The Universal Conversation
The confusion of tongues (confusio linguarum) is the initial fragmentation of human languages described in the Book of Genesis 11:1–9, as a result of the construction of the Tower of Babel. It is implied that prior to the event, humanity spoke a single language, either identical to or derived from the “Adamic language” spoken by Adam and Eve in Paradise. In the confusion of tongues, this language was split into seventy or seventy-two dialects, depending on tradition.
But let’s look at this another way… perhaps the single language was what Laurens Van der Post was describing here, about the Bushmen’s world holding no secrets, due to them being so fully immersed in the nature around them. A universal conversation.
“Yet with all this hunting, snaring and trapping the Bushman’s relationship with the animals and birds of Africa was never really one of hunter and hunted; his knowledge of the plants, trees and insects was never just the knowledge of a consumer of food. On the contrary, he knew the animal and vegetable life, the rocks and the stones of Africa as they have never been known since. Today we tend to know statistically and in the abstract. We classify, catalogue and sub-divide the flame-like variety of animal and plant according to species, physical property and use. But in the Bushman’s knowing, no matter how practical, there was a dimension that I miss in the life of my own time. He knew these things in the full context and commitment of his life.
Like them, he was fully committed to Africa. He and his needs were committed to the nature of Africa and the swings of its wide seasons as a fish to the sea. He and they participated so deeply of one another’s being that the experience could almost be called mystical. For instance, he seemed to know what it actually felt like to be an elephant, a lion, an antelope, a steenbuck, a lizard, a striped mouse, mantis, baobab tree, yellow-crested cobra or starry-eyed amaryllis, to mention only a few of the brilliant multitudes through which he so nimbly moved.
Even as a child it seemed to me that his world was one without secrets between one form of being and another. As I tried to form a picture of what he was really like it came to me that he was back in the moment which our European fairy-tale books described as the time when birds, beasts, plants, trees and men shared a common tongue, and the whole world, night and day, resounded like the surf of a coral sea with universal conversation.” – Laurens Van der Post – The Lost World of the Kalahari