Mûmakil are huge creatures resembling oversized elephants originating from within the jungle of Far Harad and were often used in battle by the Haradrim. To most cultures, the Mûmakil were creatures of legend, as fabulous and fearsome as dragons, and to them were ascribed all kinds of strange powers. Oliphaunt was another name given them by the Hobbits. Mûmakil resemble elephants, except they have six tusks instead of two. Two are on the bottom jaw, two larger tusks are where an elephant's would be, and there were two smaller tusks above those.
No complete mûmak skeleton has ever been found, but accounts found in both the Red Book of Westmarch and in other scrolls suggest that they stood between fifty and one hundred feet tall (although official top trumps suggest a height of around 35 feet), with four huge tusks and two smaller ones to each side of the mouth. When charging into battle, they bellowed and screeched at great volume, and a thunderous din that shook the very earth preceded the advent of their coming.
Virtually nothing is known about how the Haradrim managed to attach the great bamboo and canvas war harness to its back: presumably, they were able to coerce it into kneeling or lying down so that a team could haul the huge framework into place, tying it under the belly of the beast. Hanging from the harness were ropes that the Haradrim used to climb up into the frame and take up their positions on the platforms. Their elevated position allowed them to target an otherwise hidden enemy and gave their arrows and spears a greater range. Gondorian folklore of the time maintains that a shaman, who steered the mûmak using long reins, was the means by which the beast was tamed in the first place. Long banners were hung by the frame, their red, grey, and black colors depicting the Eye of Sauron.
Mûmakil live in the in the jungles of Far Harad and some of them were taken in and domesticated by the Easterlings or Haradrim. So when Saruman (when allied with Sauron) seduced them to serving him with lies about Gondor and Rohan stealing their land, the tamed Mûmakil shared their cause in the War of the Ring.
In South Harad during the Third Age there lived beasts of vast bulk that are thought to be ancestors of elephants. Yet the elephants that now inhabit the world are much smaller in size and might than their great ancestors. According to The Red Book, they were between 50 and 100 feet (15 and 30 meters) tall with four gigantic tusks and two lesser ones. The Haradrim often used war paint on their mûmakil, to make them more fearsome. The war paint used could differ between individual Haradrim tribes.
In the years of the War of the Ring, the fierce warriors of Harad came north to Gondor at the call of Sauron, and with their legions they brought the great mûmakil, which they used as beasts of war. The mûmakil were harnessed with the gear of war: red banners, bands and trappings of gold and brass, and on their backs great war towers from which archers and spearmen fought. They had a natural bloodlust, and many foes were crushed beneath their feet. With their trunks they struck down many foes, and their tusks were red with the blood of their enemies. They could not be fought effectively by mounted men, for horses refused to go near them, nor by footmen, who were quickly crushed or shot from above. In war, they would frequently stand as towers that could not be captured; shield walls broke before them and armies were routed around them. They could hit 20 to 30 riders with a swing of tusks and could easily trample riders as well. Infantry were even easier targets.
These thick-skinned beasts were almost invulnerable to arrows; their eyes were vulnerable, however, as mûmakil could be blinded or even killed by arrows released with great force. When blinded they went into a rage of pain, often destroying masters and foes alike in their rampages. The tendons in their legs seem to be a vulnerable point however, as several had been taken down by being hamstrung during the battle of the Pelennor Fields. Several Haradrim tribes seem to have noticed this weakness, as evidenced by the bands of bamboo spikes seen on several mûmakil during the battle.
The Name Oliphaunt
The word Oliphaunt is a variant spelling of the archaic word oliphant meaning "elephant", "ivory", "elephant-tusk", "musical horn made of an elephant tusk", or "a musical instrument resembling such a horn". It appears in Middle English as olifant or olifaunt, and was borrowed from Medieval French olifanz. The French word owes something to both Old High German olbenta "camel", and to Latin elephantus "elephant", a word of Greek origin. OHG olbenta is a word of old Germanic origin; cf. Gothic ulbandus also meaning "camel". However, the form of the OHG and Gothic words suggests it is also a borrowing, perhaps indeed directly or indirectly from Greek elephas "ελεφας" Greek for ivory, though apparently with some confusion as to the animal the word referred to. The word survives as the surname Oliphant found throughout the English-speaking world. Olifant is also the Dutch word for elephant.
