Abominable Snowmen, by Ivan T. Sanderson, , at sacred-texts.com
9. Africa—the "Darkest"
In some respects the continent of Africa has much the same structure as that of South America, but in reverse, or rather, mirrored, the Congo Basin being equivalent to the Amazon Basin; the great upland chain of its east side being comparable to the Great Andean chain on South America's west side; and there being a number of isolated mountain blocks dotted about the rest of it. However, if the sea flooded in to the 200-meter contour, Africa though looking a bit smaller would retain its present shape. Much more of it is composed of uplands above the 500-meter contour; and upon these are raised many mighty mountain ranges. Yet, the Congo is like the Amazon in one essential respect. It also was once, and until fairly recently, flooded, but it appears to have formed either an enormous lake or a completely landlocked sea. Finally, it broke out to the Atlantic by cutting a deep and narrow gorge through the Crystal Mountains that join the lower Gabun with the Angolan uplands.
The Congo Basin today is the home of several very unique and ancient forms of animals—a strange Water-Civet (Osbornictis) found only once, in 1916, which seems since then to have vanished; the forest giraffe or Okapi (Okapia); and the famous Congo Peacock (Afropavo) —but, like the Amazon, it seems nevertheless to have been repopulated comparatively recently from the slopes of the surrounding mountain blocks, and all the funniest plants and animals in it tend still to be found around its edges rather than in its middle.
Then, there is another very important thing about Africa. This fact is that, actually, very little of i is forested, and especially by true lowland Equatorial Rain Forest (or T-E-F; see Chapter 18) . Apart from the Congo, there are really only two such areas; the west Guinea coast, and the Nigeria-Camerun-Gabun coasts. That over on the east coast is not typical T-E-F, and a lot of it is not even closed-canopy forest. Moreover, even on the west coast there are open areas within the main lowland forest blocks, while the center of Nigeria has now been almost entirely cleared, and there are large orchard-bush and savannah areas even in the Congo itself. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of montane forest in Africa. This clothes the slopes of the mountains to comparatively great heights up the sides of all those blocks in the equatorial belt, which face those lowlands clothed in rain-forest. This is so of the south face of the Guinea block; both sides of the Gabun-Camerun block; the south face of the Ubangi-Shari; and a swath running south from the Bar-el-Ghazal to Kasai. It is in these forests that the more ancient and retiring creatures make their abode. They, also, are the least known parts of the continent. (See Map VII.)
ABSMs have been reported from three areas in Africa—the southern face of the Guinea Massif; the east side of the Congo Basin; and the eastern escarpment of Tanganyika. This makes very clear sense both from a geographical and zoological point of view because each has an adjacent mountainous area as a retreat in case of general land subsidence or of flooding by the general sea level rising. The Gabun-Camerun west face might be expected to be included in ABSM distribution but it is not, so far as I know. Before coming to the details of ABSMery hereabouts, I must point out a new factor in our story that now appears for the first time and which will be with us through the Orient, and until we go to Eurasia.
It is that we now have interjected into the scheme of things the Apes. There is a point here that puzzles everybody and which must be cleared up if possible. This is a hang-over from the initial pronouncement of Darwin's theory of our origin
Click to enlarge
MAP VII. AFRICA
MAP VII. AFRICA
and that of Men generally. While it is pretty universally recognized that Darwin never did say that we were descended from apes, but that both we and the apes had a common ancestor, there is still an almost universally held belief that, nonetheless, "monkeys" came first, then "apes," and finally "men." This is partially correct in that the monkeys do seem to be of "older" stock and they are certainly more primitive or lower down the scale; but when it comes to apes and men, ever more evidence is piling up to indicate that we both started off at the same time; but out of step. Following this line of reasoning, the two lots of us were at one time very alike but, as time went on, and both our branches proliferated into various kinds, we drifted ever farther apart. Just because some "men" (or, better, Hominids) retained a hairy coat and small brains, does not actually mean that they remained apelike. Conversely, just because the living apes still have a complete furry coat and small brains does not mean that they have evolved any less far from their origins than we have. They just have changed in other directions. And,
along our lines, there were just such (probably) hairy chaps with very small brains—vide: Zinjanthropus from East Africa, and the other Australopithecines from South Africa.
