Marina Chapman is a petite and dainty looking woman who lives in Bradford, England. She was born in Columbia and claims to have had one of the most bizarre upbringings a person could ever imagine. Think jungle book’s Mowgli but in Columbia and monkeys instead of wolves. Abandoned in the jungle at the age of five, Marina was adopted and raised by a group of Capuchin monkeys.
If you’re having a hard time believing this, you’re not alone. Marina has received a lot of backlash from skeptic doctors, psychologists, and wildlife experts. How does a little girl survive five years in one of the most dangerous environments on the planet? According to this feral grandmother, “I watched them, and that’s how I learned to survive. They saved my life.” So, is it true, or is it a hoax? Read for yourself.
On Marina’s fifth birthday, she was out in the backyard playing with her neighborhood friends when, suddenly, she felt a hand on her face and then a violent tug pulling her up into the air. The next thing she remembers is being carried across dense shrubbery and carelessly dumped in the middle of it all.
Disoriented and insecure, five-year-old Marina was left wondering, okay, what now? She recalls her first night as being terrifying beyond words: “When it becomes dark, it becomes pitch black and terribly difficult to sleep.” After two bizarre days of wandering around the Columbian rainforest, she had her first contact with the monkeys.
At first, they approached her with caution. They curiously swung across the branches that surrounded her and tried to figure out whether she posed a threat to them. When they realized that she was harmless, they let their guards down and gradually allowed her to join. By observing them, Marina acquired valuable skills that were critical to her survival.
She learned how to climb, properly clean herself, and determine what food is safe to eat. When they would swing above her with armfuls of bananas, she would follow them from underneath in case they might drop a few on the ground. Marina grew smarter and quicker by the day.
It took a while for Marina to fully understand what she could and could not eat. In her book, The Girl with No Name, she describes how she felt on the brink of death after eating the poisonous fruit from a tamarind tree, “Tamarind! It suddenly came to me. I feel a grim certainty form inside me. I had eaten delicious tamarind’s deadly twin.”
Feeling sick, she curled up in a ball on the ground when all of a sudden, an elderly monkey (whom she referred to as grandpa) appeared and led her to a stream of water. He then forced her to take large mouthfuls of the murky water, and after a few moments, she began to vomit. She writes in her book: “I will never know for sure what it was that had poisoned me, just as I’ll never know how Grandpa monkey knew how to save me. But he did. I am convinced of it.”
At first, the monkeys only tolerated her presence. But as time went on, the monkeys grew more and more accustomed to the little orphan, and she soon became an official member of the clan. They would climb on her shoulders and grab her face with their fuzzy palms, which for a young child who barely remembered what a hug was anymore was “the nicest touch.”
Their affectionate behavior was what gave Marina hope. She remembers dreading the hours spent alone when they were off searching for food and the joy she experienced upon seeing them again. When she was asked about the moment in which she knew they considered her one of them, Marina playfully answered, “When they started to wee on my leg.”
Apart from deadly insects and poisonous fruit, the jungle seems like the perfect playground for a kid. But real life is less romantic than the Jungle Book, and Marina didn’t spend her days gleefully whistling tunes with the other animals. Most of the time, her mind was set on finding food: “What will you find to eat? What can you eat tomorrow?” She remembers constantly searching for the next meal.
But she was still able to squeeze in some playtime between her quests! She recalls how much she loved chasing birds and letting different insects crawl on her. What she misses the most, though, is being groomed by the monkeys. The soft, human-like hands would give her goosebumps as they picked out tiny things from her hair.
Incredibly, after much exploration, Marina discovered three huts inhabited by people. Although she was enthralled, she was careful not to rush up to them immediately. Like the monkeys, she needed a few days to build up the courage to approach the newfound species. In her book, Marina recalls how much she longed to join the family she spied on: “How wonderful it would be, I thought, to be one of those cherished children.”
When Marina finally came out of the branches, she was greeted with fearful shouts. One woman shooed her away, and another man fiercely grabbed her by the shoulders. He opened her mouth to inspect her teeth and afterward pushed her away from the camp. In Marina’s words: “I learned a valuable lesson that day – and an enduring one. The monkeys, not the humans, were my family.”
Despite being rejected, she never stopped craving human contact. She watched the hunters as they trailed along the forest and swung their machetes back and forth. As scary as it looked to the young girl, she still longed to come close. One day, she discovered two hunters, but this time, she realized one of them was female.
“Though she was dressed like a hunter, her face looked so kind, so compassionate and gentle, like someone who might care.” This sense of reassurance was enough to motivate Marina to climb off the branches and into the hunters’ full view. Her skin was covered in dirt and practically black, and her hair resembled a bird’s nest – clearly, the hunters had no idea what had just stumbled in front of them.
The couple drove her to the remote town of Cucuta in Northeast Columbia and took her to a woman named Ana-Karmen, who ran a brothel. Marina remembers the exchange was cold and confusing. Karmen handed the hunters money, and Marina was now her slave. She was forced to clean the house, and if she stepped out of line, she was violently slashed with a whip.
The women around town warned Marina of her impending fate. She slowly understood that if she stayed in the hands of Karmen, she would be forced into prostitution. She decided to escape and rapidly ran out into the unwelcoming streets of Cucuta. It was better to be a street child of Colombia than a beaten-up sex slave.
According to Marina, her years in the jungle prepared her for the streets, and she intelligently put her monkey-like skills to use. She knew how to swiftly steal from people and hop on treetops to avoid getting caught. Marina’s instincts were clearly sharpened from spending time with other animals, and she considers herself “a really hard and tough person.”
But the streets taught her something new – human language. She joined a group of homeless children who named her Pony Malta (a dark, nonalcoholic malt beverage) because of her skin color, and the years she spent with them improved her verbal abilities. No more grunts and primitive gestures. She could finally speak up.
Marina wandered the streets and looked desperately for a normal place to lay her head. She ended up working for a family who turned out to be notorious criminals, but she was saved by their neighbor, a woman named Maruja, who sent her off to her daughter, Maria, who lived in Bogotá. She was around 14 years old when she was adopted, and for the first time in her life, she felt free.
Her adoptive family worked in the textile business, and in 1977 they flew to Bradford, UK, which is considered the “wool capital of the world.” Soon after they arrived, she met a man named John Chapman at her local church, and despite not having anything in common with this British fellow, the two fell in love.
Marina spent critical years of her life being groomed and cared for by monkeys. According to her children, that unconventional form of nurture has led her to be quite an unusual mother. Daughter Vanessa recalls being picked up from school with shouts and cries from the treetops near the school gate because, apparently, Marina felt it was the most efficient way to grab her daughter’s attention.
At first, her kids took their mom’s sharp reflexes for granted, thinking every parent can grab hold of rabbits and birds just like that. But when their friends began commenting on their mom’s strange behavior, it became clearer that something was radically different about her. For example, she struggled with opening doors because, in the jungle, you never really have to twist anything like that.
To this day, Marina finds it hard to relate to adults. She’s comfortable next to free-spirited children who love to jump around and feels awkward next to polite and restrained grown-ups. After all these years, she still finds it hard to understand implicit social rules and claims, “I’m still really bad in terms of sitting down and behaving like anybody else.”
Her experiences in a brothel have scarred her in the sense that she feels that there is something inherently bad about her, and her inability to understand how to behave around others just adds to that insecurity. In spite of it all, Marina became a chef at Bradford’s National Media Museum, and ever since her retirement, she has been volunteering in numerous charities.
For years, Marina was ashamed of her past. She rarely spoke about her wild upbringing, and when she did, it was through the stories she would tell her kids before bed. She would tell them tales of monkeys stealing bananas and lush green jungles. Her daughter, Vanessa, was the one who encouraged her to jot down her memories on paper.
