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Adi & Praja 121

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Adi and Praja

Chapter 9

Issue 121: The men

The only bad property of Shano was that he could not stand it if someone was better in something than he himself, as far as he could have done it better regarding his handicap. He could shoot arrows from where he sat – but if he missed while a standing friend hit, his was really in a bad mood. But he didn’t show that – only in the evening he would behave stubborn towards Moimoi.


(the men with the scripture)

Moimoi was fifteen now, and she showed all the female features. She developed beautiful breasts and hips, and knew how to look to a boy with an attractive smile. That didn’t go unnoticed by Shano, who had just entered thirteen (I tell you; in fact people never kept record of their age there, and elderly people had not the slightest idea about their age or birthday). He now felt for the first time something different for her above being just a playmate and sister. She was attractive. But he didn’t yet put it in these terms.

The next great event was another ‘supermarket.’ There were smaller and larger markets, but at least once a year, in the middle of the drier season, a big one was organized. Shano, now fourteen, would also go. He could row very well once he was in the boat, and keep the others cheerful. He could also clean fish which others had caught. He himself was never bored for a moment. There was just too much too see and hear. Once they passed through a colony of caiman with many young caimans on both sides of the river, which was narrow at that place. That is where caimans like to lay eggs and where the babies were playing. Some were already quite big. Better not to get out of the boat there, or topple the boat! There were bright colored kingfishers – blue-and-chestnut brown with some white, there were green parrots with a blue head, red-and-green-and blue-and-yellow macaws like flying rainbows and toucans with beaks as yellow and as big as a banana, and even birds with two claws at both their wings with which to could hold themselves to branches when they were young, before they could fly – quite a practical invention of nature. Every time there was something new to discover.

After four and a half days they reached the place. Moimoi was very interested in beads and cloths – though she wanted to wear cloth only at special opportunities. They were not fit for use during daily work. Shano traded one hundred arrows he had made himself – and which were already famous for their stability – for one extremely expensive and beautiful bead ornament with a yellow metal hanger from a very far country in the west. Metal was unknown in the village and Moimoi and Shano had never seen such a thing. It was finely sculptured with two tiny jaguars looking at each other, with two trees on each side spreading there crowns above the jaguars. Shano was amazed about the material, and even more amazed how people could have made such refined sculpture. The metal was gold of course, and they thought that all metal was like this. They had never seen iron or copper or bronze. Moimoi was elated, and embraced and kissed Shano firmly and with love. She decided to keep it hidden for most people and wear it only at very special opportunities. She showed it only to her mother – when they were back in the village, and to her most intimate girlfriends.

Then something happened what changed Shano’s life for ever – and indeed the life and future of the whole community. Near the shore of the river, away from other people he saw two men with gray beards from some other country staring at something and apparently discussing some important matter. Shano hopped his way to the two men and saw what they were doing. On the ground before them they had spread some dry palm leaves, and he saw that they had a bag with bunches of dry palm leaves. But what were they staring at so intensely? Then Shano saw that tiny drawings of all different types were engraved in the surface of the leaves. They were all about equally big. Sometimes bigger drawings were there and these would sometimes be colored. In the bigger drawings he recognized men and beasts he had never seen.

And of course Shano immediately asked what they were doing? They looked at him for ten seconds without giving an answer. Then they talked together in a language which Shano couldn’t understand. Then one of them said, in a broken accent of the communication language used at the market: “Scripture.” Shano had no idea what ‘scripture’ meant. The small drawings were called script, and the whole bunch of leaves together was called scripture or ‘book.’ Shano had a close look and discovered that, just as there were many different trees in the forest, there were innumerable different tiny drawings – but, also like in the forest – some would repeat themselves after some time, and some were seen more frequently than others. So Shano’s first guess was that these little engraved drawings were names of trees, thus replacing information about an hours walk through a forest on one palm leave. The men had great joy in Shano’s interest. And also they felt a warm compassionate feeling in their heart, seeing his handicap.

Soon three men – two old and one young – were sitting on the shore of the river, staring at leaves and discussing something important. And all three of them had forgotten the whole rest of the market. Moimoi had gone shopping, selling baskets with her girlfriends, and they were admired by many boys. Every boy came to talk with them, first inquiring about the baskets, but never buying them and hanging around as long as possible. That annoyed Moimoi, and she covered her beautiful breasts with a cloth she had just bought.

The two elderly man were explaining to Shano that every drawing had a different meaning. Some were easy: there was a snake for ‘snake’ and a caiman for ‘caiman’ and a frog for ‘frog.’ But most of them were more abstract and often together with particular other signs. The men explained that the frog did not only signify a frog, but also the sound fr. So if you wanted to write ‘from’ you would first put a frog, than next a circle for o (because that is the form of someone’s mouth when he says ‘o’; and then two horizontal lines close together. These signified mmm, because they were simply two lips pressed together. The men spend hours there, until Moimoi and the other girls came back carrying loads of beautiful and useful things, but no more baskets. When Moimoi looked at Shano from a distance and saw his attention and happiness and enthusiastic talking she immediately knew that Shano was now in his real element (though she had no idea what the men were doing) – and she loved him even more than ever for that.

Shano was a quick learner – he had already been trained by recognizing and memorizing trees. In the coming few days Shano went to the men as often as possible, and within no time he had learned all the different signs and could draw them in the sand. He also could compose his own words now – even in his own language. And what was particularly interesting that there were signs and words in the scripts that covered entirely knew concepts – concepts new to the forest people – such as walled houses, mountains, corn stalks and so on and so on. The two men became aware of the social importance Shano could have for his forest people and never got tired of answering all his questions. Within four days Shano could write and read. But tomorrow was the day to return home. He would rather have stayed there for weeks. He discussed it with Moimoi and the brothers, and they decided to stay another week. There was no real hurry (an unknown concept anyway) to return home. Even the brothers and Moimoi learned some reading and writing. After that week Shano had completely mastered the script, and had already some practice inscribing palm leaves. They were leaves of this type in his own village also, so he could continue his practice at home.

But there was one difficulty – or rather two difficulties. The first one was that the mother tongue of the old men was entirely different from Shano’s. So he had to memorize all vowels and the tongue and throat and lip sounds by heart. It also meant that if he wanted to write something in his own language, he had to use the fr-sign for ‘frog’ or ‘from,’ but the same sign had a completely different meaning in the other language and had nothing to do with a frog. So the signs got a different meaning in the forest language than in the language of the two men. But because Shano had been taught by these men, he adopted quite a few new words, and also their fitting signs, so the result was a new mixture that even the two men could not always understand.

The second difficulty – not really a difficulty, because Shano knew the whole script by heart now – that he had no ‘books.’ The two man had a big bag full of books, and of course Shano wanted to take a few of them to his village. And so it happened. But for that purpose the men had to copy the originals, otherwise they would have lost them for themselves. The men however saw the importance of it, and spent a few days copying scriptures for Shano – not the most difficult ones of course.

Then the day came that the family had to return to their village – still seven days and nights to go, and Moimoi could not wait to show the beautiful goods she had acquired to the villagers who had stayed home. Just before the men and the family separated, one of the men called Shano apart. And he said to Shano: “Know that every word has two or more meanings – one we taught you, and one that is secret. Come back to this place after two years.” That was all he said, and the next thing was that the family pushed the boat off the shore and sat down in it, Shano tightly embracing his scriptures kept in a fine tissue wrap. Then they began to row, and in a few minutes the boat disappeared around the corner.

When coming home the village had organized a big welcome party for them, with lots of food and meat and fish and the special edibles the four young people had brought from the market. There were regular parties in the village, and sometimes intervillage parties, and about these parties I have to tell you something. Ingredients of parties are always eating, drinking, dancing, music and love. The only music were drums: hollow tree trunks, and standing tree trunks with an animal skin strongly tied on it. Such parties weren’t very refined in the forest. The men had learned, generations ago, that you could spit in a brew of the tubers, wait three days and then drink it. Now, when there was to be a party, they would fill a hollowed tree trunk like a boat with the brew, spit in it, and then after three days, on parties, they would drink it. The grayish fluid tasted terrible, like vomit, somewhat sour, but it contained alcohol. Of course these people knew nothing about chemical processes or fermentation and the formation of alcohol from sugar in presence of the right micro-organisms – but it worked. The alcohol content of this ‘beer’ was not very high, but by the time you had drunk fifteen coconut-cups full of it, you were sure to be rather drunk. And there was no limit. So the parties, very happy in the beginning, became louder and more vulgar, and people loudly ventilated their frustrations and easily choose to loosen their command over their sex control. All this lead to quarrels and fights and beastly behavior. The women would drink as solid as the men. Shano didn’t like it, and though most man found that a fourteen year old boy was old enough to take part, he didn’t want to – especially after he had tasted a sip. And he felt it almost as an insult to the tree of which a drum was made to beat on it in such circumstances. He loved the sound of the drums when he was alone or with a few good friends. Moimoi was furious. She was always kind and helpful, but for people who did this, she had no respect and she despised them. Especially those men who wanted to touch her – and more. She spitted them in the face. And that is how Moimoi for the first time developed a feeling of contempt – and as a consequence she regarded herself as ‘above’ such people. It was understandable that she admitted such feelings in herself, but she did not realize that these very feelings of contempt towards others (however ‘justified’) was a worse poison than even the alcohol. Because, after sleep and a headache, the effect of the alcohol was gone, but contempt settled and became the lasting seed of an ignoble part of her character. She slowly started to regard herself and Shano as ‘a higher class of people.’ Still it didn’t damage the good aspects of her. She was always helping everyone who needed help that she could give, and was good in giving consolation to women, and she learned everything about medicine. From an elderly woman, the most revered medical expert of the region, she took lessons, and she learned all the available herbs and leaves and roots and woods that could be used as medicine, and she learned some magic also. A lot of deceases were based on fear and stress because of the ever present possibility of black magic spells, and were no diseases in the real sense. So applying some white magic – mainly kindness and sweet herbal decoctions with honey, and whispering defense formulas in people’s ears, she cured at least half of the people. Of course wounds, snake-bites (some of which could be lethal within hours), insect and spider bites, and accidents like broken bones needed another type of care. But she absolutely refused to give medicine for hangovers. After three years the old lady died, and she was widely recognized as a worthy successor. Money didn’t exist, but out of gratitude people gave her all she needed and even more, sometimes including beads and shining black-tipped blood bean necklaces (a signal of fiery love) from the market or from other villages. She never had to worry about lack of supplies. And she was good in making baskets. Shano in the mean time became an expert bow and arrow maker, and was much beloved because of his character. Wood was his hobby in all respects.

Shano himself was humble by nature, but his two brothers told around to everyone that Shano had learned to read.

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