In accordance with Muslim customs, funerals and burials are held within 24 hours after a death. They are attended by neighbors and close relatives that can arrive in time. A coffin is built and a grave is quickly dug while an official performs the rituals. A simple ceremony is held at the home followed by a procession to the graveyard and a burial. Graves are visited regularly, especially at the beginning and end of Ramadan.

There are a number of different beliefs about life after death including Islamic concepts of eternal retribution, beliefs in spirits and ghosts who continue to influence events and a belief in reincarnation, which orthodox Muslims condemn.

There is a wide range of customs for burials according to which island or religion of the people. For instance, in Java, funerals are held on Thursday night with only family in attendance. Often, the Javanese conduct secondary rites of passage for the dead soul. Christians and Muslims are buried in separate cemeteries and are conducted by their own religious figures. While burial is the most common form of ritual in Indonesia, Hindus in Bali usually perform cremation. [Source: Cultural Comparisons]

The Toraja practice extravagant ceremonies often involving two separate funerals. The Toraja believe that they must follow proper customs to secure the good fortune of their family in the future. During the first funeral, stone slabs of past nobles who lived in their village surround the people. They place the dead on a tower at the end of the field as the family and guest watch from bamboo pavilions made specifically for their seating. The second funeral consists of a feast of water buffalo and pig. The water buffalo and pig act as the transportation of the soul onto Puya, the afterworld. The guests typically bring water buffalo and pigs to the second funeral. Once the water buffalo and pigs have been killed, the people dance to the Mabadong song. The Mabadong song is a sendoff tradition that shows the dead person’s life cycle and their life story. For generations, the villagers in Torajaland have carved out stone graves into the cliffs. They create wooden effigies called “tau tau” and place them in the cliffs to protect the tomb of the deceased and to watch for trespassers. [Ibid]

Funeral Customs in Indonesia

Among Javanese, funerals involve several feast called selamatan (selamat in Bahasa means safe, wish, happy, good luck). The first selamatan is held on the day a member of a family dies. The next one is held on the third day, continues on the seventh day, fortieth day, the hundredth day, and the greatest one will be held on the thousandth day. The Javanese believe that on the thousandth day, the spirit of the dead person is already at the peace in the another world.

A slametan is held with food provided by neighbors. As is true with all Javanese interactions there are few expressions of emotions. Children hold a number of slametans at intervals after death with the last being 1,000 days after death. The Javanese believe that when a spouse dies, the departing soul takes half of the survivor' soul. They also believe that social bonds, especially between parents and children, continue after death.

The Torajan people in South Sulawesi (Celebes) believe that the spirit of a dead person enters puya, place for the dead. Dead people that go to puya must show his social status when he was alive. So the funeral ceremony for a person who had a high position in the community may look like a carnival. The dead person is accepted as dead when a complete funeral has been held. Before that, the corpse is considered to be a sick body, kept in a traditional house called 'Tongkonan.' He is dressed and offered food.

The Balinese of Trunyan put the dead body under a tree after a mourning ceremony. It's not buried or burned, not even covered. The amazing fact is, the body will rot, but DOES NOT smell. The place where the dead is put is near a village in Lake Kintamani, the largest lake in Bali Island.

Manggarai people of Flores, in the southeast part of Indonesia believe that the spirits of the dead, called poti, stay where they used to stay when they were alive, especially near the bed. After some time, the poti move to wells, big trees, or crossroads near the house. They watch their grandchildren, but don't disturb the living people. After five days, the poti will go to Mori Karaeng, the place for the dead. Manggarai people believe that everything in Mori Karaeng is opposite of that in the world of the living. People break dishes and glasses on the fifth day so that the poti will have the dishes and glasses in good condition at Mori Karaeng.

Ghosts in Indonesia

There are many Malay ghost myths (Malay: cerita hantu Melay) in the modern states of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and among the Malay diaspora in neighboring Southeast Asian countries. The general word for ghost is hantu, of which there exist a wide variety. Some ghost concepts such as the female vampires pontianak and penanggal are shared throughout the region. While traditional belief doesn't consider all ghosts as necessarily evil, Malay popular culture tends to categorize them all as types of evil djinn.

Hyang is an unseen spiritual entity that has supernatural power in ancient Indonesian mythology. This spirit can be either divine or ancestral. In modern Indonesian this term tends to be associated with gods, devata, or God. Hyangs are believed to inhabit high places, such as mountains, hills, and volcanoes. These mountainous regions are considered as sacred realm, as the abode of gods and the resting place for the soul of the ancestors. Hyang are said to only move in straight lines. Accordingly, for example, traditional Balinese buildings have a wall called an aling-aling just inside the doorway, which keeps the spirits out because they only move in straight lines, and hence would “bounce” off the wall. [Source: Dave Marks in Research Notes, World Beliefs]

Global Indonesian Voices reported: “Anyone who has lived in Indonesia must have heard at least one ghost story. There is never a shortage of stories from people who claim to have met these other-worldly creatures themselves and even more about such encounter that happens to that friend of a friend’s friend. These stories are part of the fun in any camping trip and have been the subject of countless television series and movies. Indonesia has a rich ghost lore, with some of the scariest creatures in the world. [Source: Global Indonesian Voices, February 4, 2014 |=|]

“So where does one go to make better acquaintance with these creatures from the netherworld? Jeruk Purut Cemetery in Jakarta is a good place to start. The resident ghost of this cemetery is a pastor who walks around carrying his own head and followed by a black dog. Another good place is Pelabuhan Ratu, which is also located in Jakarta. The myth surrounding the place is related to the legend of the Queen of the South Sea, who jumped off the cliff and into the sea where her ghost still remains there. If anyone wearing green swims in the sea, the queen’s ghost will pull them into the water. |=|

“In Semarang, there is Lawang Sewu, whose name translates into ‘thousand doors’ (and aptly so because the building does have a great many doors). Here is where the bravest may go if they want to test themselves. Built by the Dutch in the 19th century, the place was used as a prison by the Japanese during the war in the 1940s and has undoubtedly witnessed many gruesome things during that period. Expect an encounter with the many headless spirits who like to wander along the corridors or maybe get to know the young Dutch lady who chose to end her own life there. The building has recently been renovated in an attempt to brighten up its image and may soon be transformed into a commercial hub with retail shops, offices, food court, and fitness center. |=|

“These ghost stories may have their beginning as a way to deter people from doing undesirable things that are dangerous or socially frowned upon. However these stories have outlived their original usefulness and are still as popular as ever. Some people see them as a harmless fun, while others take them more seriously and get involved in various practices to harness the power of the unseen to their advantage. The world may change but some things are here to stay.” |=|

Ghosts and Gossip in Jakarta

On ghosts in Jakarta Aliakbar wrote in “Places like the Ancol Bridge (Hantu Jembatan Ancol), which is still believed to be haunted by a girl who was raped and murdered there. She is seen walking on the bridge in the night wearing a white dress. Old buildings, like the Jakarta History Museum which is was the city hall during the Dutch colonial administration, is believed to be haunted by ghosts because it was the site of hangings by the Dutch of Indonesian and Chinese prisoners. The Cipto Mangunkusomo Hospital (Jakarta) is another reputed ghost sighting locale where at night a doctor is seen with a surgery knife and hands covered with blood with nurses screaming for help. There is no actual proof of the existence of these ghosts, but local people have claimed to see them. [Source: Aliakbar, 2004 *-*]

“Psychics (dukun) and paranormals in Jakarta offer a service to remove non-physical entities when they possess someone's body and soul. They request a handsome fee, or sometimes ask for a sacrifice, and they claim to be able to communicate with the spirits as well. You can even find a few listed in the local yellow pages directory. *-*

“Some people in Jakarta don’t just claim to have seen ghosts, as they claim to be lucky enough to capture them on camera as well. A television show called Dunia Lain, aired on the local channel Trans TV, claims to exploit this other world throughout Indonesia. Occasionally they are successfully rewarded with some foggy pictures and cams of these spirits. Many tourists from Australia and America have also taken part of ghost search expeditions during their visit to Indonesia as well. To believe or not to believe in ghosts is up to the individual; so far for most people the term "I don't believe until I see it" is a common reason for not believing in spirits. Just remember, seeing a ghost can be a very frightening experience, even just hearing them could bring chills down your spine. *-*

“An incident occurred recently in an electric train parked in Bogor as it suddenly starting to run towards the suburbs of Jakarta at 65km/hour on its own withoutwhw any technical or manual support. This story is a good example of these fictional theories. And surprisingly the train just stopped on its own without any fatalities reported. Local people believe that the cause of this incident which they call the kereta hantu is an effect of ghostly spirits. And on the other hand, railway officials in Jakarta and Bogor blamed this unscheduled late night journey on technical errors and problems. *-*

In Jakarta rumors and gossip play a big part in spreading the belief of ghosts. Rumors of a haunted house in Pondok Indah spread when a fried rice vendor was reported missing after making a delivery there. Authorities had to hang a banner on the house stating that this ghost tale was just a rumor. Police officials were deployed when the number of people flocking to see the house caused traffic congestion and chaos. With so many beliefs in Indonesian society, it may be difficult for us to decide what is true and what is not. I once heard of an incident which occurred in the west of a sex shop owner who claimed his story was haunted by ghosts who threw bras and knickers on the floor during the night, saying it looked like an orgy had taken place. This funny story made me feel that the ghost community perhaps has a keen sense of fashion as well. *-*

“Watching local TV mystery shows reveals that these local spirits prefer to take public transportation like taxis, mini buses, angkot when they tired after their night’s walk. They don’t pay the driver of course, but just scare him and carry on with their free journey. Expats who drink, dance, and dine on the town until late usually return home in their cozy air-conditioned cars, so they should have no worries of these spirits.*-*

Well-Known Ghosts in Indonesia

Global Indonesian Voices reported: ““One of the more popular characters is the Kuntilanak, who is the ghost of a pregnant woman who died while giving birth. Described as a beautiful woman who carries the scent of Frangipani flower, the ghost of Kuntilanak haunts the villagers to seek revenge. She is said to often walk on deserted streets to target and kill young men who let their guard off. Another classic character is the Genderuwo, who is part of the Javanese myth of spirits and jinn. He is described as an ape-like man who reveals himself only when he is disturbed. Widely known in the island of Java, the mythical creature is referred to by the locals as the devils. [Source: Global Indonesian Voices, February 4, 2014 |=|]

The myth of Wewe Gombel is another one that is rooted in the Javanese tradition. The name Wewe means Grandma and Gombel means disheveled. According to the myth, she is a ghost who scares children who wander at night, making her a very popular figure among parents who want to keep their children from roaming outside. She is also said to kidnap children who are abandoned or abused by their parents and will not return the children until the parents have learned their lesson. Another popular folklore is Tuyul, a mischievous and ugly child who steals money from people. He has the ability to change forms and is kept by people who practice black magic. |=|

In the mythology of Bali, the Leak is a wicked witch. “Le” means witches and “ak” means evil. The Leak is visible in the night to the shaman of leak hunters. In the afternoon he looks like a human being. At night he roams cemeteries to find the organs from human bodies used to make magic potions. A magic potion that can change the shape of leak into a tiger, monkey, pig is made from the organs from living people. It is said Leak can be a human head with organs hanging from it. It is said Leaks fly to search for a pregnant woman, and suck their blood while the baby is still in the womb. There are three known leaks: two of them women and one a man. According to Balinese belief, Leak with a human head practice black magic and need fetus blood to live. It is also said that Leak can turn himself into a pig or a ball of fire, while the actual form of Leak is has a long tongue and sharp teeth. Some people say that the magic of Leak works only on the island of Bali, because Leak is found only in Bali. If someone stabs a Leak from under the neck to the head when the head is separated from his body, then the Leak can not be reunited with his body. If the head is separated for a certain period time then the Leak will die. Masks of leaks with sharp teeth and long tongues are sometimes used as house decoration in Bali. [Source: lagodaxnian]

The penanggalan is similar to the Leak. Known in Malaysia and Indonesia, it is a flying head with its disembodied stomach sac dangling below. Another type of female vampire, it is attracted to the blood of newborn infants and uses entrails trailing behind her head to grasp her victims There are several stories of her origins. One is that she was a woman who was sitting meditating in a large wooden vat used for making vinegar when she was so startled that her head jumped up from her body, pulling her entrails with it. Another has her as a normal woman during the day, whose head and entrails leave her body at night. If a baby is expected, branches from a type of thistle are placed around the doors or windows to protect the house, since her entrails will be caught by the thorns.

The penanggalan is known in Thai as krasue and a similar Philippine ghost called the manananggal which preys on pregnant women with an elongated proboscis-like tongue. The manananggal is spirit of an older, beautiful woman capable of severing its upper torso to fly into the night with huge bat wings to prey on unsuspecting pregnant women in their homes. The hantu kum-kum is the ghost of an old woman who sucks the blood of virgin girls to regain her youth.

See Malaysia.


The Kuntilanak (Malay language: puntianak, Pontijanak) is a ghost believed to come from pregnant women who died or a women who died in childbirth and child was not born yet.The name “kuntilanak” or “pontianak” most likely comes from the combination of the word “pregnant” and “Child”. The kuntilanak’s characteristic features are: 1) pitched laugh; 2) crying; 3) likes old buildings or building debris; 4) often resides in the estuary of a River, on the edge of the lake or the edge of the pool; 5) like the flesh of children (and therefore it is often said they like to kidnap babies. [Source: lagodaxnian >>>]

The Pontianak (kuntilanak,) is the most famous Malay ghost and a type of vampire in Malay folklore. According to the legend, a Pontianak (pronounced "pone-tea-ah-nark") is either the restless spirit of a dead pregnant woman or the vengeful spirit of a woman murdered by her own lover. The former version generally does little harm except probably scaring the heebie-jeebies out of you. She would usually be found standing by the side of a road cradling her tombstone like a baby and asking for a ride to her graveyard. The later is very violent, known to go on a blood lust until she either kills her lover or the male ancestor of her lover. The classic Pontianak would have very long hair flowing down to her hips, usually covering her face, full white dress sometimes with bloodstains, long fangs and long fingernails. When she's near, you will smell a very strong flowery smell. [Sources: Wikipedia, Revathi Murugappan, the Star; See also squidoo ]

To prevent a stillborn baby from becoming a pontianak—as with its mother the lang suir—a needle is placed in each of the corpse's hands and a hen's egg under each armpit. Depicted as an ugly woman wiith sharp nails and a white dress, the pontianak can also take the form of a beautiful young woman or a night-bird. When she is close, she gives off a strong smell of frangipani. It is usually encountered by the roadside or under a tree, and attack men and drink their blood. The Indonesian kuntilanak, however, typically uses its bird form to attack virgin women. The bird, which makes a "ke-ke-ke" sound as it flies, may be sent through black magic to make a woman sick, the characteristic symptom being vaginal bleeding. A pontianak can be made into a good wife, by placing a nail into the hole at the nape of its neck (called Sundel Bolong). Modern popular culture often confuses the pontianak with its mother the lang suir. However, traditional myth is clear that the pontianak is the ghost of a dead baby and not a pregnant woman. A similar ghost called tiyanak exists in Philippine lore.

The Kuntilanak always appears accompanied by fragrant frangipani flowers.It is said that men who are not careful could be killed after kuntilanak transforms into blood sucking creature. The kuntilanak also loves to eat babies and harm pregnant women. According to Sundanese tradition the kuntilanak, often called as “Sundel Bolong”, like hibiscus trees that grow biased toward one side (popularly called the “tend hibiscus”). Javanese believe a kuntilanak will not interfere with a pregnant woman if she always has nails, knives, and scissors when traveling anywhere. As a preventive measure women often put scissors, needles and knives on their bed. According to the Malay belief sharp objects like nails can ward off kuntilanak attacks. When a kuntilanak attacks, a nail can be stuck in the holes in the back of the kuntilanak’s neck or, others believe, or driven into the kuntilanak crown. >>


The genderuwo is believed to communicate and make direct contact with humans.Various legends say that Genderuwo can change their appearance or physical form to entice people. Genderuwo like to tease people, especially women and children. They enjoy slapping women on the ass, caressing their bodies while they sleep, and moving around their underwear. Genderuwo occasionally appear in the form of furry little creatures that can grow in an instant, Genderuwo also like to throw stones at people’s houses at night. One of the most well-known kind of Genderuwo tempts lonely wives to leaves their husbands and sometimes has sexual relationship with widows. It is believed that the seed that Genderuwo can cause a woman to become pregnant and have Genderuwo offspring.

According to legend, Genderuwo have a very strong ability to attract women to want to have sex. Genderuwo sex is very unusual, but deeply satisfying to a woman. Victims are usually women who do not realize that they having sex with Genderuwo as the Genderuwo is impersonating the victim’s husband or the victim’s lover. Genderuwo have a large libido and like seducing women.

There is a legend that says Genderuwo sometimes are happy to stay in the womb of a woman. A woman who is possessed by Genderuwo have a high sex drive and can not contain her passion.The women will want to always have sex. If her partner can not keep keep up with passions, she will not hesitate and try to find another partner.This happens due to the excitement of women controlled by Genderuwo. If the woman has sex, then Genderuwo that resides in the womb will also feel the pleasure the women does.

Witches and Spirits in Bali

Witches and nocturnal spirits called leyaks are blamed for many of life's misfortunes on Bali. Most Balinese believe that leyaks are living people who practice black magic and transform themselves into spirits—monkeys, snakes, birds and even headless bodies. Many people wear amulets and place offerings at shrines to ward them off. The Balinese believe that leyaks only attack Hindus and thus Moslems are sometimes hired to protect buildings infested with leyaks.

