Saturday, June 7, 2008

Of Heretics and Mangrove Swamps

her·e·tic: a person who holds controversial opinions; from the Greek ‘hairetikos’, able to choose.

mangrove: an evergreen tree or bush with straight slender stems and intertwined roots that are exposed at low tide. Native to: tropical coasts.

Lately, I have been thinking about mangrove swamps. How they are not much valued in this island country. And how they are necessary to the birth of new life.

Fish spawn in mangrove swamps. Fish in dreams are considered to be new ideas rising up out of the murky waters of the unconscious. New ideas need swamps, wetlands. But wetlands are being filled in, to make more room for ‘development’: condos and gated communities; hotels and all-in-one resorts. Mangrove swamps are inconvenient, wasted space. Cheap land or wholly unmarketable. Development needs hard ground.

I have also been thinking about censorship and the banning of ideas. How Brokeback Mountain was banned all those months ago. How the same group of censors (clergy) wanted to ban The Da Vinci Code. Because they know very well that ideas are powerful. The idea of a man dying on a cross then coming back to life three days later is a powerful idea. The idea that God might be comfortable in human flesh, walking among us, is more powerful still.

The Christ was symbolized by a fish. There was something of revolution in the air, all those thousands of years ago. Something dangerous in the idea of the Christ. A man who refused to die. New ideas are always and still rebels.

Writers are something like wetlands. There isn’t much use for us where development is going on. You can’t market a poem. Or build a house on a haiku. The mark-up on novels is small things compared to the sale of a sea front home on what used to be Hog Island. And of course, governments are all about development. I heard Prime Minister Christie say many moons ago that he intended to put a hotel resort on every family island. Something like Monopoly.

I was never good at Monopoly, bought the cheap properties, never had enough money to buy hotels, but I wrote my first Haiku at 12. And it was powerful. Showed me an idea I hadn’t seen before. Showed me something about myself that saved me.

Now, whenever I hear about a book or a movie being banned, keeping stories from getting told, I know there’s an idea in that story that is powerful. An idea someone doesn’t want us seeing. Brokeback Mountain was, on the surface of things, a tragic love story between two men. But really, it told of the way society threatens us with death if we dare live our truths.

If we had watched Brokeback Mountain, maybe we would have recognized something about ourselves, no matter who we were. Sitting in the dark as the credits rolled, maybe we wouldn’t have felt satisfied any longer with half truths, half lived lives. And we would have become traitors to silence, to our own cherished lies and fears.

Human psyches are something like wetlands. Like mangrove swamps. Where what is unconscious in us teams with unborn and newborn life: ideas waiting to get told. But in a society where all the questions and all the answers have already been provided by the One Book, (we are told), our psyches get neglected, ignored. It is dangerous to entertain ideas that come out of nowhere, (we are told), different ideas, original ideas, because who knows where they came from. If it is not of God, well then. But I think God lives in mangrove swamps. I think God is in the rusty brown water, salty and teaming with unborn and newborn life. Waiting and waiting to get told.

Lately I’ve been dreaming about fish and wet places. Unfortunately, I don’t have to wonder what will happen to the fish when the mangrove swamps have all been filled in with concrete and stone. I know what will happen. The censors or the developers, or the government or the churches will ban more movies, and more books. They will call more of us heretics. They will tell more of the people that the devil is afoot. They will build bigger churches and only the most virtuous can come inside. We will be told that dreams are nonsense and only sorcerers listen to them, and any ideas which contradict the ideas of the One Book are blasphemous. Our dreams will terrify us. The fish will become scarce. The people will be hungry. And the government and the churches will be fat, and very powerful indeed.

First published in the Nassau Guardian, Nassau, Bahamas, October 4th, 2006


C.E.Pratt said...

Wow, so refreshing to stumble upon the blog of Bahamians that are willing to stop, think and question many of our socially and cutlurally ingrained faults. Great article, it is certainly inspirational to experience such intellectual consideration of our local (yet universal) issues.

Helen Klonaris said...

Hello there, and thank you for your comment. It always means so much to have Bahamian readers who are also willing to engage in dialogue about who we are and what we are creating in this country. All the best to you, Helen