I believe all myths and folklore has some root in reality. They range from the completely made up Loch Ness Monster to the delusionally-fueled Mermaids. One origin of mermaids dates to when sailors mistook manatees for half human sirens calling to them. Is it so preposterous then to believe other myths whose origin may spring from more likely sources? In Southeast Asian cultures, many ethnic groups have stories of a Bigfoot-like creature who roamed the forests. In Hmong culture, I grew up with dreams of Mahlews, giant, lumbering creatures that loomed in our imagination. There is proof such an animal lived alongside humans thousands of years ago, but became extinct. Perhaps, this ancestral memory of them has been passed down from generation to generation until it has become folklore instead of truth.
There has been evidence a creature called Gigantopithecus existed in southern China, Vietnam, and India, but went extinct 300,000 years ago. Researchers estimate it stood more than 10 feet tall and weighed 1,200 pounds. ‘Scientists first learned of Gigantopithecus in 1935, when Ralph von Koenigswald, a German paleoanthropologist, walked into a pharmacy in Hong Kong and found an unusually large primate molar for sale.’ (1) Since then, scientists have unearthed other bone fragments and continue to study them, but I feel they are not researching the history of the people who may have seen these creatures.
Hmong people originated in southern China and emigrated to the mountainous regions of Laos, close to Vietnam. Thus, they would be greatly advantaged to have seen these beings in the past and have an oral history of them. They are also featured as supernatural beings in a Thai-directed movie Uncle Boonmee Who Could Recall His Past Lives, showing how they permeate our cultures in different ways. I have heard stories of these creatures along with many other fanciful beings all my life that I saw them all as characters from imaginative storytelling. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction, but can it be that fact is so removed from time that it has now morphed into a fictionalized fact that is indistinguishable from fiction?
If this is the case, we shouldn’t be so quick to discount other folklore and explore them more thoroughly. There is proof they existed when humans also did, so does this mean that when I am hearing about Mahlews, it is preserved ancestral knowledge passed down over the generations? Obviously, no one has seen one in thousands of years, but perhaps our ancestors did and the knowledge is still with us today. It certainly forces you to think that you shouldn’t be so quick to discount the basis of such folklore. Folklore itself is precarious ground, but when you find such evidence as this to back it up, it makes quite a case for itself.
4. picture from Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives