Neria - chapter 10
10 – A Painted Party
Next morning Neria said the party to see the animal spirits would happen this afternoon and she wanted to show me how to paint the animal spirits first, She got two little leather bags with dry powdered earth - one red one black and she led me to a small cave not far from the big cave where we slept. "Even children like me can practice painting here - it's not like the secret cave where the real spirit paintings are."
The first paintings we saw were some hands. She said "These are really easy to do, I'll show you." She sucked some of the red powder into her mouth, pressed one of her hands on the wall of the cave and blew all the red powder on to the back of her hand. When she took her hand away, there was a picture of her hand, the same colour as the wall of the cave but oulined by all the red powder on the wall near the hand. There were lots of hand-prints just like it, all over the walls. She said "You have a try" so I sucked some black powder into my mouth and made a black hand print beside her red one.
She said "Doing animals is much more difficult but it doesn't matter if you just practice here. We are still in the light and the rain blows in, so all the paintings we children do disappear quite quickly. Not like the secret ones we'll see this afternoon - I think they'll last for ever.
We decided she should try to draw a goat because we each had the sign of the Goat God on our jerkins. Neria didn't blow the paint on this time but mixed the powder with some fat and spread it on with her fingers. She's a really good artist: look at her goat.
It was still morning when we had finished the painting. The mid-day meal was going to be a special one, before the cave-party, and lots of the grown-ups were getting it ready. We just sat near the fire and watched, or sometimes we just looked at each other and smiled. I'd had an itchy head all day and kept on scratching until Neria said "You've got lice, well so have I - everybody has them. Sit still and I'll de-louse you." She sat behind me and I could feel her fingers combing through my hair. It was a nice feeling and I just went into a dream until, every so often, she'd say "Got one".
Then it was my turn to seach her hair but not before she had shown me how to pop a louse between your thumb and finger nails. I didn't catch as many as she had but she seemed to enjoy being searched just like I had. I suddenly remembered seeing a television programme about baboons in Africa and they spent a long time searching each others fur and obviously enjoying it. Well now I know what it's like to be a baboon.
The meal was later than usual but worth waiting for. We started with boiled eggs - two each. They weren't as big as hen's eggs and Neria said the were from the nests of a sort of grouse that goes white in winter. She must mean the ptarmigan, we've still go a few that live in the mountains near my home but they are ever so rare.
Then there was a deer (a red deer not a reindeer) that had had a pole stuck right through it and the deer had been moved round on its pole as it cooked, so it was well cooked right through. There weren't any cooked vegetables just a salad of dandelion leaves, but we finished off with blackberries. We didn't have to pick our own, this time someone had picked a whole basketfull and roasted them at the edge of the fire so they were all hot and juicy.
Then it was time for the secret cave. Most of the grown-ups made burning torches like Neria had used on my first visit to her world. Some had drums or little flutes made of hollow bones. It wasn't the cave where we lived that we were going to but one high-up on the side of the valley. It look us half-an-hour to get to the entrance and then another half hour stopping and crawling along a tunnel until we got to a big cavern and the torches were fixed on the walls. Then we could see an amazing site.
All around the cavern walls and ceiling were paintings of animals and lots of them looked almost alive. They looked even more alive as the party got going: people were drumming and making strange tunes with their bone flutes. Some were dancing. The torches flickered and the flickering and shadows made the paintings come alive and start moving. The old man who had told the story about the sun and moon Gods started talking to the animals and asking them not to go away durng the winter. "Although we must eat some of you we know your spirits will join the Gods and your children will live happy lives. It is the will of the Gods that we share the World and each live our own lives."
The music and the dancing had left people tired but happy. They hugged each other and kissed. And then it was time to go back to the real World outside. Neria told me "We won't go back to the cave until Spring when we say thank you to the Gods for making the plants start growing again and the animals to start breeding."
I said "Shall we go back to my house? It's warmer there and we can each have a shampoo to get rid of the rest of our lice." "What's a shampoo, Edouard?
Things to think about
- Have you ever had lice? How did your parents get rid of them?
- Why do you think Neria's tribe kept the cave with the paintings a secret?
- Do you think the animals wish there weren't any people? Or wolves or lions or bears?
Read the next chapter
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