Dream on Monkey Mountain

by Derek Walcott

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Last Updated December 8, 2023.

Dream on Monkey Mountain opens in a small jail on an unnamed West Indian island. Corporal Lestrade, a mulatto official, brings in Makak, an older black man. Makak has just been arrested for being drunk and smashing a local café while claiming he was the King of Africa. Two other black prisoners already in cells, Tigre and Souris, try to undermine the corporal as he does his duty. The corporal grows frustrated and compares them to animals.

The corporal asks Makak for basic information, but the prisoner only wants to go home. Makak does reveal that he lives on Monkey Mountain and that he is ‘‘Catholique,’’ though he does not remember his real name. Next is a trial, where Tigre and Souris don judge's robes and the corporal defends Makak. The corporal presents the facts of the case to the judges. He reveals that Makak claims to have had a dream in which he was told he was a descendant of African kings. Makak was inciting people when he was arrested. Makak asks to be released because he is old. After telling them he has not looked at his reflection for thirty years, Makak relates a dream in which a white woman came to him. He claims to see her at that moment in the prison, but no one else does. Makak believes she gives him strength.

The play shifts back to the time before Makak was arrested, though it is part of his dream. In Makak's hut on Monkey Mountain, he lies on the floor. He is found by his business partner and friend, Moustique, a small black man with a deformed foot. Moustique rouses him so they can go to the market and sell their coal. Makak does not want to go. He relates the experience he had the night before. A white woman appeared to him, singing. She knew all about him and wanted to come home with him. When they returned to his hut, she told Makak that he should not live there anymore, believing he was ugly, because he comes from a royal lineage.

Moustique grows frustrated by Makak's insistence that his experience was real. He asks where the woman is now, but Makak does not know. After Makak leaves to get the coal so they can go to the market, Moustique is shaken when he unexpectedly encounters a mother spider with an egg sack. He kills it, but both men believe this is a sign of Moustique's impending death. Moustique finds a white mask under a bench. Makak says that he has not seen it before. He orders Moustique to ready things for their journey to Africa. Moustique is now convinced Makak is crazy, but follows him down the mountain.

Moustique comes upon the family of a sick man. Sisters pray around him hoping to make him well. Moustique joins them in prayers, while asking them for bread. He learns that the sick man has a fever and his body will not break into a sweat. The sick man is basically given up for dead, and Basil, a local coffinmaker, lurks nearby. Moustique convinces them to let Makak help the sick man in exchange for bread.

Makak has everyone kneel around the sick one. He has a woman place a hot coal in his hand. As it sizzles, Makak prays over him. Nothing happens at first, which Moustique and Makak blame on those around the sick man. Still, the sick man's wife gives them food for their effort. Just as they are about to leave, the sick man begins to sweat and heal. After...

(This entire section contains 1327 words.)

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collecting gifts from those present, Moustique teases Basil and obtains his coat and hat. When Moustique and Makak finally depart, Moustique wants to exploit Makak's gift for healing for profit. Makak will only take as much as they need.

At a public market, people talk about Makak's healing miracles. In the meantime, the corporal and the market inspector discuss how they will keep order when Makak makes his rumored appearance. A man claiming he is Makak appears; it is, however, Moustique. Moustique plays to the crowd, asking for cash for his trip to Africa while promising to help them cure themselves. When a spider falls on his hand, he becomes upset. It is removed by Basil, who recognizes that he is not Makak but Moustique. Under duress, Moustique admits the truth and insults the crowd. They beat him for a few moments, before the corporal tells them to disperse. After they leave, Makak appears. Moustique tells him to go back to Monkey Mountain before dying.

At the beginning of Part Two of the play, still in Makak's dream, the action shifts back to the jail. It is the same night that Makak was arrested and the corporal is feeding the prisoners. Souris and Tigre ask him to release the old man, but he will not. Makak offers money to the corporal for his freedom. The corporal will not be bribed, and is disturbed by Makak. After the corporal leaves, Tigre convinces Souris that they might be able to escape from prison and steal Makak's money. To that end, they ask him about his dream and Africa. Tigre convinces Makak that he must kill the corporal—like the lion he claims to be—so they can escape together. Makak reveals that he has a knife. Tigre calls the corporal in, Makak stabs him, and they escape. The corporal is not dead and goes after them.

In the forest, Makak directs Souris and Tigre to rest while he makes a fire. Tigre is impatient, wanting to eat but also anxious to get to Monkey Mountain. Souris is afraid, wondering if there really is any money. As Makak lays out his plans, Souris begins to believe in his words. Tigre grows frightened and impatient. Makak makes him his general. While cooking food Souris has obtained, he and Tigre discuss how they are convinced that Makak is totally crazy.

When they hear someone coming, the three men hide in the bushes. The corporal appears, following their trail and talking in incomprehensible terms. Basil comes out of the bushes and tells the corporal he must repent. Tigre and Souris emerge from the bushes. Tigre encourages the corporal to confess his sins as well. Under pressure, the corporal admits his love of Africa and asks for Makak's forgiveness. Makak appears and declares that the corporal is one of them. Tigre and Souris want to take physical revenge on the corporal, but Makak will not let them. When Tigre wants to shoot the corporal, Souris intervenes for he is now firmly on Makak's side. Makak tries to convince Tigre to join them, but Tigre remains ready to kill. The corporal ends up driving a spear through Tigre with the help of Basil, killing him. Those who remain move on.

Makak is now a royal figure, perhaps in Africa, still followed by the corporal and Souris. Basil reads a list of the accused—figures from history and contemporary society—whom he mentions are all white. Basil lists many letters from those wanting their favor, including the Ku Klux Klan, and an apology from South Africa. None present are appeased. Moustique, now a prisoner, is brought in. Moustique asks Makak for mercy, pointing out that these men might betray him as well. He is taken away. The apparition of the white woman is brought in. The corporal insists Makak must kill her. Makak wants to do this alone, and after much prodding, the others finally leave. Declaring his freedom, he kills her.

The play returns to reality and the jail. It is the next morning. Makak reveals his true identity, Felix Hobain, and does not remember exactly why he is there. Some of his dream returns to his consciousness. The corporal sets the old man free. Just as he is about to leave, Moustique comes, hoping to free his friend. They go home to Monkey Mountain.


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