Madagascar hasn’t always been the lovable island full of cuddly lemurs barking “I like to move it move it!” we’re all so familiar with today. When colonial types the world over were rushing all over the globe in the latter half of the 19th century to bring enlightenment and civilisation to its darker corners (usually by shooting locals in their innocent dusky faces before enslaving their children), the crazy little island country served up some of the most bizarre zoological offerings the pith-helmeted white boys had ever seen.
Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot, with over 90% of its wildlife found nowhere else in the world. To white explorers in the 19th century the majority of the bizarre shit they turned up would have seemed entirely alien, but one story in particular caught the imagination of the wider public the world over; that of the Ya-Te-Veo, which translates into the thoroughly terrifying I-See-You-Tree.
The story of the Ya-Te Veo is the coolest example of cryptobotany going, and it dates back to an account by German explorer Carl Liche of an expedition he supposedly led in 1878. Hacking his way through the steaming Madagascan jungle with a group of Mkodo tribesmen, his group suddenly stumbled upon a clearing dominated by a single enormous tree. His 1881 article in the South Australian Register described what happened after the tribesmen dragged a woman from their group forward and offered her up to the tree:
“The slender delicate palpi, with the fury of starved serpents, quivered a moment over her head, then as if instinct with demoniac intelligence fastened upon her in sudden coils round and round her neck and arms; then while her awful screams and yet more awful laughter rose wildly to be instantly strangled down again into a gurgling moan, the tendrils one after another, like great green serpents, with brutal energy and infernal rapidity, rose, retracted themselves, and wrapped her about in fold after fold, ever tightening with cruel swiftness and savage tenacity of anacondas fastening upon their prey.”
Or, in summary, she got squished into pulp by a whole host of quivering plant-cocks.
Riche even apparently returned to the site some days later, where he witnessed a gleaming white skull among the roots of the tree, the only remnants of the unfortunate human sacrifice.
Sadly it turns out the story is almost definitely little more than total bollocks, as research since has proved that both Liche himself and the entire Mkodo tribe are more than likely total fabrications. Still, it’s a great example of how hoax stories feed the mass imagination, once you get past the realisation that the whole scam is pretty much an enormously racist example of how the white man at the time saw the less familiar corners of the world.
And just as an example of how myths tend to have some vague basis in reality, the closest example of a real Ya-Te Veo is the Nepenthes Rajah of Borneo, the largest carnivorous plant in the world. It’ll quite happily digest the odd rat or bird in its acid-filled pitchers but doesn’t really have the stomach capacity for devouring nubian damsels in distress.