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Sea Monsters
DECEMBER 2005
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Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure
Opens October 5, 2007

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Sea Monsters
By Virginia Morell

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Nessie got a boost in 1933 with the film King Kong, set in a land where dinosaurs roam and a long-necked creature surfaces from a lake not unlike Loch Ness. That same year a “prehistoric” animal was spied crossing a road near the loch. The next year the London Daily Mail published a photograph depicting a creature whose small, snaky head rides above the loch on a long neck: Nessie was now a certified plesiosaur.

That photograph and others have been proved to be hoaxes. But who cares? Every summer Loch Ness is packed with tourists. They come in busloads to Feltham’s trailer, and one by one they ask him, “Have you seen it yet?”

“They want me to say I’ve seen a plesiosaur,” says Feltham. “And they all hope to see it for themselves. It’s just not likely to happen.”

Unktehila, Monsters in Native America
In a small auditorium at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Kevin Locke, a Lakota Sioux storyteller from Standing Rock Reservation, gently strokes a braided strand of sweetgrass. Its power will help him bring forth good thoughts and feelings. Then he grips his ceremonial rattle, closes his eyes, and, as an attentive audience of Lakota Sioux children and visiting Boy Scouts listens, he sings a Lakota prayer used at the springtime Thunder Feast.

“Leciya tuwa makipanpelo. Wiyohpeyata Wakinyan Oyate kola makipanpelo.”

The words rise and fall to the sound of Locke’s rattle, and he gives it an extra flourish at the end, signaling the close.

“We sing this to welcome the Thunder Nation,” Locke explains, referring to thunderstorms. “Maybe some of you have heard the word Wakinyan before and know its meaning?”

One slender Lakota boy raises his hand. “It’s the name of our cat—he’s orange like a Thunder Being.”

Locke smiles broadly. “Good, good. That’s right, Wakinyan are the Thunder Beings, forces with power, like the Thunder Birds. They come with the big cumulus clouds in the spring to the prairies. The Wakinyan bring the rain, hail, thunder, and lightning—all the things that renew life after the winter. But in the long ago days, before humans, the Wakinyan also used these things in a big battle. And that battle was with the evil water monsters, the Unktehila.”

There were many different kinds of Unktehila, Locke continues, but most were like huge reptiles with scaly skin and horns; some were like giant lizards, and others were like serpents; some slithered on their bellies, and some had feet. “They ate each other and every other living thing, and so the Thunder Beings were given a divine mission to kill the Unktehila. That’s when the Thunder Birds came with their thunder and lightning. They struck the water monsters with lightning bolts and boiled their lakes and streams until they dried up. After that most of the Unktehila died or were very diminished in size, so that all we have left today are some small snakes and lizards. But we know the giant Unktehila lived because our people found their bones in the Badlands and along the Missouri River.”


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