Sixth-Day Fellowship: Of Labor, Mischief and Mirth

The story board of sacred writ recounts that in their beginnings, humankind and the animals were created on the same day, the sixth day (Genesis 1:24-31).  This arrangement surely suggests some commonality, perhaps even fellowship, while serving also as a check on our hubris. That whatever the glories of angel-flight inspiration and achievement, we can lay no claim to our own dedicated moment.  We share a same day with the warthogs.

Growing up in a village in NE India left me in awe of the Asian elephant and its mahout or keeper.  They were a same-day pair. Unlike the parade elephants bedecked with bells, gold caparisons, parasols, ornate howdahs, and peacock feather fans, our village creature with its mahout strode off every morning into the forest performing feats of strength with timbers and chains.  Toward evening it would return, reclining first in the river as the mahout washed away all signs of its labor, and then together they would pass, glistening, through the village with the keeper astride the neck – a majestic twosome. It was a ‘statement’. If ever there were a picture of sixth day fellowship, that was it.

Such fellowship extended to their actual conversation, too.  It is said that the language of the mahout is an ancient tradition pre-dating either Sanskrit (the medium of the Vedas and other Hindu writings) or the Dravidian languages of south India. It may go back to more ancient roots among South Asia’s earliest societies. (As they say, the elephant has prodigious memory!) To the mahout’s deep-code instruction would come the elephant’s answer: a flapping of the ears, a raised trunk, a deep rumble, a toss of the head.

While the partnership, as above, of mahout and elephant may be idyllic, it can also turn cruel.  Recent years have brought to notice the demeaning way elephants are sometimes used in the tourist trade, in circuses and zoos and even in religious festivals.  Elephants are social creatures and their first home is the wild places of the planet – the forests and open savannahs.  That habitat is steadily shrinking.  

After a day in the forest, the elephant (above) stops to refresh itself at a stream as it brings back to the village forage for livestock.  The lush ground cover betrays the ‘monsoon’ or rainy season.  
                              
                              
                                Credit: wikimedia.commons

That sharing between elephant and mahout went deeper still.  In the evening, as we scuffled on the village soccer pitch, the elephant and mahout would ramble onto the field, the elephant in single-minded pursuit of our pitiful ball and with a mighty kick of its foreleg send it sailing out-of-bounds into neighboring homesteads.  No one was inclined to show the elephant and keeper a yellow card. We were too consumed with mirth. Man and beast would then amble away without even a backward glance, content together as rajahs of both forest and soccer pitch. Call it sixth-day frolic. Met with sixth day glee.  

The good book says as much.   


4 thoughts on “Sixth-Day Fellowship: Of Labor, Mischief and Mirth

  1. My favorite sentence: “We share a same day with the warthogs.” The soccer playing elephant is one of my favorite stories of all time. Do you remember that group of young children in Marcellus who listened with wide-eyes to your telling of that story to them many years ago? From time to time in the the years that followed, students would come by the library and remind me of the elephant who played with kids. You have a standing invitation to come to the library for a story-telling event!

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    1. Hello, Christine! I remember my visit well! Delightful to be hosted by you in company with the eager kids. Give them a hug from me. I’ll be wandering the Midwest in March. With any good fortune at all – that might find us within striking distance of the Marcellus library again. Meanwhile, here’s a toast to the warthog! Jonathan

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  2. This is a beautifully-told account of a very down-to-earth story. (Mischievous afterthought: Does the elephant ever bathe the mahout with a big blast of water from his trunk?)

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    1. Hello, Tom! Your tongue in cheek question is in perfect accord with the story I attempt to tell! I do have recollection of a temple elephant reaching out a curled trunk to touch a devotee with blessing. Now there is 6th Day fellowship of the rarest kind.

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