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Monday, January 11, 2010

LINDSAY SELBY: Dahu dilemmas

I posted this blog on my website and got the comment you see below it. What is interesting for me is that in separate parts of the world the same sort of story exists. The Dahu is a hoax but the fact the story appears elsewhere does make you think. Could there be any truth in it? Or is it just that the appearnce of creatures standing on a slope makes them look like they have different length legs?

The dahu is said to be a legendary creature well known in France and Switzerland. It is described as a mountain goat-like animal with legs of differing lengths.

In French folklore, the dahu has the appearance of a deer or ibex, but with legs on one side of its body shorter than on the other side. This enables it to walk upright on the steep slopes of its mountain environment. It can only walk around the mountain in one direction. Legend says they became extinct because they were too easy to catch. There were apparently two ways to catch a dahu: either creep up behind one and say, “Dahu, dahu…” the dahu would then try to turn around, or one had to whistle to catch its attention. When turning around, its imbalanced legs would cause it to fall down the mountain. The two longer legs now being the uphill legs, it would fall over straight away, allowing the hunters to catch it.

The dahu myth is now part of 20th century French popular culture. In Lorraine, in Eastern France (Alps and Jura), and in French-speaking Switzerland it is known as a theme of jokes. Its popularity began to soar toward the end of the 19th century. The rising tourism industry brought visitors to the mountains; city dwellers with no knowledge of the countryside and allowing the mountain guides to take advantage of the gullibility of some tourists to lure them into the "dahu hunt" (in french "chasse au dahu"). The animal was touted as rare and the capture of one required waiting alone all night on a cold mountainside, in a couched position. On April 1, 1967, the Prefect of Haute-Savoie (France) officially made the mountainous suburbs of the small town of Reigner a 'Dahu Sanctuary' where hunting and photography are forbidden. (The date should give us a clue).

So pure fiction? I think someone got the idea from watching mountain goats and saw how they appeared to have one set of legs longer than the other from the way they stood on the mountain slopes. This then became a joke and spread. These stories have a value though; they show us how tales develop and how hoaxes are perpetuated, which is always useful when investigating phenomena.


Gummerfan said...
Interesting legend. In the Appalachian region of the US there a similar folkoloric tradition regarding the "Sidehill Wampus" or "Wampus Cat". This is a large feline with the same uneven leg length as the Dahu. There are two varieties of Wampus, the Eastside and the Westside, the difference being which side has the longer legs.The Wampus Cat is markedly aggressive and moves extremely fast. The legend is that if attacked, one has to move rapidly to the side, causing the cat to either roll down down the mountain or at least render it incapable of pursuit. However, due to its speed, you must be wary lest it suddenly reappear behind you on its return trip.
9 January 2010 06:53

1 comment:

Syd said...

Of course the Dahu and the Tamarou, along with the Sidehill Wampus are mythological in nature !! but are based on fact, as any true, pure bred, single malt drinking Scotsman will gladly tell you.
The Dahu et al, are but modern names and poor quality foreign copies of that wondrous (and most tasty) ancient creature of the Scottish Highlands, the wild Haggis.
I know this to be absolutely true, as I read it in the Beano many years ago.