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Be friendly with monkeys in Year of Monkey

Update: February, 10/2016 - 19:49

by Phuoc Buu

Vietnamese families are celebrating their biggest holiday in the year, Tet or Lunar New Year, welcoming the Year of the Monkey.

To most Vietnamese, Tet is a very special case for a family reunion as well as for the tradition of worshipping our ancestors.

Despite modern life, Vietnamese retain their ritual customs, with some still worshipping culture and others bending towards the superstitious.

A painting depicts the monkeys. — Photo

They predict that this New Year will be unstable, just as the naughty monkeys, which have never stayed still or been calm. This year is expected to be hard for those who carry the zodiac sign of the monkey, including the birth year of 1944, 1956, 1968, and 1980, in addition to 1992.

No one is sure whether there is any truth in the rumour, but people believe that outcomes filtered by many generations could be right. A Vietnamese saying depicts the unhappiness of those with the zodiac sign of the monkey. That is: Nguoi ta tuoi Ngo tuoi  Mui. Rieng toi ngam ngui mang lay tuoi Than. (Oh it is fate that I was born in the Year of the Monkey. Instead of carrying the bright omen of a Horse or a Goat).

However, it is good to look on the bright side when people who were born in the Year of the Monkey work and try harder to overcome a year that is predicted to be tough for them. Residents in Hue, the former feudal capital of Viet Nam, believe that years of the monkey are always hard, just as the fierce fighting and killing in the Tet of 1968 that burdened their history.

Zodiac sign plates, including Monkey, used by artisans in Sinh paper paintings making village in Thua Thien - Hue. — Photo VNS Phuoc Buu

In Vietnamese culture, monkeys are never worshipped such as other zodiac animals such as Dragon, Elephant and Horse. They are not listed in the category of six domestic animals such as dog, buffalo, horse, and pig, in addition to goat and chicken.

Except fun stories, pictures and Teddy bear shapes used for children, monkeys have not featured in positive stuff about Vietnamese culture, but almost always in negative ones. People use the compound word with khi, which means monkey, to curse or to describe unpleasant feeling, such as thang khi (monkey guy) for the meaning of bastard; khi that (monkey, actually!) means ‘damn it'; khi moc (mouldy monkey) refers to useless, unpleasant stuff, or tro khi (monkey treat) mean tricky behaviour.

‘As wry as monkey face' is a phrase used for people who are irritated. Monkeys are also described as untrustworthy partners in a saying: Nuoi ong tay ao, nuoi khi trong nha (Raising bees in shirt sleeves, raising monkeys to watch the house).

Pig-tailed macaques found in Viet Nam forests.— Photo courtesy by Wildlife at Risk

Monkeys are not privileged animals in Vietnamese culture, but neither is the animal that hated to be subjected to cruelty such as being caged for fun or being killed to make potions for the health of men.

Many Vietnamese residents around the country continue to cage monkeys for their entertainment. These people, while giving reasons for the caging, said that the human- like gestures by the primate species brought them fun. Others did it for a trend, to show their prosperity, to some extent.

Vietnamese laws prohibit hunting, captivity, trade, transport and killing of wild animals. In the last few years, environmental activists have worked hard to propagate the law and convinced people who kept wild animals in captivity at home to hand them over to the authorities. Last year, at least three families in the central province of Quang Binh  transferred their cages to local Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, which takes care of monkeys until they regain their natural instincts before being released into the wild.

Killing monkeys to use the bones for cooking ingredients of a kind of jelly is still popular, especially in the central province of Nghe An. The jelly, which cooked monkey bones with herbal medicines, is said to be good for liver and kidney functions as well as men's sexual health as it dissolves in alcohol.

Last December, a ring in the province involved in killing monkeys and cooking their bones for sale of the jelly was exposed after a Facebook account posted the processes after a monkey was killed. Following an investigation, the head of the ring admitted to police that some monkeys were killed, but majority of the bones used for the medical jelly were dogs' bones.

However, there is an emergence of something called an ‘illegal medical jelly underworld'. It has been reported that when one had an important guest at home in Nghe An, they were served alcohol mixed with monkey-bone jelly. In January, a woman in the central province of Thua Thien - Hue was caught red-handed transporting the bodies of five monkeys, including IUCN red list's stump-tailed macaque (Macaca Artoides). The monkeys were killed and were being transported to Vinh City, the municipal centre of Nghe An.

It could be a rumour, but you can hear stories related to consumption of wildlife by, among others, officials in local government of the central provinces. There is strong evidence that officials themselves spark the trend and indulge in wildlife consumption. It is understandable that once someone wants to defy the law there should be more power given to people to tackle such people.

Asian philosophy says that you will gain according to the way you treat others in life. The world is not only for humans but other species as well, so once you live in harmony with them, you will find peace and happiness. Happy Lunar New Year! — VNS

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