Monday, July 09, 2007

Monster Loose In The Amazon? Yeah, Right

Oh, But...Wait

If you're a tribe of prehistoric history and you don't have a regional monster of myth and of recent sightings fame, well, you're nobody.

The remaining tribes of the Amazon rainforest have some incredible, and heartbreaking, stories to tell of their fight to survive the encroachment of 'civilisation', the struggle to keep their traditional ways and beliefs, the effectiveness of thousands of years old traditional herbal and plant medicines, and the fading knowledge of their ancient ancestors that have helped to keep them alive, and in some cases thriving, for tens of thousands of years.

Yeah, whatever.

Just tell us about your monster :
Perhaps it is nothing more than a legend, as skeptics say. Or maybe it is real, as those who claim to have seen it avow. But the mere mention of the mapinguary, the giant slothlike monster of the Amazon, is enough to send shivers down the spines of almost all who dwell in the world’s largest rain forest.

The folklore here is full of tales of encounters with the creature, and nearly every Indian tribe in the Amazon, including those that have had no contact with one another, have a word for the mapinguary (pronounced ma-ping-wahr-EE). The name is usually translated as “the roaring animal” or “the fetid beast.”

So widespread and so consistent are such accounts that in recent years a few scientists have organized expeditions to try to find the creature. They have not succeeded, but at least one says he can explain the beast and its origins.

“It is quite clear to me that the legend of the mapinguary is based on human contact with the last of the ground sloths,” thousands of years ago, said David Oren, a former director of research at the Goeldi Institute in BelĂ©m, at the mouth of the Amazon River. “We know that extinct species can survive as legends for hundreds of years. But whether such an animal still exists or not is another question, one we can’t answer yet.”

Dr. Oren said he had talked to “a couple of hundred people” who had said they had seen the mapinguary in the most remote parts of the Amazon and a handful who had said they had had direct contact.

In some areas, the creature is said to have two eyes, while in other accounts it has only one, like the Cyclops of Greek mythology. Some tell of a gaping, stinking mouth in the monster’s belly through which it consumes humans unfortunate enough to cross its path.

But all accounts agree that the creature is tall, seven feet or more when it stands on two legs, that it emits a strong, extremely disagreeable odor, and that it has thick, matted fur, which covers a carapace that makes it all but impervious to bullets and arrows.

“The only way you can kill a mapinguary is by shooting at its head,” said Domingos Parintintin, a tribal leader in Amazonas State. “But that is hard to do because it has the power to make you dizzy and turn day into night. So the best thing to do if you see one is climb a tree and hide.”

Though the descriptions of the mapinguary may resemble the sasquatch of North America or the yeti of Himalayan lore, the comparisons stop there. Unlike its counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere, the creature is said not to flee human contact, but to aggressively hunt down the hunter, turning the tables on those who do not respect the jungle’s unwritten rules and limits.

One scientific theory holds that what the tribes are describing are actually ancient encounters with a Giant Sloth, not uncommon to the region, but believed to have died out thousands of years ago. Apparently a Giant Sloth could grow as big as an elephant.

Then again, it's still one huge jungle, and there are plenty of regions still unexplored, or even charted, by man.

No comments: