In a time before gods, when the world was free from chains, there lived a tribal chieftain. His people numbered fewer than two hundred, and dwelt in harmony on the banks of a mighty river. Food was abundant in the form of fish, and the rich soil yielded a wide selection of vegetables and starch crops.
The chieftain had been elected by birthright, and was, to all intents and purposes, a model leader. But, unbeknown to all, he had been born with a defective heart. Though it beat the same as other men’s, there was a hole in it, which prevented him from feeling pleasure. He kept this secret from everybody, including his wife.
Conformity weighed heavily upon his shoulders, and in order to fit the mould, he was compelled to falsify his feelings. Every one of his people seemed to derive happiness from life’s simple offerings. Thus, when they laughed and loved, the chieftain also laughed and loved. At least, he pretended to.
And with his heart so empty, his head took governance. Fearful of some day being discovered, he sought to consolidate his position. If ever his secret were to become known, he would make sure that nobody was able to topple him from power. He watched his people with an eagle eye, and over time, he started to formulate a plan.
One night, the harvest moon full and bright, he lay beside his wife in bed, and feigned slumber. When he was sure that she was sleeping soundly, he splashed his face with water from the bedside bowl, and raised a merry racket. Of course, she woke, and asked him what the matter was. Trembling fiercely, apparently bathed in sweat, he gave her tidings of a terrible dream. The Palm Fish - the community staple - had been poisoned with a deadly blight. To protect his people, he must forbid them from landing the offending creatures.
The following day, the decree was passed, and although nobody was pleased with the news, they trusted their chieftain’s judgement. And so it was that the catching of Palm Fish became prohibited. Eating its flesh would poison them unto death. And graver still, the breaking of the decree would unleash a fouler poison. It would bring deceit into the community, and would be punishable by banishment.
Life remained fairly comfortable. Although other fish were less tasty, and far less plentiful, the villagers managed well. They substituted their diets with produce from the fields. And seeing that his plan had thus far failed, the chieftain soon had another dream. The sorghum grain was tainted with a pestilence. Another decree was passed, with the same terms as the one before.
Again the villagers managed, though not so comfortably this time. They had to toil harder. Their bowls were seldom full. And on and on it went. With the people still not breaking his decrees, the chieftain pushed on with his plan. Other fish, edible tubers, fruits. Meal times soon became sombre affairs, and the first green shoots of hunger began to surface. Stomachs started sagging, bones began to peek through thinning flesh. The stronger families exerted their power over weaker neighbours, taking liberties in the sharing of the communal harvest. And eventually, the first decree was broken.
Seeking favour from the chieftain, the villagers soon reported the culprit. He was banished, even though the Palm Fish had not killed him. The explanation given was that the poisoning must have been one of the spirit. As such, the man’s family, who had also eaten of the flesh, were to join him in his banishment. Suitably warned, the villagers went on with their dour existence.
Now, the chieftain was far from stupid. He knew that his people had their limits, and from time to time, he offered them small rewards. For it only took a dream to allow a concession. A foodstuff would suddenly be declared safe again - often something that the chieftain himself had a hankering for. Or there would be the odd special day, where everything was edible, and people could gorge themselves with gay abandon.
It was a splendid system. Whenever the chieftain suspected somebody of coveting his power, he would pass a new decree that defined them as criminal. Groups of supposed dissidents could suddenly face banishment for eating a particular fungus, root, or vegetable. And guaranteed, there would be villagers more than happy to report them, in the hope of winning some new concession. And so it was that the world was sold into slavery.
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