By Scott Corrales
Latin America Correspondent
Giants in the Americas: Yesterday and Today
Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser, the first explorers to venture into the pathless northwestern areas of Canada, were cautioned by the native tribes he encountered that hideous, destructive creatures prowled the region: the tall peaks of British Columbia were home to eight-foot tall Sasquatches, the broad river to which Mackenzie would give his name was the lair of the "Brush Man of the Loucheaux", a yellow-eyed monster who, like Beowulf's Grendel, feasted on human flesh, showing preference for tender helpings of women and children. The rocky barrens held even greater terrors, such as the dreaded Weetigo, a fanged giant. Even scarier were the towering headhunters of the Nahanni Valley, and the invisible creatures said to haunt the shores of the Great Slave Lake. While primitive peoples are fond of creating all manner of monsters to occupy regions beyond their immediate scope of action, could it be that the Slavey and Dogrib tribes of the region may have actually based their tales on fact? These tribes also expressed a fear of the bleak stone barrens that separated them from Inuit territory, since it was the haunt of other giants, aside from the aforementioned Weetigo.
At this point it becomes necessary to pause and wonder why, if these giants were so numerous, no remains have ever been found? Even Fortean researchers have turned up their noses at the well-worn stories of giant bones found here and there throughout the Americas.
Reports of large, hairy hominids--true giants, in some cases, exceeding the height of most Sasquatch or Bigfoot reports--are common in the desolate areas of the north. Cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson noted that these cases stretched from Alaska to Labrador and even Greenland, and citing the work of other scholars, suggested that many of these Pre-Amerindians may have occupied the wastelands prior to the arrival of the forebears of the Inuit, whose tradition speak extensively about them. These creatures are described as hirsute, violent savages living in encampments built of large boulders and whalebones (it is worth noting at this point that this description coincides with the one given two thousand years ago by the Macedonian admiral Nearchus regarding the appearance and dwellings of giant savages along the shores of the Persian Gulf). Writing at length on the subject in his book Things (Pyramid, 1967), Sanderson notes that the Inuit name for these creatures is "Toonijuk", adding that this is but one of many names given to them (Tornit and Tuunik being others) and that according to native belief, they dwell in remote, unapproachable valleys, from which they seldom emerge. But more on these later.
Could there be a connection between these nightmare creatures and the "devil-head" petroglyphs found in the area? Fred Bruemmer's article "The Petroglyphs of Hudson Strait" (The Beaver, Summer 1973) mentions that the cliffs of Qikertaaluk Island and its surroundings depict horned faces possibly drawn by Inuit shamans as recently as 500 years ago. In 1970, according to Bruemmer, excavations at Bylot Island's Button Point turned up two large masks carved from driftwood and painted with ochre: one of the pair showed a visage of "nearly demonic power and fierceness" which resembled the petroglyphs.
It is also worth noting that UFO researcher and author John Robert Colombo mentions in his UFOs over Canada (Hounslow, 1991), that some of the earliest examples of cave art to be found in Canada could, according some theorists, represent primitive depictions of non-human visitation. These include the "Flying Object" petroglyph from Christina, British Columbia, and the "Rabbit Man" from Ontario's Bon Echo Provincial Park.
Author George Eberhard wrote about the traditions held by the Inuit of the Northwest Territories regarding non-human presences in the area. While these traditions are invariably folkloric in nature, filled with ancestral spirits and religious motifs, there is the possibility that they describe factual events. The Inuit on Sledge Island, for example, have a tradition which describes the arrival of a fireball which appeared out of nowhere to the distress of the tribespeople, but even more distressing was the appearance, in the wake of the heavenly phenomenon, of an entity resembling "a human skeleton" which appeared in the Inuit village and began slaying its inhabitants. Native Greenlanders also have unusual beliefs, such as the existence of a subterranean (interdimensional?) realm that is home to the iserak, a dwarfish race that appears and disappears into the ground. These non-humans have what appears to be a technology more advanced than that of the Inuit, but also employ traditional means (bows and arrows, spears) to hunt arctic game. Graves containing four-foot tall beings were allegedly unearthed in 1632 by the British explorer Foxe: the bodies, which appeared to be mature adults, were surrounded by bows, arrows and stone spears. An iserak cemetery?