Foreign visitors have asked the Balinese if they have ever seen a leyak. The Balinese usually say the haven't but they offer advise on how to attract them. One way is to stand naked near a cemetery and bend over and peer backwards through your legs. [Source: Donna Grosvenor, National Geographic, November 1969]

According to the Balinese the leyak is visible in the night to the shaman or leyak hunters. In the afternoon she looks like a human being. At night she roams cemeteries to find the organs from human bodies used to make magic potions. A magic potion that can change the shape of leyak into a tiger, monkey, pig is made from the organs from living people. It is said leyak can be a human head with organs hanging from it. It is said leyaks fly to search for a pregnant woman, and suck their blood while the baby is still in the womb. There are three known leyaks: two of them women and one a man. According to Balinese belief, a leyak with a human head practices black magic and need fetus blood to live. It is also said that a leyak can turn herself into a pig or a ball of fire, while the actual form of leyak is has a long tongue and sharp teeth. Some people say that the magic of a leyak works only on the island of Bali, because the leyak is found only in Bali. If someone stabs a leyak from under the neck to the head when the head is separated from his body, then the leyak can not be reunited with his body. If the head is separated for a certain period time then the leyak will die. Masks of leyaks with sharp teeth and long tongues are sometimes used as a house decoration in Bali. [Source: lagodaxnian]

Orang Pendek

Orang Pendek (Indonesian for "short person") is the most common name given to a cryptid, or cryptozoological animal, that reportedly inhabits remote, mountainous forests on the island of Sumatra. The animal has allegedly been seen and documented for at least one hundred years by forest tribes, local villagers, Dutch colonists and Western scientists and travellers. Consensus among witnesses is that the animal is a ground-dwelling, bipedal primate that is covered in short fur and stands between 80 and 150 cm (30 and 60 in) tall. [Source: Wikipedia +]

While Orang Pendek or similar animals have historically been reported throughout Sumatra and Southeast Asia, recent sightings have occurred largely within the Kerinci regency of central Sumatra and especially within the borders of Taman Nasional Kerinci Seblat (Kerinci Seblat National Park) (TNKS). The park, 2̊ south of the equator, is located within the Bukit Barisan mountain range and features some of the most remote primary rainforest in the world. Habitat types within the park include lowland dipterocarp rainforest, montane forests, and volcanic alpine formations on Mt. Kerinci, the second highest peak in Indonesia. Because of its inaccessibility, the park has been largely spared from the rampant logging occurring throughout Sumatra and provides one of the last homes for the endangered Sumatran Tiger. +

Debbie Martyr - a prominent Orang Pendek researcher who has worked in the area for over 15 years, has interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and alleges to have seen the animal personally on several occasions—gives the following description: ...usually no more than 85 or 90cm in height — although occasionally as large as 1m 20cm. The body is covered in a coat of dark grey or black flecked with grey hair. But it is the sheer physical power of the orang pendek that most impresses the Kerinci villagers. They speak in awe, of its broad shoulders, huge chest and upper abdomen and powerful arms. The animal is so strong, the villagers would whisper that it can uproot small trees and even break rattan vines. The legs, in comparison, are short and slim, the feet neat and small, usually turned out at an angle of up to 45 degrees. The head slopes back to a distinct crest — similar to the gorilla — and there appears to be a bony ridge above the eyes. But the mouth is small and neat, the eyes are set wide apart and the nose is distinctly humanoid. When frightened, the animal exposes its teeth — revealing oddly broad incisors and prominent, long canine teeth. +

Sightings by locals often take place in farmland on the edge of the forest, where Orang Pendek is allegedly seen walking through fields and raiding crops (especially corn, potatoes, and fruit). Locals with experience in the forests claim that Orang Pendek seeks out ginger roots, a plant known locally as "pahur" or "lolo", young shoots, insects in rotting logs, and river crabs. The Durian fruit is also thought to be a favourite of the Orang Pendek. +

Encounters with the Orang Pendek

The Suku Anak Dalam ("Children of the Inner-forest")--also known as Orang Kubu, Orang Batin Simbilan, or Orang Rimba—are groups of nomadic people who have traditionally lived throughout the lowland forests of Jambi and South Sumatra. According to their legends, Orang Pendek has been a part of their world and a co-inhabitant of the forest for centuries. Benedict Allen, author of Hunting the Gugu, writes that these groups frequently leave offerings of tobacco to keep the Orang Pendek happy. [Source: Wikipedia +]

