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© Copyright 2003 Kenneth Mulholland  

Beyond the Dreamtime

Chapter Seven - The Old Way


Yat quickly developed a fascination with the sea.
He was often found at dawn or sunset, staring out over the rolling waves as if in a trance.
He liked it best when he was alone at those times, but he even enjoyed the company of the smaller children during the days.
The Tribe demanded almost nothing of him because of his singular and unpredictable nature and because of his certain, in their minds, ability to alter from the placid, shy youth into the other Yat. The Yat that disturbed and fired them, filled them with energy kindled through smoke and flame and the horns that he sometimes carried across his bent shoulders.
In the stirring's of their thoughts, those horns and the fires that gave them warmth and protection, and his own hair-raising grey-smeared dancing through rippling heat haze and smoke, set that Yat completely apart.
They lived in the presence of a chameleon. 
And so awesome, so prized to them had he become, that none would openly defy him.
In any event, The Tribe were much occupied with their immediate conversion from hunter-gatherers of the forests and plains to hunter-gatherers of the sea-shore.

Winter ran through spring, summer, autumn and winter again whilst they adjusted their hunting habits, their diet and their pattern of living.
Fish and molluscs were new to them in such quantity, and often sickened the clan after gorging.
Yat himself was not immune from such over-indulgence, and after falling ill; heaving out what he thought might be everything inside his body and head, recovered in time to counsel temperance and indeed led expeditions back into the lands beyond for supplement's to their food supply from the ocean.

Cros and the menfolk willingly followed him on these journeys and though Yat took little part in the actual hunt, he made it his business to scout the lands about.
At times he drew the hunter's attention toward game, at others he ranged afar; seeking sign of hostile occupation or any indication of change in the pattern of the environment.
He also sought and found trees suitable to his gradually evolving plan.
Eventually, he convinced the clan of the need to cut down such trees as he indicated, and after trimming the trunks, to drag them back to the shore camp.
The camp itself had become fairly well established by then; shelters of hide stretched over branches packed down by sand and stones borne from inland gave enough protection from wind and the cold nights, cooking fires similarly encircled, dung holes dug and re-dug at a distance away from the main area, growing middens of refuse containing the remains of shell-fish, fish bones, discarded articles of their simple existence and the ashes of many fires, and where the wilds of jungle met the margins of the sea-shore, barriers of thorny undergrowth were erected against any who might come against them.
And into that primitive stockade were hauled Yat's trees. 
At first he spent his energies on a single log, rolling it into the ocean to drift there, captured by wiry lengths of vine designed for such purpose and after satisfying himself of the tree's ability to float he tested it with his own body weight.
The gathered children laughed at his exertions to stay upright in the churning ocean, and after sucking down too much water Yat laughed also, coughing up the unpalatable liquid.
But he discovered during those drenchings that which he needed to know. The log of his choosing did not sink, not even after many days.
With that knowledge, he set about the lashing together of several logs.
This was achieved again utilising vine and stringy creeper, so that eventually he had a raft of sorts that did not roll like the single log, even in a rising swell.
Once more he tested it alone, observed from the shore by the initially casual gaze of the clan.
In this way however, he eventually stirred their interest, if somewhat detached; for to them the invention held as much purpose as might the invention of the wheel without a beast of burden.
This thing, washing at its fragile mooring, was meaningless without a way to guide it, some amongst them thought: merely a plaything for Yat's own amusement, yet there were others who watched and wondered what might come of it.
Yat, for his part, had not ceased his experimentation. 
He, like they, realised that the craft would be swept away as a single log taken on a river current. But he began to see also that a fallen tree, complete with foliage was less liable to roll, stabilised by the outrigging branches; just as his raft not only supported itself, yet remained upright.
True, he had little conception of steering, except through the knowledge acquired in his younger days of paddling with hands and feet, and this method he found impossible on a wider raft for obvious reasons.
Of course the concept of sail and rudder was still well beyond his vision, but paddle, pushing through the water, grew in his mind as an answer.
Branches, fresh cut, with leaves intact, were tried, propelled by his arms alone with circular results and a good deal of mirth at his efforts. And it was not until he convinced one of the older boys to dare the placid ocean on a sunny, windless morning, that progress was made.
That day Yat and the boy Nin, kneeling side by side upon the sea washed logs, splashed their branches into the water; at first unheeding of each other, but finally striking a uniform rhythm that sent the raft slowly forward whilst the ocean paused between high and low tide.
From this initial, basic beginning, Yat began to realise his unspoken dream: the crossing of wide water, that before was a gulf impossible to bridge.

