Friday, 14 November 2014

Creature Feature: Yakka

In this column I talk about some of the more unusual fantasy creatures and/or creatures it would be cool to see in books.

Yakka, or yakseya, are Sri Lankan demons.  They’re ruled by a king who forbade the killing of humans and so they curse them with diseases instead.  Yakka can assume the form of any animal, including humans and are appointed a specific time of day in which they can afflict someone who enters their domain (generally a dark, inhospitable place, like a cave, hollow tree, or abandoned building).

Exorcism is required to cure the victim, or the demon can be appeased with numerous prayers from the victim’s family.
Mask of the demon Maha Sohona Yakka from Ambalangoda Masks Museum (Sri Lanka). It is used in the Tovil healing ritual (the taming of the demons). - Photo by Jan Benda via Wiki Commons.
For a more specific example, the mask above is of Maha Sohona, which Wikipedia states

is a demon (yaka or yakseya) in Sinhalese folklore, who is said to haunt cemeteries. The name Maha Sohona means "great graveyard demon" or "demon of the cemetery" in the Sinhala language. It is one of the most feared demons in Sri Lanka. Originally a giant who had been defeated in a duel, Maha Sohona has had his head replaced with that of a bear since he lost his head in the duel. He is believed to kill people and afflict them with illnesses. Traditional exorcism rituals are performed to repel the demon in such cases. Sri Lanka Army's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol units are popularly known as the "Maha Sohon Brigade", named after this demon.

I have to admit that the information I found on this creature is a bit contradictory depending on the source (I used the Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were (Michael Page & Robert Ingpen, p.84) and Wikipedia for the information at the top of this post).  I’d recommend further research if you wanted to use this creature, as you don’t want to misrepresent one culture’s beliefs in a fantasy novel.

The best use of demons I’ve seen recently is Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle books.  And while he hasn’t shown much of demon culture, how the humans have react to them - their fear, their precautions, the people who have to deal with wards and travelling without warded walls - is fascinating.  

It would be cool to see more types of demons used in fantasy books, not just the more common western ones associated with hell and Satan.  Demons are pretty universal, but not treated the same everywhere, nor do they look the same everywhere.  A shape shifting demon who passes along diseases… now that’s interesting.

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