other bits of blog

Saturday, November 27, 2010

the reality of cavemen

UPDATE: [The actual post is below.] Sorry...I guess I can't make any promises about posting regularly. I think I got into the habit of not doing a lot of posting over the summer, and now I don't do a lot of posting, even though it's basically winter. Well, again, sorry, because this blog is definitely getting kind of boring without any new posts, so...I think we need a new one!
What do you know about "cavemen"? Well, I can tell you that they don't exist. Seriously, cavemen are figments of humanoid imagination. But at least they are based on something: Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergenisis, Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, us, Homo sapiens, and many more (although Homo sapiens is currently the only human species). You're probably thinking, why is she talking about early humans? The answer is that, in my school, we studied them. But when I studied Homo habilis for a school project, I took the studying a couple of steps further...But first, you need to learn a little bit about the life of Homo habilis, and how they set the stage for our lives today. and then I can show you my couple of steps furthers.

Homo habilis was the first to invent tools, so they used primitive technology (see next paragraph for more). They did not hunt, but scavenged abandoned carcasses for meat, and gethered wild plants. This meant that Homo habilis was not at the top of the food chain. In fact, they were a staple in the diet of some animals. Homo habilis didn't have good shelter either, and rain or wind could blow their unstable "huts" down. But Homo habilis did not need to solve the problems we face today. They could look up into a perfectly clear sky and think, I am not worried, but utterly happy every night--as long as they had enough food. This would be what the reality, the life, of Homo habilis was like.
Homo habilis needed tools to cut roots, plants, and grasses, to scavenge for meat, and more. So they invented primitive stone tools made by pounding two stones together and breaking off bits of sharp flint. This flint, as well was the sharpened stone, was used for tools. The method of creating tools was called flint knapping, and today those primitive stone tools are called Oldowan tools. Homo habilis also made the first buildings, small, unstable huts made of branches that were kept in place by stones. These two giants steps forward set the stage of where our lives are today, and led us on the path to civilization. All we needed was a little bit of technology. We still use technology and we still live in buildings, all because of Homo habilis, handy human.
Now that you know about Homo habilis, you're ready for the further steps...
Step #1: The story of Melune. Melune is a story about a girl who was supposed to be a Homo heidelbergenisis, but is a little too advanced for that, so I like to think of her as a Cro-Magnon who lives in a Homo heidelbergenisis village. It was originally a school assignment, to write a short story, but I think, as mine is four pages, I took at least a few steps forward there.

The Story of a Girl, a Hunt, and a People

I pace the dirt floor of the small hut. It is hot and the air smells sweet and damp, because it is summer, and I should be happy. But today is the day Manit goes on his hunt. His first hunt. Alone. And I can’t feel happy. My mouth is turned down and my eyes are sad as questions keep tumbling around in my mind. What if he can’t even kill a deer? What if he is killed himself? Will he earn his right to be a man?
Manit, my older brother, is going on his first hunt today. This will not truly be his first hunt, but this time he goes alone, and he must kill a full-grown deer, at least. If he fails to do this he will never be a man. If he fails to do this, he and my family, and me, will live in shame. And I am so afraid for Manit. How can he survive this? That is a question I do not wish to think about.

But I do not have to think about it, as I must keep busy. No woman, not even on her brother’s first hunt, is allowed to sit idle. All work here, all the time. Sometimes, I am so frustrated with it, that I want to run away and hunt my own deer and make my own fire. But I cannot. This is my life, and all we do is work, work, work.

So, I work. First, I pick up my crudely woven basket by the door of the hut that I share with my and five other families, and then I walk out the door. Today, I will gather herbs and fruits and nuts. I might even find quail eggs, but I will leave the fishing to the other women. I hate the texture of the dead, scaly thing. Still, we will feast tonight. If Manit makes it out alive, I think. But I can’t wonder about that now.

Stepping out of the damp hut into the sunshine, I have to blink a moment. My home is much darker than the world outside. I catch my bearings and start walking in the direction of the river, which not very far. Along the way, I bend and pick flowers and dandelion leaves. When I reach the edge of the river, I head to a small bush that I know to be full of red, sweet berries. All this I place in different corners of my basket, so as not to mix them. As I leave the thicket, I realize that my dark, somewhat hairy hands are stained red from the juice. But what does that matter? Still, I run to the river and wash them.
The day is gorgeous, with some clouds in the blue sky, so it is not too hot, and the lush green grass teeming with life and food. It is my favorite season: summer.
I dangle my bare feet in the cool water and lean back on the soft moss, basking in the sunlight. Puffy white clouds sit in the light blue sky above me. I make out the shape of a buffalo, and my heart wrenches. I think again and again of Manit and the hunt.
That brings me into a sitting position and I remember that I should be honoring Manit, and helping prepare the celebration. I slowly and sullenly pull my feet out of the water. I do not understand why I am so sad. I should be happy for Manit. He will be a man. And I will not, that rebellious part of my brain thinks. Of course I do not want to be male, but I do want to prove that women can be as much of a part of the tribe as men can. But I cannot. The responsibility of hunting and running the tribe falls to the men. I must be content with being the backbone of my people, and caring for them. I am not, though. I am not.

