This is an informative fireside chat given by Wise Colin (anthropologist and President of Wise Colin’s Fish Hall of Fame) for the enlightenment of humanity. Today’s topic: Human Evolution 101.
Gather around the fire* ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Today Wise Colin is going to tell you the TRUE story of how homo sapiens (aka loser species, aka YOU) learned to walk upright and live on the ground.
ONCE UPON A TIME in a land called Somewhere lived a bunch of chimps/apes. These chimps/apes (who called themselves CHAPES) were YOUR ancestors.
Anyway, these chapes were very happy. All day long they would swing about their very tall tree, enjoying themselves watched by all the other creatures of the jungle, who admired them for their opposable thumbs – the secret of their great agility.
But then one day something dreadful happened. One day one of chapes got an idea – an event which seldom happened. This chape suddenly thought, “What if I fall? I’ll get hurt!” And this chape, rather than keeping this new idea to himself started telling all the others about it. And, because chapes are very suggestible, they too started worrying. Soon the chapes stopped swinging in their tree. In fact, they became so anxious, so lacking in confidence, so obsessed by the thought, they hardly moved at all.
“We can’t go on living like this,” one chape finally said. “Such a miserable life is not worth living.”
“What are we going to do?” another chape asked.
Then a chape called Siggy Freud, who usually sat about all day thinking about sex, turned his mind to their existential dilemma. He said, “I have analysed the problem. We’re not afraid of falling. There is a much more deep-seated fear underlying our condition. We are afraid of being EATEN!”
Now Siggy had hit the hammer right upon the nail. Yes, Siggy had precisely defined the problem. For all the chapes had overlooked the real source of their concern – a rather large group of LIONS that paraded and prowled all day long at the base of their tree.
Having defined the problem was one thing, the solution another.
“So, Siggy, what are we going to do?” the chapes asked as one.
Siggy reflected for a moment – or maybe two.
“Yes, I have the answer!” he happily announced. “We will change the lions’ diet.”
“Of course!” everyone agreed. (Except one – a macho, alpha chape called Bruce. More about his short and tragic life later.)
“But how?” a young chape naively asked.
Siggy looked down on the young chape with condescension.
“It’s easy,” said Siggy. “We will make them vegetarians – we’ll offer them leaves.”
“It’s never going to work,” the sceptical Bruce broke in. “Just as leopards can’t change their spots, lions only like meat.”
“Even carnivores can change their ways,” Siggy asserted. “I’ve analysed their problem. Lions have a phobia about the colour green. We will confront them with their fear.”
So now the chapes had a course of action. In fact, they all got rather excited as they planned their campaign to rehabilitate lions. One even composed a song – “Give Leaf a Chance”. And another suggested they call themselves “chippies” (thousands of years later to evolve into hippies).
Anyway, when they were ready, they all climbed down onto the ground. (Except Bruce, of course, who chose to stay in the tree and watch the action.)
Before long the lions came upon the scene and stared at the hunch-backed, hairy, happy chippies, who were gathered in a group, waving their twigs of lovely green leaves and singing their song.
“What the ###%@! (a very crude lion expletive),” exclaimed the head of the lions, who had never seen such a sight.
“Attack!” he ordered.
At which the lions charged the chippies, who ran this way and that, to escape the hungry carnivores.
Very soon the lions were feasting on some chippies, while the other chippies scrambled back up the tree.
“Whose bright idea was that?” asked one of the chippies, who suggested they change their name back to chapes.
Siggy kept his eyes down, afraid to look the others in the face.
“Well, it was worth a try,” he said after a while. “I was out of my field of expertise. You know I’m a sex therapist.”
“I told you so,” now scoffed Bruce, who was determined to rub it in. “Now it’s time to listen to me.”
Bruce then told the assembled chapes his plan.
“You know,” he began, “we’ve given leaf a go, now it’s time to give branch a chance. Violence is the only thing these carnivores understand.”
He then ripped a thick branch from the tree with his strong, prehensile hand.
“So, let’s give them a bit with this. Look, I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Bruce descended from the tree and immediately began to beat his chest and make ‘up yours’ gestures at the lions, while calling out things like – “Come on, I’ll have you, I’ll have you!”
Well, the head of the lions was having nothing of this. No-one would show disrespect on his patch.
“Hey, you,” he roared (in lion talk – I’m translating now), as he walked up to Bruce. “Don’t diss me, chape punk.”
Bruce, however, couldn’t do tough lion talk so he just bashed the carnivore on its head with his branch.
“Ouch,” cried the lion, as a big lump appeared from his crown. “That hurt.”
