We had already been turned back at a police roadblock but finally managed to sneak into Pondoland in South Africa, hidden under the back seat of the only bus on the road. Pondoland, a tiny chiefdom tucked into the montains of Transkei, was off limits to white folk back in the 80’s. You had to keep your head down as you crossed the invisible cracks of Apartheid.
My friend and I knew it was an unwritten custom that we should announce our presence immediatly we arrived at our remote destination and ask permission to be there from the paramount chief. So we found his house, which was made of actual clay bricks and knocked on the door.
It turned out the chief wasn’t at home but his wives were very welcoming, saying we should stay until he arrived. We were shown immediatly to a room and bought refreshment.
Three days later he arrived, very pleased we were following the protocol of the land by waiting for him and asking for his blessing.
There was to be a meeting of all the chiefs the next day and we were invited, introduced, showing how our sleeping bags worked and what we had in our packs. It was all very enlivening.
The paramount chief then gave us horses to travel wherever we wished and his nephew as a guide for a week of trekking through the mountains of Pondo where we were expected and welcomed in every village.
And what I noticed about the people that I met was that they all had a serene, quiet confidence. And why should they not? They may have been poor as church mice but each person was cared for by the chief whom you could go and see when you needed to and discuss stuff.
How brilliant is that! We idealise our political system as an adjunct to the ‘evolution of consciousness’ myth, in so far as both stories have, as their central character, how wonderful we are. And yet we have a fraction of the voice that a Pondo has, despite his ‘lack’ of constitutional rights or codified freedoms.
I hear it argued a lot that the loss of such containing social structures and the ungrounded hurley burley of western life is ‘the price we pay’ for the individuation process.
There are apparently meagre examples of individuation in indigenous culture.
Its the same prejudice that says individuation only really began in our time.
I met a medicine man, clanking with shells and beads. He threw a gourd of knuckle bones and told me of two women who would have to share me…. so quaint, until I had the perspective of twenty years hindsight to witness my two muses arm wrestling one another on a regular basis to see if I would be in my studio or at my desk that day.
The figure who embodies the individuation process in primitive culture is the shaman.. And anyone can be called to this role by the spirits. So, even though you may be an ordinary peasant that door may open and your individuation may begin at any time.
Lama Govinder tells the story of a taxi driver he caught a ride with who’d had a vision one day that he should go and shamanise at Lhasa, so he went and told the monks what had happened and he was duly instated, without a clue as to what was required of him. The spirits would know. And so everyone was quite calm about what would in fact be an extremely chaotic series of events. And then back to his cab driving till next time…
African culture is the same. The ancestors can call on you at any time. You may have to wander off on your own for a while. Aboriginals, too, have their ‘walkabout’, and the encounter with dreamtime.
As a society we don’t have that. And yet we feel that we are so much more spiritually sophisticated. Enough to want to take their stupid ancestors angrily away from them.
When Jung asked a headman in Kenya if he dreamed, the headman replied, ‘we used to, now the district commissioner dreams for us.”
We gonna take your everyfing…
Its a shame C.J. didn’t take that into more consideration when he bewailed their lack of concentration at the palaver.
and then you gonna talk nice….
Kings are very different from chiefs and medicine men…
The archetype of the king is way more distant and power based than the archetype of the healer and, in my view, a less convincing candidate for a model of evolving consciousness. You can’t become the king. And the projection of the inner ‘nobleman’ sticks to him like glue because of his remoteness. so the most you’ll ever be is not-king…
he will have your dreams for you. Walk down that red carpet of bling on your behalf. Die for your sin.
And the camera’s can click..
and the limo can run like silk,
and your piety can be everso great,
but for as long as the dark brother is reviled…
you will never be called..
and the ancestors will not be fed.