Questions on black-on-black monkey insults and taunts

Friday February 24 2017


A woman joins a demonstration outside the French Embassy in London on August 26, 2016. Black people are facing racist attacks in US. PHOTO | AFP 

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One of the complaints I had to deal with this week is the age-old controversy of simianisation — insulting black people by comparing them to monkeys.

In Western cultures, Africans are deemed to be lower down the ladder in Darwin’s theory of evolution from ape to man. 

An excellent analysis and history of simianisation is contained in Simianisation: Apes, Gender, Class, and Race, published in 2015 and edited by Wulf Hund, et al.

The book traces simianisation from the time of Plato and William Shakespeare to the popular writings of H. Rider Haggard, who wrote King Solomon’s Mines andShe andEdgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan of the Apes and the “jungle movies” and comic strips such as the Phantom and Hergé’s Tintin series, including the infamous Tintin au Congo that depicts Africans as inferior ape-like creatures.

It also examines the hugely popular film King Kong, which simianises violence and sex and depicts King Kong as a giant ape.

Today, simianisation is publicly expressed commonly in football matches in Europe where African players are greeted with shouts of “monkey” or monkey noises, or bananas are thrown at them.

The intention is to insult them by suggesting they are sub-humans who have not yet evolved beyond the ape stage.

South Africa, of course, remains Africa’s citadel of racial insults.

Last year Penny Sparrow posted a message on Facebook calling black beachgoers monkeys.

“From now on I shall address the blacks of South Africa as monkeys as I see the cute little wild monkeys do the same, pick and drop litter,” she said.


Barack Obama and his family have not been spared either.

In April-May last year, there were online comments calling Obama’s daughter Malia an “ape,” a “monkey” and accusing her of not deserving a place in Harvard University.

In November last year, a county official in Clay, West Virginia, described Michelle Obama as an “ape in heels”.

In December 2014, North Korea compared Obama to a “monkey” as it accused the US President of shutting down the country’s Internet.

“Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest,” it said in a statement.

But the complaint I had to deal with was that Sunday Nation columnist Gitau Warigi attacked Somalis by asserting that, as members of the Cushitic community, they have a superiority complex towards Bantu Kenyans.

He said it was because of that attitude that Suna East MP Junet Mohamed tried to animalise and dehumanise Coast Regional Commissioner Nelson Marwa by calling him a monkey.

“This Junet-style mindset holds this picture of ‘lofty’ Cushites pitted against Bantus like Marwa who rule them in Kenya and about whom they hark to ancient tales of how the latter migrated from Congo, where presumably they were swinging in the forests like apes.

"You come across this sort of trash all over the uncouth corners of social media. It is not even an original slur. It is a Caucasian invention.

"The Junets, in everything they do and say, are mere imitators,” Warigi writes in “Junet Mohamed should be told there is nothing special in being Cushitic” published in the Sunday Nation of February 19.

“This silly African-to-African race-profiling was fuelled during the colonial period when ethnic Somalis in Kenya had certain minor privileges, like being appointed domestic housekeepers in White establishments. This certainly gave some of them the notion that they could pass themselves off as non-natives.”

Somali readers, including former Nation colleague Mohamed Warsama and Garissa-based Mohamed Shafat, were aggrieved that Warigi was race baiting and racially profiling the Somalis because of the insults of one man.

It was easier for me to deal with that complaint than answer the incidental questions: Is simianisation possible only when it’s white-on-black?

Was Junet calling Marwa a monkey to depict him as the missing link between the ape and humanity?

Was Junet claiming he is one rung higher in the evolutionary ladder than Marwa?

Was Junet insulting the Luhya community by calling Marwa a monkey (assuming he is a Muluhya as he could also be Kisii, Luo, or Kuria)?  

Those are tough questions I could not answer. Can you? 

Send your complaints to the [email protected] Text or call 0721989264