Meet Shurale – A Tartar Yeti?

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Shurale comes to us from Russia where the Tartar believe a long fingered hairy beast with one horn in the middle of it’s forehead lures unsuspecting humans to his side to tickle them to death. Below is an excerpt from an article by Sabirzyan BADRETDIN for The Tartar Gazette titled The Myth of Shurale:

“There is not a single child in Russia who doesn’t know who Baba Yaga, Kaschei Bessmertni and Zmei Gorinich are. They are the mythical characters of Russian folklore. In Tatar folklore, the name of Shurale is similarly well-known. This bogeyman is described as a human-like creature with a body completely covered by fur and a horn growing from the middle of his forehead. Shurale (Shoo – rah – leh , pronounced to rhyme with “sure, I lay”) has long, bony pointy fingers with which he likes to tickle humans who are unlucky enough to have lost their way in the middle of the black forest (kara urman). Shurale patiently waits behind the trees for his victims. Once the abominable forest creature catches them, he usually tickles them to death.

There are many stories about Shurale that Tatar village elders (babailar) tell their grandchildren. One of them was re-told to me by my mother when I was a child:

In one village the local residents noticed that one of their horses regularly disappears every night and returns home early in the morning completely exhausted and lathered. They were totally flabbergasted by its mysterious disappearances. One day they decided to ask a local elder for help. The elder recommended covering the saddle of the horse with tar and letting it go. The next morning the people of the village were awakened up by ear-splitting screams. They looked out of their windows and couldn’t believe their eyes: On top of the horse, glued to the saddle there was a scary-looking dark creature that looked like a human being. The creature screamed at the top of its lungs. The village men caught the creature, who turned out, of course, to be Shurale, and killed him.”

In a more recent article titled  Shurale – A Tartar Yeti? by Edward Crabtree, the race to find Bigfoot and other hominids from around the world have landed US and Russian researchers in Siberia seeking  Russia’s “snyeshni chyelovyek,” or the snowman, rekindling the lure of Shurale.

“The world’s media has recently zoomed in on the Kemerovo region in Siberia. There, American and Russian investigators have joined forces to find the “snyeshni chyelovyek,” the snowman, or Russia’s very own Bigfoot, which is said to stalk the area. Dogged by the inevitable hoaxes and cultural confusions, many nevertheless hope that this search begins a new period of East-West cooperation in finally trying to crack this ongoing enigma.

Russia’s involvement in the snowman problem has not always been the risible issue on the fringes that it has since become. In 1958 the Soviet government saw fit to fund a “snowman commission” to seek out the basis for Wildman’s reports which from the Pamir Mountains. This was headed by Professor B.F. Porshnev and his hypothesis was that the Russian yeti was a relic of the Neanderthal, the much sought after missing link, bridging apes and humankind. Eight years later, this idea appeared to be strengthened when another yeti-expert, Doctor Jeanne Marie Kofman, addressed the Russian Geographical society in Moscow and unveiled an identikit picture of what the snowman would look like as based on many eyewitness statements. A member of the audience then came forward to say how much this resembled the latest artist’s impression of a Neanderthal man, based on fossilized remains.

In Tibet the yeti is a quasi-mythological deity which is an inclusive part of the local Buddhist cosmology. For the Native Americans the “sasquatch” is a similar legendary creature to which magical powers are ascribed. If, indeed, there were a Neanderthal-related hominid existing on the outskirts of human society, then would not one expect the folklores of the world to tell of this? With this in mind, it is time to take a fresh look at the “shurale” of Bashkir and Tatar folklore.”

The most famous story about Shurale was told by Gabdullah Tukai (Too – kai, pronounced to rhyme with “too high”), the greatest Tatar poet of all times. His poem “Shurale” belongs to the golden treasure trove of the Tatar literature. Probably, it is the most well-known Tatar poem in the entire 1000 year old history of the Tatar literature. Only Tukai’s other poetic masterpiece, “Oh, My Native Tongue!” can challenge that assumption. All attempts to translate “Shurale” are fruitless and will never succeed. People who are lucky enough to be able to read it in the original are truly blessed. The heart of any Tatar fills with warmth when he reads the magic words:

“Nek Kazan artenda bar der Ber avel – Kerlai diler…” (Near Kazan there’s a village, Known to people as Kerlai)

In Tukai’s poem, a young handsome woodcutter decides to go to the forest to get some wood. He prepares his horse-drawn cart and leaves the village of Kerlai late in the evening. Once in the forest, he fells a few trees and puts the timber on the cart. One of the pieces appears to be too big. In order to split it in half, the man puts a wedge into a slit in the log and starts hitting it with his ax. Suddenly he sees a horrible-looking furry creature with long fingers and a horn in his forehead. It is Shurale!

“Hey, young man,” says Shurale, “why don’t you put your instruments down and play a tickling game with me?” The boy politely refuses but after Shurale’s demands become more insistent, he finally agrees. But he agrees to it under one condition: that at first Shurale will help him split the log. “Put your fingers into the slit in the log and pull it apart while I drive the wedge in,” says the young man cunningly.

When Shurale reluctantly agrees, the young woodcutter, instead of driving the wedge in, suddenly drives it out with a few strokes of the ax. Shurale’s fingers get stuck in the log. The creature begins to scream and yell, threatening the boy with all kinds of punishments and then imploring him – all to no avail.

The young man, without paying the slightest attention to Shurale begins to leisurely prepare his terrified horse for the ride home. When he is finally ready to leave the forest, Shurale asks him desperately: “Oh you, cruel man, tell me at least what your name is, so that I know who to take revenge on!” The young man, before striking his horse with a whip, finally turns to Shurale and tells him with a wink: “My name is Belter!” (literally, “Last year”)

The next morning, the forest kin of the Shurale gather around him and ask him why he is screaming so loud. The poor creature responds to them: “Oh! My fingers! Last year! (belter)” The other shurales start laughing at the hapless relative and scolding him: “You fool! Why are you screaming now if the accident happened last year?”

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