Gardner Variety: the legend of bigfoot
So the Science Channel officially has a show about Bigfoot, joining the History Channel, National Geographic and Cartoon Network in the quest to capture the elusive beast.
No, really. It’s true. Spoiler alert: they don’t find anything.
I feel a bit disappointed by the fact that networks focusing on science and history are airing shows featuring mythological creatures, but I mostly purged those emotions after sitting through their programing exploring alien influence on ancient human society.
Now that I’ve got that mini-rant out of the way, I do kind of want to talk about Bigfoot — at least a little.
Ahem. Bigfoot is kind of a big deal.
In fact, he’s been just out of sight for centuries. The great, hairy monster shows up in one form or another in stories told by more than 15 native tribes inhabiting North America.
Differing slightly from tribe to tribe, legends generally describe the beast as a wild, hairy ape-man, devoid of logic and reasoning, lurching through the forest in the dead of the night.
In some stories, Bigfeet (Bigfi?) are said to be able to mate with human women, perhaps explaining Andre the Giant and Hagrid from Harry Potter.
He’s taken many names throughout the years. Perhaps most recognizable are Sasquatch and Yeti, though he’s also been called Shampe, Siatco, Ba’wis, and Hairy Man. (The Yokuts Indians were a very literal tribe.)
This is where the inter-tribal similarities end, however.
In the Bigfoot myths of some tribes, Sasquatch and his relatives are generally shy and benign figures. They may take things that do not belong to them, but do not harm people.
But legends from other tribes describe them as malevolent creatures who attack humans, play dangerous tricks on them, or steal children.
Sometimes, they ate people. Whole people. It’s legend.
These more dangerous Bigfoot monsters, known as Stick Indians or Bush Indians, are sometimes found in large groups or even villages, which engaged in warfare with neighboring Indian tribes.
But it isn’t just America. According to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll, 21 percent of Canadians also believe in an undiscovered hairy humanoid.
The Yeti is also said to roam the Himalayas, sometimes going by the name of Meh-Teh, or the Abominable Snowman.
So how has this enormous hairball invaded so many cultures? The idea of a wild, man-like creature seems to be thoroughly entrenched in modern mythology.
For many, especially those with a more violent form of the yeti, the tales seem to be cautionary in nature. The boogey man has many faces, but when you’re sitting around a campfire, what’s the difference?
For others, perhaps he is a reminder that there’s something larger than us at play — something eternal.
One of the main functions of human storytelling is teaching lessons. Perhaps this emphasis and fascination place on an “other” is simply our way of recognizing our relatively small spot on the universal scale.
But then again, maybe there actually is a giant ape-man running rampant through the forest. Let me know if you find out, because I probably won’t catch the show.
Wesley Gardner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org