“In all that we call ‘history’ – everything we clearly remember about ourselves as a species – humanity has not once come close to total annihilation. In various regions at various times there have been terrible natural disasters. But there has not been a single occasion in the past 5000 years when mankind as a whole can be said to have faced extinction.” – ( Fingerprints of the Gods: A Quest for the Beginning and the End, Graham Hancock, 1995)
Recently I watched a film called Downsizing* wherein the main story is about some people being, well – downsided or made smaller in order to preserve the life on Earth. The Norwegian scientist who discovers this remarkable idea becomes instantaneously famous and a number of communes for the smaller people are established around the world. The ecological conservation theme becomes quickly revealed as a sham as the same structural flaws of the real world begin to manifest in the small peoples world. Class divisions between the rich and poor, ambitious megalomaniacs and political abuses persevere in the world of the small people – soon the leading character realises that even though the scientists have all agreed that the world is doomed to end soon, none of their brilliant plans can stop this from occurring. The classic story of Noah’s ark is once again repeated. I remember telling my wife that the biblical story as ancient as it sounds, is not actually the only story featuring a few survivors of global destruction. In almost all the stories and myths, it is humanity’s actions which lead the Earth towards self-annihilation. Even in this time where most of us are quarantined or under house-arrest in order to save ourselves and other peoples lives from being ‘contaminated’ by an invincible virus, it is emerging that the deadly strain of the virus is actually man-made, or else just being used as a scapegoat by world-powers to continue their self-destructive competitive economic wars. It is also not far-fetched to deduce that real world war could ensue from this global state of siege. Just like in the film, there will be a few people who will try to preserve their own lives by building new homes underground as well as even fewer who will attempt to live in space stations, on the Moon or even other planets. After allowing this world to be destroyed by our own greed, we shall pursue the foolish experiments of creating our own Earth, devoid of the presence of the Creator.
The story-line in this Downsized movie reminded me of another mythological tale. One told by the Karanga people who are part of the now Shona peoples of Zimbabwe. Under the title Cycle of Life and Death, subtitled: Why the people have kugadzira, Herbert Aschwanden recreates the story this way ( this is a summary):
“When Mwari/Musikavanhu (God) made man, and the world was peaceful ( pasichigare), he said: “There will be no death if you do as I tell you. You will always be happy and earth will give you what you desire. But none of you, whether man, animal, water or earth, shall ever overstep the boundaries of their power without being punished severely.” One day man asked Mother Earth: “How did God create you?” Earth replied: “I was made from water, fire and stones.” The man said: “Do you not think too that I could create another world?” Earth warned: “Have you not forgotten God’s rule that you must not overstep the boundaries of your power?”
But man said: “If I succeed in building another earth I can leave you and live on my own earth.” – And man started to build a tower ( shongwe) in order to get away from the earth. he thought to himself: ‘If I climb higher and higher, by means of the tower, I will one day break off with part of the tower, and together with that I shall be an earth too.”
God saw that man was becoming proud. He sent his voice from the Matopos, which cursed man. It said: ‘ Now you must die, but you have to give back my breath.” Turning to Earth the voice said: “You will not, from now on, let grow what has grown hitherto. Man must be punished, for he has become proud. – And you, animals, you turn against man and no longer obey him.”
Earth objected: “How can you separate me from my friend?” God loved Earth and, therefore, he ordered: “Every man who dies must return to you. Never let his bones lie about. They must return whence I once took them. But in due course you must give me back my breath – the bones of the animals, however, they may lie around on your surface.”
When man heard that he called his children and told them: “Whoever falls asleep ( dies) shall be returned to Mother Earth. That is the place man comes from – But remember to give back God’s breath (femo raMwari /Umphefumulo kaMdali) to God himself.”
That is why man is always buried in the ground when he has died. Even if a man has been eaten by a lion, one tries to kill and bury the animal because it has the man inside.” The whole kugadzira/ukubuyiswa ceremony (it really begins with death) rests on one idea, viz that man continues to exist because of the soul-principle or ‘Breath of God”. – (Karanga Mythology: An Analysis of the Consciousness of the Karanga in Zimbabwe, by Herbert Aschwanden, 1989)
Choosing the title of this essay was rather easy, firstly I had one of my favorite Hip Hop Artists, Mos Def in mind. In two of his albums ( True Magic and The Ecstatic), he mentions the name Preservation a couple of times. At the time I had not known that the name referred to one of the main producers and DJ’s in the albums. I was merely drawn to the word because I had been working as a Resource Centre manager at a Community Arts Centre in Durban/Kwa-Zulu Natal. My office served as a multidisciplinary resource space, library, organisational training center, poetry hub and the erstwhile office for the Institute of Afrikology. The main character of the office was as a place where knowledge, heritage and artistic works are preserved or archived. Among the key subjects that would be discussed and debated heavily in this space was that of Afrikan peoples agency in the telling and documentation of our histories. With the themes of history there had to be included perspectives from various religions, traditions as well as sciences. Since I had been an avid book collector, there was literally a book for every subject. We would talk and then refer to a particular text from the library or else go onto the internet to verify our arguments.
Out of these many years of conversations, there emerged many characters ranging from Rastafarians, Afrikan Hebrew Israelites, Traditionalists of all forms from Sangoma’s to AmaNazaretha, Hare Krishna’s, Brahma Kumari’s, Jehova’s Witnesses, Scientologists to academics and cosmologists. Each character had a distinctive opinion or story to tell regarding the topics of how and why the world was created as well as what would be the signs that the world was nearing its end, and if it was bound to end, what could be preserved.
Disclaimer/Note,From the quoted textbook:
“The immense cultural wealth evident from Shona proverbs collected by H. Hamutyinei and A. Plangger ( Tsumo-Shumo, Shona Proverbial Lore and Wisdom. Gwelo, 1974) finds extension in Karanga mythology. Even though the present collection presents only a very modest section of this mythology, I see its value especially in the interpretation given exclusively by the old Karanga. There are no analyses – neither of a psychoanalytical nor structuralist nature which could ever reach the depth and truth of the African interpretations.“