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Where does the name gorilla come from?

© Sara Chieco

During the 6th century B. C. the Carthaginian admiral Hanno travelled with a fleet of 60 ships from Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) down the western coast of Africa. We do not know exactly how far he sailed, but after many days’ sailing he reported that he met hairy, aggressive creatures there that were called "gorillai" by his interpreters. As we do not know which language his interpreters spoke, we do not know the origin of the word. Often the meaning is given as "a tribe of hairy women", but others rather interpret it as "long-haired black women". Another interpretation of the report is that it refers to the inhabitants of the island Gorilla.
It is not certain whether Hanno really met gorillas, or strange humans, or some other primate. Nevertheless, Thomas S. Savage – who knew Hanno’s report – chose this name when he described the first specimen of this primate scientifically.

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