IT was undoubtedly a discovery of epic proportions. Told and re-told, the stories passed along many generations and by the time they reached my ear assumed an allegorical form abound with adventure, anecdote and humour. By the age of twenty-four I decided it was time to unravel the myth. For a period of twelve months I scoured my memory, delving deep in to every crevasse, uncovering what I needed and, frequently, what I had spent years trying to forget. I read every book that could bring me closer to my goal. I traveled near and far, allowing word of mouth to guide me to willing voices. And finally after my mind was overflowing with the object of my obsession I settled on the banks of the Nile, twenty miles from the Southern temple of Abu Simbel. I spent my days in the shade of the canopy, with nothing to interrupt me but the occasional quack of a passing duck or the tender rustling of palm trees. I wrote without rest for two days and then stopped, spending the next week uncovering the meanings that words, in their attempt to seduce us, hide from us. I was left with a dense but penetrable distillation, and I have decided to share that with you. You will undoubtedly manage to place it in a certain century, a certain land. And it is with regret that I offer you the consolation of context, or the comfort that you feel when you think you know where you are. My story is timeless. It is human.
It began with the discovery of Ancient Man who was living in a vast forest hundreds of miles from any human civilization. He was thirty thousand five hundred and forty six years old. It is perhaps a mystery how he managed to remain undiscovered for eons but unbeknown to him human civilisation has been thriving right outside his world in endless cycles of progression and destruction. His discovery put the whole world at a halt. It was what people call a moment of truth; a collective pause in the consciousness of humanity. Most people welcomed the discovery but the wise few were wary of its consequences.
After the initial phase of shock, everyone had a chance to assess were they stand in relation to this immense discovery and true reactions began to surface. Scientists were divided, each according to their discipline: Physicists were indifferent; they had more important things on their minds. Biologists prepared their test tubes, microscopes and traveled from all corners of the world with ardor rarely seen under a white coat. Anthropologists feigned aloofness; after all they have seen it all. Evolutionists were generally ecstatic and in the daze of their elation they either ran under trains or fell in sewers. Philosophers decided to stay home and debate the ethics of involvement. Do we really want to expose ancient man to our civilization, our sins and our illnesses they asked?
Best sellers began to flourish: Ancient man: The Vital Encounter, Beauty Found the Beast. Rumours began to spread; whispers traveling from ear to ear declaring ancient man’s sexual prowess, his insatiable appetite, his propensity to violence that was infused with gentleness unknown to man. Some began to accuse him of cannibalism; others warned that he might harbour deadly diseases. Gradually the world was divided in to three camps. There were those who campaigned for non-engagement: Ancient man should be protected and allowed to live in his habitat. Others valued integration in to human civilisation. Others simply wanted him exterminated.
In a strange development it was the religious establishment that found a solution for this problem. From the outset the reaction of most religious people was denial. There is no ancient man, they would say, that’s just another conspiracy to undermine us. Only with extensive evidence did they come to accept his existence. But that didn’t help much. Some claimed that ancient man is not human and therefore cannot undermine their religion. Adam was the first man; they would argue fervently, ancient man is just an ape. The more metaphysically generous were certain that ancient man is nothing but Satan, the Devil himself having surfaced from his underground lair. Unable to decide, the rift between the two groups grew deeper; he is only an ape, apes are God’s creation, and we must leave him alone; he must be the devil, kill him and we would banish all evil intentions once and for all. After a short period of fighting amongst themselves, fighting that spilt gallons of blood and an assortment of limbs a truce finally set in.
A magnificent conference was arranged: The Ancient Man Controversy: A Way Forward. Representatives were invited from every corner of the earth, every religion and every science. They unanimously agreed that the problem of ancient man must be a problem of good versus evil. Ancient man must either be an ape, hence good, or he is the Devil, the essence of all evil. And there is only one way, the resolution continued, that we can know. An interview will be arranged with ancient man, our most talented and astute reporter will interview him and the world’s eye will be set at that moment, live. An intricate voting system will be set in place with only two choices: Good or Evil. That, the resolution concludes, is the best way our civilisation can deal with the ancient man problem; through a democratic process.