Not too long after, the men of the clan began to follow Yat's lead, constructing similar clumsy craft and employing them as fishing platforms close in to shore.
From these they were able to spear a daily catch without waiting to gather what the sea left behind in rock pools or threw up into the shallows where they waded with stabbing spear. However, they did no more than keep their rafts tethered by lines of twisted vine and never ventured out too far; afraid of the sea's power and of the hidden things beneath its surface. When the tide ran in, they learned to hold their position using branches that later became flattish paddle-like pieces of solid timber, hewn from dead wood.
At tide-turn, as they felt the first pull of it, they hauled themselves landward for fear of being swept away.
In this fashion, these hunter-gatherers of the inlands began the slow lessons of open-water steerage, and the handling of ungainly tree-platforms in water.
It would be long before that first, hesitant start could transform Man into the master of the sea, and many lives would be forfeit by such pursuit.
Yat however satisfied himself with the fruit of his planting: here was a beginning that others of his people had turned to a practical advantage.
Food, and the easy supply of it, was worth the danger encountered. Once more, the people of his clan were amazed at his magic.

Magic itself was not an actual reality in their conscious minds; it was too abstract, too tenuous, to be given some definite form.
It was, perhaps, akin to the vague insinuations of religion; but farther removed than the concrete observances of the world; the sky, the sun and moon, and the things that grew and moved. Such phenomena had already become implanted in the psyche of Man after generation upon generation, though Yat's people did not pay homage nor set aside time for the veneration of these worldly wonders.
Instead, their worship lay in the very act of living: to be. And to be aware of the constancy within which they dwelt, was to them a continual celebration of the mystical in all that abounded. Day and night, fire and water, family, food and sex; even the terrible clawed and fanged wild creatures that were an ever-present threat to their existence.
The latter, they feared and respected, and too, deified.
Later, some would be selected as totems: their virtues of cunning, stealth, strength and ruthlessness to be prized and emulated.
And, to them, Yat himself began to be a part of that adoption, although his considered attributes were so singular, and so removed from past experience as to elevate him into a category all of his own.
The Tribe knew he was not a creature, but of themselves, a man. 
But what kind of Man?
'Superman' would have been impossible as an embracing term for many obvious reasons.
'New Man', physically different by slight degrees, yet possessing some awareness, some gift not perceivable to the eye, or indeed any of the senses, and therefore hardly understandable to The Tribe, might have been the closest they could come to an evaluation of him.
This, perhaps, was to be the foundation of reverence laid upon one, found especial amongst any number; and the early beginnings of the lines of sorcerer-wizards, witch-doctors and magi, as distinct from those who later were to proclaim and usher in the great religions of the world to come.
In whatever way they regarded Yat, he was not viewed as a herald, nor as a prophet of some doctrine or faith, but more so as a single being unto himself; one who had a life and moved amongst them, moving them by his thoughts and actions.
Thus the idea of 'New Man' began to seed so deeply as to be virtually unconscious: a thought, a concept, that would take countless years to germinate.
Possibly it would be nearer the mark to venture their growing perception of Yat as an embodiment of both the animal and the elemental forces; Man mixed together with fire and water.
Man able to see further than they, able to polarise between the elements: and in this complicated, indefinable synthesis, lay the subconscious materialism of the shaman.
The plain consideration that Yat was no more or less than an individual of cunning and intelligence struggling in his own way to overcome a physical difference, was simply overwhelmed by what appeared to them as incredible.
Again and again, Yat had performed, or at least been at the centre of wondrous feats and happenings. The discovery of the great cave, the coming together of his folk and those of Cros, the paintings created by unknown hands and those of Yat himself. His arising from the dead, the spiritual leadership that had brought them to the ends of land, and finally, the daring ingenuity that had enabled the clan to ride upon waters where food abounded in plenty, they could see no further than such truths.
Surely there walked amongst them a being with gifted powers beyond theirs.
And if that was so, such powers were to be respected, even carefully avoided where possible, for none amongst them dared ponder too much what might occur if Yat's anger were to be provoked.
He had become to them like some ambivalent vessel of fire and water, layered deep beneath the skin of a human being; and in their dreams, the horns he carried began to graft onto his skull.
A precursor of the Minotaur?
A Godhead?
A beast?
He was not a creature, but of themselves: this they knew.
And yet, their primeval suspicions fermented.
And never once did his clan clearly see him for what he actually was.
Industriously, ambitiously, Yat carefully nurtured their beliefs: mostly in a passive, enigmatic fashion that always left those he touched uncertain, bewildered; stained by his passing.
On planned occasions, he appeared at their night fires, bedecked in feathers and shells and gaudy colours; the horns raised above his head.
And at such contrived appearances his people began to equate Yat not only with fire and water, but with the evolvement of the creatures of the sea, the air and the animal realm. Yat seemed to be continuously emerging, shedding and growing; dying like the flame, and renewing in changed and changing forms.
Sometimes, when he danced, he moved as a fish in the sea, swimming before their eyes on the waves of shimmering flame.
At other moments he soared in the air between. The wings of his arms carrying him up amongst the swirling eddies of smoke, so that the watchers were moved to stand and join in the dance; to lift their voices in wordless, tuneless chant that rose and lowered, dipping and following as he moved.
And when he grappled with the banteng horns, clutching, whirling, tumbling in death-struggle, they were reminded of the deaths that had befallen his father and those others, and they were humbled by the awesome powers of nature; of the unpredictable forces in the world about them.
Finally, they were elevated in triumph at Yat's enactment, as he subdued the imaginary beast, forcing it sideways to the earth so that the horns lay still in the greyness of ashes.
And thus, at the end of those nights before the engrossed onlookers, Yat knelt motionless, flames hissing along the boiling sap oozing forth from the green wood of the fires. His head bowed, his six-fingered hands hovering, before plunging down to grasp the banteng horns and lift them high as he stood, all in one fluid action.
The ritual, for that is what it had become, ended as he stepped backward out of the light and departed into the depths of night.

