Elusive creatures, or ‘cryptids’ as they are called, are an interesting part of legends and folklores. Most of them seem to have been exaggerations, whereas some continuously haunt us for explanations since their existence has been well documented even though their physical evidence has been lacking. Sasquatch also called Bigfoot, (from Salish se’sxac: “wild men”) a large, hairy, humanlike creature believed by some people to exist in the northwestern United States and western Canada. It seems to represent the North American counterpart of the Himalayan region’s mythical monster, th eAbominable Snowman, or Yeti or Raantas in Kashmir.
Does Bigfoot – a hairy humanlike creature – really exist?
The Bigfoot or Sasquatch is variably described as a very tall primate, standing erect on two feet, often giving off a foul smell, and either moving silently or emitting a high-pitched cry. The footprints have measured up to several inches in length and width Researchers suggest that Sasquatch and his counterparts, could be a remnant of Neanderthals, but most scientists do not recognize the creature’s existence. However, till date there is no biological evidence to confirm that this humanlike wild creature really exists in nature.
There have been reports all over the world where people claim having seen elusive creatures. They call them by different names depending upon the geographical location or region. Even today, whether they are delusions, figments of fanciful imagination or real, one can’t be sure. However, once in a while we do come across a story that is interesting enough and even though it may seem bizarre, it has an interesting ‘part’ of truth to it in our minds. The story of Zana, a wild woman, is such a tale for it not only had witnesses but several researchers verified her existence and believe it to be true.
Does a creature like Zana – a hairy wild woman – really exist?
Long back in a remote village in Abkhazia, a place in Georgia in Russia, a wild woman was caught in the mid-eighties. The creature was captured from the mountains and acted quite violently at first and was put in a cage. Her appearance was scary and strange. She had red hair all over her body and was very muscular and strong. The hair on her head was the same colour but much longer and hardly turn grey with her age. She was called ‘Zana’ and spent few initial years in a cage where her captors tossed food to her, which she ate hungrily.
With time, she seemed to calm down and was let out of the cage in which she dug a shallow hole for herself and slept there. Soon after she was let outside, she roamed the area but came back to the same place where she got her food from local people. Her master then trained her to do some chores, but she never liked to wear clothes. This she did when she was in the possession of a nobleman by the name of Edgi Ganaba. He kept her on his estate in a village called Tkhina. She did not like heated rooms and slept outside under an awning, where she had made a hole for herself.
However, the local people all knew about her and whenever they tried to tease her, she howled fiercely and bared her teeth. But astonishingly, the wild woman was obedient to her master and even pulled off his leather boots. In order to find the actual facts several scientific teams, particularly Professor Alexander Mashkovtsev, a zoologist and Boris Proshnev, went to the village and carried out some basic research on Zana. The information regarding her features, physical appearance, behaviour, etc., has been taken from the writings of Boris Proshnev in The Struggle for Troglodytes.
It is said that though she lived among the people for so many decades, she never learned to speak. She only muttered and made gestures but carried out commands made by her master and did chores like carrying huge sacks of grain weighing 80 kilos! She climbed trees and ran faster than a horse. And loved to eat grapes. The ladies in Ganaba’s household were scared of her, but she never attacked anyone or harmed any children.
Noticeably, the scientists who went to the village in the 1960s even happened to meet an old man who was 105 years old. He remembered seeing Zana and they even met one of her grandchildren! Yes, strangely she had human babies. It is believed that she was buried on Ganaba’s estate but even though many places were dug in the area, they did not find her remains. However, the grave of one of her sons was found as it was marked, and the dug up skeleton looked anatomically slightly different from a normal human skull.
As per the villagers, her children looked perfectly human except for dark skin and large facial features, and lead normal lives except the fact that they were extremely powerful physically and often picked fights easily with anyone. One of her grandsons named Shalikula, even lifted a chair with a man sitting on it with his bare teeth! However, it is believed that Zana was a wild woman pretty animal-like in her ways so it is the villagers who raised her children. Zana died in 1890 but though she was buried on the estate, her grave was unmarked.
It is scientifically thought that Zana was an Almas, which is the Mongolian term given to a wild species of hominid ape-like people or a similar homologous term for so called Raantas in Kashmir who are supposed to live in the woods or mountains of some regions in the world. In early nineteen forties, after the Germans invaded Russia, a ‘wild man’, also an elusive creature, was captured by their army. This beast, too, like Zana was covered with dark hair but appeared to be human and could not speak.
The soldiers thought he was a German spy and later shot him. Notably, the first written account of such species can be traced back to 1420 by Hans Schiiberger. He was taken captive by the Mongols and travelled all through the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia. He wrote in a journal while he was imprisoned,
“In the mountains themselves live wild people, who have nothing in common with other human beings. A pelt covers the entire body of these creatures, only the hands and face are free of hair. They run around in the hills like animals and eat foliage and grass, and whatever they can find.”
He added that the lord of the territory presented them with a couple of these forest people and three untamed horses which were the size of donkeys and other animals the likes of which he had not seen in Germany.
In early nineteen sixties, a Russian pediatrician Ivan Ivlov saw an entire family of Almas on a mountain slope. Noticeably, in 2003, mountain climber Sergey Semenov found the foot and leg of an unknown species in the Altai Mountains, a range that runs through Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The bones were said to be several thousands of years old but the creature could not be identified. The local people, who live in these mountains, do not think that these creatures are much different from humans. They just consider them to be “wild people” who live in the mountains and forests. In fact, some of the children often say that they meet the children of the wild people and they never do any harm. Zana and others like her remain elusive creatures a mystery, whether living or dead!
Raantas? – A similar mythical creature in Kashmir
In Kashmir, the name “Raantas” is a mythical creature-famously described as a tall hairy wild woman with frightening face and voice. As per scary imagination, she has two hanging long hairy breasts, two broad feet both pointing backwards, and thick black hair on her head. Her hair is pretty long, covering all of her body and reaches her feet. It is supposedly believed that she lives in thick-forested areas or isolated places with minimum or no human interference. She frequents nearby villages in extreme weather, mostly in winters or heavy snow. She can often hide in dark abandoned places, strangely shouting-out in an atypical “raantas-voice” – a repetition of woyee.., woyee.., woyee.., woyee…., in a wild tone. Such a horrifying voice can make you shiver, especially in the darkness when you are alone. In the Kashmiri folklore, she is mainly a sexual predator of men, with an ability to change her form, could appear or disappear at will? It is said that she can easily extend her arms or appear as someone’s wife or some other woman of a locality one would know well. She is a wild misogynist, trying to murder or disfigure women.
In summary, is this Raantas an analogous creature akin to Zana? I guess my quotation fits well here, “The biggest mystery of nature is nature.” Any surprises are possible in nature. Does Raantas really exist in this typical geographical region with Himalayas in the vicinity? However, no one till date has confirmed beyond doubt or genetically proved the vary existence of such wild beasts. The traditional stories and folklore about Raantas are a part of our rich culture. It reflects or reminds us of our past, the way of our ancestors were living.
Of a time when digitalization had not begun, and a single government owned radio set could be a sole recreation for a whole village, children, irrespective of their age, would sit around some elderly person at home, grandpa’s /grandma’s or parents in the harsh winter season, particularly in snow days gathering-together to listen those interesting stories, horror encounters with wild beasts, like Raantas in jungle areas, of a tale where she takes Sataar Kak to her cave forever.
Although, most of the Kashmiri tradition continues even now, however, looking at the present day life, there’s not much inclination for such an attractive stories due to advanced digitalization, no longer the way it used to be in the past. Could we preserve and propagate it for our future generations? But the question remains how?
Dr. Farooq A. Shiekh is former Associate Professor, Avalon University School of Medicine, Curacao, Netherlands.
Adeela Hameed is an Environmental Journalist and Fellow Himalayan Journalists Collective Against Climate Change