Uncanny Georgia: The Istipapa

mountain-lionThe istipapa (este papv in standardized spelling) or “man-eater” is a fierce creature from the mythology of several Native American nations of the Southeast. Though some groups conceived of the istipapa as bear-like, the Creeks and Seminoles though of it as a huge feline, something like a giant mountain lion. (Its name is, in fact, sometimes translated as “lion.”) As its name suggests, it has been known to devour not only livestock but also human beings.

Michelle Smith recounts the following Creek legend in Legends, Lore and True Tales of the Chattahoochee (The History Press, 2013):

One of the more famous stories of the Isti-PaPa states that one particular cat plagued a Creek tribe. Members of the tribe tried to kill it by digging a pit and covering it with a net made of bark. Then they lured it out of its cave by throwing in a rattlesnake. The beast rushed forward with more anger and chased them through the branches. The tribe decided it was better for one to die than all, so the members took a motherless child and threw him before the lion as it came near the pit. The lion rushed at the child and fell into the pit; tribe members jabbed at it with blazing pinewood and killed it. After killing the Isti-PaPa, they took its bones and laid them on either side of the pit. They tarried there seven days because the creature would come every seventh day to terrorize them. In remembrance of the Isti-PaPa, the tribe would fast for six days and begin war on the seventh. If warriors took his bones with them into war, they would have good fortune.

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