Friday, October 7, 2016

The Flying Rabbits of Tumumoa

By Alfred B. Mittington, Soc. Zoo. Br.

 [First published in the Peterloo Review, Wellington (NZ), 18 June 1954.]

Far from me, dear reader, to criticise the native rites and customs of small exotic tribes. Such cultural arrogance is no longer of the age. And for one like myself, who has always been an ardent defender of the Blantun Indians of the inner Brazils, to do so is nearly unthinkable. Nevertheless, I admit I was truly stunned, not to say incensed, to hear of the ritual of Rabbit Throwing that regularly occurs on Tumumoa, the smallest of the inhabited islands of the New Zealand archipelago. And I frankly confess to mad fury on learning that the New Zealand government of Mr Patty O’Couvart refuses to interfere with this despicable practice, on the hollow grounds that it is not a blood sport, that it is good for pension-plans, and that it is – take care now! - an ‘ancient tradition’, because it got started as long ago as 1856, A.D. (which tells you what counts as archaic in these Fresh Upstart Nations Down Under!)

What is the truth which the O’Couvart administration refuses to acknowledge? Rabbit throwing, for all its hallowed significance within Tumumoan religion, is the cruellest of practices. If it only involved a single rabbit, the conscientious person might still take a deep breath and swallow his rightful indignation. But no....!! Whole runs of rabbits are being subjected to this harmful and humiliating operation, hurled around by the dozens at the ceremonial victims, by massive crowds of elated, and often intoxicated, participants!

What is more: Rabbit throwing is of recent invention, and therefore cannot even claim to be vindicated by age. And worse of all: this nauseating ritual is not at all native to Tumumoa, but is, on the contrary, a cultural contamination of Western origins. It may have turned into a local fertility rite, but it isn’t Melanesian at all. And even if it were, would that justify the thoughtless, pitiless tossing of dozens of life bunnies at a ceremoniously dressed man and woman, folks who themselves often come away with scratches, blue spots and extremely soiled costumes for which they have paid dear money? I dare say it would not! And were circumstances only slightly different, I would here, on this very page, admonish the O’Couvart government to crack down ruthlessly on this practice and force the native Tumumoans to replace the life rabbits with some other (inanimate) symbol of fertility. Would, I say - but will not. For here lays the whole problem: the rabbits already ARE a replacement! And the recent history of the rite makes one shudder at the thought of proposing yet another substitute. Far from improving matters, every cure has so far proven to be considerably worse than the original disease. And one loathes to continue the trend.

The reception of the Graydons on Tumumoa

The roots of Rabbit Throwing lie in the days soon after the Christianisation of this corner of Melanesia in the mid 1850s by the Graydon family; a set of missionaries, originally in the service of the British & Foreign Bible Society, who came to Tumumoa when kicked out of Gibraltar for social misbehaviour. Lieutenant James Newenham Graydon, their Patriarch, was an extremely zealous evangelist and – let us call a spade a spade - a total nutcase. He was ‘as insane as a man who sets his house on fire in order to warm his hands,’ as one of his former colleagues in Spain described him. If we may believe their shipping bill, which has miraculously survived, the Graydons had the weirdest notions about the place where they were headed. Their luggage contained – and here I only quote the more intelligible items – a 60 foot fold-up Tabernacle, 20 copies of A Pilgrim’s Progress, 5,000 pairs of ‘Baboon Pantaloons’, 14 enemas ‘for personal use’ and 1,000 copies of the New Testament in Manchu-Tatar. The presence of the latter lot may perhaps be explained by the misconception current at the time that Melanesians originated in the southern Chinese province of Canton (a theory convincingly discredited of late by Dr Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition). But the Baboon trousers are truly inexplicable, unless there be a connection, as has been suggested, with the accusation of ‘animal mistreatment’ which caused the Graydon’s exile from the Gibraltar Rock.

However that may be, the Graydons sailed in, they landed, and set up shop. And the very next day trouble started. It just so happened that the morning after their arrival, they were invited to attend the wedding ceremony between the chief’s 23rd daughter, Minoabubu, and a young Tumumoan called Taupotini. During that festival, certain fertility rites were performed which were meant to guarantee the newly wed couple ample progeny. We do not know exactly of what those fertility rites consisted, but they were guaranteed to be terribly shocking to a Victorian pastor. There may have been some masturbation. Perhaps there was a bit of public fornication. We cannot tell from the prudish descriptions which Mrs Mabel Graydon entrusted to her diary (what is one to make of her mentioning ‘horrid regular movements’ and ‘lascivious exposure of linguistic body parts?’ – for all one knows, the dumb brutes only chewed some cassava-roots in an impolite manner!)

Minoabubu and Taupotini on their wedding day

Nowadays we would shrug our shoulders over such things, mumble something about cultural relativism, and find ourselves a keyhole to peep through. Not so our upright Victorians! They were still convinced that God had sent them over to the darkies to teach them Civilisation, to wit: chastity, Sunday prayer, baboon pantaloons and plenty of enemas. So Lieutenant Graydon immediately set to work. It took him a week to convince Chief Ububaonim that what went on during the local marriage celebrations was Terribly Wrong in the Eyes of Our Maker (he might have succeeded a little quicker, but it ain’t easy to explain in Manchu-Tatar what Sin is to a savage who is unaware of the concept.) Ububaonim, at first, gently parried the objections.

            ‘On weddings no huba huba aloha,’ the cordial old chief replied, ‘then no little papoosoas. No little papoosoas – then no taxpayers. Bad for spouses. Bad for government. And incidentally: calamitous for national pension plan. Whole of the demographic pyramid topsy-turvy. That not how Kutahkutah ordained Mamoa of Universe. So sorry. Can’t be helped..’
            ‘But it CAN be helped!!’ Lieutenant Graydon exclaimed frenziedly as he jumped to his feet. ‘With the help of the Lord we will find an alternative!’
            ‘Await options,’ the old chief spoke amiably, as he rattled his Kuri-shell bracelet. ‘Consult think-tank. Wreck brain drain. Call again.’

Good old Chief Ububaonim

In only three 12-hours prayer-sessions of the collected Graydon clan, an alternative was indeed discovered. And it surely says something that the bright idea originated with young Matthew Graydon, the 11-year old Benjamin of the family. The alternative was rice. Throw rice at the newly-weds. That, after all, was an old, hallowed Anglo-Saxon tradition, perfectly sanctioned by the British churches, which, as young Matthew had learned in school just before sailing to the antipodes, likewise conveyed the ritual desire for the young couple to go and multiply profusely in Biblical obedience.

Next day Lieutenant Graydon hauled one of the family’s 80-pound bags of dried rice to the village fatafafa and went to see Ububaonim. He argued vehemently and at length. He explained that rice was far stronger a talisman than huba huba aloha. Just look at how plentiful the Englishmen were on the face of the earth! At least as many as all the fingers and toes of all the Tumumoans put together! There were so many, in fact, that they had to get away from their own island, and come in their canoes to other archipelagos, like Tumumoa. And look at Tamaʻitaʻi Mabel, how she had born him 11 healthy children! All because of Rice, your Majesty! – Because of Rain Showers of Rice on our wedding day!

Ububaonim considered the arguments coolly. To tell the truth, he was not much impressed with the Englishman’s dialectics. He was even a little taken aback to learn that these whiteys from across the waters still did not realize that papoosoas were a result of huba huba, not from some funny fooling around with staple foodstuffs. But - and this is essential now - Ububaonim was a deeply devout man, to whom the laws of hospitality were sacrosanct. He wanted nothing more than to please these poor guests of his, who had had to flee their own overpopulated native island and live out their sorry lives far away from the blessing of home and family. So he shrugged his shoulders, rattled his kuris, and spoke: ‘Can give it try. Progress innovation. You happy I happy.’

