Tale No: 1
The Berliner Cult
THE BERLINER CULT was a secret one in the strictest sense, said Uncle Lekwot. There were no agendas to the meetings, the need to take minutes was never considered. 'We'd meet, we'd talk out our souls, we'd cry out our hearts, we'd laugh our stomachs off, and we'd go - in the name of Africa'. Even The Africa was a privatised secret, it became so when We Shall Never Be Pacified was adopted as the oath of allegiance. They swore to belong to each other, they shared the meaning of the oath, but the exact words were individual secrets deliberately locked in eleven languages by Cy's key question - Who the hell christened our blessed continent Africa? None of the African languages represented had “Africa” in its root vocabulary.
Also, they called themselves The Eleven-In-One, another secret so well kept it eluded the cybernetic tentacles of The Computer until The Cult metamorphosed into Twenty-three-In-One, the legally constituted body of Africans who fought and won The First Battle Of Yunhouse. Said The Printout: “In the beginning, there were Twenty-three Africans, they religiously denied the virtues of English real ale in London pubs, preferring to get drunk on each other's blood... Out of the jungle they came, but the jungle did not come out of them”.
The Gero Duo read this with considerable satisfaction, remembering how The Eleven-In-One rapturously dived into the jungle on that solemn night when they saw themselves pioneering the establishment of an African cult outside Africa, on English soil to be exact. And why not? Except for a minor problem: none of The Berliners had first-hand knowledge of the constitution of an African cult, European education having carted them off to look at strange pictures and learn how to get their tongues around awkward sounds - such as "th" in "the thing" - whilst others in their peer groups learnt to make drums speak the language of the spirits. The London model of the secret cult, therefore, drew on fragmented childhood recollections of popular perceptions of secret cults. So, for example, had a suitable instrument been handy in the Camden Town Flat, The Berliners, following a member's suggestion, would have tattooed a chosen insignia (map of Africa?) onto a secret notch (the crotch?) of their anatomies, that notch would then become the Cult's password and members would greet each other with “Hello crotch” in a nominated African language.
'We may as well adopt "freeze" as our password', Cy told the gathering of freezing Africans on the night the subject of password was resolved. Lekwot had earlier gone to report the coal cellar empty, he found his landlady in bed, under half a dozen blankets, and reading Paradise Lost held in hands protected by mittens. The coalman failed to deliver, she told Lekwot. 'Now's is your chance to get a taste of real inter, a wonderful experience to write to your folks back home'. Would Lekwot like extra blankets? There were extra pairs of mittens for reading but they may not be long enough for his long African fingers. On the other hand, he could wait for his African friends to get warmer, 'Your laughter sounds like a blast furnace'. The visiting Berliners would not be put off their meeting. They adjusted their longjohns and long sleeve vests, tightened the wrap of their scarves, buttoned their overcoats and nestled together to hear Cy's peroration on the subject of a password for The Berliner Cult.
'Here we are, Brothers, freezing in a foreign land. I mean you don't have to be versed in The Origin Of Species to infer that Homo Sapiens have forever used their power of locomotion to gravitate towards warmth. So what in the name of our ancestors are we doing here?...Something happened to us, my Brothers. Something very sinister. Something totally disorientating. For a password that would be a trigger button of our experiences we need look no further than that something'.
The spellbound Berliners were referred to an article, The Significance Of 1884, in the latest edition of their new magazine, The Africa Picture [No Spitting!], in which the Great Berlin Carve-up was described as The Scramble For Africa: ‘That's what they think it was. That's what they'd like us to think it was. Brothers, mark my word, we'll all live to see many generations of reading-and-writing Africans borrowing "Scramble" - their coin in their intellectual market - to look at Colonialism. It'll be our historical destiny to watch this process that precludes, as counterfeit, all our original thoughts on our circumstances. It is our historical privilege and duty to resist the process...We shall never be pacified!.'
Echo: 'We shall never be pacified!'
'Then our story begins with one nasty fact: that each and everyone of us here was born within blood-letting distance of the Great Berlin Carve-up of our continent!' He whisked his travel documents out of his coat pocket. 'Our parents don't have these documents. Our brothers and sisters don't have them. They’ve stayed pre-historic'. The Berliners were asked to cast their minds back to that moment at the pearly gates of history when they stood before a Colonial St Peter and were asked to declare who they were. His own father, with his hand on the Bible, was asked to repeat the words of a legal oath which said that whereas his son, Cyril, although born in the pre-historic time when births were not being recorded in the Colony, was actually born by his mother into the world on the 17th day of November 1891. The local interpreter transmitted the text of the oath with a wry smile: 'The Whiteman wants you to swear that the young man is your son. Just say yes'. Mr Naikule senior, irritated by the aspersion cast on his own blood, not to mention his manhood, wanted to reveal a family birthmark, on the left buttock, spotted and slapped by several generations of midwives, some of whom were available as living witnesses. But the interpreter firmly retained his hand on the Bible, turned to the Whiteman, 'The Old Man agrees to everything you say, and he so swears'. Local St Peter stamped and endorsed Cy's identity:
‘Now you are somebody , keep your Declaration Of Age safe, remember your birthday, everywhere you go in England you'll be asked for it, without it you're nobody'.
'What did the Whiteman say to you, son?' 'He wishes me good luck'.
Cy paused. The Berliners all thought he would begin to stutter. But he did not. He continued: 'Lies! lies! lies! That is our fate'. The Berliners should watch out for the day in the not so distant future when the modern - meaning Europeanised! - African personality would be said to have complexes, for, as that African lied his way into becoming somebody, his soul would have somersaulted and contorted in fraudulent acrobatics until he knew not who he was, he would have matured without the benefit of the wisdom in "know thyself". To start afresh here in Camden Town, the Berliners were to discard exact days and months and revert to dating by events, seasons and moons, as it used to be where they came from. At least they would avoid the temptation of birthday parties, a ridiculous notion, anyway, who in his right mind would want to indulge in the morbid arithmetic of countdown to death. Birth occurred once, everyday was affirmation of that birthday. However, it was very significant that members of the Berliner Cult shared the same birth season. Cy read from a piece of paper: 'In Africa, every age group has a club or society , often secret, through which the members assert their social relevance within their tribal community'. He had copied those words from an anthropological thesis in the University Library, but they would do for now.
'So, Brothers, we were all born in, and belong to, the age of The Pacification Of The Natives...'
....We shall never be pacified! ...
Therein lies the rub, continued Cy . And how it all began in the autumn of the year Eighteen Eighty-Four, in the city of Berlin in Deutschland, when men in very grey suits pored over an outline map of Africa dotted with named and soon-to-be-named landmarks now known as Nile, Niger, Congo, Senegal, Orange, Limpopo, Zambezi, Atlas, Cameroon, Kilimanjaro, Chad, Victoria, Nyasa, Tanganyika, just to name a few. Those men in the very grey suits didn't see any Africans on that map, and they have not seen any Africans since: 'If this cult of ours is to achieve anything it is to make ourselves visible...'
...We shall never be pacified ...
'Quite. Consider further, my Brothers, those trigonometric instruments, blunt and sharp, cutting, piercing, slicing and carving your invisible forebears: neighbours went to farm together and finished their days’ work on different sides of national boundaries; families sat down to dinner and stood up as multi-nationals; couples went to bed in conjugal bliss and woke up with split lineages. If this picture sounds familiarly loud and clear it is because it echoes their Bible's depiction of the scenario to mark the end of the world. It was the end of our world all right. Our forebears did not know it then. But they knew it. Now we Berliners know that the end of that world was a dance called the Scramble For Africa. We shall call it Their Tumble Into The Jungle. That dance was choreographed in Berlin. When? In Eighteen...'
‘The cardinal rule for that dance was: Don't step on my toes! Because that was all they had: toe-holds in Africa. A person quarrels with his wife, he escapes to Africa, his refuge would be cited as a toe-hold; a social misfit is catapulted out of his society, he revives himself in Africa, the location of his new beginning was demarcated as toe-hold in the Dark Continent; a man possessed by John The Baptist Syndrome seeks out a bush spot to indulge a diet of locust and wild honey while calling for the Messiah all day and all night, his dinner table counts as toe-hold; a venturesome buccaneer loses his way in the jungle, it would be big, big news, the locus of his perambulations was cartographic evidence for a toe-hold...and so on.’Then they shoved their toes, nay their big boots, up the bottoms of our forebears, an act they called pacification of the natives...'
'We shall never be pacified!''.
'Indeed. How could we, we who were merely unfertilised natives in the virginal wombs of our mothers when they arrived to prepare the floor for Their Tumble Into The Jungle. Notice, Brethren, their consideration, almost humane, for the animals of the jungles, the most troublesome of the beasts being, of course, our forebears who lived in organised communities of some description, spoke some sort of language and were capable of orchestrated nuisance, maybe even resistance to Operation Tumble Into The Jungle. So our ancestors had to be talked to, so they arrived, like they would in a zoo, armed with mirrors and breadcrumbs soaked in liquor , to tantalize and mesmerise our forebears into playing the game of putting their marks on pieces of paper . That was the game of-of-of...T-t-treaties...We'll spare ourselves the pain of reflecting on the contents of those treaties, which they, in accordance with the rules of Eighteen-Eighty-four, required to prove to themselves and to one another their entitlement to our lands, thus making squatters of our forebears. The treaties would have qualified for criminal land deals, if only they had been deals. But they were not even deals, as our forebears stressed when they returned to begin occupation of our lands. Our forebears beat the gongs and said NO! They mounted their Maxim Guns and the pa-pa...pa-pa...pa-pa...pacification b-e-ee-e-eegan!...'
“We shall never be pacified!”...
Cy recovered his breathe, and continued: 'As I speak to you, the bespectacled severed head of King Alu Genbalu of the Central Africa is stuck on a pole inside a museum of mankind - so-called - on mainland Europe'.
