Tuesday 6 October 2020

Introducing the Malayan Bigfoot

      Throughout the world stories crop up of unknown bipedal apes which live solitary lives, and are largely nocturnal. The North American bigfoot, or sasquatch is usually described as being like a gorilla on stilts ie it is massive and tall, just as you would expect if a gorilla had legs like a human. The Australian yowie - which definitely shouldn't exist, because it is not a marsupial - is almost identical. It is what lies between which is peculiar. The người rừng of Vietnam appears to be man-sized, while Sumatra's orang pendek, as its name ("short man") is much smaller, and the batutut of Sabah appears to be of similar size. However, the jungles of Malaya are alleged to harbour something much bigger: the orang dalam, or "man of the interior". They are still being reported, and there are citizens who are looking for them. But what came out of the Terolak Forest Reserve in Perak (3° 53' N, 101° 22' E) in late 1953 represents a new level in weirdness.
     I was originally alerted to this by an article by a certain Harold Stephens entitled:
 ' "Abominable Snowman" of Malaysia' in the August 1971 issue of Argosy, pp 37 - 44.
     He didn't take much notice of an aboriginal headman's talk about the orang dalam, giant footprints and hairy giants, until a Chinese friend in Singapore told him such stories were "all in the newspapers" during the Malayan Emergency against the Communists.
      That night, I phoned Kurt [who had been with him during the headman's talk]. The next morning , we began our homework at the Straits Times newspaper. It was slow work. The Emergency covered a span of years, from World War II until 1953. We were about to give up. We reached December 1953. Then we saw it. The black print seemed to leap up at us.
    Regrettably, writing a popular article, the author did not specify the precise reference. However, I managed to locate what appears to be the original report which mentions the witness by name:

    "Hairy beings may be missing link", on the front page of the Singapore Standard  of 2 January 1954. 

    Unfortunately, it is not available online, so we will have to do with Stephens' summary:
    It was Christmas Day. A young Chinese girl named Wong Yee Moi was tapping rubber trees on an estate in south Peark [ie. Perak], when she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to be confronted by a most revolting female, covered with hair, with white caucasoid-type skin and long, black hair. She wore a loin cloth of bark and stank as if "of an animal." The female grinned and revealed long, nasty fangs. Yee Moi fled in panic for the compound, but not before sighting two similar types she thought to be males, standing in the shade of trees by the river. They had mustaches hanging down to their waists. 
    The estate manager, a Scot named Browne, immediately called up the Security Forces' local headquarters which responded with a posse of the Malayan security guards. On searching the estate, the guards spotted three hairy types on the river bank - such as described by Yee Moi. The creatures dived underwater, emerged on the far bank and vanished into the jungles. Had the lone, panic-stricken Chinese girl made a report that she saw three hairy jungle creatures, we might dismiss the story as having to do with some fantastic monsters of her own imagination. But when the security guards saw the same creatures, it had to be more than imagination.
     Nor did the incident end there. The following day, a Hindu Indian worker was squatting to tap a flow of rubber latex when he was encircled by a pair of hairy arms. Panic-stricken, he broke loose, only to fall in a dead faint on his way back to the compound. He revived to find the same trio standing over him, laughing at his discomfort. Again, we could say that the unfortunate Indian worker was frightened by the story Yee Moi had to tell and that he had imagined seeing such creatures. But when the security guards were summoned, they, too, saw the same hairy creatures on the river bank.
    Newspapers and Radio Malaysia reported the sightings and brought forth official statements from such sources as the Federation's Department of Museums and Aboriginal Research. Authorities believed this could be "one of the most valuable anthropological discoveries since Darwin."

    Fortunately, some newspaper reports are indeed open online to shed light on all this. The first one is a brief summary from The Straits Times of 1st January 1954, on page 7.

 Ape-humans on estate
Three ape like human creatures, two men and a woman, have been seen on three different occasions in the last few days near the Trolak Forest Reserve in Perak. They are covered in long hair down to their waist and the men have moustaches of equal length. They have hairy bodies and protruding teeth similar to a wild boar. Their hair on their forearms is long like a gorilla's. They were dressed in loin cloths made of either skins or tree bark.

The next one is from the front page of an Australian newspaper: the Canberra Times of Saturday 2 January 1954. 

