Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Big Footprints in the Malayan Jungle

      Last month I introduced you to the orang dalam, or "man of the interior", the bigfoot or abominable snowman of Malaya. To be more precise, I copied extracts of the background information unearthed by Harold Stephens in his Argosy article of August 1971. I promised that this month I would describe his expedition of that year (?) in search of the monster. But first, I need to cite how he first heard about it.
     We found it hard to believe.
     "What big tracks?" we asked.
     "Giant people," the village headman said.
     "Yes. The Orang Dalam."
     Big tracks. Giant people. What kind of talk was this? More native superstition, no doubt. For two days, we listened to these aborigines spin yarns abut rogue elephants, man-eating tigers and, now, about giant of the jungles.
     Kurt Rolfes, an ex-combat photographer from Vietnam, and I were invited by an old friend, Prince Tunku Bakar of Johore, to join him on a fishing trip on the lower Endau River. We went, expecting good fishing, but monsoon rains and a fast-rising river forced us to seek shelter in an aborigine village. Now, as we sat on mats and smoked native cigars, we listened to Tunku translate aborigine tales.
     "And these tracks," Kurt said. "Where did you see them?"
     "Far upriver," the headman explained through Tunku. "Above the twelfth rapid on the Kinchin. Orang Dalam lives on the high plateau and comes down to the river when it is dry."
     At the time, we didn't put much faith in what the old man was telling us. We knew that many of these jungle tribes, who were not far removed from the Stone Age, had their myths and folklore, combined, perhaps, with an active imagination. But it made good listening and it did help to pass the time.
     Let's orient ourselves. The aborigines referred to are the pre-Malay inhabitants of the peninsula, dwelling in the interior, and living at a lower level of culture to the dominant Malays. The Endau River (pronounced"endow") flows east from the mountains, entering the sea at the town of Endau, located at 2½° N, 103½° E. The Kinchin is one of its tributaries, the combined rivers now belonging to the Endau-Rompin National Park, whose headquarters is at approximately 2½° N, 104° E.
    In any case, it was this interaction which led them to read up on the old cases referred to in my previous post. The upshot was that Stephens and Rolfes set out on an expedition up the Endau with three staff: a Eurasian safari guide called Kenny Nelson, who spoke the local languages, and two aborigines, Bujong, and the half-Chinese Achin, all aboard a 16-foot longboat laden to within a few inches of the water line. I shall now record the climax of the expedition in Stephens' own words.
     We came to the tributary of the Kinchin. We decided first to explore the headwaters of the Endau and leave the plateau on the Kinchin until last. We moved on up the Endau. By dark, we found a wide sand bank and a likely place to camp. Kurt and I stepped ashore to look for tracks. They were everywhere: elephant, with fresh droppings, and numerous tiger tracks.
    Kurt led the way, checking carefully. Suddenly he spread out his arms for me to halt, and he stood motionless, staring down. There in the hard, crusted sand were human prints, but not of an ordinary human being. They measured some  sixteen inches  [40 cm] long, and were half as wide. The creature has left the jungle and had entered the water.
    We called the others. Bujong came running and stopped dead. He shook his head. "Orang Dalam," he said and returned to the boat. Both Bujong and Achin insisted that we camp on the opposite shore, on a much narrower beach, on the pretext that it was too hot on this side. We did, but not before Kurt photographed the tracks.
Stephens and Bujong examine the tracks. 
(Insert) a footprint in comparison to Bujong's foot.
     It was a tense evening. The river at this point was evidently on a game trail: elephants, tiger and questionable human tracks. But what kind of human tracks? Achin refused to talk about it. In fact, when we finally got Bujong to loosen up and talk, Achin withdrew to the far end of the lean-to and covered his head, so as not to hear us.
     By our being skeptical, Bujong became positive. We knew that the Malay aborigines are honest people. They are superstitious, but they don't tell lies. What Bujong had to tell us, he  swore on the head of his newborn son was true. 
    A year ago, he was with the headman when they saw the tracks of the man-beast Orang Dalam. Neither of them actually saw the creature, but others from the village had, including the headman's father. What was so amazing about the story Bujong had to tell us was that it confirmed things that Kurt and I had read and heard about the giants.
     The size of the man-beast varies; he is described as anything from six to ten feet [1.8 to 3 metres] tall. All agreed the creatures are hair-covered but not furry. Males have much more hair about head, chest, arms and legs. The eyes are red, or at least bloodshot. And all reports claimed that they give off a powerful smell, which Bujong described as "monkey urine."
     Another interesting characteristic about the creatures is that, at first contact, they appear to be friendly. They usually make the first overtures and approach slowly, and then for some reason become frightened and flee into the jungles.
    How do such creatures evade detection from man? I found this most baffling. But not so the aborigines. Bujong pointed out that elephants and rhinos flee from the approach of man, and tigers often circle back and track their trackers. Why can't a creature - perhaps a super-beast or a sub-human with a higher degree of intelligence than the average animal - cunningly and cleverly keep clear of man?
     Stephens then pointed out that, by and large, all we know of the jungle are the narrow trails and the river banks. They then forced their way upstream for three days, crossing ten more rapids, making a total of 56 since the expedition had begun. It took them just a day to return to the junction of the Kinchin. But now the jungle was nearly impenetrable, and before they reached the plateau they heard the roar of a tiger and, being unarmed, they decided to return. But their description of the jungle show give some idea of how unexplored it was.
Reference: Harold Stephens, ' "Abominable Snowman" of Malaysia', Argosy August 1971, pp 37-44.

     In his 1972 book, Bigfoot, Dr John Napier, who was then one of the most prominent primatologists in the world, multiplied foot length by 6.6 in order to calculate height. Yes, we know that people of the same stature can have different shoe sizes, but he was able to show that, when applied to humans, it was accurate to within a few inches - which is all that is necessary. On this basis, judging from the length of Bujong's foot alongside the orang dalam print, Bujong would have been about five foot high - which seems reasonable. In contrast, the 16 inch footprint of the mystery animal implies a height of 8ft 10 in, or 268 cm.
     However, that implies a foot like a human's. A very big, heavy biped with a flat foot and a rolling gait may well possess a different foot-height ratio. In an article in volume 13 of Cryptozoology (1998), the journal of the now defunct International Society of Cryptozoology, Wolf Fahrenbach provided what appears to be a better computation of height and foot in the North American bigfoot. According to him, a 16 inch print equates to a height of 7ft 11in, or 241 cm. Interestingly, he lists the mean footprint length for this species as 15.6 in.
     I wish to emphasize that I have been writing this with the Argosy article in front of me, so I can guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. I mention this because, when Stephens was interviewed in 2006, the length of the footprints was given as 19 inches, and the width 10 inches. The relevant paragraphs also contained some trivial, but nevertheless real, changes in phraseology. I have no  explanation for this, unless a later text was being cited. If so, the original report, made shortly after the event, should be more reliable.
     Interestingly, at the interview, Stephens added: "By accident we found footprints of a jungle giant. What was even more frightening, which I never told anyone, was when we awoke the next morning, all around our camp were footprints half the size of human prints."

    Now, let us turn to a more up-to-date report (apparently by a journalist whose first language with not English.)
New Straits Times (Malaysia) 25 April 2001
MALAYSIA: Big-foot sightings.
by Sager Ahmad
     There has been some reported sightings of hantu jarang gigi or big-foot in the vast Endau-Rompin park in the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia. The shy, hairy and harmless creature is said to reside in the 40,197 ha [155.2 square miles] park, but so far no image of it has been captured. Orang Asli [ie aborigines] who live in the forest and officers of the Forestry Department, Rela members and some campers have reported of sightings of the big-foot from a distance or finding its footprint in wet soil. The "creature" as described has dark brown hair covering its whole body, is about three metres [9ft 10 in] tall and its footprint is about 45cm [18 in] in size - abut twice the size of an adult shoeless foot.
      One area where sightings have taken place is Sungai Kencin [Kinchin River], a tributary of the Endau River and reports include fish bones scattered on the ground as if big-foot just had its meal. Orang Asli living in the area believe that there are only three of them - a male, a female and their child.
     Pahang State Women's Affairs, Culture, Art and Tourism Committee chairman Maznah Mazlan while launching a 4WD event in the forest reserve recently said the big-foot has a keen sense of smell and would run away from humans. She says it is believed that one way of seeing the big-foot is by not taking a bath for two weeks!
     There has been several sightings in the forest near Lubuk China, Malacca and locals call the creature Ensut-Ensut. Its foot is inverted. Ghazali Yaacob, a surveyor, says villagers have reported having come face-to-face with the creature. The last sighting is of the creature running out of a burning jungle with its young one in search of shelter.
     In all the sightings, no one has reported of being threatened by big-foot in any way.
       What does the alternative name for the animal, hantu jarang gigi mean? It is difficult to translate, but the interpretation I've seen on other sites, "snaggle tooth ghost" appears to be inaccurate. Essentially, it consists of three Malay words:
hantu = ghost
jarang = rare, scarce, sparse, wide apart, wide-spaced
gigi = tooth (singular and plural).
Bearing in mind that, in Malay, unlike English, the defining word comes after the word to be defined, a close approximation to the meaning might be "tooth gap ghost", or even "gap-toothed ghost", except that in such a case, I would expect the words jarang and gigi to be reversed.

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The Possum Book

I am pleased to provide a link to a website of a friend of mine, Robyn Tracey, who has written a fascinating story about her dealings with brush-tailed possums in the outer suburbs of Sydney. You can download the book for free, or read it on the site. Go to: The Possum Book.

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