Takoda Tortoise (M)………………………Friend to everyone…………….Sioux
Gomda Gibbon (M)………………………..Wind…………………………………Kiowa
Cheyevo Chimpansee (M)……………..Spirit Warrior……………………..Hopi
Gaho Gorilla (F)…………………………….Mother……………………………….Unspecified Native Origin
Posala Pig (F)……………………………….Farewell to Spring flowers……Miwok
Sitala Sow (F)……………………………….Display Memory…………………..Miwok
Doba Dolphin (F)………………………….There Was No War……………...Navajo
Wapun Whale (F)…………………………Dawn…………………………………..Potawatomi
Lallo Lion (M)………………………………Little Boy………………………………Kiowa
Lomahongva Leopard (F)…………….Beautiful Clouds Arising………..Hopi
Rowtag Raven (M)………………………Fire……………………………………….Algonquian
Wakiza Wolf (M)…………………………Desperate Warrior………………..Unspecified Native Origin
Donoma Dog (F)………………………….Visible Sun…………………………….Omaha
Bidzill Buffalo (M)………………………..He is Strong………………………….Navajo
Baishan Bees (Swarm)…………………Knife……………………………………..6 Nations of the Apache
Eluwilussit Elephant (Family)………Holy One………………………………...Algonquian
Gaho slowly raised herself out of the makeshift nest and moved toward the Circle. As her younger kinsmen rose to help her, she waved them down again, reassuringly. The occasion demanded that she go alone – her show of strength here as an elder would be essential as inspiration to the others to remain steadfast. She did not rush. There was no need. As she approached, Takoda moved to the front of the Circle and acknowledged her with a bow of his head. She touched the side of his face and he raised himself onto his hind legs, leaning his head to hers. Takoda looked at her, then out into the stadium and said, “We begin!” He returned to his place. Gaho moved onto the platform and spoke to the throng.
I am Gaho Gorilla. When the forests were plentiful, before the land was ill-distributed, there was room for us all. The fruits of the trees nourished us, the leaves a delicacy to be had all year round. We made soft beds for our newborns and cared as a community for our children and grandchildren. Our life was our own, and though death was well known to us, our existence remained in balance with the winters and summers of our world, the autumns and the springs. Now, so many of us are murdered, our children stolen and abused. The forests that were home to us are leveled and replaced with a single plant that cannot sustain us. Sometimes, for the better, we live in captivity. But even in benevolent captivity, we cannot be who we truly are, and we cannot teach our children and help them to be who they truly are. Inside walls, we become bored, then despondent. We forget how to be self-sufficient and woefulness erodes our spirit. We become ill. Those humans who wish to help us are far too few and cannot alone reverse the onslaught of the annihilation we face. Despite their efforts, the road laying before us is a sure genocide. We, ourselves, must act!
When she finished speaking, there was a low hum of agreement in the crowd. She turned and walked to Takoda and Gomda and sat with them at the rear of the circle, as they had agreed.
Two females of the domestic pig delegation were approaching, visibly shaking in the presence of so many natural enemies. Gaho went to them and opened her long arms in welcome. “Here you are safe, you may be sure.” They smiled in gratitude and walked behind her onto the dais. They looked out uncertainly and began to speak in canon.
We are Posala and Sitala. We live and die among humans – we were bred for this purpose and we have accepted that over a thousand generations. But the tides have shifted and we are no longer treated with respect and compassion. In former times, the farmsteads had space for running and rolling, as we love to do. Soft barn floors, where we gave birth to and nursed our children, were prepared for us. They remained with us until our milk and protection were no longer necessary. Yes, we knew their and our fate, but there was still a quiet dignity. Now a change has happened, and we are in trauma. We are trapped in enclosures that allow no movement, not even a turn of the head. In these prisons, we have our babies, we can barely see them, let alone snuggle with them as a mother should. Some die, some are grabbed from us, cut and thrown……..somewhere. We hear their screams and weep in helplessness. We have had more babies than we can count and known so few of them. Our bodies are massive beyond our nature and we are weak from lack of sunshine and lack of fresh air to breathe. We are left dirty and sick with sores. Life is only pain. Those humans who wish to help us are far too few and cannot alone reverse the onslaught of diseases of mind and body that now plague us. Despite their efforts, the road laying before us is perpetual suffering. We, ourselves, must act.
As they left the platform, their shivering had ceased. The pity that Gomda had felt earlier now turned into deep respect. Their utter defenselessness was outweighed by an uncharacteristic, yet overwhelming bravery and determination born of desperation. And they had risen to the moment.
