The Elephant Ambassador January 6, 1999, Chobe Botswana
It has becomes evident that the elephants and animals are truly calling us again in this time of such danger to the natural world. I take it personally, but I know I am not the only one to be called. Most importantly, I am not the only one to respond.
I started writing this to recount a series of events that confirm Spiritual agency and inter-species communication. I seem to be directed to review the ways that the elephants have come to me and the community in the last twelve years in order to understand what Spirit’s call might be now.
in 1999 I wanted to sit in Council with the Elephants. I went to Zimbabwe and from there we went to Chobe, Botswana, and that is how I met the Ambassador. He came to our meeting place at five p.m. at the Chapungu tree, at least three times in three different years. His appearance was incontrovertible. The last time and hour we were there in September 2006, he introduced us to his family and threw us a bone. These stories are told in Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing and From Grief into Vision: A Council.
Some years ago, I was alerted to the concerns of elephants in Assam, India who had occupied an airstrip, not allowing military planes to take off or land. Also a standoff between villagers and elephants in India after the death of one of the elephants. Then there were other difficulties between humans and animals and a series of attacks on humans in India, and around the globe, that seemingly had to do with revenging earlier attacks on elephants, the interruption or prevention of mourning rituals, and loss of habitat. It seemed like a global organized activity on the part of the elephants, but it could also have been a sudden global human decision to notice, not the elephants’ plight, but their anger.
I was able to publish a letter or article in English in an Indian newspaper that suggested ways in which these situations might be remedied respectfully. It was translated and distributed in Hindi, and then the newspaper and my contacts disappeared. But the passage was open long enough time for my writing to reach readers in India though without my learning what impact, if any, it had.
However, it is clear to me that the elephants had put out a call, and several of us received it, were willing to ‘pick up the phone.” I am one of them.
Animal agency in initiating the contact and communicating the dilemma psychically is important here. At the same time of the instances of “elephant rebellion”, births and dreams of births of white elephants were noticed and regarded as were similar births of white buffalo in the United States. Spiritual agency and animal agency. Something beyond our understanding is afoot.
In 2006, the annual meeting of the peacebuilding NGO everyday gandhis, working in Liberia, founded by Cynthia Travis, and to which I am Senior Advisor, opened with Charles Seibert’s October 2006 N Y Times Magazine article, “An Elephant Crack Up?” There was much concern among us about events relating to the elephants including the news that the most revered elephant elder of Lofa Country, Liberia, had either died or been killed. Accordingly, there were many elephant dreams among the Liberians and the extended everyday gandhis network of West Africans and North Americans that guided us to remember how interconnected the elephant people and the human people had once been.
In a later annual meeting, the Superintendent of Lofa county, the Northern Liberian district where everyday gandhis is situated, expressed his desire to find ways for the villagers and the elephants returning from their war-long exile in Guinea, might co-exist. There were several dreams told in that meeting that called us to peacemaking on behalf of the seemingly conflicting needs of the two species.
The Siebert article introduced us to the work of G. A. (Gay) Bradshaw. The Spring journal issue, Minding the Animal Psyche, Volume 83, which Bradshaw edited arrived as I was writing this. It contains an essay, “The Art of Cultural Brokerage. Recreating Human- Elephant Relationship and Community” by Bradshaw and Carole Buckley (Founder of the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary).
I had already read Bradshaw’s essay, “We, Matata: Bicultural Living among Apes” (Minding the Animal Psyche, Spring Journal Volume 83, Spring 2010, P. 171.) about the common research performed by Susan Savage Rumbaugh and three bonobos. Matata, Kanzi and Nyota Wamba, (Pan paniscus) who live in a “mixed Pan/Homo community.” in Des Moines, Iowa. This seminal essay and the quartet’s seminal work confirm animal agency and intent.
