Aborigines and Land

ABORIGINES AND LAND

Into my childhood fall the Second World War. It was the time of
Hitler and the Nazis in Germany with their claim to bring all the
Arians back under the Arians and all the original German territories under German rule.
It was almost natural a time where at
least some people were pondering over what is pure, original and
their land of origin.

One of those was my grandfather. He was a real philosopher. And
he liked to take us children part in it. He would smoke his pipe
and read a newspaper. We children would group around him because
we knew after a while he would start from a news item...

"Here is written that alle the Jews should go home. Do you know
where their home is?"

"Yes, the land that Yahwe gave to them!" we cried in one voice.

"But that was thousands of years ago," Grandfather remarked in a
dry way, "and in the meantime they have spread all over the world
and have become many. What would happen, if they all go home?"

"No, we don't know. Please, tell us, grandfather!" we would say
unanimously.

"Listen, children, in Israel there are now other people living.
Where should they go? Where is their home?"

Silence.

Grandfather knew about what he was talking. He had to leave his
land when a dam was built and all his land drowned in water. On
our school map some of that land belonged now to a lake - Lake
Lungern. It had been very hard for him to leave Lungern because
the neighouring Swiss people of Lucerne would not give him land.
He could settle only in a shadowy corner of steep and almost
barren mountain land. Even my father could never buy a farm: he
was a tenant farmer and we too had to feel that we were strangers
although only 60 kilometers laid in between the old and the new
home. Thus also we knew of what grandfather was talking to us
when he came in again after another lightening of his pipe and
some puffing.

"Could we ourselves go back to a land of origin? Can this my old
land ever be returned to us - let's say by undoing the lake? But
even then a ancestor may come and say: 'You have to go back
further!' since Imfelds left the poor Upper Wallis 400 years ago
when there was a horrible famine. But even that is not the end
since that area was covered 2000 years ago still by a glacier.
And so you can always go back and back and find another land
where you come from. If all had to move back it would mean the
redoing of history and finally all would stand on one place and
shout: 'That is our land of origin!' Because all started at one
place with Adam and Eve."

"Oh Grandfather, that's the paradise. Let's go back there."

Grandfather would become very serious.

"Foolish children! There is no way back to paradise. And the
story of paradise has exactly this meaning, that all of us and
all over the world and on all continents have been driven away in
their long history. And so we are all pilgrims or nomads somehow.
We all have here on earth no right to say: 'This is our and only
our land or country!' We have all come from afar and are all
strangers and neighbours at the same time."

"But, grandfather, let's go back to the Jews!" I would as the
oldest dare to say. "Didn't Jawhe lead them to a promised land?
And so it became their country..."

Grandfather would think and puff and make smoke that went
_straight up to heaven and joined the clouds. After a while he
moved up both hands and let his head fall into them - just like a
thinker.

"I have to tell you something. Even I have my doubts about that
holy story. Something cannot be right.
But my head is not educated enough to find out what meaning all this has. You know,
children, that even in that by God promised land there were
already people living. And I don't think that God wanted that
those people be driven away or killed. That was probably politics
but not God's message."

Such question-answer games we liked very much. We began to search
for strange people and so called aborigines. We would have liked
to bring grandfather into difficulties or pull his legs. He had,
indeed, always an answer. Thus we learned a lot about braking
apart of continents and migration of people. Grandfather would
always start with: "Do you know where their original land lays?"
And then he would continue with the other question: "Where shall
the Negros in America go back to?" or "Where is the original land
of the Indians when they may have crossed the Bering Street or
the Aleute Islands and came from Sibira or Mongolia?"

One day he surprised us even more when he took another turn and
said: "And there is not only man. What about the animals and
plants? Don't they have also a desire to go back? What is their
original land? And can't they accuse us that we have stolen their
land to grow and be?"

Carried away by astonishment we did not even put forward an
encouragement that grandfather should explain.

Deep from inside came after a while these words: "Going back and
back and even further back doesn't lead to the origin. All that
makes us clear that it is neither primarily the question of
origin or land but of how we live together. There is no home just
based on land but based on respect and dignity."

And here we knew what he meant, because even we children were
looked upon since we were not from that land where we lived and
since our language was a bit different from the others. We were
strangers and felt it. Even we children would agree immediately
that it was not land but friendly people and some understanding
we wanted. Seldom could we even play with the other children. We
were told by them: "You are not from here!"

But, can anyone tell me: "From where am I?"
That is the reason that since childhood I hate the remark: "You
are not from here!" Who is from here only?

I do not care about homecoming since I know that I have many
homes. My home is where I have friends. And friends are not like
land. Land is limited. Friends you have to make and there is a
potential of some billion people.

"And for that purpose you have do disregard borders and fences
and go out - and never back". My grandfather refused to do
military service. His forced exodus had given him another key to
the world.

When my grandfather died his last words were: "Never base on land
but people and you will survive."

Shortly before he died, he had gone back to Lungern and that
meant to some of his old friends. He didn't need land or a house
for that. He went to friends since we children flew out and the
people around had not yet accepted him. There is a lot of sadness
but also hope in the story of my grandfather.

 

&&&

Al Imfeld©
23.12.90
al/bulawayo