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Close-up crop shot of some street art monkeys. Image captured in Brick Lane, London, England. Creative Commons.

Painted Monkeys

Whenever a new proclamation is declared, organizing chains of seminars at different administrative levels used to be the tradition of the Derg era. I had a chance of attending one such grand provincial seminar organized by the then authorities.

The objective of the seminar, as I recall now was to introduce the contents of the 1980s Green Revolution Proclamation and to give orientation to farmers’ association leaders on how to reap bumper harvest through the application of modern agricultural imputes. After all sorts of promises were given, finally, the time for general discussion (questions and answers) came.

A farmer, who seemingly was eagerly waiting for this occasion, shot up and, to everybody’s astonishment openly declared that, contrary to the general success boasted about the elimination of feudalism, however, in his association and all the neighboring associations, it still prevails in a different form, and robes the farmers as usual. This was indeed astonishing, for by then, it is beyond anybody’s doubt that the class struggle in the rural areas was concluded with the total elimination of feudalism. It was only some of his close mates who understood what he was implying; others had to wait until he finally deciphered the riddle, saying: “I mean wild animals and pests, – like baboons, monkeys, wild pigs, porcupines, and the like.” Finally, he concluded his riddle by demanding more guns and bullets for the farmers to get rid of these pests.

The Provincial Derg Representative (Yederg Quwaami Texerii), who seems to always possess magical solutions for all sorts of problems, as usual, pulled one right out from under his beret. This revolutionary person’s revolutionary measures were known to be so swift. A popular rumor has it that while visiting one of the remote districts where cross border contraband trade was exercised, he ordered the execution of some donkeys and asses confiscated from contrabandists by firing squad; seemingly as a warning for other would-be saboteur donkeys and asses, not to engage in any illegal trade across international borders. It is generally believed that, ever since, no beast of burden of average intelligence has ever volunteered in any such reactionary activity of contraband trade. And…..

And for the problem at hand, the directive he handed down was: coax a few of the monkeys and baboons to friendship and win them over, and then, – (I hope you are ready for this..!) paint them red (a paint in vogue then!) and release them to join their group, and you will never, ever face any baboon problem or monkey business again, he directed.

The secret he said is, those who are painted red upon being released from captivity, will be overtaken by a strong impulse of joining their inmates, and celebrate their freedom, and will joyfully dash to join them; while their inmates, mistaking their own members for some strange creatures, will take to their heels. Thus, the impulsive run the painted monkeys make to join their kin and the attempt the group makes to avoid them ignites such a misunderstanding of dramatic proportion that will make them disperse in disarray and leave your harvest alone, he professed!

Indeed, this was one mighty pragmatic feat from the brain of an ordinary, half-literate corporal, who somehow side-tracked the main quest for armament. He tactically dismissed the idea, and rather quickly applied to monkeys and baboons the centuries-old policy of divide-and-rule tactic. Of course, his feat earned him admiration and applause from some sycophants who shouted: “We shall intensify our campaign against all pests!” And that sealed the matter.

I did not follow whether that revolutionary “directives on monkeys and baboons”, – if you may, – had borne fruit. But, one thing is tickling my mind ever since I heard about it; the very thought of what would have happened to the unity of our distant relatives if the directives were implemented. I hope you don’t mind if I share my worries with you; after all, we are related by DNA; aren’t we?

My first impression is that, some sort of chasm, which was not previously there is going to appear, and even grow to a rift, between the painted and the non-painted, unless mended on time. It means that the ball of mistrust, division, and animosity is already set rolling among the once tightly organized family of baboons and monkeys. It might even become an ever
evolving mistrust, division, and ever-stirring resentment that could lead to animosity.

I feel that most members of the main group would hold responsible those painted monkeys for this chasm on the premise that approaching man as a friendly creature in the first place is against their common law. They would argue that it was unmonkey and unbaboon of them to be tempted or lulled towards human friendship thereby breaking the taboo and distance maintained between the two for ages.

During their stay with him, they might have even broken that code of silence that the monkeys and baboons have been guarding for centuries and betrayed the secret of their ability in linguistic communication. For myth has it that,  the only group capable of linguistic communication second to Homo sapiens are the monkeys and baboons, but they deliberately refused to talk among themselves or with man, out of the fear that if man discovers this secret, he would force them to servitude and slavery.

They would further argue that it is narcissistic of them to trust the unreliable man, based
only on that distant biological relation he claims with the monkey and baboon family. While few might counter-argue that creating a friendship with anyone, including man is no problem at all, provided there is mutual respect, mutual loyalty, mutual trust, equity, etc. But, how could they know that for a man true loyalty, trust, and respect could only emanate from one who is (a) painted wet, (b) suspended to dry, (c) has a wound that hurts?

How about the main group, shouldn’t they have accepted them back, just for the old time’s sake, how so ever painted and strange they look, instead of leaving them out in the cold? After all, blood is thicker than water!

I mean, in the same manner as Stalin should have accepted all the Red Army heroes who were captured from war fronts by the Germans and sent to Hitler’s concentration camps and managed to escape from that hell? Was it human of him to send heroes of his own army to the Gulag as if they were ordinary criminals or anti-revolutionaries? Heroes who were filled with uncontrollable home-sickness, and so eager to join their fellow Russians, and even expected some prize for their bravery to shimmer their chest with! From one hell to another, to their utter dismay! While, on one hand, I take “Uncle Joe” (as “Uncle Sam” used to call him then) as a spy-mania or spy-phobic, on the other hand, I remind myself that he had a war on his hands out of which he must come out victorious; and to come out victorious one must follow all the war logic available under one’s disposal!

And what is the fate of the painted monkeys? One thing seems evident: Out of the avoidance they suffer by the main group, and above all, out of their loneliness, the probability that the painted monkeys or baboons regroup is high, even though it might take some time. They might also attract the attention of some mischievous and renegade element from the main group – who himself feels as lonely as the painted ones and seeks their company and service to drop a flea or two into the ears of the boss so that the boss succumbs to his will out of frustration. They might even turn against the main group as agents of other monkeys and baboons.

What worries me most is, if painting monkeys and baboons the color red could cause such
havoc, what damage could painting them, green, blue, yellow, orange, etc. would do to their monkely and baboonly relationship?

There could be no doubt that for the painted ones defending their new identity would become a matter of life and death. Thus it is easy to imagine the popping up of various organizations for various paints of monkeys and baboons; such as the Untied Front of the Green Monkeys(UFGM);  The Federal League of Blue and Brown Baboons (FLBBB); the National Association of Yellow and Orange Monkeys (NAYOM) etc. And…they soon would kiss their authentic identity GOODBYE!

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