Friday, February 09, 2007


Three days with a parang and a native guide got me into the wild heartland of Gabon, in east central Africa. There I found ancient, jungle-clad Muango. Like Angkor-Wat and Teotihuacan, its cyclopean, millenia-old stones bear witness to a once-great civilisation of craftsmen, architects and astronomers. Unlike those other cities, Muango is populated, although its denizens have forgotten all but the legend-echoes of what their ancestors knew.

Like the Dogon people of Mali, who knew of the binary nature of Sirius long before the telescopes were invented that could prove it, the citizens of Muango – the Chimuango – have scientific knowledge woven into the fabric of their religion that was only recently uncovered by Western scientists. The name of their city is, in their language, the word for "door", and it is their belief that Muango was founded on "the door of the world" – the gateway that leads into and out of our universe.

I have seen this gateway with my own eyes, although only the outside may viewed thus. (I speak of "the outside", when I suppose I really mean to say "the inside" – the side that faces into our world. But one may go mad dwelling on such philosophical conundra.) No one, not even from among the Chimuango themselves, is permitted to cross the gateway's threshold and look within. The gateway is a box, a cube perhaps three metres on each side, hewn from stone and covered (or should I say lined?) in gold. The gold is but a veneer, however, for the plating itself is solid lead, moulded with the most astonishing bas-reliefs. Previous visitors to the city hoping to map out what lay beyond the gateway by X-ray came away frustrated, even before the Chimuango got wise to them.

The Chimuango priests say that the Creator-God made the gateway, first arranging the floor, ceiling and three walls around the vast lid that forms the fourth wall. Pulling in the box's edges towards himself, he thus formed a lip upon which the lid would rest, and this done he pushed the lid into place and sealed the world in. The box is, of course, inside-out and so it is that we are all on the inside, the twenty-seven cubic metres enclosed by the box being outside our universe.

Here is the uncanny science at the heart of Muango: not the gateway that the Chimuango guard, but their insistence that no one must look inside it. For Chimuango lore states that the Creator-God and his own world exist in many forms, and that to observe him would force him to restrict himself to one form, a transformation from divine to mundane, an act of deicide. In effect, the ancient religion of Muango anticipates quantum theory, particularly Schrodinger's famous thought experiment. In an age when man has observed the farthest corners of the universe and the innermost recesses of his own small planet, what the Chimuango protect with their black-market Kalashnikovs and their very lives is not a mere stone box, but the last unscrutinised twenty-seven cubic metres in existence.

No comments: