Kidnapped, dumped in the jungle and raised by monkeys: The story of a little girl wrenched from her family and brought up in the wild who only revealed her tale 50 years later as a Bradford housewife
Marina Chapman tells riveting story exclusively with The Mail On Sunday
She was abandoned aged four in South American rainforest by kidnappers
Mrs Chapman copied monkeys' eating habits and learned to climb trees
A monkey cured her stomach pain by encouraging her drink from a river
Jungle behaviour: Marina's daughter Vanessa describes a 'normal' family walk as one which includes her mother climbing trees
It is an amazing – some might say unbelievable – tale: how a Yorkshire housewife spent five years as a young child being raised by monkeys in the Colombian jungle. Yet experts have found no evidence that Marina Chapman's story is a fantasy – and now she has told it for the first time, in riveting detail.
In a new book, exclusively serialised by The Mail on Sunday from today, Mrs Chapman reveals how a colony of capuchins taught her how to survive after she was abandoned in the rainforest by kidnappers who botched her abduction. She copied the monkeys' eating habits and high-pitched cries and even learned to climb trees, though she slept in a hollowed-out tree trunk at night.
Mrs Chapman's story – which has echoes of the Tarzan tales – began in the Fifties when she was drugged and abducted from her Colombian home at the age of four. Here, she recalls the moment her young life was torn apart, and the ‘human’ kindness of the apes who saved her...
Playing on the vegetable patch at the end of our garden at my home in Colombia, I was in my own special place, my little world where I loved to spend my days. It was 1954, or at least I now think it was. Lost in my activity, I was oblivious to others and everything happened so quickly that fateful day.
One minute I was squatting on the bare earth, playing, preoccupied. The next, I saw the flash of a black hand and white cloth, which covered my face. As I jerked in surprise and terror, there was the sharp smell of a chemical. My last thought as I began to slip into unconsciousness was a simple one: I was going to die.
I don’t know how long it was before the faintest sensations of consciousness began to return. I heard the noise of an engine. I rea-lised I was in the back of a truck. And I wasn’t alone. I could hear crying and whimpering and anguished sobs. There were other children in the truck – terrified children, just like me. I slipped back into unconsciousness.
I had no sense of how much time might have passed when I woke next. The ground around me seemed to be shaking, and I realised I was being carried by an adult. Another man was running with us.
We plunged on further into the depths of the forests until the man hauled me roughly off his shoulder and dumped me on the ground. Dazed, I tried to scramble up and see who had carried me, but all I could see were two pairs of long legs running away and soon they were lost in the gloom. I had no idea where I was, why I was there or when someone would rescue me. The darkness deepened and the eerie night sounds of the jungle were terrifying.
I was nearly five years old, helpless, abandoned and so frightened of being alone. How could I possibly survive?
It was the searing heat of the sun that woke me, and I opened my eyes to the realisation of where I lay. This was the jungle.
Memories of the previous evening came rushing into my head. I stumbled to my feet and began searching for a way to escape. But where to go?
As I span around, I saw only trees, trees and more trees. I trailed disconsolately around, crying and wondering why my mother had not come to find me. As the daylight faded to dusk I knew I would have to spend the night amid the jungle beasts.
The next day, I was wakened by the pain in my stomach. I was hungry and I needed to find something to eat. I curled up on the ground in despair. I wanted to die. I then dozed off and when I woke I opened one eye, and what I saw almost stopped me from opening it any further. I had company. In fact, I was surrounded.
At a distance of several paces were monkeys staring at me. After a short time, one of the monkeys left the circle and approached me. Afraid, I shrank back into a ball, trying to make myself as tiny as possible.
He reached out a wrinkly brown hand and with one firm push, rolled me over on to my side. I quivered on the soil, tensed for the second blow that was surely coming.
But it didn’t – the monkey had lost interest. He had now returned to the circle, squatted back on his hind legs and resumed watching me, along with all the others.
Then they all seemed to want to inspect me. They had been chattering to one another and some had come to check me over.
They began to prod and push me, grabbing at my filthy dress and digging around in my hair. I pleaded, sobbing: ‘Get off me! Go away!’ But I had to wait, cowering and whimpering, until they’d finished their inspection.
Yet I was mesmerised. There was something about the way they seemed to enjoy oneanother’s company that made them feel like a family. And whatever else the monkeys were doing, they seemed to be constantly feeding. I needed to do that too, or I would die.
Startled by a siren shriek from above me, I looked up to see a small monkey swooping from one tree to a smaller one nearby, from which hung banana-like bunches of fruit.
The fruits looked unripe, about the size of my finger, and were an unappetising shade of green. As the monkey dropped a bunch in his haste to grab a handful, I snatched them up from the forest floor.
I watched a nearby monkey who was feasting on the contents and copied him. I looked around to find a stick and had soon snagged another small bunch for myself. I had found company and felt my spirits lifting just a little.
Soon I had spent my third night in the jungle with the monkeys. There were more of my new companions than I’d first seen – looking back now, perhaps 30.
They slept high up in the canopy, while I had to be content with curling up on the bare earth far beneath them, between two shrubs.
Just knowing they were there made me feel a little safer. As the night came rushing down, the sound of them calling to one another gave me comfort.
Figs seemed to be prized over any other foodstuff, and a monkey with figs was a monkey who was hounded.
But life in the jungle during those first days wasn’t just about feeding or grooming. It was also about survival. To my new family, this meant having territory, and defending it.
The first time I saw the monkeys fight with intruders, I was terrified. One minute they were playing, the next there was the crash and clatter of breaking branches as they massed in the canopy.
The sound of the violence above me was petrifying, the noise of their screams as they fought so intense and horrific that I hid under a bush, clamping my hands over my ears.
When they came down again, I was shocked by the sight of the blood around many of their mouths. I was in a dangerous place, but when I thought about how the monkeys had treated me, I decided they must have accepted that I posed no threat.
What I remember most clearly from that time is the feeling of incredible loneliness.
Day after day passed, and still there was no sign of my parents. There was no sign of anyone.
My hope of rescue was fading as fast as the flower pattern on my dress. I imitated the noises the monkeys made for my own amusement, though probably also for the comfort of hearing the sound of my own voice.
But I soon realised that sometimes a monkey – or several monkeys – would respond. So I practised the sounds that they made, desperate for a reaction. If there was an immediate danger their call would be even higher – a sharp, high-pitched scream, which was usually accompanied by the slapping of hands on the ground.
They would then scamper up to the safety of the canopy, leaving me scared and panicky, trying to find a safe place on the ground. All the time I was growing filthier and filthier, and found myself scratching more and more. Like the monkeys, I became home for all manner of little creatures. Not only was my skin growing drier and scalier, I was also soon crawling with fleas.
I suppose it was inevitable that I would fall ill and when I did I was sure I was going to die – but it marked a turning point in my relationship with my monkey family, after which I was truly one of them.
The pain was overwhelming, causing me to clutch my stomach and whimper. The day before, I had eaten tamarind, one of my favourite choices, but even as I’d tasted it, I’d known it wasn’t the usual tamarind.
As I writhed, I saw that sympathy might be at hand. Though my vision swam, I could see Grandpa monkey. I’d called him that simply because that’s what he looked like, with the same sprinklings of white fur that triggered a distant memory of the few old people I’d encountered in my former life.
He jumped down from the tree he most liked to sit in and approached me. He squeezed my arm firmly, then began shaking me slightly, shoving me, as if determined to herd me somewhere else. He was purposeful, and I half-crawled, half-stumbled into the foliage, in the direction his repeated shovings wanted me to go.
And then suddenly, I was falling – tumbling over and over, down a mossy, rocky bank, which was running with cool water. I ended up in a little basin below.
But Grandpa monkey seemed intent on putting my head under, keeping a tight grip on my hair. Was he trying to drown me? Or trying to make me drink the water?
I struggled, heaving myself away from him and slapping the surface of the pool, splashing him, and as I did so he yanked my face up and looked me straight in the eyes. As I looked back at him, I could see something I hadn’t before. His expression was completely calm, rather than angry, agitated or hostile. Perhaps he was trying to tell me something.
In that instant I trusted him. The look in his eyes and the calmness in his movements made me realise he was trying to help me.
I did as he seemed to want. I went under and drank in great mouthfuls of muddy water, feeling it force its way up my nose.
Grandpa monkey let go of me. I scrambled out and collapsed face-down on the ground. I began coughing again and then vomiting – great heaving gouts of acid liquid that burned my throat.
The purging worked. Gradually, I felt able to make my way slowly back towards our territory. Grandpa monkey, seeming satisfied with his efforts, turned and scuttled off ahead of me, back to his tree. From that point on, Grandpa monkey’s attitude changed completely. Where once he’d been indifferent and then wary, he now felt like both my protector and my friend.
At the time, I didn’t give them names – I had no such concept – but now, when I look back, I remember them as individuals and so have given them names.
There was Grandpa, of course, energetic Spot, gentle, loving Brownie, and timid White-Tip, one of the little ones, who seemed to love me and who would often jump on to my back, throw her arms around my neck and enjoy being carried.
Perhaps my favourite – aside from Grandpa – was Mia. She was affectionate, but unlike him she was also shy. I first won her round when I got cross about the way she was sometimes bullied and I would use my size to stop some of the more aggressive young monkeys from poking her and pushing her around.
Now I felt more accepted, I became determined to learn how to climb to the top of the tree canopy, to join my monkey family in their natural domain. Day after day, I would try to climb the shorter, slimmer trees. I fell often but I didn’t let my failures deter me.
I grew stronger, the muscles in my arms and legs developing and becoming sinewy, while the skin on my hands and feet, elbows, knees and ankles was dry and leathery.
I will remember the day I reached the canopy for the rest of my life. The view was breathtaking – literally. The rush of cool air up there was such a shock to me that it made me gasp.