Over the next few months, the world was busy as a bee hive. The interview was to be broadcast live to every TV set on the planet. Infrastructures were developed to install the voting system in every house. Each household was to conduct, on the day, a mini vote and agree on the final vote they would submit. A team of linguists, doctors, anthropologists and one psychiatrist was sent to Ancient Man’s jungle abode to prepare him for the interview. In two months they managed to teach him basic English, sufficient, at least, to uncover his good and evil intentions. Of course that was not an easy process. Ancient Man’s initial reaction upon arrival of the team could be characterized as violent, but that quickly turned to submission. Thanks to the major advances of our science no physical measures were required; much more subtle methods were used. In any case, after four months, ten days, four hours and eight minutes Ancient Man was ready for the interview.
The reporter who was chosen to conduct the interview was considered by many the best for the job. Tall with broad shoulders, prominent cheek bones, flowing blonde hair and sky blue eyes, he was everything Ancient Man with his prominent forehead, stooping posture, large flat nose, black skin and short, stout stature, wasn’t. There were a few people who considered it unfair to have such a contrast. After all, they would say, what chance does Ancient Man have when contrasted with this Fallen Angel? But the interview went ahead. The world that day was quiet; streets were deserted and shops were closed. All eyes were set on the TV screens and all thumbs on the voting button. I offer you my version of the interview.
FA: Ancient Man, I would like to thank you for allowing the world this invaluable moment. For centuries we have existed. And for centuries we have struggled to understand the nature of the world, indeed the nature of Man himself. I am sure you can understand why the world is so interested in you. You might have the final proof for all our scientific endeavours. You might have the justification for the millions we spend on research, on seemingly trivial matters that we think matter a lot. But more importantly, in you might rest the solution for our moral anguish. What do you have to say to the world?
AM: I, I… I am Ancient Man, yes. I have been here for long, very long time. But I don’t understand what your time is. All I am sure of is that I’ve been there before you.
FA: Now that’s very interesting Ancient Man. If you have no understanding of time how then can you say you’ve been there before us?
AM: I have been there before you. I have been everywhere.
FA: As we feared Ancient Man’s simple grasp of language will make this interview difficult but we must try. Ancient man, many people on this planet believe that all humans are descendants of a man called Adam. More recently, a few believe that we are your descendants. Yes, that many of us are indirectly related to you. What do you have to say about this?
AM: Ancient Man has been here for a very long time. Fruit grows on the trees and animals run in the forest. I eat the fruit and kill the
animals. Do you know that if you rub these two stones against each other you make fire? Then you can cook the animal. It is much better that way.
FA: Yes, yes we call it a barbecue. But what do you know about Adam?
AM: I don’t know Adam. Who is Adam?
FA: God created Adam, he was the first man.
AM: Yes God. You taught me what God is. But I never understand. God does not live in the forest, yet you told me he is in all living things. God does not live in the heaven but you told me his throne is up there. God can never be seen but you told me that some people think he is a man. How can you ask me about Adam if you can’t explain to me what God is?
FA: It doesn’t matter. God, whatever he is, created Adam. Has your father ever told you stories about him?
AM: Father? Yes. He is not here. Father told me how to kill a bear. How to get fish from the lake. He taught me how to make a fire. He told me what fruit is not good for Ancient Man and he told me to bring food to my family.
FA: Ah! Where is your family now?
AM: Family is gone. Family is not here. Killed by a big animal. Animal is also dead.
FA: We can notice how Ancient Man’s answers are mostly irrelevant. He also exhibits significant emotional detachment when talking about the loss of his family members. Ancient Man, are you not sad for losing your family?
AM: Losing? Ancient Man cannot lose. Family gone not lost.
FA: Do you ever feel sad?
AM: You get sad when you lose something? That is what they explained to me. I do not lose. Ancient Man has been here for a very long time. Once, I could not find spear to get a fish from the lake. I made a new one. I get two stones and chip one with the other in to a pointed shape then I tie it to a long branch. Ancient man cannot lose. What is gone I can make again except family.
FA: It is obvious that Ancient Man is focused on the struggle for survival. His complete ignorance of Adam and God probably points to his simple rather than heretic nature. Ancient Man, it is vital for us humans to eat and drink. But when we are no longer hungry and when our thirst is quenched we look for bigger and better things to do. Have you ever thought of leaving this forest?
AM: I have everything I need here. Ancient Man has no enemies. My forest is my land. People who leave are looking for something bigger and better like you said. But why look for something bigger and better if what I want is to find food and water?
FA: But that is not all that matters. The human race was able to evolve and progress because they sought bigger and better things. The whole edifice of civilisation rests on man’s insatiable desire for exploration and novelty.
AM: You are not like Ancient Man. You are strange. Can you kill a bear? Can you make a fire?
FA: I don’t need to. We have become so advanced that we kill animals with out getting any blood on our hands. Food is not a problem. When we get hungry we eat. It is all ready and available. We have time to make Man better.
AM: Better. Better.. Yes they explained that to me as well. Better is when people fight over the same thing, that makes it better. Ancient Man has no need to fight. I fight only when I need food. Nothing can be better.
FA: It seems that this strand of the conversation is not going any where. Let’s talk about something else. Ancient Man, can you tell us about your family?
AM: I had a woman and one child. Woman and child would remain in safe place and I would go in to forest kill for food and get fruit from trees. Woman would cook food on the fire that I make. Every day we would have sex. She would scream and bleed. But then they were killed. They are gone.
FA: We can see the social organization of the family unit. As we would expect the woman had the traditional role of child rearing and cooking. We can also notice a hint of a quite primitive violence towards women. Ancient Man, in our world man and woman are equal – which is a good thing. They both raise children and they both go out to hunt, sorry to work.
AM: You said that you don’t need to search for food. You say that it’s all available and you don’t have to kill. Is that why man and woman can do the same things?
FA: That is, hmmm, quite intelligent of you Ancient Man. We have more time since women and men do not have to hunt or cook any more.
AM: But isn’t that the same thing? Why is it a good thing for man and woman to be equal? If man and woman are equal only because they can find the means for survival without killing animal themselves, doesn’t that mean that some one else is doing the killing for them?
FA: Exactly Ancient Man well said.
AM: So that also means that the people who do the killing are like Ancient Man and every one else is like Ancient Man’s woman including you?
FA: Errrr… well.. It is not that simple. The audience can of course notice Ancient Man’s primitive reasoning capacities. Ancient Man, you are implying that we have only changed the words around? Man for whoever kills animals and Woman for everyone else – man and woman – who does not? That is laughable.
AM: No, you.. don’t know.. you have changed nothing. Your civilisation has just created itself more time and you have used that only to kill and destroy. They taught me that too.
FA: Do not get angry Ancient Man. We have thought that you can help us understand our nature but it seems that you and Us are so different, beyond comparison.
AM: I have been there. Long before you, all of you. You waste too much time, you have too much time. You think about thinking and let others do for you what you should do yourself. You cannot kill with your own hands yet you kill with clean hands. You say better when you mean greed and you say equal when you are just turning words around. You have strange stories about something called God and someone called Adam yet you can’t even understand them or explain them. They are nothing. You have four things you call cameras pointing at my face and you say the whole world is watching. What did you expect me to say or do? I am hungry and I must go.
FA: Ancient Man, wait here. The world will decide your fate. You might have not helped us answer many of the questions we have, but you have demonstrated your primitive, wild nature. And you have said enough to enable the people of this world decide on your fate.
The moment of voting had arrived. Millions of clicks sounded all over the world. Seconds later the central voting-processor received the required information. It was an almost unanimous agreement. Ancient Man is Evil. The execution stand was promptly prepared. The four cameras were relocated to broadcast to the world the final moments of the life of Ancient Man. The Devil as most people were now convinced he was would be exterminated once and for all, banishing with him evil intentions and unwanted thoughts. Celebrations erupted on every corner of the planet; for days on end people spoke of the end of evil, the triumph of good.
Mohammed Abouelleil Rashed