The Monkeys with Attractive Eyes

If eyes stick out like golf balls, bulbous enough to have inspired a hideous new creature on a Star Wars set; if a head is disproportionately small, looking like an animated sultana atop a skyscraper; if ears are of the larger, protruding variety that give the impression of a pair of satellite dishes in search of a cricket match, it’s probably best not to say anything.  Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, fashions change and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There’s no such thing as ugly, only unique or exotic.

Besides, the owners of any differently shaped or sized features would likely have heard all the unfortunate quips and taunts.  They may feel self-conscious.

The human species, when at its best, seeks rather to concentrate on the positive, because it’s a nice thing to do.  

Indeed, through fashion humans have acquired an understanding of the available techniques for enhancing certain features or accentuating beauty.  Everybody knows that the more robust among us can favour vertical stripes to look thinner, that high heels for women are at least sometimes about height adjustment and that the right set of frames can bring emphasis to well-shaped eyes.

It's not so easy for monkeys.

There’s little a female gorilla can do, for example, to make its hands look daintier.  It’s difficult to say how a gibbon could give their lanky arms that shorter appearance, and with the swollen red rump of a baboon… well, fashion options are not easy to list.  Monkeys are left with the singular hope that those they come across in the forest will have the good grace not to draw undue attention to certain, exceptional features.

In the forests of Brunei Darussalam on the island of Kalimantan is yet another species of monkey in such a predicament.  How to describe them?

Well, they have very attractive, brown, almond-shaped eyes.  They have suave hairstyles, brushed back, that are almost retro-1950s hip, in a good way.  Their longish faces have a welcoming quality, with an endearing heart shape to them, while their mouths are petite and aristocratic, not at all obnoxious-looking.  Their eyebrows might not be lacking in bushiness but that could be described as distinguished or intellectual, surely.

Nor could one speak highly enough of their nature-chosen jackets, in coordinated earthy tones from brown to beige, tan, light orange and grey, which give a sense of chic casualness and must belong to the very highest echelons of forest wear.  That’s certainly something to focus on.

In Brunei these gentle creatures live in proximity to the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.  They prefer the environs of the mangrove forests that line the riverbanks and channels just beyond the city limits, accessible to humans via easily arranged boat tours.  The monkeys are shy, preferring to spend time away from society at large.  I don’t know why.

In that neck of the woods are other animals to observe, such as monkey species of less distinctive appearance and maybe large sea otters, seen scampering along the bank.  But I digress.

The human species when at its best seeks to concentrate on the positive, but unfortunately the human species isn’t always at its best.  Sometimes humans can be rather cruel and biologists, apparently, are no exception. 

I’m considering the insensitivity in the naming of this particular primate: the proboscis monkey.  The word proboscis refers to a long flexible snout or trunk, or, more specifically, a large nose.

But I ask, with a nose that’s up to ten centimetres long and is odd for a monkey, is it entirely necessary to bring any further attention to it by choosing such a name?  It’s not small. It’s hardly to be missed. And to add insult to injury the biologists have placed those gentle simians in the genus Nasalis.

Meanwhile those monkeys with attractive eyes go on living peacefully in groups, groups with overlapping territories.  They are among the larger species in Asia, and pursue a diet of leaves and fruit, occasionally insects.  Unlike some other monkey species they are rarely aggressive towards each other and tend to mingle when one group in the forest canopy comes upon another.  They certainly have great personalities, one could say.

But unfortunately the biologists haven’t been alone in not looking beyond the matter at the centre of things.  The locals have likewise demonstrated insensitivity towards these gentle forest dwellers.  In Malay there are several names, and it’s the colloquial one, orang belanda, in which there may be an issue.  It translates as ‘Dutchman’.

It so happened that at the time when the first Dutch arrived in the Indonesian archipelago, their European heritage pot bellies and comparatively larger noses made an impression on the local people.

And while it cannot be assumed the proboscis monkey minds being called a Dutchman, or even that the Dutch take offence at having a monkey species named after them, the particular reference to the pot bellies and large noses upon which the comparison relies surely has the potential to offend both parties.

It’s as well to assume the kindly beasts remain unaware of what the humans call them.  On the other hand, it’s difficult to say definitively just what it is that a monkey knows… I mean, understands.


This article also published in Star Magazine, here: The monkeys with attractive eyes

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