Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Beneath the Tile Floor, the Swamp

Yours for the purchasing at BB&T Park, Charlotte and, doubtless, elsewhere
Following on yesterday's visit to Pearl Fryer's purposeful and semi-visionary topiary garden—about which my only remaining question is, Where are the peacocks?—today we spent some time at the purposeful and semi-visionary village of Oyotunji, near Beaufort, South Carolina. This swampy, perplexing, but intriguing "sovereign land" is mildly like Arcosanti, in that it has been constructed and populated since 1970 by true believers trying to develop a way to live outside most conventional social, political, and cultural structures. The biggest difference between the two is that while Arcosanti is essentially populated by hippies with power tools, Oyotunji is suffused with a Yoruban (or perhaps we should say neo- or quasi-Yoruban) worldview that shapes the beliefs and actions of its perhaps 25 inhabitants. They can explain better than I can, though that's not saying much.

What this place is doing on former plantation land in South Carolina is only one of the many questions that were raised today.

Last night's baseball games in Savannah (for which we were joined by Rob's pal Bragdon) were enjoyable, though we suffered from our proximity to the very thick net that ringed the field—a problem we've had before. But really, how could front-row seats could be so bad?

On the plus side, you could probably use this image to teach yourself how to draw or paint or something.
It was only late in the second game that we decided to move up into the grandstand and see what it might be like to sit under a Big Ass Fan. In the humidity we've been wading through, it was more than nice.

Don't look directly at the ass. You'll go blind.
But Savannah on the whole hasn't changed much from last year: crappy hotel, horrible weather. So we were hoping for better times today, and after a terrible breakfast we got them.

I won't presume to speak for the residents of Oyotunji nor to judge their motives. Like many utopians of various political and cultural stripes, they seek a better way to live than that offered by conventional American structures. They live by choice on a preserve that they believe is autonomous from the United States—and, I presume, all other countries. They farm, teach, pray, hold festivals, and we don't know what else. They live under the guidance of a complex code of beliefs, deities, numerology, and more. We received a tour of some faded shrines to various figures, but I couldn't keep it all straight. It seemed that many deities were especially focused on matters of human reproduction—in keeping with the community's apparent belief in polyandry. They have a king who is also said to be an expert tile setter, and who works among the other residents even as he nominally leads them toward a more peaceful, equitable, and more sustainable future.

How much of this is true? We don't know. Does the mythology that was related to us today actually accord with Yoruban belief systems? We don't know. Is it significant that the compound used to house 200 people but today hosts a fraction—perhaps even a tiny fraction—of that? We don't know. Is there a whiff of Jonestown around the place? Should we be concerned by the training of youths in the use of firearms? Is the agriculture actually producing anywhere near enough for the village to live on? We don't know any of that, and so much more.

It sure would be nice to think that it's working. Maybe it is.

One thing that's definitely not working is this UFO Welcome Center farther north in South Carolina. Or, rather, if it is working, it's not clear how. Perhaps there are things we're not meant to know. A cat will never do algebra.

If you were already on a UFO, why would you come all the way to Earth to look at another UFO?
But as with so many of the intentional environments we seek out on these trips, I think we wind up applauding the monomaniac even if we don't quite grasp the monomania. You do you. Here's one more sight from Pearl Fryer's paradise, with a sentiment that all of us, Oyotunjian and otherwise, can surely get behind:

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