Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Many Faces of Bigfoot

Tales of large hairy creatures that walk around on two legs and stand seven to ten feet tall exist in the folklore of cultures on every continent except Antarctica.  The possibility of an unknown ape-like creature wondering the woods has captured the imagination of believers and skeptics alike, and has became so commonplace that Bigfoot has found his way into popular advertising today.  We’re going to look at the history of the phenomena, theories on the creature, and how it is viewed around the world.

The term “Bigfoot” was coined in 1958 by a California newspaper.  Sightings in the logging community of Bluff Creek propelled the creature onto a national platform.  Hundreds of footprints, roughly 16 inches long and 8 inches wide, were found near the logging site.  Upon arriving for work, loggers repeatedly found their equipment disturbed and large tracks everywhere.  Foreman Jerry Crew made a plaster cast of the tracks and took it to a local newspaper.  The editor called it “Bigfoot” and the article was picked up by the Associated Press, going nationwide. 

Newspaper clipping of 'Bigfoot' tracks
Nine years later, what is either the most famous Bigfoot evidence ever captured or the most elaborate and widely believed hoax ever perpetrated was captured on 16 mm video camera by Roger Patterson  and Bob Gimlin.  The footage became known as the ‘Patterson Film.’  On October 20, 1967 the two men were riding horses when they came across the creature crouching behind a large stump.  Patterson’s horse was startled.  He dismounted and grabbed his video camera.  While critics have insisted the film is a hoax, Patterson believed he caught a female Bigfoot on camera.
Stories of hairy wild men go back as far as recorded history.  In fact, The Epic of Gilgamesh, said to be the first book ever written, contains such a beast as a character.  The Sumerian poem was found recorded on stone tablets, said to be 4000 years old.  The first written account of an encounter comes from Norwegian explorer Leif Erikson, who discovered America about 500 years before Columbus.  Erikson told of encountering huge hairy creatures with black eyes.

Tales of Bigfoot creatures have long existed in Canada among natives.  The Shalish tribe called the creature Sasquatch, meaning 'wild man of the woods.' Native Americans across the continent have stories about the hairy wild man.  President Teddy Roosevelt recounted a tell about an encounter with the creature by a trapper in his book The Wilderness Hunter.  Frontiersman Daniel Boone was said to have shot and killed a ten-foot creature he called a Yahoo. 

The 20th century saw tales of Bigfoot encounters, some violent.  In 1924 prospector Albert Ostman claimed to have been abducted by a Sasquatch and held captive in British Columbia.  The same year Fred Beck and four other miners in Ape Canyon, Washington claimed to have seen the creature, who threw rocks at their camp.  Most modern reports lead one to believe that the creature is an herbivore, eating plants only, or an omnivore, living off vegetation and hunting small game.  
The Jacob's photo  -Juvenile Bigfoot or bear?
Bigfoot critics argue that there is no scientific evidence to support the belief that the creature exists.  They point out that large numbers of them would have to exist in order to maintain a breeding population, and couldn’t go unnoticed. 

Theories about Bigfoot range from a previously unknown species to interdimensional aliens.  Bigfoot critics believe reports of sightings are usually misidentified animals or hoaxes.  More scientific theories hold that the creature is a descendant of the extinct Gigantopithecus, a cousin of the orangutan.  Others believe it is the missing link connecting man to his ape-like predecessors.  