'The Rice Wedding (by young Miss Abigail Graydon)

And so it was ordained. During the next wedding that took place on Tumumoa, the newly weds were duly bombarded with shovelfuls of dry rice, thrown at them from the side-lines as they chastely marched out of the Marae arm in arm (young Matthew Graydon had had a splendid time explaining to the natives how the thing was done). The Graydon family gave solemn thanks to the Lord Our God for inspiring good king Ububaonim with Divine Wisdom. And the huba huba aloha took place, discreetly so as not to disturb the honourable white exiles, during the stag nights and hen parties celebrated the night after the wedding ceremony in a remote spot on the upper skirts of the volcano. A new tradition was born. Everybody happy. 

Except that Tumumoa is a dry island. And that rice will not grow in its arid, saline soil...

The Tumumoans are a marrying kind of people. They harbour a solid belief in the Family as the corner log of society. The next three months saw at least three dozen wedding celebrations; and by early September the Graydons’ supply of dried rice had run out. What to do? When consulted, that horrid King Ububaonim turned outright hostile! ‘Ways of ancestors not so bad, huh?’ he spoke savagely at Lieutenant Graydon, who was squatted humbly at his feet. ‘Rice limited resource. Runs out. Huba huba does not. Well – unless all wives get moon in head same night… Has happened to me. Embarrasing.’ And then, scratching himself under his orchid-crown, he said: ‘Better regress to old tradition. Avoid social conflict. And long walks to volcano.’

The horrid barbarian chief Ububaonim

Lieutenant Graydon was dumbstruck – and not only by the threat of being hurled into the infernal crater by way of human sacrifice, which this savage pagan had just voiced – but even more by the abhorrent thought of the Lord’s Work being Undone. He pleaded, first, loudly, to the Lord in Heaven, then, vehemently, with this royal servant of Moloch. He shouted, he sang hymns, he quoted Scripture, he rolled frenzied in the dirt of the floor. After roughly 10 minutes of this, Ububaonim, beginning to fear for his guest’s heart and mental health, gave in. ‘Alright! Accept! Calm down dorsal spine. Will compromise!’ he exclaimed, wildly waving his ostrich-feather fly-waif at the man to give him some cool air. ‘Go. Wash brain drain again. Renew innovation. Make proposal.’ And, as the grateful missionary slumped exhausted to the floor, the old king mumbled to himself: ‘See what comes from too much self-huba!’

What more, dear reader? I’m sure you can guess it. After lengthy Prayer Meetings, the Graydons did come up with a fresh solution. Mustard-seed! – the Biblical allegory for quick promulgation; of which, as luck would have it, they had three sturdy bags in their pantry. The proposal was accepted, and to the missionaries’ endless joy, mustard seed caught on well in the rich volcanic soil of the island. It seemed that the Divine Solution had been found at last. But then the brides and bride’s maids of Tumumoa filed a complaint with the chief. Them tiny little mustard seeds got into their hula-skirts and itched them to madness all through the ceremony and the party afterwards. You couldn’t get rid of them. Not by shaking, not by scratching, not by bathing. You found them for days afterwards in your rongorongo. So, they suggested, couldn’t they just, you know, go naked during the weddings? Also saved them having to go change for the post-nuptials up on the volcano. Ububaonim, a healthy fellow for his 67 summers, was not unsympathetic to the idea. ‘If you cannot climb the mountain you may still look up its skirts, eh?’ he winked thickly at the lieutenant. But the Graydons, of course, were scandalised (particularly Mabel who still harboured hopes of putting her Baboon Pantaloons to some good use before long). They sang hymns – they went into raptures – they threw their spectacles on the ground and stomped them to pieces, they….

The Tumumoa bridesmaids on strike

In short: by February of the next year an attempt was made with gulls’ eggs. Eggs were a typical fertility symbol as well, as young Matthew remembered from an article on Easter customs. But unfortunately thrown eggs make an awful mess and the mighty stag-parties turned into terrible stick-parties, which really wrecked the fun. Then somebody, with a nice Freudian touch avant la lettre, proposed coconuts. Three wedding-guests and the happily married couple itself had to be hospitalized because of the experiment, so the idea was immediately abandoned. Next, thoughtlessly, the newly-weds and their attendants were showered with chemical fertiliser. It caused an awful skin rash in everyone, and the bridesmaids let it be known they’d rather to go back to the mustard seeds, rongaronga trouble or not, than subject themselves any longer to this chemical warfare! And then, at long last, somebody noticed the rabbits of the island. The rabbits, which bred like, well…. rabbits. The rabbits, fertility totem par excellence, who knew better than any other animal how to go about a good bit of huba huba aloha. They were soft, there were many, you could swing them by the ears and – last but not least – the touch of their soft fur on your naked skin had a most enjoyable titillating effect on the whole of the company….

The first fertility rabbit sailed through the Tumumoan air on March 15th 1856 during the marriage of Kanathea and Opari. It was thrown by the bride’s father Aehtanak, and landed smack in the middle of Opari’s face (not wholly coincidentally, by the looks of it; due to some obscure old dispute over spliced mango-trees, Aehtanak couldn’t stand the sight of his new son-in-law). Other than that, however, all of the celebrants were mighty pleased with the new projectiles. The rabbits caused no brain damage, they did not get into your skirt, they uttered most cheerful little shrieks as they came sailing through the air, and the ones that died in the process could be roasted on the spot for the subsequent wedding-feast. 

The ultimate perversion:
A Tumumoa bridesmaid nursing throwable rabbits! 

This then reader, is the wholly modern and Western origin of Rabbit Throwing, that cruel blood sport masquerading as a traditional Melanesian rite. There is nothing ancient in it. There is nothing hallowed to it. It does not root in venerable Tumumoan religion or the profound philosophical concepts of the Noble Savage. It is purely the result of warped missionary brains and the dry saline soil of Tumumoa. And I say that it is high time to put a stop to the very very very sick practice! Ever since March 1856, nearly a hundred years ago now, this shameful superstition has been continued, in ever higher frequency and ever growing numbers. Nowadays, rabbits are being deliberately bred for the purpose. A special species has been developed over the years, one of good flyers and slow runners with exceptionally lengthy ears. Some of these poor animals are subjected to this painful and humiliating experience three, four, yes, sometimes even FIVE times before they succumb and get turned into spare ribs. And only the faulty reasoning, and the blind slothfulness of the O’Couvart government stands in the way of calling a halt to a practice which is an abominable blot on the reputation of the whole southern hemisphere! Shame on you, Patrick O’Couvart, you Judas Iscariot of neo-colonialism! SHAME!

Postscript on the further missionary activities on Tumumoa

Despite a promising start, the Tumumoa mission ultimately ended in failure. Initopuat , the first-born son of Minoabubu and Taupotini (the couple of the first wedding), became one of Graydon’s most devout converts, and eventually rose to be the first Episcopal bishop of the island. Yet even this could not guarantee the continued success of Christianity. The natives simply refused to come over. The main bone of contention turned out to be Tumumoan baptism customs. The natives were in the habit – as the reader surely has noticed from the above - of naming children after their father, but with the names written in reverse so as to keep the generations apart. Much as they tried, the upright and over-sensitive British missionaries could not accustom themselves to the Tumumoan faithful innocently applying the same principle to the Son of God. Perhaps it smacked too much of animal worship, golden calves and the Egyptian deity Anubis. A feeble attempt was made to explain to them that the True Name of the Lord was Jehova – but as bad luck would have it, in Tumumoan the word ‘Avohei’ signifies ‘eating avocado bread with your uncle’s daughter’, one of the gravest and most intolerable taboos on the island. The Tumumoans were scandalised and lapidated several of the preachers with coconuts. Missionary activity on Tumumoa ceased in the 1890s. Rabbit Throwing, however, persisted.

Note from the editor

The publication of the above J’Accuse had some unforeseen side-effects, insofar as it helped to topple the O’Couvart government. The outcry caused by Mittington’s revelations of modern Tumumoan marriage-rites was immense. These being days of animal lovers, Bugs Bunny and Christian vegetarianism, animal protection societies all over the globe picked up the hue and cry. New Zealand got vilified in churchyards, schoolrooms and community centres the world over. By early 1955, the O’Couvart government could no longer dodge the issue. Patty O’Couvart, however, was a proud politician and he refused to ‘cave in to this Mittington maniac’. Consequently, far from interfering with the practice out of concerns for animal wellfare, the government decided to play the ‘conservationist’ card. Rabbits were declared a protected species, and under that banner Rabbit Throwing was forcibly discontinued. Within two years, the rabbit population in New Zealand baby-boomed from an estimated 150,000 individuals to 20,000,000. Agricultural produce plummeted 43 %. Farmers staged sit-ins and let loose thousands of rabbits inside the Agricultural Ministry and Wellington City Hall. On 16 August 1955, the O’Couvart government resigned. For unexplained reasons, present-day Tumumoans throw satellite-disks at newly-wed couples; and rabbits are now being fought with industrial poison and special, laboratory-prepared strands of myxomatosis.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Love Life of the Three-Toed Sloth

By Alfred B. Mittington 

(Royal Academy of Tropical Zoology)

(From: The Collected Works of Alfred B Mittington, vol. xxxiii, pp. 64-79)

What I see when I stroll into the Ape House of the Zoo and study the Three-toed Sloth, dear reader, is Extinction. Extinction incarnate. Extinction of the kind that did in the good ol’ Shakers.

Shakers at their most… remarkable.

 Now I understand I ought to explain a thing or two before moving on with this fascinating zoological treatise. Few people nowadays have any idea who or what the Shakers may have been. This comes as no surprise, since there are no Shakers left. To put it in a nutshell (which I dare say is a word well chosen in this context): the Shakers were an even stricter, more devout and - to speak the truth - more hilari­ous split-off of the well-known Quakers, a Protestant sect dedicated to Doing Good, Getting to Heaven and making other people morals. Shaker ideology took Biblical precepts to its most unforgiving extreme. Not only should one do one's best to love one’s neighbour, forgive one’s enemy, and try to get ever closer to the Lord (their ecstatic fits during religious service earned them the moniker by which they are known) but celibacy should be practiced rigorously, the full 100 %, by absolutely everybody of the Faith. Consequently, and despite the fact that Shakers lived in mixed communities, not a single Shaker ever produced offspring. Shakers did not fornicate. Shakers did not procreate. Shaker communities were replenished only by new converts. And since time and death proved considerably faster and more powerful than the persuasiveness of Shaker missionary zeal (which is small wonder seeing that they offered a package of hard work, no drink, tasteless food and total sexual abstinence), the last Shaker died, if I remember well, somewhere in the early 1920s at the venera­ble age of 112, childless, happy to go meet Her Maker and by now shaking, one imagines, only from Alzheimer’s Disease and the bodily wreckage caused by extreme old age.

Now what does all this have to do with the Three-toed Sloth? I hear the reader ask, perhaps just a trifle impatient…

Well, despite appearances, much more than you may think, dear reader..!

The three-toed Sloth[1] is a South-American mammal that lives in trees. Well, lives... lives…? Vegetates might be the better expression for what it does. For we commonly associate the notion of Life with a minimum of movement and at least some reaction to stimuli. And in that department, the Sloth does not excel. To picture a Sloth, the reader should imagine a kind of bleached and uncombed Afghan Hound with the muzzle and the tail removed, hanging upside down from a tree-branch on four amazingly long paws, each of which sports three big, black nails which can lock themselves around a branch like a vice. Nature has indeed prepared the Sloth well for hanging from trees: a pit bull terrier's jaws are child's play compared with the grip of a Sloth's paw. Nothing in the world, not the juiciest banana nor the highest voltage Taser shock, could possibly convince a Sloth to let go of its tree if it doesn't want to do so. And it does not want to do so. Ever. Because, if there is anything which a Sloth loathes thoroughly, from its natural condition and its genetic make-up, it is the naked thought of motion.

Not for nothing has “sloth” become a by-word for laziness, dear reader. This ape is the slowest, the most inert and the least vital creature ever to come out of Noah's Arch (according to an obscure Aramaic passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it had to be car­ried down the gangway...) Its average energy consumption has recently been calculated to hover around twenty calories in a good year (approximately the digestive yield of a quarter string of vermicelli). The dumb thing barely ever moves, and when it does, its locomotion comes only with the most melancholy sluggishness and inert reluctance. To move a paw from one position to the next, takes approximately ten minutes. To move all four paws can easily take a day. And to move the whole sad bundle, pathetic muzzle to absent tail, down to the end of a five foot bough may well cost half a life-time (provided it doesn't forget somewhere along the way where it was going in the first place).

Fortunately, nature has been kind to the Sloth. Early on, it endowed the species with a digestive system fit for green leaves; whatever sort of green leaves which it finds hanging in front of its muzzle. Had it been any other way, had the Sloth fed on such fast and volatile things as – let us say - snails or beefsteak toma­toes, the species would - very early on during the Darwinistic Holocaust - have joined the Dinosaurs and the Dodo by way of simple malnutriti­on. As it is, it survives. But don't you ever expect to see a pack of famished Sloths attack and defoliate a tree in an herbivorous orgy. A single cater­pillar does more damage. What am I saying? I've seen Sloths trying, and the tree was faster!

This then, is the Sloth, the Oblomov of Apes, the zombie of the rainforest; the Sleepy Hollow of the Biological Outback. Food-wise, it managed to hold on to its ecological niche because it never moved out of there (how could it?) Psychologically it seems to be content with its somnambulant state of being (or at least, if it does have nervous breakdowns, we never notice them). Ecologically, it fits in marvellously well with—

            But what does all this have to do with the fricking Shakers?!!

screams the much-tried reader who did not pay good money to listen to rambling prattle.

Procreation, mumbles the humble author. Simple, naked, down-to-earth procreation. You know: The Act. The birds and the bees. Or in this case rather: the sloths and the trees. For here’s the mystery: How do they do it? How does one three-toed sloth ever get close enough to another three-toed sloth to become, well, you know: cosy? And if by pure coincidence they do collide, how then do they ever reach a sufficient level of ecstatic throbbing motion to, you know… make babies? The bloody thing won’t come alive for fire or flood. It will not move for food or comfort. An earthquake couldn’t wrench it from its spot! How then could mere hormones? For the Three-toed Sloth to have a love life is positively unthinkable. And so the species ought to have become extinct, exactly like them good ol’ Shakers, within the first generation after its emergence.

Since there are enigmas which even a man as highly intelligent as myself cannot possibly unravel through mere systematic deduction, I decided to consult Dr Jeroen Bos of ‘Natura Artis Magistra’, the Amsterdam Zoo. Doctor Bos is one of Europe’s foremost experts in Simonology, or Ape-studies, and in return for only a minor fee, he agreed to consult the – rather scarce – literature upon the subject. The following summary on the procreative ‘activities’ of the Three-toed Sloth is the result of his efforts.

‘The reproductive cycle of the Bradypodidae, dear collaegue,’ so Doctor Bos wrote me, ‘is really more a matter of the growth of trees than the lust of apes. Statistical field work by the Simonological Faculty of Sidney Municipal University has yielded the basic empirical statistic that the faster the trees in any given area grow, the more baby sloths one finds. This phenomenon, known among experts as the ‘Von Humboldt Simeo-Dendero Correlation’ (after its original discoverer, Humbert von Humboldt) was already observed and formulated some 150 years ago. It took science not a short while to unearth the true mechanism behind this symbiotic relationship. But at long last, I dare say, we have cracked this hardy nut!’

‘The process takes place in the following manner. By a simple coincidence of nature, a female sloth makes her permanent home, early in life, in the top of a young and healthy tree. Naturally, the old girl never again moves from this privileged position. The tree then begins to grow. And since tropical trees grow fast, it may happen that, after a fair number of years, one morning when the cock grows and the sun rises, the lady Sloth discovers that her position has shifted considerably in the upward mode, and she now finds herself dangling high above the foliage-level of the rain forest. Exposure to sunbeams triggers a distinct hormonal reaction. To use a hallowed phrase: the lady sees the light, and her biological clock tells her it is time for Sex. Reversing the roles between the sexes as it exists among our Human Species, in which the boys invariably whistle after the girls (haha), the girl Sloth begins to emit a shrill, high-pitched and extremely loud whistle, which may be heard for miles around, in order to attract the attention of possible mates.”

