Mapinguari: Legend of the Amazonian Giant

An elusive giant with backward feet and a belly mouth, it’s the Amazon’s answer to Bigfoot. Intrigued? We’re uncovering the mystery of the Mapinguari.

5 June 2024

Everything seems to be bigger in the Amazon. It’s the world’s largest rainforest, containing millions of species, most of them yet to be classified. Home to at least a tenth of the world’s known biodiversity, it’s also largely unexplored. Given all of this, would it be such a stretch to imagine that, among the sloths, jaguars, and giant otters, an Amazon bigfoot has remained undiscovered? Because, according to indigenous folklore, a fearsome beast does indeed roam the dense foliage.

It’s known as the Mapinguari or Mpinguary. And it continues to captivate the imagination of locals and explorers alike, remaining one of the most intriguing legends of the region. So, is there truly a bigfoot of the Amazon? Is it a myth? Or something in between? That’s what we’re here to explore.

Origins of the Mapinguari Legend

The Amazon rainforest (Credit: Galen Rowell via Getty Images)

The Amazon Rainforest has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, with an indigenous population reaching up to, perhaps even beyond, the ten million mark prior to the arrival of European colonists. Even though the numbers are a fraction of what they once were, many Amazonian myths and legends have been passed down the generations, shifting over time to incorporate new influences.

The tale of the Mapinguari originated mostly from Brazilian Amazon tribes, of which there remain over 400 different groups, speaking more than 270 languages. For this reason, the spelling, even the name of the Mapinguari has variations, including Mpinguary, Cape-lobo, and Juma.

Like much of the traditional folklore of the region, that of the Mapinguari is based in nature. The creature itself is said to be a fearsome protector of the forest, punishing those who harm its sacred grounds. In some tellings, it was originally a man, transformed into a vile creature as a punishment for angering the gods.

Depicting the Mapinguari

All-seeing eye... (Credit: By Eve Livesey via Getty Images)

Descriptions of the Mapinguari vary, but several features are commonly cited. For instance, it’s almost universally portrayed as an enormous beast that walks on all fours, but stands over seven feet tall when on its hind legs. It’s said to have long, shaggy fur of a reddish hue and long, curled claws. If that makes it sound like an Amazon bigfoot, hold on for the rest of the picture. For example, it’s sometimes said that it has a second mouth that emits a screaming noise. And that this mouth is located on its belly. If that wasn’t enough, it’s said to have a singular, glaring eye, earning it comparisons with an Amazon cyclops. Some accounts also describe the Mapinguari as having backward feet, making it nearly impossible to track, and a pungent odour to deter any approaches.

In terms of diet, it’s often portrayed as a vegetarian, the exceptions being any livestock or people who transgress against the forest. In those cases, it’s claimed to be brutal in its attacks.

Cultural Significance

Guardian of the forest (Credit: David Wall via Getty Images)

The Mapinguari is often seen as a guardian of the forest, deterring those who would exploit its resources recklessly. Rituals and traditions have developed around the legend, with some tribes performing specific rites to appease the creature or seek its protection. The Mapinguari’s role in these cultural practices underscores its importance beyond mere folklore, highlighting its integral place in the Amazonian worldview.

Myth or Reality?

Is Mapinguari a giant anteater? (Credit: Peter Schoen via Getty Images)

To most, the Mapinguari is a mythical being; a cautionary figure to encourage respect for the rainforest and its delicate ecosystem. But there’s a spectrum of beliefs as to the existence of this Amazon bigfoot. And, over the years, numerous reported sightings and encounters have sparked numerous theories on the matter, including:

Mistaken Identity

Some researchers suggest that the Mapinguari might be a misidentified species of known animal. It’s been argued for instance that the giant anteater, when seen from a distance or in poor lighting, could be mistaken for a creature of monstrous proportions. The anteater’s shaggy fur and unique gait might contribute to these misidentifications. Similarly, other large mammals in the Amazon, such as the spectacled bear, could also be mistaken for the Mapinguari, especially if seen fleetingly.

Surviving Prehistoric Species

Another theory posits that the Mapinguari could be a surviving member of a prehistoric species. Cryptozoologists have pointed to the Megatherium, a giant ground sloth that roamed South America during the Pleistocene epoch. The Megatherium, known for its massive size and long fur, bears some resemblance to descriptions of the Mapinguari. If a small population of these creatures managed to survive in the remote reaches of the Amazon, it could explain the sightings and legends surrounding the Mapinguari.

Paranormal Beliefs

Some more speculative theories venture into the realm of the paranormal. These explanations suggest that the Mapinguari could be a manifestation of supernatural forces or even an interdimensional being. Proponents of this theory often draw parallels with other cryptids like Bigfoot, proposing that such creatures exist in a space beyond our current scientific understanding. While this theory lacks empirical support, it adds an intriguing layer to the mystery of the Mapinguari.

An Ongoing Mystery

What lurks in the Amazon jungle? (Credit: Annabelle Avril via Getty Images)

The Mapinguari is a fascinating blend of myth and mystery, deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of the Amazon Rainforest. Whether viewed as a guardian spirit, a misidentified animal, or a yet-to-be-discovered species, the Mapinguari continues to capture the imagination and inspire awe among those who explore this legendary cryptid.


You May Also Like

Explore More