Travel writing

On Monkeys of Marrakesh

The Djemaa el Fna was first used as the site of public executions one thousand years ago. Today its enormous paved space is used by hundreds of people each day: fortune tellers, henna artists, water sellers, storytellers, musicians, juice vendors, and dozens more. To me, Marrakesh and Morocco altogether is the place that’s the closest to Britain, but which has the most wonderfully different culture.

But there are two groups of people on the square that make my skin crawl.

The first are snake charmers. The snakes are kept in bundles of rags or small cages until they’re taken out for tourists. Still cold, they’re prodded and poked by their owners and then forced to stand erect and sway in response to the music. It’s never looked the slightest bit charming to me. (Much of their owners’ revenue comes, I think, from tourists taking photos with snakes around their neck).

The second are people like this.


That is a barbery macaque, and it is native to Morocco. Its owner is changing its nappy.

The monkeys’ owners make money from carrying them around and charging tourists for photos. The monkeys cling to their owners and chatter their teeth. When there are no tourists around, the monkeys are placed in cages with small, barred windows. They have these nappies, and they also have chains around their necks. They eat dirty fruit that litters the floor around their cages.

The monkey knew to assume this position and sat there with its rear in the air completely still. It reminded me of the elephants I have seen whose spirits have been broken.

I’m sure these men make money, or they wouldn’t do it. But the fact that they do is almost enough to make me sick.