Do Not Enter The Valley
Located in the southwestern corner of Canada's endless Northwest Territories, pegged between the Selwyn and Mackenzie Mountains, lies the Nahanni Valley, named after the river that courses through it. The Nahanni's southern course is best known for its spectacular cataracts--Virginia Falls--and the spectacular natural scenery of the area, which nowadays is a favorite recreation spot for experienced canoers and kayakers with an urge to brave the river.
Yet the Nahanni Valley acquired the reputation of being an evil place, or at the very least an enchanted one, at the dawn of the 20th century. Driven by the Klondike gold fever at the end of the 19th century, prospectors pushed deeper into Canada's pathless wilderness in the hopes of finding the soft yellow metal that would make them rich. Some of these enterprising but poorly equipped miners were never heard from again, fueling all manner of wild rumors and speculation: that the Nahanni's deep gulleys and valleys housed a warm-weather paradise zealously guarded by hostile natives and presided over by a "White Queen", in the best tradition of H.Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Prehistoric monsters and haunting winds completed the ensemble, substantiated by the fact that regional native art often included drawings of mastodons and similar beasts. An active imagination could certainly fill the considerable number of caves found in the area's limestone canyons with unspeakable creatures, but what was the truth behind the riddle?
In 1898, Jack Stanier and Joe Baird, two prospectors who'd broken away from the pack of Klondike hopefuls, managed to secure the services of a native guide who led them through the maze of minor canyons around Virginia Falls directly to the headwaters of the South Nahanni. They would have entered the enigmatic valley, but their guide experienced a "nightmare" and balked at leading the two men any further. In 1905, William and Frank McLeod entered the valley and came back with a bottle filled with gold nuggets. They returned for more, this time accompanied by an engineer, and were never heard from again until a rescue mission in 1908 found their headless skeletons tied to trees. From that moment on, the Nahanni acquired its popular moniker, "Headless Valley".
The dark legend grew when another disappearance took place in 1910: Martin Jorgenson, a Norwegian gold seeker, built a cabin on the banks of the Nahanni as a base from which to launch his activities. Although a letter indicated that his quest had been successful, Jorgenson would not live to enjoy his newfound wealth. His bones were found twoscore yards away from the ruins of his cabin, with the curious detail that a "loaded and cocked gun" had also been found, as though the prospector had decided to make a stand against unknown quantities. His skull, however, was never accounted for.
In the pages of The Mysterious North (Knopf, 1956) newspaperman Pierre Berton visited the Nahanni at the request of the Vancouver Sun and managed to interview Wille McLeod, a nephew of the long-vanished prospector, in 1947. The second McLeod stated that Indians no longer lived in the valley and went at great lengths to avoid it, entering it only in groups. Another prospector, Bill King, informed Berton that he had been to the valley in 1934, when an Indian guide known as Big Charlie offered to act as his guide. But the guide was invaded by a sudden trepidation that caused him to abruptly terminate the journey. "We'd done maybe one hundred seventy miles when he turned back," said King. "Frightened, I guess, though I don't know what of. I had to go back with him, of course."
Sudden trepidation, or a vision of imminent danger, like the one picked up by Stanier and Baird's guide thirty-five years earlier?
Perhaps it would be more important to ask if there are really tribes of unspeakably awful beheaders lurking in this natural wonderland: cryptozoologist Loren Coleman's The Field Guide To Bigfoot, Yeti and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide (Avon, 200) offers a 1964 case in which trapper John Baptist from the Fort Liard settlement encountered an unclothed hominid described as "strong-looking and sporting a long dark beard". Sightings of a similar being were reported at Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie River months later. Known as nuk-luk or Bushmen, these primitive creatures may be responsible for the Nahanni's sinister reputation.
