Johor Buzz: Where Big, Hairy Creatures Used to Roam
Mystery Casebook By : R. Sittamparam

2008/01/10-THE SEARCH IS ON: Members of a television crew from the United States enter the jungles of Kampung Mawai in search of Bigfoot.

KAMPUNG Mawai has become synonymous with Bigfoot, having been the place where the first sighting of the creature was reported.

IN SEARCH OF ELUSIVE CREATURE: A television crew from the United States joined an ntv7 crew and Bigfoot researchers from Singapore and hired boats at Kampung Mawai to search for clues for the existence of the Johor Bigfoot.

What's more, the present name of the village was believed to have been a mispronunciation of its original name Kampung Mawas after the sighting of the ''Mawas'', a big hairy creature.

Interest in the creature, which was subsequently dubbed the Johor Bigfoot, was triggered when three workers claimed they saw two huge hairy creatures and a young one while building a fish pond in Kampung Mawai, Kota Tinggi, in December 2005. The workers, who fled the area in fear on seeing the fearsome-looking creatures, later returned to find several footprints. Some were large, including one about 45cm long, while others were smaller.

A member of the Johor branch of the Malaysian Nature Society, who was carrying out a survey on fish nearby, took photographs of the footprints. His investigations indicated that the creatures were about three metres tall, based on the height of a tree branch that was broken off at the site.

From the hair, reeking of body odour recovered in the area, it was believed the creatures were covered with brown hair. The annals of Kampung Mawai, compiled by generations of headmen at the village, talk of the existence of the elusive hairy creature. The Sejarah Mawai Lama Sebelum dan Selepas Perang Dunia Ke-2 relates how the pioneer settlers of the village named it ''Kampung Mawas'' after seeing some hairy creatures which they referred to as ''Mawas''.

According to the historical account, a group of explorers from Jambi in Indonesia had, in the early 1900s, encountered the hairy creatures where the village now stands. Their leader, Mohamad Jambi, had related that the creature took refuge under a palm tree called daun payung when it rained. Jambi, who was later made the penghulu of Mukim Ulu Sedili by Sultan Ibrahim, decided to build a village using the daun payung and named it Kampung Mawas. Over time, it became known as Kampung Mawai.

The village history also records accounts of villagers who, while collecting rattan along rivers deep in the jungle, frequently sighted the creatures. The villagers had observed that the creature always dwelt near rivers or streams where it hunted mouse deer and jungle fowl. They also observed that the Mawas would bring freshly killed food to rivers to wash off the blood before feasting on them. Reports of the Johor Bigfoot drew a constant stream of local and foreign media and research groups to Kampung Mawai from the period of the sightings right up to the middle of 2006.

The reports also put Kampung Mawai, which is a popular destination for local and foreign anglers who come to catch fish and prawns, on the world map with many international websites of Bigfoot enthusiasts featuring the Bigfoot sightings there. A villager, Mustapha Ali, 34, said the influx of tourists had helped to boost the economy of the village, especially when the Bigfoot interest was at its height. He said: ''I've have grown up hearing about stories of the Mawas.

''I've also personally seen giant footprints believed to be that of Bigfoot while working with a logging company in Endau, Mersing.''

Kampung Mawai, which is located on the banks of the Sungai Ulu Sedili Besar, had been an important trading post for Chinese merchants in the past. The old trading post, which stocked export and import goods, still stands on the river banks.

A farmer, identified only as Ah Tee, said the trading post, which was being used for other purposes now, used to receive goods from Chinese junks anchored along the east coast via barges. Rubber and other local agricultural produce were also exported to China and other countries via the trading post, making the village a busy place. ''However, all that is gone, and most of the villagers have turned to fishing and farming. They also rent out boats and acting as guides for visiting anglers.

''But in recent years, fishing has been badly affected by silting caused by sand mining, jungle clearing and pollution from nearby palm oil mills and sawmills, forcing many villagers to move out.''

He said human abuse of the natural environment surrounding the village had also caused tigers and other wild animals found here to disappear. Now only a few elephants can be seen.

''The Bigfoot reports brought some excitement to the villagers with the influx of tourists but even that was short-lived,'' he added.

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