The reader will forgive me for taking over at this point from the very learned, but rather chatty Doctor Bos, among whose many splendid qualities brevity shines only through its total absence. I summarize his findings and his erudite account:

Changing, so to speak, from a sloth into a slut, the furry Christmas ball in heat sends forth her screeching mating call. The male Sloths down below instantly go bananas (which, come to think of it, is not so very odd for apes.) If only they had ears, they would prick them up. As it is, they go into unheard of libidinous activity, and a mad race ensues between all the males within hearing range. Paws are stretched out! Claws lock themselves around previously untouched branches! Hindquarters are lifted to new heights, and so on, and so forth, at 5m/24h. All boy sloths wish to be the first to reach that treetop where carnal bliss awaits them.

Boy Sloths going absolutely Bananas

Now, from here on, there is something of a blank page in the research papers, since no investigator has ever had the patience to wait for the whole process to be completed (few of them live that long, and most reach retirement age before the business has been brought to a close). Consequently, it is not known how long it really takes the winner to reach his prize. By way of indication, however, it may perhaps be mentioned that among the Blantung Indians of Mata Grosso there exists a Cosmogenetic Myth which says that it took the Primeval Male Sloth 19 years and half a day to reach the Primeval Mama Sloth with whom to bring forth the Primeval Egg which hatched the Blantung Universe. Of course, creation myths often exaggerate such periods of time, and as that bit with the Egg shows, the Blantungs themselves had only the vaguest notion of how Sloth Reproduction truly takes place.

However that may be, one male sloth eventually manages to find his way all the way to the top of the tree. Unsurprisingly, it is not speed, but aim and direction which decides the outcome. As the pack crawls forward, most competitors simply lose the race by losing their way. At crucial moments they proceed up the wrong branch, and all of these candidates end up dangling undecidedly somewhere among the lateral foliage of the tree. The Sloth with the best Vertical Sense comes out the winner – a mechanism which is known among the Simonologists, with a naughty wink, as the Survival of the Erectest. 

As soon as this Supersloth arrives, the female stops her whistling. The effect is devastating. All other competitors instantly stop dead in their tracks, and never move another inch from where they find themselves. From this loser’s position they then witness the consummation of the treetop marriage, which decency, space and an aesthetical sense forbids me to describe in detail. Let it merely be said that one should not expect to find rapturous scenes from Deep Throat or Blue Movie among mating sloths; and that the phrase “the heights of ecstasy” really only refers to the altitude at which the whole lamentable business takes place.

But there you have it reader. Yes, indeed, it is possible. It happens! Sloths mate! Sloths procreate! Sloths Do It, in spite of all appearances! A mystery is solved! A tip of Mother Nature’s burka has been lifted!

But, as so often, solving one problem really only creates the next. What, I ask, of Birth? What of the Mystery of New Life being brought into the world? How does thát happen? Must we imagine a tree top delivery?? Na – that can barely be! Just picture it: Mama Sloth, highly pregnant, is hanging from her branch. She calmly chews a eucalyptus leaf which a merciful breeze has blown between her teeth last autumn… Suddenly – and inapt as the word may sound here – she goes into Labour. Out pops little Baby Sloth! And next? Does the poor little new born drop down, and end up dangling by the umbilical cord, suspended, so to say, by its Oedipal ties, swinging in the wind until the vital cooperation of its growing weight and the forces of erosion breaks the maternal bond? And if so, how does Young Sloth ever manage to get back up that tree again (if it doesn’t break it bloody little neck, that is)!? Ah, there is never an end to the Enigmas of the Natural World!

But the answer to this particular question will have to wait until the next issue of this series, to wit: Child Abuse Among The Three Toed Sloths. 

[1] There also exists a two-toed variety, but, as the name already implies, Mother Nature has endowed that subspecies with even fewer blessings. Consequently I prefer not even to discuss it!