Author(s)Phil Robinson, (1847-1902): British author. Also published Nugae Indicae (Allahabad, 1871), In my Indian Garden (1878), The Hunting of the Soko (1881)
Link to Tarzan of the Apes
The story mentions the Soko and Sisemite, two quasi-human cryptozoological apes.
"Chapter IV. The Monkey-Folk" p. 64-109. Noah's Ark; or, "Mornings in the Zoo" Being a Contribution to the Study of Unnatural History. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington.
Modifications to the text
MONKEYS ARE METAPHYSICS - HOW THEY FOUND SEETA - YET THEY ARE NOT PROUD - THEIR SAD-FACEDNESS - DECAYED DIVINITIES - AS GODS IN EGYPT - FROM GRAVE TO GAY - WHAT DO THE APES THINK OF US? - THE ETIQUETTE OF SCRATCHING - "THE NEW BOY" OF THE MONKEY-HOUSE - THEY TAKE NOTES OF US - MAN-APE PUZZLES - THE SOKO, FESSE, MUM, GORILLA, PONGO, AND SUSUMETE - MISSING LINKS - THE WISE OLD MAN OF THE WOODS - THE MONKEY'S PLACE IN THE VILLAGE COMMUNITIES OF INDIA - A MUTINY OF THE BABOONS OF BENGAL - PROBLEMS.
Monkeys are Metaphysics
Monkeys are metaphysics, and it is no idle work meditating among them. In the first place, there is an objective difficulty, for the monkeys themselves seem possessed by a demon of unrest, and are perpetually in kaleidoscopic motion. The individual that was here when you began to take a note is nowhere when you have finished. In the interval it has probably turned a dozen somersaults on as many different perches, taken a swing on the trapeze, pulled all the tails it found hanging about, and is now busy scratching a small friend up in the roof. In the next place, there is a subjective difficulty, for in thinking about monkeys the mind cannot relax itself as it would in thinking about cats or parrots, nor get into undress over it as it might over a more trifling subject. A monkey suggests something more than matter. There is a suspicion of mind about the creature that prevents one thinking idly, and all its problems seem somehow or another to resolve themselves into human questions of psychology or ethics. Many of their actions require a rational explanation, and, though each one may be turned off with a laugh, the gravity of the monkey will tell in the long-run, and the looker-on will find himself at last speculating as to "whether" and "if," and hesitating as to the neuter gender of pronouns being proper to be used when speaking of monkeys. Fortunately for us the monkey is not proud. He has no reserve whatever, and betrays by his candour much that, if he were more reticent, would puzzle human beings beyond endurance. But the monkey makes us free of the whole of him and conceals nothing. Yet, in spite of all this, the monkey remains a conundrum to human beings, and the more one thinks about him the less one feels sure of understanding.
If pedigree and lofty traditions could make any creatures proud, surely the monkeys should be proud, for their history runs back without a fault to the heroic times when their ancestors, living in the very hills which the monkey-folk still haunt, were the allies of the gods, and their chiefs were actually gods themselves.
How Seeta was found
The story goes--it is one of the oldest stories ever told--that when Seeta, the lady of the lotus eyes, the wife of Rama, had been carried away to Ceylon by Ravana, the black Raja of the Demons, her husband went out from the jungles of Dandaka to ask help of the Vulture King. This was Jatayus, the son of that Garuda the quills of whose feathers were like palm-tree trunks, and the shadow of his flying overhead like the passing of a thundercloud in the month of the rains. But the Demons had already killed the princely bird because Jatayus had tried to stop them from carrying Seeta away; so Rama, having lit the funeral pyre for his friend, went on farther, to ask the help of one who was even more powerful than the Vulture King. This was Hanuman, the son of Vargu, the chief of all the monkey nations, who held his court upon the mountain peaks by the Pampas Lake. And the sentinel apes sitting on the topmost rocks saw Rama approaching and recognized him, and Hanuman himself came down towards him reverently, stepping from ridge to ridge, and led the hero up to the council-peaks, and called all the princes of the four-handed folk together, to give him their advice. Hanuman himself sate apart upon a peak alone, for there was not room enough on one mountain top for both him and the rest, for to the council had come all the greatest monkey warriors--Varana, the white ape, was there, resting at full length upon a ridge, and looking like a snow-drift that rests upon the Himalayas--and there too was Arundha of the portentous tail, with the strength of a whole herd of elephants in each of his hairy arms, and there too Darvindha, that matchless baboon. And after long council it was decided that the monkey nation should be divided into four armies, and that each army should search a quarter of the universe. The southern quarter fell to Hanuman, and he linked his warriors together in long lines and they searched the whole south before them, examining the ravines among the mountains and the creeks along the sea shores as narrowly as the ants search the crevices of the bark in the neem-trees; but night came on and they had not found Seeta. "So she must be beyond the Black Water," the monkeys said, as they stood at the end of the land looking about them across the sea for other countries. And when the day broke they saw a cloud lying upon the sea, and told Hanuman, but as soon as he saw it the sagacious son of Vargu said "It is an island," and, stepping back a few paces, he ran and jumped, right away from India and across the straits into the Island of Ceylon. There he found Seeta shut up in a garden, and went back and told Rama. And then the old story goes on to say how Nala, the monkey-wizard, made stones float upon the sea for a bridge, and how Jambuvat, the king of the shaggy bears, led his people down from the hills to help the monkeys, and how the whole host crossed over to Ceylon and fought for many days with the Demons, and were always beaten till Sushena, the wisest of all the apes, sent Hanuman back to the Himalayas for the mystical Herb of Life, and with it called back all the souls of the dead monkey warriors, and how even then they could not conquer Indrajit, the mighty son of Ravana. At last the Gods took part with Rama against the Demons. Vishnu lent him his chariot and Brahma gave him his quiver, and then, after a terrible fight, the steed of Indrajit went back riderless into the city, and Ravana, seeing his son was dead, came out himself to lead his hosts, bursting from the city gates as fire bursts from the peaks of the islands in the Eastern Sea, and slew one by one all the monkey chiefs, and last of them all slew Hanuman himself. Then Rama, the husband of Seeta, stood up in his chariot before Ravana, and would neither die nor move, and the Demon King at last grew faint with fighting, and turned towards the city, but the monkeys had set it on fire, and when he saw the smoke ascending, Ravana turned again in his despair, and sent his chariot forward with the crash of a thunderbolt against Rama. But Rama was immovable, and standing upright among the dead, he loosed a great bolt, and Ravana's soul fled to Yama, where it floats in the River of the Dead. Then the monkeys destroyed the city of the Demons, and escorted Rama back to India, and Sushena, the magician ape, made the stone bridge sink again, and Rama went back with his wife to Ayodhya, and the monkey people back to their merry hills by the Pampas Lake.
