Kolwe and Koan: African Eco-Story by Fr Michael O’Shea, Mpima Seminary, Zambia

When I first came to Mpima Seminary forty years ago the hinterland was clothed with thick healthy forest. Now most of the trees have gone but a troop of monkeys, bereft of their natural habitat, have moved into the shelter of our surviving tree-clad grounds. “Kolwe and Ko” is a story inspired by the monkeys outside my window (kolwe is vernacular for monkey).

High in a green mukuyu tree Kolwe and Ko thirstily watched the men below squatting in a circle about a big yellow gourd sucking millet beer from it through long straws. ‘Hominits’, or ‘nits’ they called the humans and referred to themselves as ‘monks’. From their vantage point they also saw a ruffianly group of armed hominits approach – thieves, poachers or kidnappers. One of the ruffians tripped on a root and his gun went off. The boozers fled in panic into the bush with the intruders hot in pursuit.  Quick as lightning the monks dropped to the ground, grabbed the straws and drained the beer pot. Then back up with them to their accustomed perches on high where each one carefully wound his tail round a stout branch – even a monk can fall when alcohol kicks in.

Drink made them garrulous but, Simio the eldest, was always allowed to speak first. Tucking his left paw inside the rubber belt around his waist (the remains of a tether when farm workers caught him) he burped twice and began: “The ‘nits think they’re superior to us! Imagine! And we here long, long, long before them. They descended from us, not we from them.  We adapted properly to our environment and kept it safe, they didn’t. Believe me brothers when, with foolish conceit, the nits stood on their back legs they lost more than their tails, they lost their brains too.” “Hair Hair!” cried the troop. Pleased, Simio continued, “Not only have they destroyed our home, they’ve destroyed much of their own too.  Dear Monks, our common home, the Earth, can’t take much more of such behaviour.  A decade or so is all we’ve left before, to use a nit phrase, “All hell breaks loose”.

Chief Kolwe, a reconciler at heart, felt it was time to calm the rhetoric, “Surely there are some good nits?”  Babu a handsome big fellow, broke in, “Yes, my Granda told me about the lovely Doctor Jennie Goodall who admired us and said she preferred chimps to men!”  Capo, a well-read Capuchin from the nearby monastery, added, “There are some good groups too, “Eco Warriors, Greens, Environmentalists, and Eco-Irelanders …”

Displeased to lose the limelight, Simio raised his voice, “Brother Apes, it’s true at times we fought and even used sticks and stones against invaders, but we knew when enough was enough. Not so the nits, they developed a taste for meat, speed, and other creatures’ living quarters.  They’ve wiped out so many species and, incredibly, they’ve hung, drawn and quartered millions of their own.  Now they’re so clever they’ve developed a bomb that could annihilate all their enemies with one blast, unfortunately it would wipe out themselves too and this whole beautiful Earth!”  “Oh Woe, Woe, Woe” wailed the troop wringing their paws. 

“Is there anything we can do?” asked Kolwe.  “We can pray,” said Capo.  “We’ve been doing that all the time,” said Simio unimpressed, “We need action, radical action: we need to re-verse evolution get back to simplicity, re-tailing, and eco-farming.”  “Yes, Yes,” chorused the troop, “Down with guns, fossil fuels, and corporate businesses.  Up with trees, organic farming, and solar energy.”  “May we all be One,” intoned Kolwe raising a paw in blessing, “and let us monks take a small lead in re-conciliation by re-fraining from calling them ‘nits’ and mocking their tail-less bottoms.”  “Amen, alleluia, alleluia!” sang the monks, ‘Re-forestation, re-verse-evolution, Earth for all, for ever’.