The Myth Track: an original bicycle story by Erich von Neff

“The Myth Track”, an original story by Erich von Neff


“It seems suspicious to me,” Reinholt Reinhardt said. Murphy  Sabatino’s   board track* has been shut down for a few years. There’s a six-day race at the Madison Square Garden in New York and the Gattos go back there and clean house. The New York Times said that they handled the track like they’d been riding one every day.”

Jesss Shinn took a puff off his cigar, then he looked up at the photo of Rita Hayworth on the wall. Jess spoke slowly.

Remember when there was some money missing at the bank. It wasn’t much, and your boss said that you can;’t expect the books to balance exactly.”

You went over the books anyway and found that a little  bit here and there had been shaved off, but when you added it up 50 grand was missing.

Reinholt crossed his right leg over his left revealing a white sock. Nervously he pulled his right leg down slightly.

“Unfortunately it was my boss who was cooking the books. He’s sitting in a cold wet cell in San Quentin right now.”

“Your instincts were right. Something was fishy,” Jess observed.

“Unfortunately so,” Reinholt replied taking a deep breath and thinking of how he didn’t like putting away a fellow banker especially one he had shared a beautiful redhead with at Sally Stanford’s brothel.

Jess Shinn slowly spun the front wheel of a Sieber track bike that was upside down in the repair stand.

“Yes, it takes plenty of time on the boards to win a six-day race  and you’re wondering where Gus and Vince got it.”

“Let me tell you a secret,” Jess said, rubbing his fingers against the tire of the spinning wheel. There’s a board track in a barn in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

“Are you sure?” asked Reinhol now uncrossing his legs and sitting on the edge of his seat.

“I thought something was something was funny. But this?”

Jess reached in the tool cabinet.He took out two brandy glasses and a bottle of Korbel brandy.

“Always warms the stomach, ” he said.

“Look, guys, come in this shop and they talk.”

“Anyway it was almost a month ago. I’m sitting here when I hear the front door open. I look and see Dave Staub ** and DanKaljian. They walk over to my rack of team race jerseys. I sit here smoking a cigar. I can’t help but hear Dave say”

“We’ll smoke those guys at the Searsville Lake track. We’ll train m secret.  Tomorrow we’ll drive down to Dewey Maxwell’s board track in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

Dan replied: “Are you sure you’ve got the training fee?”

“Yeah, sure.”

After a little while they picked out their jerseys and paid with a check.

It’ll probably bounce Reinholt joked as he sipped his brandy.

“I suppose this explains things,” he said, looking up at the photo of Rita Hayworth. “You know after my affair with Marlene Dietrich, Rita phoned me: ‘Listen big boy, she said. ‘You rode her. Now you ride me..” Well  I go over to her house and….”

“Have some more brandy,” Jess said, hoping to loosen Reinholt’s tongue.”

“Let’s see. Where was I? As  I was taking off my socks, or was it my trousers.”

It was the last leg of a San Francisco wheelmen ride. It had started at the Round House restaurant on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, gone over Corte Madera hill, then White’s Grade, and on to Nacasio for lunch, then back again, through the Presidio and along Lincoln Boulevard.

Sprints were run at road signs along the way. These sprints would depend on the mood of the pack. A city limits sign or a road sign would be sprinted to, several miles and signs might pass, until tension would build up in the pack and some obscure sign would signal the next sprint.

So it was that Rickey Tan had sat on George Wolf’s then Harold Kirkbride’s then Oscar Juner’s wheel and nipped the field at the Storey Road sign. Everybody now sat up in their saddles; the pace slowed to a crawl.

As the pack passed some old horse stables on our left, Oscar pointed and said, “It’s down there someplace.”

“What’s down there?” Just horse stables. ” Harold observed.

“No. No. In one of them there’s a board track built for the ’36 team to train on.”

“Bull.  Come on, let’s ride down there,” George Wolf challenged.

“No. No. There’s too many M.P.***s which was true for at that time they were all over the Presidio in their jeeps.

“Red Berti was on the ’36 team. A track was made in secret on one of those horse stables to challenge Hitler’s cycling track team. Red Berti**** rode it once, then the army closed the track though I hear if you join up you can use it now.

“Are you a recruiter? Henry McWhirter****.” Sixteen years have passed. It’s a bunch of rotten boards or worse.”

“I’m no recruiter,” Oscar replied quietly. “I speak the truth.”

The pack rode on in silence. Oscar was no recruiter. He had seen much bloody action in World War II. He kept it to himself except for the horros of a concentration camp he described but did not name.

There was a board track down there someplace. Red Berti of the Unione Sportivo Italiano in San Jose had ridden on it, and perhaps if you joined the army.

There were other sightings of a board track. Some of them quite close.

Ron Arms of the San Francisco Wheelmen majored in math at Stanford.* **The semester had ended and now summer. Ron lazed around until his mother, good German woman that she was, insisted that he go to work.

“Work, It is good for you, Ron.”

But Ron thought differently. Work. He knew what his good German mother meant by that. Sweat. A better idea he would take a test for math aid at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

“Ron,” his mother asked all too soon, “When are you going to work?”

So he told her about the test.

“And when is the test?”

“In six weeks.”

“And the results?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tomorrow we go to work.”

At four in the morning Ron’s mother shook him awake.

“We go now.”

And off they went in the old Hudson to 16th and Mission Street where an old rickety bus was parked near a fireplug. Rough looking men were boarding it.

“Here is work Ron. Your lunch and your streetcar fare home,” his mother said as she gave him a bag lunch and some change. The Hudson drove off. Reluctantly Ron boarded the bus. “Stand up boy,” someone yelled. There were only so many seats. Ron stood up as the bus took the old Bayshore Highway to San Carlos, down an old road and finally stopped in front of a plum orchard. “Out. out, ” a heavy-set man with a freckled face yelled.

The freckled faced man split them up into work gangs each with a ladder. Then they picked and picked and picked. Work. Work. “Work is good for you Ron,” his mother always said.

Day after day, different orchards. Different men. Some of them told not to come back. Work. Work.

With this as a reality check of the bottomless pit into which a failed math major could fall, Ron applied himself very hard that fall semester. There were still the weekend San Francisco Wheelmen rides however, and so it was at a rest stop at the Old La Honda Saloon*****that Ron told this story as we drank bottle after bottle of Wieland’s Beer.”*****

“It was working with this wino. Well, more of a lush than a wino ’cause he’s drinking bourbon. We’re picking plums when some fat foreman yells, ‘Lunch, you bums.’ I break out mom’s salami sandwich. He’s drinking bourbon and eating some plums. He starts talking about World War I.

‘When I was in the trenches we ate rats or any goddamn thing.’ Feeling sorry for him I break off some of mom’s salami sandwich. He wolfs it down. Never even thanks me. He continues, ‘I think I saw Hitlter. Could’ve bayoneted the sonnabitch.’

I’m beginning to wonder about this guy when I hear a rumbling in the orchard across the road from ours.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A bike race at the track,” he answers matter of  factly.


“You know like at the Madison Square Garden.”

“Like at the Madison Square Garden?”

“That’s right, a team race.”


“Don’t believe it. Let’s go over there.”

He starts walking and I follow. Soon we come to a clearing in the adjacent orchard.

“See, just like I told you.”

“Damn if he isn’t right. There’s a board track.” A team race is going on. I recognize Nick Magi, Louie Rondoni and a few others. We stand though we could sit on the wooden bleachers like most of the other pitchers. Soon there’s the bell lap for a sprint. Fruit pickers should out in different languages. But my partner takes the bell as a signal to go back to work. I try to explain but off he trudges and I follow.

“Where is this track,” Joe asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I could find it again.”

“You’ve had one too many, ” Oran said.

“No, it was thee. I could reach out and touch it.”

“Here, reach out and touch a Wieland’s beer.”

“Okay. But I saw it. I could reach out and touch it.”

Joe Lauricella stumbled out of the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco’s North Beach. Bt instinct he headed up to the artist John Newman’s pad above Marie’s Art Gallery******* on Grant Avenue. Thankfully the front door was open as usual. .By sheer will he pulled himself up by the bannister whenever his legs gave out on the steep stairs.

The apartment door swung open. Did John open it? Joe could not remember. He flopped on the couch and he began to dream. Blondes, brunettes and redheads danced the hootchie-coottchie as Joe sat in a large armchair dressed in a white toga; and now they began to dance a lively Charleston. Joe was still sitting in his armchair only now Joe was above the banking of a board track, looking down on them. The crowd was roaring,  Joe gave thumbs-up and that signaled the bell lap which was also the phone. 

“John,” Marie, the landlady shouted. “I told you no friends overnight. ” “Listen, Joe,,,” John started to say.

“I know. I know.” Joe replied ass he hauled himself  off the couch, made his way down the stairs and into the cold night.

A few weeks later at a San Francisco Wheelmen meeting at Oscar’s American Cyclery.*****John Parks had just finished collecting the 50 cents a month dues and now came the good part, donuts and a bull session.

Joe could hardly wait to speak.

