Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 2. Witnesses

    Out of 500 eyewitness testimonies, Dr Koffmann chose to publish twelve. In order to keep my posts within reasonable lengths, I have decided to spread them out over two posts. In reading them, you should keep in mind a number of reservations.
    Firstly, it is unlikely that all of the witnesses spoke Russian. It is likely that many of the testimonies were provided by means of an interpreter. Secondly, this was the Soviet Union. Having a Russian interviewer taking down notes on a clip-board was probably not the best way to get a Caucasian to “open up”. It is likely, therefore, that these testimonies were written up by memory after the interview was terminated. (On the other hand, considering that she had 500 reports to choose from, these might just be the exceptions to the rule. It is evident that some of the witnesses were prominent men.) Thirdly, as European folklorists have discovered, if you visit places where people still believe in fairies, you will find people who claim to have seen them. It is possible, therefore, that some of these stories are fictitious. On the other hand, one must also consider the uniformity of the testimonies across ethnic boundaries, as well as collateral evidence, such as footprints.
    Finally, quite apart from the normal increase in human population, this area has been, and continues to be, the site of bitter internecine strife. In view of this, I can only feel disturbed by noting that very few of these reports date from the 1950s or later. There are also frequent references to their being more common in the past. Is man's closest relative going extinct before it is even recognized by science? (This is a fear expressed by more recent researchers, although close-up sightings are still being reported.)


    Dr. Koffmann has at her disposal the declarations of more than 500 witnesses affirming that they have personally observed these creatures. Of very diverse nationalities, age, levels of education, and social class, the informants are, by and large, simple men: shepherds, peasants, drivers. Their knowledge of nature and their faculty of observation are undeniable. Second hand information is numerous, and is not included in this list. It goes without saying that the name of the creatures described varies with the language of the country. It is always translated as “man of the woods” (méchae-adame in Azerbaijani, chiss katsi in Georgian, agach-kishi in Karachai, etc), “wild man”, or “hairy man”. She uses the Kabardian almasty, with which she is familiar, since it is especially Kabardino-Bakharia, at the foot of the Elbrus, which serves as the basis of her researches.
    The data are of unequal volume and value with respect to the circumstances of the observation, duration, distance, clarity, the interest displayed by the witness, his state of fear or curiosity, and the position and behaviour of the almasty. One witness will be struck by a secondary detail and will obstinately return to it, scornful of the essential details; his neighbour will insist on a completely different aspect; a third will have been able to examine the creatures at leisure and on several occasions, to approach them, or give them food. Here are some examples of reports, chosen among hundreds in the possession of the author. Taken in isolation, each of these communications have no value, but collected in the hundreds, they constitute a dossier of which the existence can be established as factual.


    Report of Kumychev Talib, 67, Kabardian, one of the most respected elders of the village of Kammeromost, in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria (the text of the report is abridged).
    ...  It was approximately in 1930, or 1931, or 1932, in June or the end of May, when our cattle departed for the alpine pastures of Elbrus. I was the team leader. We were leaving to inspect the herds with the zootechnician.
    ... Well, the rain had surprised one of my shepherds, Zagureev Shagir, very high on the slope. He went to seek refuge under a rocky overhang where, on approaching, he saw three seated almasties. Shagir was a bit scared, but the rain was getting heavier, so he decided to stay, just the same, under the shelter, merely keeping to the side. Then the rain having cleared, Shagir went down to the farm. He said nothing to anyone.
    Very early in the morning, I was awakened by shouts, a great voice, and I saw two shepherds collecting their flocks on the run and driving the cattle down into the valley.
    “Where are they going?” I asked.
    “There are almasties under the rock, up there.”
    ... At that moment, Shagir declared: “That's right. There are three almasties sitting up there; I saw them yesterday evening.”
    I was definitely furious... I said to Shagir: “You're an imbecile. You were afraid of a bush.”
   “No,” said Shagir, “I saw them.”
   “Then, why didn't you say so?”
    “Because the elders say: when you see the almasty for the first time, if you tell anybody, you will get a headache. And for me, that was the first time I saw any.”
    I still did not believe. Someone said to me, “Well, go and see for yourself.”
    There were about ten to fifteen of us making a semicircle around that rock. We stayed there until dinner. Some left, others arrived. Three almasties were sitting under the overhang, two of medium height, the other bigger. The biggest was in the middle. They were sitting on the stones facing us, bent over, their heads low. From time to time, they raised their head slightly and looked at us down below. Their heads were very ugly, not attractive.
    The face resembles that of a human to some extent, but the nose is shorter and flattened. The eyes are slanted and reddish. The cheeks project a lot, like those of a Mongol or Korean – even more so. The lips are thin. The lower jaw appears cut off and sloping.
   The hair of the head is long, like that of a woman, and tangled. The whole body is covered with hair recalling that of a buffalo. As to location, it is longer on the torso and chest, shorter on the arms and legs.
    The big one had the chest of a man. The others had women's breasts, but extremely long and covered with hair.
    The body hair was very dirty. The stench was such, that one couldn't stand it. The odour recalled that of wild flax, when it is growing densely.
   At one point, the one on the right mumbled something.
   I did not see their hands very well; they were clenched between their legs. The legs are a little short and bowed. The foot is like that of a man's, but more splayed.
    All wore, rolled around their loins, an old piece of shepherd's cape. A young shepherd proposed to throw an ancane (a sort of lasso) onto one of them and lead it to the village. But all the others cried out that this was forbidden, that he must not do them harm, that he must not disturb them.
    I was looking at them from a distance of three or four metres [10 to 13 ft]. I even approached to within a metre. If I had touched them. Don't think of it! If you were to touch one, as Allah is my witness, you would not eat with your hands afterwards, they were so dirty, stinking, and repulsive.
    I stayed close to two hours. When I left, some of the other shepherds arrived.
    [...] I have heard my father tell that they suck from the cows.”


    Report of Koshokoev Erzhib, 70, Kabardian, inhabitant of Circassian Stary
    “Before the war, there were many almasties at our home; one could say, masses. Today, it appears one meets very few. Personally, I have seen them three times.
    The first time was in October 1944. Our detachment (of servicemen) was riding through a field of hemp, on the steppe ... Suddenly, the horse of the first horseman halted so abruptly that I almost jostled him; I was riding second in line. He said to me: "Look! An almasty!” In front of us, a few yards away, an almasty was thrusting into its mouth the ends of hemp stems containing the seeds. Behind us, the detachment was bunching up, making noise. She noticed us and ran very fast – she ran extraordinarily quickly – towards a shepherd's hut, which was not far away. While she was running, several men in our detachment pulled down their rifles from their shoulders and were preparing to fire, but our leader, a Russian officer from Nalchik, shouted: “Don't shoot, don't shoot! Let's take it alive and bring it to Nalchik!”
    We dismounted and surrounded the shepherd's hut. We were very numerous and we were able to close the circle around the hut. I was just opposite the door and could see very well. While we were approaching, the almasty left two or three times, in one bound, out of the hut. She appeared very agitated: she left, fussed about, threw herself from one side to another; but on noticing me, she jumped back inside, left again immediately from another side, but there again saw the people. In doing this, she grimaced, her lips moving very fast, very fast, and she mumbled something.
    In the meantime, our cordon was closing in. We had closed ranks and were advancing elbow to elbow. At that moment, the almasty appeared again, shook itself in all directions and, suddenly, let out a terrible cry and rushed straight onto the men. She ran faster than a horse. To tell the truth, the men were surprised and frightened. She easily broke through our cordon, jumped into the ravine, and disappeared into the undergrowth surrounding the river.
    She measured about 1.80 m [5 ft 11], very robust. It was difficult to see her face because of the hair. The breasts hung down the belly. She was covered with long reddish hair, like that of a buffalo. You could easily see through the scraps of old, man-made Kabardian kaftan, which she was wearing, all tattered.
    It is necessary to watch out for almasties at night, close to the hemp fields, when it is ripening. The hemp, they love it. They eat a lot of it. They go around the whole field, consuming the heads of grain. In doing so, they constantly mumble, “Boom, boom, boom”, they chew noisily, they blow through their noses, they rustle the stems. When the almasty is eating hemp, you hear it from afar, at night. How may times, in season, I have heard them mumble like that. These last years, I have never heard them any more.
    Almasties also like water melons. Previously, they used to come into the plantations and wreak a lot of havoc. I have a friend, an old man; he used to be a guard on a melon patch in the collective farm; he lived in a hut. One day, I was going to see him and I noted that a lot of water melons had been spoiled, nibbled in a peculiar manner, eaten from the middle. [...] I took one of them and saw the marks of big teeth. I understood that it had been an almasty.
    I reached my friend, laughed, and said to him: “A fine guard you are! Look, your plantation, what has become of it!” He replied: “Shut up! This almasty is wearing me down. Every night, he comes to eat the water melons. I go out to meet him with my club, but I don't dare approach too close. I yell out at him: 'You have no shame! Go away!' He says to me: 'Boom, boom, boom.” I yell out again: 'You have no conscience! Me, I am the guard! I am responsible for the melons.' He answers me: 'Boom, boom, boom.' And there you are, we chat like that all night.”
   Do you know of cases where someone has killed an almasty or recovered a corpse?
   Thirty or forty years ago, two shepherds came and told how they had found a quite fresh almasty corpse in the forest, devoured by wolves or dogs. In fact, there was nothing left of the corpse but the head. The shepherds were desolate. They kept repeating, “It is very sad! It is very sad!”
    Why do certain almasties wear human clothes?
    First of all, one has pity on the almasties. Previously, it used to happen that the almasties would come into the houses for someone to feed them. At the same time, a person would dress them so that they would not get cold.
    Then the almasties would help themselves. That used to happen very often formerly: someone would go to the forest or into the fields, to gather wood or mow some hay; he would hang up on a branch his provisions and the clothes which were too hot to wear. He would return a few hours later: his provisions would have been eaten, and his clothes would have disappeared; the almasties had stolen the lot.
    The almasties used to observe man very attentively. For example, a man walks into the forest. He feels hot. He sees a river. He undresses, spreads out his effects on the bank, and bathes. Then, he dresses and goes away. At the same time, just as he has left, at the very minute, out of the forest comes the almasty, of course, if there were one in the neighbourhood. Obligatorily, it approaches the spot where the clothes had been deposited, it feels the ground, it sniffs it. The almasty is very curious.


    The tale of Kumykov Feitsa, 67, Kabardian from Kurkuzhin
    “Almasties, I have seen a lot of them. How many times? If you want me to tell you, I would see them all the time for five years, in the summer, when I was in the mountain meadows. It was in the 1930s, in the direction of the Elbus, in a rocky place, where there were caves. There used to be many almasties in this region; they used to go into the caves and exit them like bees in a hive, very tall, taller than us; but I only ever saw them one at a time.
   They were of different ages; some smaller, some larger. I think there were more women than men. With the men, the testicles were placed well in the rear, as with a boar. I never saw a newborn but I have often heard them crying. The oldtimers say that the women find the means to attach them to the chest.
   The almasties are like us; they have arms and legs, but they are hairy. Their hair is like a bear's, dark. I always saw them naked; I never saw them wear clothes. They cannot speak, they only mumble or bellow. They are not afraid of people, only dogs. They run very fast.
    They always used to come very early in the morning or once the sun had set – because they are afraid of dogs – to lick the gems of salt, close to our shelter. I often saw them do it, almost every day. They would come when the sheep were not there, and the dogs had left with them.
   Twice, in that period, I saw them quite close. One day, I was returning to the village. I had a small bag of food: cheese, bread, and a piece of mutton. Towards evening it began to rain heavily. I entered a cave, lit a wood fire, and stretched out my woollen cape. At night, the rain intensified. Suddenly, something very big entered the cave, covered in reddish hair, on two legs. At that moment, I believed it was a bear, and then, no, I saw it was an almasty. I was very scared. I was not armed; I had only my dagger. I pretended to see nothing, but I was more dead than alive. I was holding my dagger in my right hand, concealed next to me so that it would not see it, and would not become angry. Then, I calmed down a bit. I recalled that the old people always said that, if you do them no harm, they never attack a human being. However, the almasty sat down next to the fire, to the side, and began to squeeze the water out of its hair, for it was soaked. It took it like this. [Kumykov takes a wick of hair between his two fists, and squeezed it towards his arm, the hairs being dried by pressure.] Then, it settled down close to the fire, offering first one side and then the other. Finally, it sank down almost at my feet. I cautiously moved off a little to the side, but it stretched out once more on my feet, and like that, little by little, effectively pushed me away from the fire. I was completely reassured, because I could see that it was not evil. Besides, it was a female; she had very long breasts, which hung along her belly. I said a few words to it, I tried to speak to it in Kabardian, in Balkar, and in Russian. But it only mumbled some incomprehensible sounds.
    I was beginning to feel sleepy; it was already very late. But I did not dare. I ended up dozing off, lying on my left side. At night, I could hear it chomping and chewing. I thought about my provisions. I heard it sucking the bones, but I said nothing.
   In the morning, I woke up very early, but it was already gone. My bag was untied and empty. She had eaten everything; she left me nothing. The mutton bones were carefully lined up next to the bag.
    The other time, it happened like this. I had left with two donkeys to try my luck at booty in a hut of some absent Balkar neighbours, not far from our shepherd's quarters, in the bushes. Our four dogs, big Caucasian shepherds, were following me. It was evening.
    Then, as we go closer, the dogs suddenly rushed forward and began to run around the hut barking. As if there was someone inside. I approached the door, and cautiously opened it. In the middle of the hut stood an almasty. I remained at the door, and the almasty looked at me, its lips quivering rapidly. It should have stayed, for I would never have allowed the dogs to do it harm. But it was probably scared. Abruptly, it leaped towards the door and ran away, bumping into my left shoulder. I almost fell over. My shoulder ached for a month. It ran on two legs, very fast, screaming in a very sharp, very loud voice, like a woman. I tried to hold back the dogs, I yelled, I called. In vain. The dogs returned two or three hours later, tired out, with blood-stained jaws and paws, but nevertheless without a scratch on them. Thus, they had torn it to pieces. Dogs do not tolerate almasties.
    What does it eat, the almasty? It eats the afterbirths of cattle, torn horses, carrion. It goes there where a man relieves himself. It eats hellebore. I have heard the old folks say that and I have seen myself that they consume a lot.


    The tale of Pshukov Mohamed, 40, Kabardian, mason, inhabitant of Kyzburun
    It was in 1939 or 1940, in summer ... Where she came from, I do not know, but one day, a (female) almasty turned up in our vegetable garden and installed herself in the maize patch. She made herself a bed there of some old rags and grass. She spent a week at our place, without ever leaving the garden. She used to eat the green maize. She was completely covered with hair. Her (head) hair was very long. The breasts were extended, they hung down like a woman's, but very low. The nails were long. The eyes were bridled, and red. The teeth were larger than a man's, the lips were those of an ape's.
    During the day, she always used to remain lying down. In general, she would lie on her side, but she would turn around all the time, she did not keep the same position for long.
    Many people used to come to our place to see her. If several people approached at once, she would become disturbed, sit up, cry out, and tear her (head) hair. She would cry out very loud, like a woman.
    When she calmed down, if there was anyone near her, she would approach very gently, and start to lick him like a dog. When you left, the sleeve of your shirt would be quite wet.


    The report of Khakonov Danial, 65, pensioner, Kabardian of Karmakovo
    When I used to work as a shepherd in the Akbecheyiko Valley, at the very shepherd's hut where you were this morning, I used to see almasties all the time. It was in the 1940s. One evening, at the end of October, we were cooking some meat. At that moment, the sheep scattered. We ran to gather them back. When we returned an hour later, another pot. It was a pot of about fifteen litres [ >3 gallons]. What do you think? You think nothing: you know it was the almasties. Not far from us stood an old hut. Almasties lived there. How many? I don't know. A whole family, probably: six or seven. We used to hear them make noise every day, towards evening: they move around, fight, play. They are very noisy people, who squall, yell, weep. They don't have any human language, they speak like a drum: “Boom-boom-boom!” None of us would go into that house. One day, I proposed a sheep to anyone who would shift himself there, but no-one wanted to go. They, on the other hand, used to come into our shepherd's hut and take the remains of our food.
    One day, they pulled into their house a length of guttering which was trailing in the ground. All night, they played with this guttering. They were living it up and did not let us sleep during the night. We were five men, with rifles, but we were scared to go and see what they were doing. The pot, we recovered it the following morning, empty of course, but far away, between the stream and their house.
    I worked three years in that corner. They were there all the time, especially in summer. Our dogs became used to them, they growled, but didn't touch them. However, if the dogs surrounded one the almasty would cry out loudly.
   I have often seen their footprints: five toes, no arch, round heel, broad sole. They look a bit like the prints of a bear.
   I have not been back there since 1947.


