Negritos, Cryptozoology, and Proto-Pygmies
by ©Loren Coleman 2018
In November 2018, a series of articles appeared making a connection between ufology’s alien astronaut theories, pseudoarchaeology, and the alleged racism existing on reality television’s ancient astronaut shows.
But It’s Humans
The concluding thoughts were that today’s programming was a form of scripting and production room theorizing that extends the notion that human ancestors were just not bright or creative enough to have been the source of pre-modern pyramids and other ancient technological advances. The meme tagline, “I’m not saying that it was aliens, but it was aliens,” issues from such thinking.
A good summary overview appeared in one column:
The popularization of the theory of alien architects as having a basis in science rather than consisting of only fictional musing can be attributed to Swiss author Erich von Däniken’s 1968 publication of the book Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past.
The questioning of human building projects in Chariots of the Gods? remains a bedrock for many within the field of pseudo-archaeology. Far from innocuous, these alien theories undermine the agency, archaeology, and intellect of non-European cultures in Africa and South America, as well as the Native peoples in North America by erasing their achievements.
Today, many of von Däniken’s theories can still be found in television shows like Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. Since 2009, the show has featured a mix of mostly white male conspiracy theorists posing harmful questions about the legitimacy of human involvement in archaeological structures. As of recently, they have at least begun to incorporate actual Egyptians such as Ramy Romany. Despite his history of racist views, Von Däniken appears to still be a paid producer on the show Ancient Aliens. Source.
By extension, can a re-examination of cryptozoology be done in a similar fashion? Are cryptozoologists engaged in pseudo-ethnological thinking? Are cryptozoologists constructing theories based on “others” for what seems to be ethnographic information of cryptids merely from indigenous peoples? Should some thought be given to reports of small hairy hominoids (the so-called Proto-Pygmies) as new peoples or new species, directly based on evidence available from parallel human small people populations?
How have current events thrush us into the quicksand of re-thinking old thoughts in these times of conspiracy theories?
Shortly after the ancient aliens versus contemporary archaeology debate hit social media, on November 21, 2018, news broke from South Asian law enforcement officials (Indian police) that an American tourist had been killed by members of the Sentinelese tribe on the North Sentinel Island of India’s Andaman Islands. The Sentinelese were described as a remote, indigenous tribe protected by India. They are said to be resistant to contact with outsiders and have almost no contact with the outside world. The Sentinelese people on the small forested island are known to often attack anyone who comes near their island.
The misguided American adventurer and missionary was killed by the isolated Indian island tribe known to shoot at outsiders with bows and arrows. The American was identified as John Allen Chau, described as 26 years old, from Alabama, and a graduate of Oral Roberts University.
Chau arrived in the region on October 16, 2018, and stayed in a hotel while he prepared to visit the prohibited island. He had earlier visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2015 and 2016.
North Sentinel is in the Andaman Islands at the intersection of the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. Chau went ashore in his kayak on November 15, 2018, and sent the boat with the fishermen out to sea to avoid detection. He interacted with some of the tribespeople, giving them gifts he had prepared such as a football and fish. But the tribespeople became angry and shot an arrow at him which apparently hit the Bible he was carrying. He made his way back to a prearranged location. He set out again to meet the tribespeople on November 16.
But on the morning of the following day, the waiting fishermen saw from a distance Chau’s body being dragged by tribesmen. They left for Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they informed Chau’s friend, who notified his family. The government, unable to recover his body, officially called off further interactions with the Sentinelese people on November 28, 2018.
The Sentinelese, also known as the Sentineli and the North Sentinel Islanders, are an indigenous people who inhabit North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal in India and are considered one of the world’s last uncontacted peoples. Designated a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group and a Scheduled Tribe, they belong to the broader class of Andamanese people.
Along with the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Shompen and the Jarawa, the Sentinelese are one of the five native and reclusive tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Unlike the others, the Sentinelese appear to have consistently refused any interaction with the outside world. They are hostile to outsiders and have killed people who approached or landed on the island.
During the 1960s, undergraduate anthropology students, like myself, were schooled on the biology and culture of the Andaman Islanders as prime examples of undisturbed “primitive peoples,” a view long ago discouraged. This is one of the books that the professors would assign to read for a basic anthropology course.
German anthropologist Egon von Eickstedt posed with Onge hunter-gatherers during a trip to the Andaman Islands in 1928./ Haddon Library, University of Cambridge
British colonies were first established on the Andaman Islands in 1858 and remained until 1947. Onge and Jarawa pygmies, who lived on separate islands, retreated into forests to avoid the British. Great Andamanese pygmies befriended the newcomers.
