Marina, 63, claims she was four when child traffickers abandoned her in Colombia’s Catatumbo forest. For five years she survived with a family of capuchins.
Here, in a second extract from her astonishing book, The Girl With No Name, the mum of two reveals how she struggled to adjust to life back among humans.
AFTER a time in the forest I tried to do what my monkey family did — to get from tree to tree by means of the thick vines, before landing on a bed of branches.
My body had adapted to my daily climbing. I had grown stronger, while the skin on my hands, feet, elbows and knees had got dry and leathery to better grip the bark.
One day my luck ran out. I felt the snap of a vine followed by a stomach-churning plunge. Thankfully, small branches broke my fall.
Hanging there, with the forest floor dizzingly far below me, I should have felt some powerful instinct. That I wasn’t like my simian family. That I was simply not built to swing through trees.
I didn’t. I was much too busy clinging on for dear life. But I would learn. And very soon.
It was a sound that first alerted me to the danger. Then a swoosh — the sound of a machete.
Looking down I saw hunters dressed in khaki. One of them was a woman. She seemed different, kind and gentle. I felt irresistibly drawn to her. Against all my survival instincts, I shinned down and stepped out in full view.
If I try to recall that day from the hunters’ perspective, I see a girl with thick, tangled hair covering her face and body. I was filthy and no longer stood on two legs.
A gun was aimed at me, but I was focused only on the woman — I needed to touch her.
I slowly lifted my hand to touch hers. She let me clasp one of her fingers. It was my first human touch for many years.
The woman gestured that I should follow. After tracking them for miles through the jungle, we came to a truck bursting with cages, with a variety of unlucky lizards, giant butterflies and beautiful birds. We drove off though the night.
One minute we were travelling at great speed, the next we shuddered to a stop. The doors slammed and the tailboard slid back. The woman now looked as scary as the men.
I bared my teeth and began making monkey distress calls. A man jumped in and I was yanked out.
I was being exchanged. A large woman with a hard face, who was called Ana-Karmen, had agreed to pay to take me in as a maid.
Within hours all trace of the jungle was stripped from me. My long hair was shorn off. I felt exposed.
I was put to work for one of the women in the house. In this odd, enclosed environment, nothing made sense. I existed in a strange sort of purgatory, I felt completely alone.
I was flummoxed by the toilet and used the bushes in the garden.
I couldn’t stand properly and I would squat any time I was stationary. If I needed to move I would scuff along the ground on all fours.
I was to all intents and purposes a monkey for a long time after rejoining human society. I walked naked on all fours. I had forgotten whatever language I once spoke and had no idea of my name.
I didn’t know how to smile or make facial expressions that corresponded to those I saw around me. It was an effort not to climb on to worktops and up trees.
Perhaps the hardest discipline was how to behave at meal times. I would take my food to the floor in a corner and eat it with my fingers.
I spent much of my day involved in food preparation. I was also sent on errands to the village.
I found a new source of pleasure — making mischief. In a village which quickly learned to shun me, there was great fun to be had in aiming fruit at the villagers who were hanging out their washing.
I became an object not just of ridicule but of fear.
I remember two Catholic priests coming to the house. I was bewildered by their chanting and splashing of holy water, but I now realise they must have been performing some kind of exorcism.
It’s not hard to imagine they believed this strange, animal-like girl was possessed by some demon.
While this wasn’t the case, evil was a word that came to have a great meaning for me, and rather than a pair of chanting priests, I only needed eyes and ears to see it all around me.
MARINA’S book tells of unusual life up to just after she fled the jungle. For the curious, here is what happened next.
After working as a maid, Marina took the surname Luz, later moving to the town of Cúcuta as a home help.
Beaten by her employers, a kindly neighbour called Maruja helped her flee to La Casita, a convent for street children.
She later moved to Bogota. Then, aged 27 in 1977, her old neighbours, who worked in the textile trade, invited her to travel to Bradford with them.
There she met bacteriologist John Chapman, 29, at a church meeting. He spoke almost no Spanish and she little English, but romance blossomed and they wed in 1978.
Marina, who trained as a cook, later worked at the National Media Museum in Bradford and at a local nursery before starting a small catering company. She has two daughters, Vanessa and Joanna, and three grandchildren.
She returned to Colombia five years ago in an attempt to research her own history and seek out her natural parents.
Marina now plans another trip, to pinpoint where she lived in the jungle, for a National Geographic channel documentary.
Her daughter Vanessa James, who produces music scores for films and co-authored the book, recalls her mother catching rabbits in the wild with her bare hands.
She says: “My sister and I got bedtime stories about the jungle, but we didn’t think it was odd, it was just mum telling her life.”
The Girl With No Name, by Marina Chapman with Vanessa James and Lynne Barrett-Lee (£12.99, Mainstream Publishing, out on April 11.)
Article Views: 737 share what you think