western Sudan, a creature that combined the features of a human and a hyena was spoken of. It was viewed as a monster with cannibalistic tendencies that had the ability to turn into its preferred form to better send terror into the hearts of people. They seemed to especially target lovers. In tales, the creature is seen as a powerful healer with magical powers, as well. During the day, it assumes the body of a blacksmith or a woodcutter. People believed they had encountered this kind of shapeshifter if they had a hairy body, a nasal voice, or eyes that gleamed with redness.

Ninki Nanka

In West African folktales, a Ninki Nanka is a creature of legend that possesses a reptilian and almost dragon-like quality. As tradition goes, the Ninki Nanka calls the swamps of West Africa its home. With a large size and dangerous characteristics, the animal is said to wait in the swamps for a child who has wandered off from their parents.