All about 'hear, see and speak no evil'

(Translation from original Dutch language)                              Leeuwarder Courant October 8, 2007

There are people who collect them, the three monkeys or other figurines that stand for “hear, see and speak no evil”. This weekend they came together in Leeuwarden.

(Leeuwarden is the capital of the province of Friesland in the Netherlands)


By Gerrit Jan Alberts



Worldwide there is a great misunderstanding about the meaning of the (Dutch) expression “horen, zien en zwijgen” (literally: hear all, see all, say nothing). “Many people think that it is the same as to bury one's head in the sand or to run away from something, but that is not what it is“


For the exact meaning of the three monkeys, pigs, Buddha’s or other items that hold their hands over their mouth, eyes or ears, the English expression 'Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil', comes closest and if you live along these lines you will have a long and happy life.


Speaking is Emil Schuttenhelm during the hear, see and speak no evil collectors meeting in the building of the Friese Poort in the Leeuwarder Wilaarderburen. The Dutchman, who lives in Switzerland since 1969, has collected about 3500 figurines in more than 35 years.

Emil Schuttenhelm has more than 3500 no evil figurines in his home in Switzerland.

Foto LC/Wietze Landman


The entire basement of his home in Essingen is full with them.


“One day this symbol has caught my attention and has attracted me very much. It is in fact something like an anchor, a heart or a cross. There is a strong meaning behind it.''


Worldwide about 300 No Evil collectors are known, of which about 100 live in the Netherlands and Belgium.


Schuttenhelm: “Also in the USA there are about one hundred and the other one hundred are spread across the rest of the world”.


The symbol originates from Japan. Holland was one of the very few countries that had business relations with Japan in the old days.

In the Japanese town of Nikko a woodcarving from 1636 with the three monkeys can be found. The oldest representations of the three monkeys date back to 1528.


The expression hear, see and speak no evil was used by the Chinese philosopher Confucius. He lived about 500 years B.C. and he asked his followers not to do evil things.


The collectors meeting took place for the 16th time. Last year the collectors met in Eindhoven and two years ago in Zurich, Switzerland.


The members decide every time where the next meeting will be held. This time it was Janke Dekinga who was selling T-shirts with hear, see and speak no evil in Frisian language.

Eric van Geel en his friend Sophie d'Hondt had driven 450 kilometres from Poperinge in Belgium:

“Well, you know, it is in fact my girlfriend who collects. But anyway, we also have to earn something”.


Van Geel had it difficult last year when the nationalistic party Vlaams Belang was using pictures of the three monkeys on posters. “We have successfully opposed to that”.


Some figurines show four rather than three monkeys. The fourth one holds its hands over its crotch. That should stand for shame and chastity, but according to Schuttenhelm this simply is an invention by the souvenir industry:


“It is supposed to mean no sex and no fun, but that is just nonsense.”