The Fire of the Gods
March 23, 2012
This week's challenge from Terrible Minds was to write from a title, "The Fire of the Gods". I had a cold this week, and ROW80 had ended, but decided to try to pull something together anyways this morning. I played around with some ideas about different kinds of fire, and gods, and culture clashes as mankind explores. So here we go - not as polished as I'd like - but was fun to write:
The Fire of the Gods
It started with thunder, and a pin-point of light in the cloudless sky. The children ran to tell Boas, who frowned, then nodded.
"It is the great silver bird," he said, "coming down again from the stars, flying on the fire of the gods. Quick, run and tell the warriors, we must go and greet our visitors. And tell your mothers to be ready to flee, in case the gods' fire burns our forests again."
The rain forests of his world were always dripping with water, green and mossy underfoot, vines and tall trees blocking out the sun. But they could still could burn for months once started on fire - slowly, mostly underground, but unstoppable by anything other than a river or a lake. As had happened last time the gods had visited his people.
By the time Boas reached the clearing, the great bird had stopped roaring and spitting fire. It had landed in the same place as before, clear of large trees still, as was a long swath stretching towards the lake. The gods were standing outside, waiting beside a pile of boxes.
Last time they had come from the belly of the bird in shiny silver suits, with their heads inside of clear balls. They had stood and talked from their chests, but his people could not understand them. Eventually the gods had climbed from the suits, like something from a cocoon. He had waited for them to spread wings and take to the air but they had just waved their arms and talked more. At least the words had been coming from their mouths. While his warriors held bows at the ready, he had advanced to meet the gods. They had brought many gifts for his people - beads, sharp knives, bright long strips of cloth. The visitors had no weapons, and seemed friendly, so they were brought to the village and a feast prepared to welcome them. The gods smiled and bowed, pointing little boxes at everything, and everyone, talking continuously, chattering to each other and into the little boxes. After dinner, one of them, who called herself Bara, brought out another box, which she started touching to the bare arms of his people. When she came to his sons, sitting behind him, she seemed very sad after touching them. She must have been a medicine man, to know what he already had been told - his sons were both dying. She ran back to her friends, and after much talk she came back and touched his sons again with the box. This time both boys jumped, as if stung by a little bee.He looked and saw only a little red mark, but the warriors were suspicious and all raised their bows, until the strange gods went back to their bird.
They came back the next morning to the village, handing out more gifts. By that afternoon his first son seemed better, but the youngest - his Bayna - was sweating and crying out, his stomach hard and swollen. His arm was red, where he had been bitten, so Hunna, their medicine man, cut the skin to release the spirits. The woman was upset, but the other gods held her back.
The next day Bayna was dead. Boas talked with Hunna, and the warriors - they agreed that it had been a witch that had entered his son to eat him from within. They had all seen this before. And they agreed that it must have been hiding inside the woman, the one that had stung him with her little box. He grieved for his son, but was glad that they had found the evil spirit before it could make the woman kill again.
By now, the strangers had started to explore the forest too, so his people waited until this Bara was on her own, then shot her. Boas was given the honour of slitting the witch's throat, and supervising the preparations. Her peculiar coverings, and well as her jewelry and the little box, were all removed and burned immediately in a fire. Her body was divided among the clans leaders, they in turn passed their portions to the women to prepare for that night's feast. Only in this way could the witch be prevented from returning.
He had gone to invite the strange gods to the feast, and explain what he had done for them, but they were in their suits again, and waved him away angrily. For a day and a night his people had seen the gods in the forest, calling out in loud voices to each other as they stumbled over the undergrowth. The next day the gods loaded everything into the stomach of their bird, climbed in themselves, and rose high in the sky on their fire.
And now they were back.
This time they had on different suits, thick skinned like an insect. One of them carried a box in both hands, which he talked into. When the box started to speak to Boas in his own language, the warriors started to yell and raise their bows, but Boas urged them to wait.
"Greetings to the forest people," it said. "We are your friends. We come in peace. We were here before, and lost one of our own people. We want to ask you about Barbara, and will take news of her back to our home in Sydney. Speak to us and our box will tell us what your words are."
Boas stepped forward, eager to tell the gods how his people had saved them from the witch in their midst.
I came across a Smithsonian.com story about a visit to to the Korowai - a New Guinea tribe. This was my inspiration. Also, my intent was to have the reader think this was a native culture on a different planet, not right here on Earth.
And this is how wars and the oppression of native cultures happens.... Of course, the truth is that the woman Barbara should have never tried giving the children shots until she was sure the natives actually knew and understood her words fully (and in their terms... she should have spoken in terms of spirits and demons, even if she did not believe in them and could only speak in the sense of "like a demon" or "like a spirit").
Good piece. Sad only because it is so very real.
Posted by: Eden Mabee | March 23, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Thanks Eden. She did have to convince the others to let them try it. I could tweak that, although her sadness does imply she wanted to help. She wanted to save two lives, had a language barrier, went ahead and lost hers, and subsequently perhaps much more. We have criticized well meaning explorers for the damage they inflicted on early cultures, but will repeat the same ourselves. Especially as our governments reflect less the ideals and values of the people, but those of lobby groups and corporations.
You know - now that the cold medication has worn off - I see what I was trying to say in this piece ;-)
Posted by: Ravens | March 23, 2012 at 11:00 PM