Unnatural Sounds

on Thursday, April 12, 2007

PhotoCredit: LGS "Sarawak Peat Swamp"

My work often takes me into the equatorial rainforest. Although I have spent quite a bit of time in the jungle, each time I do so, I am acutely aware that I am just a visitor and there is so much that I do not know about it. I do know that you must always respect it and the animals. Not to do so is to quickly invite disaster. Tragedy befalls those who underestimate the strength of river currents or who ignore the dangers of wild animals. Many, even seasoned trekkers, can be overconfident but end up getting lost in even a small area of jungle. In many parts, the jungle can be so dense that during the day you cannot see more than a few feet into the underbrush and at night the darkness is complete. It becomes so easy to get lost, disorientated or to become panicked and afraid.

The native forest people, the Orang Asli, share tales of spirits of the forest and give advice on how to appease or avoid them. Pure superstition? When you are in the deep jungle, it is hard not to give weight to their tales which are told soberly and with gravity. Many outsiders who work in the jungle listen to their advice and follow their instructions dutifully.

Since visibility in the jungle is so poor, many of the tales allude to the sounds that one hears in the jungle. One simple rule that is almost universally followed in the deep jungle is never to call a companion by name. The Orang Asli believe in evil spirits that lure men into the jungle by calling their names. These men are never seen again. They believe that you remain safe if the spirit does not learn your name. Call an Orang Asli by his name in the jungle and he will turn white with fear and you have made a mortal enemy. When travelling in the jungle and if the party gets separated, they will call to each other by whistling but never by calling their names.

Others tell of hearing babies crying. Some have even claimed seeing a small woman clad in white in the middle of the jungle just off the trail and when they leave the trail to investigate, they are unable to find the trail again.

Hard to believe? There was a celebrated case of a University researcher walking along a long-distance trail in the National Park. She was somewhere in the middle of her party but it was so strung out along the trail, that she was out of sight of the front and the back parties. She disappeared and search parties failed to find her. She reappeared some 10 days later, back along the same stretch of trail where she disappeared. It is said that she thought she heard a voice call her name.

Logging often occurs in the deep jungle and the logs transported out by lorry on rough logging roads that run for many kilometers through the jungle. In some parts, lorry drivers advise each other not to be stuck out on the road at night. Occasionally, some lorries may breakdown. When that happens, the drivers try to lock themselves in the cab of the lorry with all the windows closed. Seasoned drivers will have curtains and cloths to cover all the windows. They say when the darkness comes, there will be a time when they hear a cacophony of strange shrieking voices outside their cab. They advise one another not to look out or they will encounter eyes floating in the darkness that will compel them to walk into the jungle.

I have never experienced any of this myself but I stick to the rule of not calling out some one's name. Once I slept in an open tent and could hear twigs snapping all around in the darkness (very similar to Blair Witch Project). However, that might quite likely have been just a wild animal moving about.

On the contrary, for me the eeriest experience I had in the jungle was silence. It was during the day and I was climbing up a hill. All through that trip, the jungle was full of sounds from birds chirping, leaves rustling and the ever present hum of the cicadas. I remember reaching a small plateau just short of the ridge top when I was stunned by the silence. The sun was bright and the light filtered down through the tree canopy. There was a light breeze and the leaves were rustling. But that was all. The cicadas and the birds had fallen silent. I felt the hairs at the back of my neck rise. I walked as fast as I could, feeling a chill that did not go away until I reached the top and there the birds and the cicadas were heard again.

Pure superstition? In the deep jungle, it seems easier to believe.


Janice Thomson said...

I have never been in a jungle such as you describe. It would indeed be wonderful to see and hear it but like all places caution should always be exercised in unknown territory. Some of these myths probably have an underlying sense of truth. I would love to see more photos LGS of some of the flora...or fauna too for that matter.

CS said...

Wow, this is so interesting. I have only been in rainforest a couple of times (Panama and Costa Rica), but I did have that strong sense of danger the whole time. Same for the Serengeti. I have never understood people who are not careful because they dismiss the potential disaster of an encounter with wildlife.

Becky Wolfe said...

SPOOKY! Gave me a chill! Its amazing how long superstitions can last & how frightened one can be when you have heard them all!

I never watched Blair Witch because I love the forest too much! I was worried it would make me afraid to be in the woods.

But I agree, never take the 'great outdoors' for granted!

Eddie said...

are there any squirrel-like creatures living in the rainforest?

squirrel said...

Wow you had me on the edge of my seat getting chill bumps. Great story telling!!

Josie said...

