Thursday, 19 June 2008

On......the fable of the gap-toothed snake, the benevolent boar and the troglodyte

There is a popular misconception, one that seems to have been universally upheld, that the Lion is the King of the Jungle. This view is, in fact, inaccurate. Whilst it is true that across the various animal kingdoms, lions form a majority of the ruling class, there are small pockets of sovereignties, scattered here and there, in which other animals enjoy governance.

Take the Jungle Republic of Lacunia, for example, where Gadon Machiji, a gap-toothed snake, once ruled for some 8 years. The fact that a snake ruled was not in itself the surprising thing -other snakes had been in the hot seat before- it was that ruling alongside this sect of serpents there sat a reptilian-like, cave dwelling creature known as a troglodyte. Now, no one liked or trusted these troglodytes with their humanoid shapes and long serpentine tails. They rarely came out during the day and even when they did, they would wear dark protective eyewear so that one never saw their eyes. They were highly disruptive creatures and the only attribute they possessed in great abundance was evil. Even more surprising was the gap-toothed snake’s very public friendship with a benevolent boar called Waitandsee. Some animals even believe, to this day, that it was the resources of the very wealthy Waitandsee that sponsored the coup that allowed Machiji to seize power from his draconian but dithering predecessor.

After Machiji took power, things started to go wrong almost immediately. Firstly, decrees 23 and 42 were scrapped. These decrees had been introduced by the outgoing regime and had forbidden all animals from defecating or urinating in places that were not clearly designated shitholes.

Further, there had been murmurings amongst the animals that Machiji was the secret head of a cabal that imported the coca plant from his cousins in the Amazon rainforest. Everyone knows of the euphoric but dilapidating effect of the coca plant on animals. Under the old regime all convicted coca smugglers were brutally murdered as punishment. None of the animals dared accuse Machiji of being a smuggler for fear of the repercussions. A highly respected goat, and head of the Jungle Journal, had been bold enough to compile a series of missives suggesting that the gap-toothed snake was behind much of the coca influx. One day the goat received a package containing compressed porcupine quills which exploded when opened, killing the goat instantly. The murder remains unsolved but whispers permeated through the Republic that it was Machiji’s handiwork.

Economic policy also suffered greatly under Machiji particularly with the introduction of the Seasonal Appropriation Program. The program made little sense to anyone other than the Republic’s creditors and whilst foreign investment increased, there followed a period of great famine and austerity. During this period Machiji and his cohorts got fatter whilst the good citizens of the Jungle Republic, from the marauding elephant to the industrious soldier ant, got leaner and leaner. Machiji’s government implemented a myriad of other failed programs, which only helped to divert attention and fritter scarce national resources. Some of the programs include the Animal’sBank, Directorate of Food, Streams and Jungle Infrastructure (DFSJI) and Better Life for Reptilian Women. All these programs are dead today.

The Republic was very good at producing palm oil but unfortunately did not really know what to do with it. You see, palm oil on its own is pretty worthless and has to be refined in order to be of any benefit. So whilst the good citizens were slavishly producing record amounts of palm oil, they had to export it and buy it back at extortionate rates. Also the Lacunian animals were not very good at hunting for themselves. Almost everything they ate they had to import from other lands. This was not helped by Machiji’s failure to provide them with the tools needed to sharpen their claws, grind their teeth and improve their ability to hunt.

It was not long, therefore, that the animals began to grow restless and started to rebel against Machiji’s poor leadership. Machiji responded with force and hundreds of animals lost their lives as they protested about the poor conditions. Even some of Machiji’s brothers in green were unhappy and staged yet another coup to dethrone the increasingly unpopular king. Unfortunately, over the years, Machiji had become extremely deft at the skills of evasion and managed to escape to a place called Gongo Rock which he christened as the new seat of power. All 27 of his brothers in green were caught and assassinated after a trial in a kangaroo court. Nobody was quite sure where the kangaroos had come from.

All the while, Waitandsee, the benevolent boar, was secretly harbouring fantasies of succeeding Machiji. After all, had Machiji not promised to relinquish power to the other animals after five years of rule? And who better to pick up the baton than his dear friend, Waitandsee, who had assisted in putting him into power in the first place? So the stage was set for an election. Unease had been growing and this would surely keep the animals happy. The election itself was a success but what happened subsequently was a disgrace. All the animals, including Waitandsee himself, had underestimated Machiji’s lust for power and desire to prolong his own rule.

He set up an ‘interim’ committee of his own choosing to replace him which consisted of various ostriches, giraffes and other animals of no consequence. This set the scene perfectly for yet another takeover, this time by the troglodyte which was to have very dire consequences on the whole Jungle Republic of Lacunia. One of the troglodyte’s first acts was to imprison Waitandsee and thereafter followed a series of animal rights catastrophes which are too terrifying to mention in great detail. Suffice to say that those were very dark days for the Republic with assassinations and kidnappings the order of the day. Hyenas and jackals moved freely among the animal populace under the veil of fear and intimidation. Under his rule, the molluscs with the hard shells pillaged the land for more and more palm oil. When a bold and fearless lion rose proudly and roared in disapproval, the troglodyte sent his hyenas to hang him.

His reign, fortunately, was not to last for much longer. The rest of the animal world took notice and whether by accident or whether by design, the troglodyte met his end mid-coitus, in the company of two specially imported Indian pythons. Coincidentally, exactly a month later, Waitandsee also met his fate in equally suspicious circumstances. It was the very day that he was set to be released from incarceration. Some say that the American bald headed eagle -self proclaimed guardian of the animal kingdom- was behind their deaths but there is nothing really to substantiate this claim. The Indian pythons were never seen or heard of again.

What of Machiji? Did he live happily ever after? I wish I could tell you that he did not and that a hunter caught him one day and cut off his head. I wish I could tell you that but I would be lying. Machiji is still alive today and still slithers in the same venomous, reptilian company that he always kept. Would you believe that he recently even tried to be King of Lacunia again? A snake sheds its skin every year but even the Lacunians recognised that underneath this new skin was still the very same gap-toothed snake that had plunged the Republic into chaos so many years ago. He still talks out of both sides of his mouth. Recently, he crawled out of his lopgpile house and attended the ten year memorial of his dear friend, the troglodyte. He tried to tell us that the troglodyte was not really a troglodyte at all. He said that the troglodyte did not stash those cowries in Gongo rock all those years ago. He assured us that the billions of cowries that were sent to Helvetia, and have since been repatriated, had nothing at all to do with his dear friend and was some kind of administrative error. Snakes do not blink so he said all this with an entirely straight face and without a sense of irony. It is only after all these years that it has become very clear. Machiji, for once, was telling the truth. The troglodyte had not really been a troglodyte at all. He had merely been a serpent in human skin. The grimace and the dark eyewear had fooled all the animals into thinking they were different creatures when, in fact, they were one and the same.