Nonetheless, as of now—and if we preclude the possibility of ABSMs—the Hominids have changed a great deal, but lost all but one of their branches; while the apes have sort of got stuck, but still exist in about twenty distinct forms. * There is no reason, however, why there should not still be other kinds of apes still living today that we have not yet found. The Pigmy Chimp (Pan paniscus) was a long time being accepted; there is supposed to be a pigmy species of Gorilla of which we think we have skins and skulls, but which has never been seen by scientific collectors in the wild; and there is the extremely odd Lesser Siamang of South Pagi Island, of the Mentawi Group, off the west coast of Sumatra (Symphalangus klossi), that was not recognized till 1903. Then, in 1955, a professional American animal-collector brought back parts of a preserved specimen of a small kind of ape from the Gabun that is now lodged in the museum in Zurich, Switzerland. He also had photographs of the animal when alive, and it was certainly the oddest-looking creature; like a tiny orang-utan, with a high-domed forehead and quite unchimplike face, clothed in black hair, but having no thumbs! The collector insisted that the local natives know these animals well; that they are not chimps; and unlike chimps, they are completely arboreal, travel in parties of about 40, and never come to the ground. This specimen has been tentatively put down as an extremely abnormal baby chimp but it has a complete set of adult teeth!
There may indeed still be not one but several Apes (i.e. Pongids) to be discovered, and more than one in Africa. This tends to muddle the issue and more especially because many Africans regard the gorillas—though never the chimp, it seems —as a form of degenerate race of men. Thus, when they speak of any equivalent of an ABSM, they often do not make any
distinction between men and apes in describing it. This, however, is particularly the case only with man-sized or larger alleged creatures. One and all are insistent that the pigmy types are little men, not animals. Therefore, we must be on guard from now on against interpreting all reports as those of potential ABSMs, and we must bear in mind that other apes—perhaps even bipedal, terrestrial forms—could exist on this continent and, though not so likely, in the Orient as well. Some certainly seem to exist in Africa.
Reports of what appear to be pigmy types of ABSMs turn up on the west and east sides of the continent—that is on the southern edge of the Guinea Massif and on the eastern side of the main upland area about Tanganyika and Mozambique. Those from the former consist of a single series of statements made to Bernard Heuvelmans by a scientific correspondent who investigated some reports in what used to be the Ivory Coast. As these are original and unique, I have sought permission to reproduce them here in their entirety. Apart from them, I have only vague folk tales from the Nigeria area of the former existence of pigmies in that country.
One evening a young African who worked in his laboratory came and saw him after dinner and went rather furtively about asking him the simple question whether there were pygmies in Africa. The professor told him that they were found in Central and Equatorial Africa and lent him a book on the subject. All the same he was puzzled at this conspiratorial manner and asked him why he wanted to know. Because, the African replied, one of his colleagues in another scientific department of the Institute had seen one not far away on the previous day.
The professor raised his eyebrows.
"A pygmy, here?" "Yes, about 500 yards from here."
The professor nearly fell out of his chair in surprise. The Institute was
"Why didn't your friend come and tell me at once?" he asked suspiciously.
The young man explained that since the whites disbelieved the rumours about pygmies in the neighbourhood his friend had been loath to be laughed at or thought to be mad. But he knew the man well enough to know that he had not made it up, so he decided to make inquiries for him himself.
Professor Ledoux was more and more intrigued and insisted that the eyewitness should come and see him. He promised that he would not make fun of him and would not tell anyone his story.
The next day [the Professor tells me] I had a visit from the boy responsible for the observation. He was well-educated and had a certificate for primary studies. I asked him about the circumstances in which he saw the "pygmy."
It happened near the Meteorological set when they were taking their daily readings at 8 o'clock in the morning. Among the roots of a silk-cotton tree (Bombax) there suddenly appeared a little man with long reddish fur and long hair on his head—"same like white man"—but also reddish. [The long hair on the head, like a European's, was reported by all the Africans Professor Ledoux questioned. This feature could obviously not apply to true pygmies.]
At once the little red man and the large black one took to their heels in opposite directions. For, according to the legends, the little forestmen brought bad luck. You only saw them once in a lifetime and you had to be alone.
I went to the place with my two informants. It lay in the shadow of thick forest, but was not too overgrown since the silk-cotton tree grew near a path. It was very likely that if there had been anything there it would have been easy to see.
I asked to be informed at once if a similar meeting occurred again, but this never happened.
Professor Ledoux admits that he was then very incredulous. It seemed unthinkable that within 12 miles of a big town like Abidjan, and 500 yards from huts inhabited by 6 Europeans and some 300 Africans, there could be unknown creatures in forest which though thick was far from virgin. Moreover the African who claimed to have seen the mysterious pygmy did not come from the Lower Ivory Coast but from the Middle Coast, which is wooded savannah country. Perhaps the great forest, which
Despite his scepticism Professor Ledoux decided to make discreet inquiries about the native legends and what they were based on. He questioned several Africans who trusted him, and he pretended that he fully believed their stories, thus putting them at their ease and getting much more detailed information. In this way he came to visit most of the neighbouring villages.