In Bukit Duabelas, the Orang Rimba speak of a creature, known as Hantu Pendek (short ghost), whose description closely matches that of Orang Pendek. However, Hantu Pendek is thought of as a ghost or demon rather than an animal. According to the Orang Rimba, the Hantu Pendek travel in groups of five or six, subsisting off wild yams and hunting animals with small axes. Accounts of the creature claim it ambushes unfortunate Orang Rimba hunters traveling alone in the forest. Along the Makekal River on the western edge of Bukit Duabelas, people recount a legend of how their ancestors outsmarted these cunning yet dim-witted creatures during a hunting trip. The legend is often used to boast of the intellect and reason of people who live along the Makekal. +

Dutch settlers in the early 20th century provided Westerners with their modern introduction to Orang Pendek-like animals in Sumatra. Two accounts in particular are widely reported: Mr. van Heerwarden, who described an encounter he had while surveying land in 1923: I discovered a dark and hairy creature on a branch... The sedapa was also hairy on the front of its body; the colour there was a little lighter than on the back. The very dark hair on its head fell to just below the shoulder-blades or even almost to the waist... Had it been standing, its arms would have reached to a little above its knees; they were therefore long, but its legs seemed to me rather short. I did not see its feet, but I did see some toes which were shaped in a very normal manner... There was nothing repulsive or ugly about its face, nor was it at all apelike.” +

“Mr. Oostingh, who saw a strange creature while walking in the forest: I saw that he had short hair, cut short, I thought; and I suddenly realized that his neck was oddly leathery and extremely filthy. "That chap's got a very dirty and wrinkled neck!" I said to myself. His body was as large as a medium-sized native's and he had thick square shoulders, not sloping at all... he seemed to be quite as tall as I. Then I saw that it was not a man. It was not an orang-utan. I had seen one of these large apes a short time before. It was more like a monstrously large siamang, but a siamang has long hair, and there was no doubt that it had short hair.” +

Western Researchers and the Orang Pendek

The most widely known Western researcher to have attempted to document Orang Pendek is a British woman named Debbie Martyr. Along with British photographer Jeremy Holden, she engaged in a 15-year project beginning in the early 1990s and funded by Fauna and Flora International. The scope of the project was to systematically document eye-witness accounts of the animal and to obtain photographic proof of its existence via camera-trapping methods. Debbie and Jeremy did not succeed in proving its existence (Martyr has since moved on to head TNKS's Tiger Protection and Conservation Unit), but they collected several foot print casts that appear to be from Orang Pendek and claim to have personally seen the animal on several occasions while working in the forest. [Source: Wikipedia +]

From 2001 to 2003, scientists analyzed hairs and casts of a foot print found by three British men—Adam Davies, Andrew Sanderson and Keith Townley—while traveling in Kerinci. Dr. David Chivers, a primate biologist from the University of Cambridge, compared the cast with those from other known primates and local animals and stated: the cast of the footprint taken was definitely an ape with a unique blend of features from gibbon, orangutan, chimpanzee, and human. From further examination the print did not match any known primate species and I can conclude that this points towards there being a large unknown primate in the forests of Sumatra. +

Hans Brunner, an Australian hair analyst, compared the hairs to those of other primates and local animals and suggested that they originated from a previously undocumented species of primate. Dr. Todd Disotell, a biological anthropologist from New York University, performed DNA analysis on the hairs and found nothing but human DNA in the sample. He cautioned, however, that contamination by people who handled the hairs could have introduced this DNA or that the original DNA could have decomposed. Beginning in 2005, National Geographic funded a camera-trapping project in TNKS led by Dr. Peter Tse of Dartmouth College that attempted to provide photographic documentation of Orang Pendek. The project ended in 2009 without success. +

Three possible explanations of Orang Pendek's identity are prominent: 1) that all sightings can be explained as the mistaken identification of local animals; 2) that witnesses of Orang Pendek are describing a previously undocumented species of primate; and 3) that a species of early hominid still lives in the Sumatran jungle. Many locals say Orang Pendek's feet look like those of a child, evidenced by foot prints they have found while walking through the forest. However, another local animal, the Sun Bear, is a possible source of these sightings. Bears in general are known for having feet that look quite human-like, and the size of a Sun Bear's are similar to those of a child. In addition, gibbons populate the forests in this area and are known to occasionally descend to the ground and walk for a few seconds at a time on two legs. Witnesses could possibly be seeing orangutans; however: 1) this species has long been thought to have died out in all but the northern regions of Sumatra and 2) witnesses almost never describe the animal as having orange fur. +

Looking for the Orang Pendek?

Richard Freeman wrote in The Guardian, “Even in this age of satellite mapping and global positioning, there remain "lost worlds" where few humans tread and where species of animal unrecognised by science live. Kerinci Seblat National Park in West Sumatra is one such place. The size of a small country, its dim, steamy interior has never been explored properly. Last month I returned to these jungles for the fourth time to track an elusive and, as yet, unrecorded species of ape known to the locals as the orang pendek or "short man". [Source: Richard Freeman, The Guardian, October 7, 2011; Freeman is zoological director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology. His book “Orang-pendek: Sumatra's Forgotten Ape” has been published by CFZ Press ^^^]

“This year's expedition was the largest of its kind ever to visit the area. It consisted of two teams. The first, made up of Adam Davies (expedition leader at the Centre for Fortean Zoology), Dave Archer, Andrew Sanderson and myself, would concentrate on the highland jungles around Lake Gunung Tujuh. The second team, consisting of Dr Chris Clark, Lisa Malam, Rebecca Lang, Mike Williams, Jon McGowan and Tim De Frel would have their base in the "garden" area – the more open, semi-cultivated land that abuts onto the true forest. According to local reports, the creature has been sighted here on a number of occasions when it comes down to raid crops such as sugar cane. ^^^

“Before team one left, our guide Sahar introduced us to an eyewitness called Pak Entis, who claims to have seen an orang pendek in the garden area in April. He described it as around three feet tall but with massive shoulders and chest. He pointed to a piece of washing on a line to indicate the colour of its hair – a mid-tan. It had an ape-like face and walked upright on two legs while swinging its arms. Upon noticing Pak Entis it became alarmed and raised its hands above its head uttering a "hoo-hoo" sound and moved quickly away. It was in view for around a minute. ^^^

“We climbed the jungle-swathed lip of Lake Gunung Tujuh, the caldera of an extinct volcano, and crossed by canoe. After setting up camp we began trekking into the jungle. Generally, we would trek for several miles and then stop and have long sessions of quiet observation. We also set up motion-sensitive camera traps. We found chewed ginger plants and rattan shoots, both thought to be favourite foods of the orang pendek. DNA has never been recovered from samples like this, unfortunately, and these had been exposed to the rain for quite some time. ^^^

“On one trek, on the far side of the lake – an area with damper, thicker jungle – Sahar's brother John found a print next to a rotting log that had been ripped apart. Orang pendek have been seen feeding off grubs in such logs. The print was cast by Andrew Sanderson using quick-drying dental plaster. Close by, Sahar found a number of hairs, which Adam preserved in ethanol for later laboratory analysis. Back at the camp, I had a closer look at the cast as it was cleaned. It was clearly a handprint rather than a footprint. The palm was rounded, the thumb short and almost triangular, and the fingers were thick and sausage-shaped. The structure was quite unlike that of the Sumatran orangutan with its long thin fingers and almost vestigial thumb. It was more like the handprint of a small gorilla, but with a somewhat rounder palm. ^^^

“In the lowlands, the second team had close encounters with tigers prowling the camp at night, and floodwaters almost washed away their pondok (a temporary shelter). They interviewed a farmer who said an orang pendek had broken into his shed one night to steal sugar cane. The animal apparently ripped away planks to get at the stored crop. In the garden area, there is some evidence that the orang pendek may be losing its fear of humans due to the lure of easy food. I believe it is here that we are now most likely to have a close encounter with the creature and capture it on film. ^^^

“We have examined the many photographs from the camera traps and it seems all we caught were insects, rainfall and a solitary bird. This is hardly surprising given they were only up for nine days. However, plans are afoot to establish a set of camera traps in the park on a permanent basis and have them checked once per month. We hope to get this project off the ground in 2012.

The hairs will be sent off for DNA testing to Professor Bryan Sykes, Professor Todd Disotell, Dr Tom Gilbert and Lars Thomas, but we won't get the results for a few months. Copies of the cast will be sent to leading primatologists. I would also like to stake out and bait some of the garden area that seems of increasing interest to the orang pendek.” ^^^

Orang Kardil

Richard Freeman wrote in The Guardian, “Sahar told us of another creature that may inhabit the deep jungles. The orang kardil, or "tiny men", are said to be a race of humans around three feet tall, quite distinct from the larger, simian orang pendek. The orang kardil apparently go naked in the jungle, are hairless except for their heads and hunt with poisoned bamboo spears. They are notorious for stealing food. [Source: Richard Freeman, The Guardian, October 7, 2011; ^^^]

“In 1981, Sahar's late father and a friend were trading rice in a remote area five days' trek from his village. They were travelling through a valley beyond the mountain of Bukit Candi Alus and the Batang Asa River. According to Sahar, the friend killed one of these "tiny men" who had raided their supply of rice. In retaliation several orang kardil speared him to death. ^^^

