Promethea of the Gods: for Elaine Morgan, suggested by her works

Copyright 2015, John Manimas Medeiros


The skin-ape group lumbered toward the sea and so the tiger stopped, knowing she would not be able to take one before they stepped into the sea.  And she understood that she would be vulnerable to their stones anyway, not willing to take the risks of their stones and stone-blades.  Gongojo had just joined their group, a new addition to their already formidable defenses.  How he came to be accepted into the group by Promethea made an interesting story, and marked a change in the skin-apes that all the clawed predators noticed.  The skin-apes were now the most powerful animal in the world.  An individual could be taken down if isolated, but in their groups of many, which was how they usually moved about, they were terrifying.  Attacking them created great risk, not only a risk of injury, but a risk of death.  The story of these skin-apes started several moons ago, when Promothea sat on the beach and looked out at the foamy waves breaking across the shore, and listened to the singing hush of the breeze and the water, and thought.


The skin-apes had been prowling the savannas, meadows and wetlands for millennia so that their feet had changed.  They became flatter and less flexible.  They no longer had the somewhat opposable big toe that used to help maintain their stability moving through the trees.  Now they used their feet for walking, on thick branches or on the ground, and their knees had changed so that it was more comfortable for them to straighten their legs and walk upright.  They could then pick low-hanging food walking from tree to tree without having to jump and climb all day.  During this period of upright walking and leg development, they also had developed more hand skills and language skills.  This process had begun when they lived near the seashore, and watched the sunrise and then at night the broad expanse of sparkling stars.  Watching, staring, stimulated what they called "thought" or "contemplation."  This practice of contemplation, sitting at rest at the seashore was an entirely new behavior for an animal.  No animal had done this before, and the reason that the skin-apes could do this was only because they could do so safely.  And, the reason they could do this safely was because of the sea, and because they were not afraid of the sea.  They could and they did walk into the sea, and then they even learned to swim and float and go out further into the sea where their feet no longer touched the bottom and they could escape a land predator.  They could even escape a land predator that was physically able to swim, because no land predator was as mobile as they were in the water, nor as comfortable.  The clawed predators lost most or all of their advantages in deep waters.  The skin-apes could swim to a rocky section of shore and wound or kill the clawed predator as they grew tired in the pounding surf.  All of the clawed predators understood.  They understood that the skin-apes had a unique repertoire of escapes.  Hard to get to, hard to capture, great risk of a vicious fight, a hunt that would require intense combat that would then reward the predator's efforts with a rock to the head or a sliced leg.


This march toward superior defenses took a very long time, but it did occur.  The first big advance came during the contemplations.  They contemplated during the daylight hours also.  Promethea and her clan watched the sea birds, and saw them drop clams onto the rocks.  They would run to the broken clams and get them before the birds did, or would fight the birds off.  After a while, the birds learned not to drop clams in the vicinity of the skin-apes.  When there were no birds weaving the sky, the skin-apes looked downward and along the shore, from sandy shore to stony shore, to shores rich with stones and the shells of dead clams.  Contemplation while sitting became contemplation while moving, exploring.  The skin-apes had great curiosity, a trait that they had inherited from their furry tree-dwelling ancestors millennia past.  That old curiosity became a new kind of curiosity.  The skin-apes had developed a skill that was more powerful than any skill any of the other animals had, a skill that with certainty raised them to a potential above all others.  There is no single word that captures the full scope of this new skill, but it is kind of a combination of curiosity and wonder.  The distant descendants of Promethea would invent the word "creativity" suggesting that this special skill entails a kind of creative action.  But at first it did not involve creating anything, other than a special kind of thought.  That special kind of thought was called by the skin-apes, and would still be called by their descendants a million years after them, a "question."  This new skill, that arose out of contemplation, was to ask a question, to create a question in their own minds.  This was the new skill that enabled the skin-apes to become the masters of many places.  They knew how to ask questions, and because of their other skills and history they almost immediately asked a particular pair of questions:  "What is this?"  and "How can this be used."


While living on the seashore and watching, their thoughts came as regularly as the waves sliding up the smooth sand flats.  They saw many interesting things.  They had already learned how to use sticks to get termites and stones to crack nuts or stun a small animal.  When Promethea's anscestors came down from the trees to search the ground -- during a severe drought -- they noticed that there was little or no fruit and nuts to be found, but there were grubs and insects.  Not their favorite foods, but acceptable and nutritious.  Eating the small animals on the ground included small toads, frogs and lizards.  Meat.  The skin-apes learned that eating meat was fine.  They learned other things during the droughts.  The grasses on the savanna turned yellow and brown and bone dry.  When lightning struck they caught fire and the fire swept across the great plains with the wind.  The hot flame and smoke terrified all animals.  The world erupted into a cataclysmic panic.  Lions and baboons ran past gazelles.  Animals that normally stayed far apart fled side by side driven by their common fear.  They feared the hot flame and just as much they feared the blinding and choking smoke.  Suffocating was an experience no animal could tolerate.  Gasping meant dying without a fight.  They all had some ability to fight, but none of them could fight fire.  Not yet.


The skin-apes found their hardward store on the seashore:  rounded rocks both large and small, sharp rocks, a collection of rocks nearly all of the same size, sharp seashells, and shells big enough and strong enough to serve to dig a hole in the sand to find a live clam.  Those same empty shells could be used to scoop a drink of fresh water from a stream inland, or to scoop salt water onto a wound.  The skin-apes had noticed that when they swam in the sea, their wounds healed faster.  That experience strengthened their friendship with the sea.  They developed the habit of creating "tool-bins" or piles of sticks and stones they could keep for when they were needed.  The sharp shells and stones were especially valuable, because the skin-apes could hunt as a team and take down an animal larger than themselves, but they still had another disadvantage.  Either thay had to eat the larger animal in place, or do the hard work of dragging it to a safer place or to their den.  With the blades, they could cut the large animal into pieces of flesh and bone and each hunter could carry a piece.  Meat in the harvest, available year round, not just for a season.  With stones and blades, the skin-apes had become the terrors of the land.  But they were not complete yet.  They would become more terrible still.  Not only would they continue to improve their defenses; they would come to develop the greatest offense.  They would find, through the curiosity of Promethea, through her creative question, the most formidable weapon of all.


The clan's den was in a cave a dozen paces above a thin, sandy beach.  The sun woke them in the morning.  They each had an inventory of sticks and stones and shells.  After a quick dip in the cool, healing salt-water, they would pick out a couple of tools to take with them on their morning explorations.  They had learned that each member of the clan who went out to browse and hunt should each take a different type of tool or weapon.  That way the clan was fully equipped.  They had learned to use cord-vines to wrap a sharp stone or shell to the end of a strong stick.  That weapon enabled them to strike an adversary without losing control of the blade and they could strike again and again.  The other animals came to understand this also.  Somehow the soft and slow skin-apes had long claws.  There was no explanation for this.  It was just a mystery to the other animals, but a fact they must not forget.  Those who did not fear the skin-apes would soon become extinct, because the skin-apes could not resist the thrill of easy prey.  Many animals would lose the evolutionary battle over time because the skin-apes could not always control themselves when hunting.  They were not consistent in their ability to contemplate the future.  How could they contemplate what was not present?


The great leap in the security of Promethea's clan came about the time that her first child, a daughter named Flower, was one year old.  Her father, Janco, was grumpy because of a hand injury incurred in a fight with baboons.  He was a great warrior, one of the greatest among many clans.  But the baboons fight in troops, and he was lucky to escape with his life.  His bravery and prowess as a warrior was still renowned, because he had killed one of the baboons and he had vanquished all challengers before the injury to his hand.  Promethea was known since her birth as an odd individual because she had the body of a female but at times she imitated the disposition of a male, a dominant male.  She would challenge the males and make them bring her food before mating.  She occasionally attempted to fight with a dominant male and pretend that she was about to chase them off.  Then, when they attacked in earnest she would escape into the trees and leave them embarrassed and enraged because they could not catch her.  Later, when she returned, she had a way of talking that persuaded the offended males to forgive her, rage at her and slap her on the head but not cause any serious injury.  She retained the respect of the males and the entire clan.  She was a troublemaker but an effective and entertaining troublemaker.  She was a good mother and a good hunter.  They knew that Promethea was good at the contemplations, good at thoughts and questions, good at finding tools at the seashore.  She was too valuable to be killed or expelled, so her tantrums were tolerated, so long as she observed limits on her irritations.  That she did.