This thought creeps into my mind along with my fears for Manit as I search for quail eggs, almonds, figs, and more herbs. Finally, I am finished, and I walk back to my current living spot, here, in Terra Amata. The thought keeps nagging at me, and I become even more grumpy and resentful.
I do have one moment of happiness when I present my day’s work to the women who are cooking our meal. They already have mashed wheat and water together in a hollowed out stone bowl to make the beginnings of a rice-like, thick stew. Fish that have been cut are sizzling in the fire in the middle of the hut in which these women work. More women cut oysters and shellfish with sharp stones, and I give them my eggs. I turn to the women making stew and give them herbs and nuts. I then walk over to the other end of the tent and I give the women there the berries and figs that I gathered. Finally, I bestow the women who cut the meat with my prize find: a turtle that I found by the river and killed with a thorny stick from the berry bush. They smile and give me approving glances.
“Yes,” the three women say together. Although we can form long, descriptive sentences in our heads, we have a primitive spoken language, and no written one. Basically, our talk consists of ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘man’, ‘food’, ‘fire’, and our names. Thinking of speech and the fact that we have no word for woman, my face darkens. I give a non-convincing smile and leave the hut.
I run into our own hut and bury my face into my buffalo skin pelt. When I bring it away and touch my cheek, I am surprised to find that I am crying. That makes me feel worse, as I never cry, and, despite the warmth, I curl up in the fur by the fire and sleep. My dreams are full of wolves and burning huts and dead buffalos.

When I wake, I can see the sun setting through my doorframe. The light is diminishing, and it is evening. Manit will be back soon. For him, I smile. And for him, I leave my bed and walk into the center of the huts, where my people are gathered around a fire and the feast.
I can see Ittik, one of the men, gesturing toward the fire, and explaining in hand motions how it came to be. But he needn’t tell the story—we all know that some man found out that if you put two sticks together and rub them, there you go, fire. But since it is my last night here (we move from place to place, and since summer will end soon, we will follow the game south), I sit down at the fire and wait. And wait. And wait.
The flames keep flickering on and on as I stare into them, the light reflected in the dull black eyes of the people around me. Now the fire is the only source of light we have, and with a cool night wind blowing on our faces, we all huddle closer to fire and sit in silence. Still Manit doesn’t come.
Finally, my mother, Rella, walks over to me and puts a hand on my shoulder. She knows how close I am with my brother. “Melune,” she whispers, “no.” And even with those two words I understand her meaning: go to bed, sleep, and do not worry about Manit. He will come before we leave. He will come, and he will be alive. Obediently, like a drained dungo, I walk into our hut and sit on my pelt. But I do not sleep. Instead, I go inside myself, and form a plan.
I wait until almost all of us are asleep, and then I tiptoe from my pelt to my father’s, and silently pick up his sharp stone spear. Going back to my pelt, I pick it up, and wrap it around me for warmth. Then I step out the doorway and stay in the shadows so I am not seen. Luck is with me, and no one even turns my way as I slowly start running into the fields to find my brother.

Using the pale light of the moon, I search the fields, desperate to find Manit, and desperate to get back. We follow the buffalo in the morning, and no one will care if they leave Manit and I behind. I think my parents will care about Manit, but only a little. Community does not matter to most of us.
Tall grasses block some of my view, and I don’t know where to turn to next. I have to find him. Have to. I decide to just keep going forward into the dark.

As I step, there is a squish beneath my feet. I look down to see the entrails of a huge male buffalo, and beyond it, the carcass. I suddenly think of dragging the carcass back to Terra Amata and becoming a “man” myself, or at least with all the honor of a man. Manit can find his own way home, I think cruelly. But when I have reached the buffalo, I get an even bigger surprise—Manit’s body sleeping next to it!
I almost scream with glee. Here he is, and he has killed a buffalo! We will get it back by morning if we work together. Oh, how happy I feel, to have Manit again. And to know that he is safe. I wake him up and shake him by the shoulders. Manit grunts slightly, then opens his eyes. He sees me and smiles, and then stands up. I hold the carcass and he understands my meaning. Immediately we both get to work hauling.
Then, when we are almost all the way back, I see a deer sleeping in the grass. Smiling and motioning for Manit to stop, I creep up on the sleeping animal, and kill it with one, swift stab. Now both my dreams will come true, I will be a man, and have Manit back. I can’t stop smiling.
We reach the center of the huts, where the fire burns, and find our father waiting. He first frowns at me, then hugs Manit, then me when I show him my kill. He brings us both to where Ittik sleeps, and Ittik acknowledges us, then gets up and motions for my brother and I to wake the rest of the people. The snow falls, the buffalo leave, and we follow them.

There is nothing much to pack, but we haul food and baskets along, babies on the mothers’ hips. My brother and me, arm in arm, walk nest to each other, fellow men now. Before the noonday sun is in our eyes, we have caught up with the buffalo, and are on our way to a new life.

Step #2: Music. My piano teacher and I were caught up in my studying of Homo habilis, and we decided to perform and improvisation about the life of Homo habilis, so we did, and here is is.
That is me taking a couple steps further, and a couple steps out of the realms of school...
And here is me again, saying goodbye and hoping that you all had a great Thanksgiving...