A lot has been happening here @vonreuth, projects germinating and aligning, editings and revisings and all kinds of other -ings that required a small hiatus from the usual work & play. However, it’s 12 July and the 12th means Twelve Ten, so why not share some of what’s going on here at von reuth with our readers? The following has less to do with craft and more to do with creativity of reading and writing, and most of all what makes us, as humans, tick in our various times and spaces.
So, just as in Twelve Ten, No. 4, this edition will be slightly different from usual procedure of words and stories. Saying more would give away too much, so here we are on 12 July with a different kind of summer reading.
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A question was put to me not long ago that can be summarised as “How did we get here?”
‘Here’ was 2017 specifically, and not just the date. ‘Here’ had much more to do with our, let me call it, historical time and place that is currently noteworthy in the Interesting Times kind of way. The question(s) asked were actually a version of “How did this happen? What a mess,” that would be frowned upon in polite society, but that’s another story. The ensuing conversations and discussions got me thinking. How did we get here, how did we end up in our ‘today’? What happened, really? Who started this, if “we didn’t start the fire”?
There is so much one could point to, so many things one could highlight, one century isn’t even enough. Yet, with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas here on my desk beside me, The Oxford Companion to English Literature before me, (currently keeping a dictionary – imagine; how analog – from squeezing other books off my desktop), and London’s AZ map in my line of sight, there was one possibility that I had at my disposal. Not an answer, but a ‘point of inquiry’ as some people like to say.
So here it is, a comment on rather than an answer to “How did we get here?” With so much to consider in our hyper-real, swipe-right world of post-truths, tweet-storms and alt-realities, going back to the basics might be a good idea. So let’s go back, all the way back to the beginnings of what made our today, ‘today’, and. . .think out of the box a bit.
Tribes and Tribulations
Imagine… a travelogue.
Why, you ask.
Bear with me.
So, imagine a travelogue.
Imagine a travelogue written studiously, day by day, like a diary. Consecutive entries are about the traveller’s adventures, thoughts, experiences, feelings. It is personal, and, one hopes, honest.
Imagine, finally, that this traveller arrived in a small town in Kent, England one stormy night and travelled the Home Counties for about three months, making extensive notes.
This traveller had never been to the Home Counties before.
While travelling he, for the traveller is male, tried his best to describe this as yet unknown landscape and people. He did his best to jot down what he saw as accurately as he could, using his journal as a kind of mental map of the landscape, the people, their habits, their culture.
Let us call the traveller Mwingi Nuroka.
Mwingi Nuroka is a very well-respected man amongst his own. He is an enthusiastic tribalist, meaning here: an investigator of tribes.
Now, during these three conspicuous months, Mwingi Nuroka had ventured forth into as yet unknown territory. It was a land alien to the society and culture he lived in and observed from. He was not the first to venture this far north, by any means. Others had gone even further, but none had penerated these rolling green hills which we know as the Home Counties, but which to Mwingi Nuroka are the Mwambao Provinces. The British Isles are Maji Baridi, respectively.
After his three months of travel, Mwingi Nuroka returned to his own and compiled his notes into a collection of observations known as The Rituals and Habits of the Tribal Alliances of the Mwambao Provinces of Maji Baridi. Mwingi Nuroka’s collection was an instant and massive success. It was read by everyone and all and celebrated for its very illuminating insights into the Mwambao Provinces. It was advertised “an absolute must for every adventurous traveller”, one in which Mwingi Nuroka observed:
III. It is the third day of my First Arrival in this Water-Del. My six natives, I observe, have yet again converged to their ritual of drinking the beverage they name “tee” (Origins: yet unknown, yet not indigenous, as I am told, but the result of ancient trade routes that reach into the deepest part of the central Mlima Mafua landmass (the tribe alliances call it “U-rop”, after a legend of a full grown bull stealing a young native woman named “U-ropa”. Why this is so is unknown to me, however the natives seem quite complacent with the name).