As a matter of fact I did not obtain any important information, for while there were plenty of men who "had seen" (?) them, they were reticent on the subject, always concluding that they were probably mistaken for all the encounters had taken place at nightfall. This is likely enough.
There was one relatively exact fact. In March 1946 a team of workmen under one Djaco—who later became my lab-boy and my informant and who died of poisoning in 1949—together with a European of whom I can find no trace, were supposed to have seen one of these little red men, at about 8 in the morning, in a tall tree in a very wooded little valley about half a mile from the future site of the station. The European asked what it was and the Negroes explained what a rare thing it was to see such a creature and the evil effects of doing so.
I was at once deluged with stories of dwarfs with their feet back to front, people who lived half in the lagoon and half on land (I think that manatees must be responsible for this legend). These tales were of no interest to me, but I mention them so that the record should be complete.
He then questioned the Europeans who had travelled in the Ivory Coast:
One of them told me the following:
During one of his expeditions in the course of 1947 the great elephant-hunter Dunckel killed a peculiar primate unknown to him; it was small with reddish-brown hair and was shot in the great forest between Guiglo and Toulépeu, that is, between the Sassandra and Cavally rivers. Its remains disappeared while it was being carried home, no doubt having been disposed of by superstitious porters. Dunckel even offered to take my informant to the place and he in turn invited me to go with them.
In 1951 the professor's new boy, in reply to his usual barrage of questions, told him that when he was young, probably around 1941, he had himself seen a hunter at Seguéla bring back a little man with red hair in
This tale seems to me to have been embroidered somewhat. If the creature was really human it would not have been put in a cage, and if it was an ape the official would not have worried whether it was decently dressed. Either it was a creature half way between man and an ape, or more likely, it was an unknown primate which had been dressed up as a joke, as tame monkeys so often are.
Professor Ledoux remarks that these tales of an unknown reddish-brown primate in the Ivory Coast are overlaid with the very firmly held belief that there are pygmies in the forest between the Sassandra and Cavally rivers.
According to an African technician of mine from Toulépleu called Méhaud Taou, an intelligent boy keenly interested in these questions, there was recently a system of barter between the negroes and these forest creatures; various manufactured goods were left in the forest in exchange for various fruits. This was supposed to have gone on until 1935. The little men who practised this barter were hardly known even to the negroes themselves. The Guérés called them Séhité.
It is possible that these Séhités may be true pygmies like those in Central Africa.
The professor's inquiries among the Europeans brought out a significant fact. Those who had never spent any length of time between the Sassandra and the Cavally denied out of hand that there could be any little men in the forest, whether they were true pygmies or unknown primates. On the other hand those who had lived in this area were seriously prepared to consider that pygmies might have lived there in the past and also that there might be a real basis for the legend of the red dwarfs. His own impression was that the legends and rumours in the Ivory Coast were based on the fairly recent presence of pygmies and the present existence of reddish-haired primates whose exact nature was still problematical.
The reports from the east side of the continent are more numerous and varied, and come from more separate sources. Central to these is a statement, that has been repeatedly republished, by one Capt. William Hichens in Discovery for December, 1937, included in an article entitled "African Mystery Beast." This goes as follows:
Subsequent to the publication of this observation, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Cuthbert Burgoyne wrote to the publication Discovery, seconding Captain Hichens' story with the following:
Once again Bernard Heuvelmans has brought to light two further reports, albeit brief. The first appeared in The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society in 1924, from the pen of one Mr. S. V. Cook. This states that:
The final scrap of confirmation comes secondhand from Roger Courtenay who tells in his The Greenhorn in Africa a story related to him by his guide named—as is almost invariable, all down the east side of Africa—Ali. Using Courtenay's own words, this goes:
The first reaction to reading these reports is, perhaps naturally, to suggest that all the reporters, both local and foreign, had stumbled upon a group of true Pigmies, the race of little men who are so well-known in the Uele District of the Congo, and at some other points about central Africa. It is true that the skins of these people are not by any means lacking in a fine, yellowish, downy hair, and that they also make a practice of painting themselves white or red for certain ceremonial purposes. Also, they are tiny and primitive enough to fit the bill. Further, there is no doubt that they were once
very much more widely distributed almost all over Ethiopian Africa. Then also, we must remember that there was once—and there are some still living in the Kalahari area—also another completely different race of men that were spread all over the continent, and perhaps even into what is now Europe in the middle Stone Age. These are the yellowish-redskinned Bushmen. Some of them are, and were, very small but they have no body hair.
