The Orang Pendek (also known as Sedapa) is a cryptid believed to be an ape or primate native to the remote mountainous forests of the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
It is allegedly bipedal (walks on two legs) and stands 2.5-5 feet tall. However, some accounts claim individuals may be over 5 feet tall.
The Orang Pendek is reportedly omnivorous (eats both plants and animals). It feeds on vegetables, fruits, tubers, insects, and occasionally small animals.
Accounts also claim they raid cultivated fields for sugarcane, fruits, and potatoes.
The word Orang Pendek (or Uhang Pandak) means “short man” or “short person” in the Malay language of Indonesia.
The name is consistent with the description of the cryptid as a forest-dwelling bipedal creature shorter than the average human adult.
Orang Pendeks allegedly reach up to 5 feet in height.
The legends of the indigenous forest-dwelling tribes of South Sumatra and the east coast of Central Sumatra (Jambi Province)–such as the Kubu–contain extensive references to Orang Pendek.
The best-known description of the Orang Pendek comes from an alleged sighting on the island of Sumatra in 1923. The sighting reportedly involved a Dutch colonist, Van Heerwarden.
Van Heerwarden was reportedly hunting in the South Sumatran forest when he sighted a dark-haired creature on a tree branch or log. He described the cryptid as having dark hair or fur in the front and back. The hair in the front of the body had a lighter hue than in the back.
The cryptid was crouched, so Van Heerwarden was uncertain about the exact length of the hair on its head. But he noted that it was thick and shaggy and fell at least over the shoulders and possibly down to the waist.
It had a broad nose and large nostrils. The canine seemed more developed than human canines, but the incisors were human-like.
The ears were also human-like, and the hands were slightly hairy on the back.
Van Heerwarden guessed that the creature’s arms would reach just above the knees had it been standing and that they were longer than human arms. The legs appeared shorter than human legs.
Probably most remarkable was the Dutchman’s description of the creature’s face: the face was brown and nearly hairless, not apelike.
Although he did not see the feet, he noticed that the toes “were shaped in a very normal manner,” in other words, human-like.
He guessed that the individual was a female about five feet tall.
Cryptozoologist Richard Freeman
The British cryptozoologist Richard Freeman, who traveled to Sumatra multiple times to find the Orang Pendek, described the creature in a series of articles published in The Guardian in 2011.
According to Freeman, the Orang Pendek, unlike the tree-dwelling orangutan, is a forest-floor dwelling bipedal and walks upright on two hind limbs. Based on multiple alleged eyewitness accounts, the cryptids are typically about 4-5 feet tall. They have broad shoulders and long muscular arms.
Individuals have dark hair on their body and a long mane that runs from the head down the back.
Orang Pendeks survive on a vegetarian diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and tubers. But alleged eyewitness accounts suggest they also feed on insects and larvae obtained from rotten logs in the forest.
A few reports claimed they eat fish and mollusks (snails) obtained from freshwater sources. They may also eat animal carcasses.
Although they are not an aggressive species, Sumatrans fear them because they can defend themselves when they feel threatened. They sometimes allegedly grab stones and sticks to ward off threats.
However, they prefer to avoid humans.
Sightings and Tales
There have been multiple alleged sightings of the creatures. Reported sightings in the past 100 years come from diverse sources.
Sumatrans, including Kubu aboriginals and Malayan natives, have reported many sightings. European colonists, explorers, and researchers have also reported sightings of the elusive forest biped.
Some cryptozoologists claim to have seen many Orang Pendek footprints in the wild.
The majority of recent alleged sightings come from the remote forests of the Bukit Barisan mountain range and the Kerinci Seblat National Park located in the central Sumatran Kerinci Regency of Jambi Province.
Western and central Sumatra have some of the world’s densest and remotest old-growth (primary or primeval) forests.
Louis Constant Westenenk reports
Louis Constant Westenenk (1872-1930), former Dutch governor of the east coast of Sumatra, was responsible for some of the earliest documented sightings of Orang Pendeks.
He recorded accounts of multiple sightings that allegedly occurred in the early 1900s.
