A long time ago, in tiny village in the vast continent of Africa, there were some frogs. Well, to be truthful there were lots and lots of frogs. This was the jungle and in the jungle, frogs live in pools, ponds and even on the trees and as the sun set over the treetops and the green began to fade to a cool darkness, the frogs began to croak and ribbit and ribbit and croak.
"This sound is unbearable!!" cried the Chief of the Village. In the middle of the night, he leapt from his bed, enraged and sleepless, fixed his crown of feathers to his brow and threw a ceremonial robe around his shoulders and banged the war drums.
The villagers, suddenly startled from their slumber, ran out with sticks and stones ready to take on the invading army of sharp-toothed lions, tigers or snakes. They gathered in confused, excited fear around the Chief's hut.
"THE FROGS ARE TOO NOISY. THEY MUST DIE. KILL THEM ALL!!!"
Immediately, the villagers set to following their leader's commands (he was the chief after all) and skewered, stabbed and speared every bullfrog, treefrog, tadpole and spawn they could find.
All went to battle with the amphibian foe, except one old woman - one very old woman. She lived alone right on the edge of the village and she stood still and steady, staring the Chief defiantly in the eyes.
"No. I will not." she said.
"But I am your chief - you must."
"Everything is connected. You cannot change just one thing. There will be consequences to this act." And with that, the old woman turned and walked, slowly and gracefully, back to her hut.
The village ate roasted, toasted and stir-fried frog every night and every night the jungle was as quiet as the grave.
"OUCH!" The Chief woke up with a fright and a start. "OUCH!" he cried again.
It was as if he was being pricked all over with thorns. "OUCH!" Then again that high pitched ssszzzzszszszszszsz in his ear, around his head.
This time the chief didn't need to bang the drum. The village was awake; the village whole village was up and hopping and jumping and slapping and crying "OUCH!" and emitting high pitched squeals to match the high pitched buzz in the air.
Mosquitoes in their hundreds and thousands.
The men, women and children of the village were hopping and jumping and squealing except one old women - a very old woman - who stood calmly and gracefully and stared the Chief squarely in the eyes.
"The frogs fed on the mosquitoes," she said, with a slight, sad smile, "Everything is connected."
Traditional African Folktale - Retold by Abbie Palache
Thoughts on "Everything is Connected"
Folktales can be read as lessons. This one is clear in its message or moral, but is no less satisfying for its barefaced clarity. It is so simple and short, but if we sit with it for a moment we find there are many layers of knowledge concealed within it.
Ecologically, this story has a clear and unashamedly blatant message, supported by example. Everything is connected and therefore everything is in balance. The scientific reality presented in age-old folklore gives me a sense of satisfaction. To stay with the story's message for more than a moment, however, brings a feeling of unease - this is one village and just a few dozen frogs that manifest into hundreds of mozzies. What is the impact of the imbalances we have wreaked upon the Earth? What are the consequences of our Chief's actions? What are our clouds of mosquitos in the global village we now inhabit?
This story also reinforces the idea that we are not individuals, but part of a greater whole, and that it is when we act on the impulse of the individual that we can cause problems for the wider community - what annoys the Chief, does not prevent the other villagers from sleeping and yet he ranks his problem above, seeing fault in the frogs rather than in his own irritation. There is also a lesson to be learned by the villagers - they follow one man's instructions without question or hesitation. This could also be seen as a cautionary tale against a blindly-accepted hierarchy - the counsel, collective or government did not decide to kill the frogs, the 'Chief' did - a single leader of the village.
To explore this story from a psychological perspective is a bit challenging... but here's what I've got: we find ourselves reading a tale where to follow our conscious impulse, the will or want of our dominant (conscious?) self, without passing it through the deeper, stiller, steadier wisdom we have inside causes imbalance in the whole. Maybe the ribbit of frogs is the chatter of worries and anxiety as we try to sleep, the killing of those frogs is the alcohol we use too violently, excessively and suddenly numb the worry (the frogs aren't scared away, they are butchered) and the mosquitos the avalanche of problems that come as a consequence of using drink as a painkiller. There is a problem in this approach, in that the frogs are necessary and worrying isn't... or maybe it is a natural part of life - the background chatter of voices as we work to live in a community.
In this (slightly dodgy) psychological reading, the story leaves us with a challenge - how can we get the leader, and the villagers, to listen to the wisdom of the deeper self? It becomes a tale where to think before we act, to take time and pay attention to the stubborn stillness of that old woman, might just keep the balance.
If we read it ecologically as villagers, what can we do to ensure we do not blindly follow the chief's commands? As a Chief, what can we do to listen to the voice of reason, of knowledge and experience? As the Old Woman, how can we stand strong without breaking when standing in the sometimes frightening and often lonely position of being the only one to stand for what they believe in?
(C) Abigail Palache, 2013