As a result, Great Andamanese individuals were exposed to infectious diseases against which they had no defense, including influenza, tuberculosis, measles and syphilis. Their approximate numbers dropped from 6,000 in 1858 to 600 in 1900. A low of 19 Great Andamanese individuals was recorded during the 1960s, but the population survives.
During late 2018, the worldwide news of Chau’s death caused informed and uninformed discussions about the Sentinelese people, known generically as “Negritos.”
Onge pygmy replicas in a museum located on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
The word Negrito is the Spanish diminutive of negro, used to mean “little black person”. This usage was coined by 16th-century Spanish missionaries operating in the Philippines, and was borrowed by other European travellers and colonialists across Austronesia to label various peoples perceived as sharing relatively small physical stature and dark skin. Contemporary usage of an alternative Spanish epithet, Negrillos, also tended to bundle these peoples with the pygmy peoples of Central Africa, based on perceived similarities in stature and complexion. (Historically, the label Negrito has occasionally been used also to refer to African pygmies.) The appropriateness of using the label “Negrito” to bundle peoples of different ethnicities based on similarities in stature and complexion has been challenged.
Many online dictionaries give the plural in English as either “Negritos” or “Negritoes”, without preference. The plural in Spanish is “Negritos”.
Size comparison between Pygmies, English officers, Sudanese and Zanzibaris (1890)
In anthropology, pygmy peoples are ethnic groups whose average height is unusually short. The term is primarily associated with the African Pygmies, the hunter-gatherers of the Congo basin (comprising the Bambenga, Bambuti and Batwa). The term “Asiatic Pygmies” has been used of the Negrito populations of Maritime Southeast Asia and other Australoid peoples of short stature.
Ota Benga at the Bronx Zoo in 1906.
Historically, the pygmy have always been viewed as inferior by both colonial authorities and the village-dwelling Bantu tribes. Pygmy children were sometimes captured during the period of the Congo Free State, which exported pygmy children to zoos throughout Europe, including the world’s fair in the United States in 1907. Pygmies are often evicted from their land and given the lowest paying jobs. At a state level, Pygmies are sometimes not considered citizens and are refused identity cards, deeds to land, health care and proper schooling.
The term pygmy is sometimes considered pejorative. However, there is no single term to replace it. Many prefer to be identified by their ethnicity, such as the Aka (Mbenga), Baka, Mbuti, and Twa. The term Bayaka, the plural form of the Aka/Yaka, is sometimes used in the Central African Republic to refer to all local pygmies. Likewise, the Kongo word Bambenga is used in Congo.
Europeans (colonists) would often pose with a pygmy and an individual of mixed genetic background.
There are at least a dozen pygmy groups, sometimes unrelated to each other. The best known are the Mbenga (Aka and Baka) of the western Congo basin, who speak Bantu and Ubangian languages; the Mbuti (Efe etc.) of the Ituri Rainforest, who speak Bantu and Central Sudanic languages, and the Twa of the African Great Lakes, who speak Bantu Rundi and Kiga. It is estimated that there are between 250,000 and 600,000 Pygmies living in the Congo rainforest. However, although Pygmies are thought of as forest people, the groups called Twa may live in open swamp or desert.
Osa Johnson with pygmies (1940).
The Taron people of Myanmar are an exceptional case of a “pygmy” population of East Asian phenotype.
These are the only known “pygmies” of clearly East Asian descent. The population of Taron pygmies has been steadily shrinking, and is now down to only a few individuals.
From the documentary, Lost Tribe of Tibetan Pygmies.
Alan Rabinowitz and Taron leader Dawi
In 2013, a link between the Taron and the Derung people in Yunnan, China was uncovered by Richard D. Fisher, which may indicate the presence of pygmy populations among the Derung tribe.
[There has been some focus on "pygmies," regarding the movement of their status from subspecies (as Charles Darwin discussed all "races") to species. See the radical article: "What if Pygmies Are a Different Species? That Might be Good for the Pygmies," by Steve Sailer, The Unz Review, March 11, 2016.]
Proto-Pygmies are allegedly small hairy hominoids, with adult heights ranging from three feet to five feet. The hair on their heads is often a different length and texture than the hair that covers the rest of their bodies. Faces are usually nearly hair-free, as are the palms of the hands, the knees, and soles of the feet. The commonly observed habitat of Proto-Pygmies is swamps, forests and seashores in tropical regions of the world. Their tiny footprints can be distinguished from those of human children because the foot shape is unique. Their faces look aged, ancient, and distinctly non-human. Hair colors tend to be black or red.
