Image from Adele Moris
The Orang Pendek or “short people” are the subject of village lore from the dense rain forests of the south and west Sumatra. They are said to reside in the Kerinci Seblat National Park or TNKS area. As deforestation has increased for the production of palm oil, the habitat of the Orang Pendek has diminished along with the territories of the Sumatran tiger and elephant.
Local people say the Orang Pendek loves corn, potatoes, fruit and especially ginger root referred to as “pahur” or “lolo.” It walks on two legs as if it were human. It could be covered in a variety of fur colors ranging from hues of brown to yellow. It has long arms which drop past the knee and broad shoulders shaped like a human. It is suspected to be ground dwelling and very strong in the upper body. Some say the body is covered with feathers.
Over the years, eyewitnesses have claimed to see the Orang Pendek. An early written account comes from John of Marignolli living in the 14th century. When visiting the area, he happened to identify a humanoid creature. He claimed they were hard to see for their need to vanish into the jungle when someone approached. He considered them monsters and not of the human race even though several similarities were shared.
The Orang Pendek is a very popular piece of mythology in the region. Many indigenous people speak of interactions with these mysterious short people from the jungle. Some say they are no bigger than a child. Although stories are widespread, several attempts by various research groups have been unable to turn up any results. Cameras have been hidden in remote areas of the jungle with the hopes of catching a glimpse of these elusive creatures.
Are they just humans of very short stature or are they the missing link between humans and primates? Will, we ever find one alive or will they always vanish into the forest to stoke the fires of mystery? Are they ancestors of Homo Floresiensis continuing to live hidden for the past 50,000 years? We won’t know until we find the remains of one or a living example. The rain forest is so dense that it is quite possible the Orang Pendek could evade detection from modern humans keeping the mystery of alive and well.