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© Copyright 2003 Kenneth Mulholland  

Beyond the Dreamtime

Chapter 5 - The New One


Banta, Yat's father, first raised the alarm after catching sight of movement amongst the lacery of ferns below. Those males left to guard the cave, gathered about him, brandishing their weapons and puffing their chests, though whether they would have stood their ground in the event of an attack is uncertain.
This however did not arise.
Instead, that which eventuated was a thing remarkable to The Tribe.
So remarkable in truth, that they could never be as they had before.

The sight that confronted Banta and his men confused and disturbed them.
At first Banta could not make any sense of it; there was Banji at the foremost of the emerging group, yet with him were others not of The Tribe.
There were womenfolk, some carrying babies or trailing infants at their sides, there were a few old people stumbling and hobbling on sticks, and there were stronger adult males mingled amongst those of his own tribesmen.
But it was what they bore in their midst that confounded him; the first was the carcase of a drill, a seldom encountered baboon-like creature soon to become extinct in the lands of their wanderings, and the second was the body of his son.

Banta could make out the red splashes of caked blood on both the animal and the boy.
He could see the limpness in their limbs.
This was the way dead creatures looked, brought in from the hunt.
At his back there came a small cry of distress, and before he could catch hold of her, Tahi scrambled between the gaping men and dashed down to those oncoming.
Only Tharta, now around twelve years of age, looked on with his one seeing eye; seeing through it the end of the being that had caused his blindness, and in secret he was consumed with glee: revenge, even if not by his own hand, was his.

They ate the drill that night, along with some of the cave's provender and the remains of a previous hunt; and it was a night, long recalled by The Tribe and the newcomers. Extremely cautious of each other to begin with, the children were the first to intermingle, play and squabble together; wholly excited by this unique occurrence.
Their excitement was contagious, so much so that before long the adults on both sides were moved to explore each other, to experiment and examine d variety of things; smell, dress, touch, implements, weapons and speech.
To those of The Tribe, the newcomers, relaxed and devoid now of fear, smelt as they did; and this of course was due to both diet and habitat.
Both peoples, over past generations, had existed in much the same country, ranging over wide areas of lush tropical expanse, though only ever encountering at a hostile distance.
Even so, both had hunted and gathered similar fodder, and thus their body sweat and natural odours were familiar.
Their mode of dress was also alike, according to the climate of humid days and cold nights; coarse gut-stitched loin coverings to protect against nettles, biting insects and invading parasites, and rough-cured furs to roll in by the fires.

The children made much of handling one another: faces, arms, legs, buttocks and genitals: laughing and striking poses. The adults were somewhat reticent in this, each tribe protective of its own, and jealous of any interplay between male and female. Yet some timid and furtive exploration took place, occasioning the odd exclamation of indignation, or muffled giggle.
As to language: there was enough basic similarity with which to begin. Indication and sign were useful to describe the simplest nouns and actions. Imitations of animals and birds, both by body movement and cry, to create images not at once available to them, so that the long wailing call of howler monkeys and the short chat-chat of drills, in particular, were often repeated as they feasted.
There was also a small grouping of words that fell within the scope of mutual recognition; not exactly universal by any means, but with similarity enough as to cause the widening of eyes at each astounding discovery.

And there, by a combination of all these methods of communication, the beginning of inter-tribal understanding was established, no matter the primary basis.
Accordingly, the events of that day became the first to be unfolded by participants of either side.

Tharta One-eye, enjoying every moment, watching and listening at the edge of the crackling flames, learned of how Yat had stood unexpectedly out of the jungle undergrowth, his fire horn raised in signal of warning to Banji and the men.
Of how the baboon had sprung upon Yat, riding him to the ground even as the newcomers had clubbed and speared it.
Of how the men of The Tribe and the strangers were met across the bodies of the two locked in death.
It was true, the leader of the newcomers indicated, that they had waited in hiding to attack the pursuers; but this was done out of fear for their lives and the protection of their women and children. Not in open warfare to take those of another people for slave or food.

Banji attempted the best reply he was able to muster at this early stage. The Tribe saw with their eyes the truth of this. Of how, in attempting to save the boy the newcomers had revealed themselves and both parties, verging on a deadly path, had instead halted in mutual dismay and shock.
As it followed, Cros, the leader of the new tribe, and Banji met, almost toe to toe over the bodies of Yat and the drill. And so struck up an agreement forged out of the tragedy and the open willingness of Cros and his few people to risk their lives in order to save one of their own kind.
Further, Banji now appealed to the Elders to allow Cros to remain with them for a time to come; arguing that in this there was benefit for the two peoples; shelter and food for the wanderers and increased man-power for the hunt.
The Elders, after some short deliberation, assented, considering that this was a way of avoiding conflict, on the spot, and seeing the value in Banji's reasoning.
This proposed alliance in itself was unusual, almost unknown amongst peoples of that period, but it was logical in the slow progression toward human order.

