Mamlambo is a mythical shape-shifting water spirit or river goddess in Xhosa and Zulu (South African) mythology. It may manifest as a freshwater reptile-fish monster or a mermaid (woman-fish chimera).

According to folklore, Mamlabo lives in the Mzintlava River (Umzimvubu River) near Mount Ayliff township (eMaxesibeni) in the Eastern Cape Province.


Mamlambo as a giant serpent

People living along the banks of the Mzintlava (Umzimvubu) River in the Eastern Cape Province portray Mamlambo as a giant snake-like monster about 65 feet long.

The accounts claim that Mamlambo has a snake-like or equine head and a reptilian (serpentine or crocodilian) neck and trunk.

The monster has short legs and a fish-like lower body. Locals also claim its body and eyes glow green in the dark.

The eyes have a hypnotic effect. Mamlambo uses its gaze to lure people to their death. So locals advise visitors to avoid looking at or approaching any pair of green lights when near the Mzintlava (Umzimvubu) River.

[Note: A biological system emitting light in the dark is known as bioluminescence. Chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes cause light emission. The phenomenon occurs in diverse living systems, including marine animals, insects, microbes, bacteria, and fungi.]

When the Mamlambo lures victims close enough, it grabs them and drags them underwater.

Mamlambo as a mermaid

According to Felicity Wood (2008), Mamlambo comes from the Xhosa word for river (mlambo). “U-Ma-Mlambo” translates as “Mother of the River.”

Locals often portray Mamlambo as a seductive mermaid. The mermaid version of Mamlambo is a river goddess. She is a symbol of materialism and the lure of lucre.

Because she is associated with the lure of lucre, folklore often represents her as attractively bright, shiny, sparkling, or gaudy objects, such as metal coins.

She is a seductive female offering male consorts a deceptive promise of money, wealth, and prosperity that leads to ruin.

Mamlambo as lucre

Some South African witch doctors (Sangomas) claim they can guide clients about how to make Mamlambo grant them a fortune. Usually, the procedure, known as ukuthwala, involves performing certain rituals, such as walking naked at midnight and making certain sacrifices, including human sacrifices.

According to some sources, Mamlambo may even require supplicants to sacrifice their children (Bhekii Maseko, 1984).

The procedure is guaranteed to bestow lasting wealth because it “drains” the wealth of people living around the supplicant. However, sustaining the power of ukuthwala is demanding because the user needs to make costly annual sacrifices and consort with the Mamlambo spirit.

In its character as a mermaid, Mamlambo is similar to the West African Mami Wata (Mama of the Water).

Mami Wata is the African equivalent of the Sirens of Greek mythology.

She is known to all coastal West African people from Senegal to Nigeria and Cameron as a beautiful seductress with a woman’s nude upper body and a fish- or serpent-like lower body.

Mamlambo as a predatory monster

Local accounts claim that Mamlambo is a predatory creature. Alleged sightings in 1997 were associated with reports of multiple deaths and mutilated bodies recovered from the river.

The monster allegedly attacked people traveling or swimming in the river. It ate their faces and throats and sucked out their brains.

However, South African police reports suggested that contrary to claims that Mamlambo attacked and killed people, the victims drowned, after which various water animals opportunistically fed on their soft tissues.

Drowning incidents are common along the river during heavy rains. The rains raise water levels and cause flooding along river banks. The rain and wind also cause boats to capsize and travelers to drown.

But the villagers denied the official police claims that the deaths were due to nature-caused drowning. They argued that the pattern of mutilation of the bodies recovered from the river was consistent with alleged Mamlambo feeding behavior.

Mamlambo as the brain sucker

According to the villagers, Mamlambo feeds on victims’ soft tissues, especially facial, throat, and brain tissues. In South African folklore, the Mamlambo is the “brain sucker.”?

Villagers claimed that the Malambo grabs and drags victims underwater to drown them. It then eats the soft tissues of the face and throat and sucks brain tissues through the eye and nose sockets.

It also drains the blood from the corpse. Others claimed that the monster drills a hole through the upper part of the skull and sucks brain tissues through it.

Mamlambo is similar to Inkanyamba

In some respects, Mamlambo resembles the South African Inkanyamba, a mythical serpentine monster from Zulu and Xhosa folklore. Inkanyamba is a water spirit associated with turbulent waters, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers, especially Howick Falls near Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Like the Mamlambo, Inkanyamba is a serpentine monster with an equine head. It also preys on humans and is associated with violent storms.

Sightings and Tales

Locals alleged multiple sightings of a giant reptilian creature in the Mzintlava River near Mount Ayliff. According to people living along the banks of the river, the monster has terrorized their communities for generations.

South African media outlets reported alleged sightings during the rainy season in January-April 1997.

The monster reportedly terrorized communities in and around Lubaleko village on the banks of the Mzintlava River near Mount Ayliff town (eMaxesibeni) in the Eastern Cape Province.

The people alleged that the monster killed and fed on nine or more villagers during the wet season.

What is Mamlambo?

According to the cryptozoologist George Eberhart in Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002), the Mamlambo sightings could be due to mistaken identity.

People might have mistaken the following species for a giant water snake:

The Electric catfish

The Electric catfish (Malapterurus electricus) is the favorite candidate for Mamlambo. Although it might seem an unlikely candidate for a reptilian freshwater monster, many cryptozoologists believe no other known species comes closer.

The species is native to the waters of the Nile and the rest of tropical Africa.

It has a mottled brown-gray skin color. Adults may grow up to 3 ft 11 inches long and weigh nearly 25kg. It has six whisker-like structures (barbels) around its mouth.

The fish can generate a potentially deadly electric charge of up to 450 volts when it needs to capture prey or defend itself against attack.

An electric shock of 450 volts is potentially fatal for an adult human.


Some cryptozoologists propose that South Africa’s Mamlambo could be the surviving population of an ancient coelacanth fish that belongs to the genus Mawsonia.

The paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward was the first to describe the species in 1907.

Mawsonia was one of the largest coelacanths, with specimens measuring up to 17.4 feet. They lived in the fresh and brackish waters of South America, eastern North America, and Africa during the late Jurassic to the mid-Cretacious period, about 150 million to 100 million years ago.

Other Name/sBrain Sucker, Mother of the River 
LocationSouth Africa, 
TypeHumanoid, Hybrid, Lake Monster, Monster, Spirit
HabitatLake, River


The power of the occult in modern Africa: continuity and innovation in the renewal of African cosmologies, James Kiernan, 2006 (pg. 94 & 95).

The Extraordinary Khotso: Millionaire Medicine Man of Lusikisiki, Felicity Woods, 2007., “The Occult, the Erotic and Entrepreneurship: An Analysis of Oral Accounts of ukuthwala, Wealth-giving Magic, Sold by the Medicine Man Khotso Sethuntsa,” Felicity Wood (2008), accessed on March 3, 2023.

Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, George Eberhart, 2002., “Maseko, Bheki, Mamlambo, Kunapipi,” 6(3), 1984., “Wealth-Giving Magic in Present-Day South Africa: Sorcery, Spirits and Deadly Seductions,” accessed on March 3, 2023.

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