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Sunday, 29 January 2012

More Mayan Monkeys (Apes)

From Ivan Sanderson's book Abominable Snowmen: legend come to Life, we know of two quite distinct unknown Primates of the Mayan lands, the Sisimite and the Dwendi. Rather than make exceptions to this idea, I think we should review the information given on them:

"There live in the mountain forests very big, wild men, completely clothed in short, thick, brown, hairy fur, with no necks, small eyes, long arms and huge hands. They leave footprints twice the length of a man's[and sometimes allegedly turned back-to-front]".
The area in question was in Baja Verapaz, around the town of Cubulco. Cubulco is the last vestige of civilization, the road ends there, and for all intents and purposes so does everything. The range of mountains in question is the Sierra de Chuacus, whose greatest peak is Mt. (Cerro) Sanché, 8500 feet elevation. Depending on which direction you're coming from, there are between 5 and 7 ridges from the floor of the Cubulco Valley [Rio Cubulco, which eventually joins the Rio Negro to the north roughly 20 kilometers] to C. Sanché. Further than this, I would not want to speculate as to range of this alleged creature. I have coloured in a patch on the enclosed map which depicts the approximate range according to what the natives told me, which means it would range into the departmento of El Quiche. (See Map V.)
Cubulco itself, at about 4200 feet, is really "tierra templada," and the area in question ranges up to "tierra fria." The vegetation is open pine and oak forests on the slopes, and many high plateau areas are covered with grass, as is the Cubulco environ. Along the margins of the highlands where rainfall is greatest, the oak and pine forest merges with the rain forest. Temperature ranges from 30°F to 90°F, and while I have no good figures on rainfall, it is considerably less than, say, Coban.
Now, as to "what the natives said." They referred to a large, hairy creature, which sometimes walked on two legs, and apparently ran on all fours. I considered bear first of all, and queried them regarding size, shape, appearance, etc. The answer was that it looked like a bear, but it wasn't from the description they gave—no conspicuous ears, no "snout"—it was somewhat taller [or "Somewhat shorter"]  than a man, and considerably broader, covered with darkish hair, and the locals live in mortal dread of disturbing it. Occasionally, one or two of the natives who got drunk or particularly boastful would go half way up the ridge and make a big show of "hunting" it, but no one has ever killed one that I learned. Several persons reported they were chased by it down the mountain, although with the fear they have of whatever it is, they probably just caught a glimpse of

p. 160

it and ran all the way down the mountain at top speed. No one seemed very anxious to guide us to the spot, or spots, but one of the braver souls agreed to do so finally. Unfortunately, we never got to it, for which you will curse, no doubt. I have no way of determining from their descriptions whether it was a bear or a Sisemite or something else, but it would seem reasonable that something is back there. You will be somewhat interested in the fact that the natives reported to me that this thing "calls" every so often, and they hear it from time to time when they are travelling about the ridges.
And then later on

Both these peoples—the regular British Hondurans or Belizians, and the Coast Caribs—assert that there dwell in the tall, wet forests of the southern half of their country certain small semi-human creatures which they call Dwendis, a form of Duende, Spanish for goblin. To the very well-educated Belizians, these are regarded more as we regard fairies than as real entities—unless they have lived or worked in the southern forested area. Then they, like the Caribs, take quite an- other view of the matter. I lived in that country off and on for years while we traveled Central America and the West Indies, and I talked to innumerable people there about them. Dozens told me of having seen them, and these were mostly men of substance who had worked for responsible organizations like the Forestry Department and who had, in several cases, been schooled or trained either in Europe or the United States. One, a junior forestry officer born locally, described in great detail two of these little creatures that he had suddenly noticed quietly watching him on several occasions at the edge
p. 165
of the forestry reserve near the foot of the Maya Mountains when he was "cruising" and marking young mahogany trees. His description of them coincided with that of all the others who were serious.
These little folk were described as being between three foot six and four foot six, well proportioned but with very heavy shoulders and rather long arms; clothed in thick, tight, close, brown hair looking like that of a short-coated dog; having very flat yellowish faces but head-hair no longer than the body hair except down the back of the neck and midback. Everybody said that these Dwendis have very pronounced calves but that the most outstanding thing of all about them is that they almost always held either a piece of dried palm leaf or something looking like a large Mexican-type hat over their heads. This at first sounds like the silliest thing, but when one has heard it from highly educated men as well as from simple peasants, and of half a dozen nationalities and in three languages, and all over an area as great as that from the Peten to Nicaragua, one begins to wonder. Then, one day, I came across a lone chimpanzee in West Africa in an open patch of forest and on the ground; and, by jingo, it was solemnly holding a large section of dead palm frond over its head, just like an umbrella and looking exactly like a large Mexican straw hat!
Dwendis are said to appear suddenly in the forest both by day and night and to watch you from a discreet distance. They are silent but seem to be very curious. I heard of no case of their ever making any threatening move, but I was time and time again told of them chasing, sometimes catching, and carrying off dogs [presumably to eat them]. They are said to leave very deep little footprints, that have pointed heels.
At the top is a Mayan-Empire-Aged pot showing what I suspect might be a Dwendi holding a large leaf over itself as an umbrella, as Sanderson states" I thake the creature itself to be identical to the DeLoys Ape and the Shiru mentioned in Sanderson's book slightly further on, AND I expect it to be a larger form of lesser ape most closely allied to the Siamangs. In the photos below, the first is a spidermonkey and the next two are Siamangs.

It is my belief that the creature shown on the pot is larger and heavier than a spidermonkey, has different facial contours and a different nose, and it has no tail. Nor is it depicted in a way that the Mayas would have depiced spidermonkeys: they knew them well and could depict them at the same time accurately and in humorous caracature, and always with the tail, as below;

The style of the depictions on such pottery always reminds me of well- done Chinese and Japanese brushwork: the scribes definitely knew what they were about.

Below is the face of another such creature, once again with the nose of a completely different type than a spidermonkey's and probably depicting the "Dwendi"-Ape as a "Baby Monkey" with big eyes:

And here are a couple of them dancing from ornaments meant to be stuck into a lady's hair, photograph from Flickr from a series of several similar shots of the ornaments.
On the other hand, Sanderson's information concerning the Sisimite mixes descriptions of two different creatures, one of which leaving large human-looking prints thought to face backwards, and the other a large tailless ape that can walk erect but runs on all-fours. It could be that the confusion comes from collectors not knowing the distinction but possibly the confusion occurs at the local level. My impression is that locally the "Apes" are seen as one thing and the "Apemen" as their bastard offspring, but still a separate category. Below I add three reconstructions meant to show Sisemites, the first two probably illustrating an apeman and the second an ape, and the "Monkey" on the pot below I expect is a simplified and symbolic Sisimite. There are fuller depictions of the larger ape in Mayan artwork but they are hard to separate out from depictions of Apemen or depictions of Howler monkeys. The folklorists and Archaeologists tend to lump all of them together, BTW.

This depiction of "El Sisimite" below seems to me to be definitely an Orangutan, especially the face; and its backwards-turned feet in this case include an opposed toe facing foreward while the longer toes face back. Because of that, I think that we are talking about a track where the longer toes curl around and that the creature is the same as the "Bottlefoot" Mapinguari of the Mato Grosso.

Comment made on one website by Julio:
Re: Has anyone ever heard of the Sisimite? on 07-18-2009 9:25 a.m.

Apparently, some reports show the Sisimite as a man-ape, and others, is confused with the Goblin [Dwendi]or Sombrerón [Wears a Sombrero]. . . It is possible that the very word of Aztec origin "tzitzimitles" has been used to describe any kind of terror in general. So some anthropology books say seemingly meaningless things like "the Sisimite is a giant and a dwarf at a time.". .
See you later.. Julio..

Which would indicate that either the "Sisimite" or the "Dwendi" of Sanderson could be described as "Sisimites: and furthermore, "Dwendi" has the conventional meaning of a fairy-tale "Elf" and so much of the plain Folklore is actually in that vein: the same names are used to mean different things. And evidently "Sisimite" is an Aztec name, the Mayans use other names for it (Such as Cax-Vinic), and we are passing through layers of translations.

Mayan figurine of "Black Howler Monkey"-Except for the tail, a fair representation of an "Apeman"
Two Face-"Haches"(derived from Olmec figural celts): the one on the left is said to represent a Black Howler Monkey and the one on the right is supposed to represent its "Apeman" offspring

Handout for mythological humanoids believed to have fed into stories of the Sisimite and Mapinguari in Central and South America. The top entry represents cannibals and the version of "Headless Man" stories involved more usually show it as a Cyclops in the New World.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

Please see also this blog's reprint article on the Sisimite:

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