Historical Accounts of Gorillas
When European explorers first entered the jungles of Africa, they were of the mindset that man was in a struggle against nature, and that all the animals they encountered were savage beasts that should be shot, stuffed and sent home as trophies.
This idea of the gorilla as a huge, violent monster was perpetuated by the 1933 film ‘King Kong’, which was advertised with the tag line ‘Monster of Creation’s Dawn Breaks Loose in Our World Today!’ (1)
Andy Serkiss, the actor behind the CGI version of the giant ape in the 2005 remake of the film, spent time in Rwanda and at London Zoo studying how gorillas actually move and behave, and used this experience to create a more realistic version, in the original, “Kong goes around chewing people’s heads off. Now we know that gorillas are herbivores” he said in an interview with National Geographic Adventure (2).
The early naturalists were struck, as much as the African people living alongside these apes, by how much like us gorillas are. Thomas Staughton Savage named them in 1847, after the ‘gorilliai’ a tribe of hairy women who were to be found along the coast of Western Africa, according to Hanno the Navigator, a Carthaginian explorer who apparently travelled in the region in about 480 BCE, and who may in fact have been describing gorillas. (3).
The people around Kagwene in Cameroon believe that gorillas are essentially human, and so eating their flesh would be tantamount to cannibalism (4). Since the advent of genetics, we have discovered just how similar we are to gorillas, which along with the chimpanzee are our closest living relatives (5).