Brother of the blowfly… no one gets to heaven without going through you first. –Yusef Komunyakaa

Sixteen years ago, my wife and I, along with our friend Audrey were standing outside a guesthouse near the towns of Boabeng and Fiema in Ghana when Kojo, a young boy, approached on a bicycle. His whole shadow rose and fell with each turn of the crooked front wheel. Behind him were miles of fields and the dust-dry trees of forest. He stopped in front of me and opened his hand to reveal a small crumpled note. I unfolded it and read, “My friends, two of my children have died, i.e. the black and white colobus monkeys. Please come, quickly!” The note was signed, “the chief, Nana.”

In the conjoined town of Boabeng and Fiema, two species of monkey are considered by many to be living gods—fuzzy masters of the universe. As with any god, the relationships people form to the monkeys are individual. Some treat them with absolute reverence. Others scold them like misbehaving but well-loved children. Then there are the evangelical Christians in the town next door. They sneak into the forest and kill the monkeys both to discourage the worship of false gods and to eat said false gods. Apparently, sacred monkeys taste like chicken.

On this particular day, a taxi had hit and killed two monkeys as they tried to cross the red-dirt road into town. In addition to evangelicals, cars are one of several features of modern West African life with which these sacred monkeys can come into conflict, others being agriculture, logging, and hunger. In Boabeng and Fiema when monkeys die they are buried in simpler versions of the ceremonies reserved for humans. It was one of these funerals to which we had just been invited.

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