Meanwhile, removed from the feasting and excitement, Tahi and Banta bathed the body of their son in the water, borne from the cave pool by Muk, The Elder Woman, removing mud and blood and excrement, and preparing it for burial.
Banta alone in his hunter's mind, thought briefly of how things might have been if his son had reached the ripeness of manhood. Tahi wept the tears of unreasoning despair; her child, torn and slashed, a part of her body however strange, however vital and different, should not have died without growing into his power. This power, she could only dimly sense; like a scent on the breeze.
And like a wafted scent, it overtook her, and swiftly vanished.

The night wore away and the fires before the great cave diminished, and for that time the two peoples found their sleeping spaces. Banji and Cros set men to guard and then, watchful of each, other went to their own folk.
The fires, at first roaring, fell away and slowly subsided. Yat's horn lay at his elbow.
His face, in the moonlight where they had left him, was coloured a curdled yellow.
The raw scars on his body had become crimped and shrivelled. The skull of the drill, not so unlike that of Man, grinned at his feet.

In the morning the women of both folk began the task of burial, digging out a shallow grave in the softer earth at the edge of undergrowth beneath overhanging trees. When that was done, Banta lifted his son and bore him down to the scooped hole that was to become his resting-place.
There, Yat was laid out, the horn at his side.
Ashes from the night fires were sprinkled over his legs. A shell was placed upon his chest.
His wrists were crossed, palms flat on his loins.
It was only then that several of the new comers, including Cros, noticed his fingers and compared their own in amazement. Then they saw the faces of the cave people, and a realisation came to them that here was no ordinary child; here was someone different, commanding a certain respect and awe, even in death.

When the rattle of loose shale began to pelt across his body, Yat's eyes opened; glaring fiercely up at those looming above. In truth, the grimace that twisted his face was that of shock and pain; but those who witnessed it were consumed with terror, shrieking and backing away, colliding with others behind.
In a matter of moments the majority had fled, dragging the children with them. Only Banta, Tahi, Banji, Cros and a few of the Elders remained fixed by Yat's eyes.
Yat stared back at them through his terrible hurt. His entire body was racked in a red agony; consumed by the slashing knives that had raked almost to the vitals. With a singular effort, fire stabbing along his arm, he managed to move a hand, soil falling away from the fingers; and it was then that he cried out. In reality, he was no more than a near fatally wounded boy; but that was not as others saw him.
Tahi, overcoming her gripping fear, scrambled into the hole followed by Banta and Banji, whilst the others could only watch, spellbound, as the dead boy was carried out of his grave, and back to the living. Tharta, almost gibbering with panic, heard Yat's moans as they brought him to the great cave mouth and for a long time after he kept well away from any that had even touched Yat.

A greater part of a year passed before Yat was able to get about again.
The frightful wounds that he had sustained healed over, leaving equally frightening scars; but his recovery was a marvel in such forbidding circumstances.
Infection set in twice, and yet he overcame the sickness both times. How, few but his mother and father could guess. And their guess was that it was simply meant for him to survive: that some intangible power kept him alive. They could not embrace their thoughts in ways that might be transmitted to others, and hardly to themselves: these were primal glimpses, perhaps, of things beyond the bounds of Man in the early stages of superstitious, even religious, contemplation.

Some pondered that it was Yat himself.
That he contained and controlled the strength and power of life's force; fire.
To them, it was his fire that had, as fire is rekindled, renewed itself. And so they viewed him with a grudging respect and a profound fear. Here was an individual, an entity even, that could regenerate itself; building anew out of death.

Of course they overlooked the simple truth: simple enough at least to the logic of modern man.
Yat had been born a polydactyl: physically different.
His personality, however subconsciously, had been grafted onto this one fact.
For even though the difference had gradually been accepted and almost forgotten by The Tribe, it had marked him before he began the process of marking himself.
In the long run his individual nature, that of a loner, had evolved to his present character, and was to continue, to so evolve whilst he predetermined that path of action. As to his survival, chance alone played a great part, aided by his singular will; a will that denied death out of anger and life-lust and some indomitable spirit of which he had no actual cognition.

During the period of his arduous recovery, the two separate peoples had begun a slow process of integration; fraught with suspicion and competition at first, but eventually rationalising into an accord that reaped a harvest of mutual respect and cooperation.

