The Bhanari people believe that God lives
among them in human form. Unfortunately for God, they don’t
have much respect for Him.
God is kicked, beaten, spanked, punched, spit
on, laughed at, and wrestled to the ground, much like an
annoying younger brother. There are perks to being God,
too: You are served the best food, You sleep in the best hut
with whomever You choose, and You have elaborate ceremonies
performed in Your honor.
The Bhanari believe their god was once a
great god among gods. Then something happened. Either He
let the praise of the other gods go to His head and got
sloppy, or He went crazy, just as people sometimes do, and
no longer could keep the earth in proper operating order.
Most Bhanari believe the latter theory.
“Just look around you,” they say. “One day the world is
calm and bright and the next a terrible storm comes up and
threatens to blow us into the sky. One year there is plenty
of water for our crops, and the next there is no water at
all and many of our people are forced to eat bugs or
starve. One day the world seems like a beautiful place,
full of joy and song, and the next it seems like a revolting
error that we’re even here. Only a crazy god could manage
such a world.”
The Bhanari think that their god, because of
His insanity, was banished from the realm of the gods and
forced to live within His own creation. But if the gods
thought of this as a remedy, it didn’t work. While the other
gods are off keeping other worlds running smoothly, and also
creating new ones, almost any of which would be a more
hospitable place to live in than this one, the Bhanari god
is as crazy as ever.
They try to keep their God in a sane mood,
which is why they feed Him and bathe Him and do everything
in their power to satisfy Him. Nothing works for long.
“Can you imagine creating a place where
people get sick and die?” one of God’s bathers asked me.
“It’s as if He is a disturbed child who destroys His toys
when He’s done playing with them.”
They know it’s a bad idea in principle to
slap God when He misbehaves--that sometimes makes matters
worse--but how can they help themselves when He screws
things up so badly?
“Last year,” one man told me, “my wife had
her first child, but it died three days later. Can you
imagine a god who would create a new life and then kill it
off in three days?”
“What did you do?” I asked him.
“I marched into God’s hut and I beat Him
until my fists bled. His cooks had to pull me away. I
believe it did some good. Last month, my wife had a baby
girl and both are happy and healthy.”
How do the Bhanari know who is God among
them? He is always the craziest, the one who does the most
foolish things and gets into the most trouble. The Bhanari
god is just as likely to take a male as a female form, but
no matter which gender, the Bhanari god is known to drink
too much, to play tricks on people, to behave erratically
and indecently in public, and, in general, to disregard all
standards of civility and common sense. He’s the town fool.
When God dies, it is because He is so foolish
that He can’t take care of His own body. Of course, with a
god, that doesn’t matter; He simply possesses another body.
Often, He will try to hide in the least suspicious body,
knowing that when He is discovered He will be whipped for
the confusion He created by His death. In God’s previous
incarnation, She was a very fat woman Who liked to eat lemur
tails and Whose breath was like an evil wind. When that
body died three years ago, God successfully hid in the body
of a small, thin, and seemingly modest man for two months
before He was discovered. He was walking through the
village one day, on His way to trade for some fruit to
relieve His constipation, when a woman heard Him belch. No
one had ever heard this small, modest man belch before, and
the woman was startled, until she realized that the man’s
body had been possessed by God.
“It’s Him!” she shouted, and she followed
after Him, yelling and pointing Him out, so that very soon
the entire village knew His true identity. He denied it, of
course, but He always does. After a sound thrashing, He was
restored to His luxury hut and given all the cathartic fruit
It’s not often one has the opportunity to
talk face to face with God, and I couldn’t pass it up. I
asked God’s seamstress if I could have a talk with Him, and
found access to Him surprisingly easy.
“Try not to upset Him,” she said. “But don’t
let Him misbehave, either.”
I was led into the biggest hut in the
village. There were two large rooms, one a break room for
His attendants and the other for God Himself. I approached
Him with slow steps. He was indeed a small man, dwarfed by
the huge, throne-like wooden chair He sat in. He had small,
mousy eyes and straight dark hair. Two female attendants
were rubbing oils onto His pale, bony chest. A third stood
at the ready with a drink in one hand. One of His bathers
was in the somewhat complicated process of bathing each toe
on His left foot. I introduced myself.
“Please pull up a mat,” He said. I did so,
and sat at God’s feet, next to His foot-bather.
“You’re a foreigner,” He said. “Does this
seem like nonsense to you?”
“I’m not here to judge,” I said. “I’m an
“It seems like nonsense to me,” He said. “I
was completely ignored by everyone else in the village, even
My wife, and then some stupid woman claimed she heard Me
belch. Now look at Me. I’m a simple man, and I don’t like
this kind of attention. I don’t like the beating I take,
either. I’ve got bruises all over my back from some woman
who came in yesterday, claiming I made her husband cheat on
“You don’t believe you’re God?” I asked.
“I don’t believe in God,” He said.
One of His attendants stopped applying oil
and pointed a finger in His face. “Don’t say foolish
things,” she said. “You know where that will get You.”
He ignored her. “I’m not even a Bhanari. I
came here from the city looking to get away from the
congestion. Now I can’t leave. They’re right that the
world is a crazy place,” He said. “But it’s not My fault.
I just live here.”
“He may even believe that,” the foot-bather
said, turning to me. “He’s that crazy. But that’s no
excuse. He’s the cause of the world’s problems, so He has
to be taught a lesson when He screws things up.”
“There’s beauty in the world, too,” I said,
“so shouldn’t He get some credit for that?”
“What do you call bathing His feet?”
“I sleep with Him,” said one of the women
oiling Him. “And He’s not even a good lover. That’s my
sacrifice to the world.”
“There are perks,” said God. “But given the
choice, I’d much prefer a quiet life. I’d even go back to
the city if they’d let Me.”
Just then a man burst into the hut. His eyes
were wide with fury, and he stomped up to God.
“You idiot!” he shouted. “I asked You to
keep the pests away from my garden and look what You’ve
done.” He held up half a yam with insects crawling all over
it. Then he began to beat God with it, shouting, “Stupid,
stupid imbecile! Can’t You do one thing right?! Idiot!”
and so on.
I slipped out, leaving God’s attendants to
keep the angry man from injuring God too badly.
The foot-bather came up behind me.
“Of course we know that the world is a
beautiful place,” he said. “Every day I walk through the
woods and smell the trees and flowers, and I look up at the
sky and marvel at the warmth of the sun and the endless
varieties of clouds. I pick up a clump of dirt and marvel
at the variety of little creatures there. And then I go
home to my wife and children and I kiss each one of them,
quietly giving thanks for the warmth and good feeling that
exists in the world. But, you see, I can’t say these things
to God. He might get the wrong idea. He might think that
we approve of everything He does, and in our experience, God
only responds to negative reinforcement, and to that just
I then walked with the man through the
village and the surrounding woods, marveling at all the
things he mentioned, basking in the warmth of a perfect day,
one that only a god could have created, until my new friend
stubbed his toe on a tree root.
“I’ll kill that idiot,” he said.