Saturday, 24 September 2022

The Basajaun


Irati Forest, Navarre, Spain.

The long tradition of orderly historical record-keeping, inherent in the cultures of the former vassals of the Roman and Greek empires, has left a detailed and largely intact smorgasbord of wildman representations throughout Europe, that is found, not only upon the ancient edifices of our holy houses but also woven into the clannish standards of our noble families and inculcated into the illustrations of our ancient animaliums.  This, in combination with the large literary and oral history of human encounters with the wodewose, or wildman; means that the average researcher, spoiled for choice, can choose instead to focus on individual cases or regional wildman varieties, finding sufficient fodder in the single as one would in the whole. Within this bygone pantheon, the Basajaun of the Basque nation (Euskadi) that straddles southwest France and northeast Spain, is a minor player, but nevertheless important, due to its honorific title: “Lord of the forest” or “Forest man”, in which its contiguous affiliation with its semi-mythical continental cousins is confirmed. 

What’s in a name? The name, Basa-Juan is a composite title, combining the Basque words - Baso (forest) and Jaun (man); which, when united, render the all too familiar habitational title present throughout crypto-hominology of: “Man of the Woods”, "Lord of the Woods", or “Forest Man”, etc. It is, in concurrence with other wildman legends, likewise branded with other appellations throughout the region, such as Anxo, Basandere (woods-woman), Bebrices, Iretges, Mono careto (ugly ape), Nonell de la neu (Catalan – Nonell of the snows), Peladits (finger peeler), Tartalo (Cyclops), Torto, and Yan Del Gel; attesting to its ethno-known, or at the very least, long folkloric tenure in Basque culture.

Monstrous Measurements: In the Basque folk tradition the Basajaun is a mostly peaceful giant that possesses great strength and agility. It is bipedal, standing 5 – 10 ft. tall, with a large, man-like body that is covered in long, reddish, or dark brown hair that hangs down to its knees, sometimes even reaching its feet. The male (Basajaun) has a beard, the female (Basandere) does not.

Terrifying Tracks: Leaves ‘mysterious tracks’ that do not match any known local species, or; circular tracks shaped like the hooves of a cow.  

Beastly Behaviours: Legend has it that the Basajaun protects flocks and warns shepherds of incoming storms or roaming packs of wolves through loud yells, whistles, and hollers, in return for bread, which it collects while the shepherds are asleep. It is generally benevolent, but also carries a large stick or a club and occasionally abducts shepherdesses. Screeches like a cat when angered or distressed. Reputed in Basque folklore to have taught blacksmithing and agriculture to men. Wears animal skins.

Deadly Diet: Grasses, roots, and game animals.

Hairy Habitat: Lives in caves, deep in the woods. Believed to inhabit the forests of Ataun and Gorea in the Basque region; the Irati jungle in Navarre; Maladeta Massif, Aragon; and especially the Pyrenees Mountains of France and Spain.

Scary Sightings: 

1774: Engineer, Julien David Leroy wrote in his work on logging in the mountains of the Pyrenees that, the pastors of the Iraty Forest region of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and its neighbouring areas along the border with Spain, claimed that a shaggy-haired Wildman, superficially resembling a bear, was known to inhabit the region.

Unknown Date: Local folklore holds that long ago, 2 hairy brothers, named Iretges, lived in the woods near Bedeilhac-et-Aynat, Ariege Dept. France. The brothers wore animal skins and were notorious for abducting shepherdesses; until one day, the villagers, tired of their depredations, lured them into a trap and killed them.

1979: Six woodsmen encountered a 6ft. tall ape-man in a sparsely-populated area in the Pyrenees Mountains of Huesca Province, Spain. After hearing a scream and squealing nearby, one of the men, Manuel Cazcarra went off to investigate, only to discover a hairy man-beast, 6 ft. tall, standing before him. The creature perhaps alarmed by Cazcarra’s sudden appearance, climbed up a pine tree, where it stayed, clutching a branch with its arms and legs, and seemingly berating the man with its loud screams. Cazcarra called the other men, who came running up, one of them, Ramiro López, who was just in time to see the ape-man climb down from the tree and hide behind a dense bush, before suddenly launching a hefty tree branch in their direction. The men decided not to pursue the creature further. The two men who had witnessed the creature were experienced woodsmen and were familiar with the bears that inhabit this region and swore categorically that the animal they had seen was not a bear. One week later, The Guardia Civil (Spanish Police) accompanied by one of the woodsmen, returned to the area and found ‘mysterious footprints’.  Shortly afterward, a family driving towards Prats de Molló witnessed an ape-like animal, crossing a road close to the French border.

1993: A group of cave researchers (Speleologists) decided to spend the night at a ruined church near Collada de Vallagrasa in the Catalan Pyrenees Mountains of Spain, when they heard strange noises that sounded something like those of an enraged cat. Approaching the source of the clamour near the church door, they were astonished to see a bulky, man-like creature, 5ft. tall and covered in shaggy hair that appeared to be frightened and agitated. Upon seeing the group, it fled into the woods. Later, the same wildman was seen again in the woods between Fargo De Bebie and Ripoll, Gerona.

1994: A mountain climber named Juan Ramo Ferrer saw an apelike creature, while hiking from Peña Montañesa to the village of Bielsa close by. The strange creature, which was shorter than a man and covered with reddish hair, with very long ape-like arms, jumped from tree to tree and squealed at the terrified hiker, who fled to a local campsite near Peña Montañesa. According to Ferrer, his hirsute harasser, “exuded a musky odour.”