In 2012, Marina published her book, “The Girl with No Name: The Incredible Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys.” People didn’t really know what to make of it. Several publishers turned it down because they claimed it was a deceptive attempt to make money out of false memories. In 2013, National Geographic filmed a documentary called Woman Raised by Monkeys. In the film, they try and settle once and for all if Marina is speaking the truth.
Our brains deal with traumatic situations by encoding them differently, and, as a result, reality becomes a bit distorted. So, Marina’s story is a perfect example of what could actually be false memories. Her mind might have created the illusion of five hard years in the forest, when, in fact, it could have been just a few days alongside some monkeys.
She underwent psychological assessments at the University of London to test her susceptibility to false memories, and her scores were suspicious. Researcher Christopher French concluded that “There might be some elements of truth in there, but I think they may have become elaborated and exaggerated into something much more exciting.”
Five years of living on fruits and nuts alone is a recipe for severe malnutrition. If Marina did live on such a limited diet, it would have to show in her bones. In Woman Raised by Monkeys, Marina went through a set of X-rays to verify whether she has growth arrest lines, also known as Harris Lines. Amazingly, the results came out positive.
They found one Harris Line on her femur and another one on her shinbone. Both lines seem to have appeared when she was around the ages of 9 and 10 – falling perfectly in line with Marina’s timeline. While this isn’t enough to prove that Marina is really the feral woman she claims to be, it’s still an astonishing finding.
Primatologist Thomas Defler tested Marina’s knowledge about her adopting the ape family and asked her to verify exactly what type of monkeys they were. He showed her 32 pictures of Columbian monkeys and asked her to choose between the different types. Many of them would never go near a human, so Marina’s choice here was crucial.
Astonishingly, she chose the type most likely to approach a human – Capuchins. They’re highly intelligent, super curious, and aren’t afraid to interact with other species around them. Marina even claimed that when they saw her, they shook the branches, which is exactly what Capuchins do when they want to threaten someone. Primatologist Thomas believes Marina could be telling the truth and concluded with: “Stranger things have happened.”
Marina went through additional psychological testing, and this time, they tested her subconscious memory. She was shown neutral images of her adopted human family (emotionally triggering) and pictures of Capuchins. Researchers tested changes in Marina’s skin conduction and sweat levels, things that involuntarily change according to one’s mental state.
Marina reacted intensely to images of her adoptive family and showed a very similar response towards the Capuchins’ images as well. Researchers were amazed because this isn’t something that she could have forced or faked. Her body’s response to her primate family was genuine. Colombian professor Carlos Conde stated that: “It strongly suggests that you’ve had a direct relationship with these animals and your emotional memory is strongly associated with those experiences.”
As part of the documentary, Marina and her daughter, Vanessa, flew back to Columbia for an emotional reunion with Capuchins near the Magdalena River. It was unbelievably hot and humid, and Vanessa expressed how shocked she was by the blazing weather. As a kid, she imagined her mom swinging across branches happily, but she changed her mind after experiencing the climate for herself.
After three days of trailing the jungle searching for Capuchins, Marina decided it was better for her to simply sit and wait for them to come to her. This proved successful because she spotted one on the tree above her curiously staring down a short while later. Marina responded with a monkey-like cry, and the small Capuchin slowly came near. She stated: “I’m excited, it’s like seeing a relative you haven’t seen for ages.”
Marina Chapman is a petite woman, short and slender. But her husband claims that her arm strength is something else. In an interview for The Guardian, he stated that “nobody ever beats her in an arm wrestle.” If five-year-old Marina really did spend most of her childhood swinging between vines, her husband’s claim would make sense.
Her body is also incredibly resilient and bounces back quickly. Her husband shared a story of a time when she accidentally hit her head against a wall. The blow was so hard it created a hole in the wall. Miraculously, when the doctors came to check on the little feral woman, they were shocked to discover she was perfectly fine.
Marina isn’t the only one who survived the jungle. Here’s the story of Yossi Grinberg, a man who nearly died in the amazon.