Signifying monkey  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Signifying Monkey is a character of African-American folklore that derives from the trickster figure of Yoruba mythology, 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” but is thought to derive from Yoruban mythology, which depicts Echu-Elegua with a monkey at his side.

Numerous songs and narratives concern the Signifying Monkey and his interactions with his friends, the Lion and the Elephant. 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.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Signifying monkey" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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