Part One of A Pondering of the Past.
| THE MYTH OF THE BLISTER BABIES
I was sitting at my desk and reminiscing, reading some of my old papers, when I came across something which jarred my memory; jarred not in a pleasant way. As I get older there are many aspects of my past which I am able to look at much more objectively. As most of you are well aware, the passions of youth sometimes lead us into situations which, when viewed from a level of maturity, seem appallingly dangerous, or, at the very least, showing a high level of juvenile poor judgement. Most of these adventures I can now look at with a chuckle and a smile. However, what I read in my papers reminded me of experiences which still fill me with horror.
I have never written of these experiences. I have spoken of them to very few, and those who have heard the story have not believed it. The occurrences were reported in the press; I read them all at the time. There were very few facts in the reports. Just as my friends did not believe me; if the reporters had reported the actual occurrences as fact, they would have been thought mad, or at the very least, pathological liars. Needless to say, after all these years the facts are covered by a heavy layer of moldy, mystery, myth and superstition.
First I shall relate the quotes, my own quotes, from the old writings which jarred my memory. Not about the occurrences directly, but I am sure they were in my mind at the time:
"In medicine there is a tendency to isolate a set of relativity and call it a constant. This is a dangerous practice. It is true that the stated constant is real, relative to the isolated set; however, a higher level truth is realized when it is understood that no part of reality can be totally isolated. Any set takes on changes when viewed from a variable viewpoint. It is impossible to base a rule of procedure on a constant, the possible motility of which, can never be accurately determined."
"Superstition of the past becomes science of the present. I have lived long enough to watch a number of presumed scientific principles return to the realm of superstition."
When I was a young medical student I made an excellent impression on one of my professors. There are a number of reasons why I do not feel it appropriate to use his name in this narrative, so he will be known as, "Professor". If any scholars become interested, in the future, they can discover his identity by researching the journalistic reports. I will be using some actual place names, so there will be a paper trail, of sorts, available.
We got along quite well intellectually and socially, and I often aided him in his research. Genetics and reproductive engineering were just on the horizon of medicine and Professor devoted most of his research to these studies.
I was quite surprised when he told me he had taken a position with the government of Indonesia to aid in the endeavor to expand medical service to areas with no modern health care, including one remote island, in which Professor was particularly interested. It was not many months before I discovered why.
Professor contacted me approximately six months after he arrived in Indonesia. The first contact I had with him was by telephone, which I thought strange. The telephone service on the island was almost non-existent and I assumed it would be much easier to write. Eventually I understood; Professor was desperate. The connection was abominable, but he finally got his message across. He wanted me to come to the island of Nias as soon as possible. Professor assured me he would arrange for a leave of absence for me from the university, even a stipend to be paid me for the aid I was to provide him. The connection was so poor that he was unable to explain the situation on Nias to any great extent; he simply said he needed my help. I thought I could hear fear in his voice through the static.
Of course I jumped at the chance. This kind of adventure was something I had always dreamed of. I pictured it as something mysterious and possibly dangerous, but that only stimulated my imagination, and the desire to head off into the unknown.
It took me several weeks to come up with the money for the trip and to make arrangements. What with the primitive travel conditions in that part of the world at that time, it was a bit over one month before I arrived on the island.
When I arrived I was shocked at the state in which I found Professor. He didn't seem like the same man, and I wished I had been able to arrive sooner. It was late and I was quite tired from my trip. Although I was anxious to hear about the situation, I accepted the offer to retire for the night and hear the story in the morning. I was shown to a hut by a strange looking local man. It was very primitive, but it was a roof to go over my weary head. There was a cot and table and chair. The brutal little man left me some fruit for supper and bowed out the door. I was too tired to eat. I reclined on my cot and soon dozed off into a fitful sleep, to the sound of intermittent rain and some unidentifiable jungle sounds.
I had some terrifying dreams that night, my first on Nias. If I had known how much more horrendous the reality of my situation was to become, I would have canceled my adventure there and then and departed that very morning. One line that kept coming back to me from a dream was a warning of sorts. It was, "And they, the accursed spawn of corruption personified." Sadly, the warning went unheeded.
I awoke to dreams of screaming, but happily they really were just dreams. I walked the 100 or so feet to the clinic and saw that Professor was already at work with patients. It was just past dawn, so I was surprised that he was already so busy. I later learned that the early risers were actually what might be considered research subjects, and they resided in the clinic.
When Professor saw me he closed the door on his 'patient', bid me good morning, and guided me into the kitchen. The cook had prepared a delicious looking breakfast. I suppose you could call it a tropical breakfast. Although I was not used to this tropical cuisine, I discovered that I quite liked it.
Professor scratched his unkempt beard and asked me if I had slept well. I said I had and explained to him how excited I was to be there. I told him I was dying for an explanation of why he had called me to his aid. He assured me that an explanation was forthcoming, and looked into the distance with a rather glazed look in his eyes. The following is Professor's strange story. I have tried to relate it in his own words, to the extent which my memory allows. It was long ago and my memory is far from perfect. Some of this even sounds to me like mythological make believe, but it is the best I can do.
"As you know, Geoffrey, I arrived here not much more than half a year ago, though it seems much longer, so much has transpired. You also know that I have been involved in the study of reproductive genetics. I had been corresponding with Dr. Fangestu for a number of years. He was the physician in charge of a large district which includes this island. He was also interested in reproductive genetics and had discovered some interesting things involving this island. At first he believed the processes he had heard of were just a unique mythology of the island, but after careful inspection of the data, and personal field work, he discovered concrete evidence that at least some of the stories about the island were not mythological."
Professor seemed very tired. He appeared to stagger when he stood to get another cup of coffee. He closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead, and continued.
"Dr. Fangestu's studies were fascinating. Of course when he told me about the Indonesian government's plans to expand their health care system, I immediately applied for a position, with the stipulation that I be assigned to this island. I was looking forward to working with Dr. Fangestu, but one month before I got here he disappeared. No evidence of what became of him has yet come to light. I still haven't given up hope of meeting him in the flesh."
Professor seemed highly agitated and I suggested he take a rest and continue the story later.
"Yes yes, Geoffrey. I will rest. I just want to give you a quick overview of the myths of the island. A creation myth of the inhabitants of Nias."
He was somewhat wild-eyed, and his hands were shaking as he took a drink of his coffee.
"The natives have a name for their creation story, which I find untranslatable. The name appears to come from a language much older than Sanskrit. I call it, "The Myth Of The Blister Babies": Before there was 'The People' on the island of Nias, there were all types of other 'Beings' in other areas of the Earth. The island of Nias was being saved for 'The Children of The One' . 'The One' was, as best as I can determine, something which resembled a giant toad. When 'Real Time' was to begin, the toad swam to the island. Apparently the toad was a male of sorts, because, as the myth goes, it needed a female consort. 'The One' sent the ghosts of 'The Yet To Be' to the mainland, where they captured a beautiful princess. 'The Yet To Be' brought the princess to 'The One'. The princess was understandably terrified. The giant toad said, "Have no fear 'My Consort', your pain is at an end, and his pointed tongue, sharp as a scalpel, shot out and split 'My Consort' from chin to pubis. 'The One' lay prone and his 'Essence' began to exude from his back. 'The Yet to Be' hurriedly took up the gutted princess and rubbed the entrails and blood, spilling from her abdomen, into the 'Essence' of 'The One's' back."
"I know this is disgusting, but this is how the native priest explained it to me."
I was finding it difficult to keep my breakfast down, but I asked Professor to go on.
"The carcass of 'My Consort' was disposed of and the priest used some untranslatable words which seemed to indicate that 'The Yet To Be' simply disappeared, or ceased to exist. 'The One' went into some sort of stasis, waiting, glancing back now and then, checking the glistening fertilized 'Essence' on his back."
"I must see some patients, but I feel you need to know about the myth. I will finish quickly, then you can acquaint yourself with the island while I work."
I was not sure how Professor would work, for he appeared exhausted. However, he went on reciting the myth.
"Soon blisters began to form on the back of 'The One'. If anyone had been there to observe, they would have seen tiny larva, squirming under the blister membranes. Then, soon, they began to emerge. 'The Blister Babies'. Strictly speaking they were not babies, but fully formed little people. Tiny people. The largest less than 10 mm. One thousand of them. They dispersed themselves along the shore of the island. 900 to protect the island, 100 to evolve into the inhabitants. When 'The One' saw that all was well he swam off to dwell in a cave beneath the island."
Professor appeared to have gained some energy. He finished the story in some animation, as if he very much enjoyed telling the myth; as if he believed it.
"And now I must get to work. Pheakkley will explain some things about the island to you. Get acquainted. Explore the island. But do not go into any of the off-limit areas just yet; they are well marked." He hurried off and I was, I must say, left in at least a mild state of shock. I had never heard such a story.
"I must to say hello, Mr. Geoffrey. I will be Pheakkley. I must to say I do not well speak the English." The cook was Pheakkly, who Professor spoke of. I wasn't sure how well I was going to be able to understand her. She was a pleasant looking sort. I liked her colorful mumu and complimented her on it. She just smiled and bobbed her head like a bird. I do not believe she understood me. She beckoned to someone in the kitchen and said, in her broken English, "If you please, my daughter will be much better to speak the language with you. She did learn in Jakarta." She coaxed a beautiful girl out of the kitchen. The girl was looking down, demurely. Pheakkley produces a bird-like laugh and says, "Do not to worry, Mr. Geoffrey, this is Ligaya, my daughter, she will to talk you, she shy. Hiya!, Ligaya! Talk to Mr. Geoffrey!". Pheakkley chuckles and Ligaya raises her eyes to mine, smiles and gives a little curtsy. Heaven help me, but the words 'Beautiful Princess' and 'My Consort' go through my mind.
I must apologize, for I see I have lapsed into present tense. Coaxing my mind to put these words to paper brings all of this material to the forefront, as if I were reliving it. For better or worse, you will have to put up with my writing style.
"Heeeya! Talk to Mr. Geoffrey my daughter. You be his trantlator. Go! Go! Tell him what! Tell him what you know. Go now!" She makes a motion of sweeping us out of the kitchen with a broom. I take Ligaya's hand and we go into the yard.
I am anxious to know so much, so I just start asking questions. It seems to work as an ice breaker. Ligaya warms to me and eagerly answers my questions. She shows me around the village and we sit for a time in what appears to serve as a village square. It is surrounded by several buildings, including one large one which takes up one side of the square. I believe it must serve as some sort of communal house or temple. I am ultimately proven correct.
To be continued