I recommend the nonfiction book Big Bird, not because it is the best cryptozoology book on living pterosaurs but because it has eyewitness accounts from Texas that may not be available from other books. Nevertheless, it appears that at least a few errors need correcting. I confine my remarks to a few pages on pterosaur sightings in the southwest Pacific.
Like many other writers on cryptozoology, Ken Gerhard has focused on outdated ideas regarding the names “ropen” and “duah,” without knowing or appreciating their relationship to the hundreds of languages spoken in Papua New Guinea. Regarding the word “ropen” in the Kovai language on Umboi Island, it surely does not come from any combination of words that separately mean “demon” and “flyer.” (See Demon Flyer.)
I do not mean to imply that Gerhard has been careless in all of the following mistakes. Like many other writers, he has relied on early expeditions, before Paul Nation’s 2002 Umboi Expedition. A few mistakes in those 20th century expeditions have been carried into recent writings, unfortunately. If anybody finds a mistake in the following, please let me know, for I don’t want to create and foster new mistakes of my own. (I later actually found my own mistake)
- “Ropen” is not a general word in Papua New Guinea, regarding the creature called by that name on Umboi Island. In fact, in at least one village on the mainland “ropen” refers to a common bird or birds in general.
- The ropen of Umboi Island (where that word means a large nocturnal flying creature that glows at times) is hardly restricted to a wingspan of four feet, although Gerhard refers to two islands: Umboi and Rambutyo. The eyewitness Gideon Koro described to me the WING SIZE (probably ONE wing, as best I can tell) as seven meters, which is well over forty feet of wingspan, over ten times what Gerhard gives in Big Bird. Other eyewitnesses have seen less-gigantic ropens on Umboi, but they are generally much larger than four feet in wingspan on that island, at least the ones often reported.
- Rambutyo Island is near Manus Island, north of Umboi. But in this area, the word used for the nocturnal flying creature that glows is “kor,” (although there may be other names of which I am not yet aware). Reports of attacks on humans suggest the kor is not necessarily restricted to a smaller size and is not necessarily a different species from the ropen.
- “Duah” is probably nonexistent, in Papua New Guinea, as a word for a flying creature. It probably arose and came into Western cryptozoology literature from a misunderstanding when an English speaker assumed “duwas” was the plural form of “duwa.” The correct word is “duwas,” and it does not refer to a separate flying creature from the ropen; it is a word in another local language, a word for the same kind of creature.
- I believe Gerhard is correct in that the ropen‘s tail is sometimes called “serpent like” by Westerners (and one native tradition on Umboi Island relates to the ropen‘s ability to transform itself into a snake); but the ropen‘s tail is straight, not bending except where it connects to the body, and this is very unlike the fluid bending of a snake’s body and tail.
- Umboi and Rambutyo are islands in the nation of Papua New Guinea. Umboi is east of the mainland and Rambutyo is northeast of the mainland. Some Westerners confuse the island of New Guinea with the nation of Papua New Guinea. Most of that nation is what we call the “mainland,” which is the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, but there are also many smaller islands in that country.
- On Umboi Island, in recent years, wooden coffins have been used for human burials (I saw one myself, during a funeral march past Gomlongon Village in 2004). Grave robbery is no longer a ropen habit, as it was many years ago when bodies were simply wrapped in leaves and buried in soil.
- My first book was not titled “The Ropen: In Search of Living Pterosaurs” (page 42 of Big Bird), neither was it titled “In Search of the Ropen: Living Pterosaurs of New Guinea” (page 83 of Big Bird). In addition, I have never published anything with “Paraview Press.” Before the year 2012, the title for that book was “Searching for Ropens” (first and second editions).
- Regarding my interviews of Gideon, Mesa, and Wesley, I don’t recall anything that was said about any “bumps or ridges” on the ropen’s back. ADDENDUM: I just looked in the index of my own book (Searching for Ropens, second edition) and found references to dorsal ridges. I correct myself here. Gideon Koro’s sketch in the dirt shows something like dorsal ridges. But I don’t recall any verbal reference to such bumps in my interviews with these three eyewitnesses, although my book mentions that Jonah Jim said that there were bumps on the tail. I no longer remember that detail from my interview with Jonah Jim, but it’s in my book, so I guess it must be true. 😉
- I don’t recall writing anything about Goodenough Island, and that island is far from Umboi, not “nearby” unless one is looking at the southwest Pacific as a whole.
- The following probably originated from own mistake. In my early writings, before about mid-2005, I said that Hodgkinson did not remember whether or not the “pterodactyl” had a tail. I was corrected by Garth Guessman, who gave the World War II veteran a thorough interview (videotaped and now on YouTube) in 2005. Hodgkinson did not remember any details of the long tail that he had seen, but there was no doubt about the tail, which he estimated was “at least ten or fifteen feet” long. That mistake was probably from a phone conversation I had with Hodgkinson in 2004, in which I did not carefully pursue the subject of the tail: my mistake.
- Regarding the sighting by the Perth, Australia, couple, the quote Gerhard gives is from the husband, not the wife. It was in one of the emails they had sent to me.
- Woetzel-Guessman 2004 expedition: conversation with native Jacob Kepas
- Whitcomb 2004 expedition: various interviews with natives
- Whitcomb email correspondance with a native from Manus Island area
- Videotaped interview with a native who said, “In our language, we call it ‘duwas.’ (Check with Paul Nation for details on the eyewitness who told of the creature stealing fish one night from his father’s camp)
- Woetzel-Guessman 2004 expedition: conversation with native, northern Umboi
- Google Earth and Wikipedia
- Whitcomb interview in Opai Village and other sources
- Personal knowledge of Jonathan Whitcomb
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- Google Earth
- Personal knowledge
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Jonathan Whitcomb, of Southern California, is a modern pterosaur expert