A visit to the lion’s house
The text is word-for-word from Lucy Lloyd’s notebooks. In September-October 1871 she recorded this recital by the /Xam Bushman, //Kabbo. On opposing pages of her notebook she entered an english translation, line for line, of the /Xam text.
In his paper: “A Visit to the Lion’s House. The Structure, Metaphors and Socio-political Significance of a Nineteenth-century Bushman Myth”, J D Lewis-Williams gave details of Bushman spiritual beliefs and practices but he followed Levi-Strause in arguing that this myth concerns kinship. Its primary purpose is to reconcile conflicting impulses (meat sharing, and reluctance to share) between kin-by-mariage. Lewis-Williams argued that the myth’s ‘non-sense’, that is, its shamanic ritual, serves to reduce tension and thus help reconciliation.
Lewis-Williams interpretation is ‘scientific’ and reductive. The myth serves a concrete function. It’s manifest content (meat sharing) is understood literally as it’s subject.
Lewis-Williams is an authority on variants of bushman myths, the circumstances under which they were collected, and on details of bushman environment and culture. Thus his paper is vital for any subsequent interpretation.
Jung showed, however, that the ‘scientific’ view misses the point. In myth, as in dreams, manifest content is used to symbolize spiritual, psychological issues which would otherwise be inaccessible. A shaman heals illness by calling upon spirits (archetypes) which are often represented as animals.
Jung’s insight was not new. It has always been understood that biblical parables use ordinary activities to symbolize spiritual issues. Parables also describe healing.
In what follows I interpret the myth symbolically and support my interpretation with objective evidence. You must decide for yourself whether you are convinced. Details of Bushman culture are from Lewis-William’s paper.
Kwammang-a said “Oh! Ichneumon, let us go to the lion’s house, that they may go to cook for us quagga’s flesh”. The Ichneumon said “we will do so;” he assented to him. The mantis said, “let us do so.” while the mantis assented.
The Mantis and Kwammang-a were associated with the sky, which means that they were spirits, not mortals. Mantis was ‘Chief of the sky.’ He was the yellow part of the rainbow while Kwammang-a was the red part.
Spirits like the Mantis and Kwammang-a represent, in psychological terms, what Jung called archetypes. [Archetypes can be understood as organizing principles which, being mathematical, are eternal and omnipresent. These principles ‘guide’ the self-organizing processes by which psychology (along with all other complex dynamic and complex adaptive systems) forms itself. There are more mystical definitions. Jung himself described archetypes in several ways, one of which supports the above definition: he said archetypes were like the mathematical principle by which a salt crystal assembles itself.] The Mantis represents the archetype of the trickster because he constantly surprised with tricks, lies, and trouble-making. He promoted consciousness by forcing others to question what was real.
We laugh at a trick or a joke (the trickster) because it surprises us with conflicting viewpoints. Collectives differ in their tolerance for conflicting viewpoints. When I immigrated, in my early twenties, to the United States from New Zealand I remember being irritated because ‘people joked too much’. My New Zealand collective had been more ‘just-so: this is the way it is, nothing to joke about.’ In the Bushman story, the Mantis’s relatives were irritated by his lies and tricks.
The Ichneumon was Kwammang-a’s son while the Mantis was Kwammang-a’s father-in-law. Kwammang-a and the Ichneumon were siblings of the lions but the Mantis was only related by marriage.
The Ichneumon said to him “Oh! mantis, sit down, for we go to the lion’s house;” the Ichneumon said to him, “Thou shalt sit still for thou would be afraid of the lion;”
The mantis said, “I never-the-less wish to go to speak to them, that I may talk with my old (or great?) cousin.”
The Ichneumon assented to him, therefore, they went; while the Ichneumon … the Ichneumon assented to him. the Ichneumon assented to him, “yes my grandfather, we will never-the-less do so.”
The Ichneumon was already uneasy. He knew the Mantis would interfere with his simple plan to share the lion’s hunt. Sharing the kill was the custom for bushmen as it is for lions, but sharing was easier for blood relatives and the Mantis was forever violating customs.
They went; they went crossing the lion’s spoor. The Ichneumon said “My brother’s spoor is that which is here; my other brother’s spoor is that which is here; my other brother’s spoor is here; my grandfather’s spoor is here; my other grandfather’s spoor is here; they are carrying quagga’s meat. Ichneumon said this.
Since they were family Ichneumon knew he and the lions viewed meat-sharing in the same way.
Kwammang-a said “Let us pass this water.” They did so, for the Ichneumon agreed with him. The Mantis said “We will do so.”
They went on following the lion’s spoor. The Ichneumon said: “My brother’s spoor is here.” The Ichneumon said: “My other brother’s spoor is here. Quagga’s blood is here, they must be carrying it. We must go to eat Quagga’s flesh.”
They walked up to the water. The lions rose up. The Ichneumon said: “The grandmother is getting up.” The Ichneumon said this.
Kwammang-a said: “The daughter is getting up there; the other old woman is getting up here, for her head is white.
The little lion said: ” O white head! Kwammang-a is coming along there, and the Ichneumon comes with him.
The Mantis said: “O Ichneumon, put me into the bag
The Ichneumon stopped, the Ichneumon said to him: “I wanted thou to sit still, for, thou would fear the lions.
The Mantis said to him: ” Quickly put me in, O Ichneumon, quickly put me in, that the lion may not see me. Thou must put in my legs, thou must not tie, shutting the bag’s mouth; the bag’s mouth shall stand open for my head stands above the bag’s mouth. Thou shall keep putting in meat, that I may eat, while I am in the bag. I will also look with my eye.”
A trick. Reality would not be as it seemed and the Mantis would have a special viewpoint, with one privileged eye, through the bag’s mouth.
The Mantis spoke thus: “I know thou wanted me to sit still” The Ichneumon said: ” I wanted thee to do so.” The Mantis said: “O Ichneumon, thou must put the kaross over me. The Ichneumon did so.
The Mantis said: “Thou must place down in there an eggshell full of water, that I may drink.” The eggshell stood in close by the Mantis’s head; the Mantis drank.
Another violation. The Mantis was eating and drinking in secret, not with his family.
The Mantis’s trick is carefully described, its technology given in detail, because it was unique and fanciful. Collective technology was not described because it was taken for granted by a bushman audience. Thus the story increases its audience’s awareness of all technology.
Technology itself is a ‘trick’ because one thing becomes another – for example a stone becomes a knife.
In english, we say a trickster is ‘crafty’: craft uses both technology and skill. Skill itself is a kind of ‘trick’, because it makes possible that which seems not possible. All of this transforms viewponts.
A unique technology (the Mantis hidden and fed within the bag) symbolizes individuation because it violates custom. That the technology is fanciful (as a man, the Mantis would be too heavy to carry) emphasizes psychological individuation because the technology could only exist as image, not as concrete reality .
Then the little lion came in among Kwammang-a’s people. The little lion saw him. The little lion, he went crying to his mother, because the Mantis was whispering in the bag. He went crying to his mother. He again came to stand in front of Kwammang-a.
He saw the Ichneumon’s bag. He saw the Mantis’s eye as the Mantis looked out from inside the bag. The Mantis kept peeping from inside. He again cried out, springing back, he went crying to his mother.
His mother went to soothe him, he was quiet. He said to his mother: “O Mamma take out for me the little hare which is in the Ichneumon’s bag.”
He again came, came to look at the Mantis, as he stood by Kwammang-a’s leg, he saw the Mantis. The Mantis opened, shut his eyes, he winked at him with his eyes. He whispered “I should like to poke his eye” He lay in the bag. The young lion again ran crying away, he went to his mother, his mother was angry. His mother walked up, his mother stamped as she came, because she was angry. She broke the Mantis, standing upon him. She said” ” Bo, what can this be, from which the child has cried; fetching the lioness?
Lions’ awareness is collective, like the baboons in another bushman story analyzed on the website: the mother lion is not amused.
Then the Mantis jumped out of the bag; he jumped out of the bag while he got feathers, 529 he flew up into the sky.
The Ichneumon threw him up into the sky while he, as he went along called the Hartebeest’s calfskin bag. He spoke, saying as he went up into the sky: “O shoes, you must come! O Hartebeest’s children [to the bag], you must come. O quiver, thou must come. O bow, thou must come. O stick, thou must come. O kaross, thou must come! The cap must come!
Then he went into the water. He said: “Ha, see our name is the Mantis. What man is equal to us?”
He is rejoicing, he had come out of the water, he above stands. “O Hartebeest sack! you await me, O veldschoen! you await me, O stick! you await me, O bow! thou await me, Bow’s string, await me, Kaross await me, Cap await me, string bag await me, for I am wet, I am still wet, my flesh it is all wet, I must first dry.
The hartebeest calve’s sack says, “Man here, he is the one who left us, he thus, he speaks.” The veldschoen says: “we must go away from him, he must speak at another place. For he mocks to us, he lies to us”. The kaross says: “We assent, we Arule(?): assent.
The Mantis says “O kaross, sit down here, O! quiver lie down there, O stick lie there, O! bow, lie there, O! veldtschoen, lie there, O! cap, sit there.
He dries himself, he walks, for he feels that the water has plucked his feathers.
He goes to pick up the kaross, he puts it on, he lifts the quiver, he carries it, he lifts the bow, the puts the bow under his arm, he seats himself, he puts on his veldschoen, he arises, he lifts up the stick, he grasps it, he goes away, he , he goes away, he returns, he returns home.
