The Invisible Simian Labor Force

About a week back I posted a link on Twitter to this article about a Berkeley woman who has been hiring out her pet monkey as a fruit harvester.  For a small free and a cut of the fruit, you can get your trees harvested of all those sweet unreachables.

Naturally, it took me until this morning to figure out it was an April Fool’s Day hoax.  What? Fact-checking?

However, the basic idea is not too far fetched.  Humans have gotten a days work out of our simian cousins for a long time and continue to do so.  Helper monkeys aid people with mobility problems, giving them back their independence and providing companionship.  The Monkey Business alluded to seems to be merely a mashup between this concept and open fruit map.

I was further encouraged to come across a kindred spirit, accused of primate-related gullibility:

In the issue of Science for February 7, 1919, I published a note entitled “On Monkeys Trained to Pick Coconuts,” the opening paragraph of which read as follows: “Readers of the Sunday editions of some of our metropolitan papers may recall that in the fall,  the season of cotton-picking in the South, waggish space writers sometimes make the suggestion that monkeys be trained to do this work and that thereby the shortage of labor be relieved.” This statement was followed by quotations from the books of Miss Isabella Bird and of Mr. R. W. C. Shelford to show that in the East Indies monkeys are employed to pick coconuts for their masters.

Some quiet fun was made of me for having been “taken in” by these accounts, but the laugh passed to my side when Mr. Carl D. La Rue, writing front Kisaran, Asahan, Sumatra, published in the issue of Science for August 22, 1919, a note entitled “Monkeys as Coconut Pickers.”

E. W. Gudger, Associate in Ichthyology, American Museum, goes on to give a brief history of monkey labor, touching on their use in coconut-picking in Sumatra and Borneo, hearsay about Chinese monkeys gathering rhubarb and pounding rice, and West African monkeys who could work a mortar, play the pipes and cook meat.

It’s the report of José de Acosta, a Jesuit monk in the West Indies, that takes the cake:

“I sawe one [monkey] in Carthagene [Cartagena] in the Governour’s house, so taught, as the things he did seemed incredible: they sent him to the Taverne for wine, putting the pot in one hand, and the money in the other; and they could not possibly gette the money out of his hand, before he had his pot full of wine. If any children mette him in the streete, and threw any stones at him, he would set his pot downe on the one side and cast stones against the children till he had assured his way, then would he returne to carry home his pot. And which is more, although hee were a good bibber of wine (as I have oftentimes seene him drinke, when his maister has given it him) yet would he never touch it vntill leave was given him.”

A monkey drinking buddy who doesn’t mind going down the street for another round, kicking a little ass if need be.  Perfect.

The whole Natural History article (from 1923!) is definitely worth a read as it goes in depth on the smaller, hairier shadow labor force throughout recorded history.  Helping Hands Helper Monkeys, makers of the above video also have a fascinating site for a more modern look at what our furry brothers are doing for us.

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