In the scorched deserts of Africa there once lived the people of Süllai, which translated from their tongue means a tribe blossoming on sand. The eternal burden of heavy sunlight had pressed these people down to the ground. Less than a metre high and horrifyingly thin, they were meagre, miniature humans, dry skins on dehydrated bodies.
The Sun reigned supreme over the desert habitat of the Süllai, so they had little choice but to honour it in worship. Surprisingly however, they revered it as a life-giving not a destructive power - a benevolent presence instead of a cruel despot. The Süllai believed that life blossomed under the blessing of the golden god in the sky. All around them dryness, starvation and bones, death thriving in the overabundance of light - and yet they put faith in the absurd myth that the Sun was life and there could be no life without it.
Daily did they perform their most sacred, most common ritual. Like meerkats they abandoned their burrows in the morning and climbed the nearest sand hill. Like meerkats they stood upright, surveying the naked horizon, whole families of six or seven. Then, the Süllai would raise their heads and encounter the Sun.
They were small and insignificant, the Sun large and mighty, and they believed it could bestow a new kind of life on them. They looked at it, blinded, expecting to be stripped off their weak and lifeless bodies, released from the disappointing casks, granted the beauty of a spiritual soul. In order to win life, one had to lose life first. The Süllai worshipped the Sun believing exactly that, looking up to the burning disc for hours upon hours, until it drained all water from their tiny corpes, until it killed them, wiped out of existence the entire tribe of Süllai.
The element of fire burns down the corporeal and liberates the soul.
In the spacious skies above the Atlantic Ocean, west off the Cape Verde, there lived the Nexi-Nona, the winged people in English. The tribe took birth ages ago in the perennial dream of mankind to fly. It was ages ago that the African tribe Nexeo-Nona, the wingless people, dreamed of strength and power, dreamed of freedom and grace. Out of this desire they evolved each a pair of beautiful wings, wings as natural as these of an owl or an eagle, and they renamed themselves the winged people. Grateful for the gift, the Nexi-Nona pushed themselves hard from the ground, abandoned the earth and settled in the skies.
The Nexi-Nona were a wise and courageous people. They led their lives hundreds of feet above the surface of the world, able to observe it from the vantage point of freedom. No hindrance could stop them in their flight, no obstacle stood in their way and their thinking was crystal clear, because no mists ever barred the truth from their view. Elevated above the realm of rushing streams and budding trees, beyond stones giving off heat and animals in struggle, the Nexi-Nona saw clearly what did and what did not matter in life when compared to the enormity of our planet. As virtues of utmost importance they regarded strength, endurance and determination, looking down on any signs of infirmity. The Body, they believed, must bend to a Nexi-Nona's Will, which must in turn bend to his or her Spirit.
They perfected the Body, the Spirit and the Will, so that the Body, infused with the Spirit and on the Will's orders, would carry them like a vessel on a holy pilgrimage to the Sun.
The Nexi-Nona worshipped the Sun: their revered ancestors Nexeo-Nona had worshipped it, and the piety had been passed down the generations. The gift of the wings, they believed, had been bestowed on them in order that they should make use of it and travel into the outer space. Whoever rejoined the Sun in its holiness was to be granted a place at its side, as one of its little brothers, an eternally radiant star in the sky. To become a star was to find rightful repose after the strenuous journey of life; it was to rest and to enjoy the holiness forever, and to guide the remaining members of the tribe on their nightly voyages across the ocean.
Today, when the Sun is at zenith, the eldest of the tribe is to set out on his holy pilgrimage. For the long sixty years of his life he has been strengthening his Will, Body and Spirit, preparing himself for this one day, which decides eternity. His fellow Nexi-Nona are circling around him as he climbs and climbs - and leaves them for ever.
He has to manage his powers wisely if they are to last him for the hours of intense, uninterrupted effort, higher and higher towards the unimaginable, higher towards the unknown. Ascending slowly he thinks, "What will life be up there, without the sore in my muscles, without motion and speed?" The prospect is a mystery, a gut-wrenching conundrum of a fish trying to picture how life looks and feels like outside of the ocean. But he is neither afraid nor doubtful. He beats his wings gladly, trusting, eternal happiness within his reach.
Beads of sweat begin to gather on his forehead, and as he labours, they fall down, leave a trail of shimmering pearls behind. His feathers have started to fall out as well: he beats his wings again and again, and with every beat a few of them die of exhaustion and spiral down like autumn leaves. He thinks about afterlife no longer, for tiredness has clouded his mind.
