M. Raynal's paper was entitled, L'homme sauvage dans les Pyrénées et la survivance des néanderthaliens, and was published in an obscure journal, Bipedia, vol 3 (1989), pp 1-16. The original can be found here and, if you wish, you can use the "translate" facility to compare a human translation to a computer driven one.
THE WILD MAN IN THE PYRENEES AND THE SURVIVAL OF THE NEANDERTHALS
On 6 June 1972, before the Archaeological Commission of Narbonne, an unexpected paper on "The abominable snowman in the Pyrenees" was read out by a teacher of French from that town, Paul Ornières (Ornières, 1972). Having heard about the matter in 1981, I immediately contacted the widow Ornières, who kindly put at my disposal her husband's library, and in particular, his as yet unpublished study on "The Neanderthals in the Pyrenees", written two years later (Ornières, 1974).
For the sake of brevity, I shall pass over a dissertation of more than two pages concerning Neanderthal man, and the nature of various unknown bipedal apes in the Caucasus, the (then) USSR, and Indo-China. It is an article of faith among French and Russian cryptozoologists that these bipeds, which they call "snowmen", are surviving Neanderthals, but this position is untenable. The "snowmen" are undoubtedly animals, and typically solitary ones at that. The Neanderthals were human, albeit of a different form of humanity from ours. They used fire, made stone tools, possessed a major gene for speech, and hunted big game. They almost certainly possessed a similar social organisation to our own. If you wish, you can refer to the original article, using the translate facility. Alternatively, you can check here for a summary of the Caucasus creatures, and here for those of norther Pakistan.
In Haute-Ariège, the Wild Man was called the ome pelut ("hairy man") or iretgge, which might have been a corruption of "heretic".
At an undetermined period, towards the XII or XIII centuries, there lived in the forest of Barthes, two wild men (iretgges), naked, hairy, each armed with a knotty stick, coming from no-one knows where, having as shelter only the caves of our mountains and, as sole nourishment, only the spontaneous products of the soil or whatever game they could capture.In order to get rid of these undesirables, one villager had the idea of leaving some red shorts in the forest where the iretgges used to frequent, so as to attract their attention. The villagers sprang onto them, and made them prisoners, as they were hindered in their movements (Piniès 1978).
In this legend one in fact meets the old myth of the Wild Man was his club, but also, and this is even more significant, the old legend about a method of capturing monkeys [or apes, the words are identical in French], by making them put on boots, which renders their gait clumsy, which one finds in Africa (Heuvelmans 1980). The question which is posed is to know which local "ape" would have been able to inspire this legend, which is also recounted in the Aude with clogs in place of shorts or boots (Maffre 1939).
From another case, where someone lends an iretgge a scimitar, it is evident that the memory of the former presence of Moors in the Midi has been superimposed. The presumed lewdness of the wild men, their nocturnal habits (the night being favourable to demons in the popular imagination) can only accentuate their diabolic character, thus heretical in the eyes of the good people . . . The characters in which they approach the billy goat (see later), thus in the popular image of the Devil, must have also contributed.
Basa-Jaun does not differ significantly from a wild beast. He is covered with hair like a bear; he feeds only on herbs or game; he does not leave the mountains or the forests; he is cruel, he is a thief. [...] He is not subject to infirmities; he always retains a strength without equal; he is insensitive to the inclemency of the seasons; he walks around by day and night . . . (Cerquand 1875-1882)The one surnamed "billy goat man" is accused of haunting the shepherds' cabins in the mountains, where he comes to warm himself next to the fire, or to simply purloin their milk and their cheese, such a veritable parasite (Webster 1879). Of course, in various tales, he is accused of carrying off women and begetting on them young which are hairy and uncommonly strong (Sébillot 1904-1907), which reminds us of the legend of John-of-the-Bear. We may add that he seems to possess a long head of hair (including Basa-Andere, his wife), and that many of his exploits take place at night.
Of course, this character is present in numerous Basque tales, and is considered (or was recently considered) as a real animal; that Goupil [the fox] of the Romance of Renart, as well as the other animals of the forest, speak like men, does not mean that the fox, the Vulpes vulpes of the zoologists, does not exist! Quite the contrary, a zoological (and in particular ethological) reading of this medieval masterpiece tells us a lot about this animal; that it lives in a den, that it is omnivorous, but mainly carnivorous, that is it cunning to the extent of playing dead, etc, etc., and on the anatomical plan it must resemble its "cousin" Ysengrin the wolf (Canis lupus), but with a red pelt - all things perfectly exact, and amply demonstrated thereafter.
Thus, therefore, two centuries ago at most, the woodcutters of the Iraty Forest used to affirm having encountered its footprints, and others to have heard it, and the memory was still being recently perpetuated in the evenings around the fire:
"Two mountaineers, so it has been well heard, at night, among the rocks, when they were desperately searching for some stray beasts [. . .]Lost in the mist, they were ascertaining their position by identifying themselves with the piercing cry which they call the irrintzina, when one of the two realised that it was the Basa-Jaun who was imitating him! (Duny-Pétré 1960).
If a number of the stories are extremely mythified, in fact truly fabulous tales, there are some which are astonishingly realistic; I wish to tender as proof only the one about the "Basa Jaun at the cayolar", which deserves to be cited in full:
There were once two shepherds in a shepherd's hut. One evening, after supper, they were watching some chestnuts grilling in the fire. While they were roasting, they lay down a moment, for they had become very tired, during the day, guarding their flock, and sleep overtook them.A tale? Yes, certainly, but one which has an astonishing aroma of authenticity: one would almost believe it a typical report from the Caucasus, such as Marie-Jeanne Koffmann has collected. [See my comment later.]
A noise coming from the door wakes them up; they await something which is agitating the latch of the door. Terror seizes them, for they say among themselves that it is surely Basa Jauna. They remain silent, not speaking, and pretend to sleep.
They were in no way mistaken: they see a Wild Lord enter, all black and covered with hair. He approaches them, and they feel a rough, trembling hand pass over their faces. They think that it is all over for them, that the Wild Lord is going to devour them, and they are so afraid that they can hardly breathe. But no: Basa Juana sets himself down in front of the fire, warms himself, and retrieving the chestnuts from the ashes, eats them all. While eating, he is all the time watching to see if the shepherds are waking up. The latter, scared to death, don't even move at all.
The Wild Lord, after having eaten the chestnuts, gets up, takes whatever he likes in the cabin, and departs without doing harm to anyone."
It is thus that a naval engineer, Julien David Leroy, in his work on forest exploitation in the Pyrenees (1776), makes mention of several stories of feral children, like the celebrate Victor of l'Aveyron, to whom the late lamented François Truffaut consecrated one of his most beautiful films (L'Enfant Sauvage [the wild child]): these are only children abandoned, and therefore returned to the wild state, unrelated to our subject. In revenge, he cites a much more troubling case.
Two years ago [therefore in 1774] the herdsmen of the Yraty Forest, near Saint-Jean-de-Pied-de-Port, often noticed an wild man who inhabited the rocks of this forest. This man was of great height, hairy as a bear, and alert as a chamois, of cheerful disposition, with the appearance of a gentle character, since he did harm to nothing. He often used to visit the cabins without carrying off anything; he knew neither bread, milk, or cheese; his great pleasure was to make the flocks run, and to disperse them by making great peels of laughter, but he never did them any harm. The herdsmen used to often set their dogs after him; then he would run off like a dart, and never let them approach very close. One single time, he came in the morning to the door of the cabin of workmen who were making oars, and which had retained a great abundance of snow fallen during the night; he stood erect at the door which he was holding with two hands, and was laughing as he looked at the workmen. One of these people softly slid [forward] so as to attempt to seize him by his leg; as soon as he saw him approach, he redoubled his laugh; then he escaped. It was judged that this man would have been thirty years old; as this forest is of great extent, and communicates with immense woods belonging to Spain, it is presumed that this might be some young child who was lost, and who had found the means to subsist on the vegetation.This last explanation shows a great naivety, inspired by the legend of the hairy hermit, who wishes to live in the wild and ends up acquiring a hairy pelage, a legend bereft, it must be said, of all foundation.
Other testimonies have been collected by Gomez-Tabanera (1978); last century [written 1989] a "mujer salvaje" (wild woman) was pointed out in the mountains of Cantabria. Nicknamed "la Osa de Andara" (the she-bear of Andara), she used to take refuge in the grottoes; "her arms and legs were hairy, with a pelage comparable to that of a bear". She used to feed on milk, chestnuts, roots, raw maize, fruit and berries (strawberries, gooseberries, etc), honeycomb, but also occasionally little goats.
"I have seen her devour one of these animals", writes Joaquin Fusté y Garcés in 1875: "at that moment she would by roaring like a real savage beast and flashing lightning with her eyes."She used to possess a sort of tray or pan for the milk, and a knife fashioned out of a piece of horn, and she wore around her lions "a sort of skirt of which one could not tell whether it was made of hair or cloth."
|Sculpture of the so-called "She-bear of Cornellana"|
(Asturias, Spain). Photo: J. M. Gomez-Tabanera
[Note: Although this is "just" a legend, I don't find it extraordinary. Female animals which have just lost their young have been known to adopt babies of completely different species.]
