Now in its fourth month, Asia’s latest "Bigfoot" flap keeps on rolling. What can be learned from how the media is handling the story via the evolving names being used? Are there the hints of ridicule and racism, in the routine being revealed?
The Malaysian "Bigfoot," as a labeled cryptid, is slowly merging with various attributed "local" designations that are slipping into the stories. The name that is being picked most often reveals a developing story that moves the examination of the sightings from a more tangible cryptozoological landscape into a media-friendly "legendary status," with a hint of xenophobia.
At the start of the year, one name you might have heard in associate with the current Malaysian accounts, beyond "Bigfoot," was "Mawas." For several years, Mawas has been a term for unknown, man-sized hairy hominoids seen in Malaysia. Of course, what is intriguing is that Mawas in nearby Indonesia is most often related to discussions about the orangutan, (Pongo pygmaeus), known from ranges in the wild in Sumatra (Pongo pygmaeus abelii) and Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus).
It is interesting to track the evolution of the recent use of "Mawas." On January 3th, for example, the Seoul Times reported that following a one-day expedition, led by Johor National Parks director Hashim Yusof, he said he was compiling "a database on Bigfoot or orang mawas sightings at various spots."
One wire service dispatch on January 8th, distributed widely, quoted director Hashim Yusoff as observing: "My personal feeling is that there is a possibility it could be what we call in Malaysia the ‘mawas’ … more of a primate."
Then, beginning the middle of January 2006, the term "Mawas" was mostly being employed in lists. Discussing the Malaysian sightings, the media has done this in two ways. One is by noting the "tribal people call the creatures Siamang, Mawas, or Hantu Jarang Gigi." The other is by saying "Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, Yeti or Mawas." [As already mentioned on Cryptomundo, the siamang (Hylobates syndactylus) is a known ape, a form of gibbon, and inappropriate within such a list.]
While making waves in the news in January 2000 as Mawas, I don’t see any evidence that this name – which has appeared only about 20 times recently – will become more frequently used to characterize the current 2005-2006 sightings and expeditions.
The same is true for the term more popular during the 1960s. "Orang Dalam" or "Interior Man," for the very tall, ten foot hairy Malaysian hominoids may be more correct, but it has not been used except by some blogs, including this one.
That leaves us with the name that is being more commonly seen and heard in broadcast media, newspaper and online mentions – "Hantu Jarang Gigi" that is translated as "Snaggle-Toothed Ghost." This moniker usually allows the reporter to either make fun of the "toothy" name, and/or have the creature appear to live in a spooky world of phantoms and folklore. A certain kind of distance ("their legends call it") exists when labeling these encounters with the Hantu Jarang Gigi or "Snaggle-Toothed Ghost." There have been over thirty article appearances of this usage.
The current typical radio or news story, therefore, is beginning to characterize these hairy hominoids in more and more generic ways. Let’s look at two current examples, one politically liberal, the other conservative.
National Public Radio’s "Living On Earth," on February 3, 2006, did a report entitled "Is Big Foot back? Maybe in Malaysia." The headline writer for Rachel Gotbaum’s report did engage in the small but routine error of making "Bigfoot" into two words. For the record, NPR’s report is interesting, historically, for being straightforward enough, insightful about the habitat, and, well, for being on NPR. Watch what "name" Gotbaum gives for the creatures.
Here is the partial transcript of Rachel Gotbaum’s "Note on Emerging Science" report:
For several generations, indigenous groups in southern Malaysia have reported the existence of a ten-foot tall, hairy, ape-like creature that walks on two legs. Amid several recent sightings and almost daily media headlines, local government officials have decided to investigate the Bigfoot rumors. The habitat of choice for the Asian Bigfoot is Endau-Rompin National Park, a rainforest roughly the size of the island of Singapore known for its monkeys and gibbons, but nothing that could possibly be confused with the giant biped reported.
For the indigenous people of Endau-Rompin, Bigfoot is nothing new. For generations they called the creature the "snaggle-toothed ghost" in folklore and tribal history. Government officials from the state of Johor plan to send two teams of scientists to scour the rainforest in search of the elusive Asian Bigfoot. One team is on a mission to track him down. If they find him, the other team intends to study him. And just in case the government needs some help, 20 members of the Singapore Paranormal Investigators group are lending their special expertise to the search to find out if the truth is really out there.
Used with permission of Living on Earth; copyright 2006 Living on Earth.
"For generations…in folklore and tribal history"? Where do they find such "facts"?
Meanwhile, in the February 11th, 2006, issue of World Magazine, there’s this tidbit, showing how this "new" name for this cryptid is being distributed beyond the usual parameters:
On the prowl
Based on the eyewitness accounts of a Malaysian local, scientists in the Pacific nation are heading into the countryside on a government-funded expedition to search for Bigfoot. Since the reported sighting of a 10-foot ape, Bigfoot talk has dominated local newspapers. Jungle natives have told stories about large apes for generations, though they’ve been called the "Snaggle-Toothed Ghost," not Bigfoot, Yeti, or his North American cousin, the Sasquatch.
"Jungle natives"? "Snaggle-Toothed Ghost"? Oh come on.