"One Wide Tree"
It was the cat that brought them together
from their scattered bands
into what became a village.
There were many peoples
wandering across the land,
hunting and gathering what they could,
but the long-toothed cat did not care --
to it, all flesh was one,
and something to be savored.
The cat hunted them
as they hunted the rabbits
and the deer and the birds.
All of the peoples feared it
and hid from it as best they could,
but there was only so much they could do.
They still had to eat,
so they searched for game
warily and less often.
They still needed tools,
so they gathered supplies
while the sun was highest in the sky.
The cat killed five
before they could stop it,
dragging them into its den to feast.
The first was an old man,
the shaman of the Strong People,
who was not as strong as a long-toothed cat.
Next came two brothers of the Tall People,
hunters become hunted
in the endless striving of the wild.
The Strong People and the Tall People
were distant kin and often allies, so they began
to come together, desperate for protection.
They met at the biggest tree in the area
and discussed what to do about the beast,
but after losing two hunters they hesitated to try again.
A young woman of the Hand People
was the next to die while collecting flint,
and even the light of day was no safety now.
The death of the stranger finally united them, though --
a new shaman on wanderway, looking for a tribe to join,
dressed in the blue and red feathers of one-between.
It was then that the hunters of all the tribes
agreed to go out together in search of the cat,
dozens of men and a few of the fiercest women.
They caught the cat in its lair,
still gnawing the bones of its last victim,
and they collapsed the muddy bank around it.
Afterwards the peoples looked at each other
and decided not to walk away
into the distance as usual.
It was true that more people made it harder
to gather enough food and tools,
but they also had more hunters and more protection.
Perhaps it was not necessary to squabble
over the things that might be found or made,
but to live together in peace and safety.
So the three peoples settled down in the shade
and began learning how to get along
all under one wide tree.
* * *
This poem was significantly inspired by an article about several hominid skeletons shaking up the field of hominid history. Scientists are arguing over whether the find proves that hominids of this time period were really all just one species. But what nobody seems to be considering is the possibility that they were different species ... living together anyhow. I thought that made a much more interesting and unusual story, given the prevalence of conflict in human history.
EDIT 11/23/13: Evidence suggests that Neanderthal and Denisovan people interbred regularly with anatomically modern humans and another as-yet-unidentified group.
You can read more about Homo habilis, whose name means "handy man." This is my inspiration for the Hand People.
Explore Homo ergaster and Homo erectus. Some people divide them, others join them. Here I've introduced them as the Strong People and the Tall People, distantly related. I tend to suspect they were semi-compatible subspecies, which may have been true of many hominids.
See a timeline of Homo species. I've been fascinated by this stuff most of my life. One of my big hooks was Lucy which I discovered long ago in this book. It got me interested in early species of human and their stories. Here are some sculptures of early hominids.
There is a widespread tendency toward genderqueer shamans in cultures around the world. With one of the skeletons indeterminate in sex, I couldn't resist the opportunity.