Thursday, April 06, 2006

Gallery of Icons 2

Now, over here we find the likeness, meticulously sculpted in petrified rat turd by convicted Guatamalan drug smugglers, of Qetzlmergatroid, the Mayan god of mudwalking. Living in cities and walking around in shoes and on concrete as we do, it is hard for us civilized folks to envision a need for a god whose duty it was to oversee the act of walking through mud, but back in the proverbial day, Qetzlmergatroid was a busy god and one justly revered. Fever victims, of which there were many, were made to slog back and forth through mudholes in order to lower their body temperatures and at the same time appease Qetzlmergatroid's demand that they walk through mudpuddles. If they faltered or passed out, they were summarily sucked into whirling mud spirals, never to be seen again until archeologists puzzled and pondered over their bones. Tiny effigies of Qetzlmergatroid, carved out of similarly petrified rodent droppings, were often recovered from these same alluvial deposits and provide us with conclusive proof that Mayans were a bunch of superstitious loonies.

Meanwhile, across the ocean and through the jungles of equatorial Africa, this imposing idol loomed large in the lives of Congolesians. He was Mthulu Mbembe and he meant business. In his day, though only a clay effigy, Mthulu garnered a clean ten percent tithe from all villagers from Kisangani to Kinshasa. For he was proported to be the god of shame. It was one thing to be dying from malaria or diptheria, quite another to be the victim of rumor and innuendo. As long as you actually died from the shame, it was no big deal. Your children inherited your surplus, but you took most of it with you. However, if you were unfortunate enough to survive the initial ill repute that resulted from a low crop yield, the birth of a girl, or bad hair, the ignominy would grow daily, eventually choking you, your wife and your first born to death or worse. And that would be a huge blot on the rest of your family. They'd have to move to another village until the shame reached them there, then on to another and another ad infinitum. Best just to pay Mthulu Mbembe his ten percent and be done with it.

It's said the manufacturer of the hundreds of thousands of clay Mthulus lived quite well and never had a thing to be ashamed about.

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