On the following morning after each varied, yet always elated conclusion, he could be found at dawn, crouched amongst the dunes, watching the last shadows receding across the grey mists to where rolled the sea.
Sometimes, however, Yat would vanish for several days; and on his sheepish return, bearing food or information of worth, the younger children crowded abut him, whilst the elders of The Tribe viewed his reappearance with relief, tinged by apprehension.
They had him, and it was good to have him.
But might it not be better if he never returned?
There were still those amongst the clan who distrusted, and even hated Yat, and others so afraid of what he represented as to wish he might go forever: Tharta One-eye and his followers, all of them seasons older than Yat, in particular. But it was The Elders, or those most threatened of them, who concerned them-selves most of all.
This group now consisted of those surviving from Banji's cave tribe, together with the merged wise of the people of Cros, and they included Yat's mother Tahi.
Unified, The Elders overruled even the Leader and the men of the clan; but here The Elders were not unified, and this, was a source of constant aggravation.
For amongst their number were those who disputed Yat's dual position and acclaim.
These Elders demanded a return to the ways they had known in their youth, and they set themselves stolidly against Yat to achieve that path.
They argued long and tediously in opposition to the life at the end of land, summoning memories of the old roaming ways amongst the jungles and open plains of the past.
They were hunters and gatherers, they said, but of what? Fish, shells, seaweed?
Their father's fathers had hunted animals, birds, lizards and snakes; their women had gathered roots and plants.
That was as it always had been.
That was how it should continue: for these few old, though no less oppressive, individuals, it was time to turn about from the new, back to the old dark haunts they remembered and welcomed as home.
So, by the campfires at night, the divided groups debated, often heatedly, especially when Yat was not there, and the bone was tugged and fought over without resolve.
Tahi witnessed the struggle in silence, her eyes glazed over with the image of Cros, even though he was not present during such meetings.
Cros was.
Or so, she thought of him.
And often so, she thought of him.
He was there, when he was not.
He went away to hunt, and he was still there.
She saw him on the rafts fishing, and he was still there.
But so was Yat.
She felt Yat in her belly, like a growing lump.
She could not expel the lump, and wondered later if that was good or not good.
She began to wonder about Cros: if that was good or not good: of Cros in her belly.
Finally, Tahi was told by the other Elders to make a choice: Old Way, or New.

to follow


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