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I do not dally in the towns, but press into the forest, to be devoured by the mngwa!
And if the mngwa seizes me, devouring my flesh, that is the fortune of the hunt!
~ 13th-century Swahili hunting song

Mngwa, or nunda, are grey big cats reported on the coast of Tanzania, and that feature in stories from the Swahili people. They are highly aggressive and have been known to attack livestock and humans. Their name allegedly means "strange one" in Swahili.


An African civet, which may have similar markings to a mngwa.

Mngwa are the size of a donkey[1] or larger, with broad bodies and thick tails.[2] Their tracks look similar to a leopard's, but are the size of a large lion's.[3] Their coats are grey and brindled like a tabby cat, and they are described with "two blotches like a civet", which may indicate spots under or around their eyes.[1][2][4]

Human corpses attributed to a mngwa have been found with grey fur near them or clenched in their hands, described as similar to tufts of fur from a lion's mane.[4] This may indicate that the mngwa has a mane of its own, though no descriptions have reported this.


Mngwa are aggressive and carnivorous, and have been known to devour livestock as large as horses and camels as well as humans. They are solitary, and so live and hunt alone.[2][4]

They are known for their elusiveness, having many reported sightings but no individuals captured or killed. Hunters have reported tracking and shooting them, but all of them ended up empty-handed. In one story a hunting party manages to kill one with gunfire, but only after failed attempts by many others.[2]

At one point a mngwa terrorized fishing villages along the coast of Tanzania, when many people were brutally maimed and eaten over the course of a month. Brindled grey hair, similar to the fur from a lion's mane, was found with the victims' bodies, often clenched in their fists. The attacks ceased as suddenly as they began, and despite poison and traps being left out for it, the animal was never found.[4]

Related stories[]

Sultan Majnún[]

The latter half of this story has a call-and-response singing component, demonstrated in quotes.

Sultan Majnún had a handsome cat he loved very much, and the cat grew very fast. It began to eat the sultan's chickens, but the sultan replied "The cat is mine, and the chickens are mine, let it be, then." In the coming days the cat caught a calf, a breeding-goat, a cow, a donkey, a horse, a camel, a child, and finally a full-grown human, but the sultan had the same response to each. The cat left town to live among the undergrowth along a road, and everything it saw, human or cow or goat, it caught and ate. And at night it came to the town and hunted, and everything it saw it caught and ate. The people of the town pleaded with the sultan, but he told them, "I think in your souls you hate this cat; you want me to kill it, and I shall not kill it; the cat is mine, and these things it eats are mine." No one dared kill the cat, and it stayed by the road, and when the road was abandoned it moved to a new road and preyed the same way.

More and more people came to ask the sultan's help, and the sultan placed a man at his door to turn them all away. But at night the cat came back to the town to eat its fill, and in time the outskirts were empty. Those who ran away had run away, and those who were caught had been caught. And the cat moved in further, and every party of people who came to speak to the sultan about the cat were turned away.

One day, the sultan took his first six sons to go look at the country. They went down the road and came to a thicket, and the cat came out of the forest and killed three of the sons. The sultan cried "This is no longer a cat, it's name is nunda, which came and caught from me even my sons. Seek for it and kill it."

Soldiers left to hunt the cat, but some were killed and some ran for their lives. And the sultan's seventh son, who had stayed behind, heard the news of his brothers, and he left to hunt for the cat. He asked his mother not to tell his father. The people gave him many cakes, and many people to carry food for him, and he was given a great spear as sharp as a razor.

When he had left the town, he encountered a huge dog. He killed it, and tied it, and dragged it, and returned singing,

O mother, I have killed
The Nunda, eater of people.
~ Five times.

And his mother answered him and said,

My son, this is not he,
The Nunda, eater of people.
~ Two times.

"O, this is not it, the nunda is larger; leave it, my son, and stay at home," said his mother.

"Mother, it is not a thing to be obtained that I should stay at home," and he went away farther into the forest. This time he found a civet cat, and he killed it, and tied it, and dragged it, and returned singing,

O mother, I have killed
The Nunda, eater of people.
~ Six times.

And his mother answered again,

My son, this is not he,
The Nunda, eater of people.
~ Three times.

Every time he brings home an animal, the same lines are repeated by the audience, each time repeated once more.

Again, she told him to stay home, but he refused, and left into the jungle and brought home a larger civet cat. When it was not the nunda, he brought home a zebra, a giraffe, a rhinoceros, and an elephant in succession, none of them the nunda. His mother and his father offered him royalty and land and riches were he to stay, but he stood fast, and told them he had one of three fates - he would die in the forest, he would kill the Nunda, or he would miss the nunda and return home.

After a long time, he told one of the slaves who traveled with him, "To-day my soul feels that it will get three fates in the world in the course of to-day," and he recounted what he had told his parents. He ordered his slave to climb to the top of a mountain, and when the slave looked down, he saw a great beast and called back to the seventh son. When he reached the top of the mountain, he looked down, and he knew in his soul it was the nunda. "My mother told me that its ears were small, and this one's are small; she told me the nunda is broad and not long, and this is broad and not long; she told me it had two blotches like a civet-cat, and this has two blotches like a civet-cat; she told me its tail was thick, and this one's tail is thick; all those characters that my mother told me, are all these which are here."

He killed the cat in its sleep, and over four days he and his slaves carried it back to town, even after it began to stink. When he was half the way he began to sing,

Mother, I have killed
The Nunda, eater of people.
~ Twelve times.

And when he drew closer to the town, he sang,

Mother, mother, mother,
I come from the evil spirits, to sing.
Mother, mother, mother,
I come from the evil spirits, to sing,
From the evil spirits, to sing,
Mother, I have killed
The Nunda, eater of people.
~ Many times.
My son, this is he,
The Nunda, eater of people.
~ Many times, as if answering one another.

The son was celebrated, and the people of the town brought him many gifts, and his mother and father showered praise and love upon him.[2]

Anthropological information[]

In 1922, political officer William Hichens sent a tuft of hair - allegedly from a mngwa attack - to unspecified headquarters for analysis. They replied back, "probably cat".[4] Cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans suggested that, like the king cheetah, the mngwa may be a color morph of a known big cat species.[3]

Occasionally, they are attributed as the true source of kerit attacks.[3]

Similar creatures[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hichens, William. "African Mystery Beasts", Discovery (Dec 1937). Pg 369-373.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Steele, Edward. Swahili Tales: as told by natives of Zanzibar, London: Bell & Daldy (1870). Pg 223-283.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Heuvelmans, Bernard. On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge (2014). Pg 495-502.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Hichens, William "Fulahn". "On the Trail of the Brontosaurus: encounters with Africa's mystery animals", Chambers's Journal (1927). Pg 692-695.