LGS, what a great story, and I believe it. I grew up on the edge of the rainforest in British Columbia, and I have always been able to feel the spirits in there. And I have felt their eyes watching me.

Molly said...

Reading your posts is sometimes akin to reading National Geographic! It's easy to pooh-pooh superstition if you are safe in your armchair at home. Being out in the jungle puts a different perspective on things.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Your wish is my command. I will try to have more photos of flora and fauna soon. It's easier for me to write on a topic when I am in the mood. Like this post, I was in the mood to scare people.

We always try to remind visitors to the forest that they are visitors to the animals' home and they must follow the house rules.
The forest in Costa Rica is quite similar to the forest here although species may differ.

I wouldn't want you to be afraid to be in the woods. Keep taking the great photos.

Welcome. I dropped in on your site. Wow. It was like heaven. We do have squirrels. In fact we have the Black Giant Squirrel which is about 100 cm from nose to tail and weighs about 1.5 kg. We also have a lot of tree shrews which resemble squirrels with more pointy features but are not closely related.

thanks! I was hoping for some of that reaction.

Oooo. I'd love to learn the forest legends of the Pacific Northwest.

you said it. Away from modern conveniences and in the dark, dark jungle, anything seems possible.

Anonymous said...

Yes LGS, a very good story indeed!

I am so closely atuned to the animals of my own native region that it makes me frightened when they all stop at once. It means danger is present. An earthquake, storm or even a forest fire in ideal conditions that can flare upon you with suprising agility before you ever see the smoke, (depends on the wind speed and your location). Always trust the instincts of the animals.

I would not want to be in that rainforest at night. I'll stick to the forests I know vs the ones I don't.


geewits said...

Great post, Mr. Squirrel! I always love reading about native superstitions. I think I would find a dense jungle terrifying WITHOUT knowing the local legends. On the other hand, I visited Muir Woods and felt SO peaceful and relaxed. I always say that if I win the lottery I will pay the National Park Service to let me have the whole place to myself for a day. Maybe each wild place has different types of spirits?

Gledwood said...

Oooo this is fascinating!! Is it true the rainforest ISN't alive and creeping with things ... until you've been there for a certain time and THEN you suddenly notice the fallen tree stump you were about to put your foot on is a camouflaged giant toad and in fact the entire place around you is ceaselessly crawling and alive>>??..kinda thing...??...

Odat said...

Hey, do you wear your bandana when you're in the forest? just asking.....

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Nice to have you back. Agree fully about the animals. The Orang Asli also have the attitude that they know their own forest but are uncomfortable when they are in a different forest cause they say they do not know the local spirits and their taboos.

Your point about not being comfortable if you DIDN"T know the local legends is shared by the Orang Asli (see previous comment). Some places seem so peaceful others seem so forsaken.

the forest is always teeming with life although visitors often need awhile to realise this. Most common are the insects. They are everywhere. But you also have to be careful about grabbing branches as it could be a snake. Other animals can be very well camoflauged that you don't notice at first.

Sometimes I do! it keeps the sweat from entering the eyes.

Gerbil said...

It is interesting just how many cultures around the world have folktales concerning a Woman in White.

blackcrag said...

The logical expalanation is there was a predator nearby. Obviously, you weren't considered a threat, but something was, hence the silence. Maybe you are lucky you weren't some creature's dinner!

The other explanation is you were resspassing on a supernatural or perhaps holy site. Possilby an old graveyard, where the jungle voice gather and compare notes to see how many voices they learnt the night before.

Anonymous said...

Caramba - The White Lady!
I did not expect to meet her in the Malayan jungle!
In the neck of woods where I was born a female in white is known to be in the woods. One should not follow her, better not look at her. If she is seen near a village or a lonely farm something bad is imminent, not always death.

My grandmother teached me that in the woods you have to be quiet, no shouting there.
Although we have no jungle and no "natural" environment here (it is all man-made, there are parts of the Bavarian forests that are now left alone and where no more culturing is done), people remember and know areas where "it is". Where a kind of kobold, an entity, lives; they have special names. Even rational men avoid to be in these areas in the night.

Dear LGS I want to invite you to leave a comment on this blog I set up:
I am interested in your idea of culture, and if you feel the inclination to say some words about it, I would feel honoured.

Thank you for your patience, when you have read up to this point

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Interesting, isn't it? If all those cultures have the same legend, does it make it more likely to be true? Spooky.

There will always be the logical explanation and there will always be belief in the supernatural.

thanks for sharing. I found your account of the tales of the Black Forest interesting and againt he lady in white appears! That should make an interesting study!

日月神教-向左使 said...


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