This “tee”-drinking is done at a precise time, namely “sixteen hundred”. – A Note: to avoid confusions, I will use the natives own implemented codes of sun-position, in this particular case precisely “sixteen hundred”, which is equal to when the sun is soft. The natives like to use “four o’clock”, but I consider that to be very misleading, since the term does not imply whether it is before or after sunset. The natives, however, are very loose in their use of time-descriptions, and prefer the very inaccurate “four o’clock” to the far more accurate “sixteen hundred”. I wonder how they manage to order their day, especially with such undisciplined sunlight. It shines whenever it wants, there is no consistency whatsoever. !Tsele Bulona’s precise study The Absent Sun really helped me understand how light is to be understood in these dark lands, and especially when to take a cover when going out, for the clouds look almost always ominous. Also, I understand why the first explorers called this land Maji Baridi. It is a precise description. The rain is very cold.
IV. I suspect that the male and female of this particular grouping are of the central grouping of the indigenous caste-system, where, due to various economically fortunate filial as well as non-filial alliances over generations, the children of these families, both the male and the female, find time and leisure to convene at the particular establishment named ‘khafee’.
For a study of the establishment “bub” (short for “bublek has” a place for predominantly male natives to gather and drink alcoholic beverages and play social games on a regular basis), again !Tsele Bulona is very helpful. He was only able to follow the natives’ time rituals by watching a “bub” for a few weeks, braving the infernal rain and that fog that creeps into everything like a cold caterpillar. This land is a cursed place sometimes, there is not one decent mango tree in sight. On the other hand, I should not bemoan my plight. Emi Chareni is currently on Vilima Kijani, investigating the tribe alliances that call themselves “Airis”. What she sends me sounds very intriguing, apparently it is a land as green as a mocha tree, but the weather! Apparently there are days where the rain falls sideways.
V. The “khafee” is an appropriation of the neighbouring tribe alliances’ habits of meeting in closed spaces to drink imported mocha (Yes! I have found mocha here – the natives call it “khofii” – which is a great relief. Some comforts are not completely lost). The natives of both the greater tribe alliances whose denominator is “Fransis” and the greater tribe alliances I am investigating were not aware of mocha’s existence until ten generations ago, although mocha has been existent for at least a thousand generations. – A Note: the tribe alliance that has settled here call themselves “Egles”; by the way, I observed that there is a violent distinction between the far sun-absent tribe alliances called “Sgods” as well as those to the sun-setting, “U-els”. Why this is so, I have not yet found out but I shall investigate.
As to the mocha: One wonders at the state of communication in this part of Our Great One, why She neglected these people so cruelly (it is raining again, by the way, the small pestilential drops that find a way to get in everywhere), however, one must make allowances, and there is the matter of the “tee”.
VI. Both the males and the females sit at the elevated table together – here, all seating opportunities are elevated. I was told this was due to the natives’ fundamental fear of flooding. With these constant rains, I fully understand such fears, though one wonders why the natives don’t put their whole houses on stilts, instead of simply their seating devices. I must investigate.
I am to understand that at such a gathering (in the khafee), both the males and the females speak about the day, the weather (this seems to be of great importance, though all it does is rain; the sun does not reach this cold land often) and personal affairs, though with caution. I have observed a diffidence in showing joy, sorrow, and anger, though once inebriated with alcoholic beverages known as “biir”, “u-ain” and “spriris” – the latter being a very aggressive form – this diffidence then turns into unexpected raucousness and even violence, especially amongst the young. I am told there are ritualistic properties to this, which date back to the worship of their god – or gods I should say, for there are three male and one female divinity. The female divinity, apparently by some miracle, conceived a son by one of the male divinities, and this without any sexual intercourse. Also, the female deity was married to another man. (I was quite baffled to see infidelity as such a central and accepted part of their culture. It seems to be the norm, however, Emi Chareni told me it is more complicated than what I have observed so far). Thus the female divinity, who is expressly young and apparently without sexual experience – a gross denial of the facts of living, I must say, but the natives are adamant – was impregnated by the most powerful of the male divinities (known as “The Father”, understandably).
I must confess I laughed out loud when I was told this, but my laughter was met with cold silence and anger. Both the male and the female natives looked decidedly insulted by my mirth, so I did my best to hide my smiles. The female divinity is called “Holy Mother of God”, since by her conception by “The Father” she (great surprise) bore “The Son”. They are very simplistic in their divine constellations, but believe in them deeply. As to the Spirit World, all there seems to be is an eternal peace known as “Haven” (it must have to do with their love for boats, considering that harbours do keep boats safe from storms) and the eternal punishment known as “Hel”. I am to understand that “Hel” is a place of everlasting flames and pain, like a hut burning incessantly and the inhabitants not able to flee. It is a very cruel means of punishment, and makes me worry about their general expectations in life, though from !Tele Bulona’s accounts this incineration used to be common practice to destroy rival factions – burning down large huts with the people still inside that is – during the tribal alliances’ Great God Wars. It must have been a horrific time.
As to the Spirit World: There is also an in-between place where I understand that the essences (“sols”) wait for election to either the “Haven” or the “Hel”, or simply potter along (it sounds like an extremely boring place). I do not know what takes place in this in-between place known as “Pugtari”, however I must say that despite its simplicity, this rather primitive Spirit World is intriguing in matters of ritual (to that later). On the other hand, three options seems a far less complicated form than our twenty-seven. Speaking of which, I should burn incense again, the Ancestors must be already wondering. I have been a bit negligent, but with the rain as it is, the incense never dries completely. It is hard to follow one’s duties if the weather continually conspires against you.
VII. I have so far come to understand that the above mentioned constellation is a sacred mystery to the entire tribal alliance known as “Egles”, and various others on this dark and cold landmass, considering Lumudo Mgona’s investigation of the tribal alliances who call themselves “Tshermens”. His Essences of the Tscher Tribes is an excellent book, I must say. I took a ship down the Long Snake River (the natives call it “Dan-ao”) and then the Curving Snake River (natives name it “Rain” for some reason) due to it. Fascinating, I must say, a land full of fortifications, relics of the Great God Wars, that are no longer in use and very neglected but still beautiful. – A Note: According to Abuwaseli Ngodera’s seminal work on the tribal alliance known as “Fransis” (The Thorned Hearts of the Silent Rivers, Investigations of Mlima Mafua’s Four Divinities; the 2nd edition especially, which has Ngodera’s famous treatise on the Great Uprising seven generations ago), there seem to be variations in the means of worship, thus a thorough comparative study would be necessary to understand the full number of the divinities extant amongst the Mlima Mafua tribes. It is known how the natives’ superstitions with regard to their gods are multifarious and delicate, thus further inquiry will require very careful investigation.
Finally, the third male divinity (though I am not entirely sure it is only male), is known as “The Holy Ghost”. It is an entity none can fully describe, as it seems. One particular fervent female native tried to explain this entity to me, she belonged to the keepers of their holy secrets, and had the sad fate of never having the joy of children – I have to digress here, because I find this extremely bewildering. Why the Mlima Mafua tribe alliances condemn their holy people to abject loneliness and sexual starvation, I do not understand. Emi Chareni tells me the natives believe this will bring them closer to their divinities, by concentrating all their energies on worshiping the divinities. I asked Emi if they didn’t realize that, if their divinities were real, and made them, as they said they made them (“in their image” as their holy book says), and even commanded reproduction, denying their holy people this divine prerogative made little sense. Emi wrote back that “making sense” had nothing to do with it. In fact, it seemed the less it made sense the better, but Emi is still researching, so I will wait for her next communication.
Anyway, said fervent native woman tried to explain this esteemed essence to me, but all I understood was that the natives believe a spectral presence occupies their bodies in moments when one of their gods is in their presence. I would very much like to witness such an occupation, however I am told that it is extremely rare and even seems to be extinct altogether. How true that is I can as yet not discern, since I do sometimes feel they are hiding something.
VIII. Regarding Tribal Dress: The group I am currently observing in the khafee are dressed in various forms of cotton and silk cloth that cover their bodies from their shoulders to their knees, if not to their ankles. One thing is interesting: the natives seem extremely careful when it comes to exposing their bodies in full, though parts seem allowed. I am still trying to understand the system of exposure, for there seem to be times and places where nudity is accepted. Lumudo Mgona writes that there are whole parts of the Tscher tribes who enjoy the meagre sun as they were made, though he also writes that this is an exception amongst the Mlima Mafua tribal alliances. As to those I am observing, there is a distinction between male and female tribal dress:
The males: leg-wear known as “patlaons”, or “trusas” (it seems both are interchangeable). – A Note: Emi Chareni was accurate about the sex arrows. It is, I must say, as shocking as she communicated. I am not surprised Emi had such difficulties at first, one hardly knows where to look, one is always in danger of creating an offence. In the first days here I hardly knew where to put my eyes. I will try and be accurate, though, since it is a very curious custom: all the males of every age – yes, even the tiniest – seem to have a set of the sex arrows, and they are worn for special occasions, as it seems.
