Jungle Girl or Retard on the Run
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Posted: Mon Jan 22, 2007 12:44 pm Post subject: Jungle Girl or Retard on the Run?

Reply with quote "Hmmmm. The water is getting muddied as international hacks dig around."

Can this really be a 'jungle girl'?

By Sebastien Berger in Phum Un. Last Updated: 12:52am GMT 22/01/2007

When the young woman was found naked, scavenging for food in the remote Rattanakiri jungles of Cambodia, locals thought she was a feral child at last reunited with her family after 19 years living like an animal.

Sal Lou, 45, a police officer, claimed she was his long-lost daughter, Rochom P'ngieng, who went missing when she was eight.

There were tears among his family who believe their daughter developed animal instincts and lost her ability to speak during her jungle ordeal. But when The Daily Telegraph met the so-called "half girl, half animal" in Phum Un, a village of a few hundred surrounded by rubber and cashew plantations, there were growing questions over where she came from and who she really is.

In this impoverished region of a poor country, with health services dire to non-existent, anyone with mental or physical disabilities is often kept tied up rather than given suitable medical care.

While Sal Lou's family claim that scars on the girl's wrists were the result of a knife incident as a child, it seemed increasingly possible yesterday that she had, in fact, escaped from another family, perhaps in a village some distance away, and spent weeks, not years, wandering in the jungle.

On meeting the girl, certain physical traits suggest she cannot have lived in the wild for long.

Her palms and the soles of her feet are smooth, not hard and tough as they might be after years in the jungle. And, it now appears, her hair was short when she was found on January 10, not long and wild as first described.

She has the features of a teenager not the 27-year-old that Rochom P'ngieng would be today.

"I think the girl is not like a girl who has been living in the jungle for a very long time," said Kim Savun, the village doctor. "I don't believe that. Why is her hair short? It should be long. Her legs and arms are very normal."

Amid crowds of curious onlookers flocking to Sal Lou's modest home, the young woman, dressed in a white long-sleeved blouse with a stain on one side and a blue sarong over a pair of trousers, sat listlessly against the wall of her new home, showing no interest in events around her.

There was a bowl of small cash donations at her feet. Staring for long periods at people or objects, she did not appear to listen to people speaking to her.

Only once during an hour-long meeting did she make a sound, a quiet, animal-like "yayy-naah".

When a doll was placed in her hands, she played with it for a few seconds, smiled faintly and then let it drop.

Yesterday, Sal Lou said he was still convinced the girl was his daughter, because of scars on her wrist that the family recognise.

But he said he was willing to allow her to take a DNA test to confirm her identity. "If possible I am willing to let her take a DNA test, but I don't think that's important because she is definitely my daughter," he added. "What we need now is to check her health instead of finding out whether she is mine."

Over the weekend he requested international aid to support the girl.

Bou Lam, the deputy governor of Rattanakiri province, which is about 200 miles north-east of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, said medical and identification tests would be carried out.

"After the examinations we will know whether she just cannot speak or is deaf," he said. The jungles of Rattanakiri are known to have held hidden groups of hill tribes in the recent past.

In November 2004, 34 people from four hill tribe families emerged from the dense forest where they had fled in 1979 after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which they had supported.

They had lived in the jungle in total isolation for a quarter of a century, limiting speech for fear of detection and moving on at any sight of an unfamiliar footprint or a freshly-cut tree.

more...

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2007 1:33 pm    Post subject: 	Reply with quote
Another article I read suggested that other scars on her arms were indicative of being tied up for months or even years - a
common way of restraining a mentally deficient person in those parts.

I very much doubt that she's truly feral - the truth will out soon enough.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2007 12:25 pm    Post subject: 	Reply with quote
The DNA test will soon tell. I do wonder whether her "parents," who agreed to the test, understand what it is. It was sad to
watch the coverage on CNN. The "father" said all the appropriate things, and Western audiences must have lapped it up.

Voice over translation: "I saw the girl walk out of the jungle. She was naked. I rant to her and said, 'My daughter! We've
been looking for you for so long!' Then I took her inside the house and wrapped her in fresh clothes."

The footage showed about fifty gawping villages watching her every movement, not to mentioon her "father's" imitation of her
strange bnehaviours. What are the chances he'd love to charge 500 riel per viewing the way they do with deformed cows?
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2007 12:32 pm    Post subject: 	Reply with quote
My prediction: This is another 'magic cow' story. She is not related to the family that claims she is their daughter. She is
a runaway mentally retarded person from another village and the family that claims that she is theirs is engaging in a
mixture of wishful thinking and exploiting her for the publicity and corresponding money that she is drawing in.

I could very well be wrong. I am just guessing. But this is my uninformed guess.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2007 12:40 pm    Post subject: 	Reply with quote
What struck me in yesterdays Daily article was the fact that her "father" (I think) said she was upset by all the media
attention. Which is understandable. But he goes on to state that she's even more upset because some of the journalists don't
give her or the family money because this is minority family tradition in these cases.

She was 10 when she disappeared and 18 years later this tradition is so important to her that this is the most upsetting? I
smell a rat...
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2007 1:03 pm    Post subject: 	Reply with quote
Quote:
she's even more upset because some of the journalists don't give her or the family money because this is minority family
tradition in these cases.

