Nov 21, 2022 I Nick Redfern

If an Unknown Ape is Found, It Won't Be a Bigfoot: It Will Be an Orang-Pendek Or One of its Cousins

As many of you know, I'm  certain that the Bigfoot creatures are far more paranormal than flesh and blood creatures. But, that's definitely not the case for the various mysterious apes on Sumatra: they're certainly just unidentified, unknown animals of flesh and blood. No paranormal aspects with the Orang-Pendek or the similar creatures on the island. With that said, let's have a look at the elusive ape creatures of the island. From Borneo, situated east of Sumatra, home of the cryptid ape known as Orang-Pendek, come stories of an approximately four and a half foot tall ape-man referred to as the Batatut. Like so many other man-beasts, this one is covered in hair. There is, however, one intriguing difference: the Batatut sports a noticeable, thick mane of hair that runs down the back of its head, not unlike that of a horse. Somewhat ominously the creature is said to have a particular liking of human meat – and an even greater liking of human livers. A fascinating, and very credible, account that may have a direct bearing upon the story of the Batutut is that of zoologist, John MacKinnon. In 1970, while on Borneo he stumbled upon a series of unusual, small, human-like footprints. He said: “I stopped dead. My skin crept and I felt a strong desire to head home…farther ahead I saw tracks and went to examine them. I found two dozen footprints in all. I was uneasy when I found them, and I didn’t want to follow them and find out what was at the end of the trail. I knew that no animal we know about could make those tracks. Without deliberately avoiding the area I realize I never went back to that place in the following months of my studies.”

The Orang-pendek is, certainly, the most well-known mystery ape said to dwell deep in the dense forests of Sumatra. It’s far from being alone, however. In July 1932, the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser newspaper ran an article titled Mysterious Jungle Races of Sumatra: Giants and Pigmies, Guard Swine and Have Their Heels in Front. One of the creatures to which the article referred was Orang-lecho, which, according to the newspaper, dwelled in the western parts of Sumatra, and specifically in Gunong Gedang Bondjol and Lubok Sepaking. Reportedly, the Orang-lecho lived in fear of humans, were short in stature, ate fruit and fish, and possessed a complex language, which they spoke at “a terrible speed.” The writer of the article said: “Whenever they see a human being they will shout out ‘Derangka! Derangka! Derangka!’ which probably means a human being. When they hear this warning note from their friends they immediately fly into forests, and are never found.” Then there was the Si Bigau, which, rather intriguingly, the newspaper described as “one of the species of Orang-pendek,” which suggests a knowledge of more than one kind of the creature. Reportedly, the Si Bigau were quiet, retiring animals - “about the height of a child of three or four years of age” - that preferred their own company. Rather curiously, they spent much of their time herding wild pigs – something which, by all accounts, they had an obsession with.

(Richard Freeman) Many thanks to my good friend Richard Freeman, whose excellent book, Orang-Pendek: Sumatra's Forgotten Ape shows a great image of what the Orang-Pendek looks like

The Singapore Free Press continued: “According to old hunters, any swine that is under guardianship of the Si Bigau will never be caught, no matter how good are the hounds, for the swine will follow the swift flight of Si Bigau into the thickest part of the forest.” Much larger than the Si Bigau and the Orang-lecho was the Mawas, said to be “the same height as that of a human being.” Not only that, the Mawas physically resembled the Human Race to an uncanny degree, except for the fact that they were covered in hair. They shunned clothing and reportedly had feet that faced backwards. Even bigger than the Mawas were the Raksaska, described by the newspaper as being “very tall,” and “meters high.” Interestingly, they were said to live in primitive, house-like structures deep within the “big virgin jungles.” 

Long before the Orang-pendek was on anyone’s radar, there was talk of other entities inhabiting the jungles of Sumatra. In his 1784 book, The History of Sumatra, William Mardsen told a fascinating story. Mardsen – who worked for the East India Company – said: “In the course of my inquiries among the natives, concerning the aborigines of the island, I have been informed of two different species of people dispersed in the woods, and avoiding all communication with the other inhabitants. They are called the Orang Cooboo and the Orang Googoo.” Mardsen said, of both species, that they existed in significant numbers, and particularly so in the regions between Palembang and Jambie. He also commented on stories he had heard, specifically concerning how some of the creatures had been captured and used as slaves, and how a man at Laboon had wed a “tolerably handsome Cooboo girl.” According to Mardsen, both the Cooboo and the Googoo possessed a language and fed “promiscuously” on just about anything and everything they could get their hands on, including deer, snakes, and wild hogs. As for their appearances, Mardsen described the Googoo as being far fiercer in nature than the Cooboo and added that their bodies were covered in long hair. More controversially, Mardsen added that: “There have not been above two or three instances of their being met with by the people of Laboon and one of these was entrapped many years ago…He had children by a Laboon woman, who were also more hairy than the common race.”

(Nick Redfern) Richard Freeman, who has made extensive expeditions on Sumatra, in search of an Orang-Pendek

Mardsen concluded: “The reader will bestow what measure of faith he thinks due, on this relation, the veracity of which I do not pretend to vouch for. It probably has some foundation in truth but is exaggerated in the circumstances.” My good friend, and former zoo-keeper, Richard Freeman, says of this saga: “The Orang Cooboo of which Mardsen speaks are, in fact, the Kubu people, the aboriginal inhabitants of Sumatra. The idea of an Orang-pendek – if indeed it is an anthropoid ape – mating with a human woman and her bearing its children is absurd, but it is a folkloric motif found wherever hairy, man-like creatures are reported. The story has analogues in stories of the yeti, sasquatch, the almasty of central Asia, the di-di of South America, and many others.” Astonishingly, Sumatra appears to be filled to the brim with mysterious, hairy hominids, many clearly displaying notable differences in their appearances. It is, of course, possible that all of the reports can be attributed to the Orang-pendek and nothing else. On the other hand, however, some cases do appear to imply the presence of at least several kinds of unknown ape on Sumatra. Two classic examples come from a highly credible source, L.C. Westenenk, who served as the Governor of Sumatra in the early 20th Century. Of the first case, which occurred in 1910, Westenenk said: “A boy from Padang employed as an overseer by Mr. van H. [deleted] had to stake the boundaries of a piece of land for which a long lease had been applied. One day he took several coolies into the virgin forest on the Barissan Mountains near Loeboek Salasik. Suddenly he saw, some 15m away, a large creature, low on its feet, which ran like a man. It was very hairy and was not an Orang-utan; but its face was not like an ordinary man’s.”

Clearly, the reference to a “large creature” does not fit the description of Orang-pendek, which is of distinctly small stature. The next case that Westenenk heard of took place seven years later, in 1917. The witness was one Mr. Oostingh, a coffee-plantation owner based in Dataran. The location was the forest of Boekit Kaba, where Oostingh encountered something remarkable. Westenenk made careful note of Oostingh’s exact words: “[The creature’s] body was as large as a medium-sized native’s and he had thick square shoulders, not sloping at all. The color was not brown, but looked like black earth, a sort of duty black, more grey than black. He clearly noticed my presence. He did not so much as turn his head, but stood up on his feet: he seemed quite as tall as I, about 1.75m.” Oostingh then suddenly became deeply concerned by the strange beast in his midst: “Then I saw that it was not a man, and I started back, for I was not armed. The creature took several paces, without the least haste, and then, with his ludicrously long arm, grasped a sapling, which threatened to break under his weight, and quietly sprang into a tree, swinging in great leaps alternately to right and to left.” For those who might be inclined to think that Oostingh encountered nothing stranger than an Orang-utan, it’s important to note what he had to say next: “My chief impression was and still is ‘What an enormously large beast!’ It was not an Orang-utan; I had seen one of these large apes before at the Artis, the Amsterdam Zoo. It was more like a monstrously large siamang, but a siamang has long hair, and there was no doubt it had short hair. I did not see the face, for, indeed, it never once looked at me.” 

Next to Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman, probably the most talked about cryptid ape is the Orang-pendek, a small, bipedal creature that dwells in the thick forests of Sumatra. Although expeditions to find the creature have certainly come to the fore in the last couple of decades, the people of Sumatra have a history and lore of the animal that dates back to the beginnings of recorded history on the island. Given that the Orang-pendek walks upright, just as we do, and stands at a height of four and a half to five feet in height, its name is highly appropriate. In English, it translates to “short man.” Most witnesses to the creature describe it as having black or brown hair; however, a somewhat reddish colored hair has also been reported, in a minority of cases. Also echoing the idea of the Orang-Pendek having somewhat human qualities, it is sometimes said to have a head of long, flowing hair extending to the shoulders – but which may actually be something more akin to a mane. 

