Marina Chapman was around four years old when she says she was abandoned in the Colombian jungle. Survival in this unforgiving landscape was only possible thanks to a family of capuchin monkeys. Her ordeal didn’t end there, though. Because when she left the rainforest, she walked into an even bigger nightmare.
Chapman’s knowledge of her early life is hazy. She believes she was born in around 1950, in Colombia. And her earliest memory was of an event which would forever change her life. It began with her playing outside her family home. “[Then] I saw a hand cover my mouth – a black hand in a white hanky. I realized there were two people taking me away,” she told The Guardian in 2013.
Before Chapman knew what was happening, she was thrown into the boot of a car. She claims that they drove into the jungle, where the kidnappers removed her from the vehicle and simply left her where she stood. Completely alone in the rainforest, she told The Guardian she “screamed and nobody came.” With little choice, she says she decided to start walking, and keep going until she found someone to help.
No matter how far Chapman walked though, nobody appeared to help her. The four-year-old was deep in the jungle. But, luckily the little girl’s fortunes were about to change. She says she stumbled upon a troop of monkeys that could well have saved her life.
At first, the monkeys, most likely capuchins, paid little attention to Chapman. She stayed close to the primate family, picking up stray bananas to survive. Then one day, the little girl got incredibly sick. In her Guardian interview, she says got food poisoning after eating tamarind, a type of fruit. It got so bad, she told the newspaper, she thought she was going to die.
At that point, things got even stranger. The head of the monkey family, who she referred to as “Grandpa,” came to her rescue. As she was screaming in pain, he pushed her towards some water. “I thought he was going to kill me,” she told the BBC. But drank the water, and after some vomiting, began to feel better. “I was looking into his eyes,” she explained. “He seemed to be a nice monkey, he didn’t mean to do me any harm.”
Soon after the food poisoning incident, Chapman says her relationship with the primates improved. She reportedly learned how to wash and take care of herself, discovered what she could and couldn’t eat, and even began scaling trees.
Chapman and the monkeys would spend days grooming each other and playing together. She says she even began deciphering the different sounds the monkeys used to communicate. “Like when they whistle – it’s a food thing. The feeling that there is food somewhere, so we all get ready to follow one monkey,” she said in her Guardian interview. “Then there is a ‘Tttttt’ [sound] when they are grooming each other. And a warning when they feel in danger.”
Chapman says she isn’t sure how long she was in the jungle. Estimates range from two to five years. The little girl was eventually rescued, she maintains, by a group of hunters. What must have been joy at being saved, however, quickly turned to terror. Soon after they picked her up, she states that the hunters handed her over to a brothel.
To begin with, Chapman says did domestic chores at the brothel. The little girl managed to escape, however, before she was forced into sex. According to The Guardian, she professed, “[When] it was my turn… I ran as I had never run before.”
Once back in civilization, however, Chapman became a street kid in the city of Cúcata. She told The Guardian that she became the head of a gang of children, committing robberies to survive. In order to escape the authorities she would hide in the trees, a skill she had learned while living with the capuchins.
After some time on the street, Chapman thought that she had found a way into relative safety. She’d heard, she told the UK newspaper, that some families were taking in street kids as domestic workers. Sadly for the little girl though, the family that she worked for were not what they seemed.
Chapman alleges that the domestic work employer was, in fact, a “mafia family” looking for a slave. Again, it’s unclear how long the young girl was enslaved, but at some point, a neighbor called Maruja decided to help her. She bought Chapman a plane ticket to the Colombian capital of Bogotá, where she had arranged for the young girl to live with her daughter, Maria.
Chapman told The Guardian that, upon leaving for Bogotá, she was given her first-ever gift. Maruja handed her “a box tied with yellow ribbon containing a dress made of pale blue satin, a hair clip, white socks and a pair of shiny, white shoes.” The frock, she went on, was “the most beautiful thing” she’d ever seen.
Once in Bogotá, Chapman flourished. Having come out of the jungle and off the streets, she had missed all her early schooling. And in practical terms, she had no knowledge of civilized life. She told The Guardian, “I had to learn how to sit in a chair, how to open doors, sanitation, all of the things I had never done.”
When Chapman was about 14 years old, Maria officially adopted her. Her mother then told the teen that it was time to do something special. She would choose her name. Indeed, Chapman had no idea what her real name was. In the end, the teen settled on Luz Marina. Talking to The Telegraph in 2013, Maria said that her daughter “was a lovely and well-behaved little girl. She was happy and honest.”
In 1977 Chapman and her adopted family made the move from Colombia to Yorkshire, England. Working as a nanny, and now in her 20s, she met and married scientist John Chapman. She told him her story, and despite it’s incredible twists and turns, he didn’t doubt its veracity. However, when she came to write her memoir, The Girl With No Name, publishers weren’t quite so sure.
Book publishers were wary of Chapman’s account, convinced her story was a fake. Indeed, if her story was true, it would be a world-first. While there have been documented instances of humans being “brought up” in Africa by bigger apes, hers would be the first case not only in South America, but also among smaller monkeys.
Chapman eventually found a publisher for her autobiography, which came out in 2013. And she’s still determined to track down her birth family. She told the BBC that DNA tests were sent to Colombia to find them. As for her monkey family, Colombian professor Carlos Conde believes her story is true. Using an apparatus similar to a polygraph, he showed Chapman pictures of her adoptive family and her reactions suggested she had a deep relationship with the animals.
Whatever the truth, everyone can agree that Chapman has had an interesting life. From Bogotá to Yorkshire, she later worked as a chef, a nanny and ran her own catering company. This is a woman to be reckoned with. And it’s possibly all down to some kindly capuchins.