IN THE DAYS BEFORE RADIO AND TV
Once upon a time an unlearned man from the plains made his
first journey to the seashore. Walking along the beach, he espied
a seagull, wheeling high in the sky, plummet to the ocean, hit the
water, and flap skyward again with a fish in its beak. Shaking his
head in astonishment, the man ambled on down the beach.
As he neared a promontory, the breeze carried a cacophony of
seagull cries to the man's ears. Rounding the point, he came upon
a huge humpback whale, washed by the waves to the shore, and a
great host of gulls lunching on the carcass.
"Golly," the man whispered in awe. "A bunch of them goldarn
birds must've swooped down, yanked that big fish outta the water,
and drug him up here on the sand so's they could eat 'im."
A stickler for detail, renowned for his honesty, the man
measured the whale. "Fifty-three paces! Holy Cow!!"
Sitting in the sand, he thought. Back home his village was
engaged in intense rivalries with neighboring villages. All the
villages perceived ivory as being very valuable. It was their
custom to dye the hard white substance green for use in trading and
ornamentation. Life was tough. Ivory wasn't easy to get and the
villagers went to extremes, often killing one another, to obtain
Although uneducated, the man was clever. It didn't take him
long to decide to catch several pair of these marvelous sea birds
and return home where his people could domesticate them for use
hunting elephants, which are much smaller than whales.
"Jeez," he exclaimed happily, weaving a net to trap some
seagulls, "these little fellers could get us a heap of rhinoceri
too, they're even smaller than elephants." The villagers valued
rhinoceros horn as an aphrodisiac, so the man fell to his knees
praising and thanking his God for visiting such good fortune upon
Tucking half a dozen pair of seagulls into a sack, which he
carefully shouldered, the man set off on the long trek back to the
plains. The delicate nature of his burden made his journey
extremely arduous, but his faith was strong. Along the way the man
prayed to his God. Sometimes he counted his blessings in terms of
green ivory and rhinoceros horn. Finally he arrived home with the
birds still alive.
Immediately he summoned his people together. "Brethren," he
began. Pausing, he cleared his throat to better expound the glad
tidings. "Our God has sent us a Saviour, redemption, and
deliverance from our enemies." Reaching into the sack he drew out
a seagull in either hand. Tenderly holding the travel-weary birds
aloft, he declared, "In the person of these wonderful critters is
the substance of Our God's promise for the redemption of our
village, and the hope of the life to come."
At first the people were skeptical. The man could sense it.
Quickly he related the high points of his visit to the seaside. He
told of watching gulls dive into the waves and snare fish. He told
of the "fish bigger than five elephants," and how he had seen the
winged hunters feasting upon it. Then he related his idea of
training the fowl to hunt elephant and rhinoceros for the
enrichment of the village.
Due to his well-established reputation for honesty, no one
questioned even the slightest word of the man's narrative. The
village fell to its collective knees, singing Hosannas to its God.
They began to dance in joyful anticipation.
"Brethren," the practical man reminded. "Our task is but
begun. We must now be about the work of Our Lord." Reluctantly
the dancers stopped, and industriously the people set to work,
round-the-clock, constructing a majestic Gullarium in which, to the
glory of their God, they would propagate a large flock of seagulls.
And it came to pass that, when the Gullarium was completed,
the seagulls died.
At first there was much lamentation and gnashing of teeth.
The adventurous soul who had trekked to the sea tried to mount an
expedition to capture more gulls. But the witch doctor, who also
happened to be the duly elected administrator of the village, and
a financial whiz, had an idea.
"This scoundrel deceives us," the witch doctor accused. "He
knows that these birds cannot survive the long trip. He has led us
to waste energy and provisions in building the Gullarium, and now
he would lead many on yet another fruitless, dangerous journey."
The witch doctor continued to incite the people until they stoned
the adventurer to death.
"Oh my people, Our God has given me a revelation. He told me:
'Stuff those birds,'" the witch doctor said. "Then we must set
them upon pedestals in the Gullarium, pray to them, and He will
send us a flock, numbering in the millions of billions, riding down
from the clouds on thundering steeds, to bring us into the life to
As many faithful people do, the villagers had faith in their
God, and they pretty much believed in miracles. So they stuffed
the birds and prayed to them. A priest class grew out of the witch
doctor's bird-stuffing revelation, and waxed very prosperous.
After a while the stuffed birds rotted away, but the witch doctor
replaced them with plastic facsimiles.
As one thing affects another, over the years religion affected
some customs of the village. As the village grew the cult of
Gullistainity grew. As the cult grew it split into two factions.
Because the gulls had been sea birds one faction of Gullistains,
the Liquidists, held to the dogma that liquid was sacred. The
other faction, called Airists, believed that since the gulls flew,
air was sacred.
To ritualize their beliefs the Liquidists drank a liquid
concoction brewed from fermented rice and fruits. Meanwhile the
Airists symbolized their devotion to air by ritually smoking an
herb which grew in an area not far from the village.
The Airist herb induced a state of peace and tranquility in
the mind of the smoker, while the Liquidist brew created a state of
belligerent arrogance in the drinker. Owing to their belligerent
arrogance the Liquidists favored plundering the neighboring
villages. The pacific nature of the Airists was viewed by the
Liquidists as a threat to the security of the village.
The Ruling Council of Liquidists organized enforcer gangs,
legitimized by issuing little tin badges (from which the gangsters
became known as "Tins").
The Liquidists seized power and, by edict, criminalized the
Airist ritual of herb-smoking. Tins roved the village. At first,
whenever a gangster patrol found an Airist smoking herbs they would
drag the offender off to be beaten. Airists caught bringing herbs
into the village were decapitated summarily.
Liquidists had consolidated their power they began to speak of
building a kinder and gentler village. Liquidist policies toward
Airists altered somewhat. Instead of beatings, Airist smokers were
sent to rehabilitation camps where they were forced to drink
fermented rice and fruit. As Liquidist policy grew more
sophisticated "due process" was added. Anyone found, after a trial
by Liquidist peers, to have brought herbs into the village was
given the freedom to choose between decapitation and being buried
alive in a red ant hill.
The witch doctor's priest class waxed ever fatter. The Tins
thought themselves to be more and more indispensible to village
security. Strangely enough, so did some Airists. The villagers
paid for the rite to pray to their plastic facsimiles. Otherwise
the life of the villagers remained much the same; people continued
to bicker and die over ivory and rhinoceros horn of various hues.
thomas -- 1988