Interview with: The Monkey Man of Lima [Don Cipriano]

Check our Latest products!

[Interviewed Don Cipriano, by: Dennis Siluk 4/17/2006] He’s a little old man, perhaps five foot two inches tall, 100-pounds, more or less; been in the Monkey Man business for 56-years. But no one really knows how he got started, until now. He was twenty-years old, working in Lima’s parks as a Gardner. The year was 1950 when he’d change professions, at which time there were many men in this business, the Monkey Man business that is: they all had a monkey or two, and a three foot box to keep the monkey in, and a music box made especially for this box, nailed on top of the upper box for this profession: thus, it was, a kind of stage for the monkey to dance on, while the master of the monkey would wind up the music sheets inside to box, and people danced (those were the days he said); the man who used to bring back the music strings for him, has not returned in twenty years, so it is a dull few notes that comes out of his old Monkey-music box–not loud at all (and so the dancing has stopped): the box is: red and blue, made out of wood. There is a background for the stage attached to the upper part of the box, the monkey jumps around on: it looks like a jungle scene, a real painting I believe.

How he got into the business was when he stopped working for the park, and an old man of about 80-years old, gave him his first monkey, perhaps his first real break: named Martina, and with that monkey he borrowed another man’s music-stage (or box), and made some money.

It was a little before 1970, when he purchased his own stage and music box, that he now carries on his back across the busy street down in Miraflores Park, in Lima, Peru, each day, every day of the week, as the sun goes down. He paid $50.00 for the box, and has been offered up to $2500, for the box. “People,” he says, “want to buy the box, put it in their homes for decorations; all my friends sold theirs, and now I’m the only one with one around…and with a job…” he says it came from Italy, and there is no place anymore to get another. He adds, “There used to be six or seven of us in each of the parks,” but of course that was then, and now, it is just Mr. Cipriano, the last of his breed.

I have, my wife and I that is, talked to Mr. Cipriano for the past six years, and perhaps that’s why he talked to me about his fifty-six years in this business. He says the box is only worth $300, but it is his livelihood. He adds in so many words: money comes and goes; to sell the box would put me out of business like my comrades.

He is a small man, about five foot two inches tall, perchance, 100-pounds, as I first mentioned in the beginning of this article, seventy-six years old, wears a white cowboy hat, blue pants usually, white shirt, some white whiskers show up when he does not shave, and loves his monkeys. His second monkey, Rosita, has retired; she is perhaps 40-years old, and stays with him and his wife in Lima. The monkey that works with him daily is called Martina, about 12-years old, a lively female monkey.

In the past, his monkeys have been on soap operas, and once in a New York City newspaper, he is quite proud of that. And I even used him for a book I wrote a while ago called: “The Mumbler,” I used him for a backdrop within the story, and gave Mr. Cipriano a copy of the book, he and his son liked it. Chusty, a well-known painter of Miraflores, and a friend of mine, did the water painting of the Monkey Man for the front cover of the book.

He is a modest man, and seemingly happy with his lot in life. Should Mr. Cipriano go on and meet the Lord, and I do not wish this, who is left to entertain all those young and old folks in Miraflores park, I hate to say: no one of his capacity, he remains the only one in his trade, if indeed it can be called a trade, it would seem to me it is a vocation one needs to put heart and soul into, and live it from day to day.

I do not know if it pays well, but he raised a family on it, and put his kids through school, and I suppose as long as his back holds up, he’ll carry that heavy stage and music box across that busy street, and grind away on that handle, and have his monkey go into the drawer and pick out a note for each person willing to spend a sol (.33 cents), to get their good fortune.

write by Engelbert

Leave a Reply