Monkeys in Pre-Columbian Art

The Popol Vuh – the Mayan Book of Creation – mentions monkeys.  Batz, the Mayan Howler Monkey God, was a major deity of the arts.  Spider monkey Ozomatli – a companion spirit – was the Aztec God of Celebration and the Dance, and those born under his sign were considered very fortunate.  An aspect of the God Quetzalcoatl, Ozomatli was venerated especially in Central America, Ecuador, and northern, coastal Peru.  Pottery from Mesoamerica exhibits figures of monkeys, and the Gardiner Ceramic Museum in Toronto, Canada, has a number of fine examples.  One – a hand-built, carved, earthenware vase (Mayan, Belize, 650-800 C.E.) – depicts slender, flowing, spider monkey forms.  The Moche Culture of northern, coastal Peru (c. 100-800 C.E.), produced quality water jars, often decorated with figures of animals, including monkeys.


See:                (spider monkey vase)

Mesoamerican Mythology, K. A. Read and . J. J. Gonzalez, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Lightning Gods and Feathered Serpents, R. Koontz, Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2009.

The Monkey in Thai Culture

Monkey characters have long figured in the literature, art and drama of Thailand.  The Thai national epic, Ramakien, (derived from the Hindu Ramayana) features a Hanuman hero, and monkey characters are prominent in Khon – Thai dance drama.   Many Thai temples exhibit wall paintings representing the Ramakien, and manuscripts portray the epic as well.

One of the most common primates in Thailand, the long-tailed, or crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis), is often seen and welcomed at temples and is worshipped by local people.  These primates have learned to use stone tools to open oysters, other bivalves and nuts.


See:  Thai Art and Culture, by H. Ginsburg, University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

The Monkey’s Gift of Honey to the Buddha, R. L. Brown, Bulletin of the Asia Institute,    vol. 23 (2009), pp. 43-52.