Chapter Two: Unk

Six months passed before Rami returned to the jungle. During the time he had harvested his crops from his fields near the kampong, important changes had taken place in the life of the siamang family. Tarag had a new baby. Like all newborn apes, it was weak and helpless. The baby slept most of the time, waking only to nurse or be groomed. It stayed with Tarag constantly, clinging to her chest hair. Tarag supported the infant atop her bent legs as she brachiated through the canopy.

The baby required nearly all of Tarag’s attention. The little female had begun to spend more time with Toba, who, like all siamang fathers, played an important role in family life. He gave the older infant the protection and affection she still needed.

The five-year-old male was almost independent. Although not yet fully grown, he had mastered the skills needed for life in the treetops. He no longer slept close to Toba--that place had been taken over by his younger sister. Nevertheless, he was still very much a part of the family, feeding peacefully with the others, playing, grooming and being groomed, and sleeping in the communal tree.

Singkil had been driven from the family. Her parents no longer permitted her to sleep, feed, or play with the others. She was not included in calling or grooming sessions. She remained on the edge of her family’s territory, as if she hoped to be readmitted to the group.

Rami felt sorry for her. It seemed that an animal who had spent her whole life in the close company of others must feel lonely by herself. One morning, before the siamangs called, Rami watched the young male approach Singkil. She saw her brother and, with obvious pleasure, ran to meet him. The two animals came toward each other quickly, without hesitation, running upright along a branch. Both gibbons wore facial expressions that looked like human smiles. When they met, they threw their arms around one another, hugging like long-lost friends. Squealing with delight, the siamang brother and sister sat down for a mutual grooming session.

Rami never knew it, but he had witnessed the last real contact between Singkil and her family. Shortly afterward, a male siamang about Singkil’s age entered the area. He too had recently been pushed out of his family. It was time for him to find a mate of his own, and he soon found Singkil. The young siamangs, eager for companionship, accepted each other almost immediately. During a short and smooth courtship of playing, grooming, and “talking,” Singkil and the young male formed a lifelong pair bond.

Finding a mate was simple for a young siamang. Finding a place to live was another matter entirely. Singkil and her mate could not stay near her parents. A siamang family might permit a lone adult to remain on the fringes of their territory, but a new pair of gibbons represented a threat to the established order. If they tried to claim a territory in the immediate area, they would come into conflict with the previous owners.

And of course, like all new siamang pairs, Singkil and her mate did try to establish a territory in the treetops. They did this by calling, announcing their ownership of a section of canopy. Quickly they discovered that every place they claimed already had owners who were not at all reluctant to defend it. Their calling invariably brought attack.