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© Copyright 2003 Kenneth Mulholland  

Beyond the Dreamtime

Chapter Ten - Earth


Yat splashed his way through crystal clear shallows, bearing only the precious banteng horns, his eyes darting from the dangers of the sea to the still, tree-lined shore.
This was a new world, apparently serene and deserted, but he and all his folk were well aware that death was ever present, even amongst the calm of forest glades, or upon the lonely marches of tall grass lands.
Death could come in the form of a serpent, or the thundering hooves of wild beasts, the striking talons of mighty birds or the jaws of terrible creatures. And it could come by the weapons of unknown enemies lying in wait; as easily in bright day as in deep of night. Yat fretted at their vulnerability, and was not satisfied until the rafts were hauled onto the white sands, and Cros had sent men to watch amongst the tall palms whilst all those landed were again gathered together.

The island, for that is what their new home actually was, in reality lay deserted.
At least of human habitation, although a variety of bird life flourished, along with a population of tusker pigs, wombat-like creatures and small, ferocious animals that, to modern eyes would seem a combination of striped cat and dog. In the fresh water streams that washed down from rocky crags where rose the conical peaks of dormant volcanoes, narrow-snouted saurians, resembling crocodiles, lurked; solitary hunters of fish and anything else that came to drink. And there were various monitors, lizards, ocean-going turtles, snakes and monkeys.
Much of this tropical fauna was well known to the newcomers, but there were also beings never before glimpsed; and these strange forms were treated with caution. Eventually, after some days had elapsed, during which the people settled into something of their old routine, Yat decided to explore the wilderness that confronted them; both in the hope of finding survivors from Muk's raft, and in the ever present quest for food.

The encampment of the clan had been established some little distance inland on the banks of a slow stream where they again found comfort in surroundings not too different from their past habitat: and it was from this point that Yat set out. He went in the company of a party of hunters led by Kari, who was now considered second only to Cros amongst the men, and they travelled south-east following the coast.

To Yat's dismay it was only two days later, living off the sea shore and the overhanging forest, that they were forced to turn ever southward without sighting the vanished raft or any of those aboard.

East, lay nothing but open horizon of ocean, and as they further progressed, mangroves, forcing them inland.
After five days, Kari and his men were eager to return, and Yat saw that it was of little use to persuade them otherwise; there would be need of a new Elder Mother.
The Tribe lived upon the island for almost a year, and a half again.
In that time they discovered not only that they were the sole inhabitants, but also the actual limits of their realm. In day measurements the land could be covered end to end in four marches and crossed to the southern-most point in one. This was indeed a small territory and one that would not support their roaming life-style overly long, as Yat, now almost sixteen years of age, eventually concluded.
To remain in their adopted environment, they could only rely upon the sea as a constant source of food, having developed no skills at the domestication of wild animals, which became increasingly difficult to catch.
This was due in part to the overt wariness of the creatures, but also simply because they had been hunted down at an alarming rate in order to feed a people grown to a population exceeding one hundred and twenty.
Not one of who, perhaps with the exception of Yat, had the least idea about animal produce and control.
They found eggs in nests and scrub, and consumed them on the spot, much as they consumed the flesh and fat of mammals, fish and birds, without ever considering the possibility of keeping, breeding, and slaughtering when need arose.
Even Yat, for all his cleverness, could not make the transition required: he had seen birds cooped, but could go no further. Too much was he the captive product of the hunter-gatherer society that reaped the land, stripping it before moving on. The ability to make the change to farmer and grower was beyond his reason and, if he contemplated it at all, far too time consuming.
Food supply was a daily need and could not wait.
And here lay the vast overlap, stretching beyond and before that time, of Man's alteration from pillager to harvester. Some had already begun this new innovation, whilst others remained rooted to the old ways. A further discovery, however, loomed more importantly when Yat and his folk first reached the far side of the island. Before them, across a small neck of water, stood another land mass, close enough for them to make out the waving palms above the shore line.
Encouraged by the sight, Yat and Cros climbed the slopes of a low mountain and there gazed toward the next step; though at that time they did not know it.
What they saw was an island of greater size than their own, and beyond again, further mountain-studded lands that dotted away into the south and east.
And these, the seasons turning before they built again the rafts to carry them forward, Yat looked toward as new hunting grounds.
What was more astonishing was that the waters between the clan's island and the adjacent land were shallow enough to wade across, although they did not realise this until the actual voyage. And in any event, would never have dared to do so for fear of what might lurk even in such clear, waist-depth seas. In this they were indeed wise beyond their understanding; drifts of stinging jelly-fish and other seemingly innocent horrors floated on the surface, or lurked about the bottom, as did the ever present sharks, disturbed in their basking. The Tribe poled across in a single day, landing as the sun sank away in the west, and by the gloom of twilight, again sought for signs of other human habitation.
Finding none, Yat's people settled, and during the months that followed moved camp inland at periods suitable to their needs in the ongoing search for food.
Little had altered in regard to their primitive culture.
The clan, though enlarging, still suffered the rigours of life governed by daily requirements of the hunter-gatherer.
Average age at death was forty to forty-five in those surviving to adult status.
The mortality rate of new-born infants was proportionate to a variety of factors including exposure to extremes of heat and cold, malnutrition, dehydration and the general well-being of The Tribe.
According to ancient law, passed down from Elder group to Elder group, infants could be killed at birth, or soon after, if there was insufficient food to sustain the whole of the people.
This of course was often a matter of opinion and debate, even in times when the situation was far from serious; but The Elders used their power on occasion to reinforce the old ways and the strength of their own position.
Yat however opposed this last bastion of the ancients, arguing forcibly against such swift and unremitting practices, and in so doing, earned the unspoken gratitude of many younger womenfolk.
But there was still disease; strange maladies to afflict the weakest and most vulnerable; the very young and the aged. Sickness was a thing that Yat's people had long ago learned to accept.
They had little understanding of it, and only a harshly won ability to combat the effects of any number of infections, poisons and toxic substances.
Indeed, amongst them was an almost in-built resignation toward the inevitability that followed.
An individual, or individuals, so stricken, would either survive or not survive.
Nothing more than a supply of food and water was provided. The sick were then left alone for a period of days on the outskirts of the camp.
They were not outcast, especially if an Elder, but rather quarantined.
Though when the time arose for the clan to move on, those who could not follow were abandoned.
Again, in these new and difficult circumstances, Yat won silent and often sullen acclaim through his devotion to the stricken.
There were some he could not help, and yet he stayed watching over them until the end: but others he did revive, in one way or another, urging them back to life with little more than trivial concoctions, exhortations, and the slenderest of skills gleaned from past observance.
He lacked almost everything of the physician, whilst gradually gaining the intuitive ability required to absolve an individual of the unconscious death fixation.
In short, he was a forerunner of those, in millenniums to come, who were able to point out, for good or evil, any to do their will by hex, potion, spell and bone-pointing.
Yat was not concerned with this particular branch of the shamanistic tree, if it ever occurred to him, but had instead a genuine desire to aid those in need; by no other means than dance and mime.
Indeed, his influence broadened to a point where a few amongst the clan actually joined with him in a physical as well as psychological sense.
Thus, guided by Yat, they became participants in the rituals, and as these miniature plays developed, roles were acted out. The theme was, in the beginning, always the same; an individual dressed or disguised appropriately would approach the fire burning before the ill person or persons. And for a time the actor would assume all visible symptoms of the patient, moaning, coughing, clutching at his or her head or belly, doubling over in fits of pain, and finally collapsing to roll about upon the ground.
Other performers would follow,
to stare down at the writhing figure.
Then, clearly at a loss, these actors would retire, pulling at their hair and striking chests and thighs, unable to do more than bemoan the inevitable end to come.
Here, Yat would appear, the banteng horns positioned above his head from behind by an accomplice, and in a stilted gait, he would approach until he knelt before the sick and the acting sick.
Then, Yat would take the horns in his own raised hands whilst the one behind would rise up in the guise of an Elder; there to stand motionless whilst the flickering fire bore witness to the final act of Yat's mystical workings.
The actual patient, unless unconscious or too delirious, watched eagerly as the story of their illness unfolded, awaiting the outcome.
Of course Yat healed the supposed victim, and renewed him or her to vigour; and by this pantomime of encouragement and belief, lifted the failing spirit of those convinced that death was upon them.
Death, Yat knew, might come in many forms; not the least to his people through their own making; their own wasting away, the giving up of life when set aside by The Tribe.
The lack of self-worth, the loss of will to the elements about them, the creeping of age and the easy surrender of the young, who needed nothing more than the warmth of their parents were things possible to overcome.
Even the rigours of real disease could be survived, and were, with the aid of their too-many-fingered, rising shaman.
The healing ritual, and the participation of others within it, had begun.
This was another of the ancient mysteries of the human psyche to be enacted and worked and reworked and embellished into the tens of thousands of years to follow. The arts of The Healer, The Riser from the Dead, The Cult Figurehead, The Saviour, The Godhead of diverse communities and religions; all these flowed backward to their origins in the primal mind of remote individuals at the dawning of Man's early thinking and perceptions.
In the most fundamental ways, superstition, awe, reverence and the belief in those one step below divinity and one step above the masses, was fermenting in the pot-boiling of the primitive imagination.
Within a closed society such as Yat's, the early stirring of the priesthood began its slow, evolutionary rise toward a dim and murky surface.
Yat was neither guilty, or not guilty of this beginning.
Yat was only Yat.
And if it was not to be him amongst his clan then another would have eventually emerged, perhaps long after, to claim the place awaiting.
At different times, and at different levels of sophistication, the order of individual collectives; family groups, clans, tribes, and finally peoples of country and even nation, were gradually evolving social strata; warrior leaders becoming chiefs, princes, kings or queens and, beneath them, bands of weapon bearing followers who were later to become the mercenary armies of future monarchs.
Under the rule of such leaders, the passive labourers were herded into possession as peasant stock.
But it was those attaining power through force, in one way or another, who advanced to the position of potentate and despot; whilst others, closest to them, began to form an aristocracy.
Or to branch out into an enlarging, superstition-based, arm that was to sweep along through the centuries, gathering momentum over all the aforementioned, until hailed as the flock-shepherds of countless, diverse religions.
Yet even in Man 's Primeval situation the desire to be protected by the strong, captained by the acclaimed, governed by the powerful, and guided through the morass of growing fears, imaginings, dreams and echoes of a long lost past that engendered myth and superstition, was ever enlarging.
On the whole, the primary generators and nurturers of Man's tenuous grip upon life were far too occupied with their task, and it was left to the quick, the bold, the cunning, the ruthless and aggressive to seize any advantage that might elevate them above the masses.
So, had Yat in a very small way, developed.
And without knowing it, he had hit upon an area untapped amongst his people.
In truth, they had known leaders for generations, and their Elders had been venerated beyond memory.
But there had never been a Yat.
He, to the clan, had become as mystical as the fire of his name; and though they could not recall a human of like kind, conversely they began to see and feel, that he had been with them as long as fire.
Some indeed thought of him as a product of it; born out of the countless flames of countless fires stretching back into the dreamings of countless, shadowy nights.
The youngest came to this concept without question, and they in turn, passed it on to the newly born; Yat was Fire, Fire was Yat.