Didi by Harry Trumbore.
Menehune by Harry Trumbore.
Both drawings from The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe (Anomalist Books).
Proto-Pygmies are known by the locals by names such as alux, duende, didi, orang-pendek, teh-lma, agogwe, sehite, sedapa, shiru, and menehune. All cryptid hairy little people are classified as Proto-Pygmies. What could Proto-Pygmies be? Most researchers have had varied theories. W.C. Osman-Hill thought perhaps they were evolved Homo erectus, and Bernard Heuvelmans felt that some of the African varieties could be relict populations of Australopithecus. Other theories abound, with Sanderson even saying some might be a unique subtype of our own species, Homo sapiens.
Modern human compared with the so-called Hobbit.
Homo floresiensis (Hobbit), discovered in 2003, has been inserted into the Proto-Pygmy discussions, especially when the native legends of the ebu-gogo are taken into account, regarding if its extreme hairiness turns out to be true. Anthropologist Gregory Forth, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Canada has stated that “wildman” myths are prevalent in Southeast Asia and has investigated their linguistic and ritual roots, speculating that H. floresiensis may be evidence that the folktales of Ebu Gogo and similar creatures such as the Orang Pendek on Sumatra may be cultural memories rooted in fact.
An article in New Scientist (June 15, 2006, Vol. 186 no. 2504. pp. 45–45) gives the following account of folklore on Flores surrounding the locals’ reaction to the Ebu Gogo after the little people began stealing children: In the 18th century, villagers gave the Ebu Gogo a gift of palm fiber to make clothes, and once the Ebu Gogo took the fiber into their cave, the villagers threw in a firebrand to set it alight, killing all of the occupants (one pair may have fled into the forest, for sightings persisted into the 19th century).
The “fire at a cave’s entrance” killing off a Proto-Pygmy population is one I have heard before. The British explorer Hugh Nevill recorded in 1887 the Veddha tribe of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) would often get in conflict with their local little people, the Nittaewo. About 3 feet (one meter) tall, the naked people began taking the Veddha children. The Veddha trapped the Nittaewo in a cave and blocked its entrance with a wood fire, killing all the Nittaewo. Primatologist W. C. Osman-Hill also reported on this folktale in his journal article on the Nittaewo.
The phrase Proto-Pygmy, originally coined by Ivan T. Sanderson as Proto-Pigmies, is used by modern researchers such as the late Mark A. Hall, Patrick Huyghe and me (Loren Coleman) to describe the smallest of the world’s unknown hominoids. Patrick Huyghe and I formalized our thoughts on Proto-Pygmies among local indigenous people, who are the best sources for eyewitness observations of Proto-Pygmies. Nevertheless, Western and Eastern scientists, explorers, and filmmakers are the ones who bring out word of these hominoids.
II. PROTO-PIGMIES (Orient, Africa, and possibly Central and Northwest South America). Smaller than average humans, to tiny; clothed in thick black or red fur but with differentiated head-hair that usually forms a mane. Go about in pairs or family groups; wary but inquisitive; apparently a very primitive form of language; toes sub-equal and heels small or pointed; good tree-climbers and swimmers; tropical forests down to seashores and swamps; omnivorous, insect, fish, and small animal eaters plus fruits, leaves; very nervous.(1) Dwendis, of Central America, possibly only dwarf Mayas.(2) Shiru, of Colombia, S.A.(3) Sedapas, of Sumatra.(4) Sehites, of West Africa.(5) Agogwes, of East Africa.(6) Teh-lmas, of valley forests of the Himalayas.
Writing in 1960, the Scottish American zoologist and cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson observed that
…the Negrillos of Africa and the Negritos of the Orient, or Pigmies, as we call them, were until recently also thought to be a sort of offshoot of the great Negroid stock. But they too have practically nothing in common with the true Negroes. Apart from their tiny stature [as opposed to the exceptional tall stature of Negroids] their lower leg is shorter than their upper, they have reddish skins, they are covered with a yellow down sometimes developing on the limbs into quite thick hair; their blood type is quite different, and they have many other odd features, all of which are quite contrary to those of the Negroids. So also are they to those of any other race—Bushman, Australoid, Caucasoid, or Mongoloid. Then there were once the Tasmanians. These seem to have been an extreme and almost pigmy form of the Australoids and really to have been almost another species. They are extinct.”
