Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Myths And Legends: Yeti


The Yeti or Abominable Snowman is said to be an ape-like cryptid taller than an average human, similar to Bigfoot, that inhabits the Himalayan region of Nepal, and Tibet.

The appellation "Abominable Snowman" was coined in 1921, the same year Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury led the joint Alpine Club and Royal Geographical Society "Everest Reconnaissance Expedition" which he chronicled in 'Mount Everest The Reconnaissance', 1921. In the book,' Howard-Bury' includes an account of crossing the "Lhakpa-la" at 21,000ft (6,400m) where he found footprints that he believed "were probably caused by a large 'loping' grey wolf, which in the soft snow formed double tracks rather like a those of a bare-footed man". He adds that his Sherpa guides "at once volunteered that the tracks must be that of 'The Wild Man of the Snows', to which they gave the name 'metoh-kangmi'". "Metoh" translates as "man-bear" and "Kang-mi" translates as "snowman".

Confusion exists between Howard-Bury's recitation of the term "metoh-kangmi" and the term used in Bill Tilman's book 'Mount Everest', 1938 where Tilman had used the words "metch", which does not exist in the Tibetan language, and "kangmi" when relating the coining of the term "Abominable Snowman". Further evidence of "metch" being a misnomer is provided by Tibetan language authority Professor David Snellgrove from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London (ca. 1956), who dismissed the word "metch" as impossible, because the consonants "t-c-h" cannot be conjoined in the Tibetan language." Documentation suggests that the term "metch-kangmi" is derived from one source (from the year 1921). It has been suggested that "metch" is simply a misspelling of "metoh".

The use of "Abominable Snowman" began when Henry Newman, a longtime contributor to The Statesman in Calcutta, writing under the pen name "Kim", interviewed the porters of the "Everest Reconnaissance expedition" on their return to Darjeeling. Newman mistranslated the word "metoh" as "filthy", substituting the term "abominable", perhaps out of artistic license. As author Bill Tilman recounts:


"[Newman] wrote long after in a letter to The Times: The whole story seemed such a joyous creation I sent it to one or two newspapers"



According to H. Siiger, the Yeti was a part of the pre-Buddhist beliefs of several Himalayan people. He was told that the Lepcha people worshipped a "Glacier Being" as a God of the Hunt. He also reported that followers of the Bön religion once believed the blood of the "mi rgod" or "wild man" had use in certain mystical ceremonies. The being was depicted as an apelike creature who carries a large stone as a weapon and makes a whistling swoosh sound.

In 1832, James Prinsep's Journal of the 'Asiatic Society of Bengal' published trekker B. H. Hodgson's account of his experiences in northern Nepal. His local guides spotted a tall, bipedal creature covered with long dark hair, which seemed to flee in fear. Hodgson concluded it was an orangutan. An early record of reported footprints appeared in 1899 in Laurence Waddell's Among the Himalayas. Waddell reported his guide's description of a large apelike creature that left the prints, which Waddell thought were made by a bear. Waddell heard stories of bipedal, apelike creatures but wrote that:


"None, however, of the many Tibetans I have interrogated on this subject could ever give me an authentic case. On the most superficial investigation it always resolved into something that somebody heard tell of."


The frequency of reports increased during the early 20th century, when Westerners began making determined attempts to scale the many mountains in the area and occasionally reported seeing odd creatures or strange tracks. In 1925, N. A. Tombazi, a photographer and member of the Royal Geographical Society, writes that he saw a creature at about 15,000ft (4,600m) near Zemu Glacier. Tombazi later wrote that he observed the creature from about 200 to 300yd (180 to 270m), for about a minute.

"Unquestionably, the figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping occasionally to pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes. It showed up dark against the snow, and as far as I could make out, wore no clothes." 

About two hours later, Tombazi and his companions descended the mountain and saw the creature's prints, described as:

"Similar in shape to those of a man, but only six to seven inches long by four inches wide... The prints were undoubtedly those of a biped."


Western interest in the Yeti peaked dramatically in the 1950's. While attempting to scale Mount Everest in 1951, Eric Shipton took photographs of a number of large prints in the snow, at about 6,000m (20,000ft) above sea level. These photos have been subject to intense scrutiny and debate. Some argue they are the best evidence of Yeti's existence, while others contend the prints are those of a mundane creature that have been distorted by the melting snow. Peter Byrne reported finding a Yeti footprint in 1948, in northern Sikkim, India near the Zemu Glacier, while on holiday from a Royal Air Force assignment in India.

In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reported seeing large footprints while scaling Mount Everest. Hillary would later discount Yeti reports as unreliable. In his first autobiography Tenzing said that he believed the Yeti was a large ape, and although he had never seen it himself his father had seen one twice, but in his second autobiography he said he had become much more skeptical about its existence. During the 'Daily Mail Snowman Expedition' of 1954, the mountaineering leader John Angelo Jackson made the first trek from Everest to Kanchenjunga in the course of which he photographed symbolic paintings of the Yeti at Tengboche gompa. Jackson tracked and photographed many footprints in the snow, most of which were identifiable. However, there were many large footprints which could not be identified. These flattened footprint-like indentations were attributed to erosion and subsequent widening of the original footprint by wind and particles.



