The Meaning of the Yeti and Sasquatch

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I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a Bigfoot story. The idea that there is something that might be avoiding the long hand of scientific scrutiny makes my day. I smile when I hear of a new frog or monkey out there. But, it’s bitter sweet, as any new discovery reminds me that soon there really will be no place on this planet to hide.

Frank Bures, writing for Minnesota Monthly, comes to the same conclusion in his article “The Search for Sasquatch.” Bures’ desire to believe in such a thing as a “9-foot-tall monkey” led him into the north woods of Minnesota, along with 41 other fellow Bigfoot explorers, to try to prove what no one else has proved before. But through the course of his adventures Bures realizes that proof of discovery would mean one less magical thing left out there, away from human touch.

[W]hat would happen if we actually found Bigfoot?…

I felt a wave of sadness sweep over me at the thought. The reason I had always loved the idea of Bigfoot was that, if he was real, it meant the world still contained mysteries, things that were yet unknown and maybe even unknowable. It meant the woods were still big and dark enough to harbor something like Sasquatch. Bigfoot was like a hairy wood sprite loping through my dreams–the spirit of the wild! Find him and, well, he’d be just another monkey.

Across the globe another writer, Ben Judah, delves into the Romit Valley in Tajikistan in search of the Yeti. Like Bures in northern Minnesota, Judah meets many avid believers. Two hunters tell him, “He has wool, black wool, and these breasts…” and “Oh yes, I was up in the glade, and he attacked my donkey. It was very frightening. He looked like a wild man–or a clever monkey.”

Whereas Bures is left with a feeling of wonder when contemplating Bigfoot’s existence, Judah has a slightly different take away:

Living close to nature, without thorough schooling, peasants have always been frightened of the mythical wild man. In the 18th century, the oppressed central European peasantry was gripped by a terror of aristocratic vampires in the run-up to the French Revolution. 

The hysteria raged for a generation. Thousands of sightings were reported. Villages swore by Christ they knew what they had seen. The Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa was concerned enough to dispatch her personal physician to investigate whether or not vampires existed. They were not real, but poverty, oppression, ignorance and superstition were. 

With political reform across the continent in the 19th century, the swarms of fairies, Woodwose, beasts and ghosts that had inhabited European minds for centuries slowly faded away. But in Romit, I touched a living myth. 

Judah begins his essay by telling us that “Dushanbe is not a real city. It isn’t a real capital and Tajikistan is not a real country.” That, in the end, is really what his story is about. He does not expect to find an ape-like creature towering over him in the mountains of Tajikistan. Rather, Judah is trying to figure out why people believe in things that are so clearly made up.

In the end, these stories are doing different things–both great in their own way and both highly entertaining. As for me, I think I’ll continue to hope that there are new frogs and cats out there, as well as something that might have gotten stuck somewhere on the evolutionary path between monkeys and us.

Source: Minnesota Monthly, Standpoint.           

Image by Bob Doran, licensed under Creative Commons.

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