Saturday, 27 April 2013

Was Marina Chapman really brought up by monkeys?

Is Marina Chapman a survivor or a fantasist? We meet the Bradford woman who claims she was raised in the jungle by monkeys – and who still enjoys nothing more than grooming her family 

The Guardian, Saturday 13 April 2013 

Marina Chapman says she isn't as mobile as she once was. It's not so easy to climb trees these days, let alone swing from them. Well, she is about 60 or 62 years old – maybe older. She's not sure. Chapman is tiny, sinewy, bendy. At times she doesn't look quite human – a bit simian, a bit feline and quite beautiful. 

Perhaps it's not surprising that Marina Chapman seems different from the rest of us. In her formative years, she says, she grew up with monkeys. Only monkeys. For around five years (again, she's unsure – there is no reliable means of measuring) she says she lived deep in the Colombian jungle with no human company. She remembers learning to fend for herself – eating berries and roots, nabbing bananas dropped by the monkeys, sleeping in holes in trees and walking on all fours. By the time she was rescued by hunters, she says, she had lost her language completely. And that's when life really got tough. She claims she was sold into a brothel in the city of Cúcuta, lived as a street urchin and was enslaved by a mafia family, before being saved by a neighbour and eventually moving toBradford, Yorkshire. Which is where we find her today. 

It's an unbelievable story, and many have chosen not to believe her. Most publishers refused to touch her forthcoming book because they thought she was a fake. The Girl With No Name certainly raises interesting questions about authenticity and memory. Is Marina Chapman a fantasist who has embellished her past or a childlike woman trying to make sense of a remarkable childhood? 

It is a snowy spring day in Bradford. Chapman's home is full of books, music and pictures. At one end of the lounge is a grand piano, at the other a massive cathedral organ. Husband John is a retired scientist who plays the church organ, daughter Vanessa, 28, writes music jingles for a living, while Joanna, 32, works for a pregnancy crisis centre and has three children

Marina has lived in Yorkshire for 30 years and speaks in a wonderful, Colombian-Bradford hybrid – flat vowels with lisping, Latin American flourishes. While John prepares macchiatos and double espressos, Marina talks about her first memory, from shortly before her fifth birthday. She was playing close to her home when she was aware of two adults creeping behind her. "I saw a hand cover my mouth – a black hand in a white hanky. Then I realised there were two people taking me away. There were children in the background – I could hear them crying." 

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