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Thread: East Africa and the 'Little Furry Men'

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    Senior Member Catterick's Avatar
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    East Africa and the 'Little Furry Men'

    [from Gregory Forth, Images of the Wildman in Southeast Asia: An Anthropological Perspective (Routledge, 2008), pp. 217-220 (main text), p. 307 (footnotes).]

    Besides Southeast Asia, Africa is the only region of the world that is home to great apes, including chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (Pygmy chimpanzees, Pan paniscus) and Lowland and Highland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei). The continent is also the site of possible early or ancient encounters of European and circum-Mediterranean peoples with large primates, perhaps most famously exemplified by Hanno's periplus (Yerkes and Yerkes 1929: 2-3; Reynolds 1967: 29-31). If apes are a significant source of wildman images, therefore, one might expect Africa to provide numerous exemplars. And if surviving or remembered pre-sapiens hominins were their hypothetical origin, then Africa, as the major locus of human evolution, should be prominent for this reason as well.

    Recorded both in areas where apes are attested and in regions where they are not, reports of African hominoids have been comprehensively reviewed by Bernard Heuvelmans (1980). One source is a report by Captain William Hichens, an Englishman and former civil servant, who in the 1920s, while hunting lions in the Wembere region of west central Tanzania, observed two creatures emerging from dense forest. Resembling 'little men', the creatures were tailless, covered in 'russet' hair, stood about 1.2 metres tall and walked erect (Hichens 1937: 373). Evidently familiar with local primate life, Hichens remarks that the creatures may have been monkeys, but 'were no ordinary monkeys, nor baboons, nor colobus, nor Sykes, nor any other kind found in Tanganyika' (ibid.). Wembere, it should be noted , lies east of the normal range of chimpanzees and gorillas. Hichens' efforts to follow the hominoids were in vain. Reacting with 'mingled fear and amazement', a native hunter accompanying the Englishman also saw the creatures. He identified them as 'agogwe', rarely encountered beings which, according to what villagers later told Captain Hichens, will weed and hoe people's gardens at night in exchange for food and millet beer.

    These particulars suggest that the 'little furry men' are a category recognized by local Tanzanians. Yet available ethnography does not confirm that East Africans maintain a representation labelled 'agogwe' which substantially accords with the physical image reported by Hichens. Nor is it entirely clear from which language the name 'agogwe' derives. Hichens briefly mentioned his sighting in an earlier article, where he writes the name as 'ngogwe'. He appears to gloss this term as 'little men of the trees' and to identify it as a usage of the Iramba (or Nilamba) people (1928: 176). It is also in this article that Hichens specifies the creatures as tailless. Evidently drawing on Iramba lore, he further describes the 'ngogwe' as 'wailing a strange chant' as they travel (ibid.).[13]

    Heuvelmans compares Hichens' report to two other accouts of East African hominoids. One refers briefly to 'little red men' inhabiting the eastern Kenyan region of Embu. According to an African who claimed to have seen 'scores' of these beings, they will pelt human intruders with small stones (S.V. Cook 1924: 25); but noticeably missing from this account is any explicit reference to body hair. The same omission characterizes a later report from Mozambique. Writing in response to Hichens' article, another Briton described how, from the deck of a cargo boat in 1937 and with the aid of a telescope, he was able to observe two 'little brown men' between 1.2 and 1.5 metres tall walking on a beach among a troop of baboons (Burgoyne 1938: 51).[14] The baboons appeared undisturbed by their presence. Referring to a similar sighting by an unnamed friend, the author vaguely refers to a native injunction on shooting the little men.

    A somewhat more detailed sketch of putative hominoids is offered by a professional big-game hunter, Roger Courtney (1940: 37-49) and concerns apelike creatures called 'mau men'. Found in the vicinity of Mount Longenot [Longonot] in Kenya, the beings were described to Courtney by his guide, a Muslim of mixed Boran and Mkamba descent named Ali (1940: 37-49). Ali had heard the story from his then deceased father, who claimed to have been struck over the head and abducted by a group of mau men while tending sheep on the slopes of the mountain, described as an old volcano full of caves. In this account, the mau are characterized as small, apparently tailless creatures resembling 'monkeys' more than humans. While their skin was 'white', their bodies were covered in long 'black' hair. Hair also hung over the eyes. The reputed eyewitness encountered the mau sitting on ledges inside a cave, around a central fire. Characterized as forest dwellers, the creatures are further described as reaching their caves by way of long underground passages. Apart from the fire and sticks and stones which they employed as weapons, the mau appeared to possess no technology; as Ali points out, they may even have obtained the fire from a natural volcanic source. Chattering like monkeys, they also seem to have lacked an intelligible language. The only indication of their diet is the sheep stolen from Ali's father.

