My journeys through Siberia under the tutelage of Ian Frazier, along with Sergei and Volodya, have come to an end. The bedside table groans with additional works on Russia and I will return shortly, probably transported back nearly 100 years to that revolution. For now however I have swapped Frazier’s mosquitos from the taiga and those massive rivers, to the mosquitos of the rain-forest, as Erik Jensen revisits his time with the Iban, the headhunters of Borneo, in Where Hornbills Fly. What is clear at this stage is that Jensen can write, beautifully.
My one concern is that his time in Borneo was under the guise of missionary work, though I suspect that may remain in the background as he introduces me to the tribes and beasts as he works in the heart of Borneo. I am reminded too of the words of Redmond O’Hanlon, his mission statement of travel writing, from his own Borneo work.
I despair of the effect that Christian missionaries have impacted as they ramapaged the globe in the name of their god. Indigenous peoples the world over have been suppressed and succumbed to the teachings and ministrations forced upon them. That clock cannot be turned back, despite long overdue efforts at recompense. Native Americans, Aborigines, Maoris and others cannot know how there lives would have evolved without the white man’s diseases and addictions; cannot know how their peoples would have progressed at their own pace and with their own beliefs. We are shamed.
I was reminded too of brainwashing as recently as the weekend. We had a visit from a young lady friend, celebrating her tenth birthday. I recall all too vividly the occasion of her baptism, the first of two successive such ceremonies under the episcopalian rafters of the north-east. By the second I vowed that there would never be a third, and thus a few years later I remained in the kitchen to prepare the purvey for the blessed nephew. Today I watch as The Urchins undergo their regular session; watch and await eagerly the day when their own minds begin the decision making process.
I was heartened though by our birthday guest. She had advised her mother, after coming to her own conclusion, that ‘I wish you hadn’t had me christened. There isn’t a god. Why did you put me through that?’ I fervently believe that baptism is something that one can only decide for oneself, at an age when in a position to make a rational decision, after all the teachings we can provide and considering all the guidance available, from whatever sources. For instance there is no such thing as, say, a catholic child, simply children of catholic parents. That child then makes his own decision of his life’s direction. Eventually I decided on Humanism, though in childhood I too suffered the brainwashing sessions. Eventually I learned of the discoveries of Darwin, himself embarking on a gap year type voyage before intending entering the priesthood. How his life changed. and thankfullt mine and many others. We have a census in a few weeks time, with, finally, an option that eschews religous preference. It is a box I will tick with relish, and just maybe will provide an indication that my beliefs are in the majority and that practising religion is becoming a thing of the past. Man Created God.