Magazine article New Internationalist


Magazine article New Internationalist


Article excerpt

Eduardo Galeano is one of Latin America's foremost writers. He lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, and his latest book Upside Down is published by Metropolitan Books, New York.

People of wood

The Mayan gods were bored and wanted company, and they decided to create us. It wasn't a bad idea. So we were born from the multi-coloured flesh of corn, and here we are. But before that happened, other attempts at creation ended in disaster.

One of those clumsy moves was to fashion people out of wood. The gods carved a few tree trunks into dolls that looked perfect. But they were stiff. The men and women of wood talked but said nothing, and lived without passion or pleasure or pain. They weren't shaken by doubt, because their certainties, like themselves, were made of wood. They had no nightmares, because they had no dreams. They never got discouraged, because they had never known courage. Their hearts didn't break, because they had none. They never fell, because they didn't walk.

Mayan tradition says the gods did away with the men and women of wood, and nary a one remains. I'm afraid they missed a few.

The Hunt

`Look, Papa! Oxen!'

Marcelino Sautuola tilted his head back. In the light from his lantern he saw them. They weren't oxen. On the roof of the cave deft hands had painted bison, elk, horses and wild boars.

Not long thereafter, Sautuola published a pamphlet on the paintings he'd found, thanks to his daughter, in a cave at Altamira. They were, he claimed, prehistoric art.

From all corners came archaeologists, anthropologists, speleologists: none of them believed him. They suspected the paintings were done by a Frenchman, an artist friend of Sautuola's or some other practical joker from Europe's aesthetic elite.

Not one could grasp, or even imagine, the possibility that our simple-minded Palaeolithic ancestors were capable of art. Art, privileged creature of civilization, lay far beyond the limited reach of the savage hordes.

Later on, it came out. Those long-ago hunters didn't only pursue their prey. As a spell to ward off hunger and fear, or for the pure and simple joy of creating, those Picassos of 15,000 or 20,000 years ago pursued beauty in flight. And they caught it.

The Frontiers of Time

Six centuries after the founding of Rome and a century-and-a-half before Christ it was decided that the year would begin on the first of January. …

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