WE OFTEN RUN ACROSS
references to Marco Polo’s account(c.1285) of a possible
(a little ape-man) sighting. It isinteresting to see exactly what Marco said, so here it is:“It should be known that what is reported respecting the driedbodies of diminutive human creatures, or pigmies, brought from India,is an idle tale, such pretended men being manufactured in this islandin the following manner. The country produces a species of monkey,of a tolerable size, and having a countenance resembling that of aman. Those persons who make it their business to catch them shaveoff their hair, leaving it only about the chin, and those other partswhere it naturally grows on the human body. They then dry andpreserve them with camphor and other drugs; and having preparedthem in such a mode that they have exactly the appearance of littlemen, they put them into wooden boxes, and sell them to tradingpeople who carry them to all parts of the world. But this is merely animposition, the practice being such as we have described; andneither in India, nor in any other country, however wild (and littleknown), have pigmies been found of a form so diminutive as theseexhibit.
Sufficient have been said of this kingdom, which presentsnothing else remarkable, we shall now speak of another, namedSamara. “
- Book III, Chapter 12,
On the Second Kingdom, Named Basman
At a period when the eastern part of the world was little knownto the people of Europe, who were credulous in proportion to their ignorance, it isby no means improbable that such impositions were practiced by the travelingMahometian and Armenian traders who visited the islands where the orang utan orpong (
) was found, and might have been in the practice of selling theirstuffed carcasses to the virtuosi of Italy, for the mummies of a pigmy race of men.
From what I can gather from this, I really don’t think Marco saw anylive creatures. He likely saw dead ones, both processed and waiting to be processed.Nevertheless, whatever the creatures were, I am surprised that one of the stuffed bodies has notcome to light in some museum.However, on this point Loren Coleman has done someconsiderable research and he has some excellent material on what aretermed carnival “gaffs” on his website. Such are fabricated man/creatureoddities that include both animal parts and other types of material. I havepreviously discussed two of these things that I have personally seen.One is Jake the Alligator Man, which is at Marsh’s FreeMuseum in Long Beach, Washington, and the other is a littlemermaid at The Trading Post in Banff, Alberta. The practiceof making these curiosities has been going on for hundredsof years. Nevertheless, I have never seen one that is simplya tiny man (human) as Marco Polo implies, and which I envision would look somewhat like theorang pendek illustration shown above. (Please wade in here, Matt Crowley.)
A modern rendering of the orang pendek; 70.75 cm equals 27.9 inches.
THE MURPHY FILE NEWSLETTER #26March 1, 2007
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