“After the conquest of Assyria, Cyrus’ next desire was to subdue the Massagetae, whose country lies far to the eastward beyond the Araxes, opposite the Issedones; they are reputed to be a numerous and warlike people and some suppose them to be of Scythian nationality. The Araxes is said by some to be bigger than the Danube, by others to be not so big. It is also said to have a number of islands in it as large as Lesbos, where men live during summer on various kinds of roots which they dig up, and for their winter supplies pick as it ripens and put into store any sort of tree-fruit which they have found to be suitable for food. They have also discovered another tree whose fruit has a very odd property: for when they have parties and sit round a fire, they throw some of it into the flames, and as it burns it smokes like incense, and the smell of it makes them drunk just as wine does the Greeks; and they get more and more intoxicated as more fruit is thrown on until they jump up and start dancing and singing. Such at least are the reports on how these people live.”
Herodotus, THE HISTORIES, Book One p.89, written a little over 2,600 years ago
30,000 years ago
The hunters ran directly into the wind. This allowed them to pick up the scent of their game while shielding their own bodies from detection. The thick forest covered them from the burning sun as they dashed under its cool, leafy canopy. The ground felt soft and sensuous under foot. It had been two suns and an evening full of sparkling stars since he had married. She had sated herself twice during these same sun round days. Her eyes were more sharply fixed on their task. Food was their most immediate, common need. Their stomachs reminded them of this, growling like protecting home dogs. Only red berries had been shared between them since the sun had risen. Running kept their cravings at bay. When they stopped to look at broken branches or scuffled grass, their hunger snarled a return. Each time its insistence felt more ferocious.
The footprint interrupted their quick pace. A sunbeam shot down to the forest floor, exposing a pig’s track. She knelt, then gauged the depth of the impression and smiled up at Ahzo with hunter’s wisdom. It was a heavy boar. There would be much meat, enough to last many sun round days. Good welcome and pleasure would be theirs, when they returned home.
Her eyes focussed on the moisture ensconced in the miniature precipices left by the pig’s hoof. She noticed wetness sliding down the indentations of the track. Her eyes glanced up at him. “Fresh” she insisted with her finger. She pointed towards the well worn animal trail. The boar would be up-wind, moving toward the river to slake its thirst. Ahzo smiled and nodded recognition of what Kah had silently imparted. They leapt up, stealthily moving in the direction the pig’s prints led them.
The sun stayed long in the sky, making its round. These were warm times. Cover-skins had no use. Sweat gleamed from their stripped, muscled torsos. They held their spears in perfect balance as they ran with animal quiet. Hands had been their family’s first weapons. This was known through the songs their ancestors had sung; the songs which they sang. It was carved on sacred trees for all who lived to see. It was painted on the walls of cavern underground for their family spirits. They had been given wisdom by those who had come before, those who no longer moved within their bodies. Those parts of the family had long passed into the Earth. Their spirits gave power to the family.
The rubbed wood of their weapons felt smooth to the touch. Each spear shaft had been meticulously crafted to fit the grip of the one carrier’s throwing hand. The single place which wasn’t smooth was at the centrally balanced grip. There, the spear’s polished continuity gave way to a fine, specially grooved shank. The unique pattern of grooving was the ancestral mark. It was at this gripping point that they held their spears in transit. It was from this point that they would hurl their pointed spears, releasing spirits from the flesh of the animals they stalked. Hunters kept their weapons sharp to make the spirit’s exit quick. A clean kill was a sign of respect for life.
The two hunters were one, even as they ran separately. Their ancestors were part of their spears, just as they were part of themselves and their family. All was linked: animals and family, land and sky, water and blood, body and spirit. All was connected, seen and unseen, lived and dreamed. This was felt. Animals killed to eat and feed their young, just as the family did. To kill without hunger was dishonour. It was shunned.
The family idolized their place on this land. Their ancestors had chosen this place. The Earth here provided them with what they needed to live. They paid homage to it as they exalted the sun, the moon, the stars, the water, the plants, the animals, in short, they honoured all beings in their surroundings, as they honoured themselves. They knew the way. The way joined the wisdom of before with the power of harmony, now. The way was passed on to them by their ancestors when they lived and when they dreamed. As mothers passed their blood and gave flesh to newborns and as that self-same flesh gave way its spirit to the Earth, they saw the grand connection, the way. They were dependent on the lives of the animals, even as they killed them, releasing their spirts and eating their flesh to sustain themselves. They knew that like their ancestors, the animals they ate would return to the Earth as they had come from the females of the Earth and were sustained by the Earth, The Grand Mother of life.
