I’ll never forget Sunday night dinners at my grandparents. Actually, I’ve forgotten many of these dinners over time, but what I do remember is everyone’s fascination with the television show, In Search of, hosted by Leonard Nimoy. Each week was a 30-minute look into famous urban legends and supernatural phenomena (like Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle). So I couldn’t help but be flung back to the past watching Seth Breedlove’s Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou. What the documentary brings to the table is more than just cryptozoological stories, but an examination of how folklore and legend can engrain themselves in culture.
The legend of the Rougarou was born in the marshes and swamps of Southern Louisiana. Long ago, two Native American tribes defeated a brutally violent third tribe, known as the Atakapa. Several of their dying members sought the help of a shaman to revive them and, in doing so turn were transformed into Skinwalkers. Thus, the French term, Rougarou, would come into play during the French settlement of Louisiana. Unfortunately, many of these European strangers are attacked by mysterious wolf-like creatures at night, fearful of these strangers.
“…many of these European strangers are attacked by mysterious half-wolf/half-human creatures at night…”
What Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou does is sift through the historical facts surrounding the Rougarou and include testimony from cultural experts, Native Americans with telling stories passed down over generations, and lastly, eyewitnesses, who claimed to have seen a Rougarou today.
What is a Skinwalker/Rougarou? Like most legends, the story changes over time and by region. Initially, they were known as Skinwalkers — cursed souls who were essentially shape-shifters. They could take on the form of any person or anything. For example, they can look like someone who lived in the area for years or take on the form of livestock and mingle amongst the cattle for protection.
When the French entered the picture, their stories of werewolves influenced the evolution of Skinwalker folklore. Many locals point out that the Rougarou has to be true because wolves are not indigenous to the Louisiana swamps. Keeping the curse alive happens when, during an encounter, if blood is drawn, the curse can be passed. The cursed now must never mention the attack for a year and a day or 100 days (depending on who’s telling the story), so the curse will not take hold.
"…more about the evolution of legends and the role it plays in a culture."