Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Bigfoot in the Andes?

     It is now time for another venture into translation and bigfootery. The author of the following essay, written in 1963, was a journalist for El Tribuno, the newspaper of the province of Salta, tucked into the far northwest corner of Argentina. It thus includes the foothills of the Andes, although he cites legends from farther afield. Readers will no doubt be aware that bigfoot-type rumours are not unknown in South America, and the author apparently accepts this identity. Just the same, the description of the animal is extremely limited. All that one can say is that one would expect the average peasant to be able to recognize a bear, even an unknown species. Also, the behaviour of running away with its hands clutched to its head doesn't sound too ursine to me!
     I apologize in advance for the text. The author's form of literary Spanish tends to convert to a rather stilted English, but I have chosen to sacrifice style in favour of accuracy. Even in regard to the latter, problems arise. Firstly, my Spanish is only passable. Secondly, every word in a language bears a variety of meanings and connotations which do not transfer exactly into a second language. Thirdly, this essay contains a number of dialectal terms and slang absent from even the best dictionaries. Nevertheless, though I am prepared to accept criticism of specific words and phrases, I believe the overall meaning of the text has been preserved.
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Citation: Milenko Juan Jurcich (1963): Tarma, el hombre salvaje de América. [Tarma, the wild man of America] Genus 19: pp 166-174

     When the mountaineers began the siege of the peak of Everest, there ran through the world, especially in the scientific media, a species of astonishment and incredulity, before the news that these mountain climbers were about to accomplish their expeditions.
     It was said to be an animal species of enormous stature. These first news items were made known by Captain J. B. Noel, who was in the Himalayas in the year 1926. Noel states in his book, Through Tibet: "There is near the monastery a fascinating legend in which all good Tibetans believe and which refers to the Nikitkanjis or "Snowmen". This is the name which the Lamas give it, because they are frightful beings which live in the snow."
     Later on, Noel added: "The Tibetan peasant calls these beings SUKPA and speaks of their strange ramblings on the snow and their long head hair, which falls over the eyes ..." Soon, the mountaineer photographer wondered: "What are these beings: men, apes, bears? No-one could say. But there must be some background to this legend, which is already considered an accepted fact in those valleys of Tibet."
     For those interested in the question of the "Abominable Snowman", it is not necessary to collect further antecedents. On the other hand, much data of no less interest was being collected by those initially speaking about the appearance of the Yeti in those Asiatic regions.
     As an Andeanist, fan of archaeology, and a journalist, I was no less interested in this new unknown appearing in the middle of the Asian continent. Just the same, when, in this part of America there were said to be weak traces remaining in the past which very much resembled it, where it had produced the extraordinary event, it then raised up an particular enthusiasm to accumulate the numerous and interesting experiences, which did not cease to erase my doubts on the origin of those analogous particularities of both continents to the extent that I could reach a final, narrow conclusion, without of course making up my mind to establish what would be the original point, but inclining me to this: that it was the American continent.
     He then goes on for a couple of pages discussing questionable theories about links between Central Asia and South America.
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      Captain Noel says that the Tibetan peasant calls these beings Sukpa and alludes to the rare custom which that mysterious personage has of stealing their women. [He is unaware that pa in Tibetan means "a people" e.g. Sherpa = "east people", and that many societies accuse great apes of carrying off women.]
      In the central part of South America, especially in Paraguay, the legend also coincides with the analogous terminology, because it is said and beleived that Zupay also steal women with whom they are in love, and thus it it held in the popular consensus that persons with reddish hair are born to women whom Zupai fall in love with, in some corner of the Guaraní forest.
     Now then, the legend also draws from the past the physical traces of Zukpa Zupay. Both, according to those references, are beings of enormous height and of reddish hair which completely covers the body. As one will be able to infer, it would only be sufficient to place both legendary personages face to face in order to turn it into crude reality when it is today only a mystery and legend.
      For the Salteño mountains [ie the mountains of Salta], Zupay is the Ukumar, bear man, of enormous physical frame, which used to dominate the forest zones and the pre-Andes ranges, which today bear the denomination of the Metán and Lerma Valleys. The Ukumar appeared on repeated occasions to the populations of Esteco, the first capital of the Argentine north and the province of Salta, which was swallowed by the earth after the violent earthquakes of 1692.
     The Ukomar appeared with his enormous, reddish, hairy presence to the coaches which used to pass en route to Charcas and Peru. The last references to the Ukumar has survived, by strange circumstances, in that region of the Andean spurs where no-one ventures. It is said to have found refuge, hurried and perhaps harassed, secure in the chain of mountains entangled with virgin forest. This brings to memory the expressions of the Duke of Argyll: "that the savage races which still subsist in the world, are simple exiles of the human species descending from weak, rejected tribes to the woods and crags."
     But the Ukumar and the Zupay are not the only wild beings of which references reach us through the legend. We also have that of the Tupay, which joins and brings all of its analogy to those already mentioned.
     The Spanish navigator Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, in the second part of his General History Called Indian, speaks of those elderly Aymara Indians brought together to relate to him all that they knew of the past and of the Inca Empire, and stood out as using a word with the denomination of a "wild man". This word is Tarma. Around Cuzco there exists in the present day a population which bears that strange denomination, which in the era of the Aymaras was given to a mysterious wild man.
     Who was Tarma? Where did he live? Whence did he arise?
      Many are the questions which we can put to ourselves about this word, which opens such a tremendous query, more, it is much less than we can know intuitively. We have no knowledge, at present, of the works undertaken in that respect, nor other references than those made by the Spanish sailor.
     The legends, customs, and the other analogies which tightly link the Asian and American continents do not succeed, however, in relieving us of the uncertainty of which comes from which.
      [He then argues that the first syllable of tar-ma and the last syllable of the Tibetan yeh-teh and mi-teh are cognates, and both mean "wild man".]
     No more than 40 years ago, the gauchos did not venture much to penetrate into the dense forest or leave for zones which the human footstep would seldom tread, for fear of confronting the terrible Ukumar. The Jesuits who used to work in the tunnels of gold and silver of Cerro Crestón, 3820 metres hight, in the Valley of Uetán, Salta, used to hastily withdraw to their ranches, not long before sunset for fear of an encounter with the bear man.
     Little by little the legend was being lost. The advance of civilisation was, perhaps, displacing the surprising animal man, of which very little is spoken with the exception of the hamlets penetrated deepest into the countryside. However, one evening in 1956, there arrived at the editorial office of El Tribuno, a simple man who then revealed that he had been working with some American engineers in Metá. These had arrived in that zone in order to locate and study the works which the Jesuits made and which consisted of a tunnel which crossed below the voluminous Juramento River and permitted the passage of coaches and passengers towards Old Peru in colonial times.
     According to references obtained by another channel and totally unconnected with that which the simple visitor offered, those engineers were no other than the ones who constructed the famous dam at Boulder City. [That would have been 20 years before.]
     The informant gave me a lot of data on the strange apparition of which he was a personal witness and of the enormous interest in the Americans in hunting the huge reddish bear that had appeared to them. I took his name and his declarations and stored them among the motley collection of notes and papers on my desk. Time passed, and with the transfer of the newspaper's building, a "clean-up operation" was performed, and it was swept away with those papers and notes which would be of much value to me today. However, because of the interest that fact awoke in me, which immediately established ties with the Yeti of the Himalayas, that circumstance has remained engraved in my mind, if not the name of the worker.
     Some years later, in different circumstances, I began to run into a rare version of the appearance of the Ukumar in mountainous, heavily vegetated zones. As the same had gained a large diffusion and there also had arrived numerous correspondence to the editing of the daily, the management charged me with the initiation of a series of references which I faced in an indirect manner, and without discounting the possibility of its existence, publishing on the other hand a very narrow synthesis of the tale which the worker had given.
    The unknown which surrounded the Ukumar remained latent to the readers throughout those publications, and then refreshed the memory of the old inhabitants who wrote to us recounting astonishing facts and strange occurrences of many years before. I myself reached the stage of asking myself whether or not the Ukumar might exist. If his prodigious figure might still be strolling through the Chaco forests.
