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Fantastic Beasts

Meet the Man Searching the Jungles of Indonesia for a Mythical Pint-Sized Bigfoot

Sightings of the "orang pendek" have persisted for generations on the island of Sumatra. Is it a weird bipedal ape or something more... mysterious?

by Renaldo Gabriel
15 August 2017, 1:31am

All photos courtesy R. Dally Sandradiputra

The rainforests of Indonesia can be a pretty scary place. These jungles go for thousands of kilometers and they're full of things that can kill you. It's a place where mosquitos carry malaria, man-eating tigers chase illegal loggers up trees, and legendary mystical beasts haunt the night.

But it's the last part, the mystical beasts, that keeps pulling R. Dally Sandradiputra back into the forests of Sumatra. Dally, a writer from Sungai Penuh, Jambi, launched a search for the mythical orang pendek back in 2009, focusing his efforts on the island's Kerinci Mountain and national park.

The orang pendek is the stuff of legends in Sumatra. It's a bipedal ape-like creature first recorded in Western literature by Dutch colonialists back in the late 1800s. The creature is sort of like a miniature bigfoot and, just like its larger North American cousins, the orang pendek has obsessed local crypto-zoologists for decades.

We've even got the kind of shaky, probably fake, "video evidence" to prove its existence. A recent video allegedly caught by some dirt bikers in Sumatra's Aceh province grabbed national headlines when it hit the internet. In the video, the bikers chanced upon a short, hunched humanoid figure holding a spear as he darted back into the woods.

What is that thing? A tribesman out for a walk? A hoax? A mythical creature? The weird thing about this video is that, unlike similar stories, it still hasn't been outed as a total hoax. So who really knows?

To Indonesia's scientific community, the orang pendek is a joke, and crypto-zoologists are engaged in little more than a laughable attempt to prove the existence of a myth.

But for Dally there's no doubt—the orang pendek are out there. He finances his trips into the forest on his own, striking out to interview local indigenous peoples and search for scientific evidence that could prove that the creature exists.

VICE: So why put so much effort into searching for the orang pendek?
Dally:
I think Indonesian crypto-zoology hasn't received enough attention, despite how interesting it all is. So this search for proof that the orang pendek exists is so we can take it out of the realm of folklore. It's been around in the oral histories of multiple regions for generations. And that's not even mentioning the proof that we've already found.

Wait, the proof? What kind of proof?
Well, my biggest find were the footprints, but in West Sumatra, the footprints have minor differences with other findings. The difference lies in the big toe. It doesn't split as low as in the other orang pendek footprints found in Sumatra.

Have any of the local residents ever told you that they've seen one?
In Kerinci there are many sightings. From what the locals say, the orang pendek walks upright like a human being. You could call it a bipedal ape. While I was out interviewing the locals, some people told me they once saw an orang pendek break into a hut in the jungle where the locals stay when they're doing farm work. They claimed the orang pendek broke in and stole their food.

Do the local people have any myths about the orang pendek?
The mythology comes in many varieties, with some local folk tales saying that these creatures are cursed and exiled to the forest. But the stories are sometimes conflicting. The orang pendek are cryptid creatures. The similarities though are that they are always covered in hair, bipedal, and walking upright.

You said that no one here takes crypto-zoology seriously, but there are so many mythical creatures here, right?
Within Indonesian history, the orang pendek isn't alone. There are so many other folk tales that fit within the spectrum of crypto-zoology. During my early attempts at research there was little information about creatures like this. But as time went on, I came across more information and stories—especially from local residents—about all these other crypto-zoological animals.

Like what?
Well, from local folklore, there is the cigau (a prehistoric tiger) and also the orang gadang, which can be described as a local bigfoot. I first heard about them in 2014. They are bigger than the orang pendek, maybe around two-to-four meters in height. But at the core of the stories, they're both hairy humanoid creatures.

Is that one?

How do people feel about your research? Is anyone afraid to come with you on a field investigation?
Not really. Someone usually accompanies me into the jungle. But there are some people who think I'm crazy. During an interview with a local TV station, a caller got mad at me, saying that my research was misleading.

So why do you think the orang pendek remains so elusive?
Maybe they're going extinct? But that's just my personal opinion. In my experience of going deep into the jungle, I've learned that from the outside the jungle looks pristine, but inside so many areas have already been destroyed. Many areas have fallen victim to illegal logging. So it could be a habitat problem. But it could also be other factors as well. There is no exact evidence of extinction yet. We haven't found any discoveries like fossils.

Do you ever plan on stopping your search?
I don't plan to stop anytime in the near future. I'll continue even if money becomes an issue, because there is just so much more to look for in Sumatra. In another region there is a crypto-zoological animal called a siamang air, which is something like an aquatic monkey. There is just too much within Sumatra to document. I feel like I have an obligation to search for it all. So I have no plans of stopping.

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