Modes in Ancient Literature and Modern Times
Although it may be true that time flies by, and people have evolved from ape like creatures, who lived on the berries and leaves they could find, to the man who could hunt and gather food for himself and for his families, to the man who took upon himself the authority and the right to be able to make rules for the rest of his fellowmen, to the man of today who lives more for himself than for anyone else, and who lives in a well organized society, it is still an undeniable fact that man is still the same man that he was several hundreds and thousands of years before today. The Nyanga People, belonging to the Central African Rainforests are no exception. These were greatly innovative and creative people, and they believed in rituals and rites of passage for their members. Fond of forming brotherhoods and associations, the Nyangas believed in following certain traditions, which they would not give up for anything. (Vansina, Jan 1990) The agricultural traditions of these simple folks reflected this aspect, and are acknowledged even today. The relationship that the people enjoyed with each other in the farming community of Nyanga during the second millennium in Zimbabwe, and the whole of sub-Saharan Africa can be appreciated even to this day. (“The case of Nyanga Cultural Landscape” n.d)
Of course, the tradition of story telling was one of the most exciting things about life for the sub-Saharan tribes of Central Africa, and this is a tradition that has endured through the centuries, and this is how we the people of today can take a peek into the lives of the people of the past and learn from them.
Your 2008 “African” is a businessman and trader named Abu Salem. He is a courageous young man, always willing to take risks, and wise enough to know how to reap the benefits of his wisdom and learning. He is also a vibrant and enthusiastic young man, who loves to shake his body to the beats of the music coming out of his iPod. In fact, you can spy him jogging in the early hours of the morning with the iPod plugged into his ears, and beating a well worn path on the jogging track. He loves to eat junk food most of all, although he also likes to eat fruits and vegetables at times. He has many friends, some of them business people like him, one a lecturer at a College, one a fashion designer, and another, a game designer and animation artist. They all meet up regularly for drinks and a meal, and no weekends are complete without their visit to the local discotheque.
However, Abu Salem has had a lonely childhood; probably this is why he likes to surround himself with lots of people all the time. His mother passed away when he was born and his father often neglected him in favor of other women, and his children by the other women. Abu Salem is a person who has always craved the attention of his fellowmen, his neighbors and his friends, but most especially, of his father. It is his father’s love that he wants the most, and he tries his best to impress him in such a way that his father, whom he loves most in the world, would finally smile at him, look him in the eye, pat him on his back and say, “Son, I am proud of you! I am glad you are my son!” This is something that Abu Salem feels will happen to him, if he tries hard enough, and he knows that the going will be tough for him.
This is the reason why he tries his very best at school and at academics. This is something that comes easy to him; he never had a problem comprehending higher level concepts and ideas, and his grades reflected this fact constantly. Often, Abu Salem would bring home his Report Card and present it proudly to his father. His father, who would be busy with one thing or the other, would not even spare a glance at his son’s grade report, and again, Abu Salem would have to turn away disappointed, and trying desperately to hide his tears from his stepmother and step brothers.
Abu Salem grew up in this environment, with his father neglecting him and relegating him to secondary status within his house, but this did not deter him in any way. He went on to complete his high school, enrolled in a reputed University, and obtained the high grades that catapulted him into becoming one of the most wanted manager-trainees of a famed multi-national company. He worked his way through, and today, Abu Salem is one of the most sought after businessmen, and he runs his business with tremendous success, prompting one to say that his life experiences only made him into a hardworking and capable man, instead of turning him into a wimp, with no real self confidence to speak of. This is the very same tendency that Sundiata the Mali King demonstrated to his people after he re-conquered his Kingdom. Abu Salem does however tend to demonstrate his father’s tendency to play favorites; he often singles one particular employee out, and he promotes him in a big way to the others around him. He probably bases his choices on the memories he has of himself, as a man who had to fight for whatever he wanted to achieve in his life, without the support of his parents, and especially his father.
Today, Abu Salem earns good money, although the sad fact is that even today, he tries his best to get his father to acknowledge him. Recently, Abu Salem went to see a counselor friend, who told him that he must learn to let things be, and that he must learn to live life on his own terms. According to his friend, his father would show his pride in him some day, and until then, he, Abu Salem must remain patient. Nevertheless, the young man, armed with the persistence and the resolve that have stood him in good stead through the years, tries his best at whatever he does, so that eventually, he may win his father’s love. In all probability, Abu Salem is trying to win his father’s love to this day, and one can only hope that he will eventually be successful at it, just like Mwindo was, though his persistent and constant efforts.
Abu Salem is probably an embodiment of his
Bold, brave, courageous, and determined; these are terms that describe the “African” Abu Salem very well indeed.
