Animal Children – Superminds 10
The story of Mowgli, the boy who was lost in the jungle as a baby, and who was raised by wolves, although fiction, is based on fact. Throughout history, and in all parts of the world, children have been discovered who were loved and raised by an animal. The story of Romulus, who is said to have founded Rome in about 700 BC, and his brother Remus, says they were suckled by a she wolf, and discovered by a shepherd.
A baby raised by an animal is not something that only happened in the past though. A headline in the newspaper Daily Star on April 17 1991, at the time the film Dances With Wolves was popular reads: “TRAGIC BOY’S DANCE IN WOLF’S LAIR.” It goes on to say: A tragic orphan brought up by a pack of wild wolves will never be able to live like a normal man, say doctors. The boy who REALLY danced with the wolves was aged about seven when he was found 29 years ago in the wastes of Southern Russia by a team of oil explorers. He howled like a wolf and savagely bit one of the oil men who christened him Djuma – the Wolf Boy.
Professor Rufat Kazirbayev said doctors had battled to re-educate him to act like a normal human being – but failed. They are now giving up the fight. Professor Kazirbayev said that, “His mind is with the wolves. He will howl at the moon for the rest of his life”.
Djuma, now about 37, is still in hospital. He still crawls on all fours, eats raw meat and bites when frightened. He can speak only disjointed phrases – “Mother dead. Father dead. Brother dead. Sister dead. Mother nice. Father bad.”
Dr. Anna Ticheenskaya said: “presumably his family were killed in a political purge. He has shown us in sign language how, when his mother was killed, she saved him by throwing herself over his body.”
The man who is a wolf
Djuma has learned to brush his hair, clean his teeth and use the toilet “Like a trained animal.” But when taken to the zoo he howls as if he was urging the animals to take him to freedom. Sadly that will never happen. Djuma will probably spend the rest of his life in the clinic where, doctors say, he spends his days like a dog – half asleep and dreaming.
What the life of Djuma teaches us is that being human, being aware of oneself as a unique person, isn’t simply something that happens by itself as we grow. Djuma is still a wolf even though he has what we think is a human body and brain. Some of the things people like Djuma lack that you and I take for granted are a sense of time – meaning we are aware of a past and future; a certainty that we are a person with a name. This leads us to say things like, “I am Sam.” Or “I am Sarah.” So we have a sense of ‘I am’; because we have what we call identity, we have feelings such as being guilty, confident, shy; we also feel separate from other people and animals. Children brought up by animals, unless recovered very young, do not have a sense of time. They lack any feeling of personal identity, and they feel connected with other animals and nature. You might say they are like Adam or Eve, feeling at-one with nature. At seven, it was too late for Djuma to develop into a human. The special thing he lacked was other humans talking to him so he also could learn speech. So language is perhaps something like a piece of computer software our brain uses to gain identity – usually around the name we have been give – and to know time and separateness. This is no doubt why baptism or a social naming ceremony is such an important thing in some societies.
The animal boy of Aveyron
Victor, who was named The Wild Boy of Aveyron, was discovered in the French countryside in 1800. Aveyron is in the South of France, and the villagers captured a boy of about 11 or 12 who had been running wild and naked, even though it was winter. His body was marked with scars where he had fought with animals and been scratched due to his nakedness. Although the villagers tried to speak with Victor, he didn’t seem to pay attention to what was said, and so it was apparent he didn’t know any language. At first people thought he was deaf and mute. All he was interested in was trying to escape.
The story of Victor’s capture spread quickly and he was taken to Paris to be studied. At that time there was an idea that the natural human being was superior to the civilised person. This was called the idea of the ‘Noble Savage’. However, to the inhabitants of Paris, Victor showed no signs of nobility. He was described as, “a disgusting, slovenly boy, affected with spasmodic … convulsive motions… biting and scratching those who contradicted him, expressing no kind of affection for those who attended upon him”. He was therefore thought to be an idiot and was imprisoned in a home for deaf-mutes. Fortunately a young doctor named Jean-Marc Itard looked after him and tried to educate the ‘wild boy’. It was Dr. Itard who gave him the name Victor.
At first Victor learned quickly. Dr. Itard realised, from watching Victor, that he was not deaf, mute or stupid. He was a normal healthy boy, except that he had never been taught how to do all the things most of us take for granted, like sitting in a chair, using the toilet, meeting people without biting them. Within a few months Victor could sit in a chair, express his emotions without being violent, and he could even speak a few words, like ‘milk’, and ‘Oh God’, which was something Dr. Itard’s housekeeper, Mme. Guerin, often said. Victor also came to like Mme. Guerin, who fed and cared for him.
Victor’s learning slowed down after a few months to the point where he never learnt any more words. In his years with whatever animals had raised him, Victor had missed some vital stage of mental growth that would have opened to him the ability to learn continuously and easily. He never regained that loss. Like Djuma the wolf boy, he had missed the years when language and relationship with other people ‘taught’ him to recognise his own identity, and gave him the program enabling him to learn and even initiate new ideas and discoveries. Instead of imitating other human beings, he had learnt to imitate his animal parents. His imitation was too complete.
Victor stayed living in Paris with Mme. Guerin until the age of 40, when he died.
There are many other children recovered from the wild, girls as well as boys. In India two girls were found in this century. They, like Djuma and Victor, never learnt to speak, and became trained but trapped animals. They died quite young, unable to adapt to their life with humans. Speech appears to be like a computer program which when loaded into the human brain changes the way the brain works.
The stories of these children’s lives shows us the enormous influence the early years of learning has on our mind. Isn’t it strange then that if in early childhood we can learn to be a wolf, a bear, or a human, that we don’t recognise this and train babies to be more than human? Perhaps such training would be a step toward reducing the murder, aggression and mental poverty amongst so many humans.
It also leads one to wonder what happened in human evolution to produce speech, and what was it like to swing between the animal type human like Djuma and Victor, and the fully linguistic human. Did they coexist? It is such an interesting subject, that a human being does not simple have any sense of identity by growing. Simply left they are nothing much unless raised by an animal that passes on millions of years of experience to the baby. So we do not simply exist as a human being unless we are taught the amazing program of speech and human thoughts and society. Many of us believe we are ourselves because we were born human. Not so. We are carefully fed programs and we are what we are by being taught it. We are programmed.
What’s it like to be an animal?
Animals do not think using words as we do. They do not therefore speak to themselves or each other in the way we do. But they do feel things. They do respond with strong feelings or indifference to things. So if you want to see what it is like to be an animal, stop thinking about things and watch what you feel about people and events. Without deciding what is right or wrong, without asking anyone’s opinion, watch what you want to do from your feelings. Maybe you want to hide under the table like some dogs do. Or maybe you want to sit on someone’s lap, like a cat. For a while, can you dare to do that? If you let everyone know that at the moment you are a cat or a dog, I am sure it will be okay.