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African Americans, Snallygasters & Mokele-Mbembes

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 3rd, 2007

Mokele-mbembe

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.

Lizard Man

Click on image for full-size version

Lizard Man

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.

snallygaster

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.

Loren Coleman – has written 5491 posts on this site.
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


11 Responses to “African Americans, Snallygasters & Mokele-Mbembes”

  1. shovethenos responds:

    Where is the Regusters’ evidence? If your account is true it certainly sounds like their evidence is worth a look. If you want to increase diversity in the field, making sure evidence collected by cryptozoologists who happen to be members of minority groups is documented and accessible would be a good idea.

  2. scubaclaude responds:

    Thank you for adding this thread. I am African American and I am and always will be a cryptozoology enthusiast first and whatever else I am doing at the moment second. Loren Coleman, you are my hero! Believe it or not I was telling my best friend I wanted to visit your place in Maine sometime soon. From what I understand you spent some time here in the Tidewater area. I myself am from Newport News.

    Ever since I can remember I’ve dreamt about taking expeditions deep in the California Trinity Alps to find giant salamanders or to backpack deep in the Appalachian Mountains searching for a Bigfoot or any cryptid for that matter. Nothing much ever goes on here but there have been the occasional sighting of Chessie (the Chesapeake Bay version of Nessie) from time to time but you don’t hear much about it, but back to the issue. You are absolutely right, where are the African American cryptozoologists and enthusiasts? I know of two, myself and my older brother, who I might add is a Navy test pilot and can tell you some pretty interesting things. I have wanted to research African American folklore and their connections to cryptozoology. I know there is a lot to be told.

    Again, Loren, thank you for adding this post. Loren, you’re my hero!

    Yes, where are the African American cryptozoologists? It is a rare thing within the African American community to even hear the word cryptozoology. Well, that’s a hard question to answer. Believe me, I get my fair share of crazy looks when I’m ranting and raving about Chupacabras or Mothman. I am always encouraging my people to become more involved in cryptozoology.

    What amazes me are the stories told by the older African Americans that have carried on from the slaves, many who were from Africa. Many of these tales sound very similar to those stories of cryptid sightings that take place today, yet not many have taken notice. That would be an interesting research project to undertake.

    I’m so glad to see this post. Thanks everyone.

    Thank you again Loren for this. It has made my year that you brought up this very important issue. I am going to do my best to encourage more African Americans, as well as anyone, to get involved and explore the world that they live in.

  3. SOCALcrypto responds:

    Loren, I also would like more info. on Regusters. Do you know if his 1981 expedition evidence still exists? I would like to hear his sound recordings and view his footage. I would also like to read about his findings. Thanks for this post. I found it to be interesting. I also agree with you that color should not be a factor when collecting evidence. Or anything else for that matter. It is pure ignorance to judge anyone by the color of their skin. Oh, I’m also Scottish and Cherokee. What a coincidence.

  4. Chris Noel responds:

    Excellent post, Loren. I’ve often lamented the absence of African Americans in the BFRO. Let this be an open invitation to anyone reading this to join up for an expedition! We’d welcome you, as we welcome every serious investigator, with open arms.

  5. theo responds:

    I always wondered where the black science fiction writers, occultists, rock bands and artists were. From Samuel R. Delany, Paschal Beverly Randolph, Suffocation to Jean-Michel Basquiat, they are there.

    I still have to encounter the first black UFO researcher, though.

    During my researches in old newspapers, I found many more 19th and early 20th century cryptid and monster flaps specifically involving the Afro-American populations. It seems that many strange things were going on in the black communities as well. Some would call them ‘social panics’, but, in several cases the stimuli were all too real. All the way to the Atlanta Child Murders which is related in a very subtle but essential way.

    Unfortunately, one has to wade through the ethnically prejudiced and overt racist nature of these reports, but the flaps are there. As are the incredible creatures that were described.

    I think that perhaps the lack of Afro-American cryptozoological researchers was born out of the way that these flaps were treated by the – mainly – white press. The black people had enough to worry already as it was. I remember stumbling on this small 1904 newspaper article about a young, black man who was convicted to 30 years of jail for… stealing a kiss from a white girl. I have always thought about those two. Were they friends? Did they like or love each other?

    I do wonder, how many black folklorists are there in America, and do we find more reports there? I recall the equally fascinating accounts about the 19th century Night Doctors (reminding me of the Motor Zobop) and all the legends about crossroads and the unique way voodoo was transformed in America into something plus (hoodoo).

    I once saw four telephone book sized tomes (published in the 1980′s) about this tradition. There is a lot out there!

    regards,

    Theo

  6. dogu4 responds:

    As a sometimes Park Ranger, I can tell you that from time to time there is general discussion on why so few African Americans are drawn to experiencing the wilderness in general. Does apprehension about being at the mercy of an unknown danger linger on in a formerly-rural now-urban culture, un-used to the life in the wild, that those hardships and privations associated with camping, and actually sought after by many enthusiasts, represent a part of their history they are attempting to distance themselves from?

    From my experiences I can say that all people are the same color when huddled for warmth next to a fire, thinking about the cold dark night ahead…and telling stories.

  7. schreiberosa responds:

    Interesting observations and comments. I have seen a TV program with Regusters on it and heard a clip of the alleged cry/bellow of the mokole-mbembe that he recorded along with a blurry photo of something in the water. But droppings and casts of footprints were not exhibited or mentioned in that program. Which begs the question — what happened to them and/or where are they now? Any tests down on the droppings for DNA and that sort of thing? Regusters, if as related in Loren’s post above, came back with quite a bit of information/evidence that could indeed be helpful.

    Again, interesting post.

    Bill Schreiber

  8. CRYPTAL responds:

    An actual African American here. Though I’m good with Black or just American. I to am of Scottish, Irish, and Cherokee descent. Maybe I should be labeled Western Railroad Expansionist as my ethnicity ;). Anyway where are they(we). I have no good answer. I have had a long and strong interest in the paranormal in general since I was a child and asked my father, and received the Time Life(? )paranormal mysteries set.
    Of course in those days, a lot of focus was placed on Nessie and the Yeti. As time has gone on of course the idea of cryptozoology has expanded to include lost, extinct, and “new” species. I find these to be as exciting as any Yowie, Chessie,or Mothman. As an amateur I honestly have not had a lot of time or funds to investigate possibilities. I have focused more of my energies on local “ghost hunting”. Though as a Texan I am very interested in the thunderbirds of south Texas, and may try to make a trip to investigate for myself. As for the Texas chupacabras, if I see another manged coyote…. I don’t know how many more of us are out there but this is still America, a land of possibilities . Thank you Loren for all of your astounding work, and for reminding me of the Texas Bigfoot Conference. I am making plans to attend and hope to see you there.

  9. coelacanth1938 responds:

    I think I know where H.P. Lovecraft got the idea for his “nightgaunts” now.

  10. Mnynames responds:

    Thanks for the info on the Snallygaster, I’d love to see more. Ever since first hearing about it, it always struck me as essentially the Jersey Devil by another name. The 1909 flap seems particularly telling, in my opinion. True, it could just be the sensationalist press jumping on the bandwagon, but it could just as easily be further proof of the transient migration of an unknown cryptid species through the region, perhaps lingering due to the heavy snowstorms of that time. As I’ve said before, my theory has long been that what we’re looking at here is different, isolated ethnic and regional views of the same phenomena- Snallygasters in Maryland, Jersey Devils in New Jersey, Thunderbirds in Pennsylvania, perhaps even the one-off “flying man with modified frog legs” from New York should be included as well. Broaden the search area and you bring in Mothman from Virginia and Pterosaurs and Big Birds from Texas and Mexico. When seen in this light, I think evidence for some sort of very large, flying cryptid (Even though I’m from NJ, I prefer the term Thunderbird) is pretty persuasive.

    BTW, Theo, loved the Western Railroad Expansionist comment. It’s probably more accurate than any other traditional term you could use. Really, the use of any label is so subjective and limiting. I will usually say that I’m of Swedish and Irish descent, although the English, Welsh, Danish, and French are mixed in there too, with tons of Germans on both sides. Doing the math, I’d probably be more accurate is saying that I’m of German descent, except that culturally, there’s no hint of it on either side of my family. Again, it’s subjective. Early 20th Century European Immigrant to the Mid-Atlantic region perhaps sums up the truth of my heritage far better.

    As someone with a background in history, perhaps the conundrum we’re discussing here has more to do with the cultural and political realities of America than anything else. African Americans have been so isolated and marginalized by society in this country for so long that as a whole they have yet to recover. Ghettos still exist. Educational and economic opportunities are still limited to a large portion of African Americans, even though segregation officially ended almost a half-century ago. As I recall, previous discussions here have also noticed a lack of women cryptozoologists as well, another segment of the population that has long faced discrimination too.

    It is a weird time we live in. I was raised in the region surrounding Atlantic City, NJ, and worked there for many years. I don’t know the exact statistics, but it’s probably safe to say that well over half of the politicians and government workers there are African American, and yet, the areas of the city in which they were segregated previous to the 1950′s are still mostly slums and ghettos. Clearly the times, ethos, and available opportunities have changed, but the oppression of almost 400 years cannot be wiped out over night. That we have been able to come as far as we have when the minority of closed-minded, ignorant racists continue to have a prominent voice in America is impressive enough, I think. Now, AC may not be the norm when it comes to American cities, but I imagine many similar situations can be found throughout the nation.

    There ARE African American biologists, zoologists, and folklorists, to be sure. Might it be that with the burdens of such an historical legacy upon them, cryptozoology is still considered a step too far when they have such a small foothold within the American scientific community already? I mean, if old, white, Establishment eggheads are still so seriously reluctant to admit they find Bigfoot interesting (As has been claimed many times by posters here on Cryptomundo), how much moreso must be mostly young, nontenured, African American scientists?

    Anyway, just consider this post a Blue Plate Special of food for thought…

  11. AFROGERMAN responds:

    Hi Loren,

    you ca count me in !

    I am 31 years old. I was born and raised in Germany to an African American father (former GI) and a German Mother. I also like calling myslef Half-Aryan ;-)

    I became interested in Cryptozoology after watching a documentary about Bigfoot on German TV in the 1980s.

    I never really believed in the PG movie but I am still on the fence on the existence of Bigfoot.
    Patti really looks like a man in a suit to me. I still find other evidence much more intriguing.

    I also don´t believe in the Tatzelworm oder Tatzelwurm as we call it here. With the amount of tourists frequenting the area and thousands of digital cameras and cell phones, we would have already had a picture…even if blurry…but nothing so far.

    I still check your site once or twice a week and it has beaten out Cryptozoology.com as my favorite site.

    I have also wondered many times why there seems to be 0 interest in the toppic from my brothers overseas. I can only say that while I still hope that some of these creepers are indeed out there I can tell you that just reading your reports and stories of past encounters has always been a good diversion whenever I was feeling down.

    Just reading stories on how the first Europeans came into contact with the Komodo Dragon (the English term sounds much better than the German Komodo Varan) or the first Gorillas !

    My favorite cryptid is the Mapinguari (thinking of it as a Giant Sloth even though I also like your recent article about it being more apelike). I really find it puzzeling why there are no (proven) apes at all in North America.

    Well I just wanted to let you know that there are African Americans/Germans who are intereste din CZ.

    kind regards,
    the Afrogerman



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