    Ali's father explicitly distinguished the mau from less 'wild' pygmies residing in the forests to the west of Lake Victoria, whom he had encountered in his travels. Indeed, in all respects except the use of fire and occupation of caves, the beings sound very much like chimpanzees, which can be similarly light-skinned and with which the shepherd may also have been familiar from his westward journeys. Although caution is always required in translating local colour terms, the long 'black' hair of the mau contrasts with that of the russet-haired agogwe. Even so, since normally dark-haired chimpanzees occasionally possess brown or reddish pelage, wayward chimps, straying some 200 kilometres beyond the eastern limit of their normal range in western Kenya, could conceivably explain Hichen's experience as well. Less readily accounted for is the hair hanging over the eyes of the mau. However, it is a point of interest that exactly the same feature is attributed to hominoidal beings reported from Central Africa.

    Different from other East African images are hominoids - most of them apparently quite human (see Heuvelmans 1990a) - that numerous Maasai and other Kenyan tribesmen described in the 1970s to the French anthropologist Jacqueline Roumegučre-Eberhardt (1990). Among these is a figure Roumegučre designates anonymously as 'XI' (there are five Xs altogether) and describes as hairy-bodied, possessing long head hair and huge feet, heavy set and extremely strong. The head hair is dark; the body hair is reddish-brown or fawn among younger specimens (who could conceivably be of a size comparable to Hichens' agogwe) but darker or sometimes grey in adults. Standing as tall as a human (1.3-1.85 metres) and occasionally taller, the creatures are further depicted as wielding huge clubs, killing buffalo and carrying away the carcasses, consuming raw flesh and possibly employing a language. Despite their size and strength, they are not aggressive towards humans. These reports, Roumegučre suggests, could reflect a surviving non-sapiens hominin such as Homo habilis or Homo erectus. In his Preface to Roumegučre's book, Heuvelmans (1990a: 26-34), on the other hand, suggests a robust Australopithecine (presumably a Paranthropus).

    For a student of Florenese representations, probably the most remarkable feature of Roumegučre's book is a Maasai report of one sort of Kenyan hominoid (distinguished as 'X4') being offered milk in a gourd container and, 'perhaps mistaking it for a fruit', attempting to eat the gourd. It is perhaps curious that, unlike the agogwe and similarly small creatures, nothing like Roumegučre's anonymous hominoid was reported during the colonial period in East Africa. On the other hand, there is arguably some resemblance to the 'Nandi bear', an early twentieth-century British term for a mysterious creature named 'chimoset' by the Nandi of Kenya and sometimes described by European eyewitnesses as a 'big hairy biped' or 'an enormous baboon' (Heuvelmans 1995: 490).[15]

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    Never heard of this book before, thanks.

    We now know that black Africans had a pre-sapiens ancestor or two from 300,000 to 500,000 years ago. This ancestor is said to be from central or west Africa given the gene distribution today. Perhaps it (they) are identified here.

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    The little humanoids are probably out of place pygmies but I'd like to know more about Jacqueline Roumegučre-Eberhardt's five humanoids anyway.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Catterick View Post
    The little humanoids are probably out of place pygmies but I'd like to know more about Jacqueline Roumegučre-Eberhardt's five humanoids anyway.
    Or prehumen pigmy ancestors.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow View Post
    We now know that black Africans had a pre-sapiens ancestor or two from 300,000 to 500,000 years ago. This ancestor is said to be from central or west Africa given the gene distribution today. Perhaps it (they) are identified here.
    Modern homo sapiens only left Africa 100,000 years ago so presumably these pre-sapiens ancestors from 500,000 yeas ago would be our ancestors too?
    Close observation may result in feelings of horror, wonder and awe at world you find yourself inhabiting.

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    Senior Member Catterick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Horned God View Post
    Modern homo sapiens only left Africa 100,000 years ago so presumably these pre-sapiens ancestors from 500,000 yeas ago would be our ancestors too?
    He's referring to the substrate Mike Hammer found in African DNA.

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    My understanding is the migrants out of Africa came from the Horn of Africa. The mtDNA Bryan Sykes found in Zana was sub-Saharan African but usually or only found today on the west coast of Africa, not the Horn. So the 100,000 year old migration might have been much different than the last migration 60,000 years ago. In addition new research identifies the ancestors (or some of them) of Pygmies and Bushman to be older than 200,000 years ago so they pre-dated what we usually say is the starting point for modern Africans. And then further a Y-chromosome marker was found in South Carolina in people descended from former slaves which diverged over 300,000 years ago. It has recently been found in West Africa.

    So at least two lines of archaics are found in black Africans and the Zana stuff may have been quite different than modern humans.

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