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Three legends of the orangutan you’ve probably never heard of

The orangutan is the only genus of great apes native to Asia. Like other great apes, they are highly intelligent.

Furthermore, they share approximately 97% of their DNA with humans.

Due to their similarities with humans, it comes as no surprise that this ape has become the subject of some local legends.

Here are three legends of the orangutan you’ve probably never heard of:
1.The man who refused to work and became an orangutan

The commonly known legend in Indonesia about the orangutan is that they were once able to speak like humans.

But then they decided to become silent after humans entered the forest. Why? They feared that if people knew that they could speak, they would be harassed or enslaved by humans.

Another legend has it that if an extremely lazy or mean person were to be punished, their would be changed into an orangutan.

2. The female orangutan who kidnapped a human male

Carl Sofus Lumholtz recorded this particular legend when he stayed at Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

There was a man who just lost his wife and children. Out of grief, he took a walk into the forest.

After awhile, he felt exhausted so he took a nap underneath a tree. He must have been so exhausted because he did not realise a female orangutan carried him up to her nest far up on a tree.

The man woke up and to his surprise, he was already high up in the tree, unable to come down.

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He was left with no choice but to stay up in that tree. For his survival, the female orangutan brought him fruits and even rice stolen from people’s homes.

One day, the orangutan tried to make her moves on him but the man resisted. The animal was so angry that it bit him on the shoulder. Unwillingly, the man surrendered.

After some times, the orangutan gave birth to child. It was a boy but he was covered with long hair.

The man stayed there up on the tree out of fear for his life until one day when he saw an opportunity to escape.

He saw a ship along the coast putting out a boat for hauling water from the river nearby.

Thankfully, the orangutan was away looking for food. So the man made a rope from his clothes and began climbing down from the tree.

Though the rope was not long enough, he successfully jumped into the river.

With all his might, he swam to the boat. The people of the boat saw him and came to his rescue.

When the orangutan did not find the man at their nest, she was angry. Then, she saw the ship from a distance. She tried to catch up to the ship but failed.

Here comes the gruesome part; she returned to her nest in anger, took their son and tore him in half.

3.The orangutan who was a healer

The particular legend came from Kampung Kiau at the foothill of Mount Kinabalu, Malaysian state of Sabah.

Long time ago, a group of men went into the jungle carrying blowpipes.

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Suddenly, they heard someone singing among the trees. They looked and saw an orangutan singing on the ground.

Ivan Evans wrote in his book Among Primitive Peoples in Borneo the song that orangutan sang,

“First of all I lived at the River Makadau, but I went to the River Serinsin. From there I went to the River Wariu; from the Wariu to the Penataran. From Penataran to the Kilambun; from Kilambun to the Obang, and from the Obang to the Tenokop.

I cannot go up into the trees again for I am old and must die upon the ground. I can no longer get fresh young leaves to eat from the trees; I have to eat young grass.”

Then the men who heard the song, said to one another: “This orangutan is clever at verses, let us shoot him with our blowpipes.”

When one of the men was about to shoot him, the orangutan pleaded for his life.

“Do not shoot me, but make me a hut and let me live here till I die. When you have made my hut, bring your sisters here and I will teach them magic, for I am skilled in it.”

So the men agreed; they built him a hut and brought their sisters to him.

In return, he taught the women how each sickness had its own magical ceremony. He also taught them the spells for snake bites and fevers.

Then they went home, a journey which took them about three days, to get rice for the orangutan.

But when they came back to the hut, he was already dead.

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From there on, whenever there was sickness in Kampung Kiau, the women who were taught by the orangutan would serve as their healers.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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