Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Podcasting Since January 2008

Midnapore’s Wolf Children – Podcast #49

Today’s story has to do with feral children, the ones that were supposedly raised without any human interaction. In particular, I am going to discuss the most documented case of wild children, it’s the story Amala and Kamala in Midnapore, India in the 1920s.

Their story begins in September of 1920 where we find Reverend Joseph Singh out on a missionary tour-slash-hunting trip in the jungles of India. He was told by a group of herdsmen about some ghosts that they had seen nearby. These supposed ghostly figures have the body of a human and the head of a beast.

They begged Reverend Singh to perform an exorcism of the spot where they had seen the ghosts. This spot just happened to be an oversized white anthill that stood between 10 and 12 feet high. In an effort not to scare away whatever it was that was terrorizing the herdsmen, a shooting platform was built up in a tree allowing clear view of the mound.

On October 17, 1920 the men started digging out the mound to see what had crawled inside. Almost immediately several wolves came running out, but one lunged at the hunters and was shot dead. This was assumed to be the mother of the cubs still inside the anthill. Inside they found two cubs and the two ghosts. But these were not ghosts at all. They were two young girls, possibly three and six years of age, covered in dust and mud with scars and scratches all over their bodies.

Amala and Kamala shortly after they were found.
Amala and Kamala shortly after they were found.

There were several theories tossed about to suggest how the mother wolf would not have eaten the children. Perhaps the children were abandoned and picked up by the mother wolf. Or, the mother could have lost cubs and stolen the children as a replacement for her own. Or, she could have stolen the babies for food and then become confused with the scent of her own cubs.

Reverend Singh obtained a bamboo cage and arranged to have the children transported back to his orphanage in Midnapore, which was simply known as “The Home”.

The girls looked very different in appearance and didn’t appear to be sisters. Reverend Singh estimated that there was a two to three-year age difference between them. The older girl was named Kamala, meaning lotus, and the younger was named Amala, which was a bright yellow flower.

Neither child could stand or walk on two feet. They crawled around on all four limbs with incredible agility. To keep them from escaping, Singh placed a large cage in his office.

As a whole, the girls had many animalistic behaviors. They avoided the light of day and moved around mostly at night. The girls avoided contact with others, couldn’t speak, urinated and defecated just about anywhere, preferred raw meat overcooked, and panted like dogs with their tongue out.

Kamala eating chicken entrails behind the orphanage.
Kamala eating chicken entrails behind the orphanage.

The plan was to gradually bring the girls back to being ordinary people. In other words, to restore their human faculties. But it was slow going. By three months time, virtually no change had occurred in the girls’ behavior. And their health didn’t improve much, either.

On September 4, 1921, Amala fell ill. A couple of days later, so did Kamala. They were taken to see a physician and were prescribed several medicines, plus some sulfur for worms.

Unfortunately, Amala died a few weeks later on September 21. Kamala slowly recovered.

Reverend Singh had tried to avoid any publicity up until that point, but the doctor had been told about their rescue and couldn’t keep his mouth shut. The story of their rescue became headline news and people came from all around to see the surviving girl. Singh refused to charge admission to see Kamala but was willing to accept gifts and donations for the continued operation of the orphanage.

Time moved on, but still, little progress was made in Kamala’s abilities. She was still unable to lift a bowl or glass of milk. She stood for the first time on June 23, 1923 – nearly three years after her rescue. By the following February, her total vocabulary was eleven words. Three years later – in 1926 – that had increased to about thirty words.

While their efforts were well-intentioned, they were not doctors or scientists and resorted to some very unusual methods. For example, someone from Bombay suggested that they hang Kamala upside-down to increase her brainpower. So, Mr. And Mrs. Singh put a peg in the wall, hung a noose from it, and then put her legs into the noose each day. Initial sessions started at two minutes each day, gradually increasing to 15 minutes each day. I know you will be shocked to hear this, but it didn’t work.

Sadly, Kamala died on November 13, 1929. Assuming that she was brought to the orphanage at age six, then she would have been about 15 years old. Kamala had been ill for months and had a bout with typhoid fever a couple of months earlier didn’t help.

Reverend Singh was forced into retirement in December 1931 with an incredibly small pension, which was not enough to cover the costs of operating the orphanage. Bishop Walsh, one of Singh’s superiors, put pressure on the retired minister to finally publish his work with the two wolf children.

The manuscript was completed by the end of 1935, but it was poorly written and rejected by both European scientists and publishing houses. It was basically too general to be considered a scientific paper, yet too boring and poorly told to be a best seller.

Eventually, the story ended up in the hands of US anthropologist Dr. Robert Zingg at the University of Denver. He expressed his desire to have the manuscript published and worked with incredible zest to make sure that it happened this time.

An investigative committee of scientists was established to determine the validity of Singh’s claims. From the outset, there were many problems with the story.

In particular, the scientists questioned Singh’s claim that the children had become nocturnal and that their eyes gave off a blue glare. There was also the claim that their jawbones had undergone some sort of structural change from chewing the meat off bones. Supposedly their upper canine teeth were longer and more pointed also. And, let’s not forget that claim from earlier that the girls panted like dogs. The general explanation of all of these observations was that Dr. Singh was not a trained scientist and therefore saw what his eyes wanted to see.

Probably the most damaging discovery was the finding of a November 16, 1926 article in the Calcutta Statesman, which described how a tribal farmer had taken Singh to a hut to see two wild-like children in a cage. Singh described at the time how sick, dirty, and close to death the girls really were. The farmer recounted how the children were found and then took Singh to see the giant anthill. After that, he took the children back to his orphanage.

Reverend Singh died on September 27, 1941, just several months before his diary was finally published for the world to see.

Now that I have told you the story, I guess the real question is: Is this true?

There is no way to be certain. About the only thing that we can be sure is true is that both Amala and Kamala really did exist and were orphans at The Home. But, raised by wolves? Crawling on all fours? Eating raw meat? Howling? Eyes that glowed in the dark? These all seem very unlikely and my guess is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of Reverend Singh’s story.

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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