“The orang kardil call to mind Homo floresiensis, from the Indonesian island of Flores, now thought by some to be late-surviving Australopithecines. Could two unknown primates lurk in Kerinci: an undiscovered pongid and a surviving Australopithecine? As far as I am aware, sightings of the orang kardil have not been reported for decades, but the park is very deep and almost no one ventures right into the interior. ^^^

“Looking at Kerinci Sablat National Park on a map, I see that we have only ventured into its very edges, like dipping one's toes into the sea. If I return, I would like to take a party deep into the interior of the jungle. There are other stories here, too, of giant pythons and of an aggressive big cat resembling a prehistoric homothere and known locally as the cigau.” ^^^

Toraja Walking Dead

Dave Marks wrote in Research Notes, World Beliefs: “The real-life story of the “walking dead” of Tana Toraja, Indonesia began with some misinformation regarding a photo that had been circulating around the internet for quite some time. The photo was described as a “Rolang” – which literally means “the corpse who stands up.” It was suggested that it was a photo taken of a funeral ritual in which the body of a dead person was mystically revived (by a shaman), so that they may walk on their own steam, back to their place of birth, and be “buried” there. [Source: Dave Marks in Research Notes, World Beliefs +++]

“Additionally, information included that the walking corpse was also accompanied by a handler who would generally use specific paths where there would be little traffic. These paths were generally more or less straight– and the walking corpse would walk purposefully on his or her course. Should he or she and the handler encounter another person on their way, the person was to make no effort to touch or communicate with the deceased. Should that occur, the body was said to collapse (or disappear). +++

“All of this, of course sounds pretty incredible, and once again, from any scientific point of view, pretty unbelievable. As it turns out, I was able to uncover the truth behind this belief. My investigation uncovered another funeral ritual performed on the dead by the Toraja people that makes a lot more sense, and I have also managed to track down a video of this ritual. +++

Explanation for Toraja Walking Dead

Dave Marks wrote in Research Notes, World Beliefs: “When the people of Tana Toraja die, they are often placed in boxes which are then placed in tombs carved out of solid rock, high up on limestone cliffs. So they are, in fact, generally not buried in the ground. This is what makes the following ceremony possible. The ceremony is called Ma ‘Nene’ (The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses). Out of tremendous respect for their dead and afterlife, the boxes are removed from the tombs (every few years), the corpses are removed from the boxes, and are cleaned and re-dressed. Damaged boxes are fixed or replaced. [Source: Dave Marks in Research Notes, World Beliefs +++]

In Toraja society, death rituals (funerals) are more important than life rituals (births and marriages). So the funeral ritual is a most elaborate and expensive event than even a marriage. The richer and more powerful the individual, the more expensive the funeral. And in this animism belief system, only nobles have the inherent right to have an extensive death feast (which can include the ritual slaughter of many buffaloes). As this ritual is so important, it can take, in some cases months or even years for the family to save enough funds to pay for the elaborate ritual. The deceased are wrapped in cloth and preserved (in their “sleeping stage”), usually using formalin (essentially formaldehyde)– though a variation of leaves was used historically. When the dead are eventually laid to rest, they are placed in a cave or in a carved stone grave, or hung on a cliff or mountain/hill. Why a cliff Because that’s where the Hyang is found (more on the Hyang below). Suffice it to say, it is a powerful supernatural spirit. +++

“This brings us to the spiritual connection of the “walking dead.” First, let me say that I in no way believe that there are corpses walking between villages and towns in Tana Toraja. Sorry– that might disappoint some people, but ZRS is not a sensationalist organization– we do aim to investigate and educate. I do believe that the “walking dead of Tana Toraja” is a melding of two traditions or rituals. It’s easy to see how this could happen when a few language and cultural barriers are crossed. +++

“The actual transportation of the deceased between villages, etc, along what can be described as “corpse roads” (in English tradition — also explained further down) to their places of birth (as is Tana Toraja tradition) was likely engulfed in spirituality and superstition. I can not imagine it would make sense to carry the dead upright (as if they were standing) and made to appear to walk. Horizontal transportation makes the most sense. I could see that touching the dead could cause consternation for the superstitious people though. +++

The actual “walking” part of the dead appears to happen during the ritual of Ma ‘Nene’ (The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses). Out of respect for their dead and afterlife, the boxes containing the dead are removed from the tombs (every few years), the corpses are removed from the boxes, and are cleaned and re-dressed. Damaged boxes are fixed or replaced. In videos I have seen the dead seem to be exhibited and paraded around, as if they they were alive.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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