Where does Harambe come from?
On May 28, 2016, a three- to four-year-old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. There were three gorillas in the enclosure, and the male—a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla named Harambe—took notice of the child. The 400-pound gorilla was alone with the child for ten minutes, grabbing him and dragging him around in that time. Zoo officials deemed the situation life threatening for the boy. To ensure his safety, they had to shoot the gorilla. A bystander shot a video of the incident and released it online.
Shortly after the incident, a Change.org petition called “Justice for Harambe” was uploaded. The petition called for charges to be brought against the parents, deemed negligent, though eyewitness accounts don’t suggest this. Regardless, Facebook and Twitter quickly took up #JusticeForHarambe in addition to #RIPHarambe.
In response to the incident, many on the internet turned to humor. Soon, memes about Harambe were circulating on Twitter. For instance, various users included images of Harambe in tributes to other celebrities who died in 2016, including Prince, Muhammad Ali, and David Bowie. Another meme, which in part referenced the flurry of Harambe memes, internet hot takes, and the large public outcry after his death, was “I miss Harambe.” One of the more popular memes began early in July 2016, when Twitter user Brandon Wardell posted a tweet reading “dicks out for Harambe”—Dicks out is a vulgar slang expression for “showing respect.” This phrase quickly gained steam, with a Reddit page and a mock Facebook event.
On August 22, the Associated Press reported that the Cincinnati Zoo was not amused by the memes and media coverage and wanted to move on from the incident.
Who uses Harambe?
Dicks out for Harambe is one of the most popular of many memes that followed the gorilla’s death. It generated a snowclone “dicks out for X” which spread to entirely non-Harambe related subjects. Harambe has also gone on as a metaphor for a beloved martyr of an all-consuming media trend whose very sensationalism self-generates more attention. For example, in a February 2017 New York Times article, Farhad Manjoo called Donald Trump “the Harambe of politics, the undisputed king of all media.”
Harambe-related Internet shenanigans continued. A marijuana blend called Harambe OG was released in September 2016. Faux reports that people had voted for Harambe also circulated after the 2016 American presidential election. In February 2017, a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto whose shape resembled Harambe received a winning bid of $99,900.00 on eBay, though the buyer later backed out.
“Harambe is now officially a marijuana legend. Dabs out for Harambe.”
HERB Facebook (October 11, 2016)
“Jeff Atkins was the human equivalent of Harambe.. he didn't deserve to die”
Hunter Hurst @Hunt5oh Twitter (April 11, 2017)
“He gives the bullpen some good luck...He just hangs, Harambe-ing around.”
Tyler Buffet, reported by Nathan Ruiz, “Hits Out For Harambe: OSU pitchers relaxed with help of plastic gorilla,” The O’Colly (March 23, 2017)