The agogwe was a cryptohominid reported from forests in Tanzania, Mozambique, and possibly Kenya, described as a dwarf humanoid covered in russet-coloured hair. Although alleged eyewitnesses took it for a monkey, like other African cryptohominids described as hairy dwarves, it has been speculated to be a surviving australopithecine.
The agogwe was first described by Captain William Hichens, who claimed to have seen one, in a 1937 article in Discovery: The Popular Journal of Knowledge. The following year, a colonial wine merchant named Cuthbert Burgoyne (1876 – 1955) wrote to Discovery claiming that he had also seen such a being. However, previous to this, in 1924, the colonial administrator S. V. Cook wrote of "a race of little red men" said to inhabit the highlands of Kwa Ngombe, east of Embu in Kenya. Cook's interpreter told him that he and some others had once been attacked by "scores of little red men hurling pebbles" in these mountains, which were avoided by locals.
Both alleged witnesses thought the agogwe could have been a monkey, although both compared them to small humans: "like little men" and "little brown men". The agogwe was reported to walk upright like a man, quite gracefully. It was described as being russett or brown, with Hichens insisting they were covered in hair or fur, and stood around 4', or between 4' and 5', tall. According to Philippe Coudray, the big toe of the agogwe is comparatively larger than that of a man, and is distinctly separated from the other toes.
Local villagers in Tanzania told Hichens that, if one left a gourd of beer and a bowl of food for the agogwes, they would take the food and "do some hoeing and weeding ... as thanks". Hichens thought this was simply folklore. Stories of past barter systems are also told of the séhité. Hichens and Burgoyne both observed a pair, and Burgoyne's were seen to coexist with a troop of baboons. Hichens' local guide regarded them as extremely rare beings.
Captain Hichens, a colonial administrator and early cryptozoologist, claimed to have observed a pair of agogwes in what is now Tanzania, which was claimed by the United Kingdom from Germany following the First World War, "some years" before 1937. George Eberhart estimates that the sighting occurred sometime during the 1920s. It took place in "the Ussure and Simbiti forests on the western side of the Wembare Plains". Although Hichens claimed to have had near-encounters with two other cryptids, the mngwa and the Nandi bear, the agogwe is the only cryptid which he claimed to have actually seen.
In his letter to Discovery, the vintner Cuthbert Burgoyne claimed to have seen a similar being in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) in 1927, while cruising the coast with his wife in a Japanese ship. He allegedly saw a pair of them while observing the shore.
Burgoyne also claimed that an unidentified friend of his, a big game hunter, had once seen a similar sight in Mozambique, alongside several other people.
Captain Hichens wondered if the agogwes he saw could have been monkeys, but he was certain they were no species known to him, including baboons, colobus monkeys (Colobus sp.), and Sykes' monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis). Burgoyne also insisted that the beings he saw were no monkey known to him, although he felt they must have been related to the baboons they were travelling with. Bernard Heuvelmans argued that a monkey identity was unlikely due to the agogwe's obligate bipedalism.
Willy Ley and Bernard Heuvelmans discuss the possibility that the agogwe is a surviving species of Australopithecus (~4–1.9 or 1.5 MYA), a bipedal Plio-Pleistocene hominin which ranged across East and South Africa. Australopithecus species were generally smaller and more gracile than humans, standing between 3'11'' and 4'7'', and are believed to have been covered in hair, although there is no evidence that this would have been red. Australopithecus fossils have also occasionally been found in association with those of baboons, but the ecological relationship between the two primates is not clear. Heuvelmans argued that a species of Australopithecus may have taken to dense forests in order to avoid competition with larger and stronger hominins, allowing it to survive in small numbers. Heuvelmans classified the agogwe with other small African cryptohominids such as the séhité, kakundakari, fating'ho, and tokolosh.
Ivan T. Sanderson disagreed with the Australopithecus theory, opining that "we [do not] have to go so far as to dredge up the Australopithecines to explain them". Sanderson believed that beings such as the agogwe and the séhité were actually the last remnants of very old, diminutive human populations looked down on by other African races, leading to dehumanised descriptions. The reddish "coat" could be explained as body paint worn for ceremonial purposes. Sanderson called these putative uncontacted races proto-pigmies. Heuvelmans also considered this possibility, but thought it unlikely because of the agogwe's hairiness. However, he later wrote that the general category of "hairy ... hominoids of very small size" in Africa could indeed by explained by proto-pigmies.
Notes and references
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
- Sanderson, Ivan T. (1961) Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life, Chilton, ISBN 978-1948803038
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1980) Les Bêtes Humaines d'Afrique, Plon, ISBN 978-2259005609
- Heuvelmans, Bernard "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals With Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned", Cryptozoology, No. 5 (1986)
- Hichens, William "African Mystery Beasts," Discovery: The Popular Journal of Knowledge, Vol. 18, No. 216 (December 1937) – Online (Wayback Machine)
- Burgoyne, Cuthbert "Little Furry Men," Discovery: The Popular Journal of Knowledge, Vol. 19 (1938)
- Cook, S. V. "Native Folk-Lore: The Lepracauns to Kwa Ngombe," Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, No. 20 (November 1924)
- Coudray, Philippe (2009) Guide des Animaux Cachés, Editions du Mont, ISBN 978-2915652383
- Ley, Willy (1955) Salamanders and Other Wonders. Still More Adventures of a Romantic Naturalist, Viking Press
- Ley, Willy (1959) Exotic Zoology, Viking Press
- Werdelin, Lars & Sanders, William Joseph (2010) Cenozoic Mammals of Africa