The Name of the Weretiger: A Quarterly Bestiary Supplement

Last week I posted a longer article on weretigers in myth and modern media. One of the headaches I discovered with these shapeshifters is that names for different types of weretigers can get very confusing. Several cultures may have vastly different names for creatures with similar descriptions. Other times I could find no names or I found the same name used for beasts that seem very different. To simplify things, I created my own broad categories.

Now, I’d like to share the list of real names I discovered. Rather than sort things into the Big Three, this time I’ll focus on the cultures that use those names. Where I can, I’ve included a translation, though I don’t have a pronunciation guide. In cases where I found no name, I use “name unknown.” Please note this is not an exhaustive list, merely what I found when I went hunting for weretigers on the internet and in databases.

wildlife photography of tiger
Photo by Sayantan Kundu on Pexels.com

Han Chinese (China)

Name unknown: Sources probably written by Han Chinese describe many types of weretigers, but I have yet to find a special name for the concept of “weretiger” in Mandarin or Cantonese. It’s possible this culture did not see them as “unnatural” the way other cultures saw their were-creatures and so simply called them (虎) or lăohŭ (老虎), meaning “tiger.”

Korean (Korea)

Name unknown: Though I ran across references to weretigers in Korean mythology, nothing clearly described their features, let alone the Korean name for them. The myth of legendary founder Dangun mentions a tiger who tries and fails to become human through spiritual discipline.1 This may imply Korean weretigers were generally tigers changing into humans rather than humans changing into tigers.

Lisu tribe (Laos)

Phi pheu: Similar to the vampiric spirit phu seu, as both possess people and use their bodies to drink blood.2 It’s not clear whether these weretigers were spiritual beings only or if they had once been humans or tigers.

Lahu tribe (Laos)

Taw: Like the phi pheu, this vampiric weretiger possess people. The Lahu also sometimes guard graves with machetes to defend the body from taw, which implies they can be killed or harmed by physical weapons.3

Thai (Thailand)

Sua sming: Also seua saming, sming, or sang. A Quora answer describes this beast as a tiger who becomes able to change into a human after eating humans.4 According to Phya Anuman Rajadhon’s book Essays on Thai Folklore, the term can refer to both an old tiger that changes into a human or a magician who changes into a tiger.5

Ibran (Borneo)

Remaung: This seems to simply mean “tiger.” Formerly known as the Sea Dayaks, the Ibran have a legend which pits a hero named Danjai against a remaung. In the legend, the weretiger generally appears as a man and only takes tiger form to kill those who steal from him, taking their heads in vengeance. Indai Sampurai’s blog post also describes the remaung as a spirit or animal that takes human form in order to hunt men or women.6

Madurese (Madura)

Macan onjangan: Meaning “a tiger who may be called,” this name refers to ancestor spirits that take the form of a tiger. Their descendants can summon them by burning incense, making an offering, and throwing a small stone that will transform into their tiger ancestor. Generally beneficent, they may even let people ride them.7

Macan gaddhungan: This type of weretiger happens when a magician sends their consciousness out in tiger form or physically transforms into one through a ritual. The ritual for projecting their consciousness hinges on lighting an oil lamp that will flicker if the tiger form is in trouble. The physical transformation involves the magician lighting incense and tossing their clothes off. Taking this weretiger’s clothes traps them in tiger form.8

Malaysian (Malaysia)

Harimau jadian: The term for a magician who can transform into a tiger. Also harimau jadi-jadian , harimau chěnaku,9 kěměring, or chěnaku.10 The last two are regions whose ethnic groups have been regarded as weretigers. I’ve seen harimau jadian referred to as benevolent on wikis, but most specific stories include some danger of getting eaten.

Sumatran (Sumatra)

Cindaku: Also chěnaku. This is also the name for a region in Sumatra whose people have been seen as weretigers.11 These weretigers are said to live in villages built of human bones, skin, and hair.12 So, probably not safe for humans.

Burmese (Burma)

Taman chah: Also thaman chah. Beyond the name, there isn’t much available on English-language sites about this weretiger. They are humans who can change into tigers.13 One Burmese legend follows three brothers, one who accidentally becomes a weretiger by drinking fragrant ki water,14 and one who unknowingly marries a weretigress.15 Both tigers end up killed after attacking humans, so the attitude toward them was probably negative overall.

Naga (Nagaland, India)

Tekhumiavi: Although this is sometimes translated as “tiger-man,” it refers to men and some women16 whose spirits roam in the form of tigers or leopards. Any wounds to the tiger or leopard form would appear on the human form as well. The ability could be inherited from either family line or gained by sharing ginger and chicken with an established tekhumiavi.17

Garo tribe (India)

Matchadus: Often translated as “tigermen.” Evil spirits that look like humans during the day and tigers during the night but are neither in truth. They eat humans and livestock.18

Matchapilgipas: Approximately means “people who dream of being a tiger.” These people project their spirits into tigers and control them during their dreams. Each spirit pairs with one animal,19 the death of which will kill the human as well.20 The ability is generally seen as a gift from the deity Tatara.21

Name unknown: Humans physically changing into tigers through magical means are mentioned in Garo mythology, but they lack a specific name.22 Belief in them doesn’t seem to be as strong as the other types of weretigers.

Khasi tribe (India and Bangladesh)

Khla phuli: Also called san saram meaning “five claws” due to leaving a five-clawed print unlike normal four-clawed tigers.23 The transformation takes place in the dreamworld, the spirit taking tiger form as the human body sleeps. The ability is inherited from mother to daughter and maternal uncle to nephew.24 Initiation rituals involve new male and female weretigers following an established weretiger in a sort of dance, stepping exactly into the footprints of the leader.25

Hindu (India)

Name unknown: Evil shape-shifting sorcerers who take tiger form pop up in most general descriptions of Indian weretigers, but no name or specifics are mentioned. Francesco Brighenti thinks a tradition associated with the Garo magical shape-shifters, where water and mantras are key, may actually reflect Hindu weretiger beliefs.26

Muria tribe (Chhattisgarh, India)

Parat bagh: Since the Muria are group within the Gondi people, this may be used by other groups as well. Here, a magician who wishes to transform into a tiger walks around an anthill while reciting an incantation.27 The tiger form is then used for revenge.

Kondh or Khond tribe (India)

Mlīva kṛāḍi: Also written as Mleepa tiger by Brighenti, it means “a transformed tiger.” The action is kṛāḍi mlīva;28 male practitioners are called kṛāḍi mlīvarenjus and female practitioners are kṛāḍi mlīvareṛis.29 Another possessive weretiger were the spirit of a person controls a tiger while their human body sleeps, often to act on feelings of blood-lust.30 The ability is mainly believed to be granted by the earth goddess Darṇi  Pēnu, sometimes occurring from childhood on.31

photo of a tiger roaring
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Whew, that’s quite a list! I hope it provides those interested in the topic with a bit more context for weretiger legends. Thanks for reading!