Monsters of the Torngat Range
When writing about the enigmatic Toonijuk in Spring on an Arctic Island (Little, Brown, 1956) researcher Katherine Scherman, who had gone north of the Artic Circle for over a month on a scientific expedition, organized by ornithologist Rosario Mazzeo, provides fascinating details. Although evidence for pre-Inuit occupation of this northernmost region of the Americas goes back to 10,000-7,000 and is known to anthropologists as the Paleo-Arctic tradition. The physical evidence consists largely of stone artifacts--microblades and small bifaces--found at locations ranging from Alaska to Baffin Island, where they correspond to the pre-Dorset Culture peoples who were pushed out of northern Canada and Greenland by new arrivals.
"The Toonijuk," writes Scherman, "were not Eskimos and no one is sure of who they were or what was their final fate. They are said by the Eskimos to have been very large, and possessed of some queer and disgusting habits." These habits included a preference for rotten meat and the wearing of uncured animal hides. Scherman visited Bylot Island, a small landmass located across the water from the Inuit settlement at Pond Inlet on Baffin Island, which according to her hosts, held remnants of a Toonijuk campsite or settlement. The researcher was startled by the depth to which the stones had been driven into the permafrost, suggesting either prodigious strength or tools more advanced than stone and reindeer bones. Inuit tradition held that the vanished race of degenerate giants could lift stones that no Inuit could even dream of picking up. Whale ribs and jawbones were also in evidence. Scherman's attention was drawn to a cairn that contained oversized human bones, which could have been Toonijuk. No effort was made to investigate the site, given that the expedition did not include personnel trained to evaluate the remains--an impassioned plea made by the author herself. "The Toonijuk," she concludes, "are shadowy figures in the half memory of another primitive race which has no writing and no history."
Today, Bylot Island is a bird sanctuary administered by Parks Canada, the Canadian national park service, and the Toonijuk campsite is part of the Sirmilik National Park, established in 1992. Whether or not the cairn with the bones was ever discovered is anyone's guess: in 1961, French anthropologist B.S. d'Anglure set out to find an Inuit necropolis discovered by meteorologist F.F. Payne in the mid-1880's, but so numerous were the graves and monuments that he was unable to locate the precise one.
Author Rufus Drake approached the subject of these Arctic manimals in his article on UFO activity over Greenland, which appeared in the October 1977 issue of Saga UFO Report. Citing the experiences of Danish military men stationed at the Thule Air Base (part of the Distant Early Warning radar system), Drake reported that pilots with the 727th squadron of the Danish Air Force had often had UFO encounters in those cold latitudes. One sergeant made the curious observation that conditions above freezing and with strong wind, which sent shards of frozen moisture into the frigid air, were propitious for seeing "strange monsters, the local equivalent of the abominable snowman." In connection to the UFO situation, Danish aviators reported the sensation of being watched or monitored by non-human presences, to the extent that some men reportedly heard voices in their heads speaking in foreign languages.
Drake goes on to mention that "abominable snowman"-type presences have been reported in Greenland since the 1930's, and that in 1974 scientist Turgo Sondheim had the courage to suggest that these humanoid figures, and the unexplained craft seen by Royal Danish Air Force's fighter pilots, hailed from a hidden civilization in an unexplored part of Greenland. The scientist claimed having uncovered archeological remains that bolstered his conclusions, but nothing more was ever said. No traces of the "big fighting people" have been found.
“Gigantes” of the Southlands
Trudging through fields of maguey and scrub vegetation toward the pyramid complex of Teotihuacán is the closest that the casual tourist can come to being on another planet. Even on a fine sunny day, there is certain alienness to the landscape that makes the enormous pyramids of the Sun and Moon seem a trifle frightening. On a cloudy day, the entire region and its surrounding mountains appear to have been designed according to the descriptions of the terrifying otherworldly realms imagined by H.P. Lovecraft.
