Tales of a Two-headed Giant: Are the Legends of Kap Dwa Real?
Countless people have claimed to encounter giants throughout history. Greek titans, various Norse giants, the Chinese giant Pangu, and the Biblical giants Goliath and Anak are all examples of stories of extremely large beings in different cultures. This has led many to wonder if real giants ever existed. One example which has been suggested as a possibility is the giant Kap Dwa. Kap Dwa is alleged to be a Patagonian giant discovered off the coast of South America. The body is unusual not just in its gigantic stature, but also in the fact that it has two heads. Could this giant be real? It is scientifically plausible, but its association with P. T. Barnum and the fact that it has not been examined by experts call this giant’s authenticity into question.
Giant Bones in Baltimore
Kap Dwa is said to be a 12-foot (3.66 meter) tall giant, the body of which is in a museum in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. It is said to be a Patagonian giant. Patagonia was considered a land inhabited by giants for a long time. The legend of Patagonian giants goes back to a story told by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
English sailor offering bread to a Patagonian woman giant. Frontispiece to ‘Viaggio intorno al mondo fatto dalla nave Inglese il Delfino comandata dal caposqadra Byron’ (Florence, 1768), the first Italian edition of John Byron’s ‘A Voyage Round the World in His Majesty’s Ship the Dolphin . . .’ (London, 1767) [Rare Books Division]. ( Princeton)
Magellan and his men stopped on the beaches of South America and went inland to explore. As they explored, it is said they encountered natives that were twice the size of a normal man. This is probably because a few of the indigenous peoples of the region, namely the Tehuelche, do happen to be taller than the average European was at the time. This height difference may have been exaggerated, leading to the long-standing European myth that Patagonia was a land of giants.
Is it possible though that there may have been a few real giants in Patagonia and that Kap Dwa is an example of them?
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Drawing representing the giant Kap Dwa. ( CC BY SA )
The Histories (or Legends)
There are two conflicting stories of the origin of Kap Dwa. According to the first, Kap Dwa was encountered by Spanish sailors in around 1673 on the beaches of Patagonia. He was captured and taken onto their ship where they strapped him to the mast. When he got free of the mast, he skirmished with them and was killed by a pike piercing his chest. After this his body was mummified and stuffed and eventually made its way first to Britain and later the United States in the 19th century; where it became the subject of many sideshows and freak shows as a spectacle of the unexplored world.
Publicity to see Kap Dwa. ( CC BY SA )
The second story is that the giant was found already dead on a beach with a spear through his chest. In this version, his body was found by Paraguay natives who mummified the body and worshiped it in a sort of religious ceremony. At some point after this, the British schooner captain George Bickle heard about it. He infiltrated Paraguay and stole the body. After having taken the body, he brought it with him to Britain.
Full length image of the body of Kap Dwa. ( CC BY SA )
Both stories end the same way: The body ends up in the hands of showmen who add it to their collection of curiosities.
There is some disagreement over its authenticity. Some believe it to be genuine and others are convinced it is a hoax. Let us examine the evidence and see which one sounds more likely.
Is a Two-Headed 12 Foot Man Even Possible?
Although a real two-headed giant seems pretty far-fetched, on par with discovering a real dragon or a real troll, it is not actually as unlikely as it sounds. Let us first examine the creature’s unusual height. There have been people of unusual stature due to the condition known as gigantism. The tallest person in recorded history for which there is indisputable evidence is Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) who was 8 feet 11 inches (2.47 meters) tall and still growing when he suddenly died at the age of 22.
Postcard of Robert Wadlow with his father. ( Public Domain )
Although people have been found who are over 8 feet tall, no living people or skeletal remains (for which the evidence is beyond dispute) have been found that are 12 feet tall. Although it may be possible for a human to grow to that size, increasing health complications make it more difficult for someone to reach that height and survive. The reason that Wadlow died is because his feet developed blisters because of the enormous weight on them. These blisters eventually became infected and he died from complications related to the infection. These health problems would only get worse for someone who was 12 feet tall.
