Hundreds of people attended a candlight vigil for Harambe in Leeds

Wicks out for Harambe


Harambe – the gorilla who’s been immortalised by a flood of posthumous internet memes –  is still being mourned ironically across the Western world. Five months on from his untimely passing, there was a candlelit vigil in his honour in Leeds City Centre.

The Facebook event had well over a thousand people attending and obviously most didn’t come, but even so there were at least a couple hundred people gathered outside the Leeds Art Gallery holding candles, bananas and other varieties of Harambe-themed paraphernalia.

Joelle and Joan told me they had come along because they had seen the event on Facebook and thought it would be fun.

“It’s such a shame it that it happened though” one of them acknowledged.

Joelle and Joan

I wanted to know why others had decided turned up so I approached a #squad wearing customised Harambe T-shirts  and asked them what Harambe’s death had meant to them.

Will said: “Harambe symbolised hope and peace in the free world. He was kind of like a father figure for us.”

His friend, Ralph took a more sinister tone: “It’s just like Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson. They killed Harambe because he was going against the Illuminati.”

Will and Ralph

Making my way through the crowd I suddenly spot Matt who I recognised from Facebook as the guy responsible for organising the event. He was busy live-streaming the vigil on his phone but I introduced myself and asked him why he felt it was important for people to come out and pay their respects to Harambe.

Matt organised the vigil

Matt said: “I think getting people together for a cause like this is always a good thing. Sure it’s a bit of fun but it’s also great for people to get together.”

Squad mourning goals

Matt seemed fairly upbeat but other vigil attendees I spoke to appeared very despondent indeed.

“Our sweet prince is gone, its both a human tragedy and a global tragedy”, one mourner told me.”Harambe was a symbol for the progression of peace.”

His friend interjects: “It affects everyone every day, we’re still hurting.”


As I begin to wonder whether all this misery seems a bit contrived, a long-haired man dressed as a banana catches my eye. He tells me his name is Rui, and so I ask Rui, somewhat naively, why he’s dressed as a banana.

He said: “It’s what Harambe would have wanted.”

I follow this up by asking Rui what Harambe meant to him.

“Everything” Rui responds solemnly. “The Illuminati took him out because he had evidence that would destroy both Clinton and Trump. Bernie Sanders would have won the presidency if Harambe had lived.”

Ali and Oli

Still, others had a more optimistic perspective on Harambe’s death, refusing to be overcome by nihilistic misery. Oli and Ali had turned up to the vigil holding candlelit Bananas.

“I think tonight is a celebration of his life” says Oli. “After all, we were all gorillas once.”

Ali agreed, but couldn’t hide his anger over the way the way Harambe was treated.  “This would never have been allowed to happen in Chester Zoo” he lamented.

Sarah and Courtenay

Sarah and Courtenay were both visibly in mourning, not least because they wore black veils over their faces.

“What can we learn from Harambe’s life?” I ask Courtenay.

She pauses for a moment, and then declares defiantly, “Harambe would not have wanted you to be a dickhead, he would have wanted you to be a vag-head.”

There was no discernible structure to the vigil itself. Every so often, somebody would spontaneously lead the crowd in a round of ‘DICKS OUT FOR HARAMBE’ chants, or someone else would offer up more tuneful tributes to the fallen primate.

At one point, a soberly-dressed young man named James delivered a powerful eulogy of Harambe from the top of the Leeds Gallery steps. He spoke about how Harambe’s life symbolised the change that society urgently needs.

James prepared a speech

I caught up with James afterwards to get his view on the Harambe -Illuminati theory, but he seemed reluctant to give any credence to the conspiracy.

Ed, Abs and Lucy

As the vigil ended and the crowds begun to disperse, I got chatting to once last group of freshers.

“It’s true, Harambe was good for memes,” they told me, “But on a more serious note, Harambe’s death highlights the horrible way that people treat animals.”

Finally, beneath all the irony and faux mourning, a serious point about animal rights had been raised, and for a brief moment I felt reassured that despite all the insincerity, the bizarre memorialising of Harambe would serve some greater purpose.

…and then someone set a bin on fire.