by Allan Kolski Horwitz
Beginning around 2.5 million years ago or a bit earlier, there was a major forking in the evolutionary path of hominins. The australopithecines diverged into at least two very different evolutionary directions. One led to the robust australopithecines and a genetic dead-end by about 1.4 million years ago. The other led to the first humans. Dennis O’Neil
For human beings, primitive (reptilian) instinctive urges and behaviour are overlaid by mammalian care and affection for one’s young and human care and affection for one’s family and community. Behaviour is aimed at survival of the young and of the family, and then is for the good of family, other people, community.
My Hutu sisters, make yourselves pretty, the French soldiers are here, now’s your chance, because all the Tutsi girls are dead.
‘Murambi, The Book of Bones’ Boubacar Boris Diop
When they dragged him out of the lane that ran alongside the house, and dumped him in the street, he did not dare look at them. The noise they made, shouting at him and waving their weapons, was almost as loud as the screams from the neighbouring houses. He lay in the street with his eyes shut, clenching his fists, trying to control the need to urinate and steady his breathing.
Just before dawn the men had broken into the house. The leader of the gang was the owner of a nearby shop that repaired electronic equipment and computers; another was a low level government official; the remaining three were unemployed youth. They had first killed his brother; then his mother and father, who were in the larger room at the end of the corridor on his brother’s side; next to be hacked was his grandmother; she had come to stay with them after the first public threats had been made. The last to die was his sister; her screams had been the hardest to bear. After these acts, the men had ransacked the house and taken away what they wanted.
The first cries from his brother had woken him. He had lain in bed listening to his pleas for mercy, then his sobbing as they struck him. And while his brother was being murdered he had tried to deny that what they had all so feared, but not been able to truly conceive of, was at last happening; he had lain in the dark of his small room on the veranda at the back of the house rigid with fear and rage like a cornered animal. But when the sound of the killers moving from room to room finally reached the kitchen, he had picked up the gun that was next to his pillow and climbed into the cupboard and buried himself under a blanket. It had almost driven him mad to do this but the Resistance had issued instructions as to how to respond when the attacks started, and these orders made sense. To challenge the killers now would be suicidal; they would surely overpower him and what use would that be? He would have to wait for them to finish inside, and pray that they did not find him. He had to hope, against all odds, that he would remain undetected, and then be able to escape from the area and reach the north where he could join the main body of the Resistance.
Each time he had known exactly who was screaming. He had swallowed and swallowed to contain himself until a black and red cloud took over his head. When his mother and sister were screaming, the knowledge of what the killers were doing to them had made him vomit into the blanket. How could he not charge out and die fighting them? Then shouts came from nearby houses, the killers were spreading. To be sure, their radio stations had not lied, nor had the newspapers and the threats made at rallies by local party bosses. Everything was happening as they had warned. They were men of their word – they were carrying out their threats and their boasting, they were ‘eliminating the enemy’; they who for so many years had not carried out any of their reverse promises – of equality, of freedom, of justice – made to their own supporters. But they did not find him. Was it because the door of his room was badly painted and broken in places and looked like a junk room? Or was it because some unfathomable providence had spared him for the task of fighting back to defeat them?
When no further sound had come from inside the house he had climbed out of the cupboard, and opened the door, and stood quietly on the veranda. He knew that if he pushed aside the back door the killers had smashed with an axe, and walked inside, and moved from room to room and saw the bodies of his mother and father, his brother and sister and his grandmother, saw with his own eyes the desecration of their bodies and the remnants of their pillaged home, he knew that he would not be able to leave. And he knew with equal certainty that left alone in the house, left alone to bury his family, left alone to replace the smashed or looted furniture, clothes, cups, pots, beds, plants, books, cutlery, left alone with his knowledge of what had happened and his memories of the past, he would go mad.
He had stood still on the veranda trying to focus on just one objective: he had to survive and find a way out of the city. He could save no one alone – only the attempt to fight back in an organized way was important. He had to set aside his outrage and mourning and join those who were hardening themselves, steeling themselves, making themselves blocks of concrete, emptying themselves of memory, of love, of ease; he had to strip himself of feeling and become a soldier, a man who could kill other men in order to live. And so, stepping down from the veranda into the lane with the bag he had packed weeks before in preparation for just such a moment, he tried to resist the knowledge that his world was irrevocably broken. And as he tried to set aside this sense of brokenness, a sudden and overwhelming desire for revenge seized him; a gut wrenching need to take hold of the killers and crush them, torture them, as they had done to those he so loved; a seething fury that could only be satisfied by grinding each of them down, slashing them, burning them, cutting their bodies into small pieces to feed to dogs.
He ran down the lane alongside the house, but when he reached the end, and stopped to check if there was anyone in the street, he was hit on the head from behind. The militiaman called to others; they carried him into the street and beat him till his mind and body could no longer respond. Then he was tossed onto the back of a truck, and taken to a war-house on the outskirts of the town. Hours later when he came round, he found he was not alone. The room where they had thrown him was filled with many people. Some he knew, but most were strangers. From the mix of languages they were speaking, he knew they were from all the nationalities in the country, not just his own. Young and old, every person was wounded. And, as the jailors spat and shouted at them, it became clear they had not been immediately killed only because the army wanted to first interrogate them. Identified as Resistance members or sympathizers, decried as a verminous fifth column, their cells would have to be smashed and each of them liquidated, for the party did not want to spare or tolerate the smallest vestige of opposition. Then, looking round the room at the drawn, shocked, shattered faces of these men and women, he prayed that they would be truly united, truly bound together by their determination to withstand the terror, by their commitment to restoring their freedom. But he also knew they were united in knowing that the chances of outliving this detention were slim.
Desperation and resolve: the struggle to clear the mind of the horror; the struggle to lift the mind out of the abyss of pain; the struggle to convert hate for the killers into workable plans for defying them, for surviving them, for organizing ways to defeat them, for finding means to inspire others to defy and defeat them; the struggle not to become them in defeating them; the struggle to know what has to be done to not become them; the struggle to one day give birth to and raise children who are not destroyed by the memory of the madness; the struggle to imbue this chemistry of living with the source, the godhead of gas and fire being mapped by our telescopes in the far depths of light which is also placed under a microscope to yield the smallest, most basic particle of matter even as it merges with other dimensions of energy, and to bring all this knowledge into a new human form; a new human with a fuller, more conscious and directed way of living.
And all this while, the troops and warplanes of an old imperial power (a country far away on another continent but still powerful, still a kingmaker, still a shaper of the destiny of his country’s peoples) were camped across the border waiting to see if the regime supervising the massacres would defeat the newly organized and still weak Resistance. These troops, tough young men in camouflage, chew sugar cane as they play billiards to kill time, drink beer with fleshy whores in tourist bars near their base, and wait for the order to invade – once their masters across the seas and deserts decide with whom they will sign the next contract.
The hatred fermenting for months becomes more and more virulent. The country watches as gangs begin forming, as the army issues them with weapons. Everyone knows their history – for this madness erupts periodically, is an endemic venting of rage and greed manipulated by leaders when they need to parry investigations into their venality, when a seasonal fever born of self-disgust ignites their megalomania, when the economy stutters and mass unemployment causes unrest; when the channels of everyday life are blocked and the pressure of living is too much to bear. Kill the bloodsuckers, they say. Kill them! And the chorus of hate rises up to demonize and incite, drowns the voices of calm, of solidarity.
Every few minutes the militiamen burst into the room in the war-house; they take out or throw in a new captive. The prisoners lie down on the floor without food or water. In the midst of this hell they know their dying must be consistent with the path of the warrior; that the dignity of life is preserved by the dignity of the manner of dying. And they know that no life can endure beyond a programmed number of years set by the process of generations, and that every life is but a succession of instants, but that whatever each instant enacts and embodies has an effect on the future, can shape it, can give it direction.
The prisoners know the savagery of the murderers. They believe with all their power that the killing will eventually be stopped, the militia disbanded, the army forced to flee, the instigators and the most prominent executioners brought to account, but they know such liberation will not be directly brought by them. They are rebels against madness and are prepared themselves to die. And yet, while locked in the anteroom of death, they see a time when such cruelty, such blood-letting, will be impossible. And they form a circle. And with the purity of their desire that such foulness be cured, they summon up a new generation; make sons and daughters from the marrow of their memories, their ancient mind indivisible from the new and the newer, cemented to the essences within them that seek beauty and balance.
They create these children by conjuring them into the future; they subdue the world of tooth and claw, massage it out of our beings. And when the guards come to take them to torture, they are able to disarm both their lust and their dullness, disarm their mercilessness; and they do this with precise intelligence and action, cleansing them of grossness, of greed. Reaching deep into the crocodile million year brain emergent from the swamps of a younger earth, brain lulled, dazed and vivified by the sun, they call on a new energy, an unwavering expression of love. They pierce that brain of our beginning, that brain bound to the inchoate energy of all stars; an incarnation and consciousness derived from the oceans where all is flowing current, salt soup swirling with seed.
The prisoners under interrogation know that the status of living organisms is absolutely defined – an organism either defends itself when attacked or is extinguished: cut up/ gouged/ chewed/ swallowed/ digested /left to rot/buried in a grave. But the spirit of an organism that sees into the future becomes part of the future. Having this knowledge, when the guards take them to the interrogation rooms, the prisoners embrace their weakness, their loneliness, their fear. And some of the guards are awakened and put down their weapons. And some of the guards are angry and strike them. And some of the guards kill themselves because they cannot live with the shame – these guards who have been safeguarding iniquity. They recognize that they are deranged, have been injected with lies and distortion. Only enslaved humans can commit such crimes. Only drugged people can cause so much harm – unbalanced, unaware, damaged, so venal and greedy that they lose all awareness of the pain of another; so controlled by the instinct to gather up and assert power (that force for good or for evil) that they wield only destruction, serve only pain.
Now caught in that mob, that mass, that herd, where the taking of the drug of forgetting, where the slaking of the thirst for immersion in the waters of an all-conquering I, in all this diving into the chaos of absolute instinct, the guards recognize themselves in the prisoners, and seek forgiveness. They open their souls to the living.
He had lain in the street, shocked by his capture. It had been early morning and there was no escaping the sharp light or the rumble of trucks. The harsh grating of their gears, convoys transporting soldiers and militiamen – not that of taxis and busses taking people to work. After the bombing of the party’s headquarters, when the threats of attack had reached their climax, most people, his people, had stayed at home, kept their children with them. Only when food supplies had run low, or if they had had to deal with a family crisis, had they gone out.
Now he lay on the floor of that detention room in the war-house drying his tears, feeling the blood caked on his head and the swellings along his sides, and he laughed bitterly, saying to himself he was a fool to be dreaming, a fool to be trying to become a bird with invisible wings – pathos of a fabulous creature trying to inhabit a thought, give it flesh and move through time to change exterminators into wise men. He covered his head with his hands and waited for the guards. It was bitter, bitter to have had this dream, but it was better to have had it than not to have had it. It was better.
I am your brother! I am your sister!
Where are you?
We are here
Where are you?
We are here – beside you
Open your eyes feel us
Let me call again: brother! sister!
We are here
Where are you?
Why are you turning away? We are here in front of your eyes
Where are my brothers and sisters?
First see yourself first hear yourself first touch yourself
Then perhaps you will find us