The Diamond Jug
Imagine that there is a jug made of diamonds
And full of life-giving fluids sitting on a table.
Now, imagine that someone comes along
And says: This jug and everything in it is mine.
The owners of the jug reject this claim.
A long battle ensues.
Finally, the thieves leave.
But, instead of the precious jug
They leave behind a number of glasses
Of different shapes, colours, and sizes.
Each filled with toxic looking
And foul-smelling contents.
What can the owners of the jug do now?
The past is lost: only threats abound.
I first developed the metaphor of the diamond jug for a talk on Language as Inheritance at Bukidnon State University in Mindanao in March 2021. In this talk, I talked about a precious jug that has been replaced by glasses full of poison. I used the metaphor to explicitly talk about European colonisation and its ongoing impacts by focussing on descriptive and naming practices in language studies.
When the Europeans invaded and conquered lands around the world, these lands were often inhabited by people with their way of being, doing, and knowing, which were reflected in their diverse boli (sounds and signs). They had complex social and inter-group relationships, which had sustained them and their environments for unknown generations. People were not divided into countries nor were nuclear families a norm for and the fundamental unit of social organisation.
When the Europeans left direct control of their conquered lands, they left behind divided and, often, conflicting groups, sects, communities, and countries. It also needs to be noticed, the European conquerors have still not vacated all their captured territories and peoples. The United States of America (which should, in fact, be called the United Settlements of America), Canada, Australia, New Zealand are amongst the better-known examples of continuing European settlements, but many more exist across South America and other parts of the world.
In pre-European colonisations, heterogeneous, dynamic, and environmentally harmonised communities of humans co-evolved with their environments and geography. This differentiation of their understandings of the world is embedded in their boli.
It is noteworthy that many Indigenous languages did not have terms or concepts for things used as bases of division such as land ownership, religion, race, culture, numbers, literacy. These and other coloniality-enabling concepts were first introduced (through translation, borrowing, or wordsmithing) and normalised in the colonies; today, they maintained through a web of systems and institutions, including education, economics, international law, police, military, and government.
These ongoing colonial forces encourage further and continuing divisions among groups of peoples pretty much across the whole world. These divisions, in many contexts, lead to conflicts, which, at times, can turn violent and devastating for humans, non-human life, and the environment.
After the talk at Bukidnon State University, I developed the metaphor into Part 1 of The Diamond Jug, shared above. After writing Part 1, I realised that in addition to pointing out problems and issues, I need to share potential ways out of the mess that many of us find ourselves in. I, then, wrote parts 2-4 of the poem. Part 2 of the poem describes the current situation where the world is divided and devastated by conflicts, exploitation, and oppression – of both living and non-living things. Parts 3 and 4 then focus on solutions and possible ways forward.
The magic jug gone, the rainbows vanish
Darkness descends, Mother Earth weeps
The owners fight; kill each other
And as they battle, the liquids spill over.
Poisonous rivers, choking air, scarred land
Stifle life without discrimination
And as the shadows become darker
The violence and greed grow bitter
As the conflicts spread,
The glasses bubble more death
And all harmonies that maintain life
Mirror patters of oppression
Is the harmony gone forever?
Can something be done to recover?
Drained by fighting, weakened by diseases
At their last breaths, the owners make peace
With battles ending, their anger decreases
Humanity finds some roots in places.
The greedy thieves are stripped of feed
The glasses stop their slimy spill
The owners wake up to their present states
Help each other, forget the rest
The glasses fade and then reappear
The contents inside begin to clear
The owners observe this real change
Their actions become honest again
And as the owners regain their balance
Divisions vanish, the Jug re-emerges.
The Diamond Jug glitters like before
All around it, harmonies flow
Mother Earth shakes off her anger
Heals herself and helps her children
Thieves no longer pose a threat
Their contagious greed is now contained
The owners finally learn their lesson
Their integrity they will never abandon
Life fills the skies once more
Fair fractals glow across the globe
Integrity, love, respect, and inclusion
Become actions, not just conversation
And the owners sing to remember:
Divisions make diamonds disappear
Divisions make diamonds disappear.
Divide-and-rule was one of the primary strategies used by colonials to first capture various lands and peoples around the world; and now, to maintain and perpetuate their control.
Many of the divisions that we experience and see around us today are created and promoted through academia and education; enforced by law and force. In academic contexts, one can note that almost all the traditional disciplines and departments were established by and during the colonial period. The foundation work in these disciplines, including in biology, anthropology, religious/cultural studies, linguistics, psychology, anthropology, history, political science… was carried out by colonial agents and/or those sponsored by the colonials.
Almost none of these foundational theories have been questioned or replaced since then. To develop a non-anthropocentric (non human-centered) knowledge system, we need to rethink all colonial established institutions, including military, policing, education, social, political, and all other literacy/numeracy-based systems.
Once a process of decolonisation and reharmonization starts getting hold, the fractals (pattern that repeats itself at different scales: think of a tree and how it branches out and we can even see the same patterns in the leaves and roots) that shape social systems will start to change as well. And this process will lead to further change in the symbols and socio-semiotic systems that influence human thought and behaviour.
Done with honesty, integrity, and self-respect, this process of change can bring about widespread socio-economic and political reforms without the necessity of violence or conflict (which, in fact, perpetuate the fractals of oppression, even if those who oppress or are oppressed may change positions). And, in time, it will neutralise the divisions the enable conflicts and exploitations.
As someone who is concerned, my goal is to reshape the goal and direction of education to enable people to become independent and act with responsibility and integrity.
In addition to understanding this ourselves, we need texts that can encourage our younger generations to explore these complex questions as well. I, therefore, wrote an Epilogue to The Diamond Jug, which, in a way, summarises some of the points I want to highlight through Parts 1 – 4 of the poem in language and style that can be shared and discussed with children as well as others.
“Papa?” Guddu walked up and asked one day.
Yes Guddu, I replied.
“Papa, I read your poem, The Diamond Jug,
I don’t get it”, Guddu added.
Oh yes, I understand,
That poem has too many metaphors –
Metaphors are when you say one thing
But mean another; they can be a horror!
Metaphors may mean many things.
Come here, I called him closer,
Let me share one meaning of the poem
And then you can find others.
“Yes!” said Guddu, coming closer
Encouraging me to keep on going.
So, our ancestors didn’t live in countries
Nor did they work for others for money
They did not own land nor lives
They lived free: a life in harmony.
People were honest and respectful
And every life was precious
Nothing was wasted; everything shared
The Diamond Jug made everything delicious.
“So what happened, Papa?”
Guddu wanted to know more.
Think of Diamond Jug as magic,
And our ancestors made it happen.
It was easy when people used logic
And believed in actions, not chatting.
The lands where our ancestors lived
Were invaded and looted:
The invaders replaced the magic
With grief, greed, and guns.
“How Papa?” Guddu gasped!
Lies, theft, weapons, poverty, hunger
Violence, anger, revenge, money, power
Divided the people
Turning friends into enemies.
This is the world we live in today
Where schools turn us into slaves:
People learn to trust paper and screens
More than their own senses and deeds.
“Papa, is the Diamond Jug lost forever?”
Guddu wondered lost in thought.
Of course not. You see,
The Diamond Jug is always here.
If we can’t feel it, it is us who are lost
Once we recover, the jug will return.
Once we people learn our lesson
Take action and end oppression
Things will heal and recover, because
Divisions make diamonds disappear.
“Divisions make diamonds disappear
Divisions make diamonds disappear”
Sang Guddu as he hopped away,
Turned a corner and disappeared.