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UNEARTHING THE WEANS

IT’S THE year 7859 and archeologists have unearthed a civilization lost for more than 5000 years. Who are these “Weans” from the Great West Continent? Researchers at Kenya’s Ruwenzori University have published their findings in what has been called, “the big archeological book of the century.” The century, of course, being the 79th.

The Weans, by Robert Nathan, Alfred A. Knopf, 1960.

Before immersing ourselves in this delightful time-warp, here’s background on its author: I first learned of Robert Nathan because of the 1948 film The Bishop’s Wife, based on Nathan’s 1928 novel. Angel Cary Grant enters the life of Anglican Bishop David Niven, helps him build a new cathedral, and repair a fractured marriage with his wife Loretta Young. A charming film that has held up very well over the years.

Robert Gruntal Nathan, 1894–1985, American novelist and poet. Author of 40 novels and collections, 10 books of poetry, five children’s books, three screen plays, and other works.

One of these other works is his radio rendition of Report on the Weans, performed by the CBS Radio Workshop. A Pride of Carrots (Venus Well Served) is another Nathan/CBS Radio Workshop delight available at the same source.

But back… er, forward to the year 7859 and archeology of a newly discovered 5000-year-old culture described in Nathan’s 1960 satire. Here are some highlights.

Weans. The book notes that researchers call these people “Weans” because… they called their land the WE, or the US; actually, in the southern part of the continent, the word ‘Weuns’ (or ‘Weans’) does appear, as well as the glyph for Wealls, and the word ‘Theyuns.’ ”

This and other images from The Weans.

A goddess named Libby? “The Weans were probably not at all a friendly or hospitable people… There was excavated from the earth of a small island in the ocean just beyond the terminal land-mass at n.Yok, a hollow figure—or at least part of one—of what appears to be a giantess, or possibly a goddess, with one arm upraised in a threatening attitude. Within what is left of her shell, heavily encrusted with bird-droppings and worm-mold, our diggers uncovered a fragment of script, in blocked letters or signs, translated ‘Keep off the …’ ”

The Diggings at M’lwawki.

Other cities. Diggings across the continent included those in Oleens (source of “a slender horn-like object”), M’lwawki (where a puzzling note stated, “I did not grow my wheat, [I did] receive seventy-five thousand…”), and, the richest of the diggings, Pound-Laundry (which “may have even been the capital of We itself”).

The etymology of Pound-Laundry, archeologists note, is intriguing: They translate “the first word of the name as ‘washing’; the second is obviously the sign for ‘weight.’ It is not known what—if anything—was washed there.”

A cultural declaration. “In honor of one such ‘declaration’ a yearly celebration was held during which bombs were exploded [footnote: ‘bombs bursting in air…’] and vast quantities of dogs were roasted and consumed (‘with horseradish or mustard…’).

“Pictographs unearthed in the forecourt of a temple in the Valley of the Sun. An obvious defacement of the ediface by children at play.

The Valley of the Sun. “In the Valley of the Sun we often find the sexual partner referred to as ‘a friend.’ This is not true in other communities; in Pound-Laundry in particular, the term ‘friend’ is unknown.”

Unearthed in Pound-Laundry.

Religiosity. “The remains of temples of considerable size … at both Pound-Laundry and n.Yok give proof, if that were needed, that the Weans were essentially a religious people. However, it is now believed … that each city-state worshipped a different Divinity…. In the Valley of the Sun we have uncovered evidence that the inhabitants worshipped a powerful Divinity named Hedda, or Lolly (the sign is obscure)….”

“Nonetheless, the Wean Divinity, in whatever form, remained a Wean, and spoke the Wean language. Surrounded by infinite space, by endless galaxies, by stars and planets without number, these proud, simple-minded, and obstinate people continued to believe themselves the center of the universe and the particular concern of the Almighty.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

3 comments on “UNEARTHING THE WEANS

  1. David Campbell
    May 30, 2020

    I read this book in high school and as an amateur archeologist, found it hilarious. I have often thought of it over the years when I saw the ease with which I observed people misinterpreting all manner of phenomena. To describe what I saw I coined the phrase, “If jumping to conclusions were an Olympic sport, you (or he or she) would be a gold medalist.” My lessons from “The Weans” also served me well later as a journalist and writer, which composed the bulk of my career.

    I would love to find and reread this wonderful book again. It’s nice to know that others found it and enjoyed it. I fear, however that someone of the current generation would probably have some difficulty understanding many of the references. Fifty-plus years later, I also may now have some trouble myself!

  2. photowrite2000
    May 30, 2020

    I read this book in high school in the mid-1960s, and as an amateur archaeologist, found it hilarious! I also found that it informed my pre-engineering studies as well as my later college classes in journalism. I appreciated it from several perspectives.

    First, because as a youth I had been shy and socially awkward, and a bit disdainful of the immaturity I saw in my friends and classmates. So I often viewed myself as an outsider, trying to figure out why people behaved as and thought as they did, not always successfully. I later described myself as an anthropologist, viewing society and culture not as a member of it, but as someone who was trying to understand it.

    Second, I saw it as a bit of a life lesson in how easily even otherwise intelligent people can misunderstand any given circumstance, based on their particular cultural lens. This lesson ended up living in some back corner of my head, particularly when I ended up being a journalist and writer for much of my career. At some point in my life, maybe 30 years ago I coined for myself the phrase, “If jumping to conclusions were an Olympic sport, you (or he, or she) would be a Gold Medalist!”

    I almost think this book should be required reading for high school and college students, certainly anyone going into a technical field or profession like law, or teaching or social sciences.

    One last observation, which I always worry about with such books, is that for some readers, its swipe at smug academicians could play right into the hands of anti-intellectuals, who love to demean and demonize college professor-type “so-called experts” who theorize from their ivory towers. I can’t remember the number if times I have heard acquaintances opine about educated idiots.

  3. photowrite2000
    May 30, 2020

    To further expand on my final observation above, I should add that that anti-intellectual, science-denying faction of our society is seen in many books and videos, going back at least to “Chariots of the Gods?” by Erich von Däniken, the rise of the Flat Earthers and all the “alternative” history I now see on YouTube.

    It’s fine to challenge existing theories about ancient civilizations and be skeptical of expert interpretation. It’s how scientists get closer to the truth. But challenge for the sake of challenge, with no better alternative explanations or explanations why you are challenging conventional wisdom is counter-productive and only encourages further erosion of confidence in legitimate scientific analysis.

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