The Langurs

Some thoughts on a recent viral monkey video

If pressed to speculate, I would guess that they were studying the interactions among a social group of langur monkeys, that the animatronic doll was meticulously designed, treated with chemicals to simulate pheromones, testing the group’s response to the toy, as somber scientists with brown hats and clipboards checked boxes on a spreadsheet, designed by a graduate student on the brink of a successful thesis.

And perhaps that’s true. Perhaps this was a double-blind, controlled experiment from which important data will be harvested and assimilated into the hefty annals of Things We Know about Langurs. Or perhaps this was more scatter-shot, an unexpected experimental note sounded in the unlikeliest of jungles at the direction of a scientific maestro, performing a symphony of intuitive investigation in the empty forest, to see if it makes a sound.

Or maybe it was a lark by a bored primatologist, hungover from one too many flutes of champagne at the social mixer after the previous night’s zoology conference, looking from the animatronic toy to the monkeys and back again, and moved to act by that most innocent curiosity of youth, let’s just see what happens.

One morning they awoke to find a child in their village. It was not a baby, but a toddler, though borne of no parents among them. There was something different about the child. It was not his appearance, his scent, or the way he moved, but there was something. You could sense it immediately. The child was one of them, anyone could see that. It was also different, something more. Something divine?

They held it in their arms, tried to care for it. It wouldn’t eat. They guided it onto limbs and showed it how to grasp and balance, but it wouldn’t learn. It was a part of their group, and yet apart from them all, somehow. Then it fell. It fell like a lifeless ragdoll, with a thud and a flop and then stillness, onto the forest bed below. It died there.

Perhaps the scientists learned something worthwhile from observing the interactions of the langur monkeys with their animatronic toy. Perhaps the field of scientific knowledge expanded in some appreciable way. Perhaps an eccentric, distinguished researcher won additional acclaim for their findings. Perhaps the primatologist stifled laughs from behind the nearest broad-trunked tree, admiring their own handiwork, mocking the stupid monkeys.

All I know is that on one unseasonably warm day in February, a short video emerged from the flash and din of the web, a two minute testament to the langurs, and how they showed humanlike compassion and mourning in the wake of the death of the toy monkey. It was a good video, edited down to just the highlights, they’re so cute, so precious, so misguidedly sad.

Yet I wonder, too, about how the langur experienced this episode in their history. The mysterious arrival, the sudden departure, the otherworldly creature who was, for just a moment, a part of their lives. Do they remember the toy monkey? Do they question where it came from, or why? Do they tell stories of this strange happening to their young? Do they even tell stories? Does a langur monkey, as it lays down to rest, sleeplessly stir, speculating on the meaning of this strange experience, or its broader implications for their lives?

It’s funny, imagining those monkeys as they push up against the very limits of their understanding and ability to reason, trying to make sense of a toy monkey thrust suddenly in their midst. Silly monkeys.

And yet there’s a small part of me that wants to listen, to listen very carefully, for the echoes of stifled laughter from behind the nearest bright star.


Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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