Struggling about the camp, refusing any aid, Yat began to understand this; he was nine years of age, which was considered to be still that of a child for any other than him.
Now he used the seasoned horn as a crutch to support his halting gait, and hovered about the outskirts of the cooking fires in the mornings, after the men had departed to hunt. His intuition told him to avoid communication, and he remained aloof: accepting food and shelter without further obligation. The newly united tribe, the Elders within and the Leaders and his parents were cautious to force the issue: content to await Yat and what he might choose to do.
Importantly, they did not wish to disturb the harmony that had occurred, however fleeting that might be.
The well being of the group was the well being of the individual. Survival was implicit within The Tribe's herd instinct.

And in the days of the wandering seasons that followed, game remained plentiful to them along the open areas beyond the southern forest, though it was two turnings of the sun there and back.
Indeed, the men were away sometimes three times that period; yet on their return there was much celebration, for their efforts were nearly always fruitful.
With the extra manpower, the catch was often enough to feed the cave people for eight, sometimes ten days, supplemented by what the women and Elders could provide out of the cave and the jungle.

Thus, during those intervals of feasting and the consequent feelings of well being and oneness with the land they walked, there came courtship and coupling between the paired tribes; so that in the eventual birth of children, both peoples were so married and interlocked. Cros and his folk had found a home, more or less permanent, or as permanent as they could hope for, with those of Banji's.
Slowly, any discord between them was eroded, and they settled into an easy-going way of life that might have continued with little variation for many generations.

But as there was life, so there was death. The days of some of those Elders of both tribes grew long, and they passed beyond the living, and mostly their passing was peaceful: and a small group of graves, marked only by rings of stones began to grow about the place where Yat himself was to have been buried.
Yat saw this, watching in silence whenever a burial happened, and he noticed that the hole, slowly falling in upon itself, where he had been placed, was never filled.
He wondered at that, but asked none; content to think that The Tribe considered the site special in some way and that it would be his resting ground in the end.
However, as he grew again to health and strength, so did his desire to test himself in the eyes of The Tribe.
Finally, he found that he could move about without the aid of the horn, and carried it with him only as a symbol of his singular status.
He reverted to his old ways during the days, wandering off alone, watched by his mother and the other womenfolk and children, and kneeling at the edges of the campfires by night. None hindered or teased or provoked him now, for he had become familiarly strange to them; accepted as one set apart and best left to pursue his own needs.
For all that, Yat still contributed to The Tribe; more often than not he would return from his lone travels with things useful to his people: edible fungus, scrub hen eggs, bulbs and tubers.

But one particular day he returned in the early afternoon, naked, his loincloth filled with hidden objects.
To this mysterious bundle, he added charcoal from the nearest fireplace and then, taking up a burning brand, proceeded toward the great cave.
Most of the men were away hunting, and those left, together with the women, children and Elders, gawked at him in astonishment; hardly believing his daring.
Several muttering Elders stood to confront Yat as he made his way to the entrance, and for a short span of time loudly denied him further passage, until he set the bundle down at his feet and lifted both the ancient horn and the fire before their widening gaze.
The time had come to challenge their power; that he had decided, and they saw the defiance plainly in his narrowed eyes. And they fell silent, though what he intended to do, none before or behind him could guess.
This uncertainty sharpened the curiosity of even the most formidable opponents, so that they wrestled with their own thoughts as to his purpose.

In the end, Yat's hard won prestige and his determination overpowered the last of the steadfast, and they shuffled aside.
In the depths of the great cave, where all but the Elders had been forbidden, Yat came again to the wonderful drawings he had seen before the settling of The Tribe.
The Elders at his back were oblivious to those crowding behind to watch, as he set the flaming brand upright and un-wrapped his bundle.
And there, by that meagre, flickering light, Yat began: choosing an area where the hand imprints were to be seen, exposed by the dancing flames.
In hushed expectancy The Tribe looked on as he began to outline his own hand in charcoal, scratching away between the fingers with crumbling blackened pieces until the fire began to die down and he was forced to fetch more.

Eventually, others did the fetching for him, whilst he, to their increasing wonder, produced new colours from his strip of loin-cloth; yellow and red-brown ochre of clay, with which he worked about the margins of the drawing.
Later, he managed a somewhat ill defined image of a wild ox, and that of a man, spear raised in the act of throwing.
The execution was cruder on these depictions, since Yat was working not with the solid form of his hand as a guide, but from memory alone.
He had no idea of perspective, although this was of little importance considering that he was solely concerned with the representation of life and the world around him, however it gave the creations of his imagination a certain flat statedness and sometimes bore no relation to comparable size
Thus the progression of the figures of men were enlarged above many of the beasts, trees and mountains.
It was as if, to him, Man's status was greater than all else, and perhaps that was not accidental.
Possibly his vision of Man was that of master over all creatures and indeed the earth itself.
However, whether he consciously applied the technique, or it came about through random, or even gradual perception, is uncertain.

