Skip to main content

Two minutes: Enemy of the tribe

There was, once upon a time, a small tribe that lived in a deep jungle. They were migrant farmers, traveling from cultivation spot to cultivation spot, depending on the season and their fancy. In their absence, these spots were often used by other tribes, with the understanding that they would set aside small amount of their harvest. This symbiosis benefited all involved, keeping the soil fresh and turned, providing sustenance for the inhabitants of the jungle 

Their traditions compelled them to hospitality and friendliness toward visitors- their words for strangers and visitors translated into "friends-who-are-not-yet-friends" and "visitors-and-we-are-their-friend". If they didn't like someone, they would become "Friend-that-is-not-talked-to", usually adding "until we talk again", implying that ire was temporary and a return to friendship imminent. 

One day, they were visited by a random anthropologist. Fascinated by the vocabulary their worldview had assigned to the many possibilities and iterations of friendship, having lived with them a number of months, asked "But what do you call those that you fight with? Those who have robbed you? Wronged you? Stolen from you?" 

And on this evening, they were re-introduced, in broken fragments of language to the concept of "those-who-are-not-our friends", and that these might include people who shared their land, the visitors they hosted, and even the anthropologist. The anthropologist believed that this introduction to the concept of competition could only enrich what he had described in his journals as a "[…] charmingly naîve and primitive worldview, based on cooperation and cohabitation, absent of the concept of competition for limited resources". 

After he had returned to his tent, the tribe discussed these concepts. They thought back to the times before they had adopted their current role as peacekeepers in their region, in which they had maintained many soldiers to subdue rival tribes and fought bloody wars to expand their supremacy. They thought back to the realisation that though powerful, they had been more preoccupied with maintaining that power than with the cost they were paying- they had no farms, and so had to tax, or ransack weaker tribes lands and could not care for themselves without conquest. Their happiness was based on proving their influence, power and wealth to each other- whatever the cost, or harm. They used different words for the world then- words that no longer described the world they had chosen. 

In the morning, they informed the anthropologist that they called those who had been their enemies "mostly dead", using not the descriptor "friends-that-we-remember", now equally applied to tribespeople and their many friends, choosing instead to edify him with the old term "foes-that-we-slaughtered", which he understood much too easily- these were words he would soon return to, in a world in which anthropology was a word. In that moment, he felt foolish for his assumptions of simplicity and naïvite, even more so when he learned that the night had also borne him a name with the tribe- "Friend-who-wanted-us-to-have-enemies". 


Popular posts from this blog

IGAF: Lying on Camera // Astounding Armaments

Nizar Qabbani wrote his epic poem "When Will They Announce the Death of Arabs" in 1994.

He was living in London at the time, far from his native Syria, watching the world he had grown up in and represented as a diplomat from afar. America had launched operation Desert Storm- a storm that lasts to this day- two years prior, and marked 1993 with the launch of 23 cruise missiles on Iraq. Qabbani will die of a heart attack in 1998.

In 18 stanzas, he explores the wishes and dreams he once carried, describes, however tribes and nations at war, that believe that secret services (like a cold, or a headache) are part of some heavenly order. He bemoans that the idea of the "Arab Nation" (possibly derived from the Pan-Arabist ideology that was crystallised during the Nasser years) has never come into being. He has been trying to draw a picture all his life, but his crayons have been taken away. He has watched wars- on TV, he has tried to imagine the idea of a peaceful Arab unio…

In Taheyya we Trust - How an Egyptian bellydancer found her posthumous stage in Berlin

“You should have winked at her,” Aida said dismissively, as if such a possibility had been imaginable for someone as timid as I was. Tahia Carioca was the most stunning and long-lived of the Arab world’s Eastern dancers (belly-dancers, as they are called today).
Edward Said, Farewell to Taheyya

My story with Taheyya begins in the summer of 2016, at Bulbuls Caféin Görlitzer Str. in Berlin. It ends two blocks down on Wiener Str 17. 

Bulbuls is a café and art space around my corner that I have grown to like to sit in and drink smoothies (1). He had commissiond us- a crew of Syrian and Egyptian artists, as well as myself, to paint the walls inside the café. El Tenneen (the Dragon) is the one who ended up drawing Sheikh Imam, with the help of Salam Alhassan (known as Salahef/ Turtles) and Sulafa Hijazis (whom we call El Hayya/The Snake’s) beamers’ illumination. The Sheikh sits happily in the place to this day and Crew El-Zoo was born.

Tenneen had the advantage of knowing immediately what he wa…

Two minutes: Love

Love is a big word that has been filled with so many meanings that for me to strain its contours by doing more than writing it out in pretty letters is to do it a disservice. There is much to discover about the content of the word- go out and find it for yourself and fill it with your own meanings, which only experience can give you.

Like religion, discovering love is deeply personal- books and people can help guide you, and give your understanding a foundation and context, but what love ends up being for you cannot be determined by anyone but you.

Maybe we need a new word for love.