The brilliant title “We, Matata,” refers to Matata Wamba’s thinking in terms of ‘we’ as she was “wild-born in 1970 and lived in bonobo society in Zaire until the age of five. She was then brought with four other bonobos to the Yerkes “field station” at Emory University. Kanzi was born to two bonobos …in captivity at Yerkes….” Matata is “his adaptive mother.” In contrast to “…Kanzi, who is a ‘second generation’ bicultural bonobo, and Matata who is wild born, Nyota, Matata’s grandson is a “third generation” bonobo reared in a bicultural environment. ” The two younger bonobos were influenced early on by modern, western culture and so have, as we have, “been honed by modernity’s dualist traditions and the split world St Augustine. When Matata speaks, she speaks of “we” reflecting a concept of self found in collective, interdependent societies like those in free-ranging bonobo groups in contrast to the individualistic, independent, “I” centered culture of modern, western humans”
Bradshaw’s work records and substantiates animal intelligence and agency. It requires us to rethink and re-imagine the world.
What is distinct about my meeting with the Ambassador and the communication from the Indian elephants, is that these events demonstrate animal agency and transmission. Transmission, that is, receiving wisdom or information through invisible, distant or spiritual agency, is not commonly acknowledged by humans even among themselves.
In 2008, a trip to Tanzania was organized for the peace building team of everyday gandhis including Christian Bethelson, Bill Saa, J.F. Sawo, William Jacobs, and seven young, “Future Guardians of Peace” – all traumatized by the brutal Liberian civil war and yet working together on a multi-tribal peace building team. One goal of the safari was to introduce the peacebuilding team to the wild as the Liberian forests and their creatures have been, and are still being, devastated by the civil war and its aftermath, hunger, in particular.
Arriving earlier, Cynthia Travis, members of her family, and I were met by the young elephant, Spirit Sister, in the Ruaha who orchestrated our meeting and ceremoniously invited and then introduced her brother to us.
When everyone joined us in the Selous, we met the bull elephant, Delegate, after ceremonially bidding the seemingly hidden elephants to be with us. Delegate, who had been obscured in the bush, emerged. He came deliberately to within an inch of our truck. The young people knew we had called him to us and they trusted the moment because they were longing for such a reverential connection with the animal world. It was a matter of deep yielding and trust. Every moment tests us. Trust, however, is no guarantee of safety. One takes ones chances and tries to be alert, respectful and not naïve. This encounter is written about in everyday gandhis’ book, Tanzania Safari and in my essay, therein, “Alliance in the Selous,” where you will also find a photo of Delegate.
From Tanzania, we went to Liberia where we met and interviewed an elephant dreamer who had been visited and protected by elephants for all the years of the war. There, we were, once again, informed that the elephants were eating the crops of the poor farmers, but also, that the elephants no longer had the corridors through which they had traveled for centuries. In recent conversations, Superintendent Kortemai has spoken of the difficulties of providing and protecting the corridors which are increasingly interrupted by modern roads, expanding human habitat and other obstacles.
in July 2010, Cynthia Travis returned from Africa, alarmed by the news that the government of Tanzania has approved a major commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park linking the Lake area Victoria with eastern Tanzania. This will entirely interrupt village culture, the migration of the zebra and wildebeest, and the movements of elephants. (http://www.savetheserengeti.org/issues/stop-the-serengeti-highway/#ixzz176Xez6JY)
In May 2010, listening to the news on the way to the airport, I understood the gravity of the recent hemorrhage in the Gulf. I spent the next four months in active concern about the fate of the oceans and the horrific wound to the EarthSea Mother – its extent is still unacknowledged. (Two co-incident events this first week of January 2011: the announcement that deep sea oil drilling will resume though restoration has not occurred and safeguards – if they can exist – have not been put into place while tar balls are, once again, washing up on gulf beaches.)
In Connecticut, I met Ray Hardy, of The Deer Alliance, a Vietnam veteran who attributes his healing to the presence of the deer. He now devotes his life to their protection. His history, and his life, support the everyday gandhis understanding that peacebuilding, environmental protection and restoration are essentially interconnected.
