The Hobbit War

Reading Carl Zimmer’s excellent web log, The Loom, I came across an interesting post about the controversy surrounding Homo floresiensis, the diminutive “hobbit” hominid described by a group of Australian paleontologists last October. Seems a prominent Indonesian anthropologist received the fossils in his lab and the Australians are now accusing him of locking the bones away to prevent further study.

Professor Teuku Jacob wrote a response to his Australian critics, citing his belief that the fossils are not a new species, but actually an unfortunate victim of microencephaly and retardation. In his essay, Dr. Jacob accuses the Australians of being ‘conquistadors’ pillaging South East Asia for archaeological treasures. This is certain to touch off all sorts of simmering issues in the often contentious world of paleoanthropology.

5 thoughts on “The Hobbit War

  1. Merm

    Okay, I wasn’t going to write here since you hadn’t even acknowledged any of my posts, but I just had to regarding this hobbit in Indonesia. And the reason I’m posting as well is because I think there may have been such a creature on Guam in recent years. I know. You’re laughing. But listen to this. I wrote the following letter to the article of Nature magazine after reading about the Hobbit there. I did get a reply.

    Here is the letter:

    I read with great interest the article by BBC News, ‘Hobbit’ joins human family tree. The reason that I was especially intrigued by this news was because in 1970, I believe that my sisters, brothers and cousins had an encounter with one of these ‘hobbits’ while we lived on my father’s home, an island in the southern Marianas chain, Guam. My sisters and brothers and I were not raised on this island. My father was in the military and he’d received military orders to go to Vietnam. He felt we would be better off in case something should happen to him if we were with his sisters, brothers and mother. I was 12 years old at the time. It was my first visit to Guam. We lived in the village of Piti, a seaside village. It was our habit around this time, in the rainy season to climb the jungle covered hill behind my grandmother’s house to slide down on cardboard.

    One day, I did not join my sisters and brothers (there were 7 of them that went without me that day). I was sitting on my grandmother’s porch when suddenly I heard screaming and shrieking, I looked toward the sound and saw my siblings and cousins with panic stricken faces, running as fast their legs could carry them from the hill. When they got to the porch, my mother, aunts and grandmother had run from their places from inside and outside the house to see what all the racket was about. The children began crying that they’d seen a monster that looked like a little man. The adults were a bit incredulous, but then their superstitions took over and they believed between themselves that what they’d seen was a spirit (a taotaomona–or spirit of the first people of Guam). I pulled my ten-year-old sister aside to ask her exactly what this “thing” looked like, and she told me, “Do you remember that book we had with the story of Puss in Boots?” I said I did remember. The story was prefaced with a picture of this upright standing cat wearing boots, a cape, and hat. She said it looked a bit like that without the clothing and boots. A hairy little man.

    The rest of the story is that the children had gotten quite noisy up on the hill without me. I, the oldest, had always kept them relatively quiet as we played (instruction from adults so that we didn’t disturb the spirits who lived there). As they were singing “happy birthday” to one of my brothers, my sister (ten years old at the time) happened to look up and she was the first to spot the “thing” standing by a tree looking down at them. As she looked on in shock and horror, the others turned to see what she was looking at. A few said it was gesturing to them with a finger to come. One of the younger children was mesmerized. The silent horror of the moment was broken, and they took off running, grabbing the mesmerized girl by the shirt to take off down the hill with them.

    That night, though we were all safe at home, no one could sleep. The adults tried to say it was one of the other children playing tricks on them, but they were positive it wasn’t.

    Even after we became adults, and I would bring the memory up to my sisters, they would say they didn’t want to think about it. The memory still disturbed them.

    When I saw the news article about this “hobbit” like person that may have lived as recently as 100 years ago, and especially your thinking that maybe it still lives on remote islands, I thought of our “puss in boots” taotaomona right away. Historians tell us that the ancient Chamorro (first people of Guam) likely came to the island from Indonesia. Wouldn’t it be possible that this hobbit did too.

    Fascinating to think about.

  2. Thomas

    That’s just creepy. I’ve heard the stories about taotaomona and duendes, but this casts a new light on the story to me.

    What did Nature have to say in reply to this letter?

  3. Merm

    I heard from this Nature reporter (who doesn’t like using his cap key much). He said:

    “Hi, I’m a reporter for Nature magazine’s news website, – a colleague mentioned your letter to me, and i wondered if i could speak to you about your experience – or rather, your sister’s?

    Since I write for the website, I dont have much to do with the letters page of the print magazine, so i’m afraid that i can’t tell you if the letter will be printed or not. But im working on a news story to gather together some of the sighting stories we’ve recieved, and to look at the scientific likelihood of these being related to Floresiensis. I’d really appreciate it if you could pass on a contact number and let me know a convenient time to call, so we can have a chat.
    if thats not possible, perhaps you could get back to me by email – basically im interested in things like:

    do you believe that your sister and cousins really saw this ‘little man’? i dont mean to be rude, but i wonder whether they had ever said they had seen anything similar – or if they were prone to making up stories, as kids often do (i know i did) did you see any evidence of the little man yourself? did you ever hear of similar sightings on Guam?

    did you get an impression from your sister of how tall the man was? did it make any sounds?

    i wondered whether i might even be able to talk directly to your sister about this?

    hope to hear from you soon,

    best wishes

    I called my sisters and asked if they would be willing to speak to him. They didn’t want to. They just didn’t want to relive the whole thing again. My one sister (the one who was the oldest at the time) said she’d begun having nightmares again just talking to me about it. So, I had to tell the reporter they didn’t want to talk to him. I answered the questions he posed in his email, but I never heard from him again. A couple of weeks later I heard from Nature magazine. They said that they would not be publishing my letter. I replied to them that I was never interested in having my letter published. It really was just an FYI for their editor.

  4. Thomas

    Okay Merm, I must confess: You totally creeped me out with your story. The weather’s been just lovely on Guam since I got back, nice, cool and breezy. I’ve been sleeping with all my windows and doors open to the wind and cool temps. But the last couple nights have been rough on me. I could not sleep. Visions of little hairy men sneaking into my house danced through my head. If they’re in Piti, why wouldn’t they be in Yoña? I’ve gotten up the last couple nights to shut and lock my screen doors. Maybe it’s just the full moon.

    Last night I really freaked out. My cat woke me up with her snarling and spitting, I thought a little hairy man was at the door. But it was just a neighborhood alley cat getting a little too close for my cat’s comfort.

    I think I’ll sleep with the air conditioning on tonight, just so I can sleep soundly for a change.

  5. Merm

    LOL!! Oh Thomas, I’m sorry that you’re so spooked by my story. Would it be any comfort to you to say that you will never see one (if they still exist)? Don’t you know they don’t show themselves to haoles? Hey, they never showed themselves to me a half-haole. Anyway, I heard the weather on Guam has been “cool.” My mother said people are complaining of being cold. I said, “What?” How cold can it be? Then I saw on the PDN weather spot, nights were getting down to low 70. That is cold—for Guam. Ah, turn that AC off and enjoy it. (But really, it’s easy for me to say when I’m safe and hobbit-less in Colorado. I know that when I get back home to my mom’s house in Piti, I’ll be just as creeped out as you. And one of these days, I’ll tell you another true taotaomona story, about the taotaomona that I could not see, only hear.) There go the windows and doors. There goes the AC. LOL!!

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