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Ancient Wisdom, Modern Ignorance
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Coen van Wyk

Nov 25, 2023

Listening to news of the latest descent into violence I hear chaos. But underlying the sounds of war is an incredibly fragile melody, a message that says: you matter. You can make a difference.

It was night when the attack came. The inhabitants were rounded up once the gunfire had stopped. Men were separated from women and children, shot and buried in pits. Some say the mass grave is now covered by a car park to Tantura beach.

The terrorists came when everyone were sure peace has been assured. Ancient friendships between different groups had been tested by attempts from both sides to radicalize sentiments, but the reaction was firm: We live in peace.

And then the inhabitants of Deir Yassin were rounded up, violated according to some reports, shot down irrespective of age or gender. Many of the descendants of the killed still cannot forgive.

The terrorists came when the feast was in full swing. Soon gunfire raked the festivities, sending hundreds fleeing. Nearby villages were next on the list. Military posts were overrun, a nearby kibbutz was invaded. Many reacted in horror, swearing revenge. 

In the Central African forests, the last of the so-called pigmies try to survive despite oppression and refusal to recognize their rights as humans. Yet these people, from the oldest lineage of humanity, bear a lesson. Living in the terrors of the unknown forests, facing diseases mankind is only now discovering, carnivores and venomous animals and insects, they had found a way to live in balance.

These people, known as the BaTwa, would gather in their small family groups, prepare a feast, then make music and dance. Hunter-gatherers, they would each string their weak wooden bows, attach a sounding box made of a gourd or hollowed piece of wood, and then tune the bow, each to its own note. And each, tapping with an arrow, would work that one note into a melody, a song where each has his or her role. 

In our complex world we have been able to banish the terrors of the primeval forest, the forces of darkness that even today seek to enslave and eradicate the small Twa people. We have developed laws, political systems that can regulate fantastically complex societies. 

Why is it then still possible for people to perpetrate violence and revenge, create cycles of hatred that threaten to destabilize the entire world? Why can we not hear the small tapping note played by the other, the melody that can sound when we listen and share?

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