In the main the whole episode was an experiment prompted by his secret desire to astonish the people and break the taboo of access that he felt largely directed against him. On another plane, it was a planned triumph; for Yat had not spontaneously decided the course of action, but rather had spent a long period of time thinking and labouring toward it. During his convalescence, his mind had been drawn over and again to the great cave and that inside which was forbidden to him. The notion that beings like he had dwelt there, long before The Tribe's arrival, living much as they now lived, yet creating the signs and visions of their eyes, intrigued him.
Those unknown folk were gone, but they had left behind a record: a testimony of their existence.
The cave paintings were a part of their lives, suspended in time and space, for others later to come, and to witness.
This, in essence, was what had led Yat upon the path of emulation.
Certainly he knew that ash mixed with water or spittle, or even sweat, left a grey colouring when smeared on the body. That charcoal could be used dry; and so he set about the discovery of the other earthen colours without hardly knowing where or what to look for; eventually finding clays, haematite reds and yellow ochres, from the same vicinity as those of his predecessors.

Alone in the wilds he had tried them; rubbing and mixing with spit, applying smears to smooth stone. Chewing the substances into a paste, into liquid, and spraying that onto rock, until he gained confidence in his new-found, unnamed colours, and stored the knowledge away as his secret: his treasure, to be brought forth and used at the time of his choosing.
He was only troubled by the uncertainty of his own untried artist's ability and the disturbing thoughts of winning through against the power of The Tribe.

But once again, Yat had summoned the courage to face the highest of the clan and break new ground.
His motivation, though almost entirely selfish, was to have a profound and resounding effect.
In a way, that effect was passive enough; hunting, survival and procreation were universal to The Tribe, and so would not alter: yet this was another thing, the beginning of a new order. Stories and tales of the past had been, and still were, handed down, generation to generation by word of mouth; memories distorted and pasted over to suit the occasion, fanciful reasons added by each story-teller to emphasise the points basic to their vision of what had gone before.

Now, as Yat saw, the way of how life was could be stated forever by the hand of the artist at the time; immutable fact, a transcript of the day through the eyes of the witness to it.
He was however goaded more by the present than by the past or future; and this again was intrinsic to his own interwoven nature.
Ambition stained his every impulse, even at such early age. Yat wished to overcome what, he considered, was the thing that kept him apart from the others; his too-many fingers and toes, though in truth he was the architect to his solitary existence. Paradoxically, he desired to be of The Tribe, but also to be above The Tribe; a part of it, yet lauded not as Leader so much as higher than Leader or Elder.
And even in his child's mind, buried deep, the seeds of that desire were germinating.

If Yat could have lived in the present day and been able to look back down the tens of thousands of years to his own period, he would have seen himself as one of an elite band; those early forerunners to the founders of religious orders.
The primitive, singular individuals who were destined to be regarded as holy men.
Those who took their first blind and stumbling steps toward the path of the Magi, the alchemists and priests, medicine men, guru and messianic preacher, evangelist, fire and brimstone hell-beaters, fakirs and popes.
But, of course, Yat had no conception as to where his groping, simplistic actions and posturing might lead.

Yat was alone.
There were no ready-made role models for him to imitate. He was striking out against the current of The Tribe's social framework; where the strongest men led the hunt and so nourished the less strong, and where the Elders, by reason of their longevity, were considered the receptacles of Tribe wisdom and knowledge. And thus respected in debate over all manner of issues, customs and taboos.
In his clan it had always been the way.
Until Yat.

Now and in the time that followed, the people remained confused, questioning their reactions to Yat's actions; unable to reach any firm stance, almost immobilised by events within their own circle that appeared beyond their ability to control or ex-plain.

Without aggression, without explanation, without permission, Yat had simply pushed forward; crossing boundaries, breaching the invisible lines, and indeed laws lain down since time out of memory.
And now it seemed to The Tribe that he had become as a fire, slowly consuming them.
Some hoped that the fire would burn itself out.
Others wished to trample it; to extinguish the flame that threatened them.
Some were caught unwelcoming the new, refreshing heat that enveloped them.
However, none dared to do anything.
The polydactyl boy, Fire his self-name, solitary prowler, dancer before the flames, stone painter, horn carrier, cave finder, riser from the dead, was within them, within the circle of The Tribe, within the heart and minds of them; bending their wills and ancient standards and customs.
Bending, though not destroying, forcing them to re-assess themselves, opening their eyes to hidden paths; willing them to their knees, yet tilting upward their heads.

When Yat danced at night, when Yat painted by day, The Tribe observed him with mixed emotions.
And they began no longer to see the boy: only the long shadow that he cast.

Chapter 6


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