You know the track everybody’s been talking about? I saw it.”

“Yeah,” George said skeptically.

“Where is it? In the Presidio? In the Santa Cruz mountains. Where?”

“I can locate it. I can locate it.” Joe replied confidentally.

“Tell us where?”

“I can see it now, Joe said, closing his eyes. “It is in my mind.”


Image from Swann Galleries, click here

Murphy Sabatino’s board track was located in San Jose.
Santa Cruz Mountains in San Jose
Board track: Training on such a track was also known as secret training
Dave Staub was U.S.A. National Junior Champion in 1955.
Searsville Lake Track: a quarter-mile hard banked dirt track next to Searsville Lake near Portola Valley, 1957.

Below definitions and the meaning of some of author Eirch von Neff’ story.

Murphy Sabatino’s board track in San Jose.
Santa Cruz Mountains in San Jose.
Board Track: Training on such a track was also known as secret training.
Dave Staub was U.S.A. National Junior Champion in 1955.
Dewey Maxwell’s board track was a quarter-mile hard banked dirt track next to Searsville Lake near Portola Valley, California, 1957.
MP stands for Military Police
Red Berti of San Jose was indeed a member of the track cycling team.
Henry McWhirter beat World Champion Frank L. Kramer in a match sprint at the Sacramento Velodrome circa 1910. He was also trained to by the Wright Brothers and was an early Alaskan bush pilot.
Rpn Arms majored in math at Stanford under Professor Harold Levine, among others.
Taking the bus to a plum orchard: My friend Alfred Schuhmacher’s brother, Patrick, took such a bus to the fruit orchards in the 1950s. Fist fights on the bus were the norm.
Old La Honda Saloon: Oran Arms, Ron Arms uncle was the bartender and owner
Wieland’s Beer made in San Jose and now out of business.
Board track seen by Nick Magi and Louie Rondoni: Hugh Enochs Senior of the old New Century Wheelmen claims he saw such a track.
Marie’s Art Gallery on Grant Avenue in San Francisco: Marie owned the apartment house and the art gallery. The art gallery was run by George Pennguel and his wife. Information supplied by Jane Witaker of the United States Post Office, Rincon Annex, June 2, 1998.
Oscar’s American Cyclery: In the early 1950s track cyclists really did talk about such a track. Supposedly it was in San Francisco’s Presidio, the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Santa Clara fruit orchards or in their dreams.

Erich von Neff: Second Place (A Bicycling Story)

Note to Erich: I may be out of sequence using this story now. Am I? I hope not. Because the living room was turned a hospital room, all my stuff kept getting moved around, and there are so many papers to get back in order. Ugh. No fun.



An Original Story by Erich von Neff


“Racing’s getting too predictable,” Lido said. “Gussie Gatto wins the sprints. Don Peterson and Les Williams win the team races. Rickey Tan wins the criteriums.  It changes around. But little.”

Lido sat on an old orange crate in the back of the Gattos brothers’ grocery store on Taylor Street in San Jose. Mack Sharpy and a few of the other boys also sat on orange crates though of lesser height. They nodded in agreement.

“Now take this here Saint Mark’s day race in a couple of weeks. It’s about twenty-five miles. Right?”

“Right boss. Right.” Mark Sharpy agreed.

Lido lit up a cigar and looked around the room. “Now, how’s a guy going to make a buck betting with a  bookie when the outcome is pretty well known. Rickey Tan will probably clean up. Or, if not him, somebody equally well known.”

“What we need is a real, real long shot.”

Lido put his cigar down and reached down and reached over and grabbed an apple from a barrel and took a thoughtful bite.”

“Now we needn’t play too fair.”

Nobody said anything nor did heads nod. Foul play was only too well understood.

Lido at the apple, then another, and all sat there listening to him chomp, chomp, chomp. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Suddenly a light bulb went on in Lido’s head.

“I’ve got it. Here it is.”

The boys sat on the edge of their orange crates.

“Anybody know of an older rider, not in too bad shape, who has false teeth?”

Silence. One could never tell where Lido’s furtive mind might lead.

“Sure,” said Chung Wo. “There’s Hans Krause and he definitely has false choppers. He used to race in Berlin before the war, but now he races part time, mostly in San Francisco. 

“No problem,” Lido said. “You’ll drive him if necessary.”

Lido put the cigar back in his mouth, stood up, and began expounding. No one chomped any apple. Not a sound could be heard. 

“Now,  boys, here’s my plan.”

Hans Krause was sitting in the kitchen enjoying a Wieland’s  beer after a hard day working  as a longshoreman on the San Francisco waterfront,  and an even harder afternoon on a training ride with the New Century Wheelmen at the Old Stadium Velodrome in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The phone rang and Hans reluctantly put the Wieland’s down.”

“ja.” Hans answered, a cold voice said, “You’re going to get some more false teeth at Dr. Specker’s,” and be ready with your bike and riding clothes on the Sunday of the Saint Mark’s Day race for you’ll be in the deep freeze. ” Then click the receiver down on the other end of the line.

Hans could feel that this was for real and he better do as he was told, and what the heck, he could use another set of false teeth.

Hans continued to train, checked over his Durkopp and took an old Red Devil’s  jersey out of his closet given to him by Alfred Letouner. It had always brought him jum juk.

On the Sunday morning of the Saint Mark’s Day race a black shiny Buick pulled up to Hans Krause’s house. There was a lump in Han’s throat as he stepped toward the door. He had his Durkopp on his shoulder and carried his racing clothes in a canvas bag.

No one was now at the door, but two men were waiting beside a black Buick. He walked down the steps apprehensively. The rear door was opened and Hans climbed in. His Durkopp was put in the trunk and  they were off to San Jose.

Not one word was spoken until they reached the starting line on a nearly deserted roadside outside of San Jose.  The course which has now been nearly obliterated by development was twenty five miles, in one direction only over the rolling hills west of San Jose, near Uvas Dam Road.

The usual riders were there. Gas Gatto, Pete Pizza, Nick Maggi, Louie Rondoni, Rickey Tan and others.

With little fanfare, Amateur Bicycle League rep Joe Canciamilla fired his starters pistol in the air and the riders were off. Their legs churning their fixed gears, and trading pace up and down the rolling hills, watched occasionally by cows lying on their bellies, peacefully chewing on their cud. The sprinters, of course, did as little work as possible and all seemed to be going their way.

Around a mile and a half to go near a turn with a grove of trees Hans Krause surged away. The pack hardly showed concern thinking quite correctly that Hans Krause would shortly blow his cork.

As soon as Hans Krause rounded the turn, just as according to Lido’s plan, he saw a man dressed as a farmer standing there, and a Duesenberg driven by a blonde stopped a little ahead. Hans quickly spat out his own false teeth and the “farmer” him a new set which he quickly inserted. The Duesenberg started up and gradually increased speed. Soon Hans could feel tension on the wire that was attached to his new set of false teeth and the bumper of the Duesenberg. The blonde was accelerating slowly, gradually and all was according to plan.

The pack was completely taken by surprise when they rounded the turn and saw Hans speeding away, but little did they know.

For half-a-mile or so, Hans was towed, his legs churning his fixed gear. Then just ahead he saw a black form.  No.No.Yes.Yes. It was a bull and it was starting to cross the road. Hans Krause clenched his false teeth in his mouth until the last second, then he opened his mouth. The false teeth sailed out of his mouth, pulled by the wire, then like a whip with a sharp tip his false teeth lashed against the ribs of the bull.

The bull stood there stunned for a brief second and Hans Krause sped by attired in his Red Devils jersey. So this was the tormentor. The bull charged down the road after Hans whose legs found new life that they had not had since the last six-day race in Berlin long ago.

The Duesenberg drove by the finish line with the blonde driving and Lido sitting next to her smoking a cigar with a resigned look on his face. And behind him tethered on a long wire was a pair of false teeth. People looked, blinked their eyes, then looked again. Was this some kind of marriage ceremony or what? A couple might drag tin cans behind their car; but false teeth? Perhaps there was inner meaning here which eluded everyone. Some heads nodded as if they knew, then others and others. Why, yes, yes, of course. Of course what? No one knew. No one asked.

This vision had hardly passed by when another soon appeared. A cyclist is an old Red Devil’s jersey being chased by a bull.

The bull seemed to gain on the cyclist. The cyclist sped away from the bull. Back and forth they went. Until near the finish line the cyclist gave one final burst, the bull thundered across the finish line after him, but soon the bull whether it was tired or no longer interested slowed down, stopped, let loose a load of excrement in disgust and slowly ambled toward a nearby field.

The pack was soon in sight, and there was a mass sprint which Rickey Tan won, but he was most definitely third.

Lido was surprised to hear the crowd cheering, “Hans Krause. Hans Krause.” Lido turned around and there he was crossing the finish line, frantically pedaling  just ahead of the  bull. Lido couldn’t believe it. Hans was first. Hans was first. He hadn’t lost after all.

Soon Joe Canciamilla was passing out three envelopes. For first place: one envelope to Hans Krause with a $100 dