Life Among the Bukai

Excerpted from “Life Among the Bukai”, New York: FSG, 2013

October 6, 2012

The day begins tensely. The security forces are erecting barricades throughout the area, blocking and taking positions at strategic intersections. Now they stand silently at attention, though there is no telling against what threat they have been dispatched. Perhaps they are preparing to move against an insurrection by the Bukai masses, who restlessly wander the streets, alone or in groups, clothed in warlike red tunics.

An evening walk to the library finds the usually thronging streets quite deserted. It is a scene reminiscent of a besieged city, and a hush hangs eerily on the brisk autumn breeze. Suddenly, there is a massive roar, and I understand at once the cause of today’s strange happenings.

The source of the sound is a massive, centrally-located compound, which I have heard the Bukai call “Horshu”. Though I have been unable to determine the etymology of its peculiar name, it is clear that this edifice occupies a position of great importance in the Bukai religion. It seems that Horshu is the setting of a series of harvest festivals that are characterized by such extremes of orgiastic ferocity that it is dangerous for nonbelievers to attend; thus, sadly, my comments on these festivals must be limited to what I have been able to glean from numerous artistic representations, as well as tales from Bukai folklore.

It appears the festivals are centered around a form of ritualistic combat in which Bukai men, clad in ceremonial armor, do battle with similarly-attired representatives from far-off city-states. The Bukai host must rout the foreigners by driving them across a field toward a great white pole. I can only speculate as to the religious significance of this pole, but it is similar to phallic symbols associated with other native cultures – except, strangely, in that it is prominently bifurcated, perhaps as a reminder of the dualistic struggle over which it presides.

This contest must surely have evolved in the context of constant warfare between the Bukai and their regional neighbors, eventually supplanting armed struggle entirely, but the conflict narrative has nevertheless retained a central place in Bukai mythology. The deep and powerful hostilities that animate these festival days are barely disguised by the thin veneer of ritual decorum, and the Bukai host are revered as demigods. A loss in the contest deals a devastating blow to the Bukai psyche, and threatens to expose the sectarian rifts that once paralyzed this community. I am sure that today’s show of force by the Bukai state is designed to guard against the possibility of internecine strife. The security forces are powerful, and I have never yet seen them fail to keep the fragile peace. For my part, though, I still hope for a win.

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