The monkeys were, of course, indifferent, showing no interest in the fact that I was suddenly up there with them. But I couldn’t have been more excited. So here was where they most liked to be. I had now become fully part of their world.
There were few moments that the monkeys didn’t spend together, whether grooming or playing or communicating in some other way. Now I could go where they went, communicate with them and play.
I was just happy to be one of them, to feel included. There were still nights when I was overcome by what I’d lost and wept for hours. But as the months rolled by, curled up in my little ball, in a hollowed-out piece of tree trunk, with the comforting, familiar sound of the monkeys up above me, I was gradually turning into one of them.
Time had no meaning to me, but I can’t think I had been in the jungle for more than three years when memories of my earlier life came clamouring back.
I had started to explore and was rewarded one day by the discovery of a territory that belonged to a whole new species. I could see three huts – large and circular, with roofs made from long grass. The sight of them created a sort of yearning in my heart. I had forgotten so much. I could see people – a family. A human family. And I was human, too.
From then on my life became focused. Though I’d scamper back to my monkey troop at around nightfall, most of my waking hours were now spent at the camp. I would carefully climb up into a tree close to the perimeter and spend hours, a silent wraith, just looking on. I would gaze at tantalising scenes: children playing, fires lit, all the family together. How wonderful it would be, I thought, to be one of those cherished children.
One day I stepped out from the scrubby undergrowth and planted my feet on the beaten sandy earth of the camp. Beside a water butt was a woman, a mother of a newborn baby. My heart leapt at the sight of her. What an intense thing it is, this human need to be loved. It’s one of the most profound things that make social animals social – monkeys too.
But as she looked into my eyes, all I could see in hers was fear. She began stumbling in panic, shouting at me, and as I tried to make myself as small and submissive as I could, a well-built man came running from one of the huts.
He wore a fabric headband with a pair of feathers – one was a vivid, gorgeous blue, the other a deep green, and brightly coloured jewellery made from beads. He also had two stripes – one red and beneath it one black – daubed across his cheeks.
Now it was my turn to be terrified, because he placed a strong hand on one of my shoulders, while his other hand grasped my face and pulled it forwards.
While my heart thumped in my chest, he opened my mouth to inspect my teeth. The job done, he simply shooed me away. I was devastated. I tried begging to him, making gestures to convey my wish for food and shelter.
But my voice and actions were those of a monkey, not a child. He took not the slightest notice and I slunk away into the jungle once more, feeling wretched.
I learned a valuable lesson that day – and an enduring one. Family is found anywhere you are loved and cared for. And I’d been so disloyal to the monkeys. I realised I must put all thoughts of humans firmly out of my mind.
The monkeys, not the humans, were my family.
YOU ONLY HAVE TO MEET HER TO KNOW THAT IT IS TRUE
Did I believe it? I wasn’t sure, writes Lynne Barrett-Lee, co-author of Marina Chapman’s book The Girl With No Name. Of the many stories I have been asked to consider ghostwriting, this one was singular: the story of a woman who’d been raised, in part, by monkeys – or so they said.
I had read some of the material, but the one thing that would clinch it was a face-to-face meeting. It took only a few seconds for me to trust Marina’s story.
It was important to establish such facts as were known. It was essential that the detail was correct.
Here, her daughter Vanessa James had done a brilliant job, spending many hours with Marina, homing in on memories, then cross-checking against images of indigenous species. Vanessa ascertained that the monkeys were probably weeper capuchins, Marina ate guava, and the trees shed brazil nuts and figs.
It has been known for monkeys to accept young humans in their fold. In 1996, a two-year-old Nigerian boy was found living with chimps.
Expert analysis of Marina’s case has found no evidence of obvious fraud or fantasy.
National Geographic and Animal Planet have now commissioned a documentary, and staff will travel with Marina to Colombia next month. I’m left with no doubts. This is an incredible true story.
MY 'MONKEY MUMMY', BY HER DAUGHTER
Thanks to my family, I am rarely able to have a ‘normal’ walk, writes Vanessa James, Marina’s daughter. Instead, I often return home with twigs in my hair.
Typical adventures of a Chapman day out would involve scaling the trees with Mum and my sister Joanna, while my father John studied the bark and lichen below.
At some point there might be an animal-rescue mission, then perhaps a spot of getting lost.
Painting a picture of life at home in Bradford, West Yorkshire, reveals some embarrassing truths. Mum would sometimes sit with a bowl of sweet porridge and have my sister and me ask for it by doing our best monkey impressions.
I’m glad social services never visited us! After dinner, we would often groom one another by picking through each other’s hair.
Being brought up by such a wild and spontaneous mother suggested to us that she had been raised by another breed. She has always been our own ‘monkey mummy’.
She was sometimes criticised for her style of parenting, but her only example was from a troop of monkeys.
So, from what we’ve seen, my sister and I are clear – they must be the most loving, fun, inventive, creative parents on the planet!