When Promethea had her young child in the clan cave, she had the same concern as any mother.  How could she keep the child warm?  Sometimes pulling the accumulated dead skins of old prey as a protective cover helped.  How could she protect Flower when she became more independent and began to explore on her own?  The great fear of any mother was that her child would wander too far from the adults and be snatched to instant death by a baboon or a chimpanzee or a cat.  The dogs that sometimes followed the clan but did not attack them helped bolster the clan's security.  The clawed cats feared the packs of wolves and dogs.  But still, on occasion, the dogs grew too hungry and they could attack one of the skin-apes.  When the skin-apes sensed this horror coming, the restlessness of the dogs, they threw a piece of meat in their direction.  This saved the shaky friendship.


One summer evening in the cave was very warm, and Promethea heard thunder close and shaking the air in the cave.  She could not sleep and she picked up Flower and took her outside and they sat and contemplated the high waves and the lightning that brightened the sky, jagged lines of bright light, the speech of the gods in an argument.  Promethea's mind contemplated and questioned.  Who will win this argument?  What is this lightning, this jagged stick of fire that sets the plains ablaze?  THEN A LIGHTNING BOLT OF THOUGH STRUCK IN HER BRAIN.  THE LIGHTNING SETS THE PLAINS ABLAZE BUT NOT THE SEA!  How can this be?  Why is this so?  Do the plains burn but the sea does not burn?  Why?   What is this?  How can this be used?  Is this a tool?  Can fire be a tool?  Then Promethea remembered that when she had seen a fire burning short grass near a stream, the stream did not burn, only the grass.  Promethea had a thought and the thought that she had was that she may have found the answer to here curious question.  Water cannot burn.  Water stops fire.  That may mean fire can be used as a tool!


Promethea put Flower down and jumped up and down waving her arms wildly and screaming with joy.  Others who had come out to watch the lightning now watched her and wondered:  Was this strange mother now gone truly crazy?  Why is she dancing and singing?  Promethea just danced wildly, spinning in circles, yelling like a mad woman Fire! Fire! Fire!  But the others saw no fire, and they thought that Promethea was having a dream about a fire.  She was seeing fire in her own head, and was dancing in her sleep, and they hoped her craziness would be gone by morning.  She was a valued member of the clan, but with a split personality.


Promethea soon discovered that one could stop a fire with water, keep a fire contained to a particular area.  She learned about how a fire could be started by making a spark with the spark stones next to a small bunch of dry grass, just like the summer drought lightning.  Promethea told her clan mates that fire could be a tool -- a crazy thought -- and one night she did the unthinkable.  She took a bunch of the old, dry stick tools, mostly worn out and broken, and made a pile and built a fire.  At first the clan members ran to the extreme corners of the cave or out of the cave and vocalized their ancient distress calls.  But Promethea just sat by the fire, which she had surrounded with stones and large shells filled with sea water.  She just sat and waited.  The thick smoke became thin and then died down to glowing coals with only the smell of smoke.  Her clan noticed that they could breathe just fine and the fire stayed in one place, within the ring of stones.  They watched Promethea sit by the ring of fire and they wondered:  What is this crazy person doing?  Why is she sitting still next to fire?  Why does she not run away?  They stared at her and wondered.  The males questioned her from a distance, scolded her.  What are you doing crazy woman?  Promethea waited until their vocalizations died down and allowed her to be heard.  She said:  WARM.  FLOWER WARM.  Then they watched in silence.  The adults moved closer, slowly, and they could feel the warmth of the fire as they moved closer.  They began to whisper.  WARM.  GOOD.  WARM.  OKAY.  WARM.  SAFE.  Flower came to Promethea and the other children came to their mothers, and the clan felt warm, and they understood that something very important had changed.


Later, as the skin-apes made more fires in their cave, some of the stones stacked around the fire pit had split.  Once Promethea and her cousins poured cold sea water on the hot stones and they split into several pieces.  One stone in particular had split into pieces that had extremely sharp blade edges, more sharp than the skin-apes had ever encountered before.  Those blades could cut through wood or bone and if a member of the clan had a smashed limb that was rotting they could cut off the rotting part just like a piece of game meat and that individual could still live with one limb gone.  They just would have to limit the work they did.       


Then Gongojo showed up, a large, handsome male who asked questions.  He sat some distance from the clan one evening as they watched the sky, contemplating, while still picking up some useful stones and shells being pushed to them by the waves, the gifts from the god of the sea.  He came closer, and closer, until Promethea walked toward him to tell him to get lost. 

She spoke in a calm tone at first:  GO AWAY.  WE DON'T WANT YOU.  WE DON'T HAVE ANY FEMALES FOR YOU.  He just sat and stared at her, silent.  She raised her voice.  GO AWAY.  WHY DO YOU DISTURB US.  WE DO NOT WANT A NEW MALE ADULT.  LEAVE US ALONE.  WE WILL FIGHT YOU.  WE WILL WOUND YOU.  Promethea's father Janco started walking toward Promethea and the visitor.  Flower's father, Bladethrow came too, and they stood next to Promethea.  WHAT DO YOU WANT?  WHY ARE YOU WATCHING US? 




The clan males became agitated.  They did not understand Gongojo.  WHAT IS THIS!  WHAT DO YOU SAY?  GO AWAY?   They started to vocalize the ancient threats, the warning that they might attack at any moment. 




Then they understood what Gongojo was saying.  He had learned that their clan attached fire to the ends of sticks and used them to hunt at night, even on nights when the moon was dim.  He had learned that the clan kept starving predators away with a ring of fire at night when they slept.


Janco asked Gongojo:  Why do you call her Promotheseu?.  She is a female.  She is Promethea. 

Gongojo responded:  Promethea or Promotheus, male of female, this is a person to be respected.  She keeps fire as a tool.  I want to learn about fire.  I will be a good friend.  I will work and I will mate only if you allow.  I will leave if you ask after I learn about fire. 


Promethea and the clan withdrew and conferred.  They made their decision.  They allowed Gongojo to join their clan.  They were known to other clans as the fire clan.  They made a ring of stones on the beach, and they filled it with a pile of the abundant dry driftwood on the upper edges of the shore.  They brought their cave fire embers to the beach, and soon a large blaze brightened the beach and the gathered clan.  The moon was only half, but they did not need the full moon now, because they had the light of the fire.  They danced around the fire.  They sang as they danced, and some of them waved their favorite blade-stick or stone-stick.  They sang out loudly:  FIRE  GOOD.  FIRE WARM.  FIRE TOOL.  FIRE APE.  SKIN-APES RULE!


They danced and sang til dawn.  That sunrise became a special memory for all of the skin-apes.  From that day forward the skin-apes remembered that special morning as the Fire Dawn, the first day that they had left the Garden of the Animals and started their new life in the Garden of Fire.  They remembered that special day as Promethea's Day, the day that Promethea of the Gods led them out of the Garden of Animals with a stick of fire.  Over time, they forgot the true meaning of their ancient transition from the world of animals to the world of fire.  They continued to worship fire, and devoted themselves to making their fires bigger and bigger, as though they dreamed of making a fire so big everything would be consumed by that fire and nothing that existed would escape their cosmic fire.  This would be their final victory over all of their living adversaries, by fire.  They said that the Gods had agreed to never punish them by fire.  But they were free and had no use for the limitations that Gods place upon themselves.  With fire as their tool, they could do anything they wished.  I sit on the beach and contemplate the skin-apes now.  I see them hesitating, hoping for a new thought and a new question and a new answer that will save them from their gift of fire.  The answer is not on the beach.  It is not pushed to us by the music of the waves.  It is not a stick, or a stone or a shell.  If being fire-apes is the problem, then the solution suggested by logic is that we need to become not-fire-apes.

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