Saturday, 2 January 2016

Sacred Ibis

I was once told a story about these birds around a camp fire.

The old man was bent and moved slowly. His lazy wives demanded he hunt food for them day and night. One day he returned to camp with roots from reeds in the swamp land, his skin burnt by the sun. He pointed to his burnt face in pain, 'bagodah'. His wives just laughed at him as they took the roots.

"Bagodah! Bagodah!"  he cried again, and this time he changed shape.

The story is unusual. The starting point suggests that that this is a story told by women. 

The first people have lots of stories about shape changing - but this one interests me because the use of the 'magic' word. 'Bagodah' is similar to the unappealing croak of the bird, the word for 'skin' and the word for 'totem'. It is possible that the story invokes each of these meanings - at one level being a story of an escape by changing shape (if you are being oppressed, leave), at others about identity and affiliation (if you are not appreciated, look inside and remake yourself or seek the company of those more like you).

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