The Negroid peoples are apparently the most modern or newest development among human beings, and have very specialized characteristics. It seems that they did not even appear on the scene until just about the beginning of historical times, and their point of origin appears to have been about the headwaters of the Nile. Thence they spread outward in all directions possible but in two main streams, one to the west across the three Sudans; the other to the east and then south around the great lakes and down the eastern uplands. As a matter of fact, the Negro peoples only reached South Africa just about the same time as the white man did from Europe by sea in the 16th century. These eastern tribes, by interbreeding with early Caucasoid types, produced first the Bantu peoples, and later the Hamitic. The former wheeled west and crossed the Congo, reaching the Cameroons. The tribes that went directly west through the Central and into the Western Sudan, encountered a different state of affairs. North of the Congo Basin, and all the way to the bulge of Africa to the west, there were no Caucasoids to intermingle with but there were apparently lots of peoples of the Bushman variety, living in the forests at a very low stage of culture. These, the Negroes did not absorb to any substantial degree. Instead, they either exterminated or completely enslaved them. This is a most important fact that is not customarily known about forest West Africa.
I was once greatly surprised when, upon inviting a whole large village of the Akunakuna tribe on the Cross River in Nigeria to gather for an evening of music and other festivities, to see the community drawn up in four very clearly separated groups; two in the foreground with the Paramount
[paragraph continues] Chief and assorted Chiefs and Sub-Chiefs in front, and two other groups on either side, far behind. It was still daylight when they assembled and to our greatest surprise we suddenly saw that we were looking at two quite different peoples composed of: tall, very dark-brown skinned Negro men, and sturdy tall women of the same cast of feature and skin color, and of very short, almost pigmy men, with pale reddish-brown skins, flat faces, broad noses, hugely everted lips and little bandy legs on the one side, and a mass of tiny but very fat women of the same type and color on the other, all of whom had tremendous bottoms. Demanding to know from the local Headman "What be those?" and why everybody was not mixing it up in the truly democratic way, I was solemnly informed that, as I was not a government official, I would be pleased to know that those others were "slave-man." Slavery being absolutely taboo in that [then British] Protectorate, I sought further information and learned that there are whole enslaved peoples living within the body of many tribes in the general area, who are hewers of wood and drawers of water and with whom it is, and always has been, absolutely verboten to interbreed. These people were as good `Bushmen" types as I have ever seen.
We must therefore bear in mind that really extremely primitive peoples do still exist all over Ethiopian Africa, and that these have manifestly been either enslaved, or actually hunted by the tall, proud Negro peoples for centuries but still survive. Those not enslaved must be pretty wary and adept at concealment. Nonetheless, both the Sudanese in the west and the Bantus in the east seem to insist that such as the Sehités and Agogwes, though men alright, are even more lowly and ancient than these Bushman-like primitives. I do not think that we have to go so far as to dredge up the Australopithe- cines to explain them [though that, of course, is by no means impossible] because there must have been innumerable races and subraces of men, submen, and apelike-looking men (or Apemen, if you will) in the intermediate 500,000 years. Relics of goodness knows how many races could still be lingering on in the montane forests of Africa. Let us not forget that it
was not till 1910 that the second largest land animal in the world was found in Africa (Cotton's Ceratothere, or Ceratotherium cottoni)—a kind of Rhino—and the fabulous Okapi (Okapia johnsoni) turned up. The Congo Peacock had to wait till 19361 To say that there is no place where creatures, even of the size of pigmies, could still lurk unknown on this continent is outright stupidity, as evidence the arrival upon the zoological horizon this past years of the large Ufiti. This ought to be an object lesson to all skeptics.
This story broke in February, 1960, with a news report that sounded as wacky as any we have so far encountered. It read, in one version (The Sunday Mail, Zomba, Nyasaland, February 14, 1960):
This is a very good example of the sort of report with which we have to deal as a normal course of events in ABSMery. It is nonetheless shot full of blather; so let us just look at it critically before we come to the windup of this story.
