FRONTIERS OF ZOOLOGY Dale A. Drinnon has been a researcher in the field of Cryptozoology for the past 30+ years and has corresponded with Bernard Heuvelmans and Ivan T. Sanderson. He has a degree in Anthropology from Indiana University and is a freelance artist and writer. Motto: "I would rather be right and entirely alone than wrong in the company with all the rest of the world"--Ambroise Pare', "the father of modern surgery", in his refutation of fake unicorn horns.
Şüräle (pronounced [ʃyræˈle]; Cyrillic: Шүрәле, also spelled Shurale in English via Russian Шурале), is a male monster (a forest demon) in Bashkir and Tatar mythology. According to legends, Şüräle lives in forests. He has long fingers, a horn on its forehead, and a woolly body. He lures victims to a thicket and tickles them to death.
"When the sun rose the villagers were awoken by the ghastly cries of a hairy human-like creature that had become glued to the back of one of the horses." Ines Cerro/KH.
Does Shurale, mythical creature of Tatar folklore, have something to tell us about the Russian Yeti?
The world’s media has recently zoomed in on the Kemerovo region in Siberia. There, American and Russian investigators have joined forces to find the “snyeshni chyelovyek,” the snowman, or Russia’s very own Bigfoot, which is said to stalk the area. Dogged by the inevitable hoaxes and cultural confusions, many nevertheless hope that this search begins a new period of East-West cooperation in finally trying to crack this ongoing enigma.
Russia’s involvement in the snowman problem has not always been the risible issue on the fringes that it has since become. In 1958 the Soviet government saw fit to fund a “snowman commission” to seek out the basis for Wildman’s reports which from the Pamir Mountains. This was headed by Professor B.F. Porshnev and his hypothesis was that the Russian yeti was a relic of the Neanderthal, the much sought after missing link, bridging apes and humankind. Eight years later, this idea appeared to be strengthened when another yeti-expert, Doctor Jeanne Marie Kofman, addressed the Russian Geographical society in Moscow and unveiled an identikit picture of what the snowman would look like as based on many eyewitness statements. A member of the audience then came forward to say how much this resembled the latest artist’s impression of a Neanderthal man, based on fossilized remains.
In Tibet the yeti is a quasi-mythological deity which is an inclusive part of the local Buddhist cosmology. For the Native Americans the “sasquatch” is a similar legendary creature to which magical powers are ascribed. If, indeed, there were a Neanderthal-related hominid existing on the outskirts of human society, then would not one expect the folklores of the world to tell of this? With this in mind, it is time to take a fresh look at the “shurale” of Bashkir and Tatar folklore.
Surale (Tatar: Шүрәле), seated at the right in this sculputre in central Kazan, is a Tatar and Bashkir mythical creature who according to legend lives in the forests, luring his victims and tickling them to death. Tatar poet Ğabdulla Tuqay wrote an epic poem based on the legend. Maxim Edwards/KH.
Sabirzyan Badtretdin, writing in the “Tatar Exclusive Web Gazette,” recently recounted a local tale that has been passed down from grandfathers to the current generation. According to legend, horses had been going missing from the village during the night and were discovered the following morning in an exhausted condition. As this could not be allowed to continue, the village elders were consulted as to what to do next. Their advice? To cover the horses’ saddles in tar and then to release them. Sure enough, when the sun rose the villagers were awoken by the ghastly cries of a hairy human-like creature that had become glued to the back of one of the horses. This was promptly slain and, it was, of course, recognized as being Shurale.
This macabre little account could easily be dismissed as merely a fireside tale, but it does find an echo in a better-documented story. In January 2002 the Russian Journal “Ural Stalker” carried a report by the biologist Nikolai Avdeev. This told of a Wildman who had appeared in the vicinity of Ibramigova village in the southern Urals and which had been blamed for the killing of domestic animals. This too was eventually captured and killed and was personified as shurale by the local Bashkirs. However, in this case, officials from outside the area had a chance to inspect the body. They described it as being covered in black hair, having red eyes, a pronounced brow and no forehead – and being reminiscent more of Bigfoot than of the nimble fingered horn headed Shurale.
This would not be the first time that a folk tale was found to have some grounding in fact. Vietnamese forest dwellers had long told stories of a large antelope creature which lived nearby, but this was not given credence by zoologists. After the discovery of some horns, an expedition was mounted which resulted in the discovery of the saola, a rare mammal known as the ‘Asian Unicorn’, which was only accepted by the mainstream science as late as 1992.
For the time being, in spite of the flippant attitudes towards it by many, there is an international race afoot to capture the ever elusive yeti. Just maybe, Tatarstan may hold one of the missing jigsaw pieces to this intriguing mystery.
The author, a British citizen, has been living and working in Kazan for more than two years.