Unicorn Wiki

The accounts about the unicorn living in Africa became known to the Europeans in the sixteenth century. The contact with India established by the Portuguese allowed travelers to verify many stories of Ancient authorities, especially the one about unicorns. It quickly became apparent that out of all one-horned creatures Indians only know the rhinoceros. The eyes of many turned to Africa, which only had a few coastal colonies, with the rest of the continent completely unexplored.

In Ethiopia[]

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Some recalled the description of Cosmas Indicopleustes, who visited Ethiopia around AD 550 and saw four brazen figures of a unicorn in the palace of the king. The denizens described to him a terrible beast, whose strength lies in his horn. When he finds himself pursued by hunters, he springs onto the top of some precipice and casts himself down. In the air, he turns a somersault so that the horn absorbs all the shock of the fall and he escapes unhurt.

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Ludovico di Varthema, the first European to travel to Mecca in the disguise of a pilgrim, reported seeing two unicorns in an enclosed space in the temple: a gift from the king of Ethiopia to the sultan of Mecca. They looked like bay horses, but had the heads of hinds and cloven hooves. Their necks were not so long with manes hanging on one side. Their legs were thin, slender and very shaggy on the hind part. He also mentioned one-horned cows in the town of Zeila in Ethiopia.

Jerome Lobo admitted he had never seen it, but while he travelled in Abyssinia in the Agaus region of the Kingdom of Damot, he heard about an extremely swift creature with a single horn, resembling a fine horse of bay color with black tail and long mane hanging to the ground. On its forehead grows a single white horn, five palms long. It was said to be very fearful and shy. Unicorns live in woods and retired thickets. They are very timid and rarely come out to the plain. Lobo brings up the story of a Portuguese captain in service of that kingdom; his troop was resting one morning in a little valley encircled by trees. Suddenly, out of the thickest part of the woods, sprang a unicorn. When it realized it was surrounded by surprised men, it began to tremble and jumped back the same way it came.

Luis del Mármol Carvajal said the unicorn lives in the snowy peaks of the Mountains of the Moon in Ethiopia, where the Nile takes its source. It looks like a two-year old colt of ash color, but has the beard of a goat. It has a single ivory horn on the forehead. It sheds the horn like a stag and hunters find these in the wilderness.

João Bermudes reports the unicorn living in the Kingdom of Damot. It is wild and timid, of the shape of a horse and the size of an ass.

Hiob Ludolf says Ethiopians know a beast called arweharis in Amharic or harish in Arabic. It is similar to a goat with one horn, very strong, fierce and swift of foot.

In Sudan[]

Eduard Rüppell, while traveling in Kordofan (Central Sudan), was told by the natives about an animal called nillekma and sometimes anase, living in the deserts south of that area. It was of reddish color, the size of a pony and had the slender form of an antelope. The male was armed with a single horn on the forehead; the female lacked it. Some said its hoof was divided, other that it was solid.

Ferdinand von Mueller, when at the town of Melpes in Kordofan (somewhere near Al-Ubayyid), was offered to acquire a specimen of an animal called a'nasa (عنزة; anaza), described thus: it is a size of a small donkey, has a thick body and thin bones, coarse hair and tail like a boar. It has a long horn on its forehead and lets it hang when alone, but erects it immediately when seeing the enemy. It can be found to the south-south-west from Melpes. The negroes often make shields out of its skin.

Stanislas d'Escayrac de Lauture was told by the natives of Sudan about a rhinoceros, or perhaps a monoceros, called by them abu qarn (ابو قرن), which means "father" or "master of the horn" which on the forehead has a long and straight horn, either the color of alabaster or black. This horn is movable; the creature usually lets it hang freely, but straightens it for combat and tosses the enemy onto another, smaller horn located behind the first.

In Central Africa[]

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Giovanni Cavazzi, traveling in Portuguese Angola, noted an animal called abada, similar in shape to a horse but larger, and having the head similar to a deer. It has two horns, one on the forehead, the other on the nose. He recognizes also another creature named abbada (ndemba in Congolese), which is similar to the Indian rhinoceros.

Girolamo Merolla writes about a unicorn, which he also calls abada, living in Congo. It is the size of an ox and has one horn on the forehead. Only the males are endowed with it.

Thomas Jefferson Bowen, when traveling in Yoruba (modern Nigeria), heard about an animal called agbangrere, which has the body of a horse, the hooves of a cow, sorrel (chestnut) coat and a single black horn on the forehead, as long as an arm, coarsely rugose below and smooth towards the point. One was captured and presented to King Suta in Illorin. It refused to eat, so the king ordered it slaughtered.

William Balfour Baikie traveled all across Central Africa and in many places heard allusions to a creature different from the rhinoceros, that had a single long straight or nearly straight black horn. He gathered the names the natives give this animal in various languages:

In Kanúri (Bórnú) búndiá-ru and kamárami
In Háusa maríri
In Fulfúlde (Filáni in Sudán) yílifú and dákarkúlewal
In Márgí kárafitu
In Núpe pānlíli
In Bonú agába
In Yóruba iwú
In A'zbentsi (Tawárek) tenések

In Southern Africa[]

Garcia de Orta referred to an unknown but reliable authority, which stated that in South Africa, between Cape of Good Hope and Cape Correntes, there lives a creature shaped like a horse with a single horn on the forehead, which it is able to raise and lower at will, as well as turn left and right, depending on the current need and mood. This horn, measuring two palms, is an excellent antidote against poison.

André Thévet reportedly claimed that he hunted unicorns together with the king of Mutapa and gifted the famous horn to the church of St. Denis in Paris. However, such claim cannot be found in any of his texts.

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Anders Sparrman relayed the testimony of Snese-Hottentots about creatures resembling horses with single horns, very rare, extremely swift of foot, furious and dangerous. The locals didn't dare to engage them in open combat, but climbed onto a high place and made rattling noises, which lured the curious creature out. Then they shot it with poisoned arrows. In the same region, John Barrow reported the animal frequently being pictured in cave paintings.

Francis Galton, repeating after the Bushmen, described the unicorn resembling a gemsbok in shape and size, whose horn is in the middle of its forehead and pointed forwards. The spoor of the animal is like the zebra's. The horn is in shape like a gemsbok's, but shorter.

Joseph John Freeman, cited by Andrew Smith, described the unicorn known by the Makua people in Northern Mozambique. It is known by the name ndzoo-dzoo, is the size of a horse, extremely fleet and strong. It has a single horn on its forehead, 24–30 inches long. It is flexible when the animal is asleep; can be curled like the trunk of the elephant, but becomes perfectly firm and hard when the animal is excited. The creature is extremely fierce and attacks man every time it sees him. If the target runs atop the tree, it will savagely butt it with its horn, never failing to break it down. Only the males have the horn.