Searching for Ropens

Jonathan Whitcomb. Searching For Ropens - Living Pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea. Bookshelf Press, 2006.

From Wikipedia: "The Ropen is a flying cryptid alleged to live in the vicinity of Papua New Guinea". According to the book Searching for Ropens, it is "any featherless creature that flies in the Southwest Pacific, and has a tail-length more than 25% of its wingspan." On Umboi Island the word 'ropen' refers to a large nocturnal creature that glows briefly as it flies.

The ropen is the subject of folklore (like a man but also like a spirit) but it’s believed by some natives to be a real animal. Descriptions vary, but it is often said to be batlike, and sometimes, Pterosaur-like; although pterosaurs are believed to have been extinct for 65 million years. The ropen is believed to be nocturnal and to exhibit bioluminescence. Purportedly it lives on a diet of fish, though there have been some reports of the creature feasting on human flesh, especially grave robbery.

In an earlier review I noted that the forgotten origin of the cryptozoologists concern with the survival of prehistoric animals, ranging from Lake Monsters and living dinosaurs to ape men, lay in the pre-Darwinian theological world view. This held that God would not allow any of his creations to vanish, and as fossils of creatures which were never encountered live were increasingly unearthed the idea grew that these creatures must still exist in some remote part of the world.

These ideas are explicit in this book, for the searches undertaken by Whitcomb and others into the ropen are not undertaken out in a spirit of general cryptozoological curiosity, but to gather ammunition for the Christian fundamentalist war against evolution, and in favour of young earth creationism. Their visits to remote parts of the world also can double as part of the their programme of American religious imperialism.

People in places like New Guinea where only a relative minority are likely to have a full secondary education, are ideal territory for their religionist propaganda. This means that we have to be very sceptical in assessing any 'evidence' gathered from such quarters. It is not clear to what extent 'eyewitnesses' quoted here are relating exactly what happened, or how much they are trying to tell rich foreigners what they want to hear, and drawing on images seen in school books.

Despite Whitcomb’s best efforts to argue the contrary the ropen, even as presented here, does not seem to really fit the idea of a real paws and pelts animal. For example it is seen as a brilliant light moving in an un-meteor like fashion in the night sky, lighting up the sky like dawn (a description which in most other cultures would evoke the image of a UFO!), or be able to turn into a man, or as a robber of graves. This suggests that the ropen is more likely to be a creature of the local supernatural folklore now being euhemised into a 'wild animal'. Eyewitness testimony probable relates to a variety of natural phenomena and real animals both well know and not (there is always the possibility that some of these reports refer to uncatalogued species of giant bat for example)  -- Peter Rogersom

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