Inside a dimly lighted living room in the heart of the Javanese forest, Dede Koswara blankly examines his bulky hands, which have morphed to the size of catcher’s mitts. He shuffles along on blackened, bloated feet, a prisoner of his own mutinous body.
For years, the slender construction worker watched helplessly as his limbs broke out in a swath of grotesque bark-like warts that sapped his energy and limited his mobility.
At one point, he seemed to sprout contorted yellow-brown branches 3 feet long. Koswara, it appeared, was becoming half-plant — turning into the verdant green jungle around him.
His mysterious ailment cost him his marriage, career and independence. Begging for coins, he ended up in a traveling freak show, enduring stares, known as the Tree Man of Java.
“They say I’m not human,” the 39-year-old says softly. “Whatever they want to say, that’s fine. I guess I am a Tree Man.”