Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mowgli woman runs back to forest

Cambodia is a deeply hurt and tormented country, trying hard to return to normality, after the murderous reign of the blood-thirsty Khmer Rouge. To me, the story of this "jungle woman" who runs back to the wild is emblematic of her society struggle.

Apparently, Rochom P’ngieng is now 29 and disappeared in the jungle while herding water buffalo with her sister in 1989 when she was only a little girl, to be “discovered and reintegrated in 2007. Some doubt that she could have survived this long and claim she is somebody else, but we cannot find out, as her father had refused a DNA test.

Rochom P'ngieng and family However, attempts to reintegrate her have failed. She has not learnt either of the local languages, Khmer or Phnang, prefers to crawl rather than walk, refuses to wear clothes and has made several attempts to return to the forest where she grew up.

Her father, Sal Lou, a policeman, said that she had been making progress recently, but disappeared on Tuesday evening. "She took off her clothes and ran away from the house without saying a word to any of our family members," Mr Lou said.

"Even the day before she fled the house, she still helped the family pick vegetables. She must have gone back to the forest and we still cannot find her." The dramatic reappearance and attempted reintegration of the "jungle girl" has gripped Cambodia, where she is also known as the "half-animal girl" because of her hunched appearance and the fact she makes animal noises rather than speaking.

Mr Lou blames his daughter's second disappearance on "forest spirits". In a society shrouded in mystic beliefs, he has also enlisted a fortune teller to help with the search. He is saving up for an offering of one wild ox, one pig, one chicken and four jugs of wine, which, the mystic assures him, will secure his daughter's return.

A separate theory was offered by local rights group, Ad hoc, which believes that the woman struggled to readapt to society and suffers from stress. "She must have experienced traumatic events in the jungle that have affected her ability to speak," said Penn Bunna.

The alternative explanation of her being a different woman who has escaped captivity and / or enslavement is far more likely in my view.

Her sister has never been found, but Rochom emerged from the jungle, filthy, naked, scared and "looking like a monkey" in February 2007. She was caught stealing food from a farmer's lunch box after a stakeout.

Locals reported sightings of her with a naked man carrying a sword, who they believe to be a jungle spirit. Her parents, who had long given up hope of seeing their daughters again, identified her from a scar on her arm and welcomed her back into the family.

Her case is hardly singular not only in literature (see wikipedia’s list of feral children), but also in Cambodia, where in November 2004, 34 people from a pro-Khmer Rouge tribe emerged from the jungle where they had been hiding since the fall of the regime in 1979.

Sources / More info: telegraph-cambodian-woman, wiki-list-feral-children, yt-mowgli

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