The Heptateuch of Eve - Part 4
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From the minutes of the Annual Conference of the Cryptofolkloric Society of Taiwan (CST)
Mike Tsu-Wen, Jiaoxi, Yilan County, Taiwan.

Welcome all.

I would first like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the Atayal people, and pay my respect to Elders both past, present and emerging.

Before we get into the folklore, I want to raise a new agenda topic for urgent discussion.

Last week I received an alarming report from a conservation group on the West Coast. While monitoring the impact of commercial fishing, the team recovered a severely injured Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin they found tangled in a gill net. Despite the best efforts of the team, the animal soon died of bacterial infection and blood loss from its wounds.

A critically-endangered species, there are believed to be less than 100 individuals remaining in the Eastern Taiwan Strait population. The loss of even one of these rare animals is an unforgivable tragedy. But the reason I raised it at today’s conference is… more complicated. Let me explain.

On the dolphin's back were found the degraded remains of a harness, and what appeared to be some kind of tracking device. Although damaged beyond function, it bore faint traces of military insignia. The symbols were unidentifiable, and could conceivably indicate ownership by navies of the PLA, Taiwan, or even Singapore. While I don’t really have time now to go into how dolphins are currently employed by the military, suffice to say that as tensions rise with the mainland, it’s not really a stretch to imagine trained dolphins’ involvement in missions to locate amphibious threats and naval mines.

As if this all wasn’t curious enough, the most intriguing aspect of this report has to do with the poor creature’s final moments. Hydrophone recordings of its dying cries were later analysed back at the lab, where the spectrogram revealed some surprising features. After signal processing, a clear image emerged of lines of human writing, specifically, a form of Koine Greek written in Glagolitic Script. While this may seem completely unbelievable, equipment interference was in fact thoroughly ruled out.

I will leave discussion of the orthography to more proficient medieval scholars; a translation has been kindly provided by Professor Kyriakos of the University of Taipei. What it appears to be, as you will see, is a disquieting form of literature disguised as a fairytale.

There’s a pseudo-biblical cast of characters from Genesis, as well as all the exotic trappings of a distant creation mythology. The revisionist critique of the Abrahamic mythos is certainly interesting, but what strikes me most is the story’s exotic placelessness. Beneath the surface, it seems to pilfer motifs from indigenous creation stories with dubious results: is not the feminist Eve also a colonial white saviour encountering a fetishised, barbaric other?

I’m reminded of the distorting lens of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism.’ The antagonism between wild barbarian and noble migrant forms two sides of the same settler-colonial coin. As the settler consumes the native - through appropriating their dress, their ideas, their animal and elemental symbols - he creates a discourse of authentic moral romanticism for himself that effaces his complicity in the atrocities of historical colonisation.

As Edward Said notes, the American brand of Orientalism is more abstract than the British or French varieties. While Said attributes this fact to America’s lack of involvement in direct colonisation such as the British Raj or the French ‘mission civilisatrice,’ the indigenous dispossession is a better explanation for such unconscious repression. These restless ghosts re-emerge in contemporary pop-culture concerning magical people who can become animals, lost cities and submerged continents.

But as we know, Said was also a keen student of comparative literature, pointing us toward Antonio Gramsci’s notion that history “has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.” In this spirit, let us examine this mysterious text, brought to us from an endangered animal exploited by our militaries, and discover in it an inventory of tropes.

I would like in particular to thank Mim-Wen Teydaw for her consultation in preparing this introduction. While we must be at once receptive to folklore that touches on indigenous concepts, the recent legal prohibitions against Bunun boar hunting rites is a reminder that we should also be aware of how these stories can inhibit the authentic revival and restoration of our culture.1

Mike Tsu-Wen, June 23, 2022

Begin transcription:


The Seven Champions of Saul and the Boar Hunt of Aeshu

As heavenly providence had now delivered the travellers from their wandering, so it was that on the grassy hills at the borders of Aeshu they did make camp, and round about their tents of resplendent hues were hung banners of red linen and woven designs, with festoons of sweet-smelling herbs and flowers of every kind, that it might please them to become an embassy, and therewithal to mark a place of welcome, and moreover to ask the people of that land permission for safe passage.

So disported, the elders of the party gathered together amongst themselves to discourse upon the matters before them, to wit, a reception that might engage the Aeshurians wise Eve had so lately described.

Seven champions they chose from among them, for skill in valour or inner virtue, and of each one an especial talent for the language and ways of a different beast, these being the bull-auroch, the mountain lioness, the scorpion, the buzzard, the stork, the crocodile, and the wild boar. Like to each beast in its shape and movement were they also, so that each one of them might bewitch the sight of any passer-by and mistake the human for his familiar.

The champion of the mountain lioness departed first, to scout the high crags to the Southeast of Aeshu, followed next by the bull-auroch to embark upon the grassy plain to the West, then the buzzard into the skies above the open woodland in the East, thereafter the scorpion who went into the rocky passages of the desert of the South, the stork to the high fens of the Northwest, the crocodile unto the reedy rivers of the Southeast, and the wild boar to the forests of shady pine that spread deep in the North.

