The country of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, is said to have once housed a small, hairy tribe of people called the Nittaewo, first mentioned by Pliny the Elder near the beginning of the Christian era.

In 1887, British explorer Hugh Nevill brought out recent tales of the warfare occurring between the short, primitive but well-known tribal people, the Veddahs, and the even smaller, hairy unknown Nittaewo which inhabited the almost inaccessible Leanama mountains of Ceylon. Nevill wrote that the name “Nittaewo” was derived from nishada, the name given by the Aryan invaders of India to the more primitive tribes, citing nigadiwa or nishadiwa as the Sinhalese form which the Veddah would change into nittaewo.

The Nittaewo males were said to be three to four feet tall, with females being smaller. They walked upright, had no tail, and had hair-covered legs. Some reports had them covered with thick reddish fur over their entire bodies. They had short but powerful arms.

The Nittaewo appeared to be already extinct by the time Nevill heard the tales. The Veddahs, who hated the Nittaewo, claimed to have forced the last Nittaewo into a cave, piled brushwood in the entrance, and set fire to the pile. The three-day bonfire killed all of the Nittaewo. This event apparently happened late in the eighteenth century.

When they wrote about the Nittaewo in the 1940s and 1950s, the British primatologist W. C. Osman Hill and Bernard Heuvelmans were certain the Nittaewo were real. On a fact-finding trip to Ceylon in 1945, Hill found widespread belief in the Nittaewo’s habitation of the island in recent times. He concluded that Dubois’s Pithecanthropus erectus of Java (the Java ape-man, since renamed Homo erectus) matched the tradition of the Nittaewo.

The rumors of hairy pygmies in other parts of Southeast Asia, nevertheless, persist. Around 1900 reports of small Wildmen with thick reddish hair came out of Laos. Today, cryptozoologists link the extinct Nittaewo to the Asian Teh-lma and Sumatra’s Orang Pendek. Hill speculated that Homo erectus might also be responsible for the stories of the Orang Pendek, the Nittaewo’s apparent Sumatran counterpart.


The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark