Hantu Sakai

Unknown Prim ate of Southeast Asia.

Etymology: Malay (Austronesian), "demon Sakai"; Sakai is a generic derogatory term for the Senoi, nomadic hunters and gatherers of Malaysia.

Variant names: Hantu raya, Mawas. Physical description: Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Thick body-hair. White or pinkish skin. Long, black head-hair. Sad-looking face. Receding forehead. Projecting brow. Bushy eyebrows. Red eyes. Long mustache. Long canine teeth. The back of the forearm is said to have a sharp bone.

Behavior: At ease in water. Moves easily through the trees. Hops on the ground on its heels. Croaks like a bird. Keen sense of smell. Strong animal odor. Uses forearm to cut foliage. Timid. Recognizes guns and is afraid of them. Said to kill and eat humans, especially thin ones. Wears a bark loincloth.

Distribution: Peninsular Malaysia. Significant sightings: A. D. Frederickson was visiting the maharajah of Johor, Malaysia, in the 1870s when he observed a captive wildman that had been found in the interior. It was allegedly being taken to a learned society in Calcutta. He drew a sketch of it for his notebook.

Two males and one female were seen by sixteen-year-old Wong Yee Moi at a rubber plantation at Terolak, Perak State, Malaysia, as she was tapping a rubber tree on December 25, 1953. The two males stood behind her as the female approached and got her attention by touching her shoulder, offering a fang-filled smile, and croaking like a bird. The girl screamed and ran. Over the next few days, the creatures were seen by five or six others, including Corporal Wahab of the Malayan Home Guard.

Possible explanations: (1) A surviving Homo erectus, fossils of which have been found in Java. The projecting brow is a feature of erectus fossils but not orangutans.

Drawing Hantu
A captive wildman, or HANTU SAKAI, found in the interior of Malaysia in the 1870s. From Aug Daniel Frederickson, Ad Orientem (London: W. H. Allen, 1889). (From the original in the Northwestern University Library)

(2) A surviving mainland population of the Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), which is now limited to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Orangutan fossils from around 2 million years ago have been found in Laos, Vietnam, and southern China, as well as the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. These apes are more distantly related to humans than are Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). The lineage is unclear, but the likeliest theory is that they derived from Sivapithecus, an extinct ape that lived in India and Pakistan in the Late Miocene 12-8 million years ago. The arboreal abilities of Hantu Sakai favor this theory.

Sources: Aug Daniel Frederickson, Ad Orientem (London: W. H. Allen, 1889), pp. 276-277; Walter William Skeat and Charles Otto Blagden, Pagan Races of the Malay

Peninsula (London: Macmillan, 1906), vol. 2, pp. 282-283; Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track of Unknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 104-105; Ivan T. Sanderson, Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (Philadelphia: Chilton, 1961), pp. 227-232; Ronald McKie, The Company of Animals (New York: Harcourt, Brace, World, 1966), pp. 30, 196-197; "Abominable Jungle-Men," Pursuit, no. 10 (April 1970): 36-37.

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