Friday, 9 March 2012

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 3. More Witnesses

THE DEAD ALMASTY
    The account of Zhigunov Khazrail Khamid, 46, Kabardian, brickyard batcher from Baxan.
    “At the end of September 1939 or 1940, I was following the road from Nizhny Kukuzhin to Malka. I decided to cut across an immense field of maize. Scarcely had I left the road, forty yards from it, when I fell upon the remains of an almasty devoured by wolves or dogs. Over a clearing of about a dozen yards in diameter, completely trampled down, the maize was knocked over and ravaged. In the middle of this zone lay the head of the almasty with what remained of the neck. The left half of the neck had been devoured. Up to that day, I did not believe in the existence of almasties. I used to laugh and asserted that they were fables, inventions. That was why I proceeded to the examination of this head with particular interest. Armed with a stick, I turned it over on all sides and, seated on my heels, I examined it attentively. The head was completely enveloped in crop of very long hair which, in the living state, would have probably reached the waist; it was very much entangled and cemented with thistles. This crop of hair was so thick that, when I turned over the head, it remained in the air, like a cushion. That was why I could not discern the shape of the skull. But the dimensions were those of a human skull. The brow was recessive. This spot jutted out a lot (he pointed to the superciliary arch). The nose was small, trumpeted. It had no root, it was like pushed into the face. It was the nose of an ape. The cheek bones jutted out like a Chinese's. The lips were not those of a man's; they were thin and straight like an ape's. I did not see the teeth; the lips were tightly clenched. The chin was not like a man's, but rounded and heavy. The ears were human; one was torn, the other intact. The eyes were strongly bridled, the slit was directed down and outwards. I do not know the colour of the eyes; the lids were closed, and I did not open them. The skin was black, covered with dark brown hairs. The hairs were absent around the eyes and on the area above the cheeks. The cheeks themselves and the eyes were covered with short hairs; they were longer on the neck and chin.
    There issued from the head a powerful and repulsive odour. It was not the odour of decomposition; the remains were fresh, and felt nothing, there were neither flies nor worms. It was the odour of the almasty itself, so sickening that I almost vomited. Also, I was examining the head and pinching my nostrils with my left hand, while handling my stick with the right. The odour recalled that of a dirty body, of mould.
    Nearby lay scattered the other parts of the body; I noticed whitish bones covered with shreds of flesh, but I did not approach them.”
Did the almasty's face recall that of a man or an ape's?
    “It is very difficult to answer you. The nose and lips were exactly like an ape's. But, evidently, on the whole, the face recalled that of a man.”
    We show to Zhigunov the “portrait” of Pithecanthropus reconstructed by Burian. Zhigunov recognized a certain resemblance between its nose and that of the almasty. Pointing out the chin, he repeated several times: “Exactly that!” The mouth itself was similar. The eyes and their slit were totally different. On the whole, except for the lower part of the face, he found only a very general resemblance to the almasty.

A BIRTH AMONG THE ALMASTIES

    Account of Akhaminov Khuzer Bekanluk, 55, Kabardian, peasant at Planovskoye
   “There was one month, 19 August (1964), I was reaping 3 km [2 miles] from the village in a sunflower field where there remained several clearings which had not been sown. I suddenly heard a funny sort of noise like someone breathing noisily. Like a dog, when a fly enters its nose ... When it sounded a third time, I put down my scythe to go and see. Abruptly, two arms, humanlike, but black, hairy, and long extended out of the grass in my direction. I immediately hurled myself towards my cart, and climbed inside; it was standing unharnessed a dozen yards away. Standing on the cart, I saw a silhouette, humanlike, which, hunched up, was sinking into the sunflowers. I was only able to see well the back, covered with long red hairs like those of a buffalo, and the long hair of the head. I did not see its face. When the almasty had left (I immediately recognized it, because I had seen some before), I climbed down from my cart and returned to the scythe. At that moment, I heard a squalling at the same place. I advanced cautiously and parted the stems.
    On some cupped grass, like a nest, two newborns were lying. One could see that they had just been born. They were exactly like suckling humans, except that they were smaller; they would have been no more than two kilos [4.4 lb]. Apart from that, you would not have been able to distinguish them from our little ones. They had pink skin, like human babies, exactly the same head, the same arms and legs. Not hairy. Like humans or newborn rats, you see: pink skinned and naked. They waved their little arms and legs, just like our newborns, squalling.
    I ran away. I quickly harnessed my ass and returned to the village. Two or three days afterwards, I returned, but there was nothing.”
    But why did you tell nobody?
    “What do you mean, 'nobody'? I told my wife, and neighbours.”
    I mean, why did you not make a report?
   “But, make a report to whom? Why make one?”
   To the authorities, to the police, to the soviet! (The idea of making such a futile report – an almasty in childbirth! ... to the authorities roused frank hilarity from the whole little group present.) But, didn't you know that it was of interest, that scholars where concerned about the almasty?
    “Who knew it, that it was important, that! In my life, I have never heard it said that anyone would be interested in it.”
AN ALMASTY BATHING
 
