A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

‘I Was Raised by Monkeys’


Marina Chapman says she was raised by monkeys in the rain forest of Colombia.

Now in her 60s, Chapman lives in Bradford, England, with her husband, John, a church organist. They have two daughters.

It all began when, in 1954,  she was kidnapped near her home in Colombia.

“I was four, squeezing pods until the peas popped in our allotment that bordered the village. A black hand suddenly clamped a damp white cloth over my nose and mouth. As I tried to scream the hand pushed harder and the sky turned black.”

Her daughter, Vanessa James, has been helping her write a book that’s due out early next year. She explains that her mother found herself abandoned deep in a remote Colombian jungle, half-drugged, starving, and surrounded by the frightening noises of a dense rainforest.

Kidnappings were not uncommon in the region at that time, and children would be sold into prostitution and other forms of slavery. Apparently, however, something had gone wrong with this particular abduction, and, according to Chapman’s book agent, Andrew Lownie:

“She searched for food and water along the way, competing with big cats, poisonous spiders, giant pythons, extraordinary insects and huge bats.”

Chapman never did find her way back home. Instead, a few days later, she found herself surrounded by a group of about 20 capuchin monkeys. They seemed curious rather than threatening, and she began following them around and doing whey did – eating what they ate, including birds and rabbits, drinking as they did, and then learning their language, behavior and social customs.

She followed the monkeys around, eating what they ate and then learning their language, behavior and social customs.

Chapman stayed with the monkeys for about five years before finding her way back to human civilization. It was not a happy re-entry. She found herself on the streets of the lawless city of Cucuta, where she was brutalized and forced into prostitution and street crime.

In her mid-teens, she was taken in by a wealthy family as their maid, and when they took her with them on a six-month business trip to England in 1977, she met her future husband, John, at a church meeting. He was a bacteriologist, and although he spoke no Spanish and she could still barely speak any language at all, the two were drawn to each other, and the Colombian family agreed to leave her with him. They were married a few months later.

Today, Marina still has trouble speaking fluently, and her daughter Vanessa and her agent do much of the public speaking on her behalf. Vanessa says that she and her sister were raised by their mother partly as if they were monkeys. “When we wanted food we’d have to make noises for it,” Vanessa explained in an interview. “My school friends loved mom because she was so unusual. She was childlike in many ways.”

Vanessa said her mom bears other signs of her early life – like the fact that she never cries. And book agent Lownie says it’s hard for her to find the right words to express emotions. “It’s Vanessa’s unique understanding of her mother’s character and unconventional ways that has made the book possible,” he explained.

Human trafficking is still rife in Central and South America, and Vanessa says she and her mother hope the book, A Child With No Name, will help put a stop to that.