First, as usual, anything not previously and definitely known of the animal kind is invariably and immediately called a "monster." This is totally irresponsible and especially in a case like this when, as it turned out, the object involved was something that every foreigner should have seen many times in any zoo. Next, the designation of certain objects as "mysterious tree-top structures" is deliberately misleading. Why didn't the reporter state what sort of structures they were, and why they were mysterious? Birdhouses made of plywood, or Amerindian-type wigwams
in Nyasaland would be mysterious, but these crude nestlike platforms of twisted branches and twigs were not—they were typical. Then, if the creatures were known locally by a perfectly good name, there was nothing really mysterious about the platforms. To call their makers' "ghosts" is going a bit far. Since when have ghosts been reported making treetop nests? But, when we contemplate the phrase "the ghost of the supernatural" one—at least one whose native tongue is the English language—stands aghast. Aren't ghosts supernatural anyway? Or am I mistaken? And what the heck is the ghost of the supernatural? What is more, the writer immediately goes on to call the thing an "animal" with a "colorless posterior"! What is "colorless"? Was the damned thing's fundament black, white, or yellow, like peoples' or was it just a great "nothing." "Words," as a famous British parliamentarian once said, "should convey meaning." Why this obvious axiom should not apply also to official reports and news-stories I cannot for the life of me see. Finally, we are informed that one was photographed; but no reproduction is attached to the story. Was the picture "classified"; was it so bad you couldn't see what it was; or was it so bloody obvious that nobody dared show it for fear of being called an ass. Or, alternatively, was it so clear but "out of context" that nobody wanted to admit it?
The whole story, as it was subsequently unfolded, is a classic; and it may well serve as an example of the function- ing of the modern world in face of anything unexpected and frankly unwanted. It had the usual red herrings; some ridiculous, others most extremely interesting. The first were bandied about infinitely; the latter have been totally ignored. Then everybody, at first, said that it was a "native myth"; next, they got it as an animal; then they affirmed that it had run away from a circus [what circus in a patch of forest not previously penetrated in "darkest" Africa?]; and then the real "wipe" began. The "experts," having been confounded by the production of photos and the insistence of "authority" that the thing existed—they having said that it couldn't—could not "explain it away." This time, however, photographs seem to
show clearly that the creature seen was a representative of a race of chimpanzees indigenous to this large patch of closed-canopy forest isolated from the nearest of their race, or any such forest by no less than 700 miles. [This conclusion has, nonetheless, been nicely covered by a firm order that, in no circumstances, is one of these creatures to be caught or killed for proper examination.]
This is all very well but it has a number of singularly unpleasant aspects. First, the natives thereabouts seem to have known the thing quite well and to have had a name for it; yet, the nearest whites and even the game people treated the thing as a "story." True, this creature, like ABSMs in many places, was only brought to light when the first road was pushed into this forest—shades of Jerry Crew—but then everybody indulged the most ridiculous folderol about "ghosts of the supernatural." * Then, the alleged photos have not been published. They arrived in Salisbury, capital of the Federation, on February 6 and were said next day to have "puzzled anthropologists and zoologists." We then get "A spokesman for the Victoria Memorial Museum in Salisbury" saying that the pictures were not sufficiently clear for positive identification. He pointed out, however, that "the picture [singular, this time] and description tallied with a Bushman painting found in the Ruwa region that had been thought to be a "bear"." [This is a near classic in that no bears now live in nor have any fossils of any one of them ever been found anywhere in Africa south of Morocco and Algeria.] Be that as it may, we then read on—and I quote from The Rhodesia Herald, of February 7, 1960:
"From the statements I have heard from Nyasaland, and from the pictures, the animal would at first appear to be a chimpanzee. There are,
Just what the worthy zoologist meant by "a new species" I cannot determine.
This is all very splendid but then history began to change. I have a set of press releases on the subject, issued with the compliments of the Nyasaland Information Department, P.O. Box 22, Zomba, Nyasaland, and numbered 28/60, 38/60, 51/60, 69/60, 73/60, 81/60, 93/60, and 106/60. These constitute ten legal-sized mimeo sheets of most fascinating reading. I wish only that I could reproduce them for you in full as they constitute a most exemplary public relations procedure and a most typical example of what a press officer has to contend with when dealing with "experts." Here is the whole story, told officially, starting with a report from two pragmatic Public Works Department officials on December 16, 1959, of "an unknown animal seen on a road" to a final pronouncement by two "game experts" from the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum on the following March 17, 1960. This last I herewith reproduce.
(Issued Wire & Telephone services)
UFITI STILL ELUSIVE
Nyasaland's rain-forest monster, Ufiti, has been identified as a new sub-species of chimpanzee by two game experts from the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum.
Mr. B. L. Mitchell and Mr. C. Holliday, who are keeping the creature
Ufiti, who is believed to be in season, has returned to her favourite observation point at the Limpasa Bridge after an absence of about a fortnight. The Chief Conservator of Forests, Mr. R. G. M. Willan, who is touring the area, was among several people who saw the creature when it reappeared near the road on Tuesday.
The two game experts, who are collecting photographs * and other forms of visible evidence, hope to arrange a bigger expedition to explore the whole rain-forest area.
