Rural Justice

By John Vogel

Despite my Southern California upbringing, I had failed to truly appreciate a ripe avocado. But sitting on a bald hillside surrounded by dense jungle, I found out what I was missing. The avocados were just under ripe, allowing anyone with a knife the ability to carefully peel and slice the meat, only requiring a bit of pressure to eat it. It was sweet, dense and very flavorful. I knew at this moment I would never look at avocados with such disdain again. It had been picked fresh from a tree nearby (nearby being relative), somewhere within the jungle. One of the guys in the group I tagged along with offered some up as a trail snack as we bounced around on foot, our van having broken down on the way in.

This wasn’t anything more than a fun jaunt to a rural mountain town in Africa. After months of staring at the varying shades of brown plains, I was quick to accept an invitation to lush green mountainous terrain. I was invited by friends who grew up in the area and were going home to visit for a weekend.

This place was as rural as it gets. The lone powerline running through had been shut off due to a wildlife interaction, but the locals didn’t care, as they had no use for electricity anyway. This was a mostly agrarian community, growing a massive amount of cassava, mangoes,and maize. While we sat and worked on our avocados, I had one of my friends translate some questions. Basics like what everyone grew, where they stayed, etc. We had a teacher, an avocado forager, a cassava grower and a monkey hunter.

Thinking it was a translation issue, I asked about the monkey hunter. One of the men mimes a bow and arrow, but another mimes throwing a javelin. They begin an argument that not even my translator can keep up with. Eventually he just says, “he kills the monkeys that take the fruit.” It clicked, he was a monkey assassin.

On our first night in, there was a brief warning about thieves, and not keeping any food or valuables within reach. I assumed this was a warning against people, but it dawned on me the primate population outweighed the human one.

From what I gathered, this man’s whole job was to be a bounty hunter of troublesome primates. “They take the fruit and can be vicious” my friend says. One of the men shows deep scars on his hands and arms where one went to town on him. Whether it be raccoons stealing eggs, wolves killing cows, or rabbits eating your garden, Mother Nature comes to collect a tax. But as humans, it’s only natural to avoid paying any sort of tax when possible. So in this case, you call the Monkey Assassin.

The next day, we sat on the hillside again early in the morning, watching the fog hug the walls of a large valley. A small campfire was going for a morning batch of tea when the Monkey Assassin cruised in nonchalant. In his hands, was an incredibly red, skinless, headless creature. It looked much like a skinned jackrabbit, that is, if jackrabbits had thumbs. After a few minutes, he rigged up a frame of sticks and began roasting the carcass. I asked if this was an outlaw monkey, but no one had a clear answer. They told me he caught it last night, but won’t confirm or deny whether a bounty was on this one.

The outside took on a dark crust, and what little fat there was rendered off. With a few swipes of a machete, pieces were handed around. Before I could take a bite, a bag of salt was offered to season it. Despite the smokey, well-seared and salted exterior, the metallic, gamey, oily flavors penetrated through like a linebacker going in full speed after the quarterback. Tasting like a beef-jerky-flavored steel cable, I chewed through the dense band of muscles that were most likely grabbing dinner just a few hours ago, not knowing it would be someone else’s breakfast. Within 15 minutes, only a pile of cleaned and shattered bones remained, and we went about our day, knowing we had all taken part in some form of rural justice. 

From the FE Films Archive

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