Nsanzimana Elie, famously known as “the monkey boy” was born in 1999 in the southern province of Rwanda, the Land of A Thousand Hills popularly known for gorilla safaris among travellers. His mum after losing the first five children, “prayed to God to get any child”. At birth, the boy’s head was small and his facial features were abnormal, distinguishing him from his peers. Elie was discovered to be microcephaly, a rare condition where a baby’s head size is much smaller than the rest of his body. It results from abnormal brain development which occurs during pregnancy. According to Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the causes of microcephaly are not known but may occur due to changes in the genes of babies. Although this condition can be diagnosed, Ellie was not lucky enough to get treatment after birth leading to mental disabilities including inability to learn, communicate and socialize with others.
Growing up, Elie’s character was unique, he couldn’t properly speak and spent most of the time hiding in the jungles of Nyungwe Forest with monkeys eating bananas and fresh fruits instead of cooked food. People with small heads, known as ‘pinheads’ in ancient Rome were displayed as a public spectacle and it occurred to Elie while growing up in southern province of Rwanda. He became a target of bullying in the community with people referring to him as the ‘monkey boy’ or chimpanzee. Despite the social stigma, his mum in a televised media interview said “Elie is my sixth child. After the death of his elders, we were separated. We prayed to God to get another child and fortunately, we were blessed with Elie. Now I cherish him as a heaven’s gift from God and love him enormously.” She said.
As a result, his family faced a lot of challenges including providing food among other basic needs. As an infant, also, the boy was unable to attend school due to his inability to rightly communicate and learn with others. Ellie’s mother was always heartbroken when villagers insulted his son calling him unpleasant names including gorilla. “Whenever I hear someone bullying, insulting or beating him, it really gives me a heart attack. My kid is innocent, he never does harm to anyone and I sometimes lose my temper when people call him animals and not treating him like a human being” she added.
When something bad happened, it was always a pity for the mother and the story of getting the monkey boy out of such a condition seemed like a fairy tale. Fortunately, the negative story surrounding Ellie turned positive and he became famous. Following public media coverage, compassionate people offered support including donating funds to build a new house for him and and his mother, paying school fees and proving basic needs such as clothing. The “monkey boy” of Rwanda is now a changed man. He has learnt to communicate with people after many years of hiding in the jungle and can now be seen wearing suits and designer clothes. Elie is now a celebrity in his country. People who disliked his ways before are now fans and many want to take selfies with which has turned Elie into a celebrity.