A Common Fear
“We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.” It may seem a bit ironic that one of the leading authors of a book on a giant, human-like mythological creature that may be real is actually an expert on much smaller animals. Robert Michael Pyle studies moths and butterflies and writes about them but in 1995 he also penned a book about the supposed primate known, among other names, as Yeti, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch.
The giants in the American Indian folklore are as varied as the different tribes themselves. It is important to remember that although they are grouped together much like the term European, the designation of American Indian applies to many tribes, most of which are now extinct.
The Bigfoot phenomenon is proof that there is a real place for mythologies in the present day. A popular television program, “Finding Bigfoot” airs on the Animal Planet network as well as being replayed in internet formats. A group of four has traveled the world, speaking and exploring the myths about a large, here-to-fore undocumented bipedal primate thought to be a link between the great apes and Homo sapiens. One of the group is a naturalist and botanist but the other three are educated men in other disciplines. To date, the three men have yet to convince their female scientist companion of the existence of the myth known as Bigfoot.
Even the more popular terms are modern additions to the myth. A photograph allegedly taken by Eric Shipton was published with Shipton describing the footprint as one from a Yeti, a mythological creature much like a giant snowman said to inhabit the mountains of Nepal. Several years another set of footprints was photographed in California and published in a local newspaper. This time the animal was described as “Bigfoot” and a legend dating back to the earliest settlers in North America had been reborn.
The Lummi tribe called their giant ape/man mythological character Ts’emekwes and the descriptions of the character’s preferred diet and activities varied within the tribal culture. Children were warned of the stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai who were said to roam at night and steal children. There were also stories of the skoocooms, a giant race which lived on Mount St. Helens and were cannibalistic. The skoocooms were given supernatural powers and status. A Canadian reporter also reported on such stories and he used a term from the Halkomalem and named the creature “sasq’ets” or Sasquatch. Rather than to be feared, though, some tribes translated this name to mean “benign-faced one.”
Mythologies of such giant creatures can be found on six of the seven continents and if mankind had been able to survive on Antarctica for thousands of years, there would probably be some from there as well. We do seem to need to believe in something larger than life, as our mythologies bear witness. But what if there was proof of these creatures/ What if they really did exist and perhaps still do?
The Paiute Indians, an American Indian tribe from the regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains also had folklore of such a character. Their legends tell of a tribe of red-haired giants called Sai’i. After one such giant gave birth to a disfigured child which was shunned by the tribe, The Paiute believed the Great Spirit of All made their land and living conditions barren and desolate as punishment. Enemies were then able to conquer the tribe and kill all but two – Paiute and his wife and their skin turned brown from living in such harsh conditions.
In 1911 miners working Nevada’s Lovelock Cave discussed not the guano or bat droppings for which they were searching but bones they claimed were from giants. Nearby reddish hair was found and many believed the remains were those of the Sai’i or Si-Te-Cah as they were also called. However, some like Adrienne Mayor in her book “Legends of the First Americans” believe these bones and others found nearby are simply untrained eyes not realizing what they are seeing. A tall man could have bones that would seem large and hair pigment is not stable and often changes color based upon the conditions in which it is found. Even black hair can turn reddish or orange given the right mineral composition in the soil in which it is found.
What the mythologies of the world tell us, and especially the prevalence of those about giants which appear in every culture as we will see tomorrow and the rest of this week, is that mankind needs to believe in something. In ‘The Magic of Thinking Big”, David Schwartz writes: “Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”
Maybe you believe in the yeti or Sasquatch and maybe you believe in the disproof of them. We create giants in our own minds every day – those problems that seem insurmountable or the dreams that seem impossible. The only Bigfoot that matters is that one foot that takes a big step towards progress, towards peace, a step taken with hope. The best thing to believe in is you.