In the “Sub-Saharan Africa” unit, the Mwindo epic is played out by a father and son pair, very similar to the father and son pair who live in Africa today.
The village chief of Tubondo, She-Mwindo, had seven wives, and for reasons of his own, he decided that if his wives produced daughters, he would keep the babies, but if they happened to produce sons, they would be killed. Although people, including his counselors were astonished, they dared not say anything to him to change his mind. When Mwindo was born, a strong, wise and capable lad, he took things into his own hands right from scratch. He even knew how to choose another way to be born; he choose to emerge form his mother’s navel! This was how clever he was, just like our Abu Salem who could recite the entire alphabet backwards when he was a tender three years old! Mwindo was always aware that his father did not want him,
“My father She-Mwindo does not want me.
My father the chief wants to kill me,” and although this may have caused him great angst and agony, he decided that he would not mope about it; he would only try harder to win his father’s love.
His father She-Mwindo not only threw his spear at his new born son, but also tried to bury him, and tried to drown him, all to no avail. Mwindo used his cunning and his wisdom and strength to escape every time. Finally, Mwindo managed to reach the home of his aunt Iyangura, where he was received with the warmth and love that his father denied him.
Being possessed of a fierce fighting spirit, and being bold of heart, Mwindo, despite being admonished that “You cannot fight your father,” never gave up, and underwent training so that he could go back to his father. All he wanted, in fact, just like our Abu Salem, was a piece of love, and the look of pride that only a father could give his son.
When Mwindo finally caught up with his father, it was at the village of Nyamurairi, the kingdom of the Gods and the land of the dead. Arriving here, Mwindo had to perform a number of tasks to impress the gods, so that he could retrieve his father, and go back home. After suitably impressing the gods, he is granted his wish, and he finally catches up with his father, who trembles in fear of his son, the son he had been avoiding all these years. When he asks his son, “Will you kill me?” the reply was “No”, and when he finally asks him, “Then what do you want with me?” the poignant reply was this, “You must be my father so that I can be your son.” At this reply, She-Mwindo realized his mistake, and decided that he would never reject his son again.
In the story from Mali too, the son Sundiata is unrecognized and unloved by his father the King Naré Fa Maghan, son of a famous hunter of his Kingdom. This was the time when the belief and the fear of spirits were widespread, and although these people had converted to Islam, they still believed in spirits, and in prophecies. This was the reason why the king took on the most hideous looking woman as his wife, because the prophecy was that she would produce the future king of the kingdom. However, when the son was born, the king found that he could not make himself love the cumbersome looking dull boy, who could not even walk upright at the age of seven, and had no friends at all to speak of. Sundiata was sent into exile when his stepbrother ascended the throne meant for him, but beneath his clumsiness and ugliness was hidden a strong spirit and brave heart, just like our Abu Salem’s.
Even when he was in exile the son of the king made plans to claim his throne from his stepbrother, and he made preparations. This resolve and the tendency to follow things through, no matter what, is seen in Abu Salem, as well as in Mwindo.
Sundiata was a clever young man; he tried his best to discover the weaknesses of his enemies before he advanced in battle, and this was something that both Abu Salem and Mwindo did. The fierce battle of Kirina was fought, and Sundiata had come prepared to defeat the enemy with a wooden arrow with a white cock’s spur as its tip, an implement that would kill the enemy instantly. In the midst of the battle, Sundiata had the presence of mind to shoot the poison arrow at Soumaoro, and Soumaoro was felled down.
Sundiata entered the city gates and invited the leaders of twelve cities of the savanna to come to visit him in Kaba, an old city in Mali. In a form of joint operations effort, the wily and clever campaigner Sundiata promised the kings that if they came, they could keep their respective kingdoms, but they could also join together to form a great new empire.
In all probability, Sundiata would have won his father’s love too, if his father had been alive to see his son’s exploits.
Bold, courageous, determined and unwavering, and a strong minded man who gave his all, Sundiata was a typical “African’ of his times, and his spirit is reflected in many a young man today.
We have seen that man’s basic nature has not changed through the centuries. Abu Salem and Mwindo are quite similar in their aspirations and in their hopes, and in their heart’s desires.
