The séhité was a cryptohominid reported from tropical rainforests and montane forests in Côte d'Ivoire, described as a reddish-haired dwarf humanoid. It has been categorised with other "small hominids" or "hairy dwarves" of Africa, such as the agogwe of Kenya and the kakundakari of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and, like several of them, was described as having long head-hair.
Raymond Schnell collected information on these cryptids, which he published in 1943 and 1944. According to Schnell, these "little men of the bush" were called bruni in the Danané region, and nioghei, moio, or niankonkla by the Guéré people.
André Ledoux, formerly of the Zoological Department of Adiopodoumé's Institute of Education and Research, sent much data on the séhité to Bernard Heuvelmans, collected during the late 1940s. Ledoux first heard of the séhité from his African workers, leading him to make inquiries in local villages, as well as among European residents and explorers. Many of these people had heard of, or claimed to have seen, the "pygmies," and Ledoux found that all the Europeans who had spent time in the dense forests near Adiopodoumé believed that there was a real basis for the stories. However, while several alleged witnesses could be found, most of them were reticent, telling Ledoux that they may have been mistaken.
A technician named Méhaud Taou told Ledoux that there had long been a system of barter between the Africans and the "little red men," known to the Guéré people as séhité, with human-manufactured goods being left in the forest in exchange for wild fruits. This system of barter had ended only in 1935.
The séhité is usually called a "little man" or "pygmy," but has been described as a non-human primate. It was said to be covered in a coat of relatively long, reddish-brown fur. Everyone questioned by Ledoux asserted that the séhité had long, reddish head-hair, like a European. Ledoux was also told stories of dwarves with their feet turned backwards, a claim commonly made of cryptohominids. According to one sighting, they are capable of climbing trees. Although not described as having a language or culture, they supposedly understood the concept of barter, like the agogwe.
In 1951, Ledoux's new assistant told him that, in 1941, a hunter had brought a "little man with red hair" in a cage, which the boy had seen, into Seguéla. A local official had the being dressed "for decency's sake," then sent it on to Abidjan, via Bouaké. Bernard Heuvelmans believed that this story had been embroidered, and that it had likely been dressed up as a joke, like a pet monkey.
Ledoux was told that, in March 1946, a party of men working under a certain Djaco, together with a European man, had seen a "little red [man]" sitting in a tall tree in a wooded valley, half a mile from Adiopodoumé. The workmen told the European that the being was a very rare and unlucky creature. Ledoux later employed Djaco as a lab-boy, but was unable to track down the European who was with him.
In 1947, one of Ledoux's African workers told him that a colleague had seen a "pygmy" about five hundred yards from Adiopodoumé on the previous day. Although sceptical, Ledoux summoned the boy to take him to the spot where the sighting had occurred—on the edge of a dense forest—and tell his story. The boy had been taking meteorological data near the station during the morning, when a "little man with long reddish fur and long hair on his head" appeared among the roots of a silk-cotton tree (Bombax sp.). The witness and the séhité both fled at once.
A European informant later told Ledoux that a well-known elephant hunter named Dunckel had killed a "peculiar primate" in 1947, in the forest between the Rivers Sassandra and Cavally. Dunckel could not identify the primate, which was small, with reddish-brown hair, and its remains disappeared during the return journey, supposedly destroyed by Dunckel's superstitious porters.
Ledoux believed that the séhité stories were based on the recent historical existence of a pygmy race, and on the current existence of a "problematical" species of reddish-furred primate. Heuvelmans classified the séhité with other small African cryptohominids such as the agogwe, kakundakari, fating'ho, and tokolosh. Some of these, such as the kakundakari, are also described as having long head-hair. Heuvelmans theorised that these cryptids could be explained by 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. 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.
Ivan T. Sanderson opined that "we [do not] have to go so far as to dredge up the Australopithecines to explain" beings such as the séhité. He believed that these were more likely to be 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 concluded that the general category of "hairy ... hominoids of very small size" in Africa could indeed by explained by proto-pigmies. When shown pictures of Central African pygmy peoples, Ledoux's informants insisted that the séhité did not resemble them.
It has been suggested that some sightings may refer to the western red colobus (Piliocolobus badius), a monkey with a reddish-coloured front and a darker back. However, these monkeys are primarily arboreal, and cannot grasp objects.
Notes and references
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Sanderson, Ivan T. (1961) Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life, Chilton, ISBN 978-1948803038
- Heuvelmans, Bernard "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals With Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned", Cryptozoology, No. 5 (1986)
- Schnell, Raymond "Les Traditions Relatives aux Pygmees en Afrique Occidental," Notes Africaines, No. 20 (October 1943)
- Schell, Raymond "La Montagne Nienokoue (Cote d'Ivoire)," Notes Africaines, No. 21 (January 1944)
- Werdelin, Lars & Sanders, William Joseph (2010) Cenozoic Mammals of Africa
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835