The most famous use of the oliphant is in The Song of Roland "The oliphant is set to Roland's Lips;" Roland fails to call for help at the Battle of Roncevaux in 778 until it is too late for him and his comrades. The oliphant is echoed in The Lord of the Rings by Boromir's horn and counterpoised by Helm's horn and the horns of Buckland.
In Middle-earth, the Men of Gondor called an oliphaunt a mûmak (plural mûmakil). The word "Oliphaunt" is only used by hobbits.
Culture and MovementsAmong the tribes of Haradrim, a mûmak would have been, literally, a huge status symbol, and there would have been great competition among the tribes to possess one; it is likely that this competition led to frequent tribal wars. The mûmakil would have moved with the tribes as they traveled across the desert, which would have been quite often, since something as big as a mûmak would soon have exhausted the available forage. A dead mûmak was almost as valuable as a living one, as it would have provided the tribe with a mountain of resources: tusks, bone, hide dyes, sinew and meat that could be salted, providing the tribe with food for months.
Methods of Killing Mûmakil
It is said that a mûmak could be killed with a single shot to the eye (which was not depicted in the live-action film). Otherwise, it was able to withstand a substantial onslaught against its thick hide before eventually falling. The moving war towers were practically invincible, but shots to the head from spears, javelins, and arrows could kill it. The archers of the Morthond vale killed several in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and few mûmakil were ever again seen in the fertile lands of Middle-earth.
- Grey as a mouse
- Big as a house
- Nose like a snake
- I make the earth shake
- As I tramp through the grass
- Trees crack as I pass
- With horns in my mouth
- I walk in the South
- Flapping big ears
- Beyond count of years
- I stump round and round
- Never lie on the ground
- Not even to die
- Oliphaunt am I
- Biggest of all
- Huge, old, and tall
- If ever you'd met me
- You wouldn't forget me
- If you never do
- You won't think I'm true
- But old Oliphaunt am I
- And I never lie
Books/Calico, illus. Hank Hinton The Song of Roland (Oxford text, 1972, Trans Douglas David Roy Owen, George Allen and Unwin, ISBN 0-04-841003-9 Oxford English Dictionary OUP
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Portrayal in Adaptations
In Return of the King's Pelennor Fields level, you have to kill 2 to a multitude of mûmakil (depending on how much you are able to damage the Witch-king each round). They cannot be damaged by melee means, and have to be taken out with arrows or thrown spears. There is also one featured in the Southern Gate level. In Battle for Middle Earth 1 & 2 Mordor can build 'Mûmakil'. They can naturally take a lot of damage from melee damage, and are more damaged from arrows and receive heavy damage from fire. They can use the 'Trample' attack and carry units inside/on top of them.
In The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, three oliphaunts must be killed before they reach the defense zone. In the Pelennor Fields level of the War of the Ring campaign, they can be killed easily with a catapult or by sabotage. They can be controlled on the Rise of Sauron level Weathertop or in the Pelennor Fields level (in Instant action) (Team Deathmach mode only).
In The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, Mumakil are enemies in Pelennor Fields in Good Mode and are playable in Pelennor Fields Evil Mode.
Uncanonical to Lord of the Rings, the game Rome: Total War includes a cheat entered as "oliphaunt," which creates a unit of "Yubtseb Elephants," massive elephants who greatly resemble Mumakil. Their name is "Best Buy" spelled backwards, and are said to be the offspring of the fictional god "G'nitek'ram, The God of Shiny Objects Man Does Not Need but Desires Anyway," G'nitek'ram being "marketing" spelled backwards.
The game Rome; Total War does include a mod of the Lord of the Rings called The Lord of The Rings Total War and the mumakil are a unit for the Haradrim army and another unit called the greater mumakil are a used as a bodyguard for the general.