- Fiction, Folio, Reading, Writing

History of Human Migrations, by Luis Othoniel Rosa

Translated by Katie Marya

 

Humans are born one hundred ninety-six thousand four hundred eighteen years ago in East Africa. We begin expanding throughout the African continent one hundred twenty-one thousand three hundred ninety-three years ago. The Sahara is full of rivers and vegetation, full of multiplying jungles that reach the Mediterranean Sea. We inhabit the world without dominating it. Africa is full of beautiful and gigantic mammals. Those first species of primates created and rehearsed a myriad of forms. Never more than in those one hundred and twenty-one millennia has there been greater diversity. The African continent is full of other human species, other versions of homo erectus. And they are as intelligent as we are, but different. It is the time of the most diverse wisdoms—the closest thing we can imagine to encountering extraterrestrial civilizations. And those multitudes of mammalian intelligences are earthbound, everything organically forced to inhabit the same dirt, to coexist—the communion of earth and body. We’ve lost our concept of that abundance. Our minds do not register that kind of multiplicity, but it lives in our genetic code, and we remember. An apocalyptic event occurs that closes this first cycle of our life. In Indonesia, seventy-five thousand twenty-five years ago, the mega-volcano Toba erupts, and its ashes submerge our planet in dozens of years of winter. This reduces the human population to nine hundred eight-seven humans. All other species, human and otherwise, are extinguished in an apocalypse of unimaginable cruelty and suffering. Every human on the planet today is a child of those nine hundred eight-seven stubborn survivors. All the knowledge of our ancient adventure condensed and collected in their beings. We are reborn from them. We are the second beginning of the species. The Sahara becomes a desert again. We are resurrected strong and determined, but we feel alone. We miss that beautiful continent inhabited by so many other, now extinct, intelligences. So much wisdom lost. Curiosity conjures us. We sense the immensity of the planet. We know it is round. The stars have told us. Perhaps, we will find other human species beyond the mother continent. Perhaps, we will dismantle this loneliness. So, we walk. We walk a long millennial walk that culminates in thousands of years of walking. Eventually, we end up inhabiting the Caribbean Islands, the last frontier. We reach the Middle East forty-six thousand three hundred sixty-eight years ago and we keep walking, through India to Southeast Asia where we meet marvelous communities of old apes: the Gigantopithecus. These apes are three meters tall, weigh five hundred kilos, and are nearly extinct. Their communities join ours in a symbiosis that manages to delay their inevitable extinction. The Gigantopithecus teach us their eons of wisdom. They teach us how to use our might for peace and the art of honoring the species that die. Another community of us crosses through the northern part of the Middle East reaching Central Asia, and from there, China. At the same time, a different group of us enters Europe where we finally find another human species: the Neanderthals, the native humanoids of that continent. So many millennia of loneliness. We are socially awkward as we begin to populate Europe. Neanderthals are smarter than us, but they don’t think like us. They focus for hours on complex thoughts and tasks without being distracted by anything. We, on the other hand, are all distractions. They dedicate their days to unique and complex undertakings. We dedicate ourselves to completing countless easy and superficial undertakings. We are still young and terribly envious of these other native intelligences. Over the centuries, envy morphs into hatred, and hate into the most violent fury, and we experience for the first time in the history of our species the desire for domination. The groups of us who arrive in Europe commit the very first genocide. We kill and extinguish the Neanderthals. But there are dissidents among us who live in community with them, who mix with them, and the revenge of the Neanderthals is that they manage to infiltrate our genetic code and inhabit our distracted minds with their concentrated spells. Twenty-eight thousand six hundred fifty-seven years ago, once again alone on the planet, and simultaneously in various regions, we befriend wolves—an intelligence we had yet to appreciate. Dogs are born from that friendship. And that friendship pays off. The planet is freezing. Canines see the world with their noses. They are more apt to survive the cold from the north. We learn from dogs and continue our migrations around the northernmost part of the planet. Seventeen thousand seven hundred eleven years ago, during the end of the last Ice Age, we venture across the Bering Strait and reach the American continent by way of Alaska and Canada. We humanize it. One group goes down to the prairies and rivers, always to the south because the south grows eternally more and more splendid. Another goes deep into the high mountains, the Rockies, and from this point of view, we glimpse the rough deserts of the west. We are reminded of North Africa. We travel down the eastern and western sides of the Sierra Madre, that giant mountain range, to Central America, to the Andes, all the way to the tip of Chile, that place called the end of the world. Ten thousand nine hundred forty-six years ago, we have already explored almost all the habitable regions of the planet. We are an adult species. We gather our intelligences together; we think about our future, and that is how the most impressive revolution in our history begins, simultaneously, in various regions—a movement of non-movement that will forever change the face of the planet: the agrarian revolution. We stop walking. A surplus of food produced by agriculture allows us to sit still, to build cities, to gather and document our knowledge. And so, we accumulate. We accumulate an excess of wisdoms we never imagined possible. The excess of food becomes an excess of time and an excess of time becomes an excess of knowledge. In just a few millennia, our intelligence grows exponentially. We reproduce without haste. The human population multiplies, but there are many among us who resist this revolution. Resisting the impulse to dominate nature, we refuse to separate from nature. Some of us sense this feeling of domination will have a fatal effect in the future. Some of us are suspicious of all this separation. Thousands of dissident peoples throughout the planet resist the centers of agrarian power and continue their nomadism. Then, a new intelligent species infiltrates the human cities: a clever and manipulative intelligence that will take advantage of those comfortable and superficial humans who believe they are separate from nature. Domestic cats. As humans dominate the land through agriculture, cats dominate humans without our noticing. The nomadic people and those dissidents of the sedentary regime take note of this new alliance between cats and agrarian humans. We admire the intelligence of cats from the outskirts of the agrarian centers, but in our nomadic resistance, we remain allied to dogs. Six thousand seven hundred sixty-five years ago, as the agrarian revolution (beginning millennia before) spawns nations and empires of exponential accumulation, various dissident and nomadic peoples discover an uninhabited region of the world, the last deserted region, our prize, an Eden of nomads, full of life and exuberance. Climbing the Orinoco River and the Amazon, fleeing the mass of accumulating peoples, we find the Caribbean Islands. In hindsight, this human movement throughout the planet that has taken nearly seventy millennia seems some part of a design, some part of a plan. We think/know that what humans learned crossing the Sahara deserts that very first time so long ago is/will be useful knowledge for generations thousands of years later, when we must survive in the deserts of the Middle East and the deserts of the Americas. Each movement, each practice, each technique, each piece of knowledge, slowly developed over time like an insistent drop that creates a hole in a stone, has unforeseen effects millennia later. The individual brains cannot anticipate