Respect and regard were what their elders and their ancestors taught them to cause, both in their nightly dreams and in the light of waking day. Rocks and trees had been coloured with images in homage to the spirits of lives past. Life past made life now possible. They honoured each other and their family as they cared for this place. Their blood and the blood of others would return to the Earth and their children and their childrens’ children would live as family with their place. Their blood was linked with the bodies of their ancestors, the animals. They has all become part of the forest and plain. It became all that they were a part of.
They knew this place since sun first came round to light the day. They knew its contours like they knew their bodies. The river was over the next hill. Their run turned trot and transfigured effortlessly into savage quiet, like the cunning crawl of cats near prey. As they reached the top of the rise, their vision caught the movement of the pig’s bulk. The current of its passage bent the green river brush. It emerged slowly, warily from waves of grass, to the river’s edge. The boar’s balls swayed as his snout twitched. His eyes nervously skimmed the rushing eddies and currents. Sensing nothing behind him and no submerged danger, he sipped. On third gulp, the hunters sprang noiselessly and with one motion and sent their spears plunging deeply into the pig's fat, meat-bloody flesh. The animal dashed sideways up the river bank, squealing as the two spears bobbed in it’s body, blood spurting from small gashes where their weapons had entered. Her spear had penetrated through the boar’s neck and had come out through the animal’s open jaw. His went through the pig’s back and into his chest. They both ran to catch the animal; but before they could reach him, the pig’s body slumped on the muddy river bank with death-wide eyes.
Then! The splash from the river’s opposite bank--oncoming crocodiles. With their ears intently listening to the waters’ movement, Kah and Ahzo’s full visual and physical attention was fixed on their spears protruding from the boar’s silent carcass. With seasoned hunter’s skill, she held the animal’s head as he shoved her spear completely through the pig’s mouth until the blunt end made its exit. He tossed her spear up to the flattened grass on the river bank. Then he pulled the body around so that she could push his weapon’s warhead out of the chest cavity. She worked quickly pulling the shank completely out of the animal’s torso. Then, she tossed his weapon up to the grassy hillock. Kah deftly tugged at the pig’s back haunches while Ahzo pushed the hulking body up the incline and on to the grass. Ahzo made a last, strong push to get the animal’s flesh safely away from the river’s dangers. As he did, he slipped-- then tumbled down the muddy slope, his mass ending up knee deep in muddy water.
“Ahzo!” Kah screamed, wild eyed, directing the blunt end of her spear towards his outstretched hands. His eyes widened fiercely. Hurriedly, he grabbed the spear’s end. She gave it a strong, steady pull, as he slipped and scrambled up the murky river’s side, just ahead of a powerful, voracious “SNAP!” Exhausted, he fell on her, shivering. And then he began laughing. And then Kah began laughing. Their boar lay next to them, its blood returning to the Earth.
The family would be pleased with this fine hunt. When they returned the cave door would be half blocked with stone. As was the custom, dried joy-plant would be placed in the home fire. It would be a good time. All would relish the smell and smoke and the feelings they had for each other. This they knew, for this was how they had lived before. There would be song and dance outside the entrance to their home and as the day’s sun passed to evening’s stars, the boar’s flesh would roast over open flames. Feast would be mixed with play and song, beaten out on rhythm logs and danced with lusty smiles. As the night wore on, the family would take pleasure in each other’s bodies, joining til exhaustion, then to dream until the first hints of dawn’s orange glow when birds would once again greet the sunlit day with song.
The hunters had been triumphant. He felt her body under his. His stomach growled again, but urge for her welled up too. She looked deeply at him. Her eyes and face smiled with desire. The Earth held them hard to her breast. Her legs wrapped around his body. His craving met her devouring passion. Their sun draped bodies, glistening in the grass, the mud and sweat, entangled, free, the pounding of ancestral yearning, as dreamy thought on waking minds.
Tight embrace gave way to ebb and peering into one another’s eyes with care. They knew family once again. Their cravings sated, they prepared the heavy pig for transport back to camp and home and all the joy that life could bring.
“We wait for Ahzo and Kah. They will return and then our feast begins. The spirits of my sleep have told me this: We have burnt the white bones of our last meal black and have buried them. Our ancestors are cared for. They smile. Soon, we will eat the flesh of Earth’s creation. Kah and Ahzo carry her bounty to us now.”