So up to the mountain went the champion of the mountain lioness, stepping warily from one rocky spire to another in search of the Aeshurian people that might dwell there, but finding only deep ravines and lonely cliffs to echo her cries. Thinking to make the best of her loss, she then summoned her strength to raise upon the tallest peak two tablets of stone. One she marked with the signs of her people while the other she marked with the shape of a lioness as from the trace of her shadow, that it might be a sign for all to see.

Next, the champion upon the grasslands, who took the shape of the long-horned auroch, ranged everywhere across plateau and plain in his mission. But alike to the first, he found only the tracks of ibex and gazelle, yet not a trace of the inhabitants of Aeshu. And so stamping his cloven feet and tossing his horns high, the bull champion made furrows in the earth for the grain-bearing crop, that in some time hence it might be favourable for cultivation.

Of the buzzard-champion, soon only the small curve of his shape could be seen against the sky, as he searched the land far and wide for the cooking fires of Aeshu. And though he climbed even unto the heights of the lower heavens, and on speedy wings did scout boundaries of the lofty and low places alike, still no sign could he see of those people. This being the case he built his nest among the clouds and there kept a solemn watch upon the land below.

Into dark caves of the desert went the nimble scorpion, who suffered neither hunger nor thirst, but dwelt in the hidden places below the earth where the cellars of Aeshu might be found. And here alike to the rest she found no trace of them, but only cool waters that flowed unceasing beneath the unforgiving heat of the midday sun. And so in her wisdom she resolved to keep stewardship of the healing spring, that feeds all the oases of that land.

The one who took the shape of a stork made haste to the high moorland, where black pools and peat mosses made plentiful food for mites and flying insects. Yet nowhere was there found a single mark of habitation, the peat being neither cut nor crossed by inroad. And so to sacred dances went the stork champion, as though to hold the storm in abeyance his white wings curved before him, and his footsteps made new lakes appear upon the heath whereon he danced, that the people might tell the mark of his passage.

Up the wide rivers then swam the crocodile-champion, yet unseen by wading birds that filled the rushes, with only the tip of her nose and her round yellow eyes to break the waterline. Albeit thus concealed in her wandering, she spied no Aeshurian river barge, nor heard the splash of oars that might belie their whereabouts, even unto every waterway shallow or deep did she look for them. And so wheresoever the crocodile went she flashed her terrible smile, that the demons which haunted those streams might depart in horror, and so make welcome the fortunes of humankind.

So it was at last that the task fell to the champion of the wild boar, seeking in the northern forest what he might of that people. And even as he was a strong emissary, yet he was lazy and easily misdirected in his work, so that no sooner had he entered into the shady wood that he fell to rooting about in the earth for wild fare, and thus neglected of his wits.

It happened that a party of strange men were there hunting in the forest, mounted on fine horses, and their foreheads shone like the noon sun with bands of brass. So appeared the remainder of the people of Aeshu, that riven by generations of disease and misfortune had become noisome and warlike. Thus they roamed day and night in their passion, to seek for captives and return tribute to their vain kings the spoils of their raiding.

And the Aeshurians were of a fearsome aspect, as their faces were pale as the dead as their mouths were wet with blood. And each wore many jewels in his hair, so that they appeared as a blazing horde of gryphons.

So occupied in careless indolence, the boar-champion had not been feasting on truffles but a short while, when one of the hunters spied him and struck his side with a spear. And squealing with pain the boar champion ran in fright from him who had thrown it.

Then from the trees came the tall Aeshurian hunting party, laughing at their quarry as they pursued him, and by a trail of bright blood that fell from the wound they followed him out the forest.

So making haste for the camp of his people, the boar-champion fled through the dark forest while the hunters followed close behind him. And before long he fell at last outside the tent of Eve. There all strength departed the boar-champion until the cloak of the beast fell from his back, so that with his last breath he returned again unto the form of a man, and all who gathered there could see that his side was riven by a foreign spear.

The hunting party of Aeshu arrived into the camp crying loudly soon after, and being armed with their axes and spears and being unannounced, they took the camp of Saul unawares, as yet they were greater in number.

And so enflamed by lust were the Aeshurians in their pursuit that they took the body of the fallen champion for a beast, and butchered it amongst themselves limb from bloody limb.

Then to the horror of all who watched, they clove the flesh with their sharp axes of bronze and hung the white bones upon a standard, to which the travellers fell to weeping, and in their distress were made by the brutal will of the Aeshurians a subjugated people.

Thus the promise of Eve had come to naught, for the erstwhile people of Aeshu had fallen to their own lords in bondage, and all preparations for welcome went unheeded. For the Aeshurians had forgotten those songs that once bid them to ancient hospitality, and they set fire to the tents and many-coloured banners and made cruel sport of the embassy.

And though the party of Eve carried the songs of many generations, and so kept the flame of their people burning all the while, still they could not match the hunters in prowess, and thus were made captives all, even unto their last number.

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