Trans-specific cooperation (or slavery)

Monkeys trained to pick coconuts – The– pig-tailed macaques –can quickly scamper up the trunk of a coconut palm, and with a twist and pull, the ripe fruit drops to the ground. A well-trained ‘working monkey’ can harvest up to 1000 coconuts a day, compared to 100 coconuts by one person. The monkey works 10 times quicker than a man, only for a couple of bananas a day. Their good or bad treatment depends of course on their owners.

«The Malays and Bataks of Sumatra very commonly use monkevs in this way. The current English name for the monkey, Macacus nemestrinus, is ’coconut-monkey.’ (…)

“These monkeys not only work, but have a considerable commercial value as laborers. The price of a trained coconut monkey ranges from about $8.00 to $20.00; a price far above that put upon other common sorts of monkeys which are kept only as pets. (…)

…as the result of considerable reading, a number of similar accounts reaching hack into remotest antiquity, and it has seemed worth while to bring all of these together, arranged in reverse chronological order, so that readers of Natural History may have available the record of this ancient but little-known example of coöperation between man and his fellow Primates.

First comes Shelford’s account, dated 1916, and worded as follows:

“Macacus nemestrinus, the pig-tailed Macaque, or Brok of the Malays, is a highly intelligent animal, and Malays train them to pick coconuts. The modus operandi is as follows:—A cord is fastened round the monkey’s waist, and it is led to a coconut palm which it rapidly climbs, it then lays hold of a nut, and if the owner judges the nut to be ripe for plucking he shouts to the monkey, which then twists the nut round and round till the stalk is broken and lets it fall to the ground; if the monkey catches hold of an unripe nut, the owner tugs the cord and the monkey tries another. I have seen a Brok act as a very efficient fruit-picker, although the use of the cord was dispensed with altogether, the monkey being guided by the tones and inflections of his master’s voice.” (Shelford, Robert W. C., A Naturalist in Borneo, London, 1916, p. 8) (…)

In 1670, Olfert Dapper published his book on Africa, and in his description of “Sierra-Liona” is found the statement appended below. (…)

“Three kinds of monkeys are found here; and there is one, of a certain species they call Baris, which they catch when little; raise, and train so well, that these monkeys can give almost as much service as slaves. Ordinarily they walk quite erect like them. They can grind millet in the mortar, and go to draw water in a pitcher. When they fall down, they show their pain by cries. They know how to turn the spit, and to do a thousand clever little tricks which greatly amuse their masters.” (Dapper, Olfert. Umbständliche und eigentliche Beschreibung von Africa, etc. Amsterdam, 1670. A French version is entitled Description de l’Afrique, etc. Amsterdam, 1686, p. 249) (…)

José de Acosta, a Jesuit monk, one of the early explorers of the natural history realm of the new world, published in the natural history section of his work the following account. It will be noted that he claims to have been an eyewitness of the incident mentioned. (…)

“I sawe one [monkey] in Carthagene [Cartagena] in the Governour’s house, so taught, as the things he did seemed incredible: they sent him to the Taverne for wine, putting the pot in one hand, and the money in the other; and they could not possibly gette the money out of his hand, before he had his pot full of wine. If any children mette him in the streete, and threw any stones at him, he would set his pot downe on the one side and cast stones against the children till he had assured his way, then would he returne to carry home his pot. And which is more, although hee were a good bibber of wine (as I have oftentimes seene him drinke, when his maister has given it him) yet would he never touch it vntill leave was given him.” (Acosta, José de. Historia natural y moral de las Indias, etc. Sevilla, 1500. English version by Edward Grimston, Natural and morall historie of the East and West Indies. London, 1604, p. 315 [Reprinted 1880 by the Hakluyt Society, as its Volume LX]) (…)

Philostratus, who was born circa 170 A.D. and died in 245, was a disciple of the Greek Pythagorean philosopher, Apollonius of Tyana, who was born a few years before the Christian era. Apollonius traveled extensively and among the countries he visited was India. (…) The narratives of the travels of Apollonius were collected and written out in full by Philostratus. In the English version of these we read that near the river Hyphasis, which traverses India, the parts of the mountains which stretch down to the Red Sea are overgrown with aromatic shrubs, as well as many other species of plants, including pepper trees, which he states “are cultivated by the apes.”

“It [the pepper tree] grows in steep ravines where it cannot be got at by men, and where a community of apes is said to live in the recesses of the mountain, and in any of its glens; and these apes are held in great esteem by the Indians, because they harvest the pepper for them. . . . For this is the way they [the apes] go to work in collecting the pepper; the Indians go up to the lower trees and pluck off the fruit, and they make little round shallow pits around the trees, into which they collect the pepper, carelessly tossing it in, as if it had no value and was of no serious use to mankind. The monkeys mark their actions from above out of their fastnesses, and when the night comes on they imitate the actions of the Indians, and twisting off the twigs of the trees, they bring and throw them into the pits in question; then the Indians at daybreak carry away the heaps of spice which they have thus got without any trouble, and indeed during the repose of slumber.” (Philostratus [“the Athenian”]. The Life of Apollonius of Tyana. English translation by F. C. Conybeare. 2 vols. London and New York. [Reprinted 1917.] Vol. I, p. 239)

Our next excursions in ancient history take us to the valley of the Nile and here we find in paintings on the tombs three illustrations of monkeys serving man. To one of these I am unable to assign any date whatever, but for the other two fairly definite times can be set.

In Maspero’s History of Egypt, there is a reproduction of a picture from the tomb of Hui which this distinguished Egyptologist says “represents men and monkeys gathering the fruit of a group of dôm palms.” (Maspero, G. A History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia and Assyria. Edited by A. H. Sayce. Translated by M. L. McClure. London, n. d. Grolier Society edition, Vol. IV, p. 341) (…)

Sir Gardner Wilkinson in his great work on the ancient Egyptians, has this to say on the subject. “Monkeys appear to have been trained to assist in gathering the fruit, and the Egyptians represent them in the sculptures handing down figs from the sycamore-trees to the gardeners below; but, as might be expected, these animals amply repaid themselves for the trouble imposed upon them, and the artist has not failed to show how much more they consulted their own wishes than those of their employers.

“Many animals were tamed in Egypt for various purposes . . . and in the Jimma country, which lies to the south of Abyssinia, monkeys are still taught several useful accomplishments. Among them is that of officiating as torch-bearers at a supper party; and seated in a row, on a raised bench, they hold the lights until the departure of the guests, and patiently await their own repast as a reward for their services. Sometimes a refractory subject fails in his accustomed duty, and the harmony of the party is for a moment disturbed, particularly if an unruly monkey throws his lighted torch into the midst of the unsuspecting guests; but the stick and privation of food is the punishment of the offender; and it is by these persuasive arguments alone that they are prevailed upon to perform their duty in so delicate an office.” (Wilkinson, Sir Gardner. Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians. 3 vols. New edition, revised and corrected by Samuel Birch. New York, 1879, Vol. I, pp. 381–82)

Here then we have accounts and illustrations showing monkeys gathering coconuts in Java in the present year of grace, and at the other end of the time scale we have Egyptian rock paintings and carvings showing how monkeys assisted in gathering figs and dôm palm fruits not later than 2500 b.c. and possibly as early as 3450 years before the birth of Christ—at the lowest figure a range of more than 4400 years, at the largest a range of 5370 years.»

– E. W. Gudger, “Monkeys Trained as Harvesters – Instances of a Practice Extending from Remote Times to the Present“.


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