Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 3rd, 2007
Mokele-mbembe being killed by Pygmies; drawn by Bill Rebsamen and used with permission.
Who are today’s and tomorrow’s African American cryptozoologists?
When I was at the 5th Annual Texas Bigfoot Conference, held October 14-16, 2005, I found it was a good event. I discovered the gathering was attended by a wider diversity of people than I have seen in my three decades of presenting at Fortean, cryptozoological, and Bigfoot gatherings.
Of the 500 people there, I noticed more families, more women, more Hispanics, and more Native peoples than at any other public Bigfoot meeting, conference, and presentation I’ve personally experienced.
While speaking at this Texas conference, I would take breaks from visiting with folks and signing their books to sit and listen to others’ talks.
During one such interlude, I was seated near the middle of the crowd, listening to Paul Cropper of Australia discussing his and Tony Healy’s new book, The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Bigfoot. It was a good illustrated presentation of a little known topic to Americans, and I was heavily concentrating on what he was saying.
All of a sudden, out of the blue, an attendee popped himself down next to me, and exploded, without any introduction, with the question: “So where are all the African American cryptozoologists?”
Before I could ponder the inquiry thoughtfully, the rustic-looking Caucasian man jumped up and disappeared. I never found out the identity of that person.
Having an interest ethnically and anthropologically in the people in the field (from investigators to eyewitnesses), I thought about his question, seriously. I surveyed the crowd in Texas, and though it was one of the most culturally diverse that I had seen, there were no apparent African American faces among the attendees. I thought about Bigfooters and cryptozoologists, and few African Americans jumped to mind.
Needless to say, there had been eyewitnesses who were African Americans. Most news accounts do not identify people by race or ethnicity, but from photographs and open discussions of racial backgrounds, some African Americans have been deeply involved in some cases.
Click on image for full-size version
Click on image for full-size version
Take for example, on June 29, 1988, when one Christopher Davis, in the Scrape Ore Swamp, Bishopville, South Carolina, saw a creature that was labeled a “Lizardman” by the media. Davis is an African American, and for some reason, this detail was widely disseminated in the news articles.
The creature pictured above, a stylized Snallygaster, is identified with African Americans. The general feeling in the literature, if you read closely, is that the Snallygaster lives in the land of Jersey Devils, Chupacabras, and Mothmen.
Early records of its appearance strongly associated African Americans with the strange flying beast known as the Snallygaster. In modern times, it appeared aggressively in 1909 newspaper accounts in Frederick County, Maryland. Sightings of the creature were so significant that the Smithsonian got involved, and supposedly Teddy Roosevelt postponed a safari to Africa to go hunt the Snallygaster.
This cryptid’s 1909 “flap” almost certainly seems to have been a spillover from all the publicity being generated in New Jersey that same year by reports of the “Jersey Devil.”
An old source used the language of the day, in saying the Snallygaster “was reported to have killed a colored man, Bill Gifferson, by piercing his neck with its sharp bill and slowly sucking his blood.”
Others have continued this linkage, perhaps incorrectly. For instance, the 2002 book, Weird and Wonderful Words, compiled by noted lexicographer Erin McKean, gives this African American lexilink: “Snallygaster, a mythical monster of Maryland, [was] invented to frighten freed slaves.”
However, consider what blogger Joshua Drescher has to say about this:
The name “Snallygaster” is actually a mispronunciation of the term Schnellegeister – which is, itself, a corruption of the German term “schnelle geist,” or “quick spirit.” In Pennsylvania Dutch traditions, a “quick spirit” is responsible mostly for things like sudden drafts, knocking over lightweight household objects or scattering papers. I am uncertain how, exactly, the term came to be applied to a dragon-like monster that ate children.
There are two men responsible for the popularization of the Snallygaster in modern times – George Rhoderick and Ralph Wolf, two staff writers at the Middletown Valley Register who thought they would boost sagging circulation with a modified version of old German dragonlore they’d heard as children. They claimed it was intended to be enjoyable mythology but it, obviously, became something far more involved. Joshua Drescher
Sightings and hunts for the Snallygaster jumped to national attention again, in 1976, with reports mostly carried in the African American newspapers in Baltimore, Maryland.
Today, African American artists, writers, and poets have proudly taken over “ownership” of the Snallygaster moniker via their art, writings, and websites. See, for example, the SnallyGaster’s African American Phat Library.
So, back to the original question, where are all the African American cryptozoologists?
Certainly one very prominent African American cryptozoologist was the late Herman Regusters, formerly an aerospace engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, from South Pasadena, California. Herman Regusters and his wife Kia were the first Westerners to reach Lake Tele, Congo, and the only individuals on his Mokele-mbembe expedition in September 1981, to have observed a “long-necked” lake cryptid travelling across that body of water. Reportedly, Regusters returned with droppings, footprint casts, sound recordings, and a blurry footage of what they saw. Was subtle racism at work for why his evidence was dismissed or ignored?
Where are the black cryptozoologists of the future?
Yes, I like to challenge cryptozoology, and being part Scottish and Cherokee myself, to be culturally diverse and global in my chronicling of the cryptids and the people that study them. As cryptozoologists, we do the best when we learn the most from many peoples.
The question, therefore, must be asked, where are the African American cryptozoologists? As to the answer, it will take some time to sort it all out, but in the meantime, we must be as inclusive as possible.
Cryptozoologists must be color-blind in gathering reports, but we must understand that models for cryptozoologists-in-training should come from all genders, races, and ethnicities. If we don’t identify, recognize, and celebrate diversity, this factor will not be there to influence those next generations.
Mokele-mbembe art courtesy of Bill Rebsamen. Click on image for a larger view.