Yes, and isn't it interesting that there exists ancient tribal traditions for dealing with the press.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2007 1:47 pm    Post subject: 	Reply with quote

Quote: Wild child?

Did this young woman really survive alone in the Cambodian jungle for 18 years? Jonathan Watts travels to a remote village in Oyadao to find out

The Guardian January 23, 2007

Rochom P'ngieng was eight years old in 1989 when she went missing from her village in north-west Cambodia. Her family remember her as a bright, cheerful girl who was skilled at trimming banana skins into the shape of flowers, animals and people. One October morning, she went out as usual to tend the buffalos, but never returned.

Eighteen years later, a woman emerged from the jungle, naked, dirty and with matted hair. According to one report, she was clambering along on all fours like an ape and foraging for food when she was discovered. The story made headlines around the world. The headline in the Daily Star was: "Ape Girl of the Jungle." The Sun simply called her "the Mowgli girl"; a Daily Telegraph headline stated: "Jungle girl 'lived like animal for 20 years'".

Today, the woman from the jungle sits and stares vacantly before her in the noisy, crowded home of the lost girl, Rochom P'ngieng. Since emerging from the forest, the woman, now supposedly 27, has been claimed twice: first by Sal Lou and his family as their long-lost daughter; second, by the world's media as the latest object of its timeless fascination with the "feral child".

The stories that have emerged about this "half-human, half-animal" woman from the jungle have largely been fantastic. She is variously said to have been accompanied by a wild naked man with a sword, to have been cared for by nomadic hill tribes while away from home, and to have been preserved by the spirit of the jungle. But what all the world's media appeared to be agreed upon, last week, was that somehow a little girl had survived out there in the wilderness for 18 years before finally returning to civilisation.

Which is almost certainly nonsense. Facts are rather harder to come by than stories, though, in this corner of Cambodia. The woman herself has not uttered a word in any known language since she returned to civilisation, and beyond the family's ardent claims to recognise her, there is no evidence that she is the missing girl. The irony is that this tale of a child growing up in the wild, far from civilisation, may prove to be quite the opposite: the story of a girl brought up in captivity, who somehow escaped, and then found her way to a father who desperately wanted to recover something he had loved and lost.

What is beyond doubt is that within the space of little more than a week, the woman at the centre of this story has been taken from the depths of the jungle to become arguably the most famous Cambodian woman in the world. Feral child stories - with their ancient echoes of Moses, abandoned by the river, and Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, raised by wolves - crop up every few years or so, and tend to create huge excitement. Generally, if they turn out to be rooted in truth, they prove rather less romantic than the old myths. Studies of feral children suggest that many are abandoned because of their severe learning difficulties or physical disabilities. Their return to civilisation is often anything but smooth - they struggle to use a toilet, walk upright, and usually fail to master the language of their carers. It is certainly hard to equate the figure lolling listlessly against the wall of the Sals' wooden shack with the bright, normal young girl that was Rochom in her youth. The dots between their two stories, 18 years apart, may never be joined up, but to try to unravel part of the mystery, I have tried to trace the past week of the woman's life.

This is a region that lends itself easily to those seeking myth and mystery. Rattanakiri is one of the world's great wildernesses. Located in a remote corner of north-eastern Cambodia close to the border with Vietnam and Laos, it is home to a plethora of ethnic minorities, languages, cultures and animistic beliefs. Until around 1950, contact with the capital, Phnom Penh, was so scarce that bureaucrats had little influence here. In the late 1960s, it was part of the Ho Chi Minh trail - the secret supply route for North Vietnamese troops. It was repeatedly bombed by American B52s, stirring up an animosity that would soon manifest itself in the Khmer Rouge, a revolutionary movement that overthrew the government and later embarked upon one of the late 20th century's most appalling reigns of terror.

Even today, amid a new surge of development, the provincial capital of Ban Long is a hard 12-hour drive from Phnom Penh, much of it along deeply rutted jungle roads. From there, it takes another two hours along a dust track - orange clouds billow out in the wake of each car - to reach the Sal family home. It is a small wooden shack, split into three rooms, illuminated by shafts of sunlight that pierce the holes in the thatched roof.

Since news of the woman started to spread, the family has welcomed a steady stream of visitors and journalists. There is money in this story. In this area some locals are prepared to pay money - a homage, they say - to a woman blessed by the spirit of the jungle. Reporters are, more prosaically, simply asked for cash in return for interviews. Instead, I offered a gift of noodles, cigarettes and soft drinks.

But this is not a money-spinning scam. It seems unlikely that the family could have predicted the attention they would get. The father, Sal Lou, must genuinely believe that the woman is his daughter or he would not take a woman who appears to have profound problems into his home, when he already has 15 mouths to feed on an income of $25 per month. The missing girl's mother also refutes any suggestion that this is a case of mistaken identity. Poor but neatly dressed, they both seem completely genuine. There's a pig in the backyard, the house is full of children and there is a feeling of warm domesticity.