Yat, however, was as human as any of his kind at the time; especially when his gaze fell upon Cun, a girl of equal years to his own.
She came from the people of Cros, from a family killed off before the union of the two tribes, and she remained, as did several others, under his direct protection.
She was slender, dark-skinned, lithe, small-breasted, sly of smile, wide of whites about the eyes, and long of leg and jet black hair, which tended to tangle into knots that Yat began to yearn to unravel.
He desired her, in the end, to the point of bursting: but held himself in check.
He was perplexed.
How could he, the Yat of the clan, take a woman to himself without becoming something less in the view of those he had striven so hard to impress?
Anyway, was she attainable?
Cun was bonded to Cros; an adopted daughter beneath his hand, and even with his permission, it would be a shameful loss of face if she hinted at reluctance; shrinking from the too-many-fingered embrace of The Tribe Shaman. For once in his life Yat found himself lacking the courage to force the issue by sheer audacity.
In his most secret thoughts he coveted Cun, but he was unwilling to lose his hard-fought identity; the infallibility of Yat the Fire-Shaman.
And, of course in his chosen image, there was no one he could turn to.
He guessed, to his dismay, that the only way she and he might be united, was of her own free will; and in his confused condition there appeared little chance of attracting her interest.
So he withheld his attentions, relieving himself of sexual frustration in hiding; strange, fleeting images of the mating act flashing before his dazed mind as his fingers fumbled with his manhood.
Masturbation was not a taboo of the clan, as with some other contemporary peoples, nor was it looked upon as an aberration that would, one day in the far-off future, become a positive revulsion to the limiting, righteous powers, of whom Yat himself was a prototype.
Rather, it was considered something of a minor weakness, slyly ignored by most, especially those who practiced it; hunters, alone at moments, day marches from their women. Women through the long nights of fear whilst their menfolk were away, old people after the death of their partners, with no hope of new ones, children and adolescents openly discovering their own bodies.
It was, as it always was and is, a consolation and a release of the triggers of sexual expression that would otherwise have driven humanity into deep depression, violence, or the total sublimation of physical needs, to the overriding of the mind and the consequential, basic erosion of fecundity.
These factors however, were to be exploited by the few upon the many in societies to follow. Yat simply did what was beneficial for his own well-being, and also to temporarily release him from the torment of a primal urge to couple with another human being of his particular choice; though he was well aware of the necessity for secrecy. The vague formations, in his mind, of the standing, perhaps even the ideal, of tribal Shaman could not be soiled by the all too human instincts of the flesh.
And so, whilst he continued the practice in hiding, he found himself torn between conflicting feelings that disturbed him in minute detail. Why was the everyday sexual act between two people accepted, beneath the skins of animals, amongst the many, when the lone pursuit of physical gratification brought strange after-stirrings of something akin to guilt?
Was he the only one?
He tried to image others of The Tribe: Cros, Tahi, Tharta One-eye, the old, the little ones, his own sister Ban; and the blush of what might have been called embarrassment swept over him. And yet he was impelled before, and equally repulsed, after each clandestine meeting with his own innermost, driven need.
His body urges, against the growing semblance of conscious awareness; and all cost placed at the hidden reaches of unknown, unexplored territory that was the human mind in formation.
Food-hand, or faecal hand?
Was masturbation clean, or unclean?
Cun had no such inhibitions.
She enjoyed her body without the restraints of any regime; taboo, moral, conscience or innocence.
But she also felt the aloneness of an orphan, and yearned for the stimulation of another: someone who might seed her to childbirth, and the warmth of that union.
And though Yat knew it not, Cun had decided that he was to be hers.
She had noticed his stares and the swiftness of his averted eyes, the way he would awkwardly avoid her in the presence of others, and his only vulnerable moments whilst he fondled and played with his baby sister, when he thought none were watching.
In those brief interludes of affection, Cun observed what few others, apart from Tahi and Cros, saw; and that was Yat's simple, honest humanity.
Beneath all the fabric woven about him, woven in part by himself, and embroidered upon, for the most, by the clan, she gleaned the actual Yat. Defensive, shy, capable of tenderness, and aggression at need, cautious by nature, yet daring enough to stand against The Elders over matters that no one else might even consider.
Cun began to realise the truth.
Certainly, Yat had achieved much: his strangeness and unusual abilities had altered the way of their people, and his influence could very well carry them on to greater change; but he was no more than any other.
The Fire-Yat, the Shaman of The Tribe, was merely another being like them, fighting for existence; though perhaps further, for some kind of meaning.
And Cun, in her studied observations, came to the conclusion that she was what he required. Someone to wrap about himself, to fill the empty places that kept him on guard, his back against an imagery of stone that might as well have been the void of air upon the edge of cliffs.
She guessed, with some accuracy, at his weaknesses and his strengths, and determined to risk herself as his woman.
Of course the reasoning that Cun applied was not as logical as that: much could be founded on intuition and cunning, wiles and wilful ambition, for in Yat she most assuredly calculated her own prospects, and she had long prepared for such commitment, no matter the fate that awaited.
Amongst the other eligible young women of The Tribe there seemed to be an unspoken agreement in regard to Yat; to begin with, none foresaw the possibilities of the future and the lot of any who attained his affection.
Secondly, most went in awe of him; far too timid of his dual roles and the cloak of mysticism surrounding and enlarging about him.
Thirdly, in her subtle and not so subtle ways, Cun had signalled her intentions to the other females, though never a hint of this reached Yat's ears, or indeed any of the males, young or old. Tahi, alone, pointed out the girl's scheming to Cros, and from then on both observed with a mixture of faint humour and mild concern. After all Yat was Tahi's son and Cun the adopted daughter of Cros, and a union was an important step, an interlocking of what might become the foundation of tribal dynasty.
Here, set before them, lay the very early stages of royal order amongst their own clan: the convergence of two previously separate peoples. Intermarriage of the leader of one with the newly accepted Elder Woman of the other, the birth of a child to them, and the possibility of the bonding of their respective son and daughter; and, in the not too distant future, a new child or children to follow.
In fact, without their knowledge, The Elders and the Warrior Leaders were on the verge of becoming absorbed into a greater structure. Moving from the realm of individual males, the protectors and providers, through the heights of both male and female Elders as the respected receptacles of all past and present wisdom and lore, on to the fusion of they and the Warrior Leaders toward kingship and birth-inherited rank. In this way, in many advancing societies, the aged and the wise were pushed aside or assumed their place as advisers to the lordly. Whilst the cults of the witch-doctors, shamans, and eventually the priests and priestesses, took over the spiritual awareness and teachings, and manipulations of the masses; enlarging their hold in the scheme of things.
This possible sequence of events stretched into the dim future, without certainty, for there were many alternatives and unexpected developments to be encountered along the way. Few were the standards, and fewer the models to imitate, and scant were the rules and laws by which to govern whatever was to come.
Evolution, fast or slow, environmental conditions and pure chance were mostly all that could be of influence in this sense; and yet the merest whim of a single individual, at the right time, in the right place, still held the power to alter tempo.
Cun's intimate desires were a part of such key, and it was of little concern to her that a coupling between she and a man, as Yat by age was now considered, should be of much consequence other than the gaining of status in the view of The Tribe. As to Yat's physical being, Cun had long since ceased to notice. She saw what she wanted to see; the image of the figure of the night and of the flames, banteng horns crowning his brow, narrowed eyes like deeper slits of darkness, power surging from the fire and seeping out to reach the watchers, there to envelop them. And she saw a further shadowy figure at his back, and it was herself; and she was satisfied.

The earth welcomed them as the moon swirled away into the clouds, and the freshness of the moisture on the leaves and in the soil rose to meet their flared nostrils. Later, Yat's recall of that night lingered like a pleasurable dream, from which he did not wish to awake.
The encounter happened without the least expectation upon his part, and so remained the more vivid in his mind.
She had come to him, sought him, after the others had settled, and spurning even the simplest of greetings, lain with him and embraced him.
At first he was shocked almost to the point of panic; immobility seemed to take hold of his entire being, and a feeling of overwhelming disbelief gripped him, as if he might have been a third person watching, somewhere off in the shadows.
Then the warmth and texture of her body against his melted the racing imagery of anxiety and isolation, and he began to respond.
Cun's hair, lank and dry as it really was in his mouth, seemed to Yat like the rippling grasses of the open plains of long ago. Her breath upon his naked form, like that of the wind gently sighing across the lands of all his life. Her skin imbuing his with vitality and eager excitement.
For the first time, Yat allowed himself to be drawn open by another human being: neither his living mother, or his dead father, nor any other, had ever charged him with such unfaltering, compelling desire, such insistence upon the wells of his passion and primal urge.
It was as if a binding cord had been snapped, releasing him, and another, gently, urgently, hung about him, ensnaring him by way of his own absolute willingness.

Yat was Fire, and Fire was Yat.
But what then was Cun?

Chapter 11 to follow
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