Meshie: The Child of a Chimpanzee

A Creature of the African Jungle Emigrates to America


Left: Children like the company of other children. African children frequently asked to be allowed to play with Meshie, and she enjoyed their company; right: Play: While Meshie romped about Mr. Raven’s African dwelling, she often amused herself with sticks or other objectes. Here she is playing with a bit of rag.

In camp I made her a bed in an empty chop box, but if she were not placed in it at dusk, she would climb up among the branches of some trees above camp and there make a nest for herself. The natives feared she might be lost and, if she did not come down when I called her, one of the natives would climb up and bring her down.

When we returned to Djaposten, she played about the house where I lived and had access to a number of small native houses near by. There were several small negro children with whom she became very friendly. By this time all the dogs, too, seemed to regard her just as they did the human babies, and if she pulled their ears or their tails or their legs, they would simply whine and walk away. These African dogs were very fond of bananas and papayas, but if a piece of banana were given to one of them while she were hungry, she would whimper and cry and peevishly stick out her lips while holding out her hand in a begging attitude. If this were of no avail and more food were given to the dog, she lost patience and rushed at him, making a scolding noise and striking him with her hands and even attempting to bite. This procedure always succeeded in driving the dogs away.

It was while the little chimpanzee was playing with her many black friends at Djaposten, that I first heard her called Meshie Mungkut. I was told that they had given her that name, which in their language was a nickname for a chimpanzee and was especially applicable to a small one that fluffed up its hair so that it looked big, though in reality it was very small. The name Meshie seemed a good one and has been hers ever since.

Sometimes I went off on trips of several days, at which time Meshie was left in the charge of one or another woman of the village who had no children of her own to care for. She would take her to her garden early in the morning, carrying her like a child, and Meshie played around while the woman worked. About eleven o’clock the woman returned from her clearing, carrying the day’s supply of vegetables and firewood as well as Meshie. Next she would go to a spring or a stream to bathe and to get water, and there Meshie was washed, or at least sprinkled with water.

Just as good care was given to Meshie by these women as if she had been their own child, but her human playmates were all infested with parasites—lice, itch mites, skin diseases, and an assortment of internal ones—and it was inevitable that Meshie with an almost human constitution should be preyed upon by some of these.

First she developed a scabby skin that apparently caused considerable itching, for she scratched incessantly, and when she was not scratching herself the natives were scratching her, for that is their way of making friends with any animal. Later on, when she was entirely over her skin disorders, she retained the habit of scratching, and even now, though her skin is perfectly clean, healthy, and has been free from parasites ever since she left Africa, she scratches herself from habit, especially when she is nervous, as when she is impatiently waiting for her dinner.

When the time arrived for me to make preparations for my departure from Africa, I had to think of accustoming my little pet to be either tied or caged, and I thought being tethered would be preferable; so one day I tied her to a post supporting an extension at the side of a native hut. The roof was six feet high and the whole structure was fastened together with rattans and covered with palm leaf thatch. Meshie screamed, cried, rolled on the ground, kicked, and bit her hands and feet. She was simply having a tantrum. Then she jumped up and down out of sheer desperation, scratched the ground with her fingers and stuck out her lips, crying peevishly. She would get hold of the next post or any object within reach and would pull with all her might, only desisting from pain caused by the rope pulling on her neck.

I left her tied like this and, upon turning a couple of hours later, I hardly recognized the place. I called to my boy,

“Where is Meshie?”

He replied, “Mon a waa live kitchen.” (The child of a chimpanzee is in the cook house.)

Then he said, “See what she has done.” She had pulled the palm leaves off the roof and had broken the palm stems to which they were tied. These with their fastenings of rattan were scattered about as if a cyclone had hit the place. Eventually, however, she became accustomed to being fastened.

view counter
view counter

Recent Stories

A nation is defined by what it preserves.

The way they live, the food they eat, and the effect on us

A true but unlikely tale

Story and Photographs by William Rowan

Increasing day length on the early Earth boosted oxygen released by photosynthetic cyanobacteria.