Ree had spoken. She was a family mother. Among the elders, she held wisest attention for she had created children and was closer to those who had returned to the soil than any other. Her tie to the family was complete, like the roundness of day and night and the passing of cold times into warm and back again. She had been on the land as a child when the family first knew joy plant’s spirit as it came up in fire’s passion. Ree no longer had teeth. Family members had to chew tough meat and plants for her so she could remain alive. Her voice had most respect, for her life had been on this land longer than any other family member. She would soon return to the Earth, speaking only from when the family dreamt. Until then, her living counsel was precious. She remembered more than anyone, especially of the wisdom which passed from the spirits as she lay sleeping on the Earth which covered our family flesh and bone our mother, creator of all. We who lived in flesh and bone cared for them. When we closed our eyes, our spirits walked with them in their strange places. Ree was dear to those whose eyes were forever closed. They spoke more clearly to her than to anyone in the family. Her heart was constant true, in and out of spirit.
Because he was hungry, young Maj was beginning to feel the worm of fear. He knew the family felt the same, invisible worms gnawing in their bellies. He wanted to renew the hunt. Ree could see it in his anxious, angry eyes. Ree was prescient. She said, “No. Stay Maj. Your strength can help protect our family from the dangers. Outside our camp, there are those who would hunt us for our flesh. Ahzo and Kah will return. Our spirits know this. The family has hunger and is afraid. We know this.”
We knew Ree’s thoughts and her actions were right. They had been certain before and they would be now. We relied on knowing our past, as our past was in our spirits and our ancestors had given us a future and our present was only here because our ancestors’ lives had given it to us. We listened to their counsel through Ree.
Fat rain drops began to fall on our bodies. They were not cold. We remained under them, outside the shelter of our cave, waiting. Our black spirits touched and danced along the trees’ limbs. We continued to look to the distance for our hunters as raven haired sky rolled low over our heads. It spat its loud, deep voice as an avalanche from a mountain side. Then it flashed its giant’s face into ours and made us tremble. We looked to Ree. She smiled. It was as it should be, she gestured with a sweeping move of her arm. Furies pushed the air, rushing leaves and strong clean smells, while bending trees top branches. The dull, light green backs of leaves fluttered up, then over to their greener, shiny sun-sides. We looked into the distance for a sign of good hope. A retreat began into the shelter of our home.
It was warm in the cave. Fire burned; his spirit was a lively crackle. He would still be alive when the animal was brought back from the hunt by Kah and Ahzo to be roasted for the feast of pleasure and sating. The family had piled dry wood for our fire back in the darkness to ensure his continuing life. Kooch watched him dance. She knew how to keep his force vital. She was mother here. The family’s fire would be ready for the meat from the hunt. Like all her brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, she too had hunger. Her belly growled like home dogs do. She felt happy comfort as she looked down, patting the grumbles just under the blind eye of her birth mother. Then, she looked up at the charm plants with their drying green flowers. They cast life shadows on the walls as they swung over the stored wood. There was Kah! There were some antelope. She felt she saw them our their outlines on the wall. It was her time. Kah and Ahzo would return soon. The ancestors told Ree. She would feast wildly, tearing hotly dripping, fatty flesh from the bones of her meat. That would drown her belly growls. Then, she would dance with the elders and later, lay near the young as her body slept and her life entered the enchanted land of her others.
After emptying the pig’s insides and allowing the pouring rain to wash it out, they tied long, sturdy stems of dried joy plant firmly around its feet . With Kah in front and Ahzo in back, holding his spear on his right shoulder, they put Kah’s spear under the tied hooves and lifted the carcass onto their left shoulders. They would now begin the hard trek back to family camp. If they kept to an even stride, they would return home before day would disappear into starry, moonlit night.
The rain had been good. With much spirit, it had drenched the thirsty land and clean water for their drinking skins. The pig was heavy, trying their bodies’ muscles. To ease the work, they sang songs of hunters’ feast, putting cheer between them and the spirit of fatigue. Now and again, they put the boar down and drank cool, fresh water from their skins to replenish the salted sweat which glistened on their flesh.
As the sun moved to close to the tree lined sky, they began that last, small ascent to their home. In the distance, they could see their children rushing toward them with much glee and excitement in their voices. “Kah! Ahzo,” the young voices shouted with gleeful tones till they engulfed the two with curiosity, wonder and admiration to fill five home caves. Hollow logs were being beaten with welcome rhythms, anticipating great celebration. Ree stood near the fire to greet them. The hunt was over. They put their bounty down on the earth near her to receive her welcome hug and then were embraced again and again by others in their family. It felt good to be home amongst the infectious laughter and heartwarming smiles and curious buzz of their brothers, sisters and mothers.
Ree stood up on the family’s first tree stump. “Ahzo and Kah have done well. We thank them for their hunting skill. They will rest and wait for us to prepare the boar for roasting. Kag! Foke! Skewer the animal with roasting pole. Kruck! Lash! Make the raising sticks. Lakal! Mak! Share the turning tasks, one relieving the other until the pig is done. Akim and the children, scrape the pig of all its bristles. All else, sharpen your cutting tools and make music with song. Let the celebration last as long as we have will! Joy to one and joy to all!”
“Joy to one and all!” the family shouted in unison.
And the songs began– a new one from Sek started off. He sang of Kah and Ahzo’s great hunting masteries and how the day was hot and how the boar was heavy with flesh. It’s tusks were sharp, as were its hooves. The boar snorted its freedom in the wild, but even such a tough, young boar could not resist Kah and Ahzo’s spears. “In the end, he gave his spirit up for you and me and thee. So let us eat his roasted flesh and kill the grumbles in our guts.”
A laugh went up amongst the children when they heard this last verse. “Sing it again Sek!” All the while, they turned and scraped the bristles from the pig. The heart was taken out and roasted first for Ree. The brains would be for Maj. It was hoped he would be able to take some patience from them, for the brain was where cunning came from in all of us. The pig’s testicles and penis were to be given to the boys and girls. Maturity could be speeded by consuming them. This was known and taught since first they came to this great place. Of course, the children would get more pig than this. The whole family would feast to their heart’s content on its fattened, cooked body! The bristles would be used in garments and the bones would find their way to home dogs gnarling teeth, after they had been cracked and the marrow consumed. One way or another, the whole pig would essentially pass in to the lives of the family and their dogs.
Joy plant was married with fire inside their cave. Kooch had cared for him well. The dancing smoke was kept inside by covering the entrance to their cave with the skin of a bear. One by one, the family entered, filled their lungs with this gift of their ancestors and then one by one they exited, feeling spirits of the past and present of all which surrounded them well up inside their daydreams and their bodies’ senses, as they would begin to cavort to the rhythms being beaten, incessantly beating with songs being sung and made up and dance as well, for the world was fresh with vibrant colour and animation as the presence of the all became all that much more apparent in their eyes, to their noses and their ears. Their smiles grew to laughter, rolling laughter like the thunderous voice of the clouds above when they weep with mirth at their airy, free and rushing presence. When desire came, women picked their men and married, for this is how it had been and would so continue. Some would choose not to marry and some would not be chosen. Kah did not choose and Ahzo was sated and did not marry, although he was chosen three times over. Both slept early on, the long, deep sleep of ancestral wandering, this while most other family members revelled round the burning flames of another larger brother fire, married with large logs a ways outside their home cave door. And all this went on--the song, the dance and frolic--till the last voices still awake heard each other’s final mingling with fire’s crackle and night birds’ hooting. It was then that all were lying down under black night’s starry cloak. Some watched the distant sparkles in the sky slowly make their travels, at least for a while, then fell beneath the brew of sleep and those enchanted lands which are only seen when eyes are shut for long and quiet spells.
“It was first a running river then became a waterfall. We played there underneath a canopy of moist spray, hiding from the others, playing hunting games. All yellow, I grew like a male between my legs and he became a woman and then a flock of deer flew by and we couldn’t catch a one of them our spears were made of stone with bark for points.”
“Mine was in a meadow which turned from blue to green and then some flowers of many, many colours burst on the Earth and grew very, very tall, blocking out our Sun and made life dark so we couldn’t see so we took fire and burned them down and then our cave became a big cat with fierce growls. It caught some of our family, but I couldn’t recognize them.”
“They must have been ancestors.”
“Yes. They must have. Ree says that you don’t recognize most of them. They look like us in many ways. I remember one had Kah’s eyebrows and hair like Kooch.”
“Oh, is that the worst? I once saw the family women with swinging balls like home dogs. They didn’t talk. They were dancing around the campfire.”
“I suppose that when we close our eyes forever, we will truly understand what all this means.”
“That is what Ree says. She says that our ancestors tell her so. She says that they come to her at night and tell her, ‘Soon Ree, you will come with us forever and you will understand all.’ She tells of places she has been already where family she has known now dwell. They are beautiful places, she says.”