QUIET POWER, the invention of accounting
Naoh’s youth had passed, mostly stable when it followed the gentle, reliable routine of her village life. Yet the irregular and unpredictable changes from feast to famine inevitably brought about periods of pain, loss and grief to many in all the tribles, including her.
Hers was a small country. Isolated by large rivers, an inland “island” of sorts. Ancestors had come from the sea, far away, through one of the waterways and settled there.
No stranger had ever been seen and no one in any of the five tribes had ever wished or needed to cross the water to foray into the “beyond”.
Life in the village really was pretty good and busy.
Naoh had had five children, lost three in one of the wars. And her husband.
She now was part of a small group of widows, united for survival. Some hunted and fished (traditionally left to men), most foraged (a women’s job), and one grew medicinal plants to trade for more game.
War always was a direct reaction when famine hit one or more of the five tribes. When it hit, war followed. A fact of life. All that were friends, even family, now were enemies through hunger and panic. Alliances were made against the “others”, plans made for surprise attack. Territory was colonized and enough were killed to thin the group and curb the appetite of the survivors.
As food was abundant most of the time years could pass without conflict but eventually a spell of bad weather, an increase in predators, more births with less deaths and suddenly the pantry was almost empty, game scarce and rivers low.
Fear and a sense of doom filled the most fretful folks and tribal warlords found themselves under the pressure of a few, calling for immediate action. A bit of huffing and puffing, blood got spilled, people lost people. Not knowing of any other way, life went on, and on.
Naoh never had a “voice”. She’d always naturally found herself more at ease when quiet in the background.
She was trained in the art of reading and writing in order to become one of the “holders of tribal memory”, a human safety net in case the precious written tribal history be damaged or destroyed… a few would remember. She was the one chosen to add in contemporary entries. She was diligent but, more than this, served by her quiet nature, she had grown exceptionally good at listening and observing.
This is how she eventually, almost inexorably started expanding her notes. Beside recording all exchanges between tribe leaders, she gradually came to record almost everything. She had already instinctively recorded all illnesses and injuries, first in her children, her family, then in others. Now she recorded every herb, potion or poultice used by the healer along with precise notes on food intake, fluids, symptoms, etc.
She also kept track of weather events, moon phases and any other noticeable changes in nature. Most importantly, she recruited others, asking them to let her know of all food brought into the tribe, consumed or preserved.
Thus she was able, within a few years, to form an overview of average needs, reserves, excessive depletion of the latter, spoilage and waste.
It wasn’t that long before an idea, a vision formed which triggered a deep change in her. She started to share her evidence and what she’d eventually, inevitably deduced from them. Having devised and refined the most efficient and accurate techniques of record keeping, she stood, gently tall, in the face of any initial doubt. She embodied the true humility of the external world: this was not about her, this was a statement of facts!
This was the fruit of her work. It spoke of what happened, of what was. She now simply and clearly knew that there was a way for peace.
It was for anyone to see that, through careful accounting, one could avoid famine, panic and war. One could know and control the pantry out of its past randomness. One tribe might even decide to share, lend or trade more readily if fairness could be demonstrated by defined terms of kinds and amounts.
It is through her selfless dedication to truth, to honesty, to facts, that she had found the discipline to keep the record and the power of sharing it.
This new perspective really shaped a sense of responsibility that elevated the whole society above and beyond the simple needs of the warlords.
Selflessness is rare in a culture of ego, honor and belief in personal importance. Naoh had found her voice, not to dominate but to inspire.
She became the first civic leader of her world, drawing more followers than the warlords ever had.
Keeping track of facts always calls for a more honest assesssment of reality, not just one step from barbaric to less barbaric, but a quest for improvement.
Information sparks the imagination in most contexts.
It was accurate accounting of time and position that allowed Copernicus to imagine a true vision of the Cosmos. Grand and small discoveries have stemmed from careful reckoning of observation. Countless purposes are born and supported forward everyday through this minutia.
Without facts we are as lost as without imagination and fantasy. Record keeping is a tool, both humble and mighty.
Noah’s story became an important entry in the big book of the continuing history of the tribes, celebrated by following generations as a most humble champion.
By Natacha Drechsler from the United States