This is surely a splendid episode in the history of a people; and the monkeys of to-day are the lineal descendants of those very monkeys that fought for Rama. There is no gap in the long descent, and to-day the inheritors of Hanuman's fame inherit also his sanctity, sharing in the East the abodes and property of men, and possessing besides many temples of their own.
Monkeys not proud
Yet the monkeys are not proud. They will condescend quite cheerfully to eat the Hindoo's humble stores of grain and fruit put out for sale on the village stall, and when these fail, in consequence perhaps of the grain-dealer's miserly interference, they will fall to with an appetite upon the wild berries and green shoots of the jungle, or even pick a light luncheon off an ant-hill. No, there is no pride about them, but much gravity and sadness of face, induced, perhaps, by the recollection of their classical glories and a consciousness of the present decadence of their race.
The ape in Æsop wept copiously on passing through a cemetery. "What ails you, my friend?" asked the fox, affected by this display of grief. "Oh, nothing," was the reply of the sensitive creature, "but I always weep like this when I am reminded of my poor dead ancestors!"
Such susceptibility to grief is honourable, but in the monkeys, by constant indulgence, it has stereotyped a tearful expression of countenance, which even when at play is never altogether lost. In the corner of the cage there three monkeys have tied themselves into a knot, and are pretending in sport that they cannot undo themselves. But look at the faces that peep out of the bundle of tails and paws! They might belong to orphans of an hour's standing, so wistful and disconsolate are their eyes. Another one, peeling an orange, gazes on it with a look of such immeasurable grief as the Douglas's features might have showed when holding the Bruce's heart in his hand; and next to him sits an ape, sorrowfully cuffing a youngster; while overhead, surveying all the heedless throng, sits an old baboon, with a profound expression of melancholy pity on his reverend countenance, that recalls to my mind a Sunday picture-book of my early youth, and, as depicted therein, the aspect of Moses when, from a mountain top, he sadly overlooked the Hebrews dancing round the golden calves.
Hanuman himself, saddest of monkeys, is not here, for the last specimen--that it should ever have come to this!--was only "lent" to the gardens, and has been taken away again by its owner. But there are others present of high renown. Here, looking wofully [sic] among the straw for a fallen nut, sits the very god of "mad Egypt," the green monkey of Ethiopia, which was held in such
reverence in old Memphis as the type of the God of Letters, or as Thoth himself, the emblem of the moon, symbol of the Bacchus of the Nile, and dignifying the obelisks of Luxor and the central sanctity of a hundred shrines. Yonder, musing pensively over a paper-bag still redolent of the ginger-bread it once contained, sits Pthah, the pigmy baboon, the God of Learning, without whom Hermopolis would have been desolate, at once the genius of life and the holder of the dreadful scales after death, more potent than the ibis, and guardian of all the approaches to hundred-gated Thebes. A reverend pair, truly, and sadly come down in the world.
Do they know it? It is hard to say. They inherited their sad faces, no doubt, from some sad-faced progenitor; but how came he--the primitive ape--by so mournful a countenance? Did some tremendous catastrophe in the beginning of time overtake the four-handed folk, so terrible in its ruin, that the sorrow of the survivors was impressed for ever upon their features, and transmitted by them to their kind? Everything, we are told, is inherited. The farmyard goats in Wales, when doing nothing else, still perch themselves on the highest point of the bank they can find or on the wall, because their wild ancestors used once upon a time to stand on Alpine peaks as sentinels for the herd to watch for the hunter and the eagle and the lynx. The dog still turns himself round before going to sleep, because in the old wolf days his progenitors, before they lay down, cautiously took one last look all round them. Is there, then, any reason in the far past for the melancholy demeanour of the monkeys of the present?
Perhaps they still remember the Flood with personal regret.
Who is this that comes up to the wires with so bashful a demeanour to see what Thoth is doing? This is the grivet monkey, and the antiquity of his lineage might be almost inferred from the mossy appearance of his fur, which seems all green with age and mildew. It was at one time the most familiar of the simian kind to European eyes, for in ancient Greece and Rome the grivet used to be kept as a pet; while in Africa, its home, it was so common that the Libyans of Herodotus lived upon it. They ate in Nubia that which was worshipped in Egypt, and transferred to Ethiopian saucepans the sacred custodian of the graves of Dendyra. It is impossible to speak with disrespect of animals having such antecedents, and, besides, this little grivet here knows perhaps a secret that science cannot find out--the secret of the Sources of the Nile. As he passes by, a tail hanging down from the perch above him attracts his notice, and, pulling it, he brings down upon
"The new boy" of the Monkey-house
himself a little capuchin monkey, which had thought itself concealed, but had forgotten its dependent tail. The capuchin is to-day "the new boy" of the school, and, as yet, has found his comrades rude and unsympathetic.
They ask his sisters' names, and where he came from, how old he is, and what he can do; and whatever his answer may be, the rejoinder is much the same, either a pinch or a push, a tug at his tail, or a box on the ear. So, as the keeper says, "whenever he sees one coming towards him he just sits down and hollers; but he'll get used to it. They all hollers a bit at first."
But the grivet after all is only going to scratch the capuchin, in a sociable sort of way. They are most of them sociable and a pleasing community of fur obtains among them. Yet, by natural habits some seem solitary enough. That little baboon there, except when passers-by stop to bestow a perfunctory attention to its hair, appears to be always alone; and how hard it thinks! In Madras its relatives are called "the wise ones," and if contemplation induces wisdom, they should be very wise indeed. In the pleasant old days, when Pan was still king of the country-side, these pigmies waged, so it is said, an annual war with the cranes, and, mounted on goats, used to make raids on the big birds' nests. It might be worth while, just to verify the tradition, to fetch in a goat and turn the baboon mounted into the cranes' paddock. Hereditary instinct would perhaps come out, and in the shock of combat the little creature's features lose for a moment their expression of painful thought. But near him, puzzling over a cork, sits a "monk," with a look of distress upon its face that would befit a victim of the Inquisition. Its hair seems blanched with extreme old age, and on its crown rests a small black skull cap, to keep, one would suppose, the cold from its bald head. But the creature is a hoax altogether, a joke, in some idle moment of old Dame Nature,--for that wizened old greybeard is quite young, and the aspect of weary thought was in its eyes, and the skull cap was on its head when it was born. Yet in the Brazils, if monkeys have joint-stock companies, he might have been a Director by this time, for his countenance invites confidence, while his reverend appearance almost justifies it.
They must not be watched too long
But you must not watch it too long at a time, or it will be certain to abuse your curiosity by flippant conduct, and the illusion of respectability will be at once destroyed. Turn, for instance, for a moment to this family of Mona monkeys, two young ones and a senior, and for a time nothing can be more becoming than their behaviour. The young ones romp, while the old one, discountenancing such frivolity, sits severely on a perch, turning every now and then to look out wistfully over the spectators' heads at the bright sun shining out of doors. But on a sudden a change comes over the scene. A young one, grovelling under the straw, forgets that it has left its tail protruding, and the temptation is greater than the old one can resist. In a twinkling the challenge to a romp is accepted; and, lo! while the senior makes a fool of himself among the straw with one of the children, the other child is on his perch looking just as grave as he did, and gazing at intervals in the same wistful way out into the open air. The old monkey, lately so solemn, so respectable, so careworn, has suddenly resolved itself into an irresponsible fool, committing itself to every possible absurdity, and subjected to the irreverent liberties of its juniors. Those who do not respect themselves cannot, of course, look for respect from others; but, from the elder monkey's attitude when we first approached it, such a complete abandonment to buffoonery was hardly to be expected.
