Excerpt from Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael: An Adventure of Mind and Spirit"
This is a very deep and symbolic story of a gorilla who uses his great mind and will to communicate with humans and teach. What he teaches directly correlates to the life of our people.
I would like to ask you after having read this, think about how this relates to the story of our black men and women. I will write a follow up post to expand more on this.
And the excerpt begins:
“I was born somewhere in the forests of equatorial West Africa,” he said. “I’ve never made any
effort to find out exactly where, and see no reason to do so now. Do you happen to know anything
about animal collecting for zoos and circuses?”
I looked up, startled. “I know nothing at all about animal collecting.”
“At one time, or at least during the thirties, the method commonly used with gorillas was this: On
finding a band, collectors would shoot the females and pick up all the infants in sight.”
“How terrible,” I said, without thinking.
The creature replied with a shrug. “I have no actual memory of the event—though I have memories
of still earlier times. In any case, the Johnsons sold me to a zoo in some small northeastern city—I
can’t say which, for I had no awareness of such things as yet. There I lived and grew for several
He paused and nibbled absentmindedly on his branch for a while, as if gathering his thoughts.
In such places (he went on at last), where animals are simply penned up, they are almost always
more thoughtful than their cousins in the wild. This is because even the dimmest of them cannot
help but sense that something is very wrong with this style of living. When I say that they are more
thoughtful, I don’t mean to imply that they acquire powers of ratiocination. But the tiger you see
madly pacing its cage is nevertheless preoccupied with something that a human would certainly
recognize as a thought. And this thought is a question: Why? “Why, why, why, why, why, why?”
the tiger asks itself hour after hour, day after day, year after year, as it treads its endless path behind
the bars of its cage. It cannot analyze the question or elaborate on it. If you were somehow able to
ask the creature, “Why what?” it would be unable to answer you. Nevertheless this question burns
like an unquenchable flame in its mind, inflicting a searing pain that does not diminish until the
creature lapses into a final lethargy that zookeepers recognize as an irreversible rejection of life.
And of course this questioning is something that no tiger does in its normal habitat.
Before long I too began to ask myself why. Being neurologically far in advance of the tiger, I was
able to examine what I meant by the question, at least in a rudimentary way. I remembered a
different sort of life, which was, for those who lived it, interesting and pleasant. By contrast, this
life was agonizingly boring and never pleasant. Thus, in asking why, I was trying to puzzle out why
life should be divided in this way, half of it interesting and pleasant and half of it boring and
unpleasant. I had no concept of myself as a captive; it didn’t occur to me that anyone was
preventing me from having an interesting and pleasant life. When no answer to my question was
forthcoming, I began to consider the differences between the two life–styles. The most fundamental
difference was that in Africa I was a member of a family—of a sort of family that the people of
your culture haven’t known for thousands of years. If gorillas were capable of such an expression,
they would tell you that their family is like a hand, of which they are the fingers. They are fully
aware of being a family but are very little aware of being individuals. Here in the zoo there were
other gorillas—but there was no family. Five severed fingers do not make a hand.
Questions to ask yourself:
1. Are we individual fingers or are we One hand?
2. What is the benefit of being a hand over being a finger and vice versa?
3. What is the psychological state of a King without a crown? Can my Kings identify?
4. My Queens, ever thought of the reasons behind the recent fad of other races adopting our children and raising them as their own?
5. How would growing up with your crown already taken and believing that the crown rightfully belongs to another but feeling the royal blood flow through you affect your life and the others you interact with?
6. What would it take for a King to give up the fight and willingly forget his true place?