Monkey See, Monkey Do!

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.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: State of Mind.



  1. scillagrace says:

    Yes! I love your story! Might you be marching for Bernie tomorrow?

    1. Hi Priscilla, Thank you! Bernie’s my guy, but I haven’t heard about any marches. What’s the story?

      1. scillagrace says:

        I actually found this out from a blogger in the UK – apparently, they’re not “official” marches because they’re associated with Occupy Wall Street, not his campaign. This is the list:

  2. Ruth says:

    Oh Naomi, I do hope your right about there being hope for us humans. Some days the world mess seems grim. Opening closed minds sounds like a wonderful place to start!

    1. Hi Ruth,
      Thanks so much for the visit–so good to hear from you. Paul Krugman says that our two party system is defunct, and that seems obvious to me when, rather than governing of the people, by the people, for the people, obstruction has become the main goal of one of the parties, without even the pretense of compromise in order to fulfill its contract with the people. It gets worse and worse, beyond understanding, and something has to change. Have they no shame? It is a mess, and it’s hard to hope for any sudden awakening of conscience. So all we can do is hope, vote, and contribute to the candidate we think will fix what is obviously broken.

      1. Ruth says:

        Read Marilyn’s blog post when you have s minute if you haven’t already. And to answer your question- they have no shame!

      2. Dear Ruth, I really like her style, and I have to agree with everything she says, but we have to keep hoping and voting and speaking out. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. What a wonderful world it would be. Great post, Naomi!

    1. Thank you, Jill! Fingers crossed!

  4. Carol says:

    Imagine, just imagine.
    Then I read your last sentence and wondered if current events, particularly the political events, were in your mind.

    1. Dear Carol, I can’t help but wear my politics on my sleeve! I try to be subtle, but it gets harder and harder, especially in an election year, with so much resting on the results. So good to hear from you–I am about to wander over to your blog to say hello! xoxo, n

      1. Carol says:

        Current politics are worrisome. I’m baffled by the voting, although I’m not seeing a good choice – at least in the loudest party. Whatever has happened to “by the people, for the people” and common sense?

      2. “By the people, for the people” has been sold out to the highest bidders, and I think it’s not too wild a statement to say that we are now an oligarchy. It’s shocking to me that so many Americans can can actually consider elevating an ignorant loudmouth bigoted impulsive crass rude boorish narcissist like Trump into (arguably) the most powerful person in the free world. I. Don’t. Get. It. He appeals to the people’s basest most selfish instincts, and I am ashamed and embarrassed by it all–it is no longer funny, but terrifying. I am dreading the election.

      3. Carol says:

        I am in complete agreement with you.

  5. Keep dreaming big! Thanks for the story of hope!

    1. Dear Carol,
      It’s a lot to ask, or even hope for.
      Thanks for stopping by.

      1. Putting it out to the world is a start.

  6. mithriluna says:

    This is so sweet! Such a lovely – feel good post.

    1. Thank you for the visit, and for taking the time to share your response.

  7. raptekar says:

    Just imagine. Openness. Lovely.

    1. Hi Richard, Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s always good to hear from you.

  8. Meg says:

    Yes. A great story that inspires hope, Naomi. Thanks for that. M.

    1. Thank you, Meg. One can hope.

  9. Tish Farrell says:

    It’s a good tale, and a brave hope, Naomi. We humans need to wake up first though 🙂

    1. No kidding! Thanks for stopping by, and saying hello.

  10. what a beautiful post, Naomi

    1. Thank you, Dallas. Sending hugs!

  11. Shoot. Seems to me humans are too stubborn to learn. Greed rules, but I have hope. ❤ 🙂
    Love this story, Naomi. Long time no see. Wonderful to read you again. ❤

    1. Dear Tess,
      I’m afraid you’re right. We can hope, we can vote, and I hope we can change things.
      I have been out in the world, and working hard on my novel–want to push through and finish, and the blogging has taken a hit because of it. I’m down to blogging once a month or so, but I miss my blogging community and I want to stay in touch. So good to hear from you–I hope you are well, and that 2016 is being kind to you.

      1. Thank you, Naomi. So far it’s been crazy busy. Hope I can keep up the pace and I’m r.e.t.i.r.e.d. for heaven’s sake. Not enough time. How do you work, keep a family and write your novel?
        Wish you the best in 2016. Be good to yourself. Don’t push too hard. It may not have good health benefits. 🙂 ❤

      2. Dear Tess,
        Thank you, Tess. It’s a balancing act, isn’t it? You are such a prolific writer and blogger and don’t you have family very close by? Even now that the kids are at school and working in a far-off land, I still don’t have enough time to get everything done that I need to get done! I think, perhaps, I am too good to myself, but working hard to finish up the manuscript. Wishing you all the best for 2016. I want to say ‘The New Year,’ but somehow we are already sneaking up on March!

      3. You are more than welcome, Naomi.
        Ha. I confess I am a s.l.o.w. writer and blogging overwhelms me. My family lives upstairs from me. I have less time now than when I was working. I’ve been retired for going on ten years. TEN. Where did all that time go? o_O
        See, I too want more time and it is all my own. ❤ ❤ Wish you the best in your endeavors in 2016. Sometimes it's small steps. Sigh.

      4. It’s wonderful to be so close to your family, Tess. I imagine that’s where some time goes, and that is a really worthwhile way to spend it. You might be slow, but you are very prolific. Imagine an anthology of all the short stories you have written and posted. I think you should pick your favorites and publish a book of short short stories. I too am a very slow writer. It usually takes me a whole day to write a blog post, especially if I have to edit all the photos for it, and it takes longer to write a chapter I’m satisfied with. I am half through what I hope will be a final revision of my manuscript, but until then I might be blogging only about once a month. It’s great to be back in touch, Tess.

      5. Thank you, Naomi. You’ve caught me at a low point. A couple days ago, I wanted to fling some editing across the room.
        How do you not get overwhelmed working, running a household and writing? I can’t write when I’m tired. Don’t you get worn out?
        I’m like you. A post takes most of the day including pictures, links to interesting places, or explanations.
        I am working on a collection of brand new material. The editing is slow because there aren’t enough hours in a day. I have a schedule but something always comes up.
        This has been a lovely chat. If you ever want to chat, I have a contact tab on my blog. ❤ ❤
        I don't see the family for days at a time because we all have different schedules (a growing family etc.) 🙂

      6. Dear Tess,

        I am excited to know you are working on a collection! Peaks and valleys, dear friend! I am feeling a bit pressed right now too, hosting an all day storytelling workshop tomorrow and a house concert on Saturday, with a house full of overnight guests, and all the cleaning and shopping that entails, but I have to look at the big picture, in which I am building community, sharing time with creative people, and I always learn something when I do. There is the anxiety of seeing three days go by without a whit of progress on the novel. I can go days or even a week without hearing from the kids. But last night, with all the other stuff I had to do, I stayed up until 2AM reading a story my daughter sent me, and sending her back comments. It is by far the most important thing I could possibly have done, and I am thrilled that my Stanford senior can still come to me for help with her homework! If the kitchen isn’t as clean for the company, I can’t worry about that–the storytellers are grateful to have a meeting place and I am delighted to be able to provide it; they know that in real life, as well as on paper, the story’s the thing.
        I’m sure it’s the same for you, Tess. You’re working away on your stories, seeing your family when you can, with the secure feeling that they are there when you need them, and growing your circle with every post–I know from reading your comments what a devoted following you have in the blogging and writing community, including myself!
        It’s great to connect, and I would love to hear about your progress with your collection. When pulled in two directions, my advice is to let the housework go–that’s what I think of as productive procrastination. So easy to get pulled away from the work that only you can do, and that’s your writing. It’s why I have to be careful not to plan too many parties, because the preparation and housecleaning is a digression. Finding a balance isn’t always easy. But if you aren’t into entertaining, let the house go for a few days, make a cup of tea or pour yourself a glass of wine, and keep writing!

        Now I have to hurry and clean the guest bathroom, and run out for groceries, because company is arriving in a couple of hours!


  12. Naomi says:

    Wonderful story, Naomi! Thank you!

    1. Hi Naomi,
      Thank you for the visit, and for your really sweet response to this story.
      Best wishes,

  13. sue marquis bishop says:

    Inspiring words.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Sue. It’s always good to hear from you.

  14. Dorota says:

    One little monkey can change the world but not one human. There are too many not so smart humans who either listen to a stupid person or don’t listen at all. Sorry but I think that monkeys are smarter than people.

    1. Dear Dorota,
      I’m afraid you might be right! Thank you for sharing your response. We will know for sure after the election!

  15. Lucid Gypsy says:

    We have a lot to learn!

    1. Indeed we do! So nice to hear from you–thanks for stopping by!

  16. niasunset says:

    Great story and post dear Naomi, Thank you, Love, nia

    1. Dear Nia, Thank you for the visit, and your kind response. So good to hear from you. I hope the New Year is treating you well!

    1. Fingers crossed! Thanks for the visit–hope you’re well.

  17. A wonderful story Naomi. I think the third and fifth pictures were taken in the Amazon yes? They look so familiar to me.

    1. Hi Alison,
      Yes, those are the monkeys Amazonia had rescued from private homes and were introducing back into the wild. Thanks for the visit–hope all is well for you and Don.

  18. Dreaming big is the real challenge presented by our world.

    1. Hi Charlie,
      Thanks for stopping by. It’s always good to hear from you.
      I think you’re right. I want to see plans and commitments to improve our prospects for a healthy population on a healthy planet. I would love to see people look beyond immediate profit to the big picture and what kind of world we are going to leave for our children.

  19. What a neat history. I guess a monkey really would have no reason to think that his closed fist is why he can’t get out of the trap, if that’s his first encounter. Just like with human children who don’t know how to solve problems until they’ve either gone through trial and error or through a lucky “break.” 😉

    1. Lucky break is right! Hope you are well, Kate. It’s so good to hear from you. Thanks for sharing your insight and making me smile!

  20. ShimonZ says:

    This is a wonderful tale, Naomi. When I started reading your post, my heart fell. But then I got to the good part. Still, I so wish people would have more compassion for the animals around them. Still hoping.

    1. Dear Shimon,

      I’m glad you kept reading! I agree with you. You can tell much about a person or a culture by how they treat children, elders, animals, and anyone or anything that has no vote or voice or bank account. So good to hear from you. I hope you are well!

  21. socialbridge says:

    Naomi, thanks for sharing this wonderful tale.
    It’s interesting how hope is so fundamentally enshrined in lore, legend and myth.

    1. Where there’s breath, there’s hope! Thank you for the visit and for your thoughtful response, Jean.

  22. Trying to figure out how we can be like that monkey. I’m thinking of so many people around the world doing their bit. Bernie Sanders is one of them. He’s stood in a nearly empty Senate chamber perhaps hundreds of times, giving one impassioned speech after another, warning his colleagues, us, the world about the dangers of doing business only for the very wealthy. And he’s seen the situation degrade–and degrade and degrade. I won’t quote numbers and articles, but I can tell by your comments that you are aware as well.

    Is he the equivalent of the monkey teaching the rest of us? Will enough of us learn and teach others to free ourselves and make the monkey pot obsolete?

    I pray every day that is so. Sanders isn’t the only one, of course. Millions of people work every day, in one way or another, for lasting change that heals humanity, heals the Earth, protects our habitat and all creatures.

    A wise woman I know says the good is rising at last, that the evil cannot hold sway any longer. Microbiologist come philosopher Elisabet Sahtouris talks about “imaginal cells,” a scientific term, that transform a caterpillar to a butterfly. I hope to be one of those imaginal cells in the human transformation. Will this butterfly make it?

  23. Dear Kathryn Grace,
    What a thoughtful and eloquent reply—thank you so much for joining in the conversation. We are definitely on the same page. I had never heard of Imaginal cells, but love the sound of it. Fingers crossed for Bernie Sanders, and a more kind and compassionate world for every little monkey.

  24. I can actually say that I have literally “spanked a monkey”. 😀 When I was travelling in India, a monkey came into my room, looking for food to steal and to chase him/her away, I had to spank him/her with a strap that I used to attach luggage to my motorcycle.

    1. Thank you for helping me start out my morning with a smile!

  25. What a wonderful story, Naomi. Thanks so much for sharing it and your fascinating photos. 🙂 xx

    1. Dear Sylvia,
      Thank you so much for stopping by. It’s great to hear from you!

  26. Mama Cormier says:

    What a wonderful story. I hope I can use it one day in one of my classes at school. The politics in your country are on the minds of people all over the world. Here in Canada, the rise of Donald Trump is making many of us nervous and the possibility of him becoming president is a constant topic of discussion in the work place, in homes, in bars and in the media. I hope the Republicans can break that monkey jar that they’re caught in and change course….soon!

    1. Believe me, there are Americans who are baffled and terrified about the rise of Trump. At first I was dismissive–who could possibly take such an ignorant narcissistic blabbermouth bully seriously? Now I understand that he is giving voice to a certain sector of our society–giving them permission to reveal and act out their basest, most selfish, violent, and racist impulses. I am still hopeful that while their obnoxious voices might be the loudest, there are enough intelligent and compassionate Americans who will quietly go to the polls and put Bernie Sanders into the White House.

  27. elisa ruland says:

    A powerful lesson, here, Naomi, one we all can learn from. I can almost envision that little monkey whispering his trick in his neighbor’s ear, and telling him to “pass it on.” Hope you are well!

  28. I love this story, Naomi. Clever monkeys.
    This puts me in mind of the novel I’ve just finished reading. You might find it fascinating (although I warn you it’s rather controversial). It’s called “The Woman and the Ape” and it’s by Danish author, Peter Hoeg. I will be reviewing it on my blog in the next week or so. I just adore Hoeg’s novels as they are both quirky and thought-provoking.

    1. Thank you, Sarah! I will go and read that review. I bought a copy of your novel and look forward to reading it.

      1. Thank you, Naomi, for buying a copy of my novel. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

      2. Hi Sarah, I am sure I will!

      3. I’m sure I will, Sarah!

  29. Imagine today’s children raising children in a world free of war. ❤

  30. Pat says:

    Great post, Naomi. Right now I am suffering from “people acting badly” fatigue so am finding ways to nurture myself back. I work hard to believe that good will win and I truly believe that but people do get hurt in times like this. I just wish all the hate filled people would go back under their rocks! I just don’t understand mean-spirited people – and I was a mental health professional. Go figure.

    1. Dear Pat,
      I don’t know how I missed your comment, but I wanted to write and respond. I think I understand how you are feeling. It is bewildering and heartbreaking. I find my sorrow for the downturn the world has taken is close to the surface. Found myself crying at a presentation about Pete Seeger at the Northwest Folklife Festival this weekend, especially when we all sang “We Shall Overcome.” Sitting in a big hall, filled with hundreds of people all singing the song together, I almost believed the words. We need more heroes like Pete to speak out for those whose voices are not heard or are shouted down.

      1. Pat says:

        Yes, Naomi, yes. I hope all of us who are speaking and singing of peace and justice and respect can hang on and resist the current madness.

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