Or, take again that austere-looking Diana monkey next door. She has apparently no temptations to romp, for she has no comrades, but here again the same deplorable disregard of appearances occurs. Her cage is lined with straw, and in the centre of the straw she sits, as composed as a mummy and with a face like an old Mussulman moulvie. Surely, the crack of doom itself could not disturb such serene equanimity. The thought, however, is hardly past before the monkey, with a velocity that suggests an explosion from below, springs to the roof, carrying with her as much of the bed as her four hands can hold, and in the next instant is down again and spinning round and round on the bare floor in pursuit of her own tail, while the straw comes straggling down upon her silly old head from the perch above. The creature has suddenly, to all appearance, become a hopeless idiot!
It is just the same in the next cage, and the next, and the next. Intervals of profound contemplation and admirable gravity alternate with fits of irrelevant frivolity.
Look at this silky marmozet here, standing up on its hind legs and holding out its tiny paws in supplication, and crying continuously-- wee, shrill cry that is surpassing in its tone of utter desolation--while the long soft locks hang down on each side of the forlorn little face, and the poor mite looks as if entreating for sudden death as a relief from its present misery. Does it think we are Brazilian savages, armed with blow-pipes and poison-tipped arrows, that the creature bewails itself so bitterly, or does it mistake us for anacondas? Not a bit of it. The marmozet only wants a cherry, and if you give it one, all that piteous affectation of grief will be abandoned at once, and, with a merry little chirrup, the tiny creature will fall to at its meal. Its neighbour the squirrel-monkey--more like a lizard than a monkey in its deliberate movements and sudden activities--makes the same pretence of woe, but indulges itself even further in the luxury of an absurdly fictitious sorrow. For when the dinner is brought in, slices of orange and apple and cherries with fragments of carrots and other vegetables, the squirrel-monkey creeps down sadly, and, approaching the tempting heap round which the chattering marmozets are already sitting, selects, in the ludicrous humility of its affliction, a miserable shred of cabbage leaf, with which it mournfully retires to a distant corner. But this exquisite affectation of asceticism is only of brief duration, as the marmozets seem to know, for they are tasting everything in turn and gobbling up a little of each as fast as they can; and, sure enough, here comes the squirrel-monkey back again as desponding as ever, with the sorry cabbage leaf still carefully held in its hand. It replaces it pensively on the heap, and, while the marmozets shrink back deferentially from the viands, deliberately spreads out the whole of the meal for a leisurely inspection, and then, sorting out at least one half for itself, sits upon the remainder till it is satisfied.
It is these extraordinary alternations of conduct and demeanour that make monkeys metaphysics. There is no arguing from probabilities with them or concluding from premisses [sic]. It is always the unforeseen that occurs.
Here in one cage together are monkeys from all parts of the world--from China and India, America and Africa--and they are all alike in having no rules of conduct, no code of manners. Yet though their progenitors, through a myriad of generations, were never in each other's company, they seem to understand one another, for each finds out at once what the other would like best in
Perhaps they understand each other
the basketful of food thrown into the cage and takes it for itself; and a number will sometimes combine for a concerted game. Perhaps, therefore, they may have a lingua franca among themselves, but against man they conspire together to be dumb, provoking him to speculation by imitating human manners and then frustrating all his conclusions by suddenly lapsing--into monkeys.
It is difficult enough to catch a monkey's eye, but to catch one of its ideas is impossible. Neither in look nor in mind will it positively confront man, but just as it lets its eye pass over his, yet never rest upon it full, so its "mind" glances to one side or the other of the human intelligence, but never coincides with it.1 It may be that they were once all human, that the link still exists, and that in time all will be human again ; but meanwhile it is quite certain that race after race is becoming extinct and that as yet no single individual in all the "wilderness of monkeys " is quite a man.
The Africans discovering Stanley
Stanley the traveller has told us that sometimes when he entered an African boma, intending to take notes of the strange beings who lived in it and their odd appearance and eccentric ways, he was greatly disconcerted to find that he himself, and not the natives, was considered singular in that part of the world. They, the savages, were ordinary, everyday folk; but he, their discoverer, was a curious novelty, that deserved, in their opinion, to be better known than he was. So the majority turned the tables on the explorer, for while they were all of one orthodoxy, in looks, habits, and language, the stranger appeared to them a ridiculous exception. He had not a single precedent to cite, or example to appeal to, in justification of the preposterous colour of his skin, the ludicrous clothing he wore, or his queer ways. In the middle of Africa he found himself a natural solecism, a "sport," as botanists say, from the normal type, a lusus naturæ, an interesting monstrosity.
The savages, therefore, would solemnly proceed to "discover" Stanley, and after deliberate examination pronounce him, in Brobdingnagian phrase, to be simply a "relplum salcath"--something, in fact, which they could not understand, but which they considered very absurd. Meanwhile, what with taking his clothes off and putting them on again to please his explorers, and beating up the various articles of property, socks and so forth, which different households had appropriated as curiosities, the traveller found his time so fully occupied that his notes of the other manners and customs of the natives were often of the briefest description, and he had to go on his way, considerably out of countenance at finding that, while he thought he was discovering Central Africa, the Central Africans were really discovering him.
Something of the same feeling grows upon the observer after a morning with monkeys. We, on the one hand, remark the pensive demeanour of the four-handed folk, and sympathize with the unknown causes of their melancholy; are amused by their irrational outbreaks of frivolity, and scandalized by their sudden relapses from an almost superhuman gravity and self-respect into monkey indecorum and candour. But while we are watching one of them it suddenly occurs to us that we ourselves are being watched by the rest, and that as we take notes of the monkeys so they take notes of us.
They, no doubt, remark that our faces are usually characterized by a senseless smile and, full of lofty pity for us,
The lofty Compassion of Apes
wonder at creatures that can thus pass their days in causeless mirth, and differ so much in their fur and feathers that it is nothing short of a marvel that they ever distinguish each other's species. While we, the spectators, are moralizing over the divine honours of the ape in the Past and his fallen state, the ape of the Present sits puzzling over the man of the Future. Some of the types which he sees round his cage are so like his own that he seems to make an involuntary gesture of recognition, but his relative has gone by before he has been able to explain himself; so he retires again into contemplation, regretting his lost opportunity, but content to wait patiently till, as he says, "some more of my sort happen to come round."
