Somewhere in mountainous forests of southern Sumatra there is said to live the Orang pendek – the “short man”. The local villagers of the more densely forested regions appear to take the creature for granted, much as they do the tiger and rhinoceros which, although rare, frequent these woods. When told that western scientists do not recognise the Orang pendek as a real creature, the locals are inclined to scoff.
The first reference to this creature to be written by an outsider was made in 1917 by a Dr Edward Jacobson. The good doctor wrote about the creature to a scientific journal published in the Netherlands, Sumatra then being part of the Dutch colonial empire. Jacobson said that he had been camped near Boekit Kaba when the local men he had hired to hunt meat for him cam strolling in to announce that they had just passed an Orang pendek looking for insect larvae in a fallen log. They said that the creature had run off when it had seen them and, when questioned, insisted that it did so on its hind legs.
Jacobson thought this odd as the only apes he knew of, gibbons and orang utan, would have swung off through the trees. He went to investigate and found a footprint that looked exactly like that of a human, except that it was very small.
Jacobson’s letter prompted another from another European living in Sumatra, L.C. Westenenk. Westenenk reported that a friend of his had been leading a gang of workmen into the forest near Loeboek Salasik to cut timber when they came across “a large creature, low on its feet which ran like a man and was about to cross the path. It was very hairy and was not an orangutan. Its face was not like an ordinary man’s. It silently and gravely gave the men a disagreeable stare and ran calmly away. The workmen ran faster in the opposite direction.”
Also joining the correspondence was a Mr Oostingh, the manager of a coffee plantation at Dataran who, in 1917 had managed to get lost in the forest. He emerged into clearing to see what he took to be a man sitting with his back to him. “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 [the average height of a native Sumatran is about 5 feet 7 inches] and he had thick square shoulders, not sloping at all. The colour was not brown, but looked like black earth, a sort of dusty 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 to be quite as tall as I am, 5 feet 9 inches. Then I saw that hat it was not a man, and I started back for I was not armed. The creature calmly took several paces, without the last haste, and then with his ludicrously long arm grasped a sapling which threatened to break under its weight and quietly sprang into a tree, swinging in great leaps alternately to right and to left.
“It was not an orangutan, I had seen one of these large apes a short time before. It was more like a monstrously large siamang [a type of gibbon], but a siamang has long hair and there was no doubt that it had short hair. I did not see its face for it never once looked at me.”
It has been suggested that what Oostingh saw was, in fact, a very large siamang. The average height for these animals is about 3 feet, but old males are known to grow rather larger. This would certainly fit the description of the creature swinging off through the trees. Other reports of the Orang pendek usually say that it runs off on the ground.
This is an extract from Sasquatch by Rupert Matthews