Even if we don’t know where “sub-man” ends and “man” begins we do know that, quite apart from myth, legend, and folklore, there was once [and in some cases still seems to be] a group of not-quite-humans spread all over a vast area from Morocco to the Pacific, and from the southern border of Eurasia [which, incidentally seems to have remained the domain of the surviving Neanderthalers] to central Africa, southern Arabia, Ceylon, the East Indies, New Guinea, and the greater islands immediately beyond. Everywhere we go throughout this vast swath of the earth’s surface we find traces of peoples so primitive that they are variously alleged to have been hairy, to have had tails [a mere profligacy, as we have explained], to dwell in trees, have had no proper language, be cannibals, lack fire and even tools, and generally to be “Those who lived in the land when our ancestors first came from …” Osman Hill has brought to light some exceedingly interesting facts about one of these races called the Nittaewo in Ceylon.
These little, mostly Pigmy, primitives that seem once to have inhabited the whole of the tropical belt of the old world, provide us with most suitable candidates for our Proto-Pigmy Class of ABSMs—the Sehite—Agogwes of Africa, and the Sedapa—Teh-lmas of the Orient. These little ones are alleged to be really very human in many respects and their footprints are as human as they can be. The facts that they are hairy and gibber do not, as we have seen, necessarily put them into any bestial class nor even out of the human. They could just be leftovers; the “Devil-Sakai” that can really use the trees as highways. If there really are such Proto-Pigmies in the New World, represented by the Dwendis and the Shirus, they must have traveled around the long way by the Bering Straits land-bridge at an early date, and become isolated. These two little ABSMs would certainly seem to be pigmy primitives, rather than sub-hominids or even tiny races of sub-men. From Ivan T. Sanderson’s Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (Philadelphia: Chilton, 1960), Chapter 16, “Our Revered Ancestors.”
Negritos, Cryptozoology, and Proto-Pygmies
Cryptozoology does not diminish the importance of the reports of isolated groups of little people. Pockets of small humans may explain reports of Proto-Pygmies. Surviving relict populations of peoples some term “Negritos” are part of the investigations occurring.
It is intriguing that some of the genetic research on small people track right back to our old friend, the late oil millionaire and cryptozoology backer: Tom Slick.
A 2010 study by the Anthropological Survey of India and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute identified seven genomes from 26 isolated “relic tribes” from the Indian mainland, such as the Baiga tribe, which share “two synonymous polymorphisms with the M42 haplogroup, which is specific to Australian Aborigines”. These were specific mtDNA mutations that are shared exclusively by Australian aborigines and these Indian tribes, and no other known human groupings. Source: Satish Kumar; Rajasekhara Reddy Ravuri; Padmaja Koneru; BP Urade; BN Sarkar; A Chandrasekar; VR Rao (22 July 2009), “Reconstructing Indian-Australian phylogenetic link”, BMC Evolutionary Biology, BioMed Central, 9: 173.
According to Wikipedia:
During the 1950s, [Tom] Slick was an adventurer. He turned his attention to expeditions to investigate the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, Bigfoot and the Trinity Alps giant salamander. Slick’s interest in cryptozoology was little known until the 1989 publication of the biography Tom Slick and the Search for Yeti, by Loren Coleman. Coleman continued his study of Tom Slick in 2002 with Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology. That book mentions many of Tom Slick’s adventures, in politics, art, science, and cryptozoology, including his involvement with the CIA and Howard Hughes. Tom Slick was a friend of many celebrities, including Hughes and fellow flier James Stewart. Stewart, for example, assisted a Slick-backed expedition in smuggling a piece of the Pangboche Yeti hand back to England for scientific analysis, Loren Coleman was to discover from Slick’s files and confirmation from Stewart before his death.
Slick founded several research organizations, beginning with the forerunner of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in 1941. His most well-known legacy is the non-profit Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), which he founded in 1947 to seek revolutionary advancements in technology.
Negritos are extremely ancient, so ancient that they were the very first people ever to come to South East Asia. The Malaysians even call them the orang asli – the original people. They came with the first wave of people to leave Africa. South East Asia was mainly Negrito 5,000 years ago but now only pockets of them are left here and there. Like the American Indians in North America.
If you look at people’s mitochondrial DNA you can not only build a family tree of all mankind, you can also piece together when and how humans spread across the earth.
Most Negritos who have had their DNA tested turn out to have the same mitochondrial DNA as the people in southern India, New Guinea and Australia: haplogroup M, the first to leave Africa. They left about 50,000 years ago, following the coast of the Indian Ocean and then spreading inland. Source.
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