The Tribesman In All Of Us
I was in Frankfurt a couple of summers ago and there was a young man at the hotel named Kaitet Olla Kishau. He was a Masai from Kenya. Kaitet is a big, tall, good-looking guy; he speaks English and German; he’s married to a European lady; he’s a writer and filmmaker. He also goes home to Masai Land two or three times a year, or whenever his father gets word to him that he’s needed. Kaitet dons the robes, tends the cattle, lives the full-on Masai life. He says he feels sorry for his European friends, who don’t have the chance to replenish their souls by periodic immersion into the primal ways.
I have another friend, David McQuade, whose ex-brother-in-law, Bahi (“Warrior”), takes part each summer in the Sundance on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. Remember Richard Harris in A Man Called Horse? It’s that sundance, with the piercing of the flesh of the chest, the rawhide thongs, the three or four days of non-stop dancing. Anyway, David and Bahi were out there a few summers ago. David wasn’t allowed to participate because he was white, but he was permitted to attend. So there they are–Bahi, pierced and dancing in 100-degree heat, surrounded by his tribal brothers–and David beside him. What is Bahi saying to David? Something about the ancient ways? The Great Spirit?
Bahi: “David, when you go back to my house, don’t forget the B-roll. I’ve got some cuts and trims I’ve got to work on later.”
Yes, Bahi is a professional soundman and film editor. Which seems to indicate that the most primeval tribal ways can and do coexist quite handily with modern and post-modern sensibilities. Who, after all, is more media-savvy than al-Qaeda and the Taliban?
Or, looked at from the other end of the telescope, a very strong case could be made that the United States “went tribal” in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Our President declares the enemy “evil-doers” and states that “you’re either with us or against us.” That’s about as tribal as it gets.
The tribal mind, I believe, is the human race’s default setting. Why wouldn’t it be, after millions of years of evolution during which the only mode of social organization was the tribe? The citizen–a completely novel manifestation of homo sapiens–appeared, one might suspect, sometime around the rise of the polis, the city-state, in ancient Greece. Or maybe a related type showed up earlier, when trade became prominent and insular societies were first exposed to the wider world. But the citizen mind-set (intellectual curiosity, individual autonomy, self-regulation, inclusiveness, toleration for dissent) seems to be a higher faculty, layered over the tribal mind but not superseding it, much like the cerebral cortex nestles above the primal brain.
When extreme stress is applied, we all seem to revert to the tribal brain. It’s our “go-to” mode, our survival setting. More on this in the next few days.
Meanwhile many thanks to Brandon Friedman of VetVoice for posting our videos and linking to them. Brandon, in addition to being Vice Chairman for Vote Vets and the editor of its blog, Vet Voice, is the author of one of the best books to come out of the Afghanistan campaign, The War I Always Wanted, a slightly askew recounting of, among other things, his service as a platoon commander with the Rakkasans (101st Airborne) in Operation Anaconda, 2002, the airborne insertion into the Shahikot Valley that sought to finish off the last concentration of al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan at that time. Good stuff!