Tag Archives: monkey

The Monkey and the Wedge

“So this is a classic Panchatantra story my mother would read to me as a kid.  So one day, a worker was cutting a big log in half, but when lunchtime came and he wasn’t finished cutting the log in half, he put a wedge between the two sides of the log so that it wouldn’t close up.  But then a monkey came down to the log to play, and once he got curious about the wedge, he pulled the wedge out of the log while he was between the two sides of the log that the worker was cutting, and now, with the wedge gone, the log closed up and crushed the monkey.  It’s kind of a dark story, because I think that would kill the monkey, but I don’t ever remember him dying in the story when I was growing up, so I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t.”


This is a really interesting story because the informant is right: the log closing up would definitely kill the monkey, but because the informant was a child when his mother read it to him before bed, his mother most likely left out that part, as it would be hard for a child to fall asleep after hearing that.  I think this speaks to the inherent nature of folklore, that it has multiplicity and variation.  Folklore can go through countless adjustments as time wears on, and a mother adjusting a story for their child so it’s more kid-friendly is just one of the many ways folklore could undergo change.

Xuanzang and Journey to the West


“I remember my grandma always talking about some Chinese monk and I never really pieced together until like… until I was much older that the show I watched was exactly that.”

The legend of Xuanzang, a Chinese buddhist monk who traveled from China to India on a pilgrimage, lead to many stories, authored works, and even some anthropomorphic tales that became prominent in popular culture. The informant grew up watching a TV show, Journey to the West, based on the legend. It covered the story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, who was an anthropomorphized version of Xuanzang who went on a journey similar to that of the monk, but with obvious fictionalization for the purpose of the show.



For the informant, watching the show was a big deal. Being born in America but having only Chinese roots created a bit of a clash between cultures, especially at a young age. Hearing the story of Xuanzang from parents and grandparents, and then watching the show provided for her an entertaining connection to her culture. Beyond that, it was also a opportunity to talk to other 2nd generation kids about something they had in common outside of being just that.



It’s perhaps appropriate that the popularization and fictionalization of an authored work based on folklore is what it takes to connect some kids to the actual folklore in the first place. A TV show can captivate kids really easily, and then through curiosity they go about connecting with the actual folklore at the same time. Also, a lot of this comes from the 16th century novelization (also called Journey to the West) which can be found here.

Monkey in Silk Proverb

“Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.”

Trans: A monkey in silk is a monkey no less

This proverb is one frequently mentioned by my mother and in Lima, in general. The interesting thing is that it is used to convey a slightly different (somewhat racist) message than its English equivalent. In the English proverb, the meaning is that a person’s worth is determined by who they are inside, not by what they’re wearing. In their words, appearances can be deceiving. In the Peruvian sense, however, this proverb is used to denigrate the “new money” class, the rapidly growing middle and upper middle class composed of indigenous people. Since these people are frequently self-starters who come from poor backgrounds and have no social graces or taste, they are ridiculed by the European class with sayings like these that denote that in spite of their new wealth and position, these “cholos” are still the same illiterate farmers (and should be treated as such).

Folk Metaphor – American

The informant learned the following folk metaphor from a friend in college:

“Gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide”

The informant uses this figure of speech “around friends who are gay and know that [he’s] not gay-bashing.”

The informant feels comfortable using this figure of speech around his gay friends because he considers that “in general, gay people are really laid back about their orientation.” He calls the folk metaphor “kind of silly and over the top” but “not horribly offensive unless it’s used in an offensive tone.”

If we take as a given that the folk metaphor is indeed “silly,” it is not surprising that it involves monkeys, which seem to be seen by Americans as fun or amusing—“a barrel of monkeys” is defined on Urbandictionary, a website that allows users to define slang terms, as “a standard of comparison for describing how much fun something is” and Amazon.com sells joke books called Barrel of Monkeys Super Silly Joke Book and Cheeky Wee Monkey Joke Book. Nitrous Oxide, while generally used as an anesthetic, also has the side effect of causing temporary hysterical delirium and is nicknamed “laughing gas,” which would explain why it is being used as part of a silly scenario. In this case it seems safe to say that the folk metaphor is implying that gay people are a source of amusement.

The folk metaphor is obviously widespread; it is pictured here on a commercially produced T-shirt: http://www.zazzle.com/gayer_then_a_tree_full_of_monkeys_on_nitrous_oxide_tshirt-235612046927597732

It can also be found in Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (151).


Cusa, Nick. “Barrel of Monkeys.” Urban Dictionary. 25 April 2011 <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=barrel+of+monkeys>.

Gaiman, Neil and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. New York: Harper, 2007.

“Nitrous Oxide.” Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica. 25 April 2011 <http://www.answers.com/topic/nitrous-oxide>

Proverb – China


“Zhao San Mu Sz”

“Morning Three Evening Four”

It is necessary to understand the following story to be able to understand the proverb:

“There is a new zookeeper assigned to the monkey section. His first assignment is to announce the monkey-eating schedule. He gathers them around and tells them, “You will have 4 bananas in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.” The monkeys don’t respond well; they are upset and throw a fit. The zookeeper then asks himself what he should do. He proves to be a smart, young man by rewording his announcement. He tells them the next day, “You will have 3 bananas in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.” The monkeys cheer and the zookeeper knows he has done his job successfully. The moral of the story is that there are many ways to be creative. Sometimes, all it takes is presenting the same information in a different way to achieve unexpected positive results.” – Ping Hu


I learned this proverb from a family friend who is in charge of an entire business and operation division of her company, Phillip Morris International in China. Over one hundred people report to her on a daily basis and she often uses this technique to get people’s consensus and support, which often leads to critical business implications. She is forced to think outside the box on a daily basis in recreating new strategies to market the product, cigarettes. After sharing this story with me, I couldn’t help but equate the monkeys in the story with consumers and zookeepers with the media. Evidently, we are embedded in a consumerist culture. While the zookeeper successfully persuaded the monkeys, the media does not always elicit positive feedback. It has infiltrated our society, bombarding us with information left and right (some of which is unreliable information). It becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from the media’s construction of reality. To be a success in advertising, one must constantly think outside the box to appeal to a wide audience.

This story also pertains to patterns of communication. I am in a communication course entitled “communication as a social science” and we just learned about the importance of question phrasing. The way one phrases a question can have huge implications as to how the listener interprets the message and responds. A famous experiment conducted by Loftus came to the following conclusion: after an accident, the investigator asked a group of witnesses if they had seen “a broken headlight” versus “the broken headlight.” The witnesses who were asked the latter were more likely to remember the broken headlight and provide assistance. Merely changing the article of the subject changed the meaning of the question and influenced the way the witness responded. Anyone can be creative; even a zookeeper on the first day of his job. Evidently, creativity almost always leads to success, which is the message I took away from the proverb.