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Painted Monkeys

Posted by Jawar on May 9, 2012

By Zelalem Aberra
Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Whenever a new proclamation was declared, organising 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 organised 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 orientations to farmers’ association leaders how to reap bumper harvest through the application of modern agricultural imputes. After all sorts of promises were given, finally 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 neighbouring associations, it still prevailed in a different form, and robed the farmers as usual. This was indeed astonishing, for by then, it was beyond any body’s doubt that the class struggle in the rural areas was concluded with 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 Qwaami Texeri), 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 so swift. A popular rumour 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 those who were dealing with this illegal trade, 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 an 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 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 was, 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 some how side-tracked the main quest for armament. He tactically dismissed the idea, and rather quickly applied on monkeys and baboons the centuries old policy of divide-and-rule tactic he inherited from his folks. 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 bore 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 organised 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 from the main group would hold responsible those painted monkeys for the existence of this chasm on the premises 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 friendship with any one, including man, is no problem at all, provided there is mutual respect, mutual loyalty, mutual trust and equity etc. But, how could they know that for man true loyalty, trust, and respect could only emanate from one who is (a) painted wet, (b) suspended to dry (c) have a wound that hurts.

How about the main group, shouldn’t they have accepted them back, just for the old times 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 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 should come out victories; and to come out victories one should 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 to 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 colour red could cause such
havoc, what a 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 organisations for various paints of monkeys and baboons; such as: Untied Front of the Green Monkeys; (UFGM) The Federal League of Blue and Brown Baboons (FLBBB); National Association of Yellow and Orange Monkeys (NAYOM) etc. And…they soon would kiss their authentic identity and objective GOOD BYE!


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