The arrows are tied with a light knot around the male’s necks and hang loosely down their fronts pointing directly to – yes, exactly. Baffling. I wonder how it came to be. I wonder, too, how the women can stand it, this blatant signalling. Do they feel no shame? Or at least discomfort? The men could just a well be naked with those arrows everywhere, at least that would be sufficiently modest. And yet the women seem surprisingly comfortable with these arrows pointing straight at the males’ strength. Some, I am to understand, hide their arrows inside their patlaons, but that does not lessen the fact of their presence.
The usual arrow colours are: blue, red, and black. Strong colours that possibly signal tribal status. Emi has communicated that the arrows are likely rudimentary signs of male dominance, for none of the females wear them. Though Emi did once mention that there are occasions when female natives adorned themselves with these sex arrows, however it was seen as a very aggressive act and scared away the males. Understandably so, I must say. I still find them hard to stomach, but one must be patient and forbearing.
Thankfully, my current set of natives have forgone the offensive arrows. All of the males are wearing a very coarse form of cotton cloth known as “giins”; cotton shirts of various light hews, and leather footwear, without adornment. Almost all carry on their left finger a band of precious metal, denoting their status as a male bonded by social practice and (possibly) mutual appreciation to a female. – A Note: Unlike the natives of sunshining Barapana – I’m referring to Kalawazi’s Miamboa Uangavu that has yet to be translated though it should really be read in the original, and his recent The Constant Fires of Barapana – none of the males carry firebreathers openly. In fact, I have so far not seen any weapons on persons, male or female, even of those natives who have been delegated to ascertain that no unruly behaviour takes place (named “po-liis”).
The females: flower-printed dresses, or trusas and cotton top-covers, sometimes revelatory of the secondary and tertiary sexual markers. However, their footwear is remarkable. It also shows the latent cruelty of the Mlima Mafua tribal alliances as already observed by Mgona and Ngodera, respectively. The female’s footwear is extremely cumbersome and not designed for healthy walking, let alone unwieldy terrain. Since the heel is of considerable height, a quick escape is difficult if not impossible. This is very bewildering, and I have asked some female natives why, once reaching a certain time in their sexual maturity, they deem this kind of footwear as suitable. Almost all females answered that it heightened their sexual attractiveness to their males, thus giving them better chances to find a mate, though the matter of producing children seems problematic altogether (to that later).
Also, all of them said their ungainly footwear was beautiful, which just shows that A. Ngodera’s treatise on beauty in Mlima Mafua was accurate. I can now also attest that the tribal alliances’ sense of beauty has decidedly unnatural traits. It seems it is expected of the females to torture their bodies throughout, and most incredible of all, the women, young as well as old, accept this never-ending distress without complaint. One wonders how much Mlima Mafua men dislike their own women, and in what reign of terror these unfortunates have to live in from the day of their birth to the day they join their Ancestors. It is disheartening, but those native women I have talked to refuse to be reformed, insisting on their continuous discomfort, convinced it is all in their best interest. My father always said, “Leave the ignorant to their ignorance,” but doing that, here, would be nothing less than criminal. I shall ask the Elders what can be done to help these helpless creatures.
Some thoughts on this barbaric practice: possibly, this footwear is a cultural marker to keep the females close to the males, especially after the Great God Wars. Possibly the women ran away a lot and so were not easily found anymore, thus a means was created to keep them in place. It is a guess. However, the women’s compliance either means the less inability to run away means a higher chance of acquiring a healthy, powerful mate, or something of greater import is taking place, unbeknownst to me. I have yet to investigate. Still, it seems unnecessarily cruel and dangerous regarding the women’s ability to simply move. Why cripple them this way? It is very unnatural.