     Many letters arrived and almost all were thrown away, but the surprise had no limits when the correspondent in the neighbouring locality of Chicoana raised the alert.
     It was reported to us that the town had a valley muleteer who insisted that he had encountered the Ukumar and that he had also been given the pleasure of shooting him with his old shotgun.
     In one of the many crossings which the same had made towards this town in quest of trade goods, our correspondent interviewed the peasant. He was revealed to be a native of the Escoipe Gorge, situated to the west of the Lerma Valley where there is a lot of mountainous country covered with thick vegetation and which abounds in sachaceibos [probably the coral tree], cochuchos and other trees more than 50 metres high.
    Ciriaco Taritolay, 65 years old, burly and hardened by the Andean cold, was still riding with the same grace and security of his early years. Of clear intelligence and very [uncertain] in speech to develope the rare philosophy of the country man, he revealed himself to be a man well experienced in confronting danger.
     The account which we rendered in the daily was done in the presence of the correspondent, the neighbour Pablo Vega and of numerous friends and parrishioners of the town.The hair raising tale came to life, as he explained it, on the stretch of road which goes from Pulares to the mountain, where there is a zone of thick vegetation. Very close to the latter, for several years, there lie some archaeological ruins of great importance in Peñas Azules.
     It came as no surprise, then, that right from his entrance Don Ciriaco Taritolay would express in the particular manner of the country man, that left no place for doubt: "I know that the Ukumar exists" in order to take up his story.
     [Don Ciriaco takes up the story.] My beasts [unclear] saw him, so the "varmint" didn't take me by surprise. But he did not get a julep flower with his rare appearance. This was some days before, when I came to the town and entered the site of Agua Chulla. It was cloudy. You know that, at sunset, the hill is cloaked with clouds. I came, as is my custom, well strung with gear to lower onto the pack donkeys which would follow later on. Soon, when they left, they were running scared in all directions and downhill. In the face of this inopportune behaviour of the animals, I [unclear, but it seems he attempted to restrain the lead animal.]  My first thought was on the possible presence of a rattlesnake or coral snake on the path, but while I was trying to find the crawling varmints in the verdant undergrowth, I got a strange feeling.
     It was a rare feeling, as if someone was looking at me. I did not feel the cold of the damp foothills so much as the shudder which ran through my body when I quickly lifted my sight right towards that "something" which was present. Among the undergrowth and taking with his broad, hairy arms between two bulky sachaceibos, stood looking curiously at me, as if looking from within, a frightful being.
     I believe that I perhaps said frightful because of the unforeseen form which appeared to me, and because it was unexpected. Now I think that it had something of the playful varmint more than anything, in spite of its tremendous girth. As I told them, I knew of the Ukumar but never thought that the self-same creature would present itself to me in flesh and bone, and even less in those places where I only encounter foxes, viscachas and other small animals.
     I remained paralysed, [unclear] strongly to my [?] lead animal, which was also snorting, knowing intuitively the danger which we were facing, and it was pulling on the bridle, kicking, and backing up. I did not know if the rare animal which held itself erect was at least thinking to attack me or if it would remain there the whole afternoon looking at me. It required just a moment to take out my "blunderbuss" from its sleeve and aiming it roughly, because my animal was still unsettled, to raise it, aiming between the two trees, and fire a tremendous blast.
     A treacherous yell escaped from the toothy mouth and, grasping its head with both hands, it lost itself at once in the density of the wood. The "varmint" would have been more than two metres [6 ft 7 in] high, and completely covered with medium red [unclear] hair, and of a tremendous strength that I calculate that if it brought its arms together it would have broken the trees."
     This was approximately the report of Don Ciriaco Taritolay who, since that day, left the trail which used to shorten by half the crossing to the locality of Chicoana to San Fernando de Escoipe. Now he takes the route which follows the ravine of the noisy Escoipe River, which issues violently from the heights of the Cerro Negro. This occurred in the middle of June 1956.
    These appearances, as far as I know, have been produced regularly and in different forms, however by rare mythological analogy, until today. Just like the strange animal of Tibet, the mysterious American being, it has not been able to be hunted in order to finally elucidate that unknown which the Aymaras believe in as Tarma, their "wild man".

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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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