The Path Walkers
In the very long ago Burmese jungle two young people, of enemy tribes, are wondering the same thing: why do our old people walk the path to never return? Why don’t they stay with the village and let us take care of them? They have deserved a rest.
Instead, at the behest of the Lama, once a tribal member becomes a burden to the tribe and no longer contributes, he or she must walk the path. More
Long, long ago, deep in the Burmese jungle, on the long eastern shore of what was to be called Lake Indawgyi but which was then named for Ei-vu, the spirit of long, sweet water, there lived two tribes: the Mera and the Lasi.
Their lands, as large as any among the scattered jungle peoples of their time, with the long lake as their western borders, also bordered each other, Lasi to Mera’s north and Mera to Lasi’s south.
The Lasi and the Mera, for as far back as legend could reach, and possibly farther, had been mortal enemies, and so they remained.
When Ea-pe created Thanai, the first man, this first man founded the Mera tribe. When Ea-pe created E-u, the first woman, she joined Thanai as his Mera wife. This is what all Mera children were taught by the Lama and his many helpers.
The Lasi children, on the other hand, were taught that all Lasi stem from Thanai and E-u who were the very first Lasis and who would ever be the father and mother of their tribe. This was so because Ea-pe himself was Lasi.
The Mera children were also taught, over and over, that anyone who said that Thanai and E-u were not of the Mari tribe, and indeed its founders—always referring to, though this never had to be voiced, the Lasi—were evil and in the grim power of Bilu, the hungry ghost who cast no shadow and who ate children. It was a well-known fact among the Mera that all Lasi were under Bilu’s spell, and that many Lasi children were eaten by Bilu each year.
Yes, so the Mera children were taught, and they were taught to be grateful that they were born Mera children and not Lasi children, or they might be dead and eaten by now.
Were the Lasi to lay down their arms and acknowledge the Mera as their betters, and were they to pay tribute to Mera’s excellence and superiority in all endeavors, then, perhaps, Bilu would stop eating Lasi children, but not before then.
This is what the Mera children were taught.
The Lasi children, however, all knew that all Meras were really nothing but Ngoyamas disguised as humans, cannibal demons that wished for nothing more than a sumptuous meal of Lasi child. And if they did not behave, the Meras would sneak into their village at night and carry them away for dinner.
And so, back and forth, went the tribal teaching of children.
These children, whether Mera or Lasi, unless bitten and killed by vipers or other poisonous creatures, eventually grew up, all with both fear and hatred in their hearts, uneasy to live so close to such evil enemies.
And all male children, once grown—unless selected as Lama helper—took up weapons and protected their borders and maimed and killed their enemy as needed, and all female children had children of their own to whom they passed on these eternal lessons about that Lasi or the Mera.
There was another tale, one whispered among those whose will to fight had begun to fade, a tale frowned upon by the Lamas, a tale that told that when Ea-pe created the world and all beings in it, Thanai and E-u were neither Lasi nor Mera, but of another tribe so ancient that no one can remember its name. But these were just ramblings of the too-old-to-fight. Or so both the Mera and Lasi Lamas said. Don’t listen to them. They know nothing. And they will soon walk the path, anyway.
Over the years, both the Lasi and the Mera had gathered many a fine treasure and many a holy thing that the Lamas and their acolytes preserved and protected. And among these things holy, none was holier, nor as secret, as the path.
Both the Lasi and the Mera had its path.
There was the well-hidden and only whispered about Lasi path, and the equally well-concealed and only whispered about Mera path.
The purpose of these hidden paths was to aid the feet of the old and feeble as they set out on their final walk. Only the Lama and his helpers knew the head and course of their path, and none other ever walked the path. Only the Lama, to now and then affirm its holiness, and the helpers to keep it clear of undergrowth and rocks.