IX. While sitting at elevated seats outside the establishment, my six natives seem to be enjoying the cloudy sky and the (at times very) cool temperatures. If they stay longer outside in these temperatures, it will be unavoidable that they soon catch cold, start coughing, etc. That none of their children come to give them protective blankets or simply screen the premises from the infernal wind is very surprising. In general, the complete lack of filial responsibility is alarming. There seems to be little to no exchange between the older and the younger natives, though with the older generations’ recklessness there might be reasons. The consumption of the beverage “tee” (which is only warm) and a pastry form known as “biskets” (which are cold) seems to be the norm, and is adhered to calmly, without any consideration of what the temperatures might do to their health. Unless, as Emi Chareni has repeatedly told me, their constitutions are so roughly made as to withstand the infernal wind and decidedly cold weather. It makes one wonder how Lumudo Mgona survived living amongst the Tscher, where he says ice-crystals fell and fell for many days until they covered all from horizon to horizon with coldest white. He writes,
“It was like a desert, yet not golden and hot, but coldest, deadliest white. I was forced to stay inside all day and all night, a prison to drive any healthy man, woman, and child mad. Worst of all was the sun that shone brightly but was cold, so cold, it seemed all things natural had been turned upside down, and the only safety was the fire and the blankets inside.”
I can only imagine his suffering. Why Our Great One allows such unnatural places to exist is beyond me. Such relentless madness would ruin any stout heart with despair. At least here, now, the sun has finally found its way past those mountain clouds that crowd the cold sky. They’re like grazing goats chased about by an angry matron – every time one is certain they are gone, hup! there they are again, ruining the blue garden of the sky.
That was Mwingi Nuroka hardly three weeks into his adventures.
Now, imagine that there existed whole libraries of observations of Europe and North America such as that of our tribalist Mwingi Nuroka.
Imagine, too, that books such as Mwingi Nuroka’s, and those he quotes from, were read and studied widely for generations. And most of all: that they were taken as fact. Maybe modified here and there, maybe a bit exaggerated at times, but still essentially fact, truth, reality, the way things are.
Then imagine the education that would be derived from these observations, the classes of History and Anthropology for example. Consider what the natural sciences would be like, what would be considered important to investigate and what negligible. In Mwingi Nuroka’s world, would “biir” be of great interest, or mango trees? The golden desert or the white one? And what of those offensive arrows?
Consider who would study all these things.
Who would be allowed to study them?
Who would be seen as fit to study them?
Keep in mind, Mwingi Nuroka’s observations and the treatesis of his colleagues and peers are what are taught as History, Anthropology, Geology, Meteorology etc. These are serious fields of study. This is the research that is funded. These are the foundations on which government policies are built.
Then, there is the matter of societies and cultures.
Imagine if all anyone would ever know about
Europe the tribal alliances of Mlima Mafua and of North America the tribal alliances of Barapana were exactly these kind of observations and similar ones made over time.
Consider the fact that Mwingi Nuroka really was trying to be as accurate as possible. Consider also, that not all researchers in the field would be as accurate as he; that not all observations recorded would be as ‘unbiased’ as his.
Consider also how Mwingi Nuroka’s observations describe the observed natives as expressly
and quaintly amusing
to just name a few categories.
So we have all that.
Now, think about the reactions to Mwingi Nuroka’s The Rituals and Habits of the Tribal Alliances of the Mwambao Provinces of Maji Baridi, !Tsele Bulona’s The Absent Sun, Emi Chareni’s treatises and communications about the Airis, Abuwaseli Ngodera’s The Thorned Hearts of the Silent Rivers, 2nd edition, Kalawazi’s Miamboa Uangavu and The Constant Fires of Barapana, and Lumudo Mgona Essences of the Tscher Tribes, all of which are highly influential and well-respected works.
Consider how these books became part of History, Literature and Culture. Imagine the plays that would be made, the music, the stories told. Imagine what poetry would be memorised, what phrases would be common and accepted.
