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What about bears made them the choice for partner in this carnal interspecies encounter? How did bears come to be related to women as husbands? What, in particular, was it about embodied interspecies encounters between women and bears that allowed for the queer boundary crossing — between human and animal, between mundane and extraordinary, between drudgery and love — that is at the heart of this genre? I take these tellings as attempts to imagine and enact alternate ways of dwelling and connecting in a world where one exists only in relation to a variety of human and nonhuman others.
Bears are favored creatures of cultural lore and practice. In legends, songs, and ceremonies of the Northern Hemisphere, they appear most often as sacred, powerful, mysterious, and sagacious characters. For instance, Native American legends about bears abound and represent them as spiritual guardians of the forest who are able to speak with humans and establish kinship with them.
In comparison, bears do not command as rich a folklore in India. There are scattered references to bears in folktales around the country, although they figure in these mostly as incidental characters.
Where they appear as major characters, such as in one of the Jataka tales, bears are characterized as greedy animals who suffer as a result of being unable to curb their appetites. There is also, of course, the famous anthropomorphized army of bears led by Jambavan that s Hanuman to help Rama defeat the king of Lanka, Ravana, in the Ramayana. On the whole, though, especially when compared with other animals such as monkeys or snakes, bears make relatively rare appearances in South Asian lore. The genre of stories I describe in this chapter are, therefore, quite unusual in their selection of animal protagonist.
Given their close resemblance to humans, however, it is perhaps unsurprising that bears are the natural choice for stories about animals who have sex with women. Stories about women being abducted by and having sex with bears or anthropoid creatures bearing close resemblance to bears have long circulated across the Himalayan region.
In Nepal and Tibet, the wild man figure of the Yeti, who was believed to abduct women and have sex with them, has become an icon of popular culture since his mysterious traces in these mountains first fascinated generations of colonial officials and European travelers. In an interesting gender inversion of both the Kumaoni genre and the Yeti stories, Tamang villagers in Nepal believe that the nyalmoa female anthropoid creature, abducts men and holds them captive, even bearing their children.
Tales of bestiality with bears also abound in medieval Europe. Bears were thought to be lustful creatures, obsessed with seeking carnal pleasure. Indeed, it was the lusty nature of bears that was foregrounded in reports of their abduction of young women. But what does one call these s?
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Bears having sex with women: Folklore or fact, it catches the fancy of rural India’s imagination