Do you know what this is?
It’s a monkey trap from West Africa, made of clay. When I acquired the clay pot, a rope was attached to its neck. Hunters used to stake the other end of the rope to the ground, and bait it with fruit or nuts. A monkey would smell the food, reach inside, and grab a handful.
The hole was large enough for a monkey’s open hand to pass through, but too small for a balled fist to come out. As hard as the monkey pulled, it couldn’t escape, because it never occurred to the greedy monkey to let go of the food.
Monkeys repeatedly fell victim to this, because they refused to drop the food, even as the hunter approached.
This is often told as a parable denouncing greed, or as a cautionary tale against becoming trapped by a fixed mindset. But the antique dealer who sold me my monkey trap told me the rest of the story…
In the late 1940s, a monkey was caught in a clay monkey trap, like so many before it. It struggled to free itself, never thinking to open its fist. On purpose or by accident, it smashed the pot against the ground, the pot broke, and the monkey escaped. But here’s the best part…That monkey taught the other monkeys in its troop how to break and escape from a monkey trap. Neighboring troops caught on until, at least in that part of the monkey world, the traps became obsolete.
Imagine a world where we teach our young, our neighbors, and the greater community what they need to survive and thrive. Imagine a world where we open our tight fists and our closed minds and stop doing things just because that’s the way it has always been done. Imagine smashing the status quo to leave the world a better place for our children, a place where the powerful and oppressive are outwitted, outnumbered, and they and all their ugly trappings become obsolete.
If one little monkey can change the world, maybe there’s hope for us humans too.
All images and words ©Naomi Baltuck.