The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Themes And Variations
#23 Tarzan And The Mad Man
That Old Time Religion
Burroughs’ stories are always concerned with religion in one respect or another. He never stopped investigating religion or religions. When Swami Prahavananda brought Vedant to LA from Portland, Oregon of all places Burroughs if not the first in line was not that far back. It’s no surprise that the novels of the first half of the thirties all reflect Vedanta or Hindu religion to some extent.
The Tarzan series was virtually founded on the avatar of sun worship, La of Opar. She appeared sporadically until 1930 when she was entombed in Opar and abandoned by Tarzan and Burroughs. Here she appears again in the form of the mundane normal rich girl, Sandra Pickerall, the Scottish beer heiress. A common place White Goddess.
One should always bear in mind the original White Goddess, She, of Rider Haggard. Thus one always compares Burroughs’ White Goddesses to the original. Apart from Greek mythology’s White Goddess, represented as the moon, I think the White Goddess reigning in a Black or off-tone population, was actually a Haggard original. Of course, La was a carbon of She. An aside- I’m discoverying that I’m using some outdated terms incomprehensible to younger people. Carbon copy is one of these. You get the blankest of stares. For any readers not familiar with carbon paper, in the days before printers turned out endless perfect copies of documents if one wanted a copy of a typed letter, typed in a typewriter, one inserted a piece of carbon paper between the original and the desired copy. One side was coated with carbon so that the stroke imprinted on the clean sheet. Those were the days, children, when we walked three miles to school through eight foot snow drifts. Life wasn’t so easy back then.
So, La was a carbon of She. Not quite; She was actually two thousand years old. Burroughs couldn’t figure out how to do that without being a carbon copy of Haggard so he made the priestess of the Flaming God part of a multi-thousand year tradition. Sandra was a one off with short duration. There was no mystique there; this is the common woman triumphant. Rand himself was a phony Tarzan who was also a phony rather ditso god.
While there was no real historical basis for She but a tenuous connection to Egypt’s influence on Sub-Saharan Africa that Haggard repeatedly invokes there was a historical basis for the Portuguese colony of Alemtejo in Ethiopia. A fairly remarkable one and one that Burroughs knew of. Possibly the story was gleaned from the pages of the National Geographic also bu there is a basis for it in Burroughs; library.
Let’s tackle the groundwork for Haggard’s White Goddess first. Obviously with Haggard and Burroughs we are dealing with men and writers of stupendous imagination. These men are able to build cities and civilizations from the merest scraps of evidence. And then in Haggard’s case, from his sojourn in South Africa he was familiar waith legends and archaeological evidences unknown except to the specialist and possibly not to them. Burroughs read many books of African history including J.W. Buel’s Heroes Of The Dark Continent. The book mentions legends and stories that Haggard heard but so fleetinly one wonders what impression they could have made on the forming mind of ERB. Buel himself took his early history froma fabulous Arab work called The Travels Of Ibn Batuta, sort of the Richard Burton of his culture.
Writing in the fourteenth century Ibn Batuta had visited the East African coast trodding the soil of Klwa Island on the southern border of Tanganyika, now Tanzania. Zanzibar replaced Kilwa as the Moslem trading entropot on the East Coast. Haggard apparently had done the same as he mentions ruins that dated back to before the tenth century. So, we have established commercial activity in Southern Africa before the arrival of the Shona people in Zimbabwe.
The ruins of Zimbabwe are, of course, famous but the builders are undetermined although the relics are claimed by the Shona which is impossible. There are additional stone ruins further South than the Shona ever penetrated. Therefore it follows that others than the Shona built them. The ruins and Zimbabwae turn up frequently in Haggard’s novels also.
I have always believed the ruins were Malagasy which is also Trader Horn’s position. I wasn’t clear on the arrival of the Malagasy but then ERB’s novel Jungle Girl showed me the way. Jungle Girl is concerned with the Khmer people and the ruins of Cambodia and Thailand. Few of us, I believe, have any idea of the history of this area and its connection to India.
According to some somewhat limited research on my part the Balinese were a major naval power in the archipelago and the adjacent mainland. When the Khmer king threatened the Balinese king the King of Bali mounted a thousand ship expedition to the Mekong to punish the Khmer king. This would be a substantial flotilla if true and not legendary. If each ship transported twenty to fifty soldiers that would be an army of twenty to fifty thousand men. Logistically a superior achievement, especially just to punish one guy.
Bali today is 90% Hindu in religion so that the Hindus or Indians had made a religious conquest of Bali by the ninth century. One assumes that contact was continuous from, say, 800 to 1500 AD so that Balinese regularly sailed to India.
Now, the Malagasy of Madagascar are genetically linked to a Bornean people opposite Bali. It is highly doubtful that the Boreans made any voyages to India. Let us assume however that those people of Borneo were troublesome to the Balinese, harassing their shipping and possibly raiding Bali. Now, there doesn’t appear to be continuous migration to Africa; the migration seems to have been a one time affair.
Let us suppose then that the Balinese knew of Africa from their excursions to India. After all, the Chinese admiral, Zheng He touched on Africa if not claiming it for his Emperor in the fifteenth century. There are Africans with Chinese DNA from sailors shipwrecked from that expedition. Kilwa was active from at least the ninth century when Persians established a colony leaving ruins behind. Pottery sherds found on Kilwa come from the whole of the East including China.
In an effort to solve their Bornean problem, then, let us assume the Balinese organized a flotilla and shipped the entire troublesome Bornean population to Africa in one shot. It could easily have been done by revictualing and rewatering at several points on the way to India or Ceylon at which point the monsoon could be used to aim for the African coast. Whether Madagascar was known or not the flotilla could easily have blundered on it. It was uninhabited at the time. The Bantus had not yet penetrated that far. Their resence was probably insignificant on the mainland- Mozambique and Zimbabwe. That was it- a people transported from Borneo in one consignment.
Finding the malarial coast uninhabited the Malagasy’s then moved up on the plateau where the air was more salubrious. The Shona may or may not have already been there. In any event the population would have been small. It is possible they began to filter in some time thereafter settling North of actual Zimbabwe. The ruins then were built by the Malagasies either as protection from wild beasts or as defensive forts. As the additional ruins are further South the Malagasies either prospered and expanded or unable to maintain themselves against the Bantu Shona kept retreating further South as did the Bushmen. On the other hand the kingdom of Monomotapa that existed in this area at approximately this period must have been founded by the Malagasies. That it was stamped flat by the Bantus would indicat that it was a culture alien to theirs much as the White culture now being exterminated by the Bantus. With the Whites gone and the ruins of the cities dotting the plains the Bantus could then claim their ancestors built them. An exact duplicate situation.
Now, there are a variety of complexions in Zimbabwe tending toward a red. That could only come about by the mixing of the Black Shona and the copper Malagasy. So, obviously the Malagasy were either killed or bred out of existence on the mainland although still existing on Madagascar.
The Shona having no use for the stone forts which were unfamiliar to them ignored them for their traditional grass hut villages.
The Malagasies mined for gold probably trading with Kilwa Island although that is smoe distance and there seems to be little refuse in Zimbabwe to suggest a trading period. Nevertheless the gold was mined and it isn’t there now.
Using whatever knowledge he had of the legends or history of Zimbabwe Haggard created his own magnificent legens of King Solomon’s Mines and the superb She. She was was placed somewhere on the coast between Zimbabwe and Kilwa Island.
For his shadow of the story of She Burroughs then moves the location of She up to Ethiopia also incorporating the story of the Portuguese expedition of the fifteenth century to that formerly mythical and fabulous country thought to be the home of the equally mythical and fabulous Prester John.
ERB combines two threads of history. On the one hand Vasco da Gama the explorer did send his brother Cristoforo da Gama on a military expediton to Ethiopia to aid the Queen of Ethiopia. Initially successful Cristoforo was untimately defeated although the Portuguese left the country rather than building ERB’s castle on the Mutia Escarpment. The Galla people subsequently invaded Ethiopia where they existed against the Ethiopians in the sort of standoff that ERB depicts.
The faux Tarzan, Rand, then parachutes into the midst of the Portuguese castle of Alemtejo. In his descent the wind slams him against a turret causing the inevitable amnesia. Tarzan’s loss of memory that recurs periodically means that ERB is severely stressed. Tarzan’s losses of memory always occur at periods of extreme stress for ERB when he is facing difficult problems.
Rand had embarked on his expedition to prove he could rough it a la Tarzan for thirty days so his mind occupied by this illusion he believes he is Tarzan. As he descended fromm the sky the Portuguese, now a cholcolate brown, believe he must be God, not a god but the God. Even though God Rand takes orders pretty well. Da Gama orders him to find a goddess as God must have a goddess. After having had his Black candidates rejected Rand goes back to find a White Goddess.
At this point Rand, the faux Tarzan, finds the beer heiress Sandra Pickerall. Thus God and goddess are in reality ordinary folk, the common people. The descent has been from the immortal She to the mortal but still divine, La, who was the high priestess, to an ordinary girl dressed in ordinary clothes. ERB’s hopes had deflated quite considerably.
This was on the eve of ERB and Florence’s departure into exile from LA to Honolulu so there is a bewildered sadness to the story. It’s as though ERB were asking: Where did the dream go wrong?
There is a faint echo of The City Of God story from Tarzan And The Lion Man. In this case Tarzan/Rand/ERB is God and Sandra/Florence is his goddess but no longer the vision of his dreams he imagined in 1926. He’s pretty disappointed.
The religious scene is quite astounding, presenting aspects of the whole history of religion. ERBs’ life study of religion is here condensed into a few paragraphs and scatterings throughout the text.
Ruiz stood behind a low, stone altar which appeared to have been painted a rusty brown red.
For a long time Ruiz the high priest held the center of the stage. The rites where evidently of a religious nature that went on interminably. Three times Ruiz burned power upon the altar. From the awful stench Sandra judged the power must have consisted mostly of hair. The assemblage intoned a chant to the weird accompaniment of heathenish tom toms. The high priest occasionally made the sign of the cross, but it seemed obvious to Sandra that she had become the goddess of a bastard religion which bore no relationship to Christianity beyond the symbolism of the cross, which was evidently quite meaningless to the high priest and his followers.
She heard mentioned several times Kibuka, the war god; and Walumbe the god of death, was often supplicated, while Mizimo departed spirits, held a prominent place in the chant and the progress. It was evidently a very primitive form of heathenish worship from which voodooism is derived.
What reading, what study went into this religious scene isn’t clear but it is clear that ERB’s readintg here led back to the religious practices of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, or perhaps it might better be said the lower Niger River. In what they call the Yoruba diaspora the people as slaves were dispersed throughout the Americas, South and North and the Caribbean. Apparently deeply religious the Yoruba took their religion with them grafting it unto semblance of Catholicism, bastard religion here in Burroughs. Perhaps that is what ERB means when he says the Alemtejos took the cross as a symbol but it had no meaning to them. The Yoruba religion took different names and forms from Brazil to New York. As ERB points out here the Yoruban religion in Haiti developed into Voodoo while in Cuba it became known as Santeria by which name it passes into the US. Chief centers are Atlanta and New York City.
While Burroughs merely says that Voodoo was derived from some ancient form implying lost in the mists of time he may very well have known that these new world religious impressions were derived from the Yoruba of Africa.
And then a little further on, Ballantine, p. 55, ERB goes on to describe a different religious ritual:
Looking up, she saw a dozen naked dancing girls enter the apartment, and behind them two soldiers dragging a screaming Negro girl of about thirteen. Now the audience was alert, necks craned and every eye centered upon the child. The tom-toms beat out a wild cadence. The dancers, leaping, bending, whirling, approached the altar; and while they danced the soldiers lifted the still screaming girl and hled her face up, upon its stained brown surface.
The high priest made passes with his hands above the victim, the while he intoned some senseless gibberish. The child’s screams had been reduced to moaning sobs, as Ruiz drew a knife from beneath his robe. Sandra leaned forward in her throne-chair, clutching the arms, her wide eyes straining at the horrid sight below her.
A deathly stillness fell upon the room, broken only by the choking sobs of the girl. Ruiz’s knife flashed for an instant above his victim; and then the point was plunged into her heart. Quickly he cut the throat and dabbing his hands in the spurting blood sprinkle it upon the audience, which surged forward to receive it…
To consider this scene from several angles: I hope no one is offended but put into current Hollywood cinematic terms this is the purest of pornography. If there was a battle at this time to get James Joyce’s Ulysses through customs, Joyce was smirkingly smutty compared to Burroughs here.
I mean, a dozen naked dancing girls leading the procession, a child snuff scene. The dwelling on the flash of the knife, its point entering the body, the spurting blood from the child’s cut throat then the sprinkling of the surging, screaming crowd with the blood, truly they were washed in the blood of the lamb.
If the Voodoo harked back to an early period it was before this intermediate sacrificial period. On the one hand La of Opar seemed to flash back to to Aztec ceremonies in ERB’s mind. In that gory society the victims were indeed laid out face up beneath the Flaming God as the priest no only stabbed them but cut the heart out hold the still beating vessel aloft for the sun’s acceptance.
Here ERB seems to combine the Aztec practices with the Semite practices of child murder from which the term ‘blood of the lamb’ must be derived. Blood purifications were common in the various Classical religious consensuses. With Mithraic worshippers of the bull god Mithras communicants were lowered into a pit while a bull was slaughtered on a slatted platform above them, the blood dripping down on the initiate then washed the communicant in the blood of the bull, or in another word, Mithras.
Among the Semites, Carthatginians of North Africa and the Jews of Palestine child murder was the chief offering to placate the gods or God. the Carthaginians had a huge statue of Baal with oustretched arms on which the child was placed to roll down into a flaming pit.
The Valley of Hinnon was the site of the Jewish sacrifice of the first born. While the practice was suspended in the story of Abraham and Isaac when the sheep or lamb was allowe3d to be substituted for the first born.
The commenced the eternal round of sacrificing in the temple when the priests stood before a large basin called the brazen ocean and sacrificed sheep from sun up to sun down. The blood collected in the brazen ocean was used for its special purposes. Think washed in the blood of the lame and compare it with the Mithraic rite.