26 March 2010

The Insect and the Buffalo: Allpress & Shamy

An excerpt from The Insect and the Buffalo by Roshan Allpress & Andrew Shamy


"The BaMbuti people live in the dense, forested valleys of

the north- eastern Congo in Africa. Their history is marked by geographical and cultural isolation, and their way of life, like their language, is deeply shaped by their forest home.


In the 1950s, a British anthropologist studying their culture

and lifestyle formed a friendship with a BaMbuti tribesman called Kenge, who began to accompany him on his expeditions. Like most BaMbuti, Kenge had never before left the confines of the forest.


It was on one of these journeys that the anthropologist invited Kenge to accompany him onto the plains. As they drove out of the forest into grassland, Kenge was speechless. His language gave him no words to describe a land where you could see for miles around with no trees.


Pointing to a herd of buffalo, far in the distance, Kenge asked what kind of insects they were. Perplexed, the anthropologist explained that these were buffalo, a common sight to the BaMbuti, but that they appeared smaller because of the distance. Kenge’s reaction left no doubt that he thought this was nonsense, but when they drove

8closer, he saw that the anthropologist was right. Having never seen an object at a distance, he had no expectation that distance makes things look smaller. What witchcraft had made such small buffalo grow larger as they approached?


Insects and buffalo. Anthropologists and tribesmen. So much of what we know depends on how we view the world.


The word ‘Bible’ means ‘the book’ or ‘the books’. The Insect and the Buffalo is therefore a book about ‘the book’. It is a book about how the Bible presents a picture of reality that is intended to shape the way we view the world.


Like the BaMbuti and the anthropologist, we each have a set of assumptions about reality. We think we know how things are. We look at the world through the lens of our assumptions and we interpret what we see according to those assumptions.


Is this a world where nothing exists but matter and energy? Is this a world where history repeats itself in endless cycles? Is this a world where everything is divine? Is human life primarily about love, sex, pleasure, owning things, expressing yourself, doing good to others, reaching your potential, or encountering god or gods? Is there any meaning in the world? Is the problem with the world greed, ignorance, sexual repression, social inequality, bigotry or sin?


Are we looking at insects or buffalo?


Kenge’s misunderstanding was an issue of worldview, a uniquely human problem that also affected the anthropologist and affects every human being of every culture.


This is just an excerpt from The Insect and the Buffalo.

To download the first chapter or buy the book, go to Compass.org.nz


The Insect and the Buffalo: How the story of the Bible changes everything

By Roshan Allpress and Andrew Shamy

First published in November 2009 by the Compass Foundation

PO Box 33170, Barrington, Christchurch 8244 | www.compass.org.nz

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