Now, let us consider the Australian Aborigines, and see how they compare with the modern man of today. Australian aborigines, together with the Bushmen and the pygmies, form some of the oldest races ever known to man, living as they did more than sixty thousand years before today. These were the main inhabitants of places that are known as India, Indonesia, New Guinea, and Eastern China. With abundant facial hair, including beards, slim lips and aquiline noses, these people do not resemble the typical African blacks much. It is often stated that Australian aborigines may have managed to enter Australia through New Guinea more than 40,000 years ago, and these people belong to the Paleolithic or Stone Age as it is known. Primarily hunters, aborigines used weapons like spears, axes, and the curious and interesting implement, the boomerang, which when thrown will return to its owner. Aborigine children were a pampered lot, with most of them getting away without punishments for their pranks. Boys after the age of twelve were subjected to the rite of passage, at which time they would be taught the legends and customs of his tribe, so that he would be able to pass them on to his children when the time arrived. Men, women and children enjoyed dancing the ‘corroborri dance’, a magic ceremony begging the favor of the spirit world for protection. (Anitei, Stefan 2008)
Even today, indigenous aborigines live in some of Australia’s regions, contributing to about 2 percent of Australia’s population. These are people who believe in a very close relationship between man and his land, and naming it ‘Dreamtime’, they prefer to say that aborigine ancestors rose from below the earth to turn into the various forms of nature that one sees around us today, and that their ancestors live on, having become metamorphosed into rocks, trees and lakes. The music and dance and art forms of the aborigines are known all over the world, and these were people who enjoyed all these forms very well indeed during the course of their daily lives. (Siasoco, Villanueva Ricco 2007)
Your 2008 “Paleolithic” is an artist and a rock star who goes by the name of Claude Dali. He attended high school, but unfortunately, he never completed his education, and he showed absolutely no interest in seeking admission into Colleges, or undergoing formal training. All he had ever wanted was music, music, and more music, and when he does not play his guitar, he sings, and when he doesn’t sing he plays his drums, or he composes music that he will play at his next stage performance, of which he has many, or he takes out his sketch pad and pencils and starts to draw.
He always dresses nattily, and he wears colors that nobody would dare to wear. After all, he reasons, he is an artist and a rock star, and he has earned himself the right to dress different and act different. As a matter of fact, Claude Dali has several fans who swoon when they see him in all his finery, especially when he lets his long hair loose to fly behind him. He makes a racket when he moves, because of the number of bracelets he sports, and also because of his numerous ear and eyebrow piercings, which all jingle jangle together in harmony.
Claude Dali has had a normal enough childhood, what with his mother and father pouring affection and love on him every chance they got, and him taking it all for granted. He had not had a close encounter with the things that his friends keep talking about, like divorce, for example, and in fact, his father does not even enjoy his drinks except on social occasions. Claude himself does not really enjoy smoking or drinking, and he is also a staunch advocate of the campaign “Say No to Drugs” in his city.
You could say that Claude Dali is a well adjusted young man, who was encouraged to do whatever he wanted, within the imposed limits, right from when he was a mere child. He was given the freedom by his parents to give up his education because he wanted to take up art and music as his career, and this is something that not many parents would do.
In all probability, this sort of freedom has motivated the young man into becoming a determined and capable person with exceptional leadership qualities, who was loved by everyone who knew him.
This is probably also the reason why Claude Dali is a go getter, who doesn’t sit back to let other do things for him. He does things himself, and in addition, he encourages others to do so as well. In this, he is similar to Djidilba the Kangaroo Flea, who did not sit back and mourn his loss when his wife was abducted. He took things into his own hands and used his skills to try to get her back.
When Claude made his decision, for instance, that he would be a rock star, he spared no effort in preparing himself. He determinedly pursued the activities that would prepare him for his career; he learnt how to play the violin, and the drums as well. He took voice lessons, and he also took up paints and brushes, so that he could pursue his second interest, painting. The manner in which he pursued these activities delighted his mentor at the Music School, and this delight caused him to offer Claude his first break to perform at the next rock concert at the Zee Stadium.
Claude even auditioned for the last American Idol competition, and he managed to progress up to the semi-finals when Simon Cowell said a few nasty things about his performance, which caused him to be voted out. However, although he was disheartened, Claude did not allow this setback to get him down; he is today preparing for his first appearance at a rock concert, and he is on the verge of fulfilling the biggest dream of his life. Claude is similar to Coyote, because he made sure that he gave his all to achieving what he set out to do, and today, all his efforts have paid off.
Today, Claude Dali is a rock star, no, a super star.
The “Paleolithic” unit is showcased by the tale of the young man of the early race who was carried off by a lion when he was asleep in the field. This young man, an average ordinary young man, felt a little sleepy while at work in the fields, and he thought he would have himself a little rest. Closing his eyes, he took a short nap near the water that the lions would drink at midday. That day, a lion happened by and when it spotted the man lying there asleep, it thought to itself that the man would make a fine dinner. The young man, not someone who would give up needlessly without a fight, managed to escape from the lion, and also to convince his people in the village to hide him away in hartebeest-skins so that the lion would leave him alone. The lion was not fooled however, and it reached the young man’s village and demanded that he be given back. Although the villagers refused at first, they had no option other than to give the young man back to the lion; especially because the man’s mother said that he could be given to the lion, if the lion too died. This is what happened, and both the young man and the lion died together, “And it died, while the man also lay dead; it also lay dead, with the man.”
