- Chief Epiradus Dhoi Lewa has a strange tale to tell.
Sitting in his bamboo and wooden home at the foot of an active volcano
on the remote Indonesian island of Flores, he recalls how people from his
village were able to capture a tiny woman with long, pendulous breasts
three weeks ago.
- "They said she was very little and very pretty,"
he says, holding his hand at waist height. "Some people saw her very
- The villagers of Boawae believe the strange woman came
down from a cave on the steaming mountain where short, hairy people they
call Ebu Gogo lived long ago.
- "Maybe some Ebu Gogo are still there," the
70-year-old chief told the Herald through an interpreter in Boawae last
- The locals' descriptions of Ebu Gogo as about a metre
tall, with pot bellies and long arms match the features of a new species
of human "hobbits" whose bones were recently unearthed by Australian
and Indonesian researchers in a different part of Flores in a cave known
as Liang Bua.
- The unexpected discovery of this tiny Homo floresiensis,
who existed until at least 12,000 years ago at Liang Bua, before being
apparently wiped out by a volcanic eruption, was hailed as one of the most
important archaeological finds in decades when it was announced in October.
- The chief adds that the mysterious little woman in Boawae
somehow "escaped" her captors, and the local police said they
knew nothing of her existence when he quizzed them.
- The prospect that some hobbits still exist in pockets
of thick, fertile jungle on Flores is extremely unlikely, says Douglas
Hobbs, a member of the team that discovered Homo floresiensis. But it is
possible they survived near Boawae until 300 or so years ago, when the
chief's ancestors moved into the area, he says.
- The detailed stories that the villagers tell about the
legendary Ebu Gogo on the volcano have convinced the Australian and Indonesian
team to search for bones of hobbits in this cave when they return to the
rugged island next year, says Hobbs, an emeritus archaeologist with the
University of New England, who discussed excavation plans with the chief
- Getting to the cave on the 2100-metre-high Ebulobo volcano,
however, will be no simple matter for the team led by Professor Mike Morwood
of UNE. The blood of a pig must first be spilt in this society where Catholic
faith is melded with animist beliefs and ancestor worship.
- The sacrifice and the feast will please the ancestors
and bring many villagers together to talk about the cave, says the chief,
whose picture of his grandfather, the king, in traditional head-dress,
sits framed on the wall next to images of Jesus.
- If the right rituals are followed, "then we will
be able to find the road to the hole again", he says.
- A Dutch palaeontologist, Dr Gert van den Bergh, a member
of the team, was first shown the cave at a distance more than a decade
ago, after hearing folk tales of the Ebu Gogo, which means "grandmother
who eats everything".
- People living around the volcano told him a consistent
story of the hairy creatures that devoured whatever they could grasp in
their long fingers. The villagers tolerated the stealing of food until
the Ebu Gogo began to snatch babies and eat them too. They then set upon
the little people, forcing them out of the cave with bales of burning grass.
- Van den Bergh dismissed the tales as akin to those of
leprechauns and elves, until the hobbit bones were found.
- While the search for more bones is being planned, a political
furore has broken out after a leading Indonesian palaeoanthropologist -
with no connection to the find - last week "borrowed" all the
delicate remains from six hobbits found at Liang Bua against the wishes
of local and Australian team members. Professor Teuku Jacob, of Gadjah
Mada University, who has challenged the view that Homo floresiensis is
a new species, had previously taken the skull and bones of the most complete
specimen, a 30-year-old female hobbit, from the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology
in Jakarta, where they had been kept.
- Professor Morwood said it was wrong that the team who
found the remains were unable to analyse them first. "It is not good
for the Indonesian researchers nor their institution."
- However, he said Professor Jacob had signed an agreement
to return all the bones by January 1.
- Copyright © 2004. The Sydney Morning Herald.