chapter  5
42 Pages

The ‘short man’ (orang pendek) of Sumatra

Of short stature, covered in hair and with a generally hominoid form and bipedal locomotion, the orang pendek of southern Sumatra bears a prima facie resemblance to several eastern Indonesian figures described in previous chapters. The comparative importance of this representation lies in evidence for its probable grounding in an empirical creature, either a variety of orang-utan or another primate. Insofar as local zoological experience can be shown to be crucial to the category, therefore, it cannot be construed as a purely imaginary or completely mythical creature, even though-as with all figures of this kind and like many zoologically documented animals as well-the orang pendek is partly subject to a fantastical representation. If Homo floresiensis, as a one time contemporary of modern humans, was a real historical ‘wildman’, the orang pendek might by the same token be taken for an equally empirically grounded, modern ‘wildman’. But this of course is not to say that the two creatures are closely related; nor indeed that orang pendek are in any way connected with legendary Flores hominoids like ebu gogo.