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-Origin and features:According to Black literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., the practice derived from the Trickster archetype found in much African mythology, folklore, and religion: a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal who plays tricks or otherwise disobeys normal...
is a character of African-American folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...
that derives from the trickster figure of Yoruba mythology
The Yorùbá religion comprises the original religious beliefs and practices of the Yoruba people. Its homeland is in Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, a region that has come to be known as Yorubaland...
, Esu Elegbara. This character was transported with Africans to the Americas under the names of Exu, Echu-Elegua, Papa Legba, and Papa Le Bas. Esu and his variants all serve as messengers who mediated between the gods and men by means of tricks. The Signifying Monkey is “distinctly Afro-American” and is thought to derive from Cuban mythology, which depicts Echu-Elegua with a monkey
A monkey is a primate, either an Old World monkey or a New World monkey. There are about 260 known living species of monkey. Many are arboreal, although there are species that live primarily on the ground, such as baboons. Monkeys are generally considered to be intelligent. Unlike apes, monkeys...
at his side.
Numerous songs and narratives concern the Signifying Monkey and his interactions with his friends, the Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...
and the Elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...
. In general the stories depict the Signifying Monkey insulting the Lion, but claiming that he is only repeating the Elephant’s words. The Lion then confronts the Elephant, who soundly beats the Lion. The Lion later comes to realize that the Monkey has been signifyin(g) and has duped him and returns angrily.
The Signifying Monkey is a classic routine originally on a comedy album by Rudy Ray Moore
Rudy Ray Moore was an American comedian, musician, singer, film actor, and film producer. He was perhaps best known as Dolemite , the uniquely articulate pimp from the 1975 film Dolemite, and its sequel, The Human Tornado...