Not only do the Orang-pendek do an excellent job of avoiding people, while living, hunting, and feeding in the thick, mysterious forests, by all accounts they do a good job of avoiding each other, too. Indeed, most of the reports describe a creature that seems to be overwhelmingly solitary – aside, of course, from when it’s mating. This is at variance with the actions of many apes, which are highly social animals, living in groups. Interestingly, however, the image of Orang-pendek being a definitive loner very closely mirrors the life of Bigfoot, another anomalous ape seen more often than not on its own. Although the creature is reputedly immensely strong, and possesses large, muscular arms, it is not considered to be dangerous to people. Certainly, most witnesses that have encountered the beast at close quarters have said that when seen it generally makes good its escape, rather than act in an aggressive fashion. That said, there are a few reports of Orang-pendek hurling stones and rocks at people, but such reports are definitely in the minority. As for Orang-pendek’s diet, vegetables and fruit are said to be at the top of the list, followed by tubers and fish.

A study of the history of the people of Sumatra demonstrates that the existence of small, hairy, human-like animals on the island has been accepted for centuries. That different regions have different names for the creatures has led to an interesting concept: that there might be more than one kind of cryptid ape on Sumatra. Of course, the likelihood is that despite the differences in name, the animals are one and the same. Although, admittedly, that is far from certain – chiefly because some of the reports coming out of Sumatra describe animals clearly ape-like, whereas others seem almost eerily close to us, both physically and in terms of their actions. The list of witnesses to the Orang-pendek is long and impressive. It’s a list filled with highly credible individuals. In the summer of 1927, just such a creature was encountered by A.H.W. Cramer, who was employed by a plantation company and who got within thirty feet of an Orang-pendek, near Kerinci. The animal was short, and was noted for its long hair and its eerily human-like footprints. Not long afterwards, a Sergeant-Major Van Esch, of the Topographical Service, had his very own sighting, near a large, jungle-surrounded cliff in Surulagun. As the creature – seemingly oblivious to the presence of Van Esch, for a while, at least - sauntered along, the Sergeant-Major could see its huge, muscular chest, wide head, dark skin, and large fangs. 

A respected explorer named Benedict Allen heard numerous stories of sightings of the Orang-pendek during the Second World War. One of them concerned the rare sight of an entire group of Orang-pendek violently hurling sticks at workmen on the Trans-Sumatran Highway! There is no doubt, however, that the most important figure in the controversial saga of the Orang-pendek is Debbie Martyr. Her quest to uncover the truth of the Orang-pendek began in the latter part of the 1980s. It was in July 1989 that Martyr visited Sumatra, as a travel writer. It was while Martyr was camped on the slopes of Mount Kerinci that her guide told her of the Orang-pendek – and that he had even seen the creature on a couple of occasions. It was, for Martyr, the beginning of an extensive study for the truth of the Orang-pendek; a study that has resulted in the collection of notable evidence and even a firsthand encounter. Amongst the evidence was the cast of what was believed to be the print of an Orang-pendek. It was shared with Dr. David Chivers, of the University of Cambridge, England, who commented that: “…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.”

(Nick Redfern) The mystery still exists

Most significant of all was Martyr’s very own sighting of just such an animal, which she describes as follows: “I saw it in the middle of September, I had been out here [on Sumatra] for four months…When I saw it, I saw an animal that didn’t look like anything in any of the books I had read, films I had seen, or zoos I had seen. It did indeed walk rather like a person and that was a shock.” She added that, in terms of appearance, the Orang-pendek was a “relatively small, immensely strong, non-human primate…It is built like a boxer, with immense upper body strength…It was a gorgeous color, moving bipedally and trying to avoid being seen.” Richard Freeman, the zoological director of the Center for Fortean Zoology, believes that it is only a matter of time before the existence of Orang-pendek is proved, once and for all, and conclusively. 

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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