Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The long fast - A story for Death Moon

Many years ago I took an anthropology class as part of my History degree at University. During that class I was told the story that follows below. I probably don't remember all of it correctly, and I have no idea where the original story came from or even if it is based on truth. It is a story I like telling during Wicca 101 classes though, because I feel it shows much about Humans and their relation to Nature.

Just before the start of the draught every year when there was very little food to be found, an African tribe would have a huge festival where they would eat, drink and make merry. After the festival almost all the food would be gone and the hunger times would begin, the period of the long fast. Every year during this time, several of the people from the tribe would die. The tribe continued to celebrate their festival because it was what their tribe had done since time immemorial.

The European colonisers enter the scene. After observing the festival just before the drought for several years, the colonisers decide that they should step in and help the African tribe. After all, these poor African people surely didn't realise that they should be frugal and save their food to get through the dry periods. So after much deliberation, the European colonisers decided to forcibly take the food away from the African tribe just before their annual festival. They rationed the food, and handed out portions of it on a daily basis. That year the people of the African tribe dropped like flies: many more people died than in previous years.

The European colonisers decided that it must have been a fluke, and continued withholding food the following year and handing out the rations. Again many of the African tribe died.
In the end, the European colonisers gave up and let the African tribe go back to their own tradition of eating all their food before the hunger months, and fasting during the dry period. People still died, but much less than during the time when the colonisers had been rationing the food.

Since taking that class in University, I have read several articles about food and fat preservation and those articles shed light on the story about the African Tribe. During times of hunger, your body's metabolism changes and manages to work at a much slower pace, enabling you to get through periods with very little food. By rationing the food and feeding the tribe small portions every day, the bodies of the people didn't get to this state where they had an altered body metabolism. As a result they were less able to cope with hunger and more people died.

This is exactly the stage in nature where we are at now. Our big festival before the start of the Hunger period is Yule / Christmas, and this is the time where food in Nature has become scarce. This would be the time that the last of the turnips and cabbages would be eaten, and the waiting game for the new harvest would begin. Nature is wonderful though, in that it has equipped our bodies to deal with this time period. For me the clearest message in the story is to learn trust our instincts, because our instincts are often more in tune with Nature than our brains are.

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