In one of its issues in 1967, the Junior Statesman, a Calcutta weekly, published a feature on the yeti. On the cover was an artist's appropriately abominable interpretation of the snowman's appearance.

At that time I was living in a jungle village in Tripura State. When my cook, a member of the Garo tribe, saw the cover portrait, he exclaimed, with a gasp of recognition, ‘Eh ! Bura debota’(Old-man evil spirit). Darlong tribespeople of the village examined the picture with great interest, because it corresponded to the idea which they also held of what evil spirits, or jungle deities, should look like. As they told of what these spirits can do, the tales bore uncanny resemblances to the storied exploits of the yeti.

Then it dawned on me: most prescientific cultures, whose people are in the animistic stage of belief, have their own peculiar mythical bogey-man, or figure of fear—and the yeti of the Sherpas is nothing more than this. No doubt this is being wise after the event, following the scientific de-bunking of the famous Khumjung ‘yeti scalp’. But it could well be the explanation.

Features of the Sola Khumbu countryside have helped to build up the legend: suitable animals, like bears, to make human-looking footprints, suitable snow to retain the prints and enlarge them on partial melting, and suitable skins for scalps. But all attempts to find eyewitnesses of a yeti notoriously dissolve into secondhand, third-hand or more distant retellings of the tale. It should also be remembered that the succession of European mountaineers who reported the footprints over the years were accompanied by their Sherpas, who provided the explanations.

Among the Sherpas, people who their friends say have been attacked or seen by a yeti sicken or sometimes die. Similarly, tribals of North-East India regard an encounter with a 'debota' as a serious disaster, and become terrified of falling ill, or of a coming death in the family. One reported sighting of a debota was investigated. The object turned out to be an upright bamboo stake waving back and forth in the current of a stream; its lower end had become caught in a rock. Any unexplained phenomenon in the jungle, such as the sudden waving of a branch on a windless day, is attributed to the activity of a debota. And the entire ancestral religion of the tribals is an elaborate system of offering the right gifts to avert the capricious wrath of these beings. Even after a people embraces a more developed religion, such as Buddhism in the case of the Sherpas, these animistic beliefs and practices often survive and coexist with the new faith.

If one goes back far enough in the culture of any people, one finds at some stage a belief in the existence of mythical beings corresponding to the yeti—whether they be the ogres of European fairy tales, the devils of the Middle Ages or the lilith of the ancient Hebrews (a nocturnal, hairy, female monster, especially dangerous to infants).

What of the many serious attempts to find the yeti, and even whole expeditions that have set out with the capture of a yeti as a major objective, equipped with trip-wire cameras and tranquillizer guns ? One can only surmize that if the de-tribalized Westerners involved had taken the trouble to consult a specialist scholar or two in the history of religions, a lot of toil, sweat and money could have been put to better use.

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