Finally, at the altitude of three miles his lungs run out of oxygen to breathe and his mind clouds over completely. His Body, once strong and full of life, now soars downwards without feeling. The other Nexi-Nona see it as it shoots out from a cloud above their heads, accelerating, and shortly after disappears in the depths of the ocean below.
Having seen the disowned corpse swallowed by the ocean, they cheer and rejoice for the eldest of their tribe, whose Body may have perished, but whose unbending Spirit continues its flight towards the Holy Star.
The element of air blows all weakness away; its flow moulds the true warrior.
No living creatures inhabit the deepest depths of the North Atlantic Ocean except for the people of Po. Loosely translated their name means a family wandering on the ocean bottom, but the word is never spoken aloud. It is only spoken silently, in thought, because the Po have no power of speech. Nor are they capable of smelling, seeing or hearing, although in the days of yore they used to possess these senses. There used to be a time when they were happy, basking in the full African sun, while banana trees and freshwater streams provided all the nourishment they needed. But this paradise was lost to them when on one stormy day a gigantic wave thundered through the land and sweept the unsuspecting Po into the ocean - the hand of the ocean spirit swooping up its victims. As soon as they went underwater the Evolution snatched back their senses: clogged up their noses and ears, so that their bodies became waterproof, and blinded them, for eyes were without use in the darkness and density of their new habitat, with tons of black water above them and the impenetrable bedrock below. In exchange the Po were offered nothing but a pair of gills. They breathed, they lived, but they survived hating every second of their new cold existence.
Alas, they could not, they cannot just rebound, take off, swim away swiftly like fishes. The cold rock under their feet is a constant presence with which the Po cannot easily dispense; the moment they tried to leave the ocean bottom, they would be overwhelmed, confounded by the multitude of directions. Up would blurred with down, left mashed together with right, there would be no fixedness or stability at all, not for blind and senseless swimmers like them. For fear of disorientation, therefore, the Po have to march.
They have to march, they cannot stop, to stop would mean to accept life as it is, the life in darkness and without comfort. But the Po are unable, and unwilling besides, to stifle their longing for the golden African sun, now shining only in their bittersweet memories of the past. So onwards they march, driven by hope, by the undying belief that eventually they will find a way out of the ocean and reclaim their happy lives on land. The ocean bottom, with its fissures and trenches, is an insoluble maze, but the Po believe against all odds that they can traverse it on foot, emerging one day on the sunny shores of Africa. They have to believe it. This hope is their only defence against the infinitely heavy mass of water pressing down on them without mercy. If they rejected it even for one second, they would be immediately dead, crushed under the merciless underwater pressure - for the prospect of never leaving the ocean is altogether too terrible for any soul to bear.
Thankfully the Po are one big family and they can protect each other's hope from despair. Marching in group gives reassurance and lends strength to every step they make. And while they have no means of communication apart from touch, a gentle kiss or a comforting hug are enough to prevent the weakest from falling behind. These are then the three constants in the life of a typical Po: hope, family and the bedrock under their feet, hope being the most important, then family, and the rest is void.
A few years ago one of the Po women gave birth to a male child. It was a child conceived of the dark and depressing ocean, a child born already without eyes, ears or lips, a child who knows no other life than the miserable journey across the ocean bottom. Yet this child has been for years marching eagerly alongside his elders. Instinctively, without being told of the dry land, of the heavenly Africa, the boy realises there must be something better than his current life, a life better than the ocean. He has been born hopeful and shares in his family's hope - and this proves that their hope is holy, their cause is blessed, and if they continue marching hopefully they will arrive at the harbour.
The element of water washes off all but hope; it cleanses the soul of the superfluous.
Why cannot the fourth tribe be equally graceful in faith? In the ages past they used to look up high, to the highness of the Sun, and sporadically attempted to reach it. But after their invention of the giant birds of steel, which can take them higher and farther than any Nexi-Nona's Body would, they fooled themselves into thinking that the goal had been achieved; for they lacked the Nexi-Nona Spirit and Will, the hope and the stubborness of the Po, and the humble self-denial of the Süllai. The members of the fourth tribe are quite at peace with two feet set firmly on the ground; they have turned their eyes away from the Sun, seeking the fulfillment of their every fancy low in the grass, low among the stones.
Earth is dirt; it corrupts the soul. We bathe in it like pigs bathe in mud.