the design of the collective mind from that first epoch of human existence. The recipe for a thousand-year-old meal (like bread or cassava or wine or beer) contains more knowledge than any modern encyclopedia. The book that documents all that knowledge is inscribed in our genetic code. Our species experiments with modes of diversity that change our bodies to adapt to the regions we inhabit. Maybe it is nostalgia; maybe we miss that preapocalyptic Africa inhabited by a multitude of human species. So, as we divide throughout the planet, we become diverse and dream of that precise world wherein we will find ourselves together in our most exuberant distinctions, that world wherein we will never be alone. Our mother-species has always pondered the honeycomb. The Animal has always existed in a state of gestation. Only now, with the cables for intercerebral synapses, do we become aware. Our exploration of the world, our slow nomadism where we spend the best years of our life, ends when we arrive at the islands in the Caribbean Sea six thousand seven hundred sixty-five years ago. The Caribbean provides sufficient food, rain, and vegetation to live without dominating. The Arahuacos (later the Taínos and the Caribes), among other peoples, are the first to settle on these islands. They declare the end of planetwide land exploration. Thousands of generations of us, who for dozens of millennia learned that movement is life, now sit down and wait. When those original peoples of the Caribbean, our last pioneers, manage to re-encounter the original peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, those lost in the winter of Toba, a cycle will close, the connection will be given, and the era of interconnection will begin. This era will emancipate us from solitude, the next rebirth, the rite of passage that will allow us to imagine The Animal, a true collective being made of trembling and touch. But something interrupts this process. Four thousand one hundred eighty-one years ago, between the Tigris and Euphrates, agrarian humans invent two terrible ideas: writing and slavery. The first texts we write are lists of properties. Once we codify the world, we turn the lives of others into possessions. The nomadic peoples resist these empty creations. Freedom is our compass. We know that language corrupts and the body edifies. Two thousand five hundred eighty-four years ago, a dangerous superstition is born in the Egyptian empire. A young and ambitious god. A unique god separated from the universe, cut off from the world. The Great Separator. That god possesses us with a delusional message. He convinces many that he is the singular creator of everything, the dominator of all, and that he lives apart from our worlds. That god is the greatest fiction of separation. Nomadic and native peoples continue to resist these fictions of separation, that domination disease born millennia before, that domination disease with its varying strains: genocide of the Neanderthals, agrarian control, a god who—alone—created the entire universe. One thousand five hundred ninety-seven years ago, the white tribes of Europe adopt one of those strains, one of those gods of separation and dominance. Perhaps, remembering in their genetic code the genocide of the Neanderthals, they arm themselves with the Bible and try to convince the rest of the world of their fictions of separation. Europe is filled with empires ruled by experts in the art of dominance. Nine hundred eighty-seven years ago, the planet is plagued by religious wars between these empires, wars that are powered by technologies of death, accumulation, and the proliferation of separation narratives. We dissident peoples learn to create artifacts that, for lack of another word, we call “magical.” The making of these artifacts encodes the millennial interconnection into our DNA. Later, we will call this “art”—forms that prophesize the moment in which we finally reconnect the world between these new dissident peoples in the Caribbean Islands and the ancient native peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. Our magical artifacts, that ancient interconnection, those lesser gods, told us that the encounter between the Caribbean and Africa will birth a new intelligence that will end all fictions of separation and that will diversify the world as we had diversified the African continent one hundred and twenty thousand years ago. A multiplicity of wisdoms. This encounter was premediated to occur, naturally, three hundred seventy-seven years ago, following the spiral mathematics of our history. But, the white tribes of Europe, in their millennial and incestuous isolation, armed with empires and the most delirious fictions of separation, advance to the precise moment of that connection and rage against the rest of the planet in the year 1492 of their Christian era. Separation between the divine and the earthly, between god and dust, between human and nature, between one race and all other, separation between accumulators and the dispossessed, separation between the individual and the community. The era of white supremacy, which will soon end, begins. Three fundamental events shape this era of separation. First, the genocide of the original peoples of America. The white tribes define the human in their image and likeness—to justify our deaths, they separate themselves from us. They colonize America and kill us. In this conquest and genocide of native peoples, they create a formula they repeat for four centuries: dehumanize a population to appropriate all its resources. The second event that characterizes this era is the transatlantic slave trade where a tremendous portion of African peoples are tortured, murdered, and forcibly transported to be exploited on the “new continent.” This exploitation of labor will eventually become the formula for wage labor and forced migration. The human valued not for its breath, but for how it contributes to accumulation. The separation of breath from time, body from place, mind from suffering body so that only a few of our species can accumulate the most possessions. The third fundamental event that characterizes this era of separation is the burning of dissident witches on a global scale. Witches are the leaders of local dissenting communities against the fictions of separation. They are the makers of magic spirals. They exist in every region of the planet (including Europe, where they are the granddaughters of the dissident communities who lived with the Neanderthals) developing the art of self-sustenance and interconnection. Control of the female body is the key to dominating the species. But just as the Neanderthals and cats and dogs managed to infiltrate themselves into the world of dominators, we also infiltrate and survive. During the era of separation, witches survive, native peoples survive, diasporic peoples survive. It is this triple alliance that conjures The Animal. Witches deal with space/time in the here and now. They are the architects of our present, those beings who know best how to emancipate ourselves from sadness and time’s river. The native peoples are the custodians of our past and our future, those who document both our historical memory and our desire to create new worlds. Finally, the nomads, many who were runaway slaves, by contrast, are the custodians of space/place, managing connections at the longitudes and latitudes of the planet. It is then that, eight years ago, The Animal is born, when two mulatto twins with spiral proportions of the African and Taíno genetic codes on the island of Puerto Rico, connect their minds with thirty-four transparent cables allowing them to make intercerebral synapses and connect to the rest of the planet to finish and abolish, once and for all, the fictions of separation and domination. The Animal Revolution triumphs just eight years after its birth. (The plants smile at our Animal story and then tell us about how it was one hundred forty-four million years ago that the first colorful flower was born on a green world—how that first flower forever changed plant history on the planet.) The Animal has shown us that everything we inhabit is a sticky narrative substance from which no form, not even The Animal itself, manages to detach itself, like that book by Angelamaría Dávila, Fierce and Tender Animal, which we will read later in the semester, when we are ready.

The twenty-one students listening to Professor O tell them this long history of humanity on the first day of school are confused. It is year 8 (2042), just a few months after the triumph of the Animal Revolution. Why the hell is this professor telling us all this? What does this story of two hundred thousand years have to do with the subject of this course? Indeed, the class that Professor O is starting to teach right now at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras is the first of a course on Contemporary Puerto Rican Literature. When preparing for the course, Professor O found it perfectly appropriate to begin with the birth of humans in Africa. Everything he is recounting seems essential to understand the Puerto Rican literature they will study, and he thinks/knows this as he looks at the puzzled faces of the twenty-one students sitting across from him like an audience. He, having just turned fifty-seven, suddenly feels old.

 

Note: This is an excerpt from Rosa’s forthcoming novel, El gato en el remolino / The Cat in the Downward Spiral.

Note: This fiction part of Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writer’s Folio: A Hauntology

Website | + posts

Luis Othoniel Rosa was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. He is the author of Otra vez me alejo, Caja de fractales, and Comienzos para una estética anarquista: Borges con Macedonio (Beginnings for an Anarchist Aesthetics: Borges with Macedonio). Down with Gargamel! is his first book translated into English. He studied at the University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras) and holds a PhD in Latin American literature from Princeton University. He is the editor of El Roommate: Colectivo de Lectores. He is currently associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Website | + posts

Katie Marya is a writer and literary translator. Her work has appeared in Big Other, North American Review, Guernica, Waxwing, Salamander, Fence, and elsewhere. Marya was awarded the James Dickey Poetry Prize at Five Points in 2017 and has received fellowship support from the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and the Nebraska Arts Council. Sugar Work, her first full-length collection, was the Editor's Choice for the 2020 Alice James Book Award. Originally from Atlanta, she now lives in Nebraska where she is finishing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She earned a BA in Spanish from Westmont College and an MFA in Poetry from Bennington College.

1 thought on “History of Human Migrations, by Luis Othoniel Rosa

Leave a Reply