    The Report of Didaov Dina, 40, Kabardian, electrician at Baxan
    In the summer of 1950, I was sent to make an inventory of the farms in the alpine pastures of the Elbrus. Towards midnight, I went to bed. The shelter consisted of three stone walls. There was no fourth wall; it was open. Everyone went to bed on the ground, on the hay, under our woollen capes, head to the end wall, feet towards the outside. I was lying at the edge. Between the side wall and me, there remained a space where we had laid out the pot of broth and a saucepan of grilled meat.
    Everyone fell asleep quickly. Me, I was young, a little excited by the conversation, the meal, the unfamiliar ambiance – that was the first time I had gone to bed in the mountains – and I didn't fall asleep. My neighbour, an old man, did not sleep for long. At times, he would doze off, then wake up, smoke, and go back to sleep.
   Suddenly, some sort of woman came quickly and silently into the shelter. Hideous, with hair hanging to her waist. She stared at the wall where a bridle was hanging, a Caucasian bridle adorned with metallic pendants. She directly took down the bridle, turned it around, turned it around again, examined it from all sides, hung it back up on the wall, and silently went away. I was paralysed with fear. Just the same, the old man wasn't sleeping. I asked him: “What was that?” He calmly replied: “It's nothing to be concerned about. If you stay here, you'll see a lot more like that.” And he went back to sleep.
    Suddenly, she reappeared, halted motionless, examined the sleeping men attentively, quickly approached the saucepans, and placed herself one or two yards from me.
   The pot was closed with its lid and the frying pan, like at home, with another pan. She crouched down, quickly and silently lifted the lid and the frypan and began to eat. She ate any old how, sometimes the meat from the frypan sometimes the broth. She imbibed the broth with big wooden dipper which she had taken from the lid. She did not hold it like a human being, but with all the fingers on one side. Her fingers were very long, except for the thumb, which was shorter than in a human being. Her countenance was hideous, not beautiful. Completely hairy, with dark brown hair covering the whole of her body. Long breasts hanging to her belly. The head hair loose, long, tangled. The nose was small, not upturned, as this man said, but flattened. The mouth was very broadly split, a lot more than ours, the lips were thin, like an ape's. The skin was black. The cheeks jutted out, as with the Chinese or Koreans. But there are Chinese and Chinese. Some have prominent cheeks, others less so. Hers were very strong, like a real, authentic Chinese. Her eyes were strongly bridled, and their colour was thus: if, in place of eyes, you put little pocket-light bulbs and placed a red glass in front, this would be her eyes exactly.
    She wore some sort of dress, all torn and disgusting. She ate sitting down on her heels, very fast, seizing with very quick movements, sometimes meat, sometimes soup. She chewed very quickly; you couldn't tell whether she was chewing or swallowing whole. But she ate very attentively, without ceasing for a second in looking to the right and left.
    What struck me, it was the speed, precision, and silence of her movements. Word of honour, if I were to start to eat, for example, I would certainly make a noise, I would have bumped into something. Her, she does everything in silence. Just like a silent movie. For example, when she took the bridle. The bridle carried national decorations in metal; they naturally clatter. Well, she took it down and hung it up again without the least noise.
    When she had finished eating, she quickly and quietly closed the pot with its lid, and the pan with the pan, she replaced the wooden dipper on the lid exactly on the spot where she had found it, and went away.
    If I had been alone, I would have probably died of fright. But, although I was scared, I felt reassured, because there was a lot of world. I told myself, if something happens, I will start to cry out, and they will all get up. I did not fall asleep for a long time. In the morning, everyone began to eat the meat and the broth, and offered some to me. I refused; I had seen who had eaten it at night. I said that I did not normally eat in the morning.

Continue to Part 3 of 4

1 comment:

  1. This's absolutely superb stuff Malcolm.

    Almost feels as if I'm reading the original reports which led to the plot to civilize Enkidu.

    So many electrifying details...

    And clearly they're people like us - not 'dumb beasts'.