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Softly softly catches monkey

October 21, 2009

This is a Liberian proverb, the meaning of which we’re still not certain of. We learned it on our week-long trip up country, vernacular meaning “way out in the middle of rural nowhere” and a phrase which confused the hell out of my mother. (“Which country were you in? And why is it up?”)

I thought that it must mean, “Move quietly and you will catch even something so quick and super-sensory as a monkey.” No, I was told, that’s not it at all. “Softly softly” is an animal, a nickname for something that the storyteller could not name in English. Glenna somehow heard, or inferred, that softly softlies actually eat monkeys. Could be…but what is this mysterious creature?

One of Glenna’s magical photos, cropped to avoid my nasty sweaty greasy face…
softly softly
This moment of adorableness brought to you by the Pulitzer Center.

I’m not gonna lie. The softly softly was so friggin’ cute, and I kind of loved wearing it on my wrist like a sleepy little bangle. I very nearly did pay the $10 the boy who introduced me to it wanted. I protested that I didn’t know what to feed it. “Banana,” one man insisted. (“Monkeys,” Glenna countered later. She says she believes this because that shit is funny. I think that, in this matter at least, that’s a reasonable standard for truth.) Either way, it’s not gonna make it through customs.

More about the up country trip — land conflicts, mud pits and pumpkin stew so good we told the President of Liberia about it personally — soon.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. ndimuzungu permalink
    October 21, 2009 5:55 pm

    It looks like a potto…

  2. October 21, 2009 6:33 pm

    That’s it! Thanks!

    This also confirms that it does not eat monkeys.

  3. October 22, 2009 10:03 am

    When I lived in Zambia I often heard to phrase “slowly slowly catches monkey.” It was most frequently spoken when I was demonstrating impatience with the circumstances before me.

    Either way, that monkey-eating-softly is damn cute!

  4. October 27, 2009 11:43 am

    Totally a potto. Probably a periodictus potto, to judge from the size and the fact that you aren’t in Asia. Wikipedia confirms that these are also called “softly-softlies.”
    They eat fruit, insects, and “gum,” apparently. (I’m guessing of the tree-sap variety, not the Doublemint variety.)
    And, more importantly, they are cousins of the slow loris, which is basically my favorite animal ever. Lorisidae ftw!

  5. Sarah Lantz permalink
    November 17, 2009 8:45 pm

    So I’m a little late on weighing in here…but probably the most popular phrase in Wolof (Senegal) is ndank ndank moy jop golo ci naay which is “slowly, slowly you will catch the monkey in the bush,” or basically, have patience.

    So these are derivatives of each other, or something.

    Whatever, that thing you are holding is f ing adorable (monkey-eating, or not).

    Hope all is well!


  1. Scarlett Lion | Pulitzer Center: Images from Liberia

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