Blemmyae-the Mystery of the Ancient Tribe of Heαdless Men in North Africa

Although people living in medieval Europe knew a lot more of the wider world than many initially think, with strong trade links in Asia and northern Africa, they were still intrigued about what lay beyond the land known to man, and stories of mythical creatures abounded.

One such creature which fascinated for centuries was the Blemmy (spelt variously as Blemmy, Blemmyes, Blemmyae). These creatures were said to be a type of man who lived in Africa but they did not have a head – rather, their face appeared on their chest, their shoulders above them.

Documents about headless people

One of the most famous stories of mysterious headless tribes living in the uncharted wilderness of the world comes from Libya and other parts of North Africa, particularly along the Nile system.

This place is said to have a fearsome tribe, consisting of large men, from 2m to 3.5m tall, with the unusual feature of being headless, whose faces are located on the chest. They are extremely aggressive, eating wild animals and their own kind.

One of the earliest references to this creature belongs to a famous Greek explorer, Herodotus of the 5th century BC. In his Histories, he called them Akephaloi, which means “headless people”.

Herodotus said he spoke to a number of Libyans and was told by them that the headless person is real and not a myth. The story of the headless tribe might have been forgotten, if it weren’t for the accounts of some of the later explorers.

Several hundred years after Herodotus, the Roman naturalist and philosopher, Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) also mentioned headless people. He traveled extensively around the world, writing about various natural and geographical phenomena, as well as describing strange and mystical creatures or peoples, especially the headless people of Africa, he called Blemmyae.

In his Natural History, he wrote that they “had no head, and mouth and eyes set on their chests” and asserted that they were a nomadic tribe that roamed the Nile system, The barbaric and belligerent nature makes the natives in the area to stay away. In addition, according to Pliny the Elder, there was also a tribe of headless people living in India.

In 1211, the explorer Fermes wrote about a tribe of “headless people, golden skin, about 3.5 meters high, living on an island in Brisone (Ethiopia)”. In 1349, a German scholar and writer, Conrad of Megenberg, also wrote about “headless people, bodies covered with hair like wild animals” in his work Buch der Natur (The Book of Nature).

Then came The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a memoir by Sir John Mandeville himself that circulated between 1357 and 1371, which also mentions “ugly people with bodies dirty image, very scary because there is no head, and the eyes are on the shoulders.” This case is reported to be somewhere in Asia.

Tales of the headless man became popular across Europe, sparking the imaginations of explorers, and the strange creature began appearing on maps throughout the Middle Ages, notably as 1513 map by Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis, identifying them near Brazil.

They are described as smaller and gentler than their African brethren, with the caption “These wild creatures are 7 inches tall. The distance between their eyes was about a gang. However, people think they are harmless people.” Other maps show the surname in India, but the most common are depictions of the surname in Africa, especially Ethiopia, with the eye on the shoulder instead of the chest.

Reports of headless people continued into the Age of Discovery. Around 1589, the English writer, Richard Hakluyt, described John Lok’s trip to Guinea, during which he met a “headless man” in the jungles.


One of the most famous accounts of this strange creature comes from the legendary explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. During a voyage along the Caura River of Guiana in South America in 1595, he said he had heard of a tribe of headless people living there and he described them in his Discovery of Guiana. As follows: Along the Caora River, there is a people whose heads do not rise above their shoulders.

Although, this may be said to be a myth, for my part, I believe it to be true, because every child in the provinces of Arromaia and Canuri asserts it. This people is called the Ewaipanoma, has eyes on the shoulder, mouth in the center of the chest and a bunch of hair swept back between the shoulders.

The headless man is depicted on a 1599 map.

Headless or disguised?

The above reports have led to these ethnic groups being depicted many on the map of the New World. Although discoveries in new, distant lands are always associated with many stories of strange species, it is always wondered why headless people have persisted throughout history. and why they are often referred to as real people.

Although the idea of ​​a head in the center of the chest seems absurd, there have also been theories to explain this singularity. There is an opinion that headless people are actually people with birth defects that make their shoulders rise higher than normal, or that some ethnic groups intentionally change their bodies like that.

According to another theory, the explorers may have encountered the natives, wearing strange clothes or hats, even wearing breast shields with faces painted on them, which glimpsed easily mistaken for a headless individual.

Some have suggested that these are hairy hominids, or Bigfoot-like creatures, or even aliens or space travelers.

Really what we do know is that headless tribes have been consistently reported throughout history. They remain a mystery and an inspiration to sci-fi writers.

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