‘The Girl With No Name’: Marina Chapman tells her incredible story of survival

Abducted as 4-year old from her village in South America and abandoned in the jungle, little Marina was facing perilous odds. But after being adopted by a group of capuchin monkeys, Marina Chapman was able to survive. But her adventure was still just beginning. Read an excerpt of “The Girl with No Name.”

All trace of sleep had gone now, and as I opened my eyes fully I realised I wasn’t just surrounded, I was being watched. All around me, at a distance of several paces, were monkeys. Motionless and afraid again, I tried to count them. Now I was nearly five, I could count up to ten, and it seemed there were lots more than that number ranged around me, and perhaps more behind me, out of sight, which scared me even more.

But as I watched them, and they watched me, I felt my fear ebb a little. They looked like a family. Though they were all different sizes, they looked related. Big ones and little ones. Old ones and young ones. All with the same chocolate-coloured fur and paler belly, and ranging from what looked like the size of a small dog to no bigger than the parrot who’d bitten me. I knew they were wild animals and, after my experience with that parrot, I couldn’t trust them, but some sense made me feel they wouldn’t hurt me.

'The Girl With No Name'

That feeling didn’t last. After a short time, one of the monkeys left the circle and began to approach me. He was one of the biggest, with a coat that was greyer than the others, and there was something about the way he loped towards me so boldly that made me think he was the one who ran the family. Afraid again now, because I didn’t know what he might decide to do to me, I shrank back into a ball, trying to make myself as tiny as possible, tucking my head tight to my chest and hugging my arms around my knees.

I was just about to squeeze my eyes shut when I saw him reach out a wrinkly brown hand and, to my surprise, with one firm push, knock me over onto my side. I quivered on the soil, tensed for the second blow that was surely coming. But it didn’t, and after some seconds I dared open one eye again, only to find that the monkey had lost interest. He’d now returned to the circle, squatted back on his hind legs and resumed watching me, along with all the others.

It wasn’t long, however, before a second monkey – another of the bigger ones – began walking towards me. It approached slowly on all fours but without a trace of uncertainty. This time I instinctively scrabbled to my feet, but as soon as the monkey got to me it reached out, grabbed one of my legs and yanked it from under me, causing me to fall back on the soil again with a thump. I curled into a ball again but felt the animal begin to dig around in my hair and move its leathery fingers over my face. Now I was frightened and wriggling, trying to free myself from its questing fingers, but, like the other monkey, it seemed to have decided I was a plaything; once again, I was firmly pushed over.

This action seemed to give the other, smaller monkeys confidence. Having decided I posed no danger to them, they all seemed to want to inspect me. They had been chattering to one another – using sounds that almost seemed like they were goading each other and laughing – and in no time at all some had come to check me over. Once upon me they began to prod and push me, grabbing at my filthy dress and digging around in my hair.

‘Stop it!’ I pleaded, sobbing. ‘Get off me! Go away!!’ But they took no notice and I had to wait, cowering and whimpering, until they’d finished their inspection. I could feel myself relax just a little, however, because if they’d wanted to hurt me then surely they would have done so by now. They hadn’t and now they seemed to lose interest altogether, returning to whatever it was that they had been doing in the dense undergrowth from which I presumed they’d come.

Having nowhere to go, and still fearful of running, in case they chased me, I sat in the clearing and watched them. They climbed the surrounding trees, they played and dug around in one another ’s coats, they picked up things and popped them in their mouths. Nuts and berries? Grubs and insects? Small lizards? It was difficult to see at a distance. And, I quickly noticed, they copied one another. A big one would do something and a smaller one would copy it. As I watched this, something my mother often said popped into my head: monkey see, monkey do.

I sat and watched them for a long time. I was mesmerised and felt somehow reluctant to leave them. There was something about the way they seemed to enjoy one another ’s company that made them feel like a family. While close to them, I felt like I wasn’t alone any more.

They were so pretty too, with their milk-chocolate fur and camel-coloured bellies, their tufty grey ears and their dark, bushy tails. I was especially enthralled by their hands, which intrigued and bewildered me because, though they weren’t human, they looked just like mine. They were the same colour and size as my own, with four fingers, a thumb and hard fingernails.

And they were constantly active, leaping high and low, chattering and chasing one another round the trees and shrubs. They seemed to love playing and, in the case of what looked like the young ones, play-fighting and squabbling as well. They were watched over by the bigger monkeys, who would shriek and pull faces as if they were telling them off when things got too rough. This was just what the grown-ups in my world would do, and somehow this sense of order and family made me feel better.

Excerpt copyright © 2013 by Marina Chapman. Published by Pegasus Books, LLC. All rights reserved.