3. Orang Pendek
We are not the only species of Human beings to ever walk the earth. As strange as it is to consider, our early ancestors actually shared the planet with other Humans that were not of the genus Homo sapiens. It is generally accepted that the most famous of these other species, Homo neanderthalensis (colloquially known as Neanderthal Man), died out some 40,000 years ago (this number is disputed, some say 24 30,000 - Im using the 2013 Reset data). Modern Human beings coexisted with Neanderthals for thousands of years and new evidence even suggests that the two species interbred. Today, there are none left and we Homo sapiens find it hard to imagine any other kind of intelligent primate sharing our world with us. But what if another species of Human had survived into historical times?
When the tiny bones of Homo floresiensis were first discovered in Indonesia in 2003, the headlines about our Hobbit ancestors practically wrote themselves. Short, stocky and slightly apelike, H. floresiensis would have been a very odd creature indeed. For some however, the discovery hinted at the possibility of an even more shocking revelation. Since the mid-2000s, scientists have generally accepted that Homo floresiensis was the longest lived of the non-modern Humans, with archaeological evidence of their continued existence drying up around 12,000 years ago. These Hobbits used stone tools, and, despite the handicap of having relatively small brains, were almost certainly capable of language, reason and even primitive sailing. Astonishingly, the discovery of Homo floresiensis (literally Flores Man) remains on the island of Flores ties in extremely well with the islands indigenous tales of the Ebu Gogo, a legendary creature said to have existed on the island in the past (but now thought by locals to be extinct). It would be tempting to imagine that the natives (known as The Nage) were simply taking advantage of the global press attention received by their island in the wake of the discovery, except for the fact that the legends have been around for centuries and are an important part of their traditions and folklore. Not all history is written down, after all. According to local folklore, the Ebu Gogo were little people with hairy bodies, large mouths and broad, almost apelike, faces. They stood at about a metre and a half tall (almost the same height as The Hobbits are thought to have reached) and are believed to have shared the island with the Nage until about the 18th (some natives say 19th) Century. The story, tragically, ends with the annihilation of the Ebu Gogo. According to the legends, these little people were eager to learn to cook and so, in numerous stories, they kidnap Human children, believing that the youngsters might teach them how. Eventually, the Nage decided to do something about the collective nuisance of the ebu gogo (as if the kidnapping of their children wasnt bad enough, the ebu gogo would steal valuable food as well), so they tricked their diminutive neighbours by giving them fibres to make clothes with and then setting the fibres alight, essentially burning the poor creatures alive in their cave (and possibly causing their extinction as a species in the process). We know for a scientific fact that creatures a lot like the ebu gogo actually existed on the island. Human and animal remains are notoriously rarely preserved, which would account for the lack of more recent evidence. Does it really seem possible that the natives would invent a race of little people (along with such a detailed account of their extinction) hundreds of years before archaeologists even confirmed (or dared to imagine) similar accounts? It is thought by some cryptozoologists that ebu gogo is just one of the many names for Homo floresiensis. So, if the creature indeed survived into historical times, was it only on Flores? Sumatra, another Indonesian island, also shares stories of a similar legendary creature, one that has been reported for hundreds of years and, crucially, that may still be alive today. The Orang Pendek is supposedly covered in hair, stands at a metre or so tall and its face is considered to be slightly more hominid in appearance than that of the ebu gogo. When one hears descriptions of similar creatures with slight differences on islands near to one another, it is impossible not to recall Charles Darwins historic journey on the HMS Beagle, where he observed animals exhibiting different characteristics unique to their individual island habitats. The Orang Pendek (meaning short person) is not only known from native legends and oral tradition, however. Various Western explorers and historians have also recorded accounts of these odd little creatures, particularly in 1923, when a Dutch explorer named Van Herwaarden gave a detailed account of the creatures look, behaviour, mannerisms and oddly-human features. Van Herwaarden declined to shoot the creature, later saying that he would feel like a murderer if he did so, because it seemed so indefinably Human-like. Interestingly, stories of short, hairy little people appear in many cultures around the world. If current scientific thinking is correct and H. floresiensis was among the first hominids to leave Africa, then couldnt he (wouldnt he?) have colonized other areas as well? In Medieval Europe, we depicted woodwose, or wild men in our art, creatures that bear more than a passing similarity to the orang pendek (despite being rather a bit taller). In Ireland, mythologies abound about faerie folk, who, despite usually being depicted as tall, were also occasionally short and diminutive. Cryptozoologists could therefore consider all European folklore concerning trolls, goblins, dwarves and gnomes in their investigations. Were these tales born from long forgotten memories of our tiny cousins? Goblins were known for kidnapping children, something which is usually ascribed to the kind of pedagogic cautionary fables common in most cultures, but could it be more than that? Throughout Celtic mythology there are whispered mentions of a race of diminutive people, who are often mischievous and who were driven into hiding by angered Humans. The possible links between European mythology and the stories of the ebu gogo/orang pendek are utterly fascinating.