There is perhaps a still more recent testimony, reported by Daniel Fabre (1969), in his study on John-of-the-Bear:
Mme Gomez (born 1926), an inhabitant of Lézignan (Aude), recounted to us how, in the village of her birth, Cuevas-Bajas (Málaga Province) around about 1920, a young couple (the Palmares) departed into the Sierra Morena in order to tend cattle. They used to live isolated in a cabin. One day, when her husband was absent, the young woman disappeared. The villagers did not pursue their search very long, thinking that she had been devoured by the wild beasts which infested the region. But some time later the woman returned to her home and related her astonishing story.Man x ape hybirdisation is generally held to be impossible, although the possibility has not been genuinely explored for ethical reasons. However, the case of the childbirth at Vichy (a girl who used to live held captive by her father in a caravan, in the company of a chimpanzee, and who gave birth to a monstrous stillborn baby) is well documented, and none the less disturbing (Duvic 1973). Nevertheless, such a hybrid, if it existed, would be non-viable: the anatomical differences between man and the Pongidae (anthropoid apes) is such that it is hard to see, to give one example, an intermediate state between a running foot on the one hand, and a tree-climbing prehensile one (transformed into a hand) on the other . . . In the case of Mme Palmares, with the usual reservations (second hand testimony, prior to the birth of the informant), the hybrid in question is hairy, her upper limbs are long, and "the bottom part of her face" is simian: that would mean a receding chin, and perhaps no visible lips . . . That the father was designated an orang-utan should not be taken seriously: it is obviously a general term; today we talk of an "ape-man" or a King Kong. Besides, its cave-dwelling habits have nothing to do with the arboreal ones of the big red ape of Sumatra and Borneo.
She had been carried off by an ape when she was washing her linen in the river. It had led her into his grotto and had raped her. During its absence, she had succeeded in running away. Some months later, she gave birth to a daughter who was baptized Anica, and who was better known as "the daughter of the orang-outang" (la hija del orang-outang) [N.B.: more exactly, orang-utan]. She had partially inherited the physique of her father's: long arms, hairy body; her face was that of an ape in the lower part, that of her mother in the upper part. Furthermore, this daughter afterwards had two sons who are still alive in the town of Labisbal (Gerona Province): the first is absolutely normal, but the other is nicknamed "the cheese" because of his simian ugliness.
COMMENT: The author then continues with a discussion of the identity of the Wild Man of the Pyrenees almost as long as the rest of the article, attempting to relate it to the almasties of the Caucasus, and to Neanderthal Man. But, to cut to the chase, the issue is the same as I identified in the introduction. The Wild Man legends of Europe might be simply products of the imagination, or they may be ancestral memories of a time when the almasties extended further west into the continent. If the latter, then they may have continued to exist in the Pyrenees until very recently. Or the stories, second hand at best, may have simply grown like Topsy.
Applying Occam's razor, one would conclude that there is nothing in it. However, we must remember that individual bits of weak evidence can accumulate into a corpus which is much harder to dismiss. Also, M. Raynal was quite right to compare the story of the chestnuts with reports collected by Marie-Jeanne Koffmann from the Caucasus. Three years ago I translated one of Dr Koffmann's articles, and if you open this link, you will find two of these accounts ("Eaten by Dogs" and "The Nocturnal Meal") which exactly parallel that tale. Of course, it is possible that Koffmann's informants were making it up, but it can be certain that they are completely independent of the Pyrenean story.
M. Raynal wrote a follow-up article, which I shall translate at a later date. In meantime, lest you imagine that this is all something of the past, I shall finish with this story which I took from the excellent Bigfoot Encounters website.
In June 1993 a group of speleologists (scientific study and exploration of caves) prepared to spend the night at the ruins of a church near Collada de Vallgrasa in the Catalan Pyrenees Mountain Range of Spain. They heard strange noises resembling those of an enraged cat. When they came close to the church's large doorway, the scientists saw a frightened, weird, shaggy creature, approximately 1.5 meters (5 feet tall) flee from the building. He was of enormous bulk. The wild man appeared again in the woods between Farga de Bebié and Ripoll (BERNHEIMER, Richard
). Two hairy beings pounced on two paleontologists then ran away from them. (Citation: De la Rubio Muñoz and Dr. Myra Shackley, Wildmen: Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma (London: Thames & Hudson, 1983) ISBN 0-500-01298-9 (also published as Still Living?: Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma ISBN 0-500-01298-9) Gerona
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