Sasquatch hitching a ride on Nessie

Some of the more out-there theories say Bigfoot is an alien, citing the influx of UFO sightings before and after Bigfoot sightings.  Others believe the beast is a demon.  Some believe it is an interdimensional being, sometimes able to become invisible or disappear to avoid being seen. It has been published that in the 1970s UC Berkley came into possession of two of the creatures, but they escaped through the 4th dimension and wandered the lab invisible for weeks.  Stephen Hawking was there, and could prove it all if he would come forward.   
The Illusion Theory of Bigfoot  says that sightings of the creature are the result of electromagnetic exposure or hallucinations brought on by oxygen deprivation.  The archetype theory speaks more to the function of such sightings.  People are fascinated with the idea of a wild man, and an unconscious attraction to returning to the wild.  The tales are told much like urban legends, used to teach lessons within a society.
While Americans have been captivated with Sasquatch for centuries, reports of similar creatures exist all over the world.  Most prominent is the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman of the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal and Tibet.  Native followers of the Bön religion used to believe the blood of the creature had mystical properties and could be used in ceremonies.  The 20th century saw a huge increase in the frequency of sightings due to Westerners climbing Everest and other mountains in the region in search of adventure.  Large footprints were found by climbers, who were told by Sherpas, belonged to the Wild Man of the Snow they called 'metoh-kangmi.’  A journalist reporting on the phenomena mistranslated the word metoh as filthy, and substituted ‘abominable.’ Thus, we have the Abominable Snowman.  
Khumjung Yeti scalp
Adventurers came across the Khumjung monastery that had what they claimed to be a Yeti scalp.  Largely regarded as a hoax, testing on samples have came back inconclusive.  In 1959 actor James Stewart helped to smuggle a ‘Yeti hand’ out of the country.  Bones from the hand were replaced with human bones and taken from a monastery.  Testing revealed the bones were closely related to a Neanderthal.  
Alleged Skunk Ape
Alaskans tell of the Urayuli, a Bigfoot-like creature found in the tundras of Southwest Alaska near Lake Llaima.  Sightings have been reported since 1956.  The Urayuli is said to have luminescent eyes and according to folklore were once children who got lost in the woods and became the hairy beasts.  The Urayuli’s arms are said to reach it’s ankles and it is said to emit a high pitched scream like that of a loon.  Florida has its own Bigfoot-like creature known as the Skunk Ape that calls the Everglades home.  Its name comes from the smell its reported to give off, similar to rotten eggs or methane.   
Sarah Palin bags an Urayuli
In Australia the Yowie is a part of aboriginal folklore and sightings continue today.  The Mapinguary is Brazil’s Bigfoot counterpart.  Its said to be nocturnal with red hair and a frightful scream.  It is sometimes depicted with its mouth in its stomach, an interestingly common variance.  African folklore tells about the Chimiset, an ape-like creature with reddish or yellow hair that’s as comfortable in the treetops as on the ground. 

The Chuchunaa is Siberia’s Bigfoot, speculated by some to be the last surviving paleo-asiatic aborigines.  Locals claim it is a man-eater and has withdrawn to more remote areas to retreat from encroaching civilization.  The Nguoi Rung is another name for the Vietnamese Wild Man.  It has gray, black, or brown hair and has been seen alone and in packs.  Orang Pendek lives in Sumatra and is smaller, standing three to five feet tall. Locals say that they have backward pointing feet to confuse anyone who tries to follow them.  
In the 1970s a rash of sightings were reported near Fouke, Arkansas.  The deaths of livestock was blamed on the creature, which inspired the film The Legend of Boggy Creek. Associated with sightings were foul smells, described as a combination of a skunk and a wet dog.  It was said to have bright red eyes the size of silver dollars.  In 1972 sightings in Missouri led to reports of the Missouri Monster, or Momo.  The Mogollon Monster dwells in eastern Arizona and is sometimes reported with red eyes.  It’s described as smelling like a combination of dead fish, decaying peat moss, a skunk, and the musk of a snapping turtle.  In Ohio reports are still being made of the Grassman, and date back to 1869.  It is said to live off grass and other vegetation and travel in groups.
Ever since the Patterson film came to public attention rumors have flew that it was an intentional hoax.  Whether hoax or actual evidence, it has inspired generations of both Bigfoot hunters and hoax perpetrators. Recent years have seen numerous hoaxes and YouTube is filled with so many hoax videos its impossible to separate them from possible genuine sightings.  

In August of last year a Montana man made history with an attempted Bigfoot hoax, though certainly not in the way he had intended.  44 year-old Randy Lee Tenley donned a ghillie suit, used by the military to camouflage snipers, and ran out onto the highway in hopes of inciting Bigfoot sightings.  Unfortunately, he was struck by the car of a 15 year-old girl who was unable to avoid him.  He was then struck a second time by the car of a 17 year-old girl.  Tenley died as a result of the impacts.

Why have reports of ape-like creatures been reported all over the world for hundreds of years? It seems that nearly every culture has their own variation of the creature and their own name for it.  Maybe it functions as a cultural archetype, warning children to not wander off while allowing adults to daydream about a simpler life.  Or maybe there actually are a population of elusive animals not yet known to the scientific world, occasionally posing for a tourist’s camera.  Until definitive proof is captured, stories of Bigfoot and his cousins will continue to circulate and fill tabloid papers.

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