The scientific world was rocked a few years ago by the discovery of the sub-remains of a tiny species of hominid on the Indonesian island of Flores. Dubbed Homo floresensis the tiny creatures were a little over 3 feet high but seemed to possess tool use and fire despite having a smaller brain volume than a chimpanzee. The remains, discovered in Liang Bua cave, have been linked to the legend of a race of tiny people known as Ebu-gogo.
The Nage people of central Flores say that the Ebu-gogo, whose name means ‘ancestor who eats everything’, lived in a mountain cave. They were small, hairy and foul-smelling. They stole vegetables from the Nage’s fields and killed livestock with bamboo spears, and finally the Nage decided to deal with them. Inviting the Ebu-gogo to a great feast, they plied the hominids with beer until they were drunk. Then they waited until the creatures had gone back to their cave. The Nage put hundreds of bundles of palm fibre in the creatures’ cave then blocked up the entrance. A firebrand was used to light the fire. The hominids, in their drunken sleep were suffocated. According to the story, afterwards a mass of maggots swarmed out of the cave for half a mile.
Other tribes in other areas of Flores tell exactly the same story. Even other eastern Indonesian islands have remarkably similar legends.
The Homo floresiensis from Liang Bua seemed to have been wiped out by a volcanic eruption 12,000 years ago. However, this only affected the immediate area. Other populations could well have survived. The Nage say that the killing of the Ebu-gogo in their cave happened in the early 19th Century. A local volcano is known to have erupted in the 1830s. Could this eruption have destroyed another population of Homo floresensis? Another population killed by this eruption of a different volcano? The idea of them being killed by fire in their cave might have been changed in the retelling to cast the clever Nage people as their killers to make for a better story.
The widespread nature of the legend argues for some kind of basis in fact. That populations of hominids were killed by volcanic activity on Flores is unquestionable - the idea that local legends reflect this is compelling and the Nage story dovetails nicely with a recorded eruption in Central Flores.
Could Homo floresensis still be alive today? In modern times there have been a number of sightings of the Ebu-gogo on both Flores and neighbouring islands. Some of these sightings were of whole small tribes of the creatures in remote, uninhabited islands. One sighting of three creatures was by an English academic. Add to this the fact that an American anthropologist claims to have part of the skull of a recently dead alleged Ebu-gogo (that has never been DNA tested) then the idea of this tiny hominid surviving today seems like a distinct possibility.