"Of course she is my daughter," says the mother, Rochom Soy. "I recognise her face. She looks like her sister. Now that she is back home, I sleep better and I have regained my appetite."

Despite their warmth, this also feels like a freakshow. It's discomforting to be asked for money upfront, and then to be allowed in to look at the woman.

The father says he is willing to do a DNA test, to prove the woman is his daughter, but when I offer to take back samples of hair to the capital, he is reluctant. The family point to the woman's right arm, saying that it is scarred with a knife wound that their daughter suffered during her youth in a fight with siblings. But this blemish is tiny compared with the deep scars on her left wrist and ankle. Two deep scars circle her left wrist. They appear to have healed some time ago. The father believes they were caused by a trap while the girl was wandering on all fours through the jungle. He shows me a wire snare of the type used by local hunters to trap deer and tigers.

But the scars could as easily indicate that the woman has spent time tied up, either because she was kidnapped for use as a slave, or because she was disabled. With almost non-existent medical facilities, it is not unknown for families here to keep people with mental illnesses on a leash.

The woman's listlessness has so far been attributed to her confusion at re-entering society. She strikes me as someone who is far away, and who could possibly be traumatised, in a state of shock; it's been known for people who have grown up without proper human contact to react like this when they're brought back to civilisation. Then again, this could as easily be a permanent condition. For long periods, she appears to switch off completely, gazing into the distance and ignoring attempts to get her attention. But at other times, she holds her gaze on people and moves her head towards the sound of a baby crying or a motorbike revving. I notice that her feet do not look like the feet of someone who has been walking for years in the jungle.

Her only clear communication is when she rubs her stomach to indicate hunger. Although she cannot brush her teeth, wash or use chopsticks by herself, she can use a spoon. "We hand-fed her at first, but one day we were a bit slow so she grabbed the spoon out of my hand and did it herself," says her supposed sibling Chanthy, 19.

The family are affectionate toward her, but she does not reciprocate. When hugged, she is limp. When she is not hungry, she covers her mouth when they offer her food. My overwhelming reaction to her is one of immense pity.

"I feel sad," says Chanthy. "She is my sister, but she doesn't reply to me."

After dark, the woman starts to talk to herself in a language that no one understands. The father has recorded what he describes as "animal noises". Listening on a small cassette player it sounds more as if she is muttering in some exotic tongue. I speculate that she may have come from across the nearby border, but I am told it is not Vietnamese. So where is she from? No one seems to have an answer. "There is no way a young girl could survive alone all that time. As well as the difficulty of finding food and drink, there are the dangers of malaria and cobras, tigers and alligators," one expat scoffed back in Phnom Penh.

"Just look at her short hair and soft skin," says a shopkeeper in the Oyadao village where the family live. "Who would cut her hair in the jungle?" The family agree that the woman's hair was short when she was found, but simply say they have no idea who cut it.

Not every element of the story as widely told is nonsense: the woman does appear to have spent at least some time in the jungle. The father takes me to the place where he found her, after hearing reports of a woman seen in the forest. It is about two days' walk from where his daughter went missing. He re-enacts how he laid in wait for four hours in a woodcutter's clearing and then gave her clothes and food when she came to scavenge. The tinned fish and rice wrapped in banana leaves are still evident on the ground.

However, his reenactment contains contradictions. He tells me that the day before he arrived, the girl had asked a forester to see her mother - but he can't explain why she hasn't uttered a single intelligible word since. And when he demonstrates the way she walked towards him, it is less like an ape on all fours than a weak and tired woman shaking and holding herself.

Beyond his certainty that she is his daughter, he admits that the woman is a mystery. "I don't know how she got there. How can we know?"

Part of the mystery could soon be cleared up - a doctor is due in the village today to do tests. Whatever the results, the family are committed to making her feel a part of their society again. The mother hopes, however naively, that the woman will one day marry and have children.

If she does end up living her life here, she will do so in an area that is fast becoming less wild. Rattanakiri has been marked for development; local people are losing their land and huge swaths of forest are being cleared for industrial crops such as cashews and rubber.

The provincial capital now has hotels offering BBC, CNN, NHK and a live broadcast of Arsenal v Manchester United. Restaurants offer Heineken beer along with the local Angkor brew and a menu of monitor lizard, wild boar and deer. The town's first internet cafe opened recently and a new road is being built that will speed travel times from here to Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Hanoi and southern China.

Whether she will ever enjoy a normal life, of course, depends on where she has really been, and what her problems really are. But if her problems have been caused by her being cut off from civilisation - either through being locked up, or out in the wild - previous stories of feral children suggest she is unlikely to be successfully acculturised. Some, like Ivan Mishukov, who became the leader of a pack of wild dogs on the streets of Moscow in 1996, never fully readapt. Others are treated as mentally ill and passed around from carer to carer. Most die younger than average. Even though she is evidently loved and looked after for now, the woman found in the jungles of Rattanakiri seems unhappy with where she has found herself.

On three occasions she has tried to escape, taking off her clothes and heading to the door; each time she has been prevented from leaving. "In the day, she is quiet, but at night she becomes restless," says the mother. "The rest of the family take it in turns to guard her and keep her in".

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