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Hairy Monsters Through The Ages

Wild men support coats of arms in the side panels of a portrait by Albrecht Dürer.

Wild men support coats of arms in the side panels of a portrait by Albrecht Dürer.

Last week’s conference of yeti experts in the Siberian town of Tashtagol prompted RFE/RL staff in Prague to take another look at hairy humanoids.

Inclined to skepticism, we nevertheless bring you some of the finest highlights in the historiography of these apelike beasts. And who knows? No less than Jane Goodall once suggested that she believed in the yeti’s existence.

Below, the three most important yetilike creatures you've (likely) never encountered.


The Western world’s original yeti, the woodwose rose to its greatest prominence during the Middle Ages, taking variations on the name “wild man.”

In Middle English, the “wildman of the woods” -- Woodwose -- evolved into the surnames Wodehouse and Woodhouse. A cultural meme of the first order, the woodwose appeared on church carvings and family crests. He was almost always depicted as a dark, hairy, manlike creature -- the medieval descendant of classical satyrs.

Augustine of Hippo warned against these kinds of wild creatures, who “have often appeared to women as wicked men, trying to sleep with them and succeeding.” The theologian was adamant in attesting to their existence. “These same demons,” Augustine wrote, “are relentlessly committed to this defilement, attempting and achieving so many things of such a kind that to deny it would seem brazen.”

In his books on Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien kept the myth alive with his Woses, a race of wild men.


The Khull is a product of Tajikistan’s mountainous hinterland, an upright walking creature covered in thick black hair and possessing tremendous breasts. Tajik villagers report being attacked by this manimal on expeditions at high altitude, and reckon that the Khull feeds on the herbs of the alpine slopes.

British writer Ben Judah reported with a great dose of skepticism on the Khull legend in 2010, after getting various rural Tajiks to swear on the Koran that they had personally seen the Khull up close.

Whether or not you believe their claims, officials in Moscow once took them plenty seriously. Before the USSR’s collapse, authorities from the Soviet Academy of Sciences paid a visit to Tajikistan to investigate claims of the Khull’s existence as part of a broader effort to bag a yeti.

Orang Pendek

This mysterious creature -- “short man” in Malay -- is an object of constant speculation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Estimated to be four to five feet tall, the hairy humanoid is notable for the variety of his alleged diet. Witnesses over the years have reported seeing Orang Pendek snacking on everything from fruits and veggies to the flesh of dead rhinoceros.

The West’s first knowledge of the short man came in the 20th century, as Dutch colonists began leaving written accounts of their own Orang Pendek sightings. A Dutch coffee planter named Mr. Oostingh encountered one in the forest in 1917, reporting that he had “thick square shoulders, not sloping at all,” and that his furry coat was the color of “black earth, a sort of dusty black.”

In more recent years, Orang Pendek enthusiasts have taken casts of Orang Pendek’s footprints, which have helped lend some scientific credence to the eyewitness accounts. Cambridge biologist David Chivers believes that the Orang Pendek is a lost species of primate, uniquely separate from gibbons, orangutans, chimps, or humans.

Whatever the nature of Orang Pendek’s genetic background, he is perhaps the iteration of yeti providing the best hope of actual existence. As such, he is the object of intensive research and commentary, including a 2006 feature-length documentary, “Short Man of the Forest,” and a lengthy credulous feature in "The Guardian" in September 2011.

-- Charles Dameron

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at