Unknown Date: Two Wildmen pounced upon two paleontologists and struggled with them briefly before running away.

Beastly Evidence:

Art and Archaeology:

Isturitz Cave Art: The Isturitz and Oxocelhaya caves in the Arberoue Valley in the foothills of Pyrenees, in Lower Navarre, southwestern France, are a site of Paleolithic significance and contain the physical, material, and artistic remnants of both Neanderthal and Homo sapiens societies that have been deposited within their insides, between 60,000 and 600 BC. In the cave of Isturitz, one can even see a rupestrian engraving of what appears to be hairy, of a wildman, in profile.

Isturitz carved bone: Another possible representation of the wildman was found in the same cave and features two hairy hominoids that are not Homo sapiens. One of the hominoids has an arrow in its leg and links around its neck and leg, possibly indicating that these creatures were killed by hunters.

Wildmen grew in popularity during the medieval period, where they are depicted as wild, hair-covered men, upon the architectural adornments of cathedrals, tapestries, and in the heraldic coats of arms of prominent European families.


Basa-Jauna, The Wild Man: A folk tale from the Basque region tells the story of a Basque farmer’s wife with 3 sons and a daughter. Her sons leave home to seek their fortune and become enslaved by a Basajaun and Basandere (husband and wife) in exchange for not being eaten, after seeking shelter at their castle, one night. Years later, their sister, finding out that she had once had three brothers who disappeared, goes in search of them, and, seeking shelter at the same castle, also becomes enslaved by the Basajaunak, who vampirically drains her life force by sucking on her finger. After several twists and turns, including her brothers becoming oxen for a while, she threatens to roast the Basandere who sends her away to find some hazel sticks, and in a characteristically predictable old-world tale of family misfortune turned unlikely happy ending, she and her brothers, end up living happily alongside the Basajaun in their castle… This somewhat mediocre tale is too long to include in full here and ends rather abruptly, yet nevertheless, testifies to the folkloric antiquity of the Basajaun and remarkably, is the only case where it is represented with vampiric qualities.

Beastly Theories:

Relict Neanderthal: It is now known that the Iberian Neanderthals persisted around the area of the Ebro River in the Pyrenees (which encompasses much of the modern Basque region) until relatively recent times. Do the hairy portrayals that both Neanderthals and Bajaunak share prove human and Neanderthal coexistence in the Basque region? Could modern-day reports be those of a surviving Neanderthal? Sadly, I think not. The average Neanderthal man, stood at an unimpressive 5 ft. 5 inches tall; which sits right at the lowest height range for the Basajaun. Furthermore, Neanderthal is now known to have been skilled in stone tool use, as well as weaving, fire, art, seafaring, music, and so on; which doesn’t make it a particularly good fit for the modern wildman type, that eyewitnesses usually describe seeing; but does constitute a closer fit with the fabled megalithic builder and protector of flocks, that the folkloric Basajaun was reputed to be.

Neolithic Migrants: Some authors have suggested that the Basajaun myth is a folk memory of early human contact with migrating Neolithic settlers? These peoples, clad in furs and skins, and accompanied by flocks of domesticated animals, were megalith builders, who would have brought agriculture, domesticated animals, and new tools to the region. Indeed, there is a Basque myth that speaks of Saint Martinico (Martin Txiki) who through trickery and ingenuity, stole these technologies from the Basajaunak and imparted them to ‘mankind’.

Unknown Ape Species: Could an extant form of ancient ape, like Paranthropus robustus an extinct australopithecine, from South Africa or Dryopithecus, an extinct Miocene ape from east Africa and Eurasia, be responsible for historical encounters with creatures like the Basajaun and other European Wildmen? Besides their hairy appearance and gracile nature, the Basajaun and other European Wildmen seem to be more man than ‘monkey’, as is evident from their multitudinous depictions, which adorn European cathedrals and noble heraldry throughout the medieval period.

The god Pan (pictured here with Daphnis) an ancient embodiment of the Wildman?

Faunic Folklore: The European Wildman’s behaviour and appearance are closely related to and possibly inspired by other mythical entities of Europe, such as the Satyr, Faun, Ogre, and Leshy; which are similarly described as shy, forest-dwelling, hair covered beings; who are not beyond carrying off the occasional maiden, from time to time! One would also be remiss, to overlook the similarity it bears to the pagan hero, Heracles. This enigmatic fellow is regularly depicted as a powerful, hair-covered, club-wielding man, whose recycled origins and myriad names transverse most of pagan history. Therefore, it could be contended that the image of Heracles (or Hercules) is ingrained upon the cultural memory of the peoples of Europe and the near east and that the Wildman is but a watered-down amalgamation of this deified character and that of Pan, (Silvanus) the ancient Greek god of the wilds, and protector of shepherds flocks, who is thus represented as a hairy bearded man with the legs of a goat and carrying a shepherd’s staff.

Note: Some ancient representations of Balkan shepherds depict bearded men, carrying staffs, and wearing fleece trousers made from goat’s hair.

Written by Andy McGrath

The Basajaun is an excerpt from Beasts of the World: Hairy Humanoids

Listen to the audiobook here: 

No comments:

Post a Comment