The Berliners observed a minute's silence for this hero of resistance to pacification.
Alu Genbalu's crime had been his refusal to put the infamously anonymous 'X' on the piece of paper offering peace of the Colonial variety. Instead, King Alu scrolled the sheets, 'Nice smooth leaves', he called them, and he told the bearer what he and his subjects normally used leaves for: 'I'm going to wipe my bottom with these'. The bespectacled Belgian General was invited to watch, but he should come without his spectacles, an item banned in the palace since that day the king told a missionary that glasses were evil tools for functioning at evil hours of the night. 'The almighty maker of all things has his reasons for switching off the sun at the end of the day, he plucks out the eyes of people who extend the day into the devil's time'. The Belgian's spectacles were promptly removed and crushed under the bare feet of a palace orderly. The King signaled the end of the discussion and walked off, totally uninterested in the stream of abuse and swearing that the interpreter could no longer comprehend because the Belgian switched from English to French then to Flemish.
The King's arrogance, it transpired, was founded on a verbal promise by a British missionary to secure supplies of British Ra-tata-ta, the local lingo for Maxim Gun, in exchange for the vast amount of gold in the African Kingdom. 'The Belgians are small Whites, O King, with the support of mighty English they'll be no match for you'. With flintlock rifles supplied by Arabs, King Alu managed to keep his promise of scorching his ancestral soil for the Belgians. But only for a while. The British Ra-ta-ta-ta never arrived to help him match Belgian fire power. A few days before his capture, the English missionary got a reply , through a Belgian, that was passed on to the King with genuine Christian honesty: 'Not all the gold in the world would tempt the British to break the Berlin agreement never to take the Native side in all conflicts arising from the process of pacifying the Africans. It's a matter of honour, Your Majesty'.
‘What a time to learn that there is honour among bastard thieves', said the King, before ordering the missionary to be beheaded as a bearer of evil tidings.
Two days later the bespectacled Belgian Colonel sneaked into the King's bathroom at dawn, he acted upon intelligence information that when the King had his ritual bath all weapons in the palace were laid down. 'I've come to watch you wipe your black bottom', the Colonel said. The King was beheaded in front of a captive audience of elders all seated with Maxim Guns pointed at their heads. The informer from a neighbouring enemy tribe who'd disclosed the secret of relaxed security at dawn, told the Belgians: 'The man is a viper, if his head touches any part of this soil an extremely lethal venom will seep into every crevice'.The frightened but vengeful Colonel instructed that Alu Genbalu's head be shipped in hermetically sealed crate to Europe where, from a minimum distance of twenty-nine meters, men, women and children viewed it like a three-dimensional poster of a horror movie with banner caption that announced: “Alu Genbalu: Pagan Chief of Central Africa”. The Colonel wouldn't be drawn into the claims and counter-claims of Belgian opticians as to who fitted the King with the shattered spectacles. Intrepid anthropological craniologists, using calipers and gauges at the end of thirty-meter arms, measured the severed head from various compass points for evidence of Darwinistic truths. Cy read all about it in a treatise, by a Cambridge armchair anthropologist, which said the permanent smile on King Alu's face was not a smile but a grin akin to primates who grinned in the face of external
It was the dawn to a lengthy winter night, broken by dull English sun filtering through the curtains of the Camden Town basement flat as if x-raying the thoughts of eleven Africans gathered in the name of their continent.
'In the name of King Alu Genbalu', declared Lekwot, 'I propose the motto of this Cult be We Shall Never Be Pacified!’.
‘We shall never be pacified!’
The Latin equivalent was suggested by a student of the classics: 'You know, the best mottos are in Latin'.
Cy objected on the grounds that having it in English was sufficient Afrotok: 'Any further translation of this beloved sentence of ours must be back into the spiritual mold of its Africa origin'.And so it was that each and every African in attendance on that historic night in Camden Town was made to stand up, translate and proclaim the freshly minted motto in his tribal tongue.
Something To Write Home About: 'Turn by turn, each person began with a pregnant pause. The audience could hear his African Brain Cell juddering into gear for the intellectual gymnastics of a lifetime. In suspense, we waited to hear tribal variations of what we all already knew, meant and were throbbingly feeling as Our Africa...Just say it, Brother!. Make our night. Give us the music...Eleven times the tribal utterances came, loudly and proudly. Eleven times the African was applauded with Long Live Africa!... Africa would never again be the same'.
The above passage, as researchers into the history of Yunhouse would observe, hangs mysteriously within a doodled map of Africa that is upside down as well as laterally inverted so that the Dark Continent looks the impression of a discarded anti-mosquito boot from the colonial fashion pages of the earliest editions of The Picture, a caption beneath it reads: 'Apropos Everything - The Dawn Of The African Brain Cell In Motion'. The figure occupies an entire page that has no sequence number and is not referred to anywhere else in Something To Write Home About. The passage within the figure is the only extant written account of the Berliner Cult, Uncle Lekwot told me. He would make no further comments until I had ensured the door to Hut 001 was securely locked.