    Account of Khadji Murat, 23, Azerbaijani, driver at Belokany.
    “In the autumn of 1959, I was following, at night, the edge of the Belokany-chai River. I was carrying a bag of rice which I had “deducted” lower down, at the old mill. That would have been twenty-odd kilos [45 lb]. Obviously, I did not wish to meet anybody. As if deliberately, the moon was shining with all its clarity. Also, I was taking, not the main road, but the back streets of the village, along the river. Suddenly, I heard a noisy splashing. At first I believed it was the wind carrying the noise of the waves of the rapids, but there was no wind and then, the rapids were quite small. The splashing was repeating itself regularly, as if someone was emptying a whole bucket in one go. I told myself: "This must be the neighbour opposite, who is bathing; the devil take him. How am I going to pass?"
    I was cautiously approaching the river and threw a glance from behind a rock. I perceived, by the moonlight, someone very tall in the water. She was standing upright and throwing enormous globs of water with both hands. “That's funny,” I thought. “The neighbour isn't so tall.” At that moment, I noticed long hair on its head. “Bah, that's better; it's not the neighbour, it's his wife! Well,” I said to myself, “I'm going to go and see her bathe.”
    I put down my bag and approached with the step of a wolf. I arrived at the bank, but justly, there were bushes which thwarted me; I could not see well. It was necessary to retrace my steps. She was behind a block of stone. I lay down on my belly, crawled towards the rock, and raised my head gently, exactly at the level of the water, just to the side of her ... And at once almost dropped dead. Standing upright in the water was an abominable woman. It wasn't just the face she had, but the frightening maw. Enormous, long hands. She was filling her palms with water and throwing it over her shoulders. Word of honour, it was half a bucket she was collecting each time. Then, she grabbed her breasts and began to throw they on the water. Now, her breasts were very long, enormous, and they splashed dully on the water. Then, she began again to slosh herself.
    My hair was standing on end. I slowly crawled back, then I jumped to my feet, and ran across the road to the neighbour, the same one I believed his wife or he was bathing. For a long time I knocked at his door. Finally, he came out. I said to him: “Get your rifle, and let's run quick; there's a kaptar bathing, come and see.” [Kaptar is the Azeri name for the almasty.] At first, he hesitated; finally, we left. When we had arrived, there was no-one about.
    The neighbour helped me to transport the rice and, obviously, it was necessary to share it with him.”

THE UNBELIEVING VETERINARY

    Account of Omarov Ramazan, 37, Lakh, director of the veterinarian and zootechnical station of the Tliarata district, Republic of Daghestan.
   “On the 20 August 1959, I was returning across the mountain to Antzug. It was close to 6 o'clock in the evening. The visibility was very good. I was descending a small valley where trees were rare.
    When I reached the big white stone . . . I noticed an animal moving around below. I thought it was a bear, and hid behind a bush. I had no weapon on me. I had only my bridle and the bag in which I transport the vaccination equipment. Hidden behind the bush, I began to make observations. The animal, which originally appeared to have been sitting, suddenly stood up and headed in my direction on two legs. It was a creature which resembled both a man and an ape at the same time. From my childhood, I had heard accounts of the kaptars, but I didn't believe in them. Well, this was what I was now seeing with my own eyes.
    Its body hair was long and black, like a goat's. The neck was essentially nonexistent; the head rested directly on the shoulders. Long hair hung down from the head. The kaptar was coming closer. It was heading, not so much towards me, but to the side. It was a male. The head was long, pointing upwards, conical, ovoid in shape. The long arms hung almost to the knees. He was walking along, and they were tossing around, as if articulated with screws; they gave the impression of being mounted on the joints, like a child's toy.
    About 200 yards from me, this strange creature crossed the path and sat down again. It rested sitting down for two or three minutes, the hands touching the ground. It made one think of a sportsman who was doing physical exercises. Then, he got up again, and headed towards a shrub on the other side of the crest, and disappeared. I did not see it again. I abandoned my bush and quietly returned home.
    What struck me again? It climbed the slope very fast, making strides of a metre or even more. A man could not climb a steep slope making such big strides.
    I think of a chimpanzee which I have seen at the zoo in Tbilisi. The hair of the chimpanzee is shorter, the head rounder. The arms and legs are also shorter. It must be said, it is true, that its height is also shorter. The kaptar did not measure less than 1.80 m [5 ft 11 in] and it resembled a man more than an ape. It walked upright, its head just inclined a little more forward on its shoulders. No tail. Another typical thing: in the wolf or bear, one always sees the ears, even though they are short, whereas in this case, the head hair covered the ears, and they were not visible. Obviously, I was scared. But, my curiosity was still stronger than my fear. I have lived 37 years and I used to think that the kaptar was the invention of superstitious people. Well, that has been proved false; I saw it myself.”

THE ALMASTY HUNT

    Account of Efendiev Mustapha Abdul, 61, Lesge, schoolmaster, Makhachkala, in the Republic of Daghestan.
    “My neighbour, an old shepherd with 90 years of experiences, Musa Idrissov, had this adventure: in the autumn of 1955, the shepherds of the village of Knor were driving their flocks of sheep, as they did every year, to the winter pastures by passing over the mountains into Azerbaijan. They had to cross the Saryzh forest and halt for the night. The shepherds slaughtered a goat, lit a wood fire and began to prepare supper. Towards midnight, when they were settling down to eat, they heard noisy breathing ... and noticed a creature of human appearance, covered with black hair. Its appearance had not been provoked by jostling among the sheep... the shepherds took fright. 'It's an alnab,' said Musa. 'It is probably hungry, and wants us to give it something to eat.' Taking some bread, and a morsel of grilled meat, he threw them at the alnab. The latter hurled itself greedily onto the food, and quickly devoured it. Then, after having remained on the spot a certain moment, it backed up and disappeared. In the darkness, its eyes shone like a cat's.
    Fearing an attack by this being which the shepherds, the Lesges, knew poorly or not at all, they climbed into the trees, rifles in their hands. Effectively, at the end of about an hour and a half, the alnab reappeared and attempted to possess itself of the meat. At that moment, Musa fired. They heard a horrible howling. The alnab let go of the meat and turned to the side of the detonation. Then, it was the turn of Daud to fire. The alnab made haste to disappear, limping.
    At dawn, the shepherds noticed traces of blood on the grass. Musa and Daud took to the trail; the third shepherd remained with the sheep. The trail led Musa and Daud to Pchar. There, on the river bank, they found the bloody corpse of the alnab. One bullet had hit it in the leg, the other had pierced its chest.
    It was 2 metres [6ft 7 in] tall. Its head was shaped like an egg. The nose was like sunken into the face. A very massive chin. Long tangled hair hung from its head. From its body issued an strong, very repulsive odour.
    The shepherds told themselves that nobody would believe them, and that it would be necessary to take away some evidence. They sliced off the ears and a handful of hair from the head; and from the right hand, the thumb and index finger.
    When Musa and Daud regained their camp, the newly arrived shepherds were already waiting for them. As they had foreseen, the latter did not believe them. They were not even convinced by their physical evidence. Then, Musa and Daud led them to the river where the corpse lay.
    Three months later, Musa returned to the village and started to build himself a house. He buried the ears, hair, and fingers of the alnab under the foundation as a talisman title preserving the alnabs.
   This is the moment when he will show them to me.”

AGILE AND BOUNDING

    Account of Lobtanidze B.F., Georgian, engineer at Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia. Letter addressed to the Museum of Anthropologie at the University of Moscow, 16 December 1960.
    “After having read in Tbilisi Evening your article, 'Is there a snowman in the Transcaucasus', I have decided to write to you in order to recount an episode that I experienced some years ago.
    It was in the summer of 1946. We were with my brother, R.I. Metreveli, now assistant of the Academy of Arts in Georgia, in the village of Orjonikidze in the district of Lagodekhi. One day we undertook to go haying, three or four kilometres from the village, in the tobacco plantations. A little boy from our family, A.F. Lobtanidze, accompanied us.
    We were just preparing to go back, when the child cried out: 'Look, look, someone is observing us from the tree.' We fixed our gaze attentively on the tree and discovered a man who, shielding his eyes with his hand, was looking in our direction. However, he did not seem to have discovered us and we remained quiet, and decided to observe him. Soon, nevertheless, we changed our intention. Indeed, this creature began to leap from one branch to the other, up and down, down and up, and this with such speed that we decided it was an ape. Feeling more confident, we approached to some 25 to 30 yards, but there, we were seized by genuine fear.
    It was something frightening. Neither man nor ape. It resembled rather a man of enormous height, with long hair covering the whole of its body. Finally, it hung from a branch with its hands, and leaped onto the ground from a height for about 4 metres [13 feet] and disappeared into the bushes.
   Some minutes later, we heard footsteps and the sound of conversation, and three men from the neighbouring village made their appearance on the road. Well, the tree where this creature had been was quite close to the road.
    I swear we were all very scared. Returning to the village, we recounted our adventure. Certain people laughed, others shared our sentiments.

    At this point, the editor appears to have left out a section of Koffmann's article by mistake, because the text continues, without any break, with the questioning of someone called Kapanadze, not previously mentioned. I have translated it for the sake of completeness.


Figure 1.
    Why didn't Apakidze tell exactly the same thing as you?(Up to this point, Kapanadze was not aware that I had just seen his old companion, in a distant village, from which I had arrived directly by car.)
    “Because he was sleeping. It was I who woke up. As long as the wild man was coming down and drinking, I did not dare move. When it started to get up, I hastily jostled Apakidze and said to him: 'Look quickly, what is that – a bear or what?' The old man whispered: 'Be quiet, be quiet, I know what it is.'
    He could not tell you everything, as he had seen it only from the moment the wild man got up.”
    Do you believe that the wild man saw you?
    I think so. It would not have been able to not see us. Firstly, it was coming down facing our cabin, and me. Secondly, the wood fire was burning, since he was preparing breakfast. It could not have missed seeing the fire. Also, when it had drunk and stood up again, before commencing to go back up, it turned its head towards us, glanced at us over its shoulder, and went away.
   We went at once to look at its footprints. You could see them well, because the soil was damp. The imprints were human-like, but the toes were longer and so were the nails. At places, climbing here or there, they had scratched the soil.
Figure 2

    It did not resemble the imprint of a bear at all. It was a human imprint, but larger. The heel was wider than a man's and, at the base of the toes, the sole of the foot was very much wider.”

Captions
These illustrations, unrelated to any specific account, are taken from photocopies. I apologize for the poor quality.
Figure 1. Imprint of a foot whose provenance is the Ala Tau mountains of Soviet Asia: a size 42 shoe came up to the level of the little toe. (Note: Ala Tau is the name of a number of ranges in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyrstan, and Uzbekistan. This is a long way from the Caucasus, and a reminder that similar creatures have been reported all across central Asia. Note also that French size 42 = size 8½ British and size 10 U.S.)
Figure 2. Imprint of an almasty foot (the track amounted to a score) removed entire after consolidation of the soil. Valley of the Malka. March 1978.

Continue to Part 4 of 4

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The Possum Book

I am pleased to provide a link to a website of a friend of mine, Robyn Tracey, who has written a fascinating story about her dealings with brush-tailed possums in the outer suburbs of Sydney. You can download the book for free, or read it on the site. Go to: The Possum Book.

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