Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Drunk Baboons, Tripping Leopards

I found this account of baboon behaviour describing their splendidly drunken antics.

Here in Southern Africa we have many kinds of indigenous trees bearing edible fruit. Unfortunately, we also have many kinds of insects loving these fruit too. Fortunately, the fruit of one tree species called the Marula (Sclerocarya caffra) is so thick skinned that few insects can penetrate them.

Each fruit is about the size of a large apricot. Inside is a large seed kernel. The fleshy part is thus relatively thin, but thick enough to have fun. In February the female Marual tree will begin to shed her fruits. An old madam can bear up to 20,000 fruit. Humans use the fruit to make a refreshing beer.

Sometimes three to four layers of fruit will lay under a tree. That is when they begin to ferment. That is when the baboons also have their fun. They cleverly smell the potent among the fresher fruit. The potent goes to the mouth. Slowly, but surely, they become intoxicated. They begin to behave just like intoxicated humans. Some will swear, others will fight and some will even cry like baby baboons. Some get so drunk that they have to sleep under the tree, dead to the world.

That is when also the leopards have their fun. Leopards like baboon flesh most. But leopards are extremely cautious since baboons can easily kill a leopard with their own vicious fangs.

Those baboons who are fortunate enough to wake up the next morning have clearly a splitting headache and the bad temper that goes with it.
Many years ago I saw a wonderful film which showed drunk baboons, and I remember not just the screaming and crying, but the fights and the inappropriate sex (baboon society is strictly heirarchical) followed by the awful hangovers.

The fact that many other creatures as well as humans self-intoxicate without regard for the consequences interests me greatly, at 7.30am over my morning tea as much as it does at 10.30pm over a cognac, because it seems to indicate that it is indissolubly part of our biological nature. My theory is that it is not merely drunkenness we seek, but expanded consciousness, and that we share this innate drive to find routes out of here with other creatures.

Shamanistic use of psychedelic mushrooms and plants in "primitive" cultures is well documented, but less widely known is early Christian use of chemically-loaded foodstuffs to attain religious ecstasy. One of my favourite quotes from recent years is from R. Gordon Wasson, a Wall Street banker, who experimented with mushrooms in the 1950s:

'There are no apt words ... to characterize your state when you are, shall we say, 'bemushroomed.' ... How do you tell a man born blind what seeing is like? In the present case, this is especially true because superficially the bemushroomed man shows few of the objective symptoms of one intoxicated, drunk ... [the mushroom] permits you to see, more clearly than our pershing mortal eye can see, vistas beyond the horizons of this life, to travel backwards and forwards in time, even (as the Indians say) to know God. It is hardly surprising that your emotions are profoundly affected, and you feel that an indissoluble bond unites you with the others who have shared with you in the sacred agape ... All that you see during this night has a pristine quality: the landscape, the edifices, the carvings, the animals - they look as though they had come straight from the Maker's workshop. This newness of everything - it is as though the world had just dawned - overwhelms you and melts you with its beauty. Not unnaturally, what is happening to you seems to you freighted with significance, beside which the humdrum events of everyday are trivial ... What you are seeing and what you are hearing appear as one: the music assumes harmonious shape, giving visual form to its harmonies, and what you are seeing takes on the modalities of music - the music of the spheres ... All your senses are similarly affected: the cigarette with which you occasionally break the tension of the night smells as no cigarette before had ever smelled ; the glass of simple water is infinitely better than champagne.'

The idea that the highly intelligent baboon, so like us in many ways - socially organised, clever, adaptable, and aggressive - is achieving states of mind which expand and develop its species makes sense to me. Somehow, to be alive is to be drawn, sometimes fatally, to experience life outside and beyond the normal.

Have you ever looked into a sheep's eye and wondered what is going on in there? It is well known that in the wet, green, mushroom-growing places in Britain, birds, sheep, cows eagerly munch away on mushrooms as soon as they appear.

If a leopard suprised and ate a couple of spaced-out baboons with life-changing chemicals coursing around their bodies, would it similarly leave the normal plane of existence, return enlightened to the other leopards and announce that, from now on, meat-eating was a thing of the past - or perhaps purring in a skewed, nonsensical way, tell them that the shroom-eating baboons had a wicked kick on them, and that they really ought to try a couple.


AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Web pages referring to this page:
Link to this page and get a link back..