Kuala Lumpur, Friday (A.A.P. - Reuter)
    Three hairy, fanged creatures, one female and two males, who appear to be half human and half ape, emerged from the edges of a 150-mile tract of dense jungle in Northern Malaya on Christmas Day and have frightened rubber trappers. Radio Malaya in an exclusive broadcast last night, said that two trappers, a Malay child and reliable Malay Home Guard corporal all agreed in their description of the creatures. Deputy Director of the radio service, Tony Beamish, who made the broadcast from a remote rubber plantation on the edges of the vast Trolak forest reserve in Perak state, said the creatures were unknown to scientists in Malaya.
    "I am sure this is one of the most valuable anthropological discoveries for years," he said.
   A handful of people who saw the creatures describe them as tall, powerfully built and covered with unkempt hair from their heads hanging down to their waists. All had dog-like fangs which could still be seen when they had their mouths closed. Both men and the woman had moustaches and all were said to smell of animal.
   Mr. Beamish said last night he believed that a colony of the strange creatures might have been forced from its jungle home by a flood and, starved and displaced, had wandered into the fringing rubber plantations.
    "They probably were as surprised to see the tappers as the tappers were them," he said. "I do not think they mean harm and they should be protected. There are old legends in Malaya that tell of strange hairy aborigines who once lived in mountain jungles, although white men have not reported any. The creatures are particularly weird to the Malays, who are almost hairless."
     It seems to me that the A.A.P./Reuters correspondent simply interviewed Mr Beamish for the story. Now let's go to a slightly later local paper: the front page of The Straits Times of 5 January 1954:
    The three hairy "things" - two men and a women [sic] - have spread fear through the entire labour force on Trolak Estate in south Perak. Terrified by accounts from fellow-workers who had met these creatures, the workers at first refused to leave their quarters at all. Only the promise of guards persuaded them to change their minds. Aborigines in the district have been alerted to contact and make friends with the creatures and bring them to the authorities for study. Twenty special constables from Slim River have been scouring the area every day since the three unknowns were first sighted on Christmas Eve. They have orders to "bring them back alive." The authorities have asked that care should be taken to preserve any footprints found until plaster casts can be made for further research.

Others seen
     Mr. G. de A. Seiveking, Director of Museums, who is planning an expedition to the district, said that reports now being investigated revealed that similar creatures had been seen in Kelantan and Perak in 1937. Commenting on statements from eye-witnesses that the three creatures had fair complexions, he said that this was probably due to pigments which they had daubed on their faces. Close questioning of estate workers and others who had encountered the three had provided a much clearer picture of what the creatures actually looked like, Mr. Seiveking said.
     The bushy and very pronounced eyebrows hinted at a "taurus ridge" and a sharply receding forehead - physical characteristics possessed by primitive man in his earliest days. These facts, coupled with the long fangs which projected from either side of their closed mouths, suggested that the creatures were the survivors of one of the earliest wandering tribes to come to Malaya. They had probably been driven deeper and deeper into the jungle as civilisation progressed, Mr. Seiveking said.

Woman had moustache
    The three were well-built and tall - nearly six feet - and had thick black hair on their chests and arms. Animal-like stench came from their bodies. The woman had a moustache and was clad only in a yellow loin cloth made of bark or skins. The men were similarly clothed. They ran like human beings and did not use their arms to assist themselves, Mr. Seiveking said. He surmised that the creatures had had some sort of contact with "civilisation" before their encounters with the estate workers last week, as they evidently knew and feared rifles. "Civilisation in this case probably means Communist terrorists," Mr. Seiveking said.
    The final one in this series (though not necessarily the same kind of animal) comes from The Straits Times of 13 January 1954, on page 2.
    Malaya's mysterious anthropological curiosities, the ape-humans, have disappeared again into the Trolak Forest but reports of previous sights of similar creatures continue to reach the Director of Museums, Dr. G. de G. Sieveking. The latest comes from an army officer now in England, who writes that in 1951 he was stationed at Ulu Dong in Pahang when one of the village elders spoke of having seen tall, hairy creatures washing themselves early in the mornings at a spot some miles away on the river. "He wanted me to visit the spot when I was on one of my patrols. Unfortunately I was moved afterwards and never had the opportunity of doing so," says the writer. He added, "When I was told this there was also present a police lieutenant who is now also in England. He gave reports that on a patrol from Ulu Cheka he had seen these creatures."
     You will notice that the name of the Museum Director is different in this account. In fact, his name was Gale de Giberne Sieveking. As far as the sites go, Ulu Dong is a 3° 56' N, 102° E, and Ulu Cheka at 3° 57½' N, 102° 08' E. Incidentally, "ulu" means "up river" in Malay.
     More details about these encounters can be found here.