Thousands of tourists visit Teotihuacán every year; tens of thousands of postcards and books depicting the complex are sold throughout the country and overseas, but we still do not know who built the stone metropolis. The Aztecs treated the site with awe and reverence, naming it "the city of the gods" when they could not imagine who else but gods could have built such a place. Superstition kept the Aztecs from ever occupying Teotihuacán, and when the conquering Spaniards first reached the location, dense layers of alluvial mud covered it. Historians tell us that the monumental complex was built around 200 A.D. and was sacked by the Toltecs in 856 A.D.There is evidence that the Mexican pyramids are far older than the ultraconservative figures given by scholars. According to British archaeologist H.S. Bellamy, the excavations at Teotihuacán required the removal of layers of earth measuring up to one meter in thickness. Bellamy himself reckoned the pyramid to have been built around 5000 B.C..
The question of Teotihuacán's origin was solved in ancient tradition by the presence of deities (visitors from space?) and the ubiquitous giants that have appeared in every single cultural tradition in the world. Fernando de Alba Ixtilxochitl, a chronicler from colonial times, manifested in his writings that "there were giants in New Spain (Mexico). Furthermore, their bones may be found everywhere, and ancient Toltec historians have dubbed them Quinametzin, against whom they fought many wars and had much strife in this land called New Spain..."
It may well be that the bones of these giants corresponded to those of mastodons and other early mammals, but the description of these clearly nonhuman creatures abound in the ancient records. Fray Andrés de Olmos, quoting from native sources, stresses the "divine" origin of these giants: "The four gods created the giants, who were very large men, endowed with enough strength to uproot trees with their hands...the Indians have outstanding recollections of them and call them quinametzin huetlacame, which is to say, large and deformed men." The colonial chronicler adds the curious detail that the giants were afraid of falling down, since they found it impossible to stand up again (due to Earth's gravity?). Tradition has it that it was these giants, the Quinametzin, who were put to work at building Teotihuacán for unknown purposes. Nahuatl codexes go as far as to mention a king among the giants, Tlatlotl, "who built great things and was taken for a god." Another chronicle describes how Xelhua, another giant, built an artificial column "in the shape of a pyramid". Curiously enough, the Codex Vaticanus 3738 depicts one of these giants.
In the mid-1930's, General Langlois, a French researcher, looked into the evidence of a strange unknown civilization predating the arrival of the Olmecs and the Toltecs on the Mesoamerican scene. This enigmatic culture was one of formidable mathematicians and engineers who may have been imitating older monuments still. The memory of their existence and the magnitude of their undertakings may have led successive cultures to regard them as giants who were swept away by floods, earthquakes and other disasters. Langlois believed that certain Egyptian pyramids were copies of the earlier Mexican ones.
The presence of giants in contemporary ufology, particularly in Latin American cases, cannot be overlooked in this regard: creatures measuring up to twelve feet in height have been reported in Brazilian and Argentinean encounters. Could these be the otherworldly kinsmen of the giants who built the mighty Mexican monuments?
French author and occultist Michel Cargese has explored this aspect of the giants as master builders in his own works. He provides the example of a prehistoric tool kit found in Agadir, Morocco: the 300,000 year old set of tools was designed to be used by someone with hands corresponding to those of a 16-foot tall giant. He adds that other cyclopean works found in other parts of the globe have also been the handiwork of these giants.
Lest the reader dismiss all this talk of giants as the same old hearsay that permeates most cryptoarchaelogical articles, it is perhaps worth noting here that the remains of physical giants continue being found in contemporary times. In 1975, Mexico's premier ufologist, Pedro Ferriz, visited the town of Calvillo, Aguascalientes (on the Pacific coast, famous for its intricate mazes of unexplored manmade caves) to inspect some ancient petroglyphs on the property of Víctor Martínez, a local landowner. Martínez told the ufologist that he was ambivalent about the petroglyphs, which he considered unlucky, particularly since "that affair with the giants". When asked to elaborate on what he meant, Martínez explained that he had stumbled upon the ancient skeletons of two extraordinarily large men while tilling the soil. Martínez went into Calvillo to notify the authorities about his find, only to discover that the local police believed him to have killed both giants and wanted to incarcerate him! The farmer finessed his way out of the predicament, returned to his farm, and set fire to the bones.
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