Monkey Love

monkey-treeYungpin, of the Juju clan, clung to a thin branch at the top of the Home Tree. The young Macaque looked out over the tribe’s territory, running from the big water by the mangroves, to the rocky outcroppings where the hills began. On one side ran the wide river, swift and murky in the rainy season, and on the other, the territory of the Bobo tribe.  Yungpin was Muladee; three summers from his birthing.  Tonight he and all his siblings, those born in the same year, would stand still beneath the half-moon, in the clearing below, and become full members of the clan. All but two.

There were twelve in Yungpin’s season.  They had come to know each other, clinging each to their mother during grooming sessions, or jumping madly from branch to branch, playing tag in the dry billowy summer dirt, flinging mud and rain-soaked leaves in the fall, tumbling, chasing, and biting, in rituals of dominance and hierarchy. They were twelve, but there was only one of any real interest to Yungpin.  Her name was Juputin.

Yungpin longed to pair with her.  But union was forbidden for Muladee.  Pairing was a privilege reserved only for full members of the clan.  The bloodline must be protected.  Tonight, as he and the other initiates stood still in the clearing, two of them would be chosen, donated to the strengthening of the bloodline. The pair would be given to the Bobo tribe, taken from the home of the Juju, passing into the unknown.

Dewal, the dominant male, had conveyed the tradition. The bloodline grows weak without donation.  Each summer, beneath the half-moon, two Muladee are selected from each clan.  Before dawn they are exchanged at the boundary of our range.  The half-moon, the demi-light of the night sky, is the brightness of the bloodline and the darkness of the failure to honor the ways of the ancestors. Yungpin hoped he and Juputin would not be chosen.

The afternoon passed slowly. The clan lounged lazily in the shaded branches, seeking shelter from the hot summer sun beneath the broad leaves of their sanctuary.  Yungpin lay across a high limb, his long spidery legs dangling on either side, tail twitching nervously.  Juputin sat with her family unit, nimble fingers combing through her mother’s hair, searching the briefly visible skin beneath for unwelcome parasites. The two young Macaques exchanged occasional brief glances, but neither moved to engage the other.  The moment that would decide the future of their lives was fast approaching.

In the evening the clan crowded into the clearing beneath Home Tree. Through gaps in the canopy the cloudless sky was pierced with uncountable points of light outshone only by the semi-luminescence of the half-moon.  Bright future – faded past. Dewal stood in the center of the gathering and called the Muladee before him. Stand still.

Welcome, new blood of the Juju, strength of the clan.  Within you flows life or death for all the tribes. Tonight you will be Muladee no longer.  Beneath the half-moon you will join a clan and be allowed to pair and keep the bloodline strong.  But this night also, our bloodline is shared with that of the Bobo.  We both donate our strength so each of our tribes does not grow weak and die. Through donation we live forever.

Dewal rose to his full height and threw wide his arms, showing his face to the half-mooned sky. The clan waited without chatter, surrounded only by the sound of rustling leaves above, swaying gently in the warm breeze brushing the forest canopy

It was decided.

Dewal lowered his arms and extended one towards the line of Muladee before him.  A flick of his wrist indicated Juputin and a male, Jameet.

Come! Dewal turned from the gathering, away from Home Tree, toward the Bobo. The chosen two fell in behind.

Yungpin couldn’t breathe.  He had thought he had been prepared, and he had been.  But now the moment had come and he was unable to contain himself.  He couldn’t lose her.  He had waited four seasons. Without clear intention to protest, Yungpin began swaying from side to side.  Small chirps of alarm emanated from his mouth.  His lips pursed as his frustration grew and found voice.  Soon he was hopping in place and slapping the ground with open palms.

Dewal stopped, turning slowly to face Yungpin, astonished. What was this new thing? He was more amazed than annoyed.

Explain yourself.

Yungpin raised his arms to the night sky where the half-moon hung silently mocking him and his altered destiny.  He pointed to the chosen and back to himself.