It is unlikely, however, that any scientific expedition will be allowed to capture Ufiti for closer examination until it can be established that more of the creatures exist in the rain-forest.
Issued by the Press Section,
Nyasaland Information Department,
P.O. Box 22,
March 17, 1960
This would at first sight all appear to be more than satisfactory. For once, it would seem, the mystery has been explained, the "monster" identified, and zoological knowledge enhanced. But unfortunately and quite apart from the fact that nothing further has been done about anything, a number of most pertinent questions have either been left hanging or neatly buried. Let me dredge up some of these from the official releases first. For instance, in Release No. 93/60, we read the curious statement that "Although reports indicate that Ufiti is likely to prove a giant subspecies of Chimpanzee, her pug [sic] marks are said to be more human than animal. She is unusually large for a chimpanzee and her mouth is much smaller." Then, in Release No. 81/60 we find "He appears to be almost 6 feet tall with short legs and powerful arms, and most observers estimate his weight in the region of 150 lbs." In the same issue it goes on to say "Plaster casts of its hind footprints reveal three [italics mine] toes and a
large thumb." I had better cut in here to point out a few items.
Either footprints were obtained or they were not; if they were, they were either more human, or more animal; but no human has only three toes and a large "thumb" on its foot, while gorillas and chimps have four toes and a widely separated and enormous big toe. Then, no chimp ever stood 6 feet tall, or even 5 feet; chimps of those dimensions being unable to stand on their puny hind legs alone. What is more, if this is a chimp, and of that size, it would weigh more in the neighborhood of 300 pounds, by the very construction of the beast. These are official conundrums. Others come from nonofficial sources. The first is in the form of a letter to the Rhodesian Herald, of February 24, 1960, from a Mrs. Ida P. Wood. This reads:
I said, yes, I did know it, but had not seen one out here. He, it seems, has seen them in Nyasaland. He went on to describe them, said there were two kinds, a grey and a black one, the black being slightly smaller than the grey, about his own height to be exact, 5 ft. 8 in.-5 ft. 9 in. The boy comes from Nyasaland and says he saw the first black one in the forests near a village by the name of Nazombea in 1952. The other he saw in P. E. A. in 1953 by the village of Kurriwe.
Both these names are the Chinyanja pronunciation and the animals in Chinyanja are called Fireti. I questioned him closely about the possibility of the black one being a different kind but "no," he said, "they are the same, only one black, one grey, and only ever one at a time."
I should be interested to know what the anthropologists interested in the previous article think of this information if you would be good enough to pass it on. Have the photographs been printed yet?
(signed) Mrs. Ida P. Wood
This clearly indicates that these creatures are known in the area, and I have no doubt that a little ingenious and patient inquiry among the "benighted local natives" would disclose the fact that they have always been very widely known. I should explain that this business of "there is a black one and a white one" is almost universal in Africa and usually denotes marked sexual dimorphism, which is displayed by so many animals. [Incidentally in many parts of Africa only three colors are recognized—black, white, and red. The last is all the earth colors from deep orange, through all the browns to deep red. Everything, including blues and greens are either white or black according to whether they are in strong light or in shade. All shades of color are "so-so" red, black, or white.] This African's insistence that, although there are two kinds, they are the same beast, would indicate that the differences are either sexual or due to age.
The other concurrent oddity was from quite another part of Africa, 1400 miles distant, and in an area from which we had not previously had any reports. This is actually a very astonishing report and one that should be taken most seriously in view of the almost constant surprises that are coming out of Southwest Africa and Angola. This part of Africa is rapidly assuming the guise of truly "The Darkest," for big game never even known to exist there is turning up, and among it are many record specimens, while it is the home of the otherwise nonexistent, Giant Sable Antelope, and so forth. This apparent ABSM was originally reported in the Evening Standard of Salisbury for November 18, 1959 but did not become
fully recognized until after the Ufiti or Fireti affair broke. It reads as follows:
Disregarding this report, and reverting to the Ufiti for a moment, it should be pointed out that there is something very wrong with the whole thing. I cannot bring myself to believe that game wardens, forest officers, and such other solid citizens could all have been absolutely ignorant of chimpanzees as specific animals. Had none of them ever been to a zoo where one was housed, or seen so much as a picture of one in a book? Even a fleeting sight of such an animal ought to have been enough for them to recognize it—if it was a chimpanzee. Zoologists and anthropologists ought, almost to the same degree, to have been able to spot such an animal from any photograph that displayed anything even approaching an outline. That any could be in doubt about the identity of a picture which was clear enough to ascertain that the animal depicted was not a baboon, is frankly amazing. There is nothing impossible in a sub-species of chimpanzee turning up in this forest and having been there all along though in several respects it might be considered unlikely, but there is absolutely no doubt about the footprint of an ape. It is utterly different from that of any Hominid. There can be no doubts
here. The matter of the Ufiti is a most damning indictment of "the experts" for, from the published record on file, they would obviously then be shown not to know the first thing about their claimed specialties. I now have copies of the photographs mentioned together with some other most clear close-ups taken later. All, and even the foggiest, clearly shows a robust, and typical chimpanzee in very fine coat, either peering intently down from a tree in typical Pongid fashion, or standing stolidly on all fours in the preferred Great Ape stance. [No walking about on her back legs, mark you.] The photographs of two footprints, part of a track in soft earth, are at first rather startling as they look almost human but have only four toes. However, it is the photo not the prints that is startling for, viewed from other angles the "missing toe," namely the great one that is very widely—and properly for a chimp—separated is quite plain. This is a tale of woe but most important to our search, because it goes far to show just what appalling mistakes can be made, misconceptions built up, and fantasies conceived in a matter such as this.
