Saturday, April 10, 2010
Richard Muirhead mentioned this classic Sea-Serpent sighting recently. I said in reply that this was a favourite topic of Charles Paxton and we had discussed the matter at length. Paxton felt that the animal which was sighted (NOT by Hans Egede but by his son, and not in Greenland but on a voyage headed to there) was a gray whale, an animal which subsequently went extinct in the North Atlantic but which remains well known off the Pacific coast of North America. Paxton guessed that the "Tail" which was reported was the animal's penis. And he said the drawing was probably of no value in depicting the sighting (Paxton's website should still be up on the internet)
On the contrary, I thought that the drawing was a plausible enough depiction of a gray whale, and showed how the different aspects of the sighting could be matched againstmodern photos. In the case of the tail I even noticed that the shape that was drawn was a fair depiction of ONE fluke of the tail (Only). Presumably the tail was viewed briefly and from such a position that it appeared to be folded over.
So it boiled down to yet another fleeting sighting of an unrecognized but known animal. No need to make any extra special conditions or make any special arguments over it. Hundreds or even thousands of water-monster sighting the world over and throughout history fall into that description.
As you know, Oll has been working on the archiving project since early February 2009 and he is now working on a general mish-mash of a section known as `General Forteana`. This sixth trenche is another general mish-mash with animal attacks, simulacra and a strange story about a gang of 100 pet rats chasing and attacking cats. Good stuff.
By Jonathan Downes
In the last 15 years the world of cryptozoology has acquired a major new icon: the chupacabra. Originally the term - which literally means ‘goatsucker’ in Spanish - was used to describe a semi-bipedal, almost kangaroo-like creature that I, during a frivolous moment in 1997, described as looking like "Sonic the Hedgehog on acid." In the intervening years the term seems to have become a catch-all usage to describe any Hispanic bogeyman or monster, much in the way that Bunyip - which originally was a native Australian term for a specific long-necked monster inhabiting marshlands, billabongs and creeks - has come to mean any mythological or Fortean beast.
I would not normally make this confession but it came to my attention in the late 1980s that some episodes of a particularly dire Australian soap opera called Home and Away featured a putative Bunyip, which actually turned out to be somebody hoaxing an alien landing.
However, it appears that the wider use of the name Bunyip is not as recent a phenomenon as I had originally thought. The word bunyip is usually translated by aboriginal Australians today to ‘devil’ or ‘evil spirit.’ But as long ago as the 1850s bunyip – according to Joan Hughes’s Australian Words and their Origins (1999) had also become a 'synonym for imposter, humbug and the like' in the broader Australian community. In 1853 Daniel Deniehy; an Australian journalist, politician and vociferous democrat; coined the term ‘bunyip and aristocracy’ in a speech ridiculing attempts by a fellow politician William Charles Wentworth to establish a titled aristocracy in New South Wales. His satirical comments included, “Here we all know the common water mole was transferred into the duck-billed platypus, and in some distant emulation of this degeneration, I suppose we are to be favoured with a ‘bunyip aristocracy.’”
So it seems that my theories published in Animals & Men and elsewhere that the wider usage of the word bunyip is a relatively modern occurrence are completely wrong. Could I be equally wrong in the case of the chupacabra?
In the early summer of 2004 Nick Redfern and I were sitting, soaked to the skin, in a small café on the outskirts of Canovenas on the island of Puerto Rico. We had been caught out in a torrential tropical downfall whilst making a documentary for the American SciFi Channel on … you’ve guessed it, the chupacabra. I still smoked in those days, and was sharing my last packet of British Benson & Hedges cigarettes with an equally bedraggled swarthy-looking man called Ismael Aguayo. Ismael – then, perhaps in his mid-fifties – was (and as far as I know still is) one of the head honchos in the Canovenas civil defence. He was also (and again, still is) one of the world’s foremost chupacabra investigators.
Now, my Spanish leaves a lot to be desired. I could buy beer, cigarettes, beef stew, tostados, coffee and all the other essentials of life on the largest island in the Lesser Antilles, but what I was not able to do was discuss anything that involved the finer semantics. I had a number of voluntary self-styled interpreters with me who, whilst fluent in the island’s Spanish dialect, had a relatively limited grasp of the English language. However, we sat down, smoked cigarettes, drank coffee and beer and discussed the history and aetiology of chupacabradom as we waited for the rain to abate.
It had been Ismael who had been called to investigate the first known chupacabra incident in March 1995 when 8 sheep were discovered dead, each with 3 puncture wounds in the chest area and completely drained of blood. He told me that it was soon after that when he and a friend, sitting in the self-same café where we were sheltering from the storm, had coined the term chupacabra to describe the unknown perpetrator of this series of killings.
In the intervening years (nine at the time of our conversation) the term had spread in its usage. It was no longer merely used to describe the semi-bipedal spiky creature of the Canovenas plateau, but it had become a term of abuse for the most skanky of prostitutes, (the symbolism there is obvious, and I won’t sully the pages of this magazine by going into any further details) and had also been used to describe appearances of monstrous creatures, some with wings, and some with sickle-shaped claws all across the Spanish speaking New World, and even one or two sightings of anomalous creatures in the Spanish homelands.
Later on in the summer of 2004, only a few weeks after our conversation, a rancher near San Antonio, Texas, killed a hairless dog-like creature that was attacking his livestock. For reasons that I’ve never really been able to fathom this hairless blue dog was also described as a chupacabra, and the term became synonymous with these blue dogs after a seminal news report on the Elmendorf creature said “at the nearby Deleon’s Grocery and Market, customers came in to check out pictures of it. One woman said it was exactly how her grandmother described the dreaded chupacabra.”
Now I was in San Antonio investigating the case only four months after the creature was shot and together with my wife Corinna, shall be revisiting the area to carry out further research this spring. However, I have spent the last five years ridiculing this news story. How could any woman in a supermarket claim that the creature is like something that her grandmother claimed was a chupacabra when we all know that the term was invented by my mate Ismael. Or was it?
An awful lot rests on this. Is it possible that what Ismael actually told me was that he and his mate had decided to co-opt the term chupacabra from the shared childhood folklore of the Hispanic peoples of the New World and apply it to this frightening new killer of the Puerto Rican night? If so, this puts an entirely new light on the whole chupacabra affair.
So I am appealing to readers of this magazine. Can you find me any written, and citable references to the use of the word chupacabra (or any reasonable variant of same) in print before the spring of 1995? There is no doubt that there were vampiric attacks on livestock in the area going back for decades, but were any of them called the chupacabra? Does the name chupacabra turn up in children’s fairy tales? Or in comic books? Or anywhere else? And if so, how far back does it really go? Please do not hesitate to contact me either through this magazine or by email to Jon@eclipse.co.uk
On this day in 1775 the last execution for witchcraft in Germany occoured.
And now, the news:
Post cancelled after cat attacks
Ferrets now more popular down south
2010 Great Backyard Bird Count results
Teen faces £90,000 bill for snake hunt
'World needs a barometer of life'
Ospreys return to Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve
Millions of sea turtles are killed as ‘collateral damage’ in the race for fish
That’s turtle-y bad news.