People and animals with multiple heads have also been identified. One of the ways that conjoined twins can form is a condition called dicephalic parapagus, in which the twins will appear to have one body and two heads. Again, most cases do not survive infancy let alone to adulthood, but there are a few rare cases that do. The two most famous examples would be the Italian brothers Giovanni and Giacomo Battista Tocci (1875/1877-1940?) and the American sisters from Minnesota named Abby and Brittany Hensel (1990- present). The chances of survival for dicephalic parapagus twins is increased if their vital organs are doubled so that each twin has a separate heart, stomach, set of lungs, etc. It is thus possible for dicephalic parapagus twins to become biologically successful adults, but it is very rare.
1880's cabinet card photograph of the Tocci Brothers by Obermiller & Kern. It was sold by the Tocci Brothers. ( Public Domain )
Medical Knowledge vs the Legend
For Kap Dwa to be genuine, we would have to suppose two very unlikely scenarios at once. We would have to presume that dicephalic parapagus twins were born who had yet another rare and lifespan-reducing disorder, gigantism, and they were somehow able to overcome all the health problems related to both conditions and become full-fledged adults that were strong and healthy enough to engage in combat with a band of sailors. While this is not out of the question, it does make the story much more unlikely and in need of considerably more evidence.
The body was allegedly examined by physicians in the 1960s who said that it showed no obvious signs of being fake. No other experts appear to have examined the body either to determine if it is genuine or if it had the internal anatomic requirements to be likely to survive as a set of dicephalic parapagus twins.
The mummy of Kap Dwa. ( CC BY SA )
More Doubt Arises
Another problem with the authenticity of the body is its association with Phineas Taylor Barnum. P.T. Barnum was a 19th century showman, businessman, and politician known for shows in which he would display creatures or items which he claimed to be the remains of mythical creatures or from distant lands. Two famous examples would be the jackalope and the Fiji mermaid. P.T. Barnum was known for telling tall tales and most of his specimens have turned out to be hoaxes, the most famous of which might be the Fiji mermaid. Any association with P.T. Barnum immediately casts doubt on the authenticity of Kap Dwa.
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[Top] Fiji Mermaid, in the Folklore section at the Haus der Natur (House of Nature), a natural history collection in Salzburg, Austria. ( CC BY NC SA 2.0 ) [Bottom] P.T. Barnum’s Feejee mermaid ( Public Domain )
Furthermore, there is a strange artform known as rogue taxidermy which consists of reconstructing corpses to look like mythical creatures such as dragons, fairies, goblins, and even giants. This is not practiced very often today, but it was popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A two headed Patagonian giant would be a likely candidate for a specimen to be made by rogue taxidermists.
Although it is scientifically possible for Kap Dwa to be genuine as a set of dicephalic parapagus twins who suffered from gigantism, the unlikelihood of this scenario, the associations of the specimen with a man known to have produced multiple hoaxes, and the fact that no one has really examined the body since the 1960s all suggest that Kap Dwa is more likely an elaborate hoax… at least until indisputable evidence can be found.
Top Image: Detail of the two heads of Kap Dwa. Source: CC BY SA
By Caleb Strom
“Robert Pershing Wadlow.” Alton Museum of History and Art. Available at: http://www.altonweb.com/history/wadlow/
“Two Headed Giant From Patagonia: Goofy Gaff or Genuine Oddity?” (2014). Mysterious Universe. Available at: http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2014/02/two-headed-giant-from-patagonia-goofy-gaff-or-genuine-oddity/
Basaran, Sibel, et al. "Parapagus (dicephalus, tetrabrachius, dipus) conjoined twins and their rehabilitation." The Turkish journal of pediatrics 55.1 (2013): 99.
“Fantastically Wrong: Magellan’s Strange Encounter With the 10-Foot Giants of Patagonia” by Matt Simon (2014). Wired Magazine . Available at: https://www.wired.com/2014/09/fantastically-wrong-giants-of-patagonia/