The next to come were Wakizo of the Wolf Clan and Donoma, the representative of the domestic dog coalition. “They are quite beautiful together,” said Takoda, “these cousins. The dogs chose well, for the Siberian husky is very close in appearance to the wolf clan. Here they make a formidable appearance, and here they will once again feel their kinship.” “As do we,” said Gaho, looking at Gomda. Instinctively he climbed to a branch, jumped to another and another and back again to her side to show his deep appreciation for her acknowledgement.
The canines stepped onto the dais.
We are Wakizo/and Donoma. We are cousins/of a very different mind……………….Humans are our enemies/humans are our friends…………..They starve us, closing us off from our food supply/they feed us well, often from their own table…………….We are being slaughtered daily, our numbers decrease/we are loved, but changes are occurring………………We are hunters and travelers, in need of a wide berth of territory, made smaller and smaller by their greed for the land/we are domesticated and a friend of sorts, but the in-breeding makes us sick and debilitated, handicaps us. The habitats that suit our different breeds are disregarded as we live in unfit climates……………… We are recognized as spirit animals in their books but are called trespassers and pests in reality. Our natural food supply dwindles and when we search for food where we can find it, we are shot on the land that was once ours/We are in their homes and we love them, we adore their children, but leashes are tightening, rules more severe, cages become more and more the norm and our mouths are tied. What freedom we had dwindles rapidly, we are turned out, our newborns too often thrown away in bags, like waste…………The terms of coexistence are unreliable and fluctuating. We will not acquiesce when there is no stability/Those humans who wish to help us are too few…………And they cannot alone reverse the onslaught of this degradation/Despite them, the long road laying before us is confinement………….And extermination/We, ourselves, must act.
Leaving the dais, they walked down the ramp in solemnity. As they headed to their places, all the canines present, dogs and wolves, moved together into a single pack.
Their deep hum preceded them. The Baishan Bees flew down from some hidden place in the large yew tree and hovered above the dais. The hum rose and fell as the bees moved around the platform, air born. And slowly, out of the droning hum, words began to form in the single voice of the collective clan.
We are the Baishan. We are the siblings of the green plants of earth and the flowers and blossoms that that are our sustenance. As we drink the ambrosia, we gather and spread the seed for new life to grow. We are dying. We are being poisoned and our numbers dwindle. The poison is in the trees, the flowers and the fields. It kills us. We are being poisoned and our colonies can thrive only in great numbers. When we fly to our hive, the contamination is carried into our nest. It kills many, the workers, the caretakers, many. It kills our mother queen. All trees are one tree, not the many we need. Too little nourishment. We are starving. We behave erratically. We abandon our nest and our mother. A new enemy attacks us. A small enemy invades our home. It attaches itself to us and depletes our bodies. We are damaged and become weak. Our premature death reduces our community. The feel of the hot wind changes our sister flowers and our bodies resist and die. Many help us, but too few. Too little. Too late. Involuntary extinction. We do not accept it. We must act!
In one sweeping motion, they flew back up and disappeared again in the upper branches of the grand yew.
A deafening roar filled the stadium, and Takoda, despite his innate ability to at least appear calm, lowered his gaze sharply. Lallo of the Lion clan bounded forward, and from some distance leaped high, his body stretched and strong, and landed in the middle of the platform. He turned slowly and began pacing back and forth along the front of the dais, looking like his many brothers who had been confined in circus wagons. Lomahongva of the Leopard clan followed more slowly and jumped gently onto the platform, situating himself in a front corner, his tail swishing side to side, somewhat frantically. Gaho realized, these majestic, self-assured felines had fallen into a deep despondency, very close to depression. Though they were difficult to read, she had seen it before in her own, and could recognize it. There was not a creature present who did not have reason to be frightened of them, yet what filled them all now was pity, the same pity each one felt for the other. These great cats had lost their potency and the fall had been hard. Lallo began to speak but did not look out. It was not clear if he was speaking to the multitude…….or to himself.
We were kings, were we not? We were free, were we not? The illusion has faded, and the danger that has been upon us for some hundreds of years takes tangible form. Captured and caged! Caged and ridiculed! Ridiculed, whipped and burned! Contained, confined and controlled………We are of the wild – it is our birthright! No other way of life is satisfactory……..Now we are disgraced in our powerlessness. Fear of extinction is upon us. The trembling that was in our prey as we hunted is now in us……….But we were not barbarous! When our stomachs were full, the antelope lived beside us in peace. We laid leisurely in the warm sun for days, watching our young ones play and learn. Trophy killings, violation and enslavement are the postures of barbarians. These were not our crimes…………We are solitary creatures, loyal only to our own family clan. But now, our detachment must be relinquished – we join with you. You have our word.
