and Sacred Objects
brought out the totems and set them up in a line. There was a can
of fly spray, a plastic cigarette lighter, a wind-up alarm clock,
and a Baby Jane Ma-ma doll. The People knelt around in a half circle.
began with an after-dinner prayer:
the day in the sun,
the work that is done,
the food in our tum,
great Ancestral totems we thank and praise thee.'
he pointed to each totem in turn. They were all polished and clean,
all kept in immaculate condition.
he said in a hushed whisper. 'See our Fly Spray Can, with strange
holy writing all over it! And our Alarm Clock, with such tiny tiny
knobs and levers! Look at our transparent plastic Lighter, with
the sacred fluid inside! And our wonderful Baby Jane, so perfect,
People gazed with reverence.
work of the Ancestors!'
said Neath. 'Our Ancestors. They have departed, but they have left
us their tokens. . . . . . . . To
stand over us! To be near us in our helplessness! To protect us
through the nights!'
infinite delicate care he picked up the can of fly spray. He raised
it aloft in both hands.
'Behold!' he cried. 'The Guardian Fly Spray!'
performed the traditional ritual, pointing the can from side to
side, sweeping it high and low, rotating it in every direction.
The People responded by chanting the traditional phrases.
Unique New Formula!'
shed thy Most Perfect Active Constituents over us!'
phrases had been handed down from generation to generation. No-one
knew what they meant, but everyone knew they were very solemn and
the chanting died away, Neath returned the can to its place in the
Sanctuary. Then he picked up the plastic cigarette lighter.
Light in the Darkness!' he proclaimed.
went round the People one by one, holding the lighter up exactly
five centimetres in front of their mouths. The People breathed deeply
in and out, drawing spiritual sustenance from the nearness of the
are humble and unworthy!' they cried.
in us the Flame of thy Spirit!'
let thy Soothing Power enter into each and every one of us!'
into the Sanctuary went the cigarette lighter. Next came the Ritual
of the Alarm Clock. Neath held the clock by its carrying handle
and swung it solemnly from side to side.
Past Three!' he intoned, standing in front of Mell.
rrring!' Mell sang out at the top of her voice. She jumped up and
danced around, still rrring-rrringing.
to Seven!' Neath intoned, standing in front of Tunks. Up jumped
Tunks, and started dancing and rrrring-rrringing too.
Five to Two!'
by one the People jumped up and joined in the singing and dancing.
Soon everyone was whirling around, leaping and kicking and beating
the air in time to the rhythm.
rrring! Rrrring rrring!
rrring! Rrrring rrring!'
dance went on until the People had whirled themselves into exhaustion.
Puffing and panting, they knelt down around the Sanctuary in a half-circle
Neath began the fourth ritual. He placed the Baby Jane Ma-ma doll
in the centre of the half-circle. The doll was dressed in woollen
baby-clothes and lay on her back in a basket. With elaborate religious
gestures, Neath rolled up her woollen top to expose her chubby painted
he went across to the three dinner bowls and collected a tiny smear
of stew on the fingers of his right hand. He came back and prostrated
himself before the doll. Then he touched his fingers very reverently
against her pink painted midriff, depositing the sacrificial offering
of stew on top of her pink plastic belly button.
People similarly prostrated themselves and prayed the traditional
Jane of Janes and Baby of babies,
offer our most humble food to thy belly,
plump is thy belly and rounded upon thee;
be near us and hear us,
pity upon thy People,
make us rounded and solid as thou thyself art rounded and solid.
they whacked their foreheads fervently with the flat of their hands,
and rose to their feet. The evening religious ceremony was over.