There was a time when the Jooga tribe were
notorious collectors. They took everything they could get
their hands on, whether natural or man-made, and put it into
piles. They even raided the villages of neighboring tribes,
harming no one but stealing everything that interested them
and some things that didn’t, simply to add to their
collections. To outsiders, their village looked like a
garbage dump, piles surrounding their huts, some taller than
the huts, some on the huts, some in the village
commons, others stretching out well beyond the boundaries of
the village, strangling trees and providing homes for some
animals, playgrounds for others.
At first, the Joogas had a system of
classification that allowed them to put like items in like
piles. Spear-shaped objects went in one pile, egg-shaped
objects in another. Flexible objects in one pile, brittle
objects in another. Daytime objects in one pile, nighttime
objects in another. When an object fell into more than one
category, the village’s Collector-in-Chief would weigh the
factors and make the call. The system worked for centuries,
until the nearby river became the bearer of a new variety of
objects that seemed impossible to classify. The Joogas
found floating down the river and amassing on its banks
objects which appeared egg-shaped when first discovered, but
could become spear-shaped simply by pulling on the ends.
Then there were objects that seemed both flexible and
brittle depending on the direction you tried to bend them
and on other factors, like the weather. There were also
many objects that could be used in both daytime and
nighttime, and some that seemed useful at no time. Such
objects caused a breakdown in the classification system, and
the piles, once neat and orderly, became chaotic and
cluttered, and the sheer numbers of items found floating in
the river threatened to overwhelm the village.
Then one day it began raining, so hard that
the Joogas were driven into their huts, where they watched
out their doorways as their treasured piles collapsed in the
downpour. The storm continued for days, and soon the banks
of the river overflowed, and the Joogas were forced to climb
into trees like monkeys just to prevent themselves from
being swept away. When the flood surged through the
village, all the collections of the Joogas were washed away,
as were their huts, leaving them with nothing. Finally, as
the waters began to recede and the rain began to slow, the
heavens provided them with the greatest object yet invented,
an object so useful and well-suited to the Joogas, it had to
come directly from the gods. The rain turned from water
into bags, and the whole sky was suddenly checkered with
falling bags. Some of the bags caught their handles on the
branches of the trees and hung there like new fruit, while
others turned upside down and landed on the heads of the
frightened Joogas. When the rains, and the bags, finally
stopped falling, the Joogas climbed down from the trees
(some with bags still on their heads, afraid to touch them),
sank their feet into the muddy ground, and wept at the loss
of their cherished collections.
The Collector-in-Chief called a meeting, to
which he requested that everyone bring one of the bags that
had been given to them by the gods. The bags were large,
made of plain beige cloth, with egg-shaped wooden handles
that opened wide.
“The gods have sent us both a message and a
gift,” said the Collector-in-Chief. “The message is that
our collections had become too heavy and threatened to break
the back of the earth, so the gods decided to wash them
away. To replace our collections, the gods have sent us the
gift of these new containers, which are objects from their
own collections. ‘May we suggest you try these?’ the gods
are saying, and as usual we will follow the good suggestions
of the gods.”
Thus it was decreed that from now on each
person’s entire collection must never exceed the dimensions
of his bag.
Almost overnight, the Jooga culture changed
dramatically. They rebuilt their village and lived as
before, but now they were much choosier about the items they
collected, knowing that only so much could fit in one bag.
Their lives felt lighter and more concise, and their
collections sometimes surprised them with meanings that
would have been smothered in the era of great piles.
The Joogas still raid villages, but now they
take very little, and if they take more than they can fit in
their bags, they return what they don’t use.
“I won’t be needing this,” a Jooga will say,
handing a stolen cup back to its owner.
“Oh, so it’s not good enough for you?” the
owner will say knowingly.
Almost every Jooga’s bag is full, even at an
early age, so that an addition to its contents also means a
subtraction of something already bagged. The young Jooga’s
bag is often full of flashy items plucked from the river,
while an older Jooga replaces such items with subtler ones,
more personally and less conventionally meaningful.
Household items used daily--cooking utensils,
clothing, personal grooming items--are exempted from the
bag’s contents. All else is part of the collection. When a
Jooga obtains a new and interesting item, he may carry that
item around the village for a day or two, showing it to
everyone he meets. At night, though, it must be returned to
the bag, which is kept in a corner of its owner’s hut.
The entire collection is brought out only for
special occasions, such as the beginning of a new friendship
or marriage. When two Joogas strike up a conversation for
the first time, one will suggest an oog, a meeting in
which two people display the contents of their bags to each
other. Sometimes old friends will renew their friendship
with an oog, too.
At an oog, two or more Joogas will
take turns pulling out items from their bags. The owner
will describe each item, where and when it was found, what
it might be used for, and will then tell any stories
connected with it, which are often embellished to make the
item more meaningful and important.
“This is a nut that fell on my head when I
was a boy,” said one Jooga man, twisting the nut between his
fingers and weighing it in his hand.
The man’s wife, a woman well known for the
beautiful black beads she’d worn around her neck, had
recently died, and his friends had suggested an oog
to help him overcome his grieving.
“I was walking in the place where the parrots
feed,” said the man, “and it was the first time I was
allowed to walk in the trees alone. The nut frightened me
and left a bump on my head for many days. When I picked the
nut off the ground, I looked to see who had dropped it.
There was a parrot high in the tree above me, looking down
at me, first with one eye and then the other. ‘I suppose
you want this back,’ I said to the parrot. ‘I found it
first,’ replied the parrot. ‘But when you dropped it on my
head, it became mine,’ I said, ‘so go find another.’ ‘I’ll
scratch your eyes out,’ said the parrot. ‘You’ll have to
catch me first, stupid parrot,’ I said and then ran swiftly
back to the village and put the nut in my bag, swapping out
the eye of a fish I had recently found on the river bank.”
“No wonder the parrots don’t like you,” joked
another Jooga. “Word gets around.”
“That doesn’t bother me,” said the first man,
now pulling out a mummified parrot, the next item in his
The others laughed, until they noticed that
the parrot’s eyes had been replaced with two of the softly
glowing black beads that had once rested snugly in the
hollow of his beautiful wife’s neck.
They said nothing, out of respect for this
mystery, and then they looked away, searching their own bags
for a story to tell.