Monkeys taking notes
While we outside are noting the unformed heel, the leg without a calf, the lines of the skeleton that prevent an erect attitude, they within have observed that human beings cannot run up the wire netting, or swing by their tails on the railings; that they have no flea-hunting to relieve the tedium of life, and that when a child wishes to look over any obstacle its parents have to hold it aloft to do so, as the poor little thing cannot scamper up a pole. While we are commiserating the monkeys on their narrow escape from human intelligence, the monkeys are wondering how long it will be before men grow wise enough to use their tails instead of hiding them, and see the folly of keeping two of their hands in boots.
We surmise enough about their antecedents to feel misgivings as to relationship, but do you really suppose that these creatures with the thoughtful eyes think nothing? They look at you quite as keenly as you at them, whenever you happen to turn your head aside, and if you suddenly surprise them in their scrutiny they shift their glance at once with affected indifference but extraordinary rapidity, and subside into a studied carelessness, the perfection of acting, it is true, but nevertheless so palpably assumed that it fills you with "uncanny" suspicions. Again and again the experiment may be tried, and every time with the same result--the swift withdrawal of that furtive searching gaze and the utter collapse into vacuous but sinister complacency. By perseverance you can pursue the monkey, so it seems, through a regular series of human thoughts, stare it out of countenance, make it ashamed of its stealthy scrutiny, and feel uncomfortable and conscious; you can even make it get up and go away, further and further and further, drive it from one untenable subterfuge to another, till at last it loses its temper at your relentless pursuit of its inner thoughts, and, jumping on to a perch, tries to shake the cage about your ears, chattering furiously and showing all its teeth. Does such a creature as this never retaliate in its meditations upon men and women, or find amusement in our proceedings?
Look for one minute at these two monkeys here. The grivet has just pulled a little capuchin off its perch. It found a tail dangling down and gave it a tug, and down came the little "new boy " of the school, very deprecatory and very frightened. But the grivet is in a kindly mood, and, turning the little cowled creature over on its back, proceeds to examine its fur, regardless of the capuchin's loud expressions of terror, and with all the serious determination of a nurse who knows her duty and means to do it. In time the capuchin is soothed, and lies down so flat that it looks at last like a monkey skin stretched out on the straw, while the grivet, with an elaborate affectation of studious interest, searches each tuft of fur.
No monkey's Fur its own
This possession of each other is, by the way, a curious feature of monkey life, for they seem to hold their fur in common. No one individual may take himself off to the top of the cage, and say, "You shan't scratch me," for his skin belongs to all his neighbours alike, and if a larger monkey than himself expresses a wish to scratch him, the smaller must at once turn over on his back and submit to the process. Nor is it etiquette to refuse oneself to be scratched by another of equal size; and indeed, without derogation of dignity, a larger may abandon the surface of his stomach to a smaller. At times, it is true, scratching degenerates into sycophancy, for several tiny monkeys may be seen tickling one large, lazy ape-personage. They hold up his arms for him while they tickle his ribs, and watch obsequiously the motions of his head, as the luxurious magnate turns first one cheek and then the other to be attended to. But this is a mere accident in habits, and does not affect that singular commonwealth of fur which seems to obtain among the monkey-folk, and which prevents any single member of it selfishly retiring into solitude with his own fleas.
Now follow the direction of that other monkey's eyes. It is watching a nursemaid with a fractious child, and is just as interested as you were a minute ago in the procedure of the grivet and the little capuchin--and with just as much reason. The nurse has thrown the squalling infant down on its back, and is apparently about to murder it with a bottle, but very soon a genial sense of balm steals over the noisy scene, and the turbulent baby is soothed into dreamy contentment. The monkey looks on much gratified, and when the nursemaid gets up, carrying the child, begins to soliloquize upon the amusing obstinacy of human beings in carrying their young in such a laborious fashion: " Why, my good woman, do you not put the baby on your back, and let it curl its tail round your waist, and put its arms round your neck? or, when it goes to sleep, why in the name of conscience do you not let it lie where it is? If the baby has half the sense of a monkey of that age it will find its way home when it wakes up; and even if it should not, what does it matter? There must be plenty of nuts and oranges growing about outside, to judge from the quantity that come in here, and the young one would do well enough in the trees for a night."
Ape-men and Man-apes
Have the monkeys, again, nothing to say about the man-ape problems that have puzzled humanity from the first?
Beginning with the dog-faced men of Tartary and Libya, whom Herodotus and Pliny handed down to Marco Polo and to Mandeville, or "the men of the Hen Yeung kingdom,"--those Chinese pigmy-men who had short tails and always walked arm in arm, lest the birds should think they were insects--and ending, at present, with the Soko of the Uregga forests, and the Susumete of Honduras, the list of man-apes is both long and varied. For want of absolute contradiction or confirmation we human beings have to hold our decision in abeyance, but why should the monkeys have any doubt about the connecting link? Here, for instance, is an East African creature who has rambled along the palm-grown banks of the Gaboon, and seen, no doubt, the dreadful Eugeena in its home, while its little kinsman there knows well the jungle growths of Angola, in which, as the Portuguese colonists maintain, the rowdy Pongoes range in companies, armed with clubs, disturbing the peace of other quiet monkey-folk, and turning their common pleasure-grounds into scenes of riot and ruffianism. Need monkeys go so far as Africa to find Pongoes?
Again, Hanno tells us that, sailing down the African coast, he came to "the Horn of the South," where he found "the gorillas," a race of men more hairy than any he had seen before--an uncouth, big-limbed, and brutal-mannered sort, who met his approaches with such surly incivility that, finally, they had to be attacked for their behaviour, and Hanno took a skin or two back with him to Carthage to show what an unkempt and ape-like set of miscreants these natives were. Here in the cage before us is a visitor from that same "Horn of the South," an ape from Guinea, with neatly-combed hair, and the demeanour of a justice of the peace, walking "like one of those who take themselves to be very wise," and he could tell us probably of more gorillas than either Hanno or Du Chaillu met, and might even, here in London, affirm that the type
survives. Sometimes, perhaps, on a half-price morning, when the monkeys find their cage surrounded by a loud-voiced, rough-mannered crowd--who think it fun to tease and hurt the small caged people that come up to the wires confiding in their offers of food--who prick with pins the tiny fingers thrust through the bars for the cherry that is never given--who spit in the wistful little faces that look out wonderingly at them--it is quite possible that the monkey mind, on such occasions, reverts in some vague way to those old African days when, as they were gambolling along the woodland, happily picking their meal of berries as they went, they would sometimes find themselves among a company of man-like apes that compelled them by ill-treatment to take refuge in the tree-tops. At any rate, the instinct to take flight upwards still remains, for when ape-like men beset them, the monkeys, recognizing the character of their visitors, clamber up one by one into the roof of their cage, and sit there huddled all together till the coast seems clear.
The Secrets of Monkeys
The monkeys, therefore, have probably no doubts whatever about the missing link; but what a pity it is that they cannot also settle ours! If that terrible phantom of the Eastern forests, the Fesse, is really a man, this little creature fresh from the Sumatran camphor-trees and groves of eagle-wood could tell us; and so could his congener here, that still remembers the clove and nutmeg growths of Borneo, and its pleasant shades of sandalwood and ebony. Ask that Indian rhesus to whisper to you the secret of the Mum--part bear, part ape, part man--or that Guiana saju may perhaps have heard from ape-friends, and tell you the truth, about the Susumete.
Men have said that it is more human in appearance than some of the other natives of Central America; and if the stories of its intelligence may be believed, it should rank among the best of savages. What again is the nature of that " hairy man with a club " that haunts the forest depths of Surinam, and, dying, seems to regret having so long defended the secret of its humanity, and tries to use, when it is too late, the speech which men have never heard, but which, broken by its death-sobs and failing breath, is then quite inarticulate? Above all, will none of these monkeys by bribe or entreaty or threat be persuaded to solve for us the fascinating mystery of the Soko?
"False Beasts and True."
What a work might be written, both horrible and grotesque, about all the ape-men or man-apes that have been introduced by travellers to the notice of the world! Science, it is true, ignores them all, but Fancy, I think, gets along better without science. Classification and microscopic investigation are no doubt excellent things in their way, but they interfere very awkwardly with the hearty conception of a good all-round monster; and, as a matter of fact, if travellers had been mere hair-splitting, "finicking" professors, we should never have had that substantial Fauna of Mystery which we now possess. Fortunately, however, they have, as a rule, been courageous, open-handed fellows, who would as soon think of sticking at an extra horn or hoof, or shirking a mane or a tail, as of deserting a comrade in danger.
The result of their generous labours has been the collection of as wholesome a set of monsters as could have been wished, gravitating, moreover, as it is right they should, towards mankind, until, indeed, they actually merge in humanity. Professor Owen, who wages desperate war, and very properly, against the existence of all things of which he has not seen a bit, refuses, of course, to admit the last gradation altogether. But Professor Huxley, who, I believe, is really in his heart of hearts, pining secretly for a tailed man to be found, laughs to scorn the dry theory of the hippocampus minor, and if he were only to travel to-morrow into an unknown land, I am not at all sure that he would not ultimately emerge from some primeval forest hand in hand with the "missing link." Every successive discovery has brought the beasts nearer to man, and with a very little further improvement indeed there would be no reason for humanity to be ashamed of its poor cousins. Thus Hanno's gorillas were merely "ape-men," but the susumete of Honduras is, according to a European2 who saw one killed, "as much a man as himself;" so that here, at any rate, is an instance of one human being, a European of the nineteenth century, one of "the heirs of all the ages in the foremost files of time " not ashamed to welcome a long-lost brother!
Between these two, the earliest and the latest of historically-recorded connecting links, a great number of man-apes have been scattered up and down the world, some, like the allies of Rama, or the gods of Egypt, very advanced indeed in the arts and sciences; others, again, like the dreadful "fesse "--a cannibal ape that entices its victims into its traps by mimicking the laughter of girls--pure beasts of the forest. The "men with long tails" who cruised along the western coasts of Africa and bartered parrots for piece goods could not have been very much worse than the modern Ashantee; nor in the "pongo" of a thousand years ago, that buried its dead under leaves, built shelters against rain, and availed itself eagerly of the embers left behind in the woods by human travellers, is there much to distinguish it from the present inhabitants of the Gold Coast. Linnaeus himself had half a mind to include a "man of the woods," that conversed with his kind by whistling, among his animal kingdom, and if, therefore, the public chooses to accept the Susumete and the Soko as facts, and to imagine a forest race of monkey-men, it is only following the example of all preceding ages.
The Susumete of Central America is, if possible, an improvement upon the Soko. But the Soko has already a literature of its own; whereas the Susumete has only just been discovered. In time, of course, the latter may grow as well defined as the former, but meanwhile it is a name and no more. For the establishment of the Soko's individuality, however, there are teeth, skin, and skulls in existence, and the last have been declared by Professor Huxley to be human. They were brought from Africa by Mr. H.M. Stanley as being the fragments of a great ape which certain natives had eaten, and which they themselves called "meat of the forest." Nevertheless, the Professor declares that they are the remains of defunct humanity, male and female.
After this "the soko" must rank as one of the most interesting mysteries of Nature. Is it human or not? Is it the chief of monkeys or the lowest of men? Dr. Livingstone was not quite certain, and Mr. Stanley told me he was himself only half convinced.3 In reviewing the work of the latter explorer for a London journal, I drew special attention to the Soko, for though actually known only by report, the repeated references to it make this ape-man one of the features of the book. On one occasion Mr. Stanley actually startled to its feet a great monkey person that was asleep on the river-bank; but his boat was shooting down the stream so swiftly that he could not tell whether it was beast or man. Circumstantial evidence of the existence of a half-human creature, however, thrust itself upon the explorer day after day. In Manyema, in the Uregga Forests, at Wane Kirumbu, at Mwana Ntaba the Soko was heard after nightfall or during broad daylight roaring and chattering. At more than one place its "nest" was seen in the fork of a tall bombax, and both at Kampunzu and a village on the Ariwimi, its teeth, skin, and skulls were obtained from the people, who never differed in their description of the creature they called "the Soko," and insisted that it was only a monkey. The skulls at any rate have been proved to be human, and the teeth are some of them human too; but if the tough skin thickly set with close grey hair came off the body of a man or a woman, he or she must have been of a species hitherto unknown to science. For as yet no family of our race has confessed to a soft grey fur, nearly an inch long in parts, and inclining to white at the tips. Yet such is the skin of the soko, the creature whose skull Professor Huxley says is human.
Man or Monkey?
Two fascinating theories at once suggest themselves to help us out of the soko mystery, for, premising that Mr. Stanley and Professor Huxley are both right--and it is very difficult to see how either can be wrong--it may happen that under either theory the thing described by the tribes along the Livingstone river as "a fruit-stealing ape, five feet in height, and walking erect with a staff in its left hand," may prove to be human. The first is that the tribes who eat the soko are really cannibals, and that they know it, but feeling that curious shame on this point which is common to nearly all cannibals, they will not confess to the horrid practice, and prefer, when on their company manners with uneatable strangers, to pass off their human victims as apes. The other is that there actually does exist in the centre of the Dark Continent a race of forest men so degraded and brute-like that even the cannibals living on the outskirts of their jungles really think them to be something less than human, and as such hunt them and eat them. Either theory suffices to supply "the missing link," for if it be true that the skulls of the soko are human skulls--and that the "soko-skin" belongs to the "soko-skulls "--then the tribes of the Livingstone have among them a furry-skinned race of men that feed by night and have no articulate speech. If, on the other hand, these furred creatures are so like monkeys that even savages cannot recognize their humanity, and yet so like men that even Professor Huxley cannot recognize any trace of monkey in their skulls, the person called the soko must be a very satisfactory "missing link" indeed, for it is essential in such a person that he should so nearly resemble both his next of kin as to be exactly assignable to neither.
Man himself would, I believe, be glad in his present advanced state of "sympathetic civilization" to admit the monkey's claim to alliance with himself, for it is a fact that our race finds a pleasure in referring loftily to the obscurity of its own origin, and feels a natural pride in having raised itself above its fortunes. Yet
Do the Monkeys value our Relationship
are we quite sure that the monkey would care for this ignominious kinship, and that the ape disagrees with the philosopher who said that its resemblance to us was its misfortune? Possibly the simians may not be pleased to rank as the dregs of human-kind while they have the alternative of remaining the cream of the beast-world, and it is just as possible, too, that the reason why "the missing link" is so difficult to find is that he, she, or it, takes the best possible care not to be found.
Why do they not help us?
The monkeys, therefore, if they would only be serious for half an hour together, might do Science great services in unravelling these man-ape puzzles. But then we must not forget that if they were suddenly to eschew all frivolity, and begin to speak, we should lose our poor relations altogether, and have no "monkeys" left to expend our lofty sympathies upon and to patronize. It is only human after all to think better of ourselves for having rubbed off our tails and learned the use of speech; but it has taken us nineteen centuries to become so enlightened as to acknowledge our pedigree. A few hundred years ago the resemblance of the ape to man only made our forefathers dislike the ape, and ridicule him, and to this day we agree with Bacon that "it adds a deformity to the ape to be so like a man."
Village Communities in India
Yet in India, where the monkeys live among men, and are the playmates of their children, the Hindoos have grown so fond of them, that the four-handed folk participate in all their simple household rites. In the early morning, when the peasant goes out to yoke his plough, and the crow wakes up, and the dog stretches himself and shakes off the dust in which he has slept all night, the old monkey creeps down from the peepul-tree, only half awake, and yawns, and looks about him, puts a straw in his mouth, and scratches himself contemplatively.
Then one by one the whole family come slipping down the tree-trunk, and they all yawn and look about, and scratch. But they are sleepy and peevish, and the youngsters get cuffed for nothing, and begin to think life dull. Yet the toilette has to be performed; and, whether they like it or not, the young ones are sternly pulled up, one by one, to their mother to undergo the process. The scene, though regularly repeated every morning, loses nothing of its delightful comicality, and the monkey-brats never tire of the joke of "taking in mamma." But mamma was young herself not so very long ago, and treats each ludicrous affectation of suffering with profoundest unconcern, and, as she dismisses one "cleaned" youngster with a cuff, stretches out her hand for the next one's tail or leg in the most businesslike and serious manner possible. The youngsters know their turns quite well, and as each one sees the moment arriving it throws itself on its stomach, as if overwhelmed with apprehension, the others meanwhile stifling their laughter at the capital way "so-and-so is doing it," and the instant the maternal paw is extended to grasp its tail the subject of the next experiment utters a dolorous wail, and, throwing its arms forward in the dust,
Home life in the East
allows itself to be dragged along, a limp and helpless carcass, winking all the time, no doubt, at its brothers and sisters, at the way it is imposing on the old lady. But the old lady will stand no nonsense, and turning the child right side up proceeds to put it to rights; takes the kinks out of its tail, and the knots out of its fur; pokes its fingers into its ears, and looks at each of its toes, the inexpressible brat all the time wearing on its face an absurd expression of hopeless and incurable grief. Those who have been already cleaned look on with delight at the screaming farce, while those who are waiting wear a becoming aspect of enormous gravity. The old lady, however, has her joke, too, which is to cuff every youngster before she lets it go; and, nimble as her offspring are, she generally, to her credit be it said, manages to give each of them a box on the ears before it is out of reach. The father, meanwhile, sits gravely with his back to all these domestic matters, waiting for breakfast.
Presently the mats before the hut-doors are pushed down, and women with brass vessels in their hands come out; and, while they scour the pots and pans with dust, exchange between yawns the compliments of the morning.
The monkeys by this time have come closer to the preparations for food, and sit solemnly household by household watching every movement. Hindoos do not hurry themselves in anything they do, but the monkey has lots of time to spare and plenty of patience, and in the end after the crow has stolen a little, and the dog has had its morsel, and the children are all satisfied, the poor fragments of the meal are thrown out on the ground for the "bhunder-logue," the monkey-people, and it is soon discussed--the mother feeding the baby before she eats herself. When every house has thus, in turn, been visited, and no chance of further "out-door relief" remains, the monkeys go off to the well. The women are all here again, drawing the water for the day, and the monkeys sit and wait, the old ones in the front, sententious and serious, and the youngsters rolling about in the dust behind them, till at last some girl sees the creatures waiting, and "in the name of Ram" spills a lotah full of water in a hollow of the ground, and the monkeys come round it in a circle, and stoop down and drink, with their tails all curled up over their backs like notes of interrogation. There is no contention or jostling. A forward child gets a box on the ear, perhaps, but each one, as it has satisfied its thirst, steps quietly out of the circle and wipes its mouth. The day thus fairly commenced, they go off to see what luck may bring them.
The grain-dealer's shop tempts them to loiter, but the experience of previous attempts makes theft hopeless; for the bunnya, with all his years, is very nimble on his legs, and an astonishing good shot with a pipkin. So the monkeys merely make their salaams to him and pass on to the fields. If the corn is ripe they can soon eat enough for the day; but, if not, they go wandering about picking up morsels, here an insect and there a berry, till the sun gets too hot, and then they creep up into the dark shade of the mango tope and snooze through the afternoon. In the evening they are back in the village again to share in its comforts and entertainments.
They assist at the convocation of the elders and the romps of the children, looking on when the faquir comes up to collect his little dues of salt and corn and oil, and from him in their turn exacting a pious toll. They listen gravely to the village musician till they get sleepy, and then, one by one, they clamber up into the peepul.
And the men sitting round the fire with their pipes can see, if they look up, the whole colony of the bhunder-logue asleep in rows in the tree above them.
Here in Europe the monkey has never become a friend, even though we have adopted him as a relative. Our literature has nothing to his credit and our art ignores him. In olden times they never took augury from a monkey, and nowadays no one even takes it for armorial bearings.
Yet the tailed ones are already considerably advanced towards civilization. As Darwin tells us, they catch colds and die of consumption, suffer from apoplexy and from cholera, inflammation, cataracts, and so forth, can pass on a contagious affection to men, or take the sickness from them, eat and drink all that human beings do, and suffer from surfeits precisely as men and women do; for if drunk overnight they have headaches next morning, scorn solid food, and are exasperated by the mere smell of strong liquors, but turn with relish to the juice of lemons and effervescing draughts.
