Sunday, October 21, 2012
I was raised by monkeys after being kidnapped and abandoned in jungle as a child, says Marina Chapman
FEW housewives could boast of a compelling and exotic life story to rival that of Marina Chapman.
BY HELEN WEATHERS/DAILY MAIL/ADELAIDE NOW
Born in Colombia, it is said she was kidnapped aged four and abandoned in the jungle, where for five extraordinary years she was raised by a colony of capuchin monkeys.
As their adopted daughter, she claims she learned to scale trees and catch birds and rabbits with her bare hands, her Tarzan-like existence coming to an end only when she was discovered by hunters.
Her story is the subject of a book called The Girl With No Name, due to be published in Britain next year. There are also plans for a TV documentary.
The PR blurb for the book, the rights to which have already been sold in seven countries, says breathlessly of her capuchin "family": "By following them and copying what they ate and drank, their social activities, their language, Marina gradually became part of the family for five extraordinary years.
"They fought, played and shared tender and terrifying experiences. Marina developed extraordinary super-human abilities such as tree-climbing, stealth and animal communication."
Compelling indeed, especially when set against the backdrop of her adopted home of Bradford, where she trained as a cook, worked at the National Media Museum, then switched careers to help troubled young children, after marrying a local bacteriologist in the 1970s.
Yesterday Marina — who believes herself to be in her 50s but cannot be certain of her birthdate — declined to elaborate further when she answered the door at her three-bedroomed semi in the middle-class suburb of Allerton. She politely explained that a publishing deal prevented her from speaking about her past.
An avid church-goer, she is popular with her neighbours, who speak of her caring nature - rather than her unusual childhood. In fact, the neighbours we spoke to had no idea of her time running with monkeys, for in Bradford she is better known for once cooking a quiche for the Duke of Kent, who apparently declared it "the best I’ve ever had".
Her 64-year-old husband John, a former church organist, spoke only to insist, good-humouredly, that they had not raised their children like monkeys. This was in response to their 28-year-old daughter Vanessa’s comment in one report at the weekend that: "When we wanted food, we’d have to make noises for it."
Certainly, Marina is not the only feral child believed to have been reared by animals, and experts say monkeys are known to accept young humans into their fold.
In 1991 a six-year-old Ugandan boy, John Ssebunya, was found hiding in a tree having spent three years in the wild, cared for to some extent by vervet monkeys. Now aged 27, he learned to speak and sing, touring with a choir.
In another famous case, in 1996, two-year-old Bello was found living with chimpanzees in northern Nigeria. He was believed to have been abandoned at six months old and when first discovered he walked like a chimp, dragging his arms on the ground. He died in 2005.
Other feral children have been raised by wolves, goats and dogs - but capuchin monkeys? This is the one aspect of Marina’s story which has left some primate experts well and truly baffled. Especially as the average height of a capuchin is between 30cm and 50cm.
One expert told us: "Chimpanzees, yes, I could imagine that. And possibly orangutans. But capuchins? That would be truly extraordinary.
"Capuchins are very sociable and intelligent animals, but they can also be highly aggressive, territorial and vicious. They have been known to kill each other in territorial disputes.
"An adult male capuchin monkey weighs around 6 or 7kg, about half the size of a three-year-old child. It wouldn’t be able to pick up a baby, let alone a small girl of four.
"They live in colonies of around 30 or 40 and roam the jungle, covering around 12-18km a day, so how a human would be able to follow them and become part of the colony I do not know.
"I could imagine a young child learning certain skills from capuchins, especially from those primates which have grown up in areas populated by humans, but it stretches the imagination to think of a child becoming a part of a capuchin family."
This, one can only suppose, makes Marina’s survival in the jungle all the more remarkable.
Indeed, the book publicity adds: "Surrounded by terrifying noises and trapped by its sheer suffocating deafness, half-drugged and starving, Marina tried to find her way home. She searched for food and water along the way, competing with big cats, poisonous spiders, giant pythons, extraordinary insects and huge bats."
How Marina integrated back into society after five years isolated from human company is not explained.
However, her account does detail how the hunters who found her in the jungle sold her into prostitution in exchange for a parrot, and how she managed to escape before having to see her first client - only to end up on the streets of Cucuta, reputedly one of Colombia’s most lawless cities, picking pockets to survive.
Eventually she led her own gang of thieves made up of orphans and homeless children.
In her mid-teens she found employment with a Colombian family as a maid. She lived with the family, but worked mainly for the neighbours, who were in the textile business.
When they went on a six-month trip to Bradford in the mid-Seventies, they took her along. It was here, in 1977, that Marina Luz - the name she gave herself - married John, whom she had met at a church meeting. They had two daughters, brought up, so this remarkable tale goes, in part as if they were monkeys.
As for who took her into the jungle in the first place, one of Marina’s daughters, composer and model Vanessa James, said her mother’s abduction was by unknown kidnappers, presumably seeking a ransom.
"It’s assumed that the kidnap went wrong," she said in an interview. "All she can remember is being chloroformed with a hand over her mouth. And all she can remember of her life before that is having a black doll as a toddler.
"Obviously she learned to fend for herself and only once got very ill when she ate something poisonous."
Vanessa said of her childhood, which involved creepy-crawlies and mammals being brought into the house: "All my school friends loved Mum because she was so unusual. She was childlike, too, in many ways.
"I got bedtime stories about the jungle, as did my sister. We didn’t think it odd — it was just Mum telling her life."
Mother and daughter returned to Colombia five years ago in a failed attempt to trace Marina’s parents, and decided to write her story - until now unknown outside her close family - to highlight the problems of child abduction and trafficking.
A share of the profits from the book will be donated to charities fighting human trafficking and child slavery in Colombia.
Marina was signed up by literary agent Andrew Lownie, who yesterday explained he too is unable to talk about her book until it is published.
However, a biography of Marina on his website describes her as ‘an exceptionally rare, arguably unique example of an abused, uneducated feral child who has somehow survived and conquered her misfortune.
"Part of the wild child is still very much in her; she has spent much of her time in England embarrassing her children by scaling trees in seconds, catching wild birds and rabbits with her bare hands, as well as milking the odd passing cow."
One thing’s for sure, this Bradford housewife’s story gets more and more curious with every detail.