Meshie: The Child of a Chimpanzee

A Creature of the African Jungle Emigrates to America

Meshie with Doll

A doll interests her: She carries it about, un- dresses it, and, if it is stuffed with sawdust, she will attempt to tear it open to see what is inside.

While hunting gorillas in the great forest of the French Cameroun during February, 1930, I had a camp about fifteen miles from the nearest negro habitation; I had just finished a rather late luncheon, and was talking with some of my eight or ten negro companions, when two men walked into camp.

To my companions they said “Embolo” as a greeting, but to me they said “Morning,” this being in the Pidgin English of the Cameroun the proper greeting, regardless of the hour of the day or night. One of these men carried in his arms a baby chimpanzee.

The little creature weighed about ten pounds; the skin on her face, ears, hands, and feet, was a rich tan color, but on her body beneath the hair the skin was as white as it is on a white man’s scalp. Her hair was black, fairly coarse, straight and rather long, very long on her cheeks, where it grew down like side whiskers below the level of her chin. The only hairs that were not black were the short, inconspicuous, fine ones about the front part of her lips and mouth, and a tuft of longer coarse hairs that stuck out in the position of a tail. There was a small bald or bare area on her forehead just above the supra-orbital ridges, a character of the particular variety of chimpanzee to which she belonged.

I approached the man who held her and put out my arms. The little animal looked at me a moment, then stretched her arms toward me and I took her. She grasped me tightly as if she feared she might fall. She looked at me curiously for a moment and then stroked the hair on my bare arm. She seemed to sense that I was unlike the black natives, the only other humans she had seen.

I asked the man how he happened to come to my camp, to which he replied that in passing along the road at Djaposten, he had been told that I was looking for gorillas and chimpanzees and might buy the one he had. He had shot the mother of this baby chimpanzee with a poisoned dart from his crossbow while he was following a trail far away to the east between Yukaduma and Molundu. The mother chimpanzee had been eaten by him and his companions. He had kept the little one for about a month and had fed her on whatever she would eat of their food; including cassava, plantains, bananas, sweet potatoes, calladium, peanuts, maize, and papayas. The little animal was thin, however, and I was not at all sure that I would be able to keep her alive. I bartered in true native fashion for some time, through an interpreter, but as I considered the price too high, I refused to pay it. After the men had left, I heard the interpreter make some remark about the price, and I said,

“Why, that was the sum I told you to tell him I would pay.”

He replied, “I thought you meant a hundred francs less than that.”

I sent him running after the men and a few minutes later they returned; the baby chimpanzee was given to me; they took the money and departed without a word.

I played with the animal a short time and she seemed to take a fancy to me, for when I started off through the forest to hunt, she attempted to follow me, and screamed when I turned her over to Samkum. Sankum was a boy about twelve years old, an orphan, who had adopted my camp as his home.

The little chimpanzee was spoken of as “mon a waa,” which means in the Bulu language “the child of a chimpanzee.” She was never fastened or caged and seemed perfectly happy to play about camp with Samkum. He became her chief companion and they played tag for hours on the tall saplings and lianas that overhung the little space we had cleared in the heavy forest. At this time I had four dogs in camp and I feared they might harm her, but in a few days Opat, the youngest of the dogs, had become well acquainted with her, and thereafter joined the play every day. The older dogs, however, simply growled and walked away when she approached.

If she were not given sufficient food, she ate leaves and buds of certain trees growing within a few yards of camp. When we shifted camp, Samkum carried her pickaback, her hands over his shoulders and her feet on his waist. One day when we broke camp; I sent Samkum on ahead with her; an hour later I came up with them, the little chimp sitting in a sapling and Samkum sitting on the ground crying. He said the “mon a waa” wanted to get down from his shoulder and when he did not let her; she bit him on the neck. She was simply tired of being carried, but if he attempted to walk off and leave her she screamed and followed after him. I carried her some distance and then showed him how to carry her in a sling of cheesecloth on his back. After she had been carried pickaback for a considerable length of time, her hands would be so tired that she could not walk on her knuckles in the usual manner, but would either move about resting on her wrists and the backs of her hands or on the whole of her forearms. This fatigue passed off in a short time.

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