When we come to the last great area for alleged "unknowns" in Africa we do not, thank goodness, have to deal with experts. However, we have to rely on travelers, big-game hunters, and other nonexperts who are sometimes almost as bad. [Oh, for the good old days of bulldozer-operators, and timber-cruisers!] However, there is one very bright gleam ahead and this—and almost for the first and only time—is a real, honest-to-goodness, fully trained, truly expert, and also successful professional "animal collector"; none other than Charles Cordier, the Swiss, who has persistently brought back to museums and zoos what they really want; properly housed and fed, or properly preserved. Here at last is a man whom we can not only rely on for common sense reporting, but who really knows his animals and his zoology, as well as a great part of the world. You may place more reliance on what he says than upon almost all of the rest of the involuntary and even the voluntary ABSM hunters combined.
This information comes to me once again from Bernard Heuvelmans
who had just [at the time of writing] received it from Cordier who (January, 1961) was somewhere in the Congo. Charles Cordier wrote Bernard: "We met three tracks of hind feet—no knuckle marks—in soft mud near water. The tracks were most unusual," he says. Also, they were not those of a gorilla; and, Cordier goes on: "I ought to know, I have a silverback. These 12" tracks were no gorillas." [The gorilla imprint should be compared with the photograph of one made in plaster in Appendix B.] This find was made, as far as we know of now, somewhere in the Bakavu area. The track-maker is obviously some new form of large Pongid.
This brings up a whole string of stories from less reliable sources. These begin with something that has been named the Tano Giant, and was first described by one, Louis Bowler, half a century ago. It has some funny features, and some illogicalities. It states:
The hunter and women who have seen this animal describe him as "past all man" in size; his arms they describe as thick as a man's body; his skin "all the same as a white man," with black hairs growing thereon. The hands have four fingers but no thumb, the head is flat, and, as they describe it, "left small for big monkey head," meaning that it was very near or like a large monkey's head. They say the mouth "was all the same as monkey with big teeth sticking out, and he carries a skin of a bush cow," which the natives say "he carries for cloth when small cold, catch him,"
The most outstanding aspect of this report is, to me, that once again it is of something definitely Hominid and that came out of a montane forest onto orchard-bush, as in the Southwestern case from Windhoek. This is indeed unusual. The other outstanding fact is the mention of the absence of a thumb. I understand that it is believed that the thumb of Plesianthropus was exceptionally small for the size of its hand, and was placed very high up on that hand. Is it possible that it might have been carried pressed against the side of the palm and so not be apparent? The fact that this creature was alleged to have a light skin covered with black hairs is also novel. The whole account is actually more than just aggravating in several respects because it stands absolutely alone as far as I have been able to find out. Naturally, one presumes that it is but a traveler's tale picked from native imagination to give it a tone of authenticity; yet, among such tales—and I have hundreds—it is one of the few that seems in some way to have validity.
Perhaps this is because I got to know the West Africans rather well myself once; and, while I fully appreciate their great storytelling abilities, I did find them essentially most down-to-earth people when it comes to the question of their native fauna. West Africans told us some of the wildest-sounding things about their local animals but, in almost every case, they made good on their words by producing the darned things. They are not the sort to think up "thumblessness," a white skin, or a head "left small for big monkey head." If they said that—and these purport to be firsthand accounts, not traditional tales—they meant it, and precisely. The disemboweling of the children also seems to smack of the real thing. I know just what the teller meant to imply: namely, "Don't try and tell me this was a leopard because I know, even if you don't, that that is not the way they start to eat you."