On 19 March 1954, the Daily Mail printed an article which described expedition teams obtaining hair specimens from what was alleged to be a Yeti scalp found in the Pangboche monastery. The hairs were black to dark brown in colour in dim light, and fox red in sunlight. The hair was analysed by Professor Frederic Wood Jones, an expert in human and comparative anatomy. During the study, the hairs were bleached, cut into sections and analysed microscopically. The research consisted of taking microphotographs of the hairs and comparing them with hairs from known animals such as bears and orangutans. Jones concluded that the hairs were not actually from a scalp. He contended that while some animals do have a ridge of hair extending from the pate to the back, no animals have a ridge (as in the Pangboche "scalp") running from the base of the forehead across the pate and ending at the nape of the neck. Jones was unable to pinpoint exactly the animal from which the Pangboche hairs were taken. He was, however, convinced that the hairs were not of a bear or anthropoid ape. He suggested that the hairs were from the shoulder of a coarse-haired hoofed animal.

Sławomir Rawicz claimed in his book 'The Long Walk', published in 1956, that as he and some others were crossing the Himalayas in the winter of 1940, their path was blocked for hours by two bipedal animals that were doing seemingly nothing but shuffling around in the snow. Beginning in 1957, wealthy American oilman Tom Slick funded a few missions to investigate Yeti reports. In 1959, supposed Yeti feces were collected by one of Slick's expeditions; fecal analysis found a parasite which could not be classified. Cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans wrote:


"Since each animal has its own parasites, this indicated that the host animal is equally an unknown animal."

The United States government thought that finding the Yeti was likely enough to create three rules for American expeditions searching for it:

  • Obtain a Nepalese permit
  • Do not harm the Yeti except in self-defense, 
  • And let the Nepalese government approve any news reporting on the animal's discovery.


In 1959, actor James Stewart, while visiting India, reportedly smuggled remains of a supposed Yeti, the so-called Pangboche Hand, by concealing it in his luggage when he flew from India to London. In 1960, Hillary mounted an expedition to collect and analyze physical evidence of the Yeti. He sent a supposed Yeti "scalp" from the Khumjung monastery to the West for testing, whose results indicated the scalp was manufactured from the skin of a serow, a goat-like Himalayan antelope. Up to the 1960's, belief in the yeti was relatively common in Bhutan and in 1966 a Bhutanese stamp was made to honour the creature. However, in the twenty-first century belief in the being has declined.

In 1970, British mountaineer Don Whillans claimed to have witnessed a creature when scaling Annapurna. According to Whillans, while scouting for a camp-site, he heard some odd cries which his Sherpa guide attributed to a Yeti's call. That night, he saw a dark shape moving near his camp. The next day, he observed a few human-like footprints in the snow, and that evening, viewed with binoculars a bipedal, ape-like creature for 20 minutes as it apparently searched for food not far from his camp.



In 1983, Himalayan conservationist Daniel C. Taylor and Himalayan natural historian Robert L. Fleming Jr. led a yeti expedition into Nepal’s Barun Valley (suggested by discovery in the Barun in 1972 of footprints alleged to be yeti by Cronin & McNeely). The Taylor-Fleming expedition also discovered similar yeti-like footprints (hominoid appearing with both a hallux and bipedal gait), intriguing large nests in trees, and vivid reports from local villagers of two bears, rukh balu ('tree bear', small, reclusive, weighing about 150 pounds) and bhui balu ('ground bear,' aggressive, weighing up to 400 pounds). Further interviews across Nepal gave evidence of local belief in two different bears. Skulls were collected, these were compared to known skulls at the Smithsonian Institution, American Museum of Natural History, and British Museum, and confirmed identification of a single species, the Asiatic Black Bear, showing no morphological difference between 'tree bear' and 'ground bear.' (This despite an intriguing skull in the British Museum of a 'tree bear' collected in 1869 by Oldham and discussed in the Annals of the Royal Zoological Society).

There is a famous Yeti hoax, known as the 'Snow Walker Film'. The footage was created for Paramount's UPN show, Paranormal Borderland, ostensibly by the show's producers. The show ran from 12 March to 6 August 1996. Fox purchased and used the footage in their later program on 'The World's Greatest Hoaxes'.



In 2004, Henry Gee, editor of the journal 'Nature', mentioned the Yeti as an example of a legend deserving further study, writing:

"The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as Yetis are founded on grains of truth ... Now, cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold."

The Yeti is said to have been spotted in the remote Mae Charim area of the Luang Prabang Range range, between the Thai highlands and Sainyabuli Province, Laos. In early December 2007, American television presenter Joshua Gates and his team ('Destination Truth') reported finding a series of footprints in the Everest region of Nepal resembling descriptions of Yeti. Each of the footprints measured 33cm (13in) in length with five toes that measured a total of 25cm (9.8in) across. Casts were made of the prints for further research. The footprints were examined by Jeffrey Meldrum of Idaho State University, who believed them to be too morphologically accurate to be fake or man made, before changing his mind after making further investigations. Later in 2009, Gates made another investigation during which he discovered hair samples. A forensic analyst concluded that the hair contained an unknown DNA sequence.



