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Visiting a candlelit vigil in memory of Harambe

The gorilla shot dead by a zoo worker was remembered across the UK by mourners and meme-lovers

“You’re doing all this for a gorilla? A GORILLA!?” a drunk, elderly man in a green duffle coat shouted from across the street. He called the whole group communists before moving on but, other than that short outburst, this was a wholly peaceful event. As you probably know, five months ago at Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas, a gorilla named Harambe was killed with a single gunshot to the head, in death becoming a meme with a lot of staying power – this was an ape who had an atomic impact on pop culture.

We visited Leeds’ town hall and one of the many candlelit vigils that took place across the UK to mark five months since Harambe’s passing. Attended by around 200 mourners, some held sparklers, some held pictures of Harambe, most with candles.

A man in a large banana suit, named Rui, said simply, “He was such a gorilla.” And what has society learnt from the whole debacle? “Nothing: that’s why we’re here. My friends let the meme die; they abandoned his memory. If we keep it going, the meme will never die.”

“It means a lot to a lot of people,” a student called Lauren clutching a candle said. “People have turned up so it’s clear what Harambe meant to us. He was gone well before his time.”

A long hum was “performed”, punctuated only by impromptu choruses of Tight Fit’s 1982 classic ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.

Oli, holding a banana spiked with birthday candles, led much of the cheering. “The name Harambe stands for strength and power but, unfortunately, not freedom,” he said. “The fire of the candle represents his spirit and his burning desire to entertain whilst he was in the zoo. What happened was a disaster, I blame the Americans – they should think about what they are doing. Chester Zoo would never have anything like that.”

Surij, a man with a home-made, custom Harambe candle holder said, “I made it at work while I should have been working,” he admitted. “This has united a lot of people; it’s community spirit.”

“I think it’s been amazing,” organiser of the event Matthew Walker said as it all started winding down. “It’s been purely community driven. There have been outbursts of empathy towards Harambe; people singing. A nice, peaceful gathering.”

We also contacted Gladys Porter Zoo, Texas for comment on the vigil. The spokesperson, who knew Harambe, did confirm that her memories of him were “really nice”. When asked if she thought the vigil was a fitting gesture she replied: “I would say so.” 

So what have we learnt from attending a candlelit vigil for a dead gorilla? Simply put, there are at least 200 people in Leeds who think this joke still has legs.