Imagine a world where everyone has read The Absent Sun, and to quote from it is a sign of intelligence and a good education. Imagine the universal acceptance that Mwombao Provinces are A Dark Land. Imagine the backlash when someone from the Mlima Mafua tribe alliances points out that Abuwaseli Ngodera’s Thorned Hearts got everything wrong about the Great Uprising: the guillotine was not used for entertainment and sport, it was a horror. Robespierre was a maniac and not the classic example of a Fransis, since Robespierre and his ilk were used as proof that all Mlima Mafuans were dangerous and the Fransis especially so. Imagine this impassioned writer’s critique of the social practices of blaming all Mlima Mafuan’s as cruel monsters because of that gleeful misreading of a terrible time. Imagine, too, the continuous attempts to appease everyone that the Fransis weren’t out to guillotine everybody at a moment’s notice.
Imagine nobody knew what you meant when you said The French Revolution. Imagine rebellious teens failing an important exam because they refused to call it The Great Uprising “because that’s not what it’s called”. They insisted they were Fransis, they would not deny their culture and history. Imagine the talk they’d have in the principle’s office, a principle who wrote a well-known thesis on Thorned Hearts and was a member of the esteemed Ngodera Society. A principle who believes all Fransis are one scrap-metal heap away from turning genocidal. (“You never know, they always have a contraption somewhere, you can’t trust the lot.”)
Imagine too, the stereotypes and prejudices that would evolve from Mwingi Nuroka and his peers’ observations, benign and otherwise.
Consider also how, if continued over time, this would influence these things: land and wealth distribution, what culture is considered culture, what political decisions are deemed necessary, not to mention the economic ones. Especially if Mlima Mafua and Barapana had resources the societies and cultures Mwingi Nuroka and his peers hail from want and need, and they moreover have the power to take them from the respective tribal alliances. Take water, for example. Imagine all the glaciers and rivers were siphoned off to create fantastically luxurious gardens in the Sahara desert because what did Mlima Mafuans need all that water for? They just let it flow in the rivers and sit on mountains, frozen like devil’s dandruff, they never did anything with it. And why were they always complaining about landslides, they should learn to build better. All they did was complain anyway, come to think of it, while all anyone did was finally give them much-needed sun via light-reflectors to heat up the place it was always so bloody cold. Granted they got a bit scorched at times, but what could you do. At least they had enough sun.
Consider the means by which power and stability would be generated and sustained by Mwingi Nuroka and his peers’ societies and cultures. Consider what the school principle who is a member of the Ngodera Society would say about Fransis – would he push their academic careers so they could better themselves? Or would he expect them to be guillotine-obsessed maniacs who probably hid scrap-metal in their basement to build their death-machines, and so were hopeless cases from the start? (“Because all Fransis do that, you see, all of them always sing the Marseillaise when they think nobody sensible is watching, so stands to reason they’ll turn Robespeirre when we’re not careful, you wait and see…”) Would this school principle be likely to “listen to reason” and be fair in tough cases regarding Fransis students from difficult backgrounds? And finally, imagine what the Fransis had to deal with on a daily basis. How just the legitimate use of scrap-metal could get them into serious trouble with the authorities. How every time a Fransis committed a crime it was seen as proof of the general bloodthirstiness of all Fransis (“See, I knew it, they’re all like that”) and so on and so forth.
Consider how, generations later, all anyone would know of Europe and North America was Mlima Mafua and Barapana, erasing all traces of ‘Europe’ and ‘North America’, and that this was a deliberate erasure. So much so that speaking English was banned and if you were found reading Jane Austen you were thrown into jail. Speaking French could end in a death sentence in some places. Imagine having to sit through a play that is clearly a mash-up of Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet and King Lear, a play that makes no sense whatsoever but is misused as proof of Mlima Mafuan’s general tendency to murder everyone (“Even their plays are full of death. Watch and learn.”) Which is why Mlima Mafuan’s are, of course, dangerous, and should be watched, the guillotine-obsessed Fransis especially.
Consider, too, that when referring to Europe and North America, all anyone would say would be Mlima Mafua and Barapana, all the references would be to Mlima Mafua and Barapana, and even the idea of ‘Europe’ and ‘North America’ would be absent in all official channels of government and legislation, and only quaint anecdotes in the societies and cultures of the day. Imagine the histories, the cultures and societies that would evolve from such a deliberate overwriting of what was once there.
Then think about the world as it is today.