On 25 July 2008, the BBC reported that hairs collected in the remote Garo Hills area of North-East India by Dipu Marak had been analyzed at Oxford Brookes University in the UK by primatologist Anna Nekaris and microscopy expert Jon Wells. These initial tests were inconclusive, and ape conservation expert Ian Redmond told the BBC that there was similarity between the cuticle pattern of these hairs and specimens collected by Edmund Hillary during Himalayan expeditions in the 1950's and donated to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and announced planned DNA analysis. This analysis has since revealed that the hair came from the Himalayan Goral. On 20 October 2008 a team of seven Japanese adventurers photographed footprints which could allegedly have been made by a Yeti. The team's leader, Yoshiteru Takahashi claims to have observed a Yeti on a 2003 expedition and is determined to capture the creature on film.

A group of Chinese scientists and explorers in 2010 proposed to renew searches in Shennongjia province, which was the site of expeditions in the 1970's and 1980's. At a 2011 conference in Russia, participating scientists and enthusiasts declared having "95% evidence" of the Yeti's existence. However, this claim was disputed later; American anthropologist and anatomist Jeffrey Meldrum, who was present during the Russian expedition, claimed the "evidence" found was simply an attempt by local officials to drum up publicity.



A yeti was reportedly captured in Russia in December 2011. A hunter reported having seen a bear like creature, trying to kill one of his sheep, but after he fired his gun, the creature ran into a forest on 2 legs. Border patrol soldiers then captured a hairy 2-legged female creature that ate meat and vegetation. The creature allegedly was more similar to a gorilla than a bear, but its arms were shorter than the legs (in contrast to a gorilla). It was about 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) tall. This was later revealed as a hoax, or possibly a publicity stunt for charity. In 1986, South Tyrolean mountaineer Reinhold Messner claimed to have a face-to-face encounter with a Yeti. He wrote a book, 'My Quest For The Yeti', and claims to have killed one. According to Messner, the Yeti is actually the endangered Himalayan brown bear, Ursus arctos isabellinus, which can walk both upright or on all fours.

The 1983 Barun Valley discoveries prompted three years of research on the 'tree bear' possibility by Taylor-Fleming, John Craighead and Tirtha Shrestha. From that research the conclusion was that the Asiatic Black Bear, when about two years old, spends much time in trees to avoid attack by larger male bears on the ground ('ground bears'). During this tree period that may last two years, young bears train their inner claw outward, allowing an opposable grip. The imprint in the snow of a hind paw coming over the front paw that appears to have a hallux, especially when the bear is going slightly uphill so the hind paw print extends the overprint backward makes a hominoid-appearing track, both in that it is elongated like a human foot but with a “thumb” and in that a four-footed animal’s gait now appears bipedal. This “yeti discovery”, in the words of National Geographic Magazine editor Bill Garrett:


“On-site research sweeps away much of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ and gives us a believable yeti”.


This fieldwork in Nepal’s Barun Valley led directly to initiating in 1984 Makalu-Barun National Park that protected over half a million acres in 1991, and across the border with China the Qomolangma national nature preserve in the Tibet Autonomous Region that protected over six million acres. In the words of Honorary President of the American Alpine Club, Robert H. Bates, this yeti discovery “has apparently solved the mystery of the yeti, or at least part of it, and in so doing added to the world’s great wildlife preserves” such that the shy animal that lives in trees (and not the high snows), and mysteries and myths of the Himalaya that it represents, can continue within a protected area nearly the size of Switzerland.

In 2003, Japanese researcher and mountaineer Dr. Makoto Nebuka published the results of his twelve-year linguistic study, postulating that the word "Yeti" is a corruption of the word "meti", a regional dialect term for a "bear". Nebuka claims that ethnic Tibetans fear and worship the bear as a supernatural being. Nebuka's claims were subject to almost immediate criticism, and he was accused of linguistic carelessness. Dr. Raj Kumar Pandey, who has researched both Yetis and mountain languages, said:


"It is not enough to blame tales of the mysterious beast of the Himalayas on words that rhyme but mean different things."


Some speculate these reported creatures could be present-day specimens of the extinct giant ape Gigantopithecus. However, the Yeti is generally described as bipedal, and most scientists believe Gigantopithecus to have been quadrupedal, and so massive that, unless it evolved specifically as a bipedal ape (like Oreopithecus and the hominids), walking upright would have been even more difficult for the now extinct primate than it is for its extant quadrupedal relative, the orangutan.

The Yeti has regularly been depicted in paintings, movies, T.V. shows, books, comics, music, video games, toys and even Walt Disney World's attraction 'Expedition Everest' is themed around the folklore of the Yeti and features a 25-foot-tall audio-animatronic Yeti which appears during the ride.



Sightings of Yeti continue to this day and personally I like to believe that the Yeti exists, I can't tell you why as I have no idea myself but what I can say is it's one legend that has always intrigued me.

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