Unlike Bigfoot, though, it would stride towards the camera and mercilessly devour anyone behind it. Possibly via the horrible toothy mouth where its belly button should be.
Its name translates as “roaring animal” or “fetid beast”, and it’s generally believed to be 2 metres (7 feet) tall with bullet-proof armour covered in red hair, backward-facing feet and a faint-worthy stench, to the point it’s used as an insult for a smelly person. At least somebody loves it, though.
According to some stories from northern Brazil, Mapinguari is the boyfriend of spirit Curupira, the “mother of the forest”, and they share a fondness for tobacco and hunters who cross the line. How they go about this differs, because while Curupira is happy to sabotage traps and scare them away, Mapinguari will cut to the chase by tearing them up and eating them, including their brains.
Near the Tapajós River, on the other hand, it’s a protector of white-lipped peccaries, small pig-like mammals (whose musk probably adds to its stench!). In tales further west along the Juruena, it may have once been an old pajé, or healer, who took its form to defend the forest.
Then again, eye-witness Geovaldo, of the western Amazon Karitiana tribe, said Mapinguari left a trail of destruction, so it’s probably not the best eco-warrior if it demolishes the tree line and chucks boulders about in one of the most threatened habitats in the world. The environment isn’t the only thing Mapinguari gets angry about though. It’s apparently a fierce advocate for worker’s rights too.
Sunday is not funday if it’s gun day
In perhaps one of the creepiest stories, from the banks of the Amazon and Yavarí rivers, a hunter decides to look for game on a Sunday, despite everyone advising him against it. He convinces his neighbour with the phrase “one must also eat on Sundays”, but Mapinguari, this time with a big green cyclops eye and a turtle shell, takes exception and attacks. The neighbour escapes up a tree, but as the beast wolfs down each of the hunter’s limbs, it repeats “one must also eat on Sundays”, which is either deeply chilling or darkly comedic. The terrified neighbour returns to the village, and Predator-style, is told he probably survived because he wasn’t armed.
In an incredibly bold move, the villagers seek out Mapinguari for some revenge and shoot it in its belly button. Enraged, Mapinguari charges off into the jungle and disappears. It’s a dab hand at hiding, because some researchers still haven’t found the “real” one – a possible Megatherium, or prehistoric giant sloth.
Who’s the survivor in this tale?
Of the hundreds of local interviews by ornithologist Dr. David Oren (what is it about ornithologists looking for recently extinct animals?), almost all corroborate the description of the biggest two-legged mammal of all time, whose remains are “only” 14,000 years old. Compellingly, a Peruvian Machinguenga tribe member told another sloth-seeker, Dr. Glenn Shepard Jr., that there was a Mapinguari in Lima’s natural history museum, and lo and behold, it has a Megatherium diorama. Either that, or one of the employees never washes, but let’s hope for the more interesting version.
At the time of writing there’s still no tangible evidence for Mapinguari, but it helped kick-start the field of cryptozoology, so we should allow it a little mystique.
Fortunately the real version is a vegetarian, so if we did one day run into it, we wouldn’t be the ones caught on the back foot.
What? Giant, smelly, sloth-like beast that may or may not have one eye or a mouth in its belly button
Where? The Amazon Basin, specifically Brazil and Peru
How big? 2.1-2.7 metres / 7-9 ft tall
Probable motto: Puny hunter, which mouth should I devour you with?!
Just to prove I’m not fibbing (about the mythology, anyway!)
“Amazon nightmare: Mapinguari mythology“. No date. National Geographic.
Galeano, Juan Carlos. 2009. “Folktales of the Amazon“. Libraries Unlimited.
Hartston, William. 2018. Sloths! A celebration of the world’s most maligned mammal. Atlantic Books.
Hoefle, Scott William. 2009. “Enchanted (and Disenchanted) Amazonia: Environmental Ethics and Cultural Identity in Northern Brazil“. Ethics, Place & Environment 12(1):107-130.
Holloway, Marguerite. 1999. “Beasts in the mist“. Discover.
“Hunt for the monster of the Amazon“. 1994. New Scientist.
“Legends and myths in the Juruena river region“. 2006. WWF.
Martin, Paul S. 2005. Twilight of the mammoths. University of California Press.
Redfern, Nick. 2018. The monster book: Creatures, beasts, and fiends of nature. Visible Ink Press.
Rohter, Larry. 2007. “A huge Amazon monster is only a myth. Or is it?” New York Times
Featured image credit: “Mapinguari”, by Ayu Marques