The only other African ABSM that has been mentioned, and this several times, and by several different travelers, is the Muhalu. This is a muddled issue as may be seen from the following extract from the book Hunting We Will Go by Mrs. Attilio Gatti. This reads as follows:
Another again, and the worst of all, is a big animal with a coat of long hair, black on the back, white on the other parts of the body. And it is enough to be seen by this monster, for one to die in the most atrocious agony.
We found awaiting us a man from Soli's to say that the pygmies had been on the trail of a Bongo mother and young one, and that if the Bwana would come they were sure they would capture the little one.
So Tille decided to have one more fling. He also decided to take a group of our own boys with him to act as porters. Before they could start, however, an event occurred which reduced all Kalume's men to panic.
Ever since we had been in the Ituri we had heard repeated tales and rumors of a great animal called by the Bondande, "muhalu." Of all things that could arouse terror, this muhalu was the King Bee. Tille had been extremely interested in the matter and believed that the creature really did exist and was a hitherto unknown fifth anthropoid or subhuman.
At this time, however, he had done no more than talk about it now and then. Now, on this morning, one of our men rushed into the clearing, his face gray with fright, babbling about the dread muhalu. His stories were conflicting. First he said it had knocked him down, and this seemed odd because the natives firmly believed that a muhalu had only to look at a man and that man would instantly die. Then the boy said he had seen the muhalu first and ran away. No matter what had actually happened, the news that a muhalu was in the vicinity nearly paralyzed our men.
Tille insisted on going to investigate at the point where the boy claimed to have seen the beast. I don't know how he succeeded in dragging that boy, half-dead with fright, or in flicking the pride of Lamese and two of the other men until they agreed to accompany him.
But the panic of our natives had grown so fast that Tille could not stem it. Even Kalume begged us, with all his heart, to leave Tzambehe and come down to his village. All of our natives, though they had no wish to abandon us, were preparing to leave.
In this area, namely the southern face of the Ubangi-Shari Massif, it would seem that we have to deal with two quite separate entities—one an unknown Pongid, and another a Hominid, or ABSM. Despite the rather obvious exaggerations of the descriptions given by locals—and notably by the Pigmies, with whom it is extremely difficult, if really at all possible, to communicate—neither appear really to be too outrageous. Perhaps one is the terrestrial ape that leaves the odd prints now recorded by Cordier, while the other is something akin to the Tano Giant. There are a set of tracks recorded from Bakumu which the locals say were made by what they call the Apamandi, which they there describe as a very heavily built small man, clothed in black hair, but having a light skin. These prints are approximately eight inches long, very short and broad, and have the strange distinction of having the second toe longer than either the first or third, and being somewhat separated from the first or big toe. The significance of this toe proportion will become apparent when we come to investigate the Meh-Teh, or Snowman of the Himalayas.
The accounts of these two [or is it but a single] creatures are very vague, fragmentary, and rare. Yet, if you visit the northwestern edge of the Ituri Forest you will find that it (or they) are taken quite for granted as being rare, but by no means excessively rare, units of the local fauna; living in the upper montane forests to the north, and from time to time coming down on to the lowlands. I have talked to many people who have been into this, previously unadministered, area but only those who were specifically interested in its fauna, or who spent time investigating the ideas and knowledge of the locals, had ever heard of it. Those who did so,
however, all seem to be of the opinion that there is a race of gorilla in the area, or that there is at least some large terrestrial ape there. When I asked if, in their opinion, it could be a primitive Hominid rather than an advanced ape, the opinions have been violently divided. Most returned my query with a perfectly blank stare; but some said "Yes" and invariably went on to talk about the possibility of some larger form of Australopithecine having survived thereabouts—and they usually pick on Plesianthropus, probably because that form has been so well publicized, along with reconstructions of it.
Africa is undoubtedly the land of Pigmies and of some Great Apes, but it does not seem to sport any giant Hominids. At least the Africans don't imply this, even if they do refer to the Tano character and the Muhalu (or one of them) as being very big. Our real Oh-Mah types would be the perfect target for African bogeyman stories, but they just don't appear here, and we shall not meet them again until we reach just the place where they ought to be.
186:* The popular belief is that there are but four living apes—the Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Mias (Orang), and Gibbon. This is not so. See The Monkey Kingdom by the author.
197:* I am wondering if by this expression the writer meant that a ghost of something invisible and probably nonexistent might, by inference, be presumed to be something visible and substantial. I cannot quite conceive of a ghost of a ghost.
199:* Please note! (Author)
201:* How did Mrs. Wood (or her houseboy) know of this?—Author.