One of the most fascinating folklores on the African continent is the traditions and tales of the biloko, singular eloko, a forest-dwelling army of vicious dwarves.
The biloko are a part of the mythology of the Mongo people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The creatures are also in tune with anthropological observations that folklores tend to mimic the creators’ environments, just as in the case of these Central African natives in the heart of the rainforest in DR Congo.
An eloko is believed to be the lingering spirit of an ancestor. The spirits are vengeful, with scores to settle in the world of the living.
In different African myths, certain reasons can keep the spirit of an ancestor out of the world in which it is supposed to be. For instance, if one was murdered, or died in a terrible accident or even not properly buried, their spirits could linger.
There are also cases in which spirits believe there are certain things to complete in the land of the living to which they would have to stick around to help a relative or friend do.
This is not akin to the Catholic idea of purgatory. It is rare to find in African cultures, adjudication of people’s lives in the afterworld.
The biloko live in the darkest and most dense parts of the forest in hollow trees. They are covered in leaves but one can see their soul-piercing eyes.
They have no hair and although dwarfish, they have mouths big enough to swallow a fully-formed human being. They can have you dead or alive owing to their sharp claws.
Thanks also to small bells that they possess, an eloko can cast a spell on passers-by, even those who have not theoretically wronged them.
The biloko are thought to guard the treasures of the forest, usually animals and the rarest fruits. Only brave hunters can hunt in these parts of the forest and even they need magic charms.
The Mongo believe that eloko-preventing charm has to be very strong as the spirits for whom they are meant are, in some sense, not of this world. It is also not enough to go to the forest just because you have some charm.
The tales are told of wives who tagged along with the hunter-husbands to the forest but could not stand what they saw.
A popular rendition of the tale goes like:
“One day a hunter took his wife, at her insistence, into the forest, where he had a hut with a palisade around it. When he went out to inspect his traps, he told her: “When you hear a bell, do not move. If you do, you will die!” Soon after he had left, she heard the charming sound of a little bell coming closer, for the Eloko has a good nose for feminine flesh. Finally, a gentle voice asked to be let into his room. It was like the voice of a child. The woman opened the door and there was an Eloko, smelling like the forest, looking small and innocent. She offered him banana mash with fried fish but he refused: “We eat only human meat. I have not eaten for a long time. Give me a piece of your arm.” At last, the woman consented, totally under the spell of the Eloko. That night, the husband found her bones.”
The biloko seem like folklore for the purposes of metaphysical and moral sense-making of the Mongo.
But the lore has been exported to the international arena, and it is not uncommon to find horror literature enthusiasts in the West who are very familiar with the stories.