Dewal frowned.  Juputin is not for you.  She has been chosen.  Jameet has been chosen.  They are for the Bobo.  They are chosen together, they are Bobo now.

Yungpin would not be consoled. He was still Muladee, still young, he didn’t care about tradition or blood lines or even the future, not a future without Juputin.  He didn’t care what they did with the other but he couldn’t lose the one he loved.  The only one he had ever loved.

Dewal made his way back into the center of the gathering and stood before the one who had challenged the way of the clan.

They are the chosen.  These are one. He gestured to the two timid and bewildered Muladee beside him. Together they are our donation, to the future of the clan, to the strength of the bloodline. It is our way. They are together for the Bobo, for the Bobo to decide…not you!

Yungpin was not cowered.   Juputin is for me.  She is mine.  Do what you will with Jameet.

Dewal flew into a rage. His hair bristled and the dominant male puffed his chest and raised himself threateningly over Yungpin, screaming, his yellow teeth bared.

Stand still Muladee. How can you have Juputin if you donate Jameet?

Yungpin fell to the ground in the face of Dewal’s onslaught, limp, numb, uncomfortably so.  Submissively, he turned away and stared up at the dark side of the moon.

Gods of the Night Sky

nightskyLake Ray Roberts State Park lies approximately 60 miles north of Dallas, Texas, just beyond the college town of Denton. At campsite 137, on early summer evenings, before the Texas heat makes outdoor activities unbearable even at night, you can lie on your back on the old sun beaten picnic table and be lost in the night sky.  Looking out over the water-color moon washed lake, a vanguard of monolithic pines at your back; you can gaze up into the infinite vastness of the star-spackled universe.

Peering into the vaulted expanse, it is impossible not to consider how our prehistoric ancestors looked up in similar wonder.  No doubt they expressed their innate human creativity to organize the stars into patterns and created associations real or imagined to match their philosophy, explaining for them the unknown.  And how could they not? The ability to make these connections is the very cornerstone of human intelligence. How many nights did story-tellers sit around their hearth-fires forging tales of great hunters and warriors, hammering their leaders and heroes into legends, infusing them with superhuman strength and abilities before casting them into the heavens as gods?

The sun, moon, stars and planets are constants in the firmament.  The movements of heavenly bodies have been studied, tracked and plotted for millennia. To ancient civilizations, they were the harbingers of the cyclical events of nature. The sky gods they created explained the seasonal fertility of the land, foretold of the migration of the herds, prophesized the changing weather; they offered order and stability in a dangerous and chaotic world, if only man were faithful in his observations and rituals.     I have often imagined the marvels visible in the night skies of ancient times and thought; to what else could they have attributed an eclipse, a comet, a shower of meteors other than as an outward proof of the enigmatic gods.

It has been many years now since I lay on the picnic table at campsite 137, but I have seen the same night stars under other skies and sat by my hearth fire and gazed into the star filled abyss.  In modern times, the number of stars visible to the naked eye on a clear night is extremely limited due to the amount of ambient light and industrial pollution in our atmosphere and is estimated at between two and three thousand. Still, looking up at the celestial sphere through the hazy filter of man’s achievement and desecration, I still sense the lasting magnificence of the divine and the fleeting consequence of the individual.  And though my understanding of the universe continues to expand my comprehension of god’s essence seems diminished in equal measure.

But then again, I long ago abandoned my search for a god who could be explained with any satisfaction and settled for one with whom I could reach a mutual understanding.  I can profess no religion.  Religion requires formality of devotion, limiting the infinite transcendence of any god worth imagining.  My theology, if I may lay claim to one, is an acceptance that the alpha and the omega are unknowable and all the more wondrous for it. The gods of the night sky, placed millennium ago, still hold fascination for me.  They are past, present and future, constant reminders. I am composed from the same star stuff, interconnected with the universe. And as for god and man, faith alone has never been enough for me to explain the relationship between the creator and the created and who is who.