When I recounted this tale to my Kenyan colleagues, it elicited knowing nods and a proverb: “Not all baboons that enter a maize field come out satisfied.” Like many African proverbs, this one is layered with meaning. It alludes to the monkeys’ insatiable crop raiding while simultaneously evoking sinister intent. Catherine M. Hill, a professor of anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in England, has found that baboons exact a devastating toll, reducing crop yields by half for some families in western Uganda. Indeed, baboons are the foremost pest for many subsistence farmers in Africa, and cultural aversions to the animals run deep. If erasure is the ultimate measure of contempt, then it is telling that in the art and handicraft traditions of sub-Saharan Africa, baboons are largely absent. This history makes the ancient Egyptians’ worship of this creature—and its ubiquity in their art—deeply perplexing.
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