The Orang Pendek or Orang Pendak is a cryptid hominid that supposedly inhabits remote, mountainous forests on the island of Sumatra.
Orang-Pendek means "little man" or "short person" in Indonesian.
Orang Pendek and similar cryptids from this area of the world are also referred to as Uhang Pandak (local Kerinci dialect), Sedapa, Batutut, Ebu Gogo, Umang, Orang Gugu, Orang Letjo, Atoe Pandak, Atoe Rimbo, Ijaoe, Sedabo,and Goegoeh.
The creature is described as a primate standing between 80cm and 150cm tall, with human and ape characteristics evidently not lacking in strength, speed and agility. It is said to have a pinkish-brown skin covered by a short, dark fur with a mane of long hair around the face that flows down the back. The Orang-Pendek is said to walk mostly upright and to possess relatively short arms. It is said to walk upright at incredible speeds, does not brachiate, although it has been seen sitting in or hugging trees.
Debbie Martyr is a prominent Orang Pendek researcher who has worked in the area for over 15 years, has interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and alleges to have seen the animal personally on several occasions.
...usually no more than 85 or 90cm in height — although occasionally as large as 1m 20cm. The body is covered in a coat of dark grey or black flecked with grey hair. But it is the sheer physical power of the orang pendek that most impresses the Kerinci villagers. They speak in awe, of its broad shoulders, huge chest and upper abdomen and powerful aims [sic]. The animal is so strong, the villagers would whisper that it can uproot small trees and even break rattan vines. The legs, in comparison, are short and slim, the feet neat and small, usually turned out at an angle of up to 45 degrees. The head slopes back to a distinct crest — similar to the gorilla — and there appears to be a bony ridge above the eyes. But the mouth is small and neat, the eyes are set wide apart and the nose is distinctly humanoid. When frightened, the animal exposes its teeth — revealing oddly broad incisors and prominent, long canine teeth.
Alleged photographs of the creature were either proven to be conclusively fake or of too low a quality to be useful. Alleged eye-witness renderings look remarkably like Paranthropus, a bipedal primate that was a relative to the precursor to the genus Homo.
The only evidence to be found so far have been footprints, unidentified primate hairs, and dubious tissue samples. The footprints are different from all other bigfoot-like tracks in that they are more ape-like, with splayed and elongated digits, as with typical orangutans. However, the footprints are distinctly different from those of orangutans. Unlike the case of other cryptid hominids, some credible scientists are convinced of the possible existence of this alleged species.
Natives of Sumatra have generally accepted the Orang-Pendek as a genuine animal for centuries, and because they believe it to be a gentle creature that only attacks small animals for food, they regard it with tolerance and respect, rather than fear. Orang Pendek was allegedly seen walking through fields and raiding crops (especially corn, potatoes, and fruit). Locals with experience in the forests claim that Orang Pendek seeks out ginger roots, a plant known locally as "pahur" or "lolo", young shoots, insects in rotting logs, and river crabs.
Sumatra (the Taman National Kerinci Seblat and bordering forest), the Sarawak/Kalimantan border in central Borneo, and presumably other islands in Indonesia and Malaysia. The Taman National Kerinci Seblat (TNKS), 2° south of the equator, is located within the Bukit Barisan mountain range and features some of the most remote primary rainforest in the world. Habitat types within TNKS include lowland dipterocarp rainforest, montane forests, and volcanic alpine formations on Mt. Kerinci, the second highest peak in Indonesia. Because of its inaccessibility (evidenced by its continued existence despite the rampant logging occurring throughout Sumatra), the park provides one of the last homes for the endangered Sumatran Tiger.
History of sightings
The animal has allegedly been seen and documented for at least one hundred years by forest tribes, local villagers, Dutch colonists, and Western scientists and travelers. Consensus among witnesses is that the animal is a ground-dwelling, bipedal primate that is covered in short fur and stands between
Witnesses from many different backgrounds have reported seeing Orang Pendek over the last hundred years.
Suku Anak Dalam
The Suku Anak Dalam (roughly, "Children of the Inner-forest"), also known as Orang Kubu or Orang Rimba, are a group of people who have traditionally lived in the forests of Kerinci and surrounding areas. Orang Pendek have been a part of their world for centuries. As long as outsiders have documented their culture, this tribe has described the animal as a co-inhabitant of the forest. They know the bounds of Orang Pendek territory and will often leave offerings of tobacco to keep them happy.
Local Indonesian villagers provide the largest source of lore and information on Orang Pendek. Hundreds of locals claim to have either seen the animal personally or can relate stories of others who have. While the conjectured physical description listed above is consistently reported by this group, other, less credible characteristics such as inverted feet or magical- or ghost-like behavior are also reported.
Dutch settlers in the early 20th century provided Westerners with their modern introduction to Orang Pendek-like animals in Sumatra. Two accounts in particular are widely reported:
- Mr. Van Heerwarden, who described an encounter he had while surveying land in 1923:
I discovered a dark and hairy creature on a branch... The sedapa was also hairy on the front of its body; the colour there was a little lighter than on the back. The very dark hair on its head fell to just below the shoulder-blades or even almost to the waist... Had it been standing, its arms would have reached to a little above its knees; they were therefore long, but its legs seemed to me rather short. I did not see its feet, but I did see some toes which were shaped in a very normal manner... There was nothing repulsive or ugly about its face, nor was it at all apelike.
