In the deep gorges of the central Ethiopian plateau, in a shallow cave at the peak of a rocky overhang, situated atop a lush grassy mountain slope, there lived a sacred guru. He was known as, Gelada, The Least Concerned.
Being most adept at rock climbing, he set out one day to scale his way to the top of the cliffs. He gathered provisions of seeds and blades of grass, thistles, and knobbly creeping rootstalk into a crude bag he had fashioned from broad leaves and vine. His solemn vow was to find the best spot for which to sleep and to ponder, and after saying farewell to his herd he climbed up out of sight, never to return.
After a great deal of years went by, curious ones from his old troop ventured up to see if this solo baboon could be found. What they discovered was that during long periods of quiet contemplation, he had become a deep thinker, what some would call a sage. News spread faster than wild fire of his wisdom and sparked the curiosity of many a monkey, near and far, who then embarked on pilgrimages to seek understanding from the enlightened Master.
One such monkey, traveled, arguably, the farthest out of his range (he originally hailed from the Cameroonian Sanaga River), slowly made his way up the slopes guided by a rather large Sudanese Secretarybird by the name of Nabo. When they reached the base of the mountain the bird pointed out the rest of the way with an up-swept wing and a twist of his stubby stork-like neck towards the rocks above. He let out a great guttural croak then flew away.
The monkey, a sizable guy covered with gray-sprinkled brown fur, sporting a white beard with a white tummy and a short tail, took a moment to watch Nabo’s regal take off—plumage flattened against the wind and tail feathers extending beyond his black-knickered, pink legs and toes. Not confident of his ability to scale the sheer height of the climb but still determined, the monkey ruffled his mane and continued on alone.
The climb was higher than several trees and when he got to the top, the monkey puffed up his chest all out of breath. In front of him the cliff face revealed the opening of a dimly lit cave. He had to stoop to see in, his multi-colored bottom bobbing and shining shades of mauve, pink, and blue in the sun. Unsure whether to enter, he waited until his eyes adjusted to the light and could just make out the shape of a seated figure situated toward the back of the cavern.
He blinked the gray shrouds away and saw that it was an elder baboon, large and robust, with coarse dark fur and closed pale eyelids that contrasted sharply against it’s dark hairless face. It’s short muzzle hovered over a protruding Buddha-belly that was separated from it by just a hint of chest that sported a bright red hour-shaped patch.
Gelada smacked his lips sociably to signal that he was ok with the other monkey’s presence in his cave and with a wave, invited him to come in.
The baboon opened his eyes, “I am Gelada, The Least Concerned, and you are?”
“My name is, Drill, The Endangered.”
Demonstrating great knowledge, Gelada remarked, “I see you are a primate of the family Cercopithecidae. What do you want of me?”
“I was captured when I was a youngster and taken far from my home. They put me in a cage by myself and it had a cold hard floor with only a small bit of straw to sleep on. It was a miserable pen and all I could think about was clinging to my mother’s soft warm back. Then they took me to a place called a preserve where I lived with some other monkeys. It was ok at first, people threw us food, but it was not home. All I could think every day was, “I miss my tribe and want to be free but all I can do is to watch these humans watching me through this big fence that has stinging wires on the top so that I cannot get out.
“Well, one day I was eating some mongongo nuts that had fallen on the ground near the fence when I noticed a small spot that had came loose from the ground. I pulled and I pulled until it got big enough for me to fit through, then I was off like a shot. I ran and I ran until I came near a human town. I was hiding in the bushes when I saw some baboons doing something which scared me to death! Please help me to know what to do.”
The old baboon did not respond at once but pinned Drill down with an intense gaze. Uncomfortable under this scrutiny, Drill’s nose grooves wrinkled. His lower lip quivered, rippling the white hairs on his chin, belying the deceptive calm that he tried to display.
Finally, he spoke, “Did you know that I have many seekers come visit me here in this cell? I’m never quite as alone as I wish to be. But in the bargain, they always bring me gifts. They know how difficult it is for an elder such as me to get around.”
He gestured around to the many objects scattered throughout the cave. There were leafy baskets of fruits, bits of cloth, colorful wooden baubles, a cup made by humans from which to drink, and even piles of the kinds of papers that the humans use to make marks. He plucked up a handful of berries from the nearest broad-leaf platter and popped them in his mouth. Looking hopefully at Drill, he spoke as he chewed, “Did you bring me anything?”
Drill cast his eyes downward and smacked his lips apologetically, “No master. I’m ashamed to say I have not.” His tone brightened on top of his best appeasement grin, “I will surely go get you something later.”
Gelada carried on in a flat tone, “Baboons are afraid of snakes. Did you know that there are black mambas on the slopes?”
Drill did not know what to say since he knowingly strayed into unknown territory to get the answer he so desperately sought. Snakes were everywhere in his country so he knew they were bad. He was afraid of finding out just how bad black mambas were so instead he demurred, “So you sleep in this cave? I prefer trees.”
Ignoring the question, Gelada said, “I am from a long line of masters, reaching back in time to the Eocene Epoch,” he tapped the ground with a sturdy forefinger, “I will not answer your questions but question your answers. If you wish, and do not end up in a bushmeat stall on your way home, you may share all that you learn here in my mountain top cell but if you do be prepared to be misunderstood.”
Drill nodded keenly, “I have been thinking about what will happen in times to come.”
“Your brain is divided into two distinct halves which think independently but are bridged together by memories. You must not confuse the two with thoughts of the future.”
Drill scratched his noggin’, hoping his long middle digit would impart some understanding, “Master, on my way home I came across the Yellows. Their King Linus is a ferocious monkey. He’s got a long black face that pokes out of his golden fur and he has these great big sideburns that are are always stained red with blood because he doesn’t eat plants and fruits like the others, he eats nothing but scorpions, birds and baby sheep, ripping into them with his sharp, sharp teeth. I’ve even seen him use his tail to whip the younger of his kin who come close him while he’s eating.”
Gelada pursed his lips, “That is indeed most contrary behavior. If this troubles you, simply leave the area and go about your business. That is the best way to solve your problem.”
“But Master, however appalling that might be, there is something else more alarming.”
Gelada sat back deeper on his callused haunches and smiled, “Tell me, chintzy student, what is it which is more alarming?”
Drill’s small eyes squinted as he recollected what he saw, “Fire…King Linus stole fire from the human’s camp and then figured out how to make more using twigs and sticks. He’s started showing others in his troop how to do it, too”.
“Well, Watson, that is more impressive than a Macaque with a yam,” Gelada remarked.
“I am Drill.”
Not concerned with being corrected, Gelada nodded, “Oh, yes, Drill, it is very well known that baboons have very little observational learning abilities. It will not get far. I shouldn’t see as much of an issue.”
“But, Master, even though it looks hard, they are learning, and I’m afraid that they will become as careless as humans. Once a fire got out of control and burned right up to my enclosure before the humans put it out. What if the Yellows let fire escape and burn our jungles down!”
Gelada spent a moment considering, “Do you know how many monkeys had learned fire by the time you left?”
Confounded, Drill stuttered, “I – I don’t know…maybe about eighty-seven. I’m not good with numbers.”
Gelada waved the figure off, “We are old world monkeys. It took our cousins 194,000 years to evolve from their hundredth man.”
“But, Master, with monkeys knowing how to make fire, what will be our destiny?”
The old guru leaned in, “You ask about destiny. I say, a monkey rejoices or experiences sorrow. Neither is destiny, nor karma. But to deprive yourself of the two is the worst karma from which to affect your destiny.”
“I don’t know what karma is but I do know what fire is and it’s bad. How will we escape it?”
“Agitation is fruitless,” Gelada pointed out. “Fire will deliver the monkey but also will yoke him. How you handle it will become your emancipation.”
“There must be something we can do to stop this knowledge from spreading.”
Gelada chastised Drill, “Do not endeavor to correct this situation but correct yourself that you may manage whatever may come.”
The remaining exchange between the two came in quick fire succession.
“But Master, can’t you see that this can be nothing but trouble?”
“The real trouble is your monkey mind itself, not the trouble it has created in order to work it out.
“We can’t sit around doing nothing! It’s not safe to let them continue on. What can be done?”
“To demand safety in this world is to bring about fright and despair.”
Drill sat, distressed, not understanding the guru. The old teacher did not seem worried about the prospect of the jungle burning down. His thoughts whirled as they engaged in a prolonged staring contest. Then there came a clickety-clacking noise from outside the cave which caught Drill’s attention and stopped him in mid-ponder. He sat up with a start as a small brindle-coated creature swept past him and jumped up into the wizened sage’s lap.
“Master Gelada, what is that?”
The critter licked Gelada with it’s long pink tongue, “It is a thing called a puppy, a present from an adherent who visits me often…with gifts. It’s name is Ogun…I call him dog.”
Drill watched as Gelada cooed, gently rubbing the dog’s head and ruffling it’s ears. He slowly remembered that he had seen a few of these creatures before in the town. He really didn’t know what to make of them.
While holding the puppy, Gelada, let out a surprised little gasp, “Oh.” His body briefly expanded with a luminous glow. He giggled and set Ogun down on the ground, “Dog….fetch!”
The puppy scampered off and Gelada closed his eyes going into deep meditation. Drill watched him intently until Ogun came back barely able to keep a long branch between his teeth as he comically tripped over it’s length. “Good dog,” Gelada praised as he took the huge wooden stick from it’s mouth.
He proceeded to snap it into many pieces, “What is needed, instead of fleeing from, exerting dominion over, stamping out, or any other sort of defiance, is understanding the fire you fear; that means to observe it, come in direct contact with it and grasp it by the hand.”
Gelada gathered a handful of papers from the pile next to him, rumpled them up and tossed them onto the floor between them along with most of the wood. Then he took two of the shorter pieces of stick and beheld them meaningfully. A serene smile crossed his face and he began to rub them together. He rubbed them so hard and so fast that soon a tiny flame combusted between them.
Drill gasped in horror as the old master threw the flaming sticks into the heap of kindling. The wadding caught and there in front of the two emerged a glowing yellow fire. Illuminated by the light, Gelada looked on, at first entranced and then delighted. Exuding great purpose, the old master picked up the last piece of wood, and reached into a paper sack laying behind him. He pulled out a puffy, plump marshmallow, impaled it on the stick and thrust it into the fire.
With a full-body giggle employed by gurus all around he declared, “I’ve always wanted to try this.”