In 2010, I spent the summer attentive to the many on-going environmental tragedies that are the consequence of human activity. They ranged from various oil spills in the U.S. and Africa, the possibly on-going seepage of oil in the Gulf, to the effects of uranium mining on the Reservations and the danger from radiation released from the fires that surrounded Chernobyl.
We know not what we do. Intellectual, emotional and spiritual numbing has resulted from our being immersed globally, for the last hundred plus years, in violence, cruelty, torture, killing and war. We accommodate, permit and perpetuate what was unthinkable a few decades ago. Violence, whether official, as in war waged by governments, terrorist, or individual, breeds violence. ( As I edit these words, we are learning of the shooting of an Arizona congresswoman, a federal judge, a child, and others in Tucson.) A new psychology that is a pathology, is increasingly dominating the human species. Crippling alienation is passed on between generations as the traumatic mind reproduces itself through the cultural change that it generates. This understanding is exactly articulated by Roberto Bolaño in his masterpiece novel, 2666.
Trauma and PTSD, as experienced by veterans and all war traumatized people, are similarly experienced by elephants and others animals. We learned this from Charles Seibert’s article based upon Bradshaw’s thinking and as further articulated in her stunning book, Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity. The effects of trauma in their different manifestations are also passed between generations and between species
In July 2010, grieving, lost, not knowing what I might do or write, I put myself “on the hill” for two nights and three days of solitude. I was, as the Lakota word, hamblechya, implies, literally crying for vision.
Three essential communications came to me on the hill. I have been contemplating them since.
The first was a demand to us from the wounded EarthSea Mother: “Don’t just bear witness. Be with me! Feel everything I am feeling. Recognize the physical pain of such wounding as has been inflicted upon me. Share my great disappointment in the human species. “Don’t just bear witness. Be with me!”
The second is a call to be a medicine woman for the earth. I extend this call here to those with similar inclinations and devotion: Let us become medicine people for the earth.
The third communication revealed that a reliable, hidden passageway to the restoration of a viable world is a true alliance with all the animals and other beings.
Indigenous people have known how to live in such alliances but they are almost entirely hidden from the western, contemporary world.
“Truly learn the way of alliance. Yield to the intelligence and agency of the other species. Consider the future of the earth, rather than individual concerns, in addressing all dilemmas and issues. Let your work be to bring other two-leggeds into such alliances. Help such true alliances become accepted cultural forms.”
At the end of August, I went on a walkabout to Canyon de Chelly with my husband, Michael Ortiz Hill. On the first night there, praying as I do each day for the restoration of the earth, a rainbow appeared in the sky though there were no rain clouds. We knew it was a covenant, but I still didn’t know, pragmatically, how I was to proceed.
On October 31, I dreamed an ocean of stones without any water. I walked far out on the stone sea, climbing to the crest of a great stone wave. From that perspective, as I looked away from the shore to horizons, I saw only wave after wave after wave of stones. If I went any further, I would be lost without any hope of return. So I made my way back toward the shore. An elder questioned me: “Why did you go so far?”
“I had to see,” I said.” I had to see what it there.” Without approving, he understood.
Recently, I felt the call to travel to the stones to see what would be revealed about the dream. I prepared myself for this journey. I also prayed that I would be given specific directions for these last active years of my life regarding the paths i am to follow to fulfill the mandate.
I went into the studio to journey to the stones. But when I began, the Ambassador appeared and insisted I continue the journey with him. I began again and journeyed accordingly. We met at the Chapungu tree as we had in Chobe. I climbed into the open back of the truck as I had when we first met and showed him, as I had, that my hands were empty, that I had no weapons. He looked in my eyes the way he had, in the flesh, ten years ago.
He reminded me that I had been called to make alliances with the animals, other beings and the spirits, and I had, instead, become preoccupied and overwhelmed with human concerns, activities and forms. Preoccupied with stopping or healing our criminal behavior, I was not able to give attention to what truly matters.
He reminded that on my birthday, I had, once more, asked for a path to assist the future of the planet and I had been given a mandate to learn the way of alliance. I had been asked to defer to alliance in order to find the hidden passageways to the restoration of Creation. When I had asked, it was explained to me that alliance, by its intrinsic nature, was a vehicle of transformation. But I had, it seemed, disregarded this mandate by being consumed with the terrible and grievous crisis of these times: torture, rendition, Blackwater, private armies, mercenaries, child soldiers, rape and mutilation, drones, robots, the wars and violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza, and the on-going war against the land, the trees, the animals, the elementals; horror everywhere and without end. I was reminded of an understanding I had been given twenty years earlier when studying Kaballah and the Holy Letter Nun: “I had been serving Pharaoh when I thought I was serving God.”
Then the Ambassador took me back to the ocean of stones: “The stones are what the human race has become. You are no longer sentient creatures. You increasingly become the drones, the robots, the weapons that you have invented as you disconnect from, injure and attack the natural world and all its creatures. The only way to save Creation is to re-enter it.”
Then he turned, as he had the first time we had met, climbed the hill behind us and disappeared into the bush.
Within minutes, I received a note from a friend announcing the premiere of a film, “How I Became an Elephant,” that documents the horrific conditions of elephants in Thailand. Elephants used in the logging and other industries for years, no longer needed, unable to be return to the wild, constitute an abused, slave labor force performing in urban areas entirely alien to them.
I left the theater in a similar state of mind to the one that overtook me in 1989, when on a pilgrimage to the Death Camps of the holocaust.
This morning, a friend wrote that she had had a dream of an elephant in the woods. In any accompanying film by the same filmmaker, Coming Home, Lek, the elephant medicine woman of Thailand, brings several abused elephants home to the forest. She has rescued them from the horrific painful and inhuman treatment that elephants suffer in Thailand. She has convinced the local villagers to protect them, arguing that tourists will be far more attracted to their villages to see the animals as they are living in the wild than when the animals, in order to paint, play music, dance, do tricks and give rides, endure great pain and suffering.
After this email, another message from am acquaintance in South Africa included a photo of an elephant in Botswana.
Within another few minutes, Superintendent Kortemai and Christian Bethelson, a former General turned peacebuilder, called from Lofa County, increasingly worried about the elephants eating the farmers’ crops. I immediately told them about the film and the solution Lek is negotiating.
2011: The last few days have been filled with grave concern about global mass deaths of birds and sea creatures since December 31 2010:
Google introduced a map of 30 incidents of mass deaths.
Different newspapers cited:
Hundreds of confused birds plummeting to their deaths in multiple locations in the U.S.
8,000 turtle doves falling dead in Italy with strange blue stain on their beaks.
Two million dead fish found to have washed up on shores in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.
100,000 dead fish in the Arkansas River.
Dead birds in Sweden exhibited signs of ‘external blows.”
Other events in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Brazil, New Zealand and England.
On Epiphany, January 6th, the day I met the Elephant Ambassador in 1999, I journeyed to him again in response to these tragedies. He said:
“Live according to the Code of Benefits. Examine every action and behavior: Does it benefit the earth and all beings? Does each activity benefit elephants, wolves, whales, birds, trees, bees, etc,? If no clear benefit is visible, don’t do it!”
“Why should we follow such a stringent regime?” we ask.
“Because otherwise you, your descendants, everyone will die.”
Then he added:
“Think like an elephant, not like a human.
Consider each being in your heart. Let your thoughts emerge to meet them. To hold all beings intimately in your heart, at each moment, can provide the understanding necessary to meet this moment.”
The elephants are calling us again. Even now, in the midst of events we do not understand, the call and presence of the animals is heartening.
How have they come to you? How are you meeting the Call?