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Late to the Game(s): Werewolves on the bayou

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

No one really believes in werewolves, right? It’s the stuff of folk tales and horror movies. Pulp novels and comic books. But it isn’t the type of thing that anyone takes seriously. Or is it? 

People across the country report encountering upright, bipedal canid creatures. In some parts of the country they call them dogmen. 

In Wisconsin it’s the Bray Road Beast. 

But in the bayous and swamps of Louisiana, it’s the Rougarou. The Rougarou, whose name derives from the French Loup Garou (itself said to be a shortening of the phrase, “loup, gardez vous,” or “wolf, watch yourself”) is a uniquely southern werewolf. Tangled up in Native legends and French Catholic traditions, to some of the people who call these rural bayou communities home, the Rougarou is a real threat, and one that deserves respect. 

In Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou The Small Town Monsters crew take a look at the various traditions and legends that come together to define this particular southern critter. 

One supposedly native tradition tells of a band of Atakapa that turned to cannibalism as it battled other native tribes in the region, eventually becoming the monsters we know as Rougarou today as they turned to dark rituals to fight back against their enemies who banded together to defeat them.

While the film invokes the Skinwalker tradition in describing this legend, the Skinwalker was not a term in use by tribes of the region. The Skinwalker tradition, which also includes the use of dark magic for shapeshifting, is a legend of the Navajo and associated southwestern tribes. It wasn’t a term used historically by the people known as Atakapa (they referred to themselves as the Ishak) or other Louisiana tribes who would have been their enemies. 

It has, however, come to be a popular term in recent years for unexplained creatures associated with any variety of high strangeness. In that sense, it’s a good fit for placing the Rougarou stories collected by director Seth Breedlove and crew into a context that casual fans of the paranormal and folklore can understand. 

The main reason is because not all of these stories are just about the sighting of upright wolf men. That’s a big part of it, but purported Rougarou witnesses report a wider range of strange phenomenon, all tied up with religious convictions, racism, anxieties related to loss of place and identity with coastal erosion, and the fear of the dark and wild places that seems to come hardwired in all of us – a remnant of a time when the wolf really might step out of the dark and drag our livestock or our children away. Some of those experiences seem to have more to do with hauntings. Some with hexes and curses and the evil eye – for instance one way to cure a Rougarou is to take the curse on yourself for a set amount of time. Or until you can trick or coax another into taking on the affliction. 

In other legends you can be cursed if you encounter a Rougarou and talk about it before a year and a day or other period of time has passed. But while these may not match up with our Hollywood expectations for the werewolf, they are all associated with the Rougarou in this part of the world. 

Despite the anatopistic use of Skinwalker in the title – a move Breedlove confessed, in his Monsteropolis podcast, was driven by distributors who worried that the original Howl of the Rougarou titled wouldn’t sell films – the film does a fantastic job of capturing the sense of place and the people who call it home. 

Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou is available for purchase on DVD or Blu-ray, from the Small Town Monsters website at smalltownmonsters.com, or for download or streaming on your favorite streaming platforms. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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