Orang-Bati, Indava, and Clear Thinking

Posted on Posted in Papua New Guinea, Reply to Skeptics

Native words for strange flying creatures, and accuracy in recording them as English words, is less important than accurately keeping records of eyewitness reports, sometimes even less important than traditional stories. Take the orang-bati and indava, for example, of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea respectively. (Neither of the legends regarding the orang-bati and indava come from misidentifications of Flying Fox fruit bats.) In evaluating what we have in these legends or stories, we need clear thinking. We need to concentrate on the accounts and stories themselves, rather than the local names or purported names for flying creatures.

In a feature commentary, “The Bat-man Returns,” in the ForteanTimes (March of 2010), Jaap van den Born wrote eighteen paragraphs with the overall purpose of dismissing the report of a flying cryptid on Seram Island: the orang-bati. I agree that foreign visitors to Indonesia, including Seram Island (which used to be spelled “Ceram”) can misunderstand natives when the visitor speaks little Indonesian (Bahasa) or the natives speak little English. But the door to understanding and misunderstanding swings both ways: It seems that Jaap van den Born has missed some important points; I believe he has seriously misunderstood some things himself.

The fifth paragraph is critical for his case. Cutting out the middle, we have, “The only source of the story seems to be Tyson Hughes . . .  about subjects that in any case are doubtful, to say the least.” So it seems that Born has begun his investigation doubting strange flying creatures live in Seram Island. What’s wrong with that? He seems to have held onto that doubt to the point of doubting Tyson Hughes or doubting the natives who talked with him, or doubting all of them.

In the eighth paragraph, he says, “I would say he [Hughes] was misled and they [natives who talked with Hughes] are probably still laughing.” But this implies witnesses were telling lies, and Born gives no evidence for lies. I agree that witnesses, in general, sometimes lie. But when witnesses from different places, who have no relationships to each other and no commonality, give the same details in testimonies (or relevantly similar details), lies are unlikely, to say the least.

Wikipedia says, about the orang-bati, “Missionary Tyson Hughes, an English man who became a believer in Orang-Batis was originally skeptical about ‘Orangutans with wings,’ but was stunned when he actually encountered one.” Although the Wikipedia page gives no reference to the source, why does Born give no reference to that entry?

Born mentioned apparent errors in statements made by Hughes, but some of those errors have little or no relevance to the possibility of a large flying cryptid on Seram Island. Born said, “The people of Uraur, who are so afraid of this man-eating bat, live on the coast. How the hell would they know that these creatures live in caves in the centre of Seram? People of the coast don’t go inland.” But the explanation is simple: Natives who spoke to Hughes believed the flying creature lived in caves in the center of their island. Several things could have led the natives to believe that, but their belief does not make them liars, even if they were mistaken.

Much of what Born wrote is not about flying cryptid possibilities directly, but about a real or supposedly-real tribe of natives who are called “Orang-bati.” But the name is not important. Why must two things never have the same name? Since players on the Chicago Bears are all human, does that mean that Black bears and Grizzily Bears cannot live in North America?

Indava Attacks on Children

Seram Island is not alone regarding reports of flying creatures that carry away children. It seems that Born has missed that critical point. Deep in the mainland of Papua New Guinea, villagers of Tawa have their own traditions, including stories of flying creatures that, at one time, had attacked their village by carrying away pigs and children. Details about a name are less important, but they call it “indava.” From a plane flight (or a flight of an indava or an orang-bati) the distance between Seram Island and Tawa Village is not great. But human cultural separation is huge, with no connection between those native peoples, perhaps for over a thousand years.

That sets apart the orang-bati story as more than a myth, more than an isolated incredible legend. In addition, other villages in the southwest Pacific have legends of large flying creatures that carry away humans. On Umboi Island, particular natives have given particular accounts of particular attacks: ropens against the bodies of deceased humans. The ropen, in the past, would carry away human bodies from their graves.

In addition, in the northern islands of Papua New Guinea, stories can be found of flying creatures that attack humans. The orang-bati story is not an isolated story, for it too closely resembles stories from other islands in the southwest Pacific.

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