The lion then ran off with tears in its eyes like a real cry-baby, a real scaredy cat.
“Wow!” all the chapes cheered from the tree. “That was great. You’re the man!”
“The man?” Bruce asked, having never heard the term before (and neither had the others, it had just spontaneously come to mind). “Who, man?” he further inquired.
“Hu-man?**” called back a chape, who couldn’t spell. “Why you are the man – of course.”
All this verbal banter and etymology was too much for Bruce, for he was a chape of action, not words. And so pleased with himself was he that he started to roll and jump, whoop and high-five, throwing his branch away in the process.
This of course was not such a good idea for the head lion came back with the rest of his gang.
“So where’s your branch now?” the head lion asked the de-branched Bruce. But before Bruce could answer, the gang jumped on him and ate him.
Things could hardly get worse for the chapes. They were still up their tree and now without their most bravest (if stupid) member.
“We’ve tried leaf and now branch is a failure too,” observed one sad chape. “We’re all too cowardly to be like Bruce.”
“Yes,” sighed the rest. “It seems there is nothing we can do.”
But then from the back of the group, way out on the highest branch of their tree came a voice.
“I know the answer,” the voice said.
“Here we go again,’ the chapes all jeered in response. And doubly so because the voice belonged to Telly, a crazy chape well known for his strange visions***.
“What’s it this time?” a chape sarcastically said. “Not another story about cars and planes.”
These were strange objects that Telly predicted that would some day be in existence.
But Telly was not to be put off, for he trusted what he saw.
“No,” he said. “This time I had a vision of a vast forest called Amazon where you download books. In the self-help section of the forest, I found a book that completely describes our situation. You see, the problem we all suffer from is, well… bad posture.”
“Bad posture!” they all exclaimed. “What’s this chape on?”
Telly continued, unperturbed.
“We slouch, we slump, we have curvature of the spine. A sure signs of low self-esteem. If we walked upright we would all feel a lot better.”
Now, even though they all thought Telly was not right in the head, they also knew in their heart of hearts his words were true. They did slouch, they were severely slumped over, some even suffered from knuckle graze their arms hung so low when they moved.
“OK,” they all finally conceded. “It’s true, but what can we do?”
“Exercise and visualisation!” Telly proclaimed to the group. “And I have a perfect affirmation.”
And so with Telly as coach, some might even say, guru, the chapes exercised everyday, chanting as they worked out – “Everyday, in every way, we’re getting straighter and straighter.”****
And although at first some experienced the wobbles, even falling from the tree to be eaten by lions, the majority underwent a total transformation. Soon the whole tree was covered by chapes, standing erect and proud on every branch.
“It’s time,” announced Telly, who knew the moment of truth had come. (In fact, chapes had reached a turning point in their evolution – their improved posture meant that were no longer suited for life in a tree.) “We must now claim our heritage – the ground.”
Then, on the count of three, all the chapes jumped together from the tree, ready for a final face-off with their foe.
The lions, of course were waiting and watched the chapes land and stand upright.
“What the ###%@!” exclaimed the head lion, only this time he said it with fear as the lofty primates towered above he and his gang.
“What’s happened to you?” he asked Telly in a pathetic, height-challenged way.
“We don’t have to tell you – shorty.”
“Shorty!” the lion roared back. “Well, we’ll show you!”
The head lion then ordered his gang to stand up on their hind legs, which they did. But they walked so awkwardly, so clumsily, so gracelessly that they became giddy and soon toppled over.
Well, talk about laugh. The chapes almost split their sides. The lions made such a ridiculous sight. And the lions knew it, too. Never before had lions been so humiliated, so put down by any species. Finally all they could do was slink away, all mangy-looking, tails hanging low – lions completely defeated, lions with no pride (lion joke).
So now you know dear reader, dear homo sapiens, how you learned to walk upright, to leave the trees and claim the land.
Of course there is a moral to this tale, a piece of Colin wisdom that I wish you to take away.
Stand straight! For if you slouch, a lion will EAT you.
*This is a metaphorical fire of course. Have you ever tried lighting a match under water?
**This term would later catch on and is in fact the origin of the word “human” used to describe homo sapiens, aka loser species.
***Yes, you guessed it, it’s from Telly and his visions we derive the word “television”.
****For humans with penile erection problems the affirmation – “Everyday, in every way, we’re getting straighter and straighter” – is a must! Try it. (Only advisable for homo sapiens males. Sorry, ladies.)
Drawings by George’s niece, Nessie (aka The Loch Ness Monster)