Sources

  1. “The Myth of Gojoseon’s Founding-King Dan-gun,” San-shin.org, last modified Monday, May 27, 2019, http://www.san-shin.org/Dan-gun_Myth.html.
  2. Worra, Brian Thao, “Pondering weretigers of Laos,” On The Other Side Of The Eye, posted December 20, 2012, http://thaoworra.blogspot.com/2012/12/pondering-weretigers-of-laos.html.
  3. Worra, “Pondering.”
  4. Suttichart Denpreuktham, December 29, 2015 answer on the question, “Who are some legendary heroes, monsters, warriors, sorcerers of Southeast Asian mythology?,” Quora. Accessed September 25, 2019. https://www.quora.com/Who-are-some-legendary-heroes-monsters-warriors-sorcerers-of-Southeast-Asian-mythology.
  5. Rajadhon, Phya Anuman, Essays on Thai Folklore (Bangkok: Thai Inter-Religious Commission for Development & Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation, 1988), 303, https://www.changpuak.ch/bijoux/Essays_on_Thai_Folklore/Essays_on_Thai_folklore.pdf.
  6. Sampurai, Indai, “The Legend of Danjai and the Remaung’s Sister, Part I: The Forbidden Fruit,” TROPAWS: The Return of Panggau Warriors, posted March 5, 2015, https://tropaws.com/2015/03/08/the-legend-of-danjai-and-the-remaungs-sister-part-i-the-forbidden-fruit/.
  7. Wessing, Robert, “‘Bangatowa,’ ‘Patogu’ and ‘Gaddhungan’: Perceptions of the Tiger among the Madurese,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 25, no. 2 (Sept. 1994): 368-380. JSTOR (20071663): 376.
  8. Wessing, “‘Bangatowa,’” 377.
  9. bin Ahmad, Zainul Abidin, “The Tiger-breed Families,” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society no.85 (1922): 36-39. JSTOR (41561390). 39.
  10. Wilkinson, R. J., “The Bernam Slab-Graves,” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 17, no. 1 (133) (October 1939): 134-143. JSTOR (41559939): 136.
  11. Wilkinson, “Bernam,” 136.
  12. le Roux, Joane, “In Pursuit of a Weretiger,” New Straits Times, November 2, 2014, https://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/09/pursuit-were-tiger.
  13. Deker, Peter, and Philip Tom, “A spectacular Burmese dha,” Mandarin Mansion: Antique Arms & Armour, accessed October 9, 2019, https://www.mandarinmansion.com/index.php/item/spectacular-burmese-dha.
  14. Abbott, Gerry, and Han Khin Thant, Folktales of Burma: An Introduction (Boston: Brill, 2000), 134, https://books.google.com/books?id=Y6WODwAAQBAJ&dq=hpo+nwan+chin&source=gbs_navlinks_s. (Accessed September 28, 2019).
  15. Abbott, Burma, 135.
  16. “Manuscript Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf Notebook Three,” Digital Himalaya, University of Cambridge, last modified October 27, 2015, http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/naga/record/r70206.html.
  17. Heneise, Michael, “The Naga Tiger-man and the Modern Assemblage of a Myth,” in Anthropology and Cryptozoology: Exploring Encounters with Mysterious Creatures, ed. Samantha Hurn (Oxon: Routledge, 2017), 91-106, https://www.academia.edu/11255870/The_Naga_tiger-man_and_the_modern_assemblage_of_a_myth. Pg. 95.
  18. Brighenti, Francesco, “Traditional Beliefs About Weretigers Among the Garos of Meghalaya (India),” eTropic 16, no. 1 (2017): 96-111, accessed Sept. 27, 2019, https://www.academia.edu/35400723/Traditional_Beliefs_About_Weretigers_Among_the_Garos_of_Meghalaya_India_. Pg. 100.
  19. Brighenti, “Traditional,” 104.
  20. Brighenti, “Traditional,” 106.
  21. Brighenti, “Traditional,” 105.
  22. Brighenti, “Traditional,” 106.
  23. Kharmawphlang, Desmond, “In Search of Tigermen: the were-tiger tradition of the Khasis,” India International Centre Quarterly 27/28, vol. 27 no. 4/vol. 28 no. 1: The Human Landscape (Winter 2000/Spring 2001): 160-176. JSTOR (23005708): 161.
  24. Kharmawphlang, “Tigermen,” 165.
  25. Kharmawphlang, “Tigermen,” 172.
  26. Brighenti, “Traditional,” 107.
  27. Elwin, Verrier, The Muria And Their Ghotul (Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1947), 205, https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.474880/2015.474880.The-Muria_djvu.txt.
  28. Brighenti, Francesco, “Kradi Mliva: The Phenomenon of Tiger-Transformation in the Traditional Lore of the Kondh Tribals of Orissa,” Lokaratna 4 (2011): 11-25, accessed Sept. 28, 2019, https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1810/244857/Lokaratna_04.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Pg. 14.
  29. Brighenti, “Kradi Mliva,” 18.
  30. Brighenti, “Kradi Mliva,” 12.
  31. Brighenti, “Kradi Mliva,” 20.

10 thoughts on “The Name of the Weretiger: A Quarterly Bestiary Supplement

  1. Hey there would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using? I’m going to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S Apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’m powered by WordPress! I’ve really enjoyed my experience so far. I was looking for something simple to start out with that I could upgrade later on and this has worked out pretty well. I’m using the Lyretail theme on this one, which is free and pleasantly sparse in design. My only regret is that it doesn’t allow putting menus on the side.

      Like

  2. Well researched post, yet again! And a very original subject for a post. I don’t know much about weretigers, I’ve only come across tigers as symbolically linked to human/deity figures. I do remember a Mongolian folktale about a hero who slays the tiger king (not to be confused with trashy docu-dramas, lol) who is a huge man with a tiger’s head flying around on a cloud. Really loved that image, it has such a great, fantastical resonance for whatever reason.

    Scoured online, found one version of the story ->
    https://theclouddancertales.weebly.com/ku-nan-and-the-tiger-king-a-mongolian-tale-part-3.html

    But he is an individual monster, not a group or class. Anyway, have been enjoying the posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I ran across a mention of weretigers while I was researching another mythical creature and I just had to learn more. It turned out to be a bit frustrating because information was so sparse, but I’m glad I was able to share what I did find.

      This story is amazing! I think you’ve solved a mystery for me. The Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear has a cool race of tiger people that sound a lot like this tiger king. Well, the Cho-Tse are mostly peaceful and their trademark is wearing earrings, but they are massive humanoids with tiger fur and tiger heads. I was hoping my research would turn up a weretiger like them, but it didn’t. The trilogy draws heavily on Mongolian lore, so I’m even more certain that this story is the inspiration for the Cho-Tse. Thank you so much for sharing!

      Like

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