Literary Activism

Harriet Levin Millan

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Two weeks to go!

July 16, 2008 
I'm getting so excited about the trip that I can't sleep. I lie awake until 3 AM with my heart beating fast or skipping beats. I've had this problem ever since I was a child.  When I get really excited about something I either stop being able to sleep or come down with a fever. I haven't gotten a fever yet, but I will if I can't manage to get enough sleep!

Yesterday Michael and I went shopping for him to pick out some gifts for his mother and sister. We met at the handbag counter at Macy's because I thought we would buy his mother a beautiful Lucky bag.  The problem was that they were all too expensive--$175.00 and up.  So we looked at some jewelry instead.  Michael picked out a beautiful pair of dangling gold earrings with little flowers on them for his mother.  Then we bought her a gold Fossil watch.  Jewelry seemed like a better gift anyway.  Michael did buy a Lucky shoulder book bag for his sister.  It is canvas and leather with colorful flowers on it.  His sister, who is 15 years old, should really love it!

After we finished shopping, I drove Michael to his car and we got to talk some.  I've been reading a book on the Dinka, with the old-fashioned title: Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan, by C.G. Seligman that was published in 1930 and I wanted to ask Michael about one of the Dinka beliefs Seligman discusses.  The belief is that certain clans speak of animals as their ancestors, not in a Darwinian sense, but in the sense of actually being a member of their family, kind of a half-human, half-animal relation.  You see this in a lot of the Dinka folk tales.  Characters in the tales collected by Francis Deng in his book, Dinka Folktales, often have half-animal parents or siblings. 
Seligman reports that each clan has a special relationship with an animal and says that it is customary for them to avoid eating their totem animal and instead to show it reverence.  I asked Michael if this is true and he told me that his clan, Juet, holds a snake as their totem animal. He said that when he was a child, snakes were free to crawl around in his hut and onto people, up their arms and onto their shoulders and around their necks, and they never bite anyone.  He said it used to really freak him out and that he was afraid of snakes, but that these snakes never harmed anyone in his family.  They might harm people outside his clan.  

Seligman talks about a Dinka man sprinkling dust on a snake's back in the forest for fear that the snake might think he is unfriendly and try to bite him.  If the snake did get angry, then the man himself would die before thinking of killing the snake.  He writes that "this man's children show the same reverence for the snake as their father." (Seligman 143).

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