He goes to sit, he says, “O! Huntu kalt katten, [Daise] we went into the Lion’s house. The lion slew Kwammang-a. He did to her, he deceived her, for he is a liar.
He also says, The lion has torn (swallowed) the Thi (Ichneumon), for he lied, he was lying, sat, for he is a liar, he so says, he lies to Hunttu kalt! katten, his wife is Hunttu kalt katten. He lies to his wife, his wife agrees with him, “yes, my husband,” she so says, she assents to him. He lying sits. The lion swallowed the Thi, he says so, he lying sits, they two, lying sit, they his wife, Hunttu kalt katten, they lie. The Porcupine assents to them as they lying sit. They are liars, the devil lies, Hunttu kalt katten, she lies to the Porcupine.
The Porcupine arises, out, she sees Kwammang-a all coming carrying huagga’s flesh. Kwammang-a is coming. “I see them;” the Porcupine so says, she speaks standing.
Hunttu kalt katten arises and goes out, she says “Is that Kwammang-a coming carrying there?”
The Mantis thus sat lying.
Hunttu kalt katten thus contradicted her husband. She said that she also was lying, his wife also was lying, she also was lying. They deceived the porcupine.
The Mantis said: “I wanted Kwammang-a to come carrying Quagga’s meat.”
The Porcupine said: “Thou didst sit lying,”
Hunttu kalt katten said: “Thou didst lie to me, so that I lied to the Porcupine. Thou didst tell me a lie, that the lion had swallowed the Ichneumon. Thou didst thus lie to me. Thou didst also tell a lie, that the lion had killed Kwammang-a.”
The Ichneumon walked up to the house. The Ichneumon put down the quagga’s meat. The Ichneumon sat down. Kwamanng-a put down the quagga’s meat. Kwammang-a sat down.
The Porcupine said to the Ichneumon: “The Mantis told us the the lion had swallowed the ichneumon. The lion had killed Kwammang-a.”
The Ichneumon said: “I wants? put the Mantis into the bag. The Mantis poked a hole in the bag. He looked with one eye out of the hole in the bag. He looked putting his eye in the bag’s hole.
The little lion saw him at the hold. The little lion saw his eye, as he opened, shut it inside, he opened, shut it. The little lion cried for he thought the Mantis was bewitching/enchanting him. Therefor the little lion cried.
Then the mother lioness pulled out the Mantis. The Mantis quickly got feathers, he 540 quickly flew out of the bag, he flew up into the sky.
The Ichneumon threw him up. The shoes ran behind; the quiver ran behind; the bow ran behind. The stick ran behind. The kaross ran behind. The cap ran behind. They ran past the water, while the Mantis was in the water because 541 he had flown through the sky. Therefore he went into the water.
He rejoiced as he came out of the water, shouted: “See Ichneumon, our brother, the Mantis; a man is! lying, crying.”
As he stood speaking, the shoes ran past to the water. He said: “Lie down there for I am still wet.” The shoes lay down. The quiver lay down. The kaross sat down. The cap sat down. The hartebeest-skin bag lay down. 542
He walked on when he was dry, because the water had washed off his feathers, he walked forward, he picked up the kaross, he carried the kaross; he picked up the quiver, he slung it on; he picked up the bow, he put it under his arm; he picked up the hartebeest-skin sack, he slung it over; he picked up the shoes, he sat down, he put on the shoes; he picked up the cap, he capped himself; 543 he picked up the stick, he held it, he walked forward, he walked up to the house, for he trotted, he quickly trotted up to the house. He laid down the quiver, he put down the stick, he put down the bow, he took of the hartebeest-skin bag; he sat down, he sat telling lies. His wife also sat telling lies.
Then the Porcupine contradicted them, 544 him, his wife, they both sat telling lies. The Porcupine said: “O people sitting there telling lies, the Ichneumon comes carrying, Kwammang-a comes carrying, while you sit telling lies.”
The Mantis said: “I wanted them to come carrying to us quagga’s meat.” He said so.
The Ichneumon walked up, the Ichneumon sat down, for he wanted to unload the quagga’s meat, 545 because he wanted to talk.
Kwammang-a walked up, Kwammang-a unpacked the quagga’s meat, he walked forward, he unpacked, he sat down, he was silent because he was comfortable. He was angry with his grandfather, the Mantis. The Ichneumon talked while Kwammang-a sat. Kwammang-a sat keeping silent.
The Ichneumon said: “The Mantis really was the one who said I should put him in. 546 Then the little lion said, he was a little hare; his mother should go and take out for him that little hare.” The young Ichneumon thus sat talking.
The Porcupine said: “I am sure that Grandfather was deceiving me.” Because the Porcupine was angry. Therefore the Porcupine spoke thus to the Ichneumon.
The Mantis was angry. The Mantis lay down.