- Mr. Oostingh, who saw a strange creature while walking in the forest:
I saw that he had short hair, cut short, I thought; and I suddenly realised that his neck was oddly leathery and extremely filthy. "That chap's got a very dirty and wrinkled neck!" I said to myself. His body was as large as a medium-sized native's and he had thick square shoulders, not sloping at all... he seemed to be quite as tall as I. Then I saw that it was not a man. It was not an orang-utan. I had seen one of these large apes a short time before. It was more like a monstrously large siamang, but a siamang has long hair, and there was no doubt that it had short hair.
- The most widely-known Western researcher to have attempted to document Orang Pendek is a British woman named Debbie Martyr. Along with British photographer Jeremy Holden, she engaged in a 15-year project beginning in the early 1990s and funded by Fauna and Flora International. The scope of the project was to systematically document eye-witness accounts of the animal and to obtain photographic proof of its existence via camera-trapping methods. Debbie and Jeremy did not succeed in proving its existence (Debbie has since moved on to head TNKS's Tiger Protection and Conservation Unit), but they collected several foot print casts that appear to be from Orang Pendek and claim to have personally seen the animal on several occasions while working in the forest.
- Hairs and casts of a foot print found by two British men, Adam Davies and Andrew Sanderson, while traveling in Kerinci were analyzed by scientists from 2001 to 2003. Dr. David Chivers, a primate biologist from the University of Cambridge, compared the cast with those from other known primates and local animals and concluded:
"...the cast of the footprint taken was definitely an ape with a unique blend of features from gibbon, orang-utan, chimpanzee, and human. From further examination the print did not match any known primate species and I can conclude that this points towards there being a large unknown primate in the forests of Sumatra."
Dr. Hans Brunner, a hair analysis expert from Australia famous for his involvement in the case of Lindy Chamberlain in 1980, compared the hairs to those of other primates and local animals and concluded that they originated from a previously undocumented species of primate. Dr. Todd Disotell, a biological anthropologist from New York University, recently performed DNA analysis on the hairs and found nothing but human DNA in the sample. He stressed, however, that contamination by people who handled the hairs could have introduced this DNA and that the original DNA could have decomposed.
Currently, National Geographic is funding a multi-year camera-trapping project led by Dr. Peter Tse of Dartmouth College and aimed at providing photographic documentation of Orang Pendek. The project began trapping in TNKS in September 2005.
Theories and analysis
Many locals say Orang Pendek's feet look like those of a seven-year-old child, evidenced by foot prints they have found while walking through the forest. However, another local animal, the Sun Bear, is a likely source of these sightings. Bears in general are known for having feet that look quite human-like, and the Sun Bear's would match those of a child fairly well. In addition, gibbons populate the forests in this area and are known to occasionally descend to the ground and walk for a few seconds at a time on two legs. Witnesses could possibly be seeing orangutans; however: 1) this species has long been thought to have died out in all but the northern regions of Sumatra and 2) witnesses almost never describe the animal as having orange fur.
Orang Pendek's reported physical characteristics differentiate it from any other species of animal known to inhabit the area. All witnesses describe it as an ape- or human-like animal. Its bipedality, fur coloring, and southerly location on the island make orangutans an unlikely explanation, and its bipedality, size, and other physical charactistics make gibbons, the only apes known to inhabit the area, unlikely as well. Many therefore propose that Orang Pendek could represent a new genus of primate or a new species or subspecies of orangutan or gibbon.
As far back as Mr. Van Heerwarden's account of Orang Pendek, people have speculated that the animal may in fact be a "missing link" (a hominid representing an earlier stage in human evolution). In October 2004, scientists published claims of the discovery of skeletal remains of a new species of human (Homo floresiensis) in caves on Flores Island (another island in the Indonesian archipelago) dating from 12,000 years before the present. The species was described as being roughly one meter tall. The recency of Homo floresiensis' continued existence and the similarities between its physical description and the accounts of Orang Pendek have led to renewed speculation in this respect.
Recently, Henry Gee, editor of the prestigious Nature, writes of an unexpected discovery that:
"The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as Yetis are founded on grains of truth....Now, cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold."
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- National Geographic expedition to camera-trap for Orang Pendek, July 2006
- "Short Man of the Forest: The Search for Orang Pendek" from the Banyak Films, June 2006
- International Monkey Hunter, investigation into the Orang Pendek story
- [http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/103/the_orangpendek.html Fortean Times article
- "In Search of Orang Pendek" from the Fortean Times, April, 2004.
- The Cryptid Zoo: Orang-Pendek
- Bipedalism in orangutans, from August 2007 issue of Scientific American
- Ebu Gogo: A similar creature from the Flores Islands
- Batutut: AKA the Nguoi Rung "Forest people" of Viet Nam & Laos