Those who know them say that every monkey has its own individual character, its own peculiarities of disposition and temper, its special likes and dislikes; and it has been established beyond the reach of doubt that by education these differences can be exaggerated or diminished, and communicated by example from one individual to another. How, by the way, did the monkeys find out that hard-shelled nuts could be broken open with stones, and by what process of publication did all the species acquire this knowledge? Or, to take an instance in another class of reasoning, how can the monkey plot so rationally to take revenge? An officer at the Cape had offended a baboon, and one day, as he was approaching, the creature deliberately poured water into a hole, hastily made up a mud pie, and flung it at his tormentor as he passed: nay, what is even more noteworthy, "rejoiced and triumphed for long afterwards, whenever he saw his victim."
They can be taught, when attentive, to be such respectable members of society, that a magistrate might reasonably permit them to make a "solemn affirmation" in a court of justice; but, unfortunately, attention is a rare gift, and the scholar, as a rule, prefers watching the flies on the wall or playing with straws to learning his lessons, while punishment only makes him sulky. Yet in India, and simply by the process of being humoured, the monkey has become something very different from a wild beast, and it is a puzzle to guess what would happen if the School Board were to extend its jurisdiction to the monkey-house at the Zoo, and to educate the baboons.
A Mutiny of the Baboons
But monkeys sometimes rise in India from village obscurity to political prominence, as for instance in 1878, when a monkey campaign threatened to complicate the affairs of our Eastern Empire. A vagabond detachment of baboons had taken forcible possession of the village of Augurpara, on the high road to the military station of Barrackpore, and, having ejected by violence and intimidation all the more human inhabitants, had billeted themselves on the orchards and gardens of the hamlet, whence they directed various offensive strategic movements, night attacks, and predatory raids upon the neighbourhood.
This was, of course, an exceptional incident, but over and over again we find the Indian monkeys a puzzle to local administrations, in consequence of their characteristic tendency to mischief conflicting with the sentimental veneration in which they are held by the people.
But the Hindu, even though he may deplore the monkey's shortcomings, is shackled by his religious scruples in his conduct towards them, and, in spite of his rifled grain stores, dares not openly affront the creatures.
In many cities of India the monkeys inhabit recognized quarters, and are allowed every morning to descend from temple-top and tree into the market-place, and there to eat their fill of whatever may be exposed for sale. The owner sits by, pretending to grant the meal without grudging, but when no one else is looking he often takes the opportunity of giving the intruder a hearty cuff to send it on to the next stall for the rest of its breakfast. This semi-sacred character complicates official interference with them, for if one street complains that the monkeys have mischievously picked half the tiles off the houses and begs to have them deported, the next street petitions that their religious prejudices may not be outraged by any curtailment of the creatures' liberty.
Sometimes, however, a whole town agrees that the monkey nuisance has become intolerable, and, gods or not, votes for their wholesale deportation. But Hanuman is as astute as his neighbours, and, though submitting to be coaxed across the river, or carted off to a neighbouring jungle, utilizes both ferry and high-road for a speedy and comfortable return. Thus, between Benares and Ramnagar a constant transportation of monkeys was at one time carried on; but since as many came back by boat of their own accord as went--the ferryman not daring to refuse them--the local officials abandoned the enterprise, and to this day the animals share both sides of the river with the human inhabitants. In the hill districts whole fields of corn are ravaged in a morning by the long-tailed troops; but the superstitious villager will not do more than shout at them his respectful request to go away.
Now an English vestry called upon suddenly to catch and turn out of the parish any section of a menagerie that might have got loose, without offering personal insult to any of the animals, would be intolerably puzzled; yet in India the constant antagonism of popular sentiment and public advantage sometimes places the authorities in ludicrous positions. When, for instance, in a village notorious for its liability to small-pox, a peasant refuses to have his family vaccinated lest "the evil eye" of the operator should harm his offspring; or when, in a crowded corner of a city, a householder refuses to pull up a peepul-tree that has struck roots into his walls and thereby threatens the safety of the inmates and neighbours, because he believes the peepul embodies the collective attributes of the Hindu Trinity--there is a direct conflict between two obvious duties, respect for life and respect for popular prejudice.
The Rats of the Laccadives
An illustration of this absurd conflict is the well-known episode of the palm-rats in the Laccadives. In those islands the palm-trees, which (with fish) form the chief food supply of the people, became infested by a species of rat, which, living in the crowns of the trees, nibbled off the young nuts, and thus threatened to ruin the colony. The Government was appealed to for help, and the European magistrate, in response, sent over cats. But the cats, we are told, finding plenty of good fish to eat below, did not recognize the necessity for going up seventy feet of tree trunk in search of possible rats; so the magistrate sent over some tree snakes. But the people preferred rats to snakes, and killed all the new-comers at the first opportunity, still, however, pleading for protection. The magistrate next tried mongooses, but nothing would persuade these creatures to climb palm-trees. On the contrary, they ate up the islanders' fowls. So yet once more the great rat question came before the magistrate.
With cats and mongooses on the ground refusing to ascend to the rats, that official very sapiently decided that all that was required was to make the rats descend to the cats and mongooses, so he sent the islanders over some owls. But he had overlooked the popular prejudice against these birds, and the people in committee assembled decided that even rats up the trees were better than "devil-birds."
"What ails the Government?" said the elders. "Is it not enough that they sent snakes amongst us, so that we went in terror of our lives; that they turned loose on our hencoops bushy-tailed vermin that sucked the eggs and choked the chickens; that now they want to afflict us with these devil-birds, which frighten our children into fits, and set all the old women foretelling death and ruin?"
But they accepted the birds in all apparent gratitude. As soon, however, as the coast was clear, the owls, cats, and mongooses, were all conveyed in procession to a boat, and solemnly deported to an uninhabited reef!
Elsewhere also than in India the ape-folk are held in respect, for in Borneo and the Malaccas the natives speak of them with deference, and treat them with consideration. "Ourang" is an honourable Malay title, though we who only see our captives sulking behind cage-bars are hardly able perhaps to do them justice. Not that we have often had the opportunity in England of passing judgment upon ourang-outangs, for it was only very recently that an adult specimen was added to the Zoological Gardens. He stands five feet without his stockings, and, being a
The Man of the Woods
little bald and well-whiskered, is a very respectable-looking specimen of the man-ape. The baby ourangs who have hitherto been exhibited have been guileless urchins of no decided character, solemn of countenance like other babies, and easily put out of sorts. Visitors called them "poor little things," and, though they were coddled with blankets and feeding-bottles and sop, women thought it, on the whole, rather a shame that they were not also allowed perambulators and rattles. The human helplessness of the
very young ourangs certainly justified this maternal solicitude on their behalf, and the repeated failure to rear them to maturity told a pitiful tale of lungs too delicate to bear our climate. Their ways and habits, as Wallace, who kept them as pets, has told us, are exactly those of human babies. They refuse to sleep alone, and even if left by themselves when awake will cry fretfully for a nurse. They like being rocked in a cradle, and hate being washed. When anything is offered them not to their taste, they kick violently, just as human beings of the same age do, but when satisfied with the bottle or plaything given them they croon in a contented way over it until placidity merges in sleep. Toys have to be provided for them, and they break them all punctually, after, of course, having tried firmly but ineffectually to choke themselves with them. When happiest, they lie in a helpless fashion on their backs, turning their heads occasionally from one side to the other, with all four hands in the air, hoping apparently to find something to take hold of, but unable to guide their fingers to any particular object. As time passes and they grow adventurous, they try to tumble out of their cradles, and often succeed, to their own immense discomfiture, for their legs being too weak to hold them up, they have to lie on the ground on their stomachs until friendly hands place them right side up. All these baby traits of conduct and character commended the very juvenile ourangs to the tender sympathy of their visitors, and their wistful child-eyes always made them the pets of the public. But who, I should like to know, is going to pet the elderly ape that has now arrived; or how can we lavish any gentle sentiment over a creature that stands five feet high and has a bald head and big whiskers?
