Zulu Echo 5

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Friday, December 20, 2013

WHEN penguins are made to dance and sing, something shifts within me that a pack of cartoon circus animals could not.

I have not been able to have a grip on why this is so. Maybe it is in the manner that the animated film Happy Feet anthromorphosize these birds. Or that Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s “Under Pressure” calls out some kind of primal signal for me. But the feel good message at the end of the film stealthily delivering the ethos of multiculturalism and individualist triumphalism leave me suspicious.

I have been schooled early on the allegorical power of our humanity reflected on god’s creatures having been made to watch the classic tale of Old Yeller by my father. But nothing prepared me for the visual and emotional assault of the National Geographic docu on the great migration of the zebras and the wildebeests as they cross the Mara River in the hundreds of thousands.

It’s a tale of a mother Zebra, Zulu Echo 5, and her foal, codenamed by the production as FoxTrotOne, as they both struggled for survival in that great migration through the bush lands of Serengeti and Masai.

It is a story of how they escaped the predators of the harsh African wild such as the hyenas and the lions only to be separated in the Mara River crossing, the mother and her young placed in great peril by the crocodiles lying in wait for an ambush and the strong currents brought in by the rain from the North. All these are captured by high definition cameras mounted on multi-rotor kit copters and remote controlled miniature off-road buggies.

This is not cartoons for sure. When crocodiles attack the crossing herd, there are cracking bones and the river turns red because of the carnage. It is not a Coen brothers’ production either but it feels like No Country for Old Men for the most part with the black and white footage, and the slow motion takes of the herd as they stampede across the river evoking a deep churning violence that is foreboding for the mother and her son.

After being swept downstream by the strong current, FoxTrotOne makes it to the other side of the river only to be faced with the steep embankment that his undeveloped muscles and short legs could not climb. Mother manages to cross but turns back after the sensing that her foal is not with her. She crosses again still in search for her son but this time with a massive herd of wildebeests who create a wall of carcasses as they stampede toward the steep embankment.

Many eventually climb out alive using as steps the bloodied and lifeless heap of the dead. Zulu Echo 5 is one of these lucky few. A few hundred meters downstream FoxTrotOne also makes it. And a reunion of mother and foal closes the episode entitled Blood River.

While most will be touched by the enduring love that tied both mother and foal throughout the ordeal, or some Ayn Rand fanatic would hark about the irrefutability of selfishness in nature not just human, I have a different take.

Isn’t the case that our human migrations are also similar in terms of the degree of barbarity and violence that we as a species endure?

Off the coast of Italy, how many of the poor from Africa have washed up on the shore bloated and dead after making that dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean unsuccessfully? How many Syrian refugees are now in the camps in Jordan freezing from the cold? How about our own OFWs who come home out of their minds if not in coffins from the abuse and exploitation they face from more affluent societies? Like the herd of wildebeests, the human species is similarly primitive and barbaric in terms of regarding our own kind. And history is strewn with the carcasses of legions who have been made as the sacrificial offering for the bounty of the few.

There is a big difference between the fate of Zulu Echo 5, FoxTrotOne, the herd of wildebeests and us, so-called humans. Unlike these creatures whose commonality is the ethos of survival in a harsh environment, we do not have the same excuse given our capacities. While the herd had to endure the perilous river crossing, we could build bridges. The tragedy is that despite our know-how the river similarly runs red with human blood as we throw the least among us to the crocodiles.


(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 20, 2013.


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