When I was little, my village elders would fascinate and frighten my peers and I with fables about bush babies at moonlight gatherings. Back then, we thought the tales were true, and I used to picture bush babies as dollish creatures the size of a three-year-old, but now, I scoff and shake my head wistfully at their ridiculousness.
Recently, I decided to scour the internet for articles on bush babies and discovered that, although the moonlight tales were imaginary, they – like any other fictional story – are hugely influenced by reality, and that is what brings them to life. I also refreshed my memory of the myths about the animal by interviewing some elders of my village.
Below are facts and fictions about bush babies, as I have gathered them, paired according to their similarities to one another:
FICTION: My village elders say bush babies cry like a lost baby in nearby woods, especially at night, as a way of attracting captives-to-be.
FACT: The name bush baby comes from the animal’s babyish cry.
FICTION: When mothers take to the market and fathers intoxicate themselves in the bear parlour, bush babies steal into their homes and abduct their babies. Then when these folk return and find their children missing, they rush outside bearing gongs and bells, and begin striking and ringing them respectively in the hope that the bush babies, known to despise noise, would return the children in order to end the noise.
FACT: Bush babies are nocturnal creatures, hence their other name ‘galagos’, which means ‘little night monkeys’ in Afrikaans. I doubt they would come out in daylight to kidnap children.
FICTION: They say bush babies send birds and grasshoppers into people’s gardens to lure children out of their homes and into the woods. Village elders use this tale to scare children from playing or hunting far away from home.
FACT: Bush babies communicate, definitely not with birds and grasshoppers, by calling to one another and by marking their paths with urine.
FICTION: Some say bush babies capture and keep children captive by clinging to the children’s backs like a baby.
FACT: Bush baby mothers carry their infants in their mouths.
FICTION: They say bush babies can hypnotise or bewitch children with a look in the eye.
FACT: Bush babies have large eyes for good night vision. The eyes are scary too.
FICTION: Bush babies possess the power to disappear.
FACT: With their strong hind limbs, bush babies can jump up to two metres vertically, despite their small sizes, and however far they can jump horizontally, I doubt that would make me think they can literally vanish at will.
FICTION: With their magical powers, bush babies hunt in people’s refrigerators to sustain themselves and their captives. At least they have a sense of responsibility. But appearing in people’s refrigerators…? I cannot believe I welcomed that when I was little.
FACT: The males leave their mothers’ territories after puberty, but the females tarry, establishing communities made up of closely related females and their younger siblings.
FICTION: Bush babies force their captives to scratch their backs or fan them.
FACT: A male bush baby mates with all the females in its territory. Those who do not have territories sometimes establish small bachelor groups. Ha!
FICTION: Bush babies feed on the items they find in people’s refrigerators and sometimes sleep in holidaymakers’ beds.
FACT: Bush babies feed on insects, fruits, tree gums, and small animals; and they often sleep in groups in leafy nests, and tree branches and holes.
FICTION: Bush babies keep children as dolls or pets, and before they return a child (they do this by teleporting the kid into their parents’ refrigerators), they leave a bite mark on the child’s neck as a sign that the child has been claimed once and should not be claimed again by other bush babies.
FACT: It is not advisable to keep bush babies as pets, as like many other non-human primates, they are possible sources of diseases that can defy species barriers.
FICTION: Bush babies’ dollish brown hair, as told in fables, is a costly ritual ingredient and is highly sought after by jujuists. Therefore, to snare – or escape – a bush baby, wear it a necklace of tiny bells; they hate noise and would stay still if they discover that moving creates the noise. Just make sure you are not nearby if the bells mistakenly slip off its neck.
FACT: The picture at the beginning of this post clearly disagrees that bush babies have dollish brown hair, but, please, jujuists do find bush baby fur priceless.