Bizarre stories of feral children, like the following, reveal the wide range of human potentialities:
In October 1920, a Christian missionary in India, Reverend J.A.L. Singh, heard reports from villagers of ‘ghosts’ in the jungle near Godamuri, India. Singh and his wife ran an orphanage 70 miles away in Midnapore. Singh enlisted some locals to track down the ‘ghosts’ to a wolf-lair. They dug it up to find two wolf cubs and two human children, whom Singh named Amala (who he estimated to be about eight years old) and Kamala (about one and a half). Here are extracts from Rev. Singh’s diary:
After a few strokes of the spade and shovel [opening up the wolves’ lair], one of the wolves came out hurriedly and ran for its life into the jungle. The second one appeared quickly, frightened for his life … A third appeared … howling, racing about restlessly, scratching the ground furiously, gnashing its teeth … I guessed from its whole bearing … it must have been the mother wolf … [T]he men pierced her through with arrows, and she fell dead …
There had lived the wolf family. The two cubs and the other two hideous being were there in one corner, all four clutching together. It was really a task to separate them from one another. The ghosts were more ferocious than the cubs, making faces, showing teeth … and running back [to huddle together] …
They were covered with a particular kind of sores … on the knee and the palm of the hand near the wrist which they had developed from walking on all fours … I found them very fond of raw meat and raw milk … [and also carrion, the flesh of dead animals] … They would run very fast, just like squirrels, and it was really a business to overtake them …
From the very beginning, their aloofness was noticeable. They would crouch together in a corner of the room and sit there for hours on end facing the corner … We never kept them alone, but always purposely kept a few Orphanage children in the room … They remained quite uninterested and indifferent … They wanted to be all by themselves, they shunned human society altogether. If we approached them, they made faces and sometimes showed their teeth, as if unwilling to permit our touch or company … [The other children] tried their utmost to allure them to play with them, but this they resented very much, and would frighten them by opening their jaws, showing their teeth, and at times making for them with a peculiar harsh noise …
They could sit on the ground squatting down … but could not stand up at all … Kamala and Amala could not walk like humans. They went on all fours … [They] used to sleep like pigs or dog pups, overlapping one another. They never slept after midnight and used to love to prowl at night fearlessly …
The jaws also had gone through some sort of change in the chewing of bones and constant biting at the meat attached to the bone. When they moved their jaws in chewing, the upper and lower jawbones appeared to part and close visibly, unlike human jaws … They could see better at night than by day … They could detect the existence of a man, child, animal or bird, or any other object in the darkest place when and where human sight fails completely … They had a powerful instinct and could smell meat or anything from a great distance … Kamala’s instinct led her … to locate the entrails of a fowl thrown outside the compound, about eighty yards from the orphanage dormitory, where she was caught red-handed eating them … When any food was given them, they used to smell it before eating it … They used to eat or drink like dogs … lowering their mouths down to the plate …
We were compelled to permit them to be naked all the while, except a loin cloth stitched behind them in such a fashion that they could not open it out … They resented this very much at first … They never shivered or showed any sign of feeling cold.
Amala died of dysentery and tape worms in September 1921, less than a year after her capture. From this point, Mr and Mrs Singh concentrated on socialising Kamala. Rev. Singh’s diary tells the of the extent of their success:
- September 1921: Kamala reaches out her hand to take food.
- February 1922: Kamala kneels for the first time.
- May 1922: Kamala stands, holding a table.
- January 1923: Kamala signals ‘yes’ and ‘no’ by moving her head.
- Summer 1923: Kamala stands by herself for the fist time.
- Late 1923: Begins to show fear of the dark and desire to sleep near other children.
- May 1924: Uses the word ‘bha’ to ask for rice.
- January 1926: Kamala walks. Now knows about 35 words.
- January 1929: Kamala knows about 50 words, but does not use language spontaneously.
- November 1929: Kamala dies, at the age of about 17 years.