Westenenk reported a sighting involving a young man who claimed to have seen an Orang Pendek at a distance of 15 feet. The sighting allegedly occurred during a trip to a forest area in the Barisan Mountains.
The man described the creature as a humanoid with a hairy body. He was sure he hadn’t seen an orangutan or a human being.
Another sighting in 1917 involved a Dutch colonist, Mr. Oostingh, who reported sighting the cryptid in the Sumatran forest at a distance of 30 feet.
The creature, medium-sized by native Indonesian standards, had well-built shoulders and black earth or dusty black color. When it noticed Oostingh, it stood leisurely on its feet and reached out with long arms to grasp a branch and climb up a tree.
Oostingh withdrew in alarm when he realized it was not a human being or any other primate he had seen before.
Van Heerwarden sighting
Van Heerdwarden’s account of an Orang Pendek sighting in 1923 is one of the best known by a European in Sumatra. He gave a detailed description of the creature (see previous section).
In May 1927, Mr. A.H.W. Cramer, a Dutch resident in Sumatra, reported sighting an Orang Pendek (Freeman, 2011). He described the creature as having long hair and black skin. It fled as soon as it saw Cramer but left small footprints in the soft earth.
Some people claimed to have caught an Orang Pendek in a tiger trap in 1927, but it escaped leaving a trail of blood.
A notable alleged sighting involved a British journalist, Debbie Martyr.
She was camping near Mount Kerinci in western Sumatra in the summer of 1989 when her native guide told her people had seen Orang Pendeks in nearby forests.
When Martyr voiced her skepticism, the guide said he could vouch for the reports because he had also seen the creatures on two occasions.
The guide’s testimony piqued Martyr’s interest, and she began researching reports of sightings in the locality. She eventually reported sighting the cryptid in 1990. Martyr was certain that the creature she saw was not human, but it walked like one.
She described it as a small-statured but strong-looking primate that resembled a siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) or gibbon (family Hylobatidae).
Her description emphasized the creature’s powerful physique. It had an impressive upper body build and moved quickly on two legs.
She told Freeman that she saw the creature multiple times after the first sighting.
Martyr later teamed up with photographer Jeremy Holden to film the mysterious cryptid. The 15-year search was fruitless, but Holden claimed to have glimpsed an Orang Pendek scaling a ridge deep in the jungle. It moved upright and disappeared before he could prepare his camera.
Cryptozoologist Richard Freeman reported seeing many Orang Pendek tracks in the field. He also claimed he interviewed numerous witnesses during multiple expeditions.
He speculated that the Orang Pendek was likely a great ape, an unknown species of the subfamily ponginea closely related to orangutans.
Orangutans belong to the genus Pongo under the subfamily Ponginae.
There are more than one recognized species, including P. pygmaeus, P. abelii, and P. tapanuliensis.
|Other Name/s||Orang Pendek, Uhang Pandak, Sedapa, Sedapak, Hantu Pendek, Gugu, Atu Rimbu, Sebaga,|
|Habitat||Countryside, Farmland, Forest, Jungle, Mountains|
Where to find
Adventures in Cryptozoology: Hunting for Yetis, Mongolian Deathworms and Other Not-So-Mythical Monsters, Volume 1, 2019, Richard Freeman.
The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature, Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark, 1999.
https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2011/sep/08/orang-pendek-sumatra-mystery-ape, “On the trail of the orang pendek, Sumatra’s mystery ape,” Richard Freeman, Sepember 8, 2011, accessed on February 2, 2023.
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/oct/07/evidence-elusive-orang-pendek, “Have we found evidence of the elusive orang pendek?” Richard Freeman, October 7, 2011, accessed on February 2, 2023.
https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2011/sep/09/orang-pendek-quest-sumatra, “Orang pendek quest begins in Sumatra,” Richard Freeman, September 9, 2011, accessed on February 2, 2023.
https://archmdmag.com/in-search-of-orang-pendek-by-richard-freeman/, “In search of Orang-pendek,” Richard Freeman, November 4, 2022, accessed on February 2, 2023.
Top image courtesy of Tim Bertelink used under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0.