The Old man ‘djidilba’ or the Kangaroo Flea was another character exemplary of the “Paleolithic” mode, was a married man, who by chance lost his wife to an abduction. Never a person to give up, Djidilba took things into his own hands and set about to bring his wife back. The determined man that he was, he reached Walbudjara despite all odds, where he found that his wife was camping there with a large group of strangers. Wise enough to know that he would not be able to face so many people by himself, he thought up some snazzy magic tricks, and put the fear into the people who had taken his wife. Unfortunately, his wife too got afraid, and she too was hauled into the air just like the others. Everyone died. Disheartened, Djidilba returned to Yunidju, where his mother’s brother’s daughter had helped him on his onward journey. When he discovered that she too had died, Djidilba felt so troubled that he too lay down and died. This was love at its best. His love for his wife and a burning desire to take his revenge on those people who had abducted her had brought him to unknown terrain, and when the Australian aborigine found that his wife had died, he returned, only to find that the person who had helped him had died too. Completely disconsolate, Djidilba found that he no longer had the desire to live, and he quietly gave up and died.
The Coyote who Juggled his Eyes is another individual who demonstrated the same qualities as our Claude Dali.
One fine day, Coyote was passing by when he heard someone say, rather strangely, “I throw you up and you come down in!” Curious, he peeked behind the bush to find the little Chicka-dee throwing, of all things, his eyes, and catching them back. Naturally, Coyote too wanted to try this wonderful trick, and he set about throwing his eyes and catching them back. To his great misfortune however, a pair of ravens flying overhead caught the eyes and took them with them to the Sun-Dance. Although sad, Coyote was one determined individual, and he made up his mind that he would not sit blindly around and wait for someone to bring his eyes back to him; he would go himself and try to recapture his eyes. After cleverly tricking Bluebird into parting with her eyes, Coyote, not satisfied with the compromise in his eye size (they were much smaller than his own, and he was uncomfortable) planned on how to get his original eyes back. After getting rid of a grandma by killing her, Coyote tricked Bluebird and Bluejay into taking him with them to the Sun-Dance. Maintaining his cool even when he saw people playing with his eyes, Coyote waited patiently for his chance, and when he got it, he grabbed his eyes and put them back. All was well, and the determined, bold and courageous Coyote who never gave up, persevered, and eventually got what he wanted. This is an aspect that is evident in Claude Dali, who was determined to make it as a rock star, and gave all he had to achieve his ambition.
To conclude, it must be stated that it is obvious that there are similarities between the people of older times, and the people of today. Take for example Abu Salem of the twenty first century and Mwindo of Sub Saharan Africa of several thousand years ago. Both these young men were rejected by their fathers, and both young men craved, more than anything else, their father’s attention and love, and longed for the day when they would see the look of pride in their father’s eyes for something they had achieved. The heartache of both these young men is exactly the same, although one lives today, and one lived long ago. Take our Claude Dali. Claude is almost the same as the wily Coyote, in his determination and his ambition to achieve whatever he sets out to do. Both were deprived of certain things, and both made up their minds that they would persevere and accomplish their goals.
Human nature, desire, ambition, hate and love have persisted through millions of years, and this is a very important lesson to learn in life. It is up to each one of us to make what we want out of our life, and in this lies our individuality and our distinctiveness, but otherwise, we are the same as what we were millions of years ago!
1. Vansina, Jan “Paths in the Rainforests” Google Book Search (1990) Retrieved November 13, 2008 from http://books.google.co.in/books?id=0jlaTU2lsyQC&pg=PA185&lpg=PA185&dq=Nyanga+People,+Central+Africa&source=web&ots=HoGoQzbTZc&sig=kPgFdSJYup_v3h8cCjfxj6JpQss&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result
2. Siasoco, Villanueva Ricco ( 2007) “Aboriginal Australia” Retrieved November 14 2008 from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/aboriginal1.html
3. Anitei, Stefan (2008) “Who are the Australian Aborigines?” Retrieved November 13 2008 from http://news.softpedia.com/news/Who-Are-the-Australian-Aborigines-75323.shtml
4. “The case of Nyanga Cultural Landscape” (n.d) Retrieved November 13 2008 from http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:Wtcsp3baUcUJ:www.international.icomos.org/victoriafalls2003/papers/B2%2520-%25204%2520-%2520Mupira.pdf+Nyanga+people&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=6&gl=in