Not my circus, not my monkeys.

29.09.17 | Africa, Fantafrica, Ghana, Travel

“Not my circus, not my monkeys” ¦ 2016 02 01 Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

Monkey Business at Tafi Atome, Ghana.

The sacred monkeys at Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary near Ho in Ghana.

Reading time: 3 minutes.


Monkey Business at Tafi Atome, Ghana.

“Not my circus, not my monkeys” ¦ 2016 04 19 Tafi Atome #3
I leave Ho early and continue north. Once out of the town the people of the small villages, mainly young women, walk along the road carrying large grey metal bowls on their heads. They have empty ones on the way to the water pump and full ones on the way back. Each village has a church, yet I find it baffling that there is no water or a school.
I arrive at Tafi Atome but the local monkeys have already been into the village and back for their daily walk. At the sanctuary building, as usual for Ghana day and night, someone is lying outside sleeping. Kofi wakes her up gently and she calls a young boy to help us. We pay a fee for the tour of the sanctuary; mine is double that of Kofi’s as I am a foreigner. The boy disappears and we chat to the woman. She explains that the monkeys live in the forest and wander into town en masse early in the morning and again late in the afternoon in search of food. She has to use English as she and Kofi do not understand each other’s local language. The Volta region has many languages, with Ewe the most common.


According to lore, the village was first populated with a tribe from Assini in Central Ghana. The new residents of the village brought a fetish that was placed in the forest at the edge of the village. Soon the villagers noticed monkeys in the trees and believed they had followed them to make their home in the forest. Now sacred and protected by the fetish, the monkeys are revered and considered to be representatives of God.

The boy returns. I thought that he would lead us into the forest but our tour consists of walking one hundred metres back along the main road and watching the boy make monkey noises. I am just about to give up when the trees shake. The first monkey appears sitting shyly on a bendy branch. Then another emerges and another.
“Not my circus, not my monkeys” ¦ 2016 04 19 Tafi Atome #2
“Not my circus, not my monkeys” ¦ 2016 04 19 Tafi Atome #4
It takes a few brave ones to jump to the road for a few pieces of banana before a scooter scares them away.
The grove is semi-deciduous forest surrounded by farmland. In the 1980s, a Christian man rubbished the spiritual connection between the monkeys and the villagers, encouraging the cutting of the forest for farmland. A decade later a community-based ecotourism project took action to preserve the sanctuary. Mahogany trees were planted to demarcate and protect the border of the sacred forest.

Quiet has settled again and a larger monkey walks along the road toward us. The boy holds a peeled banana out to it and the animal jumps on to his shoulder and eats the fruit. This is the turning point as thirty or more monkeys join us on the roadside for a banana breakfast. Some climb on our arms and shoulders. Most play in the road, rolling around and pulling each other’s long hooked tails.

“Not my circus, not my monkeys” ¦ 2016 04 19 Tafi Atome #7
“Not my circus, not my monkeys” ¦ 2016 04 19 Tafi Atome #8
The small creatures are mona monkeys, Old World monkeys, and are found throughout West Africa. They are also prevalent in Grenada as they were transported to the island aboard slave ships to the New World during the eighteenth century.
“Not my circus, not my monkeys” ¦ 2016 04 19 Tafi Atome #9
“Not my circus, not my monkeys” ¦ 2016 04 19 Tafi Atome #10

This article, an adapted extract from my new book “Fantafrica“, is featured in World Nomads.

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