      Most readers will recognize that the specimens described here were quite different from the usual unknown primate. Indeed, it is one of the strangest cases I've come across. Firstly, although the descriptions are piecemeal and incomplete, I get the impression that the creatures were not covered all over with hair; they just had more hair on areas which tend to be hairy in human beings. The fact that their complexions were likened to those of caucasians rather than Malays suggest they must have been quite pale - something unexpected in the tropics.
     The loin cloths are particularly puzzling. These are a human attribute - even more so in that loin cloths in the tropics are inspired by modesty rather than a quest for warmth. Humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago. To be sure, there are stories from the Caucasus of almasties stealing human clothing. However, I doubt if that applied in this case. For one thing, it is unlikely that all three would have taken that course - or that they would know how to fasten a loin cloth. Also, it is unlikely that the aborigines at that time or place would be wearing loin cloths of bark or skins, or that they would not be able to recognize cloth when worn by the creatures.
     It becomes more complicated. Human beings possess a number of what are known as "epigamic" features: features whose main function is to serve as a social signal. Thus, there are good practical reasons why a man has broad shoulders and a woman broad hips, but the only reason a man has a beard is to tell the world that he is a man, and not a woman or a boy. These features are long head hair and everted lips in both sexes, beards and the occasional hairy chest in men, and prominent breasts even when the woman is not lactating. No ape possesses these features, but it would be expected that humanity's immediate ancestors or close relatives would have shared some of them.
     With respect to the Terolak Forest creatures, nothing is said about the female's breasts, but I note that she was recognized as female, despite her loins being covered. And both sexes had long hair on their heads. Then there were the moustaches. Everything suggests that these three were representatives of our early ancestors or close relatives. But there are still problems. For a start, I find it hard to accept the presence of moustaches (especially moustaches that long!) without beards. But most of all I am puzzled at the fangs. This in an ape feature. None of our ancestors for several million years had possessed them. And not even gorillas or chimpanzees have fangs so huge that they are visible when the mouth is shut. The animals, in other words, can't exist, and yet several reliable people saw them.

     But there's more ...
     We shall now return to the Argosy article by Harold Stephens, who had heard the headman use the term, "orang dalam" with reference to hairy forest giants. Now, on the basis of his research he declared:
    Official reports also disclosed that this wasn't the first time such sightings in Malaya were recorded. Kurt and I had to dig deeper, into dusty old volumes at the Singapore library. Again, we hit pay dirt. Two British anthropologists, Skeat and Blagden, wrote in their volumes of "The Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula" that aborigines encountered such jungle types, which they called Orang Dalam, or "Interior People."
     Not quite accurate. This work can be found online here. The term, "Orang Dalam" occurs only on page 22 of volume 1, where it is a self-designation of certain tribes of the interior.
     Stephens then cited the report of a certain A. D. Frederickson, F.R.G.S. about his experience in Malaya in 1871. From the sentences quoted, it is clear that the book was Ad Orientam, published in 1889, but based on Frederickson's diaries and sketch books at the time. The relevant text is from pages 276-7:

    A curious specimen of hairy humanity, not unlike Darwin's ideal "Origin of Species" was at the time of my visit being conveyed to the coast for shipment to some society at Calcutta. This is the individual as he appeared, - [see drawing]. He had been found in a wild state in the deep forest of Johore, where he had existed upon fruit and roots, and presumably never seen a human soul. I have no doubt that in Barnum's possession this man would have turned out a mine of gold, although not a pleasant subject to look upon, rather like some of those hideous Santos one meets with in the Nubian desert.
     It does not appear that any scientist took any notice of the specimen, either in Malaya or Calcutta. Note the general human shape, the beard, and the loin cloth. I would suggest that, despite the back story of being found in the deep forest, this was a normal human being suffering from hypertrichosis.
     Stephens then cited another incident.
     The most astounding report we uncovered came from Lake Chini district. It was dated 1959. A mining engineer, Arthur Potter, was sleeping in his boat at the side of the lake one night when he was suddenly awakened to see the eight-foot-high [2½ m] roof of the boat being lifted upwards, leaving a gaping hole. Potter shone a light and saw a red eye peering down at him. It was the size of a tennis ball.
     His first impression was that it was a huge snake, but the next morning, he found eighteen-inch [46 cm] tracks in the mud in the river bank. He followed the trail for 200 feet until it disappeared in the jungle.
     Mr Potter's actual words can be found here, although the source is not given. However, the tracks were said to have been 18 feet wide, and "It looked as if something slimy had gone over the ground." Even if "feet" was a misprint for "inches", I don't think this has anything to do with an unknown ape, but I do note that the lake is reputed to be the home of a dragon called Seri Gumum. For what it is worth, Lake Chini is located at 3° 26' N, 102° 55' E.
    So there we have a disparate series of reports, the most unusual being the ones commencing Christmas Day 1953. Reports of the orang dalam are still coming in, but next month I shall tell you the results of Stephens' expedition in search of the animal.

1 comment:

  1. Those “protruding fangs” remind me of the very detailed report ("The Sun" (Sydney, 12 November 1912) which states: “When the jaws were closed [the large and long canine teeth] protruded over the lower lip.” (in Joyner 1977, p. 19. I presume you have a copy of Joyner’s book.) In my opinion, that 1912 report does not sound like a hoax. But, as with the Malay reports, it is difficuly to know what to make of it.