Neria - chapter 6
6 – Feeding Babies
We had arrived at the cave entrance and even though it was a nice day we didn't want to waste time having a swim.
Neria hadn't got a flame torch, and I didn't have an ordinary torch or matches, so we went through the cave by feeling our way along the walls until we could see Neria's world at the end of the tunnel.
We went straight to Neria's home which was in the entrance to a huge cave with a big fire burning at the mouth of the cave. No-one seemed very surprised to see me and Neria didn't need to pretend I was her dream-time friend. She just said I lived a long way away and she had met me when she was out on her own. She asked "Can he stay here with me for a while?" Everyone seemed to think it wasn't unusual for a boy to wander off from home and go to stay with other families.
Some men arrived with a dead bison calf tied to a pole which it took two men to carry. Neria said "Hello Dad" to one of them. They were busy cutting the bison's skin off and didn't seem likely to invite me to go hunting with them today. Neria said that our job for the afternoon was to look after the baby kids. Not the real new babies, each Mum wore her baby in a kind of pouch on her front - the Mum could usually let the baby drink her milk while the baby was in its pouch.
This baby was quite big amd its mother took it from its pouch and it crawled over to us.
All four of "our" babies were crawling about or just starting to walk and were learning how to eat proper food and it was our job to feed them. Neria went to the fire and got some bones with cooked meat on them. She bit off a big lump of meat and started chewing it and I said "I thought we were feeding the babies not you". When she had chewed the meat into a mush she picked up a baby, stuck out her tongue with mushed meat on it and let the baby eat it. Then she fed another baby the same way. She said "We call it kiss-feeding. I like doing it, do you want to try?"
I didn't really want to but I thought I ought to say "yes". It wasn't horrid at all, it was quite fun having a kid grinning up at you and being so pleased when you fed it. The babies didn't have nappies so, when they were all fed, we had to use quite a lot of the dry moss that was by the fire, to clean them up. That wasn't so nice as feeding them.
Neria said we must get more moss to dry for next time, and we had to walk a long way to a big, marshy pond that had lots of moss growing round the edge, It was the sort of moss that is like a sponge: if you squeeze it lots of water runs out, then it dries beautifully by the fire.
There were some other children hunting round the edge of the pond and I asked Neria what they were looking for. "Frogs, it's the children's turn to catch dinner tonight." "Surely you don't eat frogs?" "Why not, you eat fish and frogs are just fish with legs. They taste good too."
When they were dead the frogs went in a big clay pot: it looked a bit like the clay that some flower-pots are made from. Then Neria's Mum and the other mums added lots of roots and leaves of different plants and the pot was left in the ashes at the edge of the fire, until the frog stew was ready. I tried not to think about the frogs and pretended they were fish as I ate them. Frog fish are really good. Afterwards we helped ourselves from a big basket of raspberries. The hunters had brought them home: Neria said raspberries didn't grow very near to where we were.
It was getting dark when we had finished the meal and everyone started to get ready for bed, even the grown-ups. I suppose that when it gets dark and you haven't got electricity, there's not much else to do.
One of the men told a story: it didn't seem to be a bedtime story just for children. Everyone listened to it but he used complicated words and I couldn't really understand what it was about.
Everyone kept their daytime clothes on and a pile of soft skins were spread round the fire, to be used like blankets, Neria and I snuggled up together, like she had wanted to when we were in my bedroom. We had almost gone to sleep when there was a flash of lightning and clap of thunder. I cuddled Neria a bit tighter just in case she was frightened, I think she cuddled me in case I was afraid too. There was only the one clap of thunder and we soon got to sleep afterwards. Then it was morning and everyone got up at first light.
Before this adventure with Neria had started I hadn't thought much about what it would be like to be a caveman (or a cave boy). Cartoons had men in silly clothes running around killing animals with bows and arrows or chopping down trees with axes made from stones. It had never occurred to me that, where there were cavemen you would have cave women, cave children and cave babies. What would they do all day?
I was certainly wrong about one thing: the hunters all had long spears and could throw them furthest and fastest with special spear-throwers that worked just like those ball-throwers you use when you are throwing a ball for your dog to chase. No one had bows and arrows.
I thought it was time to go home but Neria said "There's no hurry. We'll get back at the right time whenever we start. Anyway I want to make you some better clothes: boys clothes that fit you properly.
These were my old clothes
She said she needed two things: some good, soft animal skins and a lot of thread. The thread looked a bit like very thin string and she said that it was made from nettle-stalks. She had to borrow a sharp knife, which had its blade made from a row of very sharp flakes of stone slotted into a wooden handle, and a needle made from a piece of bone with a hole cut at one end for the thread to go through.
Getting a skin ready
She said we had to go to get the skins from the men who turned new skins just off a dead animal, into nice soft leather. She warned me it would be very smelly over there because of the way it was done. She was right - as we got near to some men working with skins near a vary small pond the smell was awful: like a mix of a dead rabbit that was going rotten and a public toilet that hadn't been cleaned out for months.
Drying a skin before the wee and brain treatment
"That's the wee pond" said Neria proudly. "All the men and boys stand at the edge and wee into it. Then the skins are soaked in wee until they are soft and it's easy to scrape the hair off."
I asked if they washed the wee off afterwards. "Yes, but they have to do something else first. When we kill an animal we eat nearly all of it but we don't eat the brains. The men rub the brains into the wee-wet skins and that stops them going rotten and after a few more days you can clean the skins and they are lovely and soft, just right to make you some clothes."
I said "Oh good."
She started measuring me with sticks and drawing a pattern on the skins with a stick that was burnt at one end and worked like a pencil.
By the time we had fed the babies again and had our mid-day meal with everyone else, I said I really wanted to get back home. Neria said she would leave my new clothes with her Mum and finish them when we came back next time. I thought that was a good idea: the smell might have gone by then with any luck.
We were soon back by the hot springs and got clean by swimming, before I got dressed in my own clothes, and we went down the hill to home.
Mum asked "Did you have a nice time and do anything interesting?" "We had a nice swim" we both said at once.
Things to think about
- What do today's babies eat when they are just starting to eat solid food?
- Is it wrong to eat frogs?
- Do you think we still use wee and brains to make soft leather? Can you find out what we do use?
- If you visited Neria's world would it be scary, exciting, cold, smelly, dangerous, fun
Read the next chapter
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