Lallo and Lomahongva walked down the ramp slowly, upright on their four legs, back to their place. Their conscious attempt to show they posed no threat to the others was successful and greatly appreciated.
A sound akin to the call of the apes, but higher and sharper, came from the direction of the tanks. A member of the Doba Dolphin Community was calling on the attention of the assembly, given that the sea creatures could not use the dais. Takoda, Gaho and Gomda walked to the front of the dais to get a full view of these great sea mammals. All three smiled. The Dobas woke a special feeling in any living creature that crossed their path. They were playful and fun-loving, but one must not be fooled. They had a keen sense of the world around them and had saved many lives in the oceans. In their voices was a great healing power and their communal lives were as complex as any on earth. The Wapun Whale sang soulfully, filling the stadium with heart-wrenching tones. The Doba and Wapun alternated as speakers, as each one surfaced for air.
We are the Doba and the Wapun. The seas grow warm and unpredictable. Much that was alive chokes and dies, the currents change course and the natural flow of fish life and plant life is interrupted. The flora and fauna at the merging point of land and ocean suffer greatly, their nourishment inadequate, drowned, their survival, and ours, threatened. Our waters are defiled and our brother fish and sister sea dwellers become ill, mal-formed or die. The taste of the water is bitter, seen and unseen elements of extermination invading our world. We, too, have been captured and caged, but now many humans recognize our need for freedom and the community of our family. For that we are glad and grateful. But our world is full of the waste of mankind’s habits, and before the question of consequence was even asked, many whims of advancement were implemented, the problem-solving left to the future we all now face. And now a new substance fills our stomachs that we cannot eliminate. We are full, and yet we starve. This new useless creation is now in us, in our brother fish, and in our cousins that fly, and it grows in magnitude with each turn of the four seasons. We can barely avoid consuming it, because it is everywhere. By the millions, our numbers decrease each year. If we do not act, we are already dead!
The heavy lapping of the water ceased as the Wapun and Doba went back to swimming quietly in their tanks and the stadium was silent for a long and somber moment.
The Shikoba Starlings rose up on the wind, a sound rising with them like the winter waves on the western shore, or a waterfall crashing into the pool it creates and replenishes. Thousandfold, they danced in the sky over the stadium in magical assembly and harmony as one, swirling and tumbling, shaping and reshaping patterns in the sky; billowing and contracting, creating forms that solidified for a moment, then metamorphized into another in the next. Everyone watched, spellbound. They spoke no words and gave no testimonial. Instead, the Shikoba sculpted celestial portraits of all those present at the gathering- the lion, the eagle, the prairie dog, the hedgehog, the buffalo, the antelope, the frog, the lizard, the ape, the elephant, the salmon, the whale, the turtle…….and all the others. As each one saw his or her own likeness fill the sky, they were both honored and humbled, feeling their own importance, but knowing it was in equal balance to the importance of all the others. The enormous wind died down as the Shikoba settled back into the trees.
“Magnificent,” said Takoda. “We are all uplifted,” said Gaho. “It is a gift we will cherish as we follow the road we set for ourselves today.” “We are body and we are beyond body,” whispered Takoda. “The Shikoba has reminded us and it will be prudent for us to remember it.” He had no wish to break the spell, but he breathed deeply and said, “We must continue.”
Three members of the Cheyevo Clan walked across the field, upright, aware that all eyes were watching them with a great anticipation shrouded in fear. They were the link between humankind and all other living creatures, and their voice carried a great weight. The Cheyevo guardian held the hand of the female at his side, his wife and companion, until they reached the center of the dais. She put her head to his as they slowly let go, and all three turned to each other in a close silence. Takoda, who knew this to be a posture of mourning, walked onto the dais and spoke to them quietly. “Cheyevo, if there is hope of any other way, it lies in your knowledge. What would you tell us?” Takoda felt the guardian’s eyes heavy on him. Gomda and Gaho walked up the ramp. She leaned wearily on the young gibbon, as the strength now seemed to leave her body. They both climbed onto one of the surrounding yew trees. The Cheyevo guardian greeted the matriarch with great respect and concern, acknowledged his cousin gibbon, then looked out to the multitude, the other two of his clan flanking him from a little behind.
We are what is left of the Cheyevo clan. 50 years ago, we still believed. Today we do not. We are the closest cousins to the humans - of the same line and the same blood, though they would deny us. But we know them. They are obsessed with their illusion of superiority and a fabricated sense of stewardship over us. We do not need them, and the destruction that has ensued has proven them to be of inferior understanding. We are all necessary to one another for our existence – that awareness lives in our deepest instinct. But to our misfortune, not in theirs! Our lives have only three purposes in their eyes – we must play the jester to entertain them, we must be slaughtered to feed them, and we must succumb to their experiments. The tragedy of my unbalanced kinspeople is that they judge our ways and call us primitive and barbaric, while surpassing us all in depravity. They are as cruel to one another as they are to us, and their wars have become cataclysmic for all. They starve each other and they starve us. They deny entry to gardens of plenty to one another and they deny us. They cage each other, and they cage us. We have known those who see our plight and fight for us. And I have seen victories and been glad. But humanity is inconstant. The promise of the first means nothing to the next in line and that promise is undone. Though some express honest sympathy, they do not change their course as they must, even for themselves, their hedonistic addiction to unnatural comforts making them nearsighted. Humankind as a whole cannot be trusted to reach a true accord, because it is inordinately unstable within itself, even in its final hour. We have no choice……..but to act!
The Cheyevo acknowledged Gaho, Takoda and Gomda, and left as they had come – upright, hand in hand, with great dignity.
A Unanimous Accord
Tokado walked to the center of the Circle and stood on his hind legs. For many seconds he didn’t move, feeling himself in balance with his body and shell, strong despite his age. He looked out to the crowds of his fellow creatures, who, by nature, should never find themselves in such close quarters. But they were together, and they were, in this moment, all of the same mind. “Then we are in agreement.” In deliberate gestures, the small mammals and rodents raised their front paws, the birds opened one wing, then the other; the elephants raised their trunks and lowered them again, the wild dogs nodded, growled into a single yap, as did their domestic cousins. The cats purred low and the farm animals lowered themselves to reclining on the ground. Takoda settled to the ground and looked at Gaho and whispered, “’This but begins the woe that others must end….’”* Gaho climbed down from her seat on the trunk to him, “All are punish’d!”* She laid her arm across Takoda’s shell, who nodded at the waiting gibbon.
Gomda let out long, shrill whistles. The Eluwilussit joined, raising their trunks and trumpeting to the skies. The Wakizas and Donomas howled into the falling shadow of night and the Shikoba flapped their wings in the waning sunlight. The hyenas yapped and growled and bit at the wind and the Wapuns sang their mourning song, the Dopas accenting the anguished wails with whistles and clicks and throaty rhythms. The bees hummed low and dark, a foundation for the cries of the Cheveyos, Posalas and Sitalas in dancing polyrhythms. The Bidzill brotherhood swayed side to side, grunting low with each sway. The Lallos and Lomahongvas bounded across the field, sprang onto the high boulders, bared their teeth and emitted throaty growls that grew in volume to thunderous roars. Rowtags danced with the eagle and owl across the skies in passionate whirlwinds, territorial possessiveness forgotten. It was an orchestra extempore building to a climactic swell of heartbreak and despair, continuing into the deep night until, finally, at dawn, all was quiet, spent and exhausted, and reconciled. The hunger strike would begin.
As the sun rose, the silence remained unbroken and, throughout the morning hours, the delegations took their leave. They walked, crawled, hopped, slithered and pranced in a spontaneous procession the length of the stadium, showing the utmost deference to one another. The antelope had no more fear of the lion, and the rabbit, no fear of the eagle. Once in their home dwellings, they maintained their commitment and did not falter. The robin let the fly pass and did not dig for the worm. The rabbit did not eat the leaf. The pollinators did not transfer pollen and the dispersers did not spread the seeds. The animals of the world, whether domestic or wild, whether enclosed in zoos and reserves or in their natural habitat, neither procreated nor took on nourishment, not even when under threat of force, not even when that force was full of love and concern. They were dying, but now on their own terms. The slow, passive death of abuse was replaced with the honorable death of resistance. They lamented their lost life but rejoiced in the power of self-determination.
And finally, finally, humanity felt its impending ruination, but, as always, looked for answers outside of itself and blamed everything but itself. As time passed, it learned hunger, then starvation, for without animal life, plant life slowly died. Humankind discovered that it could never synthetically replicate the entirety of the world’s delicate balance and began too late to open its eyes to the necessity of brotherhood. So just as the animal world cried, howled, chirped and growled its sorrow, so humans wailed their sorrow……and their voices met. Humanity woke up, listened and heard them, for the first time in a long time. And, on the edge of extinction, understood.
*Quotes from Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare