Chantek the Human

If you’ve never heard about Chantek before, now’s the perfect time to do so.  There’s a great, and free, documentary about him online that I’d highly recommend.  His story is both fascinating and heartbreaking.  He was raised by humans on a university campus, taught sign language, the concept of money, and more.  He even made his own artwork, creating a necklace for his foster-mother.  He even told lies, gave “money” to charity, and hid vegetables that he didn’t want to eat, as Lyn Miles, his foster-mother, explains.

But after an attack on a student, he was transferred to a solitary cage, where he spent the next eleven years.  Finally, though, he was offered a home at the Atlanta Zoo, where he was able to live with his own kind.

Once he was reunited with his fellow orangutans at the zoo, you might expect him to be happier.  After all, isn’t that the theme of so many films?  Yet at the zoo, they don’t encourage his uniqueness.  He doesn’t get many chances to sign, and his foster-mother’s visits are restricted.  The other orangutans can’t speak to him in sign language, and he doesn’t appear to have much respect for them, calling himself “orangutan person” and them “orange dogs.”

I can only imagine what his life must be like.  Imagine being raised by a species many times more intelligent and advanced than your own by every metric, and then suddenly losing all of that, first being imprisoned, and then much later, being allowed to live with some beings that look like you, but you feel are alien to you.  They cannot speak as you do, they don’t understand concepts you were raised with.  They are mockeries of you: dogs wearing human skin.

I think it would be an interesting story to tell from a human’s point of view.  Abducted by aliens at birth, raised with them for much of their life, enculturated into their society, and then suddenly abandoned on earth.  Would they ever be able to connect with other human beings?  Imagine if the world’s greatest theoretical problems were solutions to your childhood homework.  Remember that what it took geniuses like Euclid and Newton to discover are now part of a rather ordinary school curriculum.  A modern day AP chemistry high school student knows more about the physical world and the universe than the entirety of the Royal Society did when they were founded.  Imagine what someone educated by a species millions of years our superior would know as just basic knowledge.  What would they do in a world filled with ignorant dullards?

The biggest hurdle would probably be convincingly portraying someone who’s that far beyond terrans, though.  Still, I like the idea.  I’ll probably put it aside and hopefully come back to it someday.  Any thoughts?

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