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Bigfoot. Encyclopedia of American Folklore

North American version of the traditional wild-man flgure, named for the immense footprints it purportedly leaves. In Canada this creature is called Sasquatch, an anglicization of a Coast Salish Indian term. Stories of Bigfoot and its spoor are among the best-known belief legends on the continent, particularly in the Pacific Northwest among loggers and Native Americans. While scattered reports of strange humanoid creatures and people who had “gone wild” in the woods have circulated since colonial times, it was not until the late 1950s that this legendary figure was routinely associated with a specific narne and American region. Its origins are unclear but almost certainly stem from a fusion of ancient European wild-man traditions with Northwest Native American beliefs in hairy simianlike humanoids. In the Northwest particularly, the creatures are described by Euro-Americans in rather mundane terms. All are said to be covered by hair, with a heavy build and ape-like face, and to emit an intolerable stench. Adults can be eight feet in height, while juveniles are much smaller; females often have large pendulous breasts. They have no speech, but communicate by grunts, whisdes, and unearthly screams. They remain elusive through both their intelligence and their agility over rough terrain. At worst, they are only mischievous, never dangerous to humans, and are seen only because of their curiosity or sheer human good fortune. Sightings typically consist of people briefly seeing them at the edge of a forest clear-cut or running across a road. More recendy, as the legend has extended to regions outside the Northwest (and receives attention through sensationalistic tabloid headlines, movies, television commercials, and the like), the creatures frequently are linked with UFOs and the wodd of the paranormal—magical associations that presumably allow them to survive undetected in more densely populated areas. The Northwest, however, is where the legend is most consistendy manifested through periodic sightings and investigations of footprint discoveries. The creature’s purported existence is also acknowledged in several small tourist-oriented festivals in Northern California. Among loggers, Bigfoot is the subject of both jokes and serious discussion, depending on social contexts. Some loggers engage in the playful practice of fabricating realistic footprints in an attempt to deceive others and reinforce a sense of the forest’s potential for mystery. The legend of Bigfoot has become popular during the recent ascendancy of environmental concerns and seems to reflect a reevaluation of humanity’s place in the natural world more than a fear of wildness. For loggers, the legend serves as a symbolic defense of their controversial livelihood, projecting into the future the continued existence of endless forests hiding elusive monsters. However, for Native Americans, with tribes as diverse as the Hopi, Lakota Sioux, and Cree experiencing periodic waves of Bigfoot sightings during times of social crisis, the legendary creature serves as a PanIndian being whose appearance represents a spiritual warning of the need for tribal unity and traditional values and beliefs.

Robert E.Walls

References

Halpin, Marjorie, and Michael Ames, eds. 1980. Manlike Monsters on Trial: Early Records and Modern Evidence. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Hunter, Don, with René Dahinden. 1993. Sasquatch/ Bigfoot: The Search for North Americas Incredible Creature. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. Milligan, Linda. 1990. The “Truth” about the Bigfoot Legend. Western Folklore 49:83–98.

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