A Kazakh Tale
Originally narrated by Alma B. Kunanbay
Re-told by Edith Kimbell
In the beginning there was a void. God was bored. Perched on his right shoulder was an angel and on his left a devil, but they were very dull company. On and on they droned about emptiness, as God grew more and more bored. In frustration he began to model something in his hands. As he kneaded and poked, mountains and valleys gradually took shape on the sphere in his hands. He gouged out the oceans, etched channels for the rivers. Carefully he covered his toy with trees and flowers. When he had filled the forests, meadows, and lakes with animals, birds and fish he told his two companions to look at his creation.
Both were awestruck and fell over themselves to praise his skills. “What a wonderful creation,” exclaimed the angel. “Such a clever idea,” agreed the devil. Instead of maundering about the void they extolled God’s new invention.
But after a while the devil paused; with a slanting glance at God he asked “Now that you have made this perfect world, are you any less bored?”
God took another look at his world. “It would be much more interesting if there were others to admire and enjoy my creation,” he mused. “What if I fashioned some people to appreciate what I have made?” he wondered out loud.
“Don’t do it,” protested the angel. “That is a terrible idea. It’ll completely upset the whole balance.”
“Pooh!” retorted the devil. “What are you afraid of? After all, you are going to make them in your own image, so there is really not the slightest risk that they will do anything but cherish what you have made the way you want.”
Egged on by the devil, God took some clay, painstakingly shaped it into figures. He set them down amongst the flowers and blew life into them. But almost immediately it was obvious that something had gone wrong. Instead of admiring their surroundings, they ran crying through the woods, “Where are we?” “We’re so cold!” they complained. “What should we do?” as the animals dined on them one by one.
“You see,” said the angel. “It’s just as I warned you.”
“Well, of course,” the devil flashed back, “you didn’t give them any knowledge.”
“Knowledge?” pondered God.
“No!” protested the angel horrified, “if you give these creatures knowledge, they’re going to do nothing but engage in endless disputations.”
“But without knowledge,” the devil coaxed, “they can’t know what they should be doing.”
“All right,” God decreed, “Let them have knowledge!” He proceeded to fill a large sack with brains filled with knowledge. “Carry this lot to earth,” he ordered the angel, “and distribute these among the people.” As the angel strode along with his load the devil crept stealthily after him. Secretly he cut a hole in the sack and quickly abstracted as many brains as he could. Down on earth the angel set about handing out the packets of knowledge. Very soon he realized that he was running short. Not knowing what else to do he took out his knife to divide the brains: first in half, and when that wasn’t going to make enough to go around, in quarters and eighths. But even so some people got none. Before the angel could get back the people with more brains began arguing with those with less.
“What did I tell you?” complained the angel.
“Actually,” the devil insinuated, “the problem is the people have no feelings for what is right or wrong. You need to give them a conscience.”
“Feelings,” mused God.
“That will make bad worse,” the angel contradicted hastily. “If you give them feelings they will really fight and start wars amongst each other.”
“It’s worth a try!” argued God as he stuffed another bag with feelings of conscience. Once again the angel set out with his sack, furtively followed by the devil. As before he cut a hole and secretly pried out the feelings. Handing out the packets of conscience, the angel soon saw that there far too few. With his knife he quickly chopped them into halves, quarters and eighths. Now if each person had got an amount of conscience to match his brain, things might still have worked out all right, but instead someone with a whole brain received just a quarter of conscience while someone with no brain got a full helping of feelings. There was no end to the chaos and belligerence.
“You see,” sighed the angel glumly. “There’s nothing more to be done. Let’s just have done.”
“Well, what the people really need,” began the devil, “is…”
“Enough,” commanded God. Then he went off by himself to mould one more figure. Packing his new creation under his arm he strode down to earth himself. “Here,” he told the squabbling humans, “is your musician-wizard. He will bring you harmony and explain the mysteries of the past, present and future to you, for you can’t have one without the other. He will sing you songs about the sheer joy of being alive, songs that plumb the depths of sorrow and anguish and hymns that connect with the divine.”
And that is why the bard has the seat of honour.
Copyright 2014 Edith Kimbell