Although mysterious hairy bipeds are stereotypically imagined as giant, hulking brutes, there have been reports of exceptions to that rule. The Orang-Pendek of the Indonesian island of Sumatra is described as a petite creature standing about two and a half to five feet tall. Its name means "little man" or "short person." The creature is said to have a pinkish-brown skin covered by a short, dark fur with a mane of long hair around the face that flows down the back. The Orang-Pendek is sometimes called the Sedapa, and in the forests of nearby Borneo there are similar reports of a creature known as the Batutut.
Considered more humanlike than apelike, the Orang-Pendek is said to walk mostly upright and to possess relatively short arms. Pint-sized footprints about six inches long, shaped very much like human footprints except for being proportionately rather broad, have been presented as evidence of the creature. Some accounts indicate that the Orang-Pendek walks with its feet reversed so that its toes point backward. According to Bigfoot investigator John Napier, this peculiar podiatric condition is a long-recurring theme common to man-monster stories around the world.
Natives of Sumatra have generally accepted the Orang-Pendek as a genuine animal for centuries, and because they believe it to be a gentle creature that only attacks small animals for food, they regard it with tolerance and respect, rather than fear. Skeptics argue that people have mistaken the island's orangutans, gibbons and sun bears as this creature, but Orang-Pendek eyewitnesses insist that what they have seen is none of those animals.
In 1910 there occurred one of the first Orang-Pendek sightings by a European, who reported "a large creature, low on its feet, which ran like a man, and was about to cross my path; it was very hairy and it was not an orangutan; but its face was not like an ordinary man's." A Dutchman named Van Herwaarden reported a similar encounter in 1923. He was an experienced hunter and armed with a rifle, but as would also be the case with Bigfoot spotter William Roe, he found himself unable to shoot the creature because it looked so human. "I suddenly felt that I was going to commit murder," Van Herwaarden said. Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in the Orang-Pendek, thanks primarily to the efforts of British travel writer Deborah Martyr. During a tour of southwestern Sumatra in 1989, Martyr's guide pointed out areas where Orang-Pendeks were frequently spotted, claiming that he had seen the creature twice himself. This was the first Martyr had ever heard of the Orang-Pendek and she was highly skeptical, but she was intrigued enough to investigate further. Before long, she had the opportunity to examine firsthand the characteristic tiny tracks allegedly made by the creature, and she judged them to be unidentifiable. Martyr was thorough enough to address the most obvious explanation for scaled-down humanlike footprints:
"If we had been reasonably close to a village, I might have
momentarily thought the prints to be those of a healthy
seven-year-old child," Martyr reported. "The ball of the foot was, however, too broad even for a people who habitually wear no shoes."
Martyr took a plastic cast of the tracks, but unfortunately she sent it to the Indonesian National Parks Department and never saw it again, leaving some to speculate whether the evidence was lost or purposely suppressed. But Martyr continued her search, making a second career out of stalking the Orang-Pendek. In 1994, while on an expedition with an organization called Flora and Fauna International, Martyr reported making a personal sighting of the creature. She has since claimed to see the Orang-Pendek a total of three times.
There was a confused flurry of news reports in 1997 that a Flora and Fauna International group had succeeding in taking clear and convincing photographs of the Orang-Pendek, but these proved to be unsubstantiated rumors. The only photographic evidence yet collected is dark and blurry, leaving us to consider nothing more substantial than a series of odd footprints and scores of colorful stories of the short man of the Sumatran forests.