The adult Ourang
The great strength of the ourang-outang now among us necessitated at first extraordinary precautions in his confinement. The cage in which he travelled was so small that he could not have fair play for his tremendous arms, and the bars so thick that he could not make any impression upon them with his enormous teeth. Impotent, therefore, for mischief, the hairy prisoner sate huddled up and roaring. Any interference with him, however kindly meant, was at once resented by language which might easily be translated into human equivalents, and the vigour with which he shook his cage proved the sincerity of his ill-feeling. One long arm was being perpetually thrust out between the bars, in the hope apparently of finding some one or something to lay hold of, and it only needs a glance at the curving fingers of the foot-hand to understand how desperate would be their grasp, or at the muscular forearm and shoulder to imagine how difficult it would be, if once clutched, to get released from the monster's power. It is not likely, therefore, that much sympathy will be extended to this poor wild man of the woods. He is not of the interesting age that excites the
Not easily coddled
soft-hearted compassion of the gentler sex, for it is impossible to connect this great hairy ape with any idea so tenderly suggestive as feeding-bottles and perambulators. If given blankets he will probably eat them, and as for coddling him, the keepers might as well think of coddling a steam-engine. There is no pretty baby helplessness about this five-foot person.
He would indeed be a rash man who tried to put it into a cradle, or when it was asleep attempted to tuck it up. When it wants anything it will not sprawl pathetically on its back with its legs up in the air, but will go for what it wants and take it, or else throw the furniture about. Instead of whimpering when being washed it will brain its attendant with the basin, or strangle him with the towel, and if any one would like to administer a soothing powder to it when it is fretful—he is at liberty to try. But his experiences would probably be remarkable, for adult ourangs--more especially when they have stomach-aches--are not to be trifled with.
In their native haunts they are never trifled with. For the only neighbours capable of molesting them are the infrequent crocodile and the still rarer python; while even these, so the natives say, the ourang does not fear to meet in single combat. The huge ape, it is said, will leap upon the back of an alligator and tear its jaws asunder. Literally translated "ourang-outang" means "the man of the woods," and the first half of the name is a title implying an especial measure of wisdom, for the chiefs of the Malays are styled "ourang," and so also, in compliment to its intelligent sagacity, is the elephant.
Arguments for its Humanity
Nor is it at all surprising that this great monkey should have received so dignified a name, for not only native legends, but authentic European accounts, agree in describing "the man of the woods" as singularly un-ape-like. Thus, when attacked with guns, it retreats to the top of the highest tree it can find, and deliberately constructs a barricade of branches between itself and its assailants. At night it makes up a sleeping platform for itself, and in rainy weather it covers its body over with large leaves or ferns. The ourang lies in bed of a morning until the sun is well up and the dew gone off the foliage, and dines with his family in the middle of the day. These are certainly suggestive facts, and make us hesitate in deciding whether purchasing such creatures for the Zoological Gardens might not reasonably be objected to by opponents of the slave-trade. In their natural state they are not only inoffensive, but when suddenly intruded upon betray no symptoms of alarm, behaving from first to last with the greatest presence of mind, and always dying with pathetic dignity. Naturalists tell us that these apes watched them when trespassing on their haunts with curiosity, but without fear, and would remain quietly where first seen, in spite of preparations for attack being in progress. If escape seemed desperate, they made no effort to run from the enemy, but, utilizing the best cover that was available, avoided the missiles, spears or bullets, as long as they could, and when badly wounded moved away leisurely into the thickest foliage they could reach, and expired without a cry.
Irritated by captivity, the ourang who has now visited us against his will, is the reverse of amiable, and certainly not an object for much tender feeling. Yet a sincere pathos nevertheless gathers round the poor beast in its cage, when we think of the wonderfully-happy life of freedom and security which it led in some beautiful island of the East. In Malacca, Sumatra, and Borneo, where these great apes are found, Nature has excelled herself in the variety and profusion of her vegetable wonders, clothing the banks of the streams and the hillsides alike with masses of densely-foliaged fruit-bearing trees. Among these--with no wild things to dispute possession, except birds and the smaller species of the monkey-folk--the ourangs loiter through life idle and secure, quietly retiring from the clearings that men make and living harmlessly secluded in the remotest coverts.
So completely are their wants provided for, that the absence of progress among them is no reproach. Invention after all is the brat of detestable necessity. And, indeed, it is hardly a libel upon the nobility of our own species to suspect that if, without effort, we too could support life in the same luxury and the same utter freedom from care, many of us would be content to surrender some of our aspirations, and forego the harassing ambitions of humanity.
But it is a pity that the ourang cannot tell us what he thinks of England and of civilization. If he could, he would probably regret in his first sentence the vast wild orchards of dorian fruit and mangosteen among which he made perpetual feast, and the wilderness of berry-bearing trees that provided him with such endless variety of pleasant food, and would ask us what we can offer him in exchange for such profusion of luscious eatables? Our sunlight, he would go on to say, is a wretched substitute for the glorious days he remembers, and solitude, he would tell us, adds bitterness to his captivity. He will find us, we fear, very full of prejudices, as compared with the easy-going society which he has hitherto enjoyed in the pandanus jungles of his native island, and will draw invidious comparisons between Regent's Park and Malacca, in the matter of wild pumpkins. If, however, he is as intelligent as his fellow-countrymen would have us believe, he may come to understand before long that everything is kindly meant and "for the best," and now that his travels are over, his life will be as peaceful as walking-sticks and umbrellas will permit.
1 For an admirably sympathetic sketch of monkey character--and much more besides--read Miss Frances Power Cobbe's delightful book "False Beasts and True."
2 M. Auguste, of Cay.
3 When editing Mr. Stanley's "Through the Dark Continent," I heard from the explorer and read in his notes much that was not published. His Soko lore was considerable ; but in a few words his man-ape problem is this. The natives gave Stanley skulls, teeth, and skins of a creature they called an ape. Professor Huxley says the skulls are human. The teeth and skin are not.
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