The Human Hand

Amy's Story: The Human Hand

The Human Hand

It was just before dusk in the rain forest in the Salonga National Park. The weather was warm and wet as the colony of bonobos went about their evening rituals as the tribe returned from their daylight haunts to sleep together.

A small group had gathered as they expected the return of a daughter. She had a wandering spirit and had headed north some time ago.
To quell their excitement at her imminent return the group were engaged in sexual activities, behaviour typically in the peace loving bonobo society.

Soon there was disturbance in the bush and the daughter appeared. Her mother called out to her, “eeek eeek oooo ooooo.”

For the sake of this narrative at this point I will impose two things on the story. The first is a will translate the bonobos language into English, which is a difficult task and not to be viewed as too literal a translation. The second is I will give them human names. Firstly to make them easily distinguishable and secondly because ape names are notoriously hard to spell.

“Luyando, my daughter, you’ve returned.”

The females embraced and it was then that Makemba, the mother, noticed that Luyando had not returned with empty paws. The object she carried startled the mother and she recoiled from the embrace.

“What is that you have brought into our home? Tell me it is not what it appears”

The pitch of her shrieks brought a small crowd to gather around them.

“Yes, mother it is,” exclaimed Luyando. And with this she threw down her burden in front of the group. All the bonobos gasped as they recognised a human hand, severed at the wrist and dried like a date. The skin like wrinkled leather and the nails black and broken. “And it comes with a strange story attached but please let me rest before I share it with you.”

Such a strange occurance in very unusual in the peaceful society of the bonobos, so by the time Luyando had rested quite a number or the tribe had gathered to hear her tale.

She explained that on her travels she had encountered a grey-cheeked mangabey that was in a terrible state. He had been the one who had given her the hand. The monkey as well as being in terrible state was quite hard to understand, having a strong accent but Luyando had managed to piece the story together. The mangabey had got the hand in West Africa. He insisted it was cursed and had been given evil powers by a Bokor, a vodou sorcerer who wished to show that Nana Buluku’s natural order for us all must not be tampered with. He explained that each of the fingers on the hand held three wishes for separate men. The mangabey had witnessed the death of one man who had wished his final wish for peace. The monkey had been greatly affected by this and so had stolen the hand away. Now he was distraught and did not know what to do with this terrible thing. Luyando had been intrigued and when the monkey pressed her to take charge of the hand, she agreed to. She had brought it back to her tribe so that the elders could decide what should be done.

While she had been speaking the younger apes had been peering closely at the hand. At this natural break in Luyando’s speech her small brother Lamia piped up. “ Look! Look! One of the nails is not wrinkled and black, maybe the last and smallest digit still holds 3 wishes!”

This caused a great deal or murmuring in the crowd. Makemba rose up onto her rear legs to address the congregation. Makemba was one of the most respected females in this matriarchal society so immediately quiet was resumed.

“No good can come from dabbling in the affairs of men,” she announced, “I propose we bury this horrible thing and talk no more about it.”

There was a general murmur of consent at this but then another bonobo piped up, “Could we not wish to find more food, for the discovery of mbungu trees? For plenitude in these hard times?”

“Maybe we can use the wishes for good,” an elderly male spoke, ”Who can say if this magic can work for us but man has done us great harm in the past with their wars and their hunger for our meat. Surely we should use the wishes to rid ourselves of them.”

Quite a commotion was caused by this comment. And a female retorted, “Already this hand is bringing about wickedness, are we going to lower ourselves to the level of man by wishing for destruction of living things?”

And so the discussion went on until night had fully enveloped them and only their glittering eyes could be seen in the starlight.

As you can imagine, the thought of such power in their grasp was too much for this society of primates to bear and at the end of the intense debate a consensus had been reached. Makemba’s wise words were well and truly forgotten and she sat quiet and sullen as Marien, a large and old male lifted up the hand to make the first wish.

I think you will be surprised at the decision they had made and it may not been immediately apparent why they started on this path. Mankind had long been a problem for the bonobos and once they discounted ridding themselves of man they had looked to other ways to counteract this threat. By a strange twist of reason it had been agreed that if bonobos became human then they could attempt to reconcile the dreadful behaviour of man, and cease the attacks on their kind.

Marien held the disembodied hand aloft in the thick blackness and rumbled in his deep voice “We wish for bonobos to become human”. The crowd of apes fell completely silent while many moments passed. After some time they began stirring and then twittering, the sounds of the bonobo’s laugh. Nothing had happened and all those gathered suddenly felt the ridiculous of the situation.

Makemba stirred herself.

“Well, I hope nothing does come of that.” She said as she swung herself into her usual sleeping place. All the rest of the bonobos followed her lead and after the last of the giggling chattering died down the only noises left in the forest were those of slumber and nightwalkers.

As dawn brightened the rainforest and the bonobos were thrust into wakefulness, they discovered they had not avoided the curse. For anyone watching the change would have been impossible to perceive, but the bonobos felt it as son as they returned to consciousness. They woke to find themselves embarrassed by the way their bodies were exposed. The usual morning greetings of friendly sexual play did not take place. Suddenly everything their society thrived on seemed wrong and dirty. The animals were in deep disarray. In bonobo society conflict and fear are dealt with through sex. Now the chimps looked at each other with confusion and anger.

Luyando howled at what she had brought upon her tribe and cried out in pain. Slowly they began to talk in low tones about this new world they found themselves in.

Makemba at last addressed the gathering, “There is no point in dwelling on what we have brought upon ourselves.” She cried, “ We must find away to solve it.”

At this everyone spoke at once and the discussion was as long and deep as it had been the following night.

You see, the bonobos were not yet ready to concede that the hand would only do them harm. It was concluded that their wish hadn’t been understood, that it needed refining. Despite Makemba’s efforts her pleas fell on death ears. Once more Marien held the hideous hand aloft. “We wish to be the dominant species,” he called out.

And so the bonobos spent the most unpleasant day of their lives so far. They didn’t leave the clearing to take their usual daylight ground. They stayed as a group while trying to remain alone and waited for night to fall. After what seemed like a lifetime darkness began to creep over the miserable beasts. Soon, once more the tribe were at rest.

As I’m sure you may well be expecting the bonobos did not awake to find things had been resolved.
Again the difference would have been unperceivable to an observer, but now when they awoke they felt the swell of superiority. They felt their dominance and power. Suddenly they had an outlet for the shame that still gripped them.

The bonobos were much more eager to talk this morning, to discuss what to do with their newly acquired superiority. Much talk was on how to move forward, how to embrace this progress. Eventually talk turned to the fact they had been forced into an uncomfortable and unfruitful territory. This had occurred a long time ago, when a colony of chimpanzees had waged war on them. The bonobos had been a peaceful tribe back then but suddenly they felt this injustice and were intent on putting it right. Soon the cry went up to take on the chimpanzees that lived in this much converted territory just over the river. These chimpanzee had long defended their territory and, being of a much more aggressive nature, had kept the bonobo at bay.

The group were shrieking in excitement when suddenly Makemba stood erect in the centre of the group, holding the gruesome hand aloft.

“Enough,” she shrieked. “We wish to go back to how we were before any of these strange ideas were in our heads.”

The mob swelled at this utterance. Angered to have had their plans disrupted and the decisions they had made discounted, they moved towards the female.

Alas Makemba never got to see night fall and witness her bonobo tribe awaking on this third day to confront their actions. If only her wish could have been granted sooner, the tragedy of Makemba could have been avoided.

On the third day the bonobos awoke and realised that although so little had happened they had been changed for ever and Nana Buluku’s natural order could never be completely restored.

1 comment:

Julia Tester said...

Hi Amy, Finally got your comment and was grateful. I had passed a copy to an old friend who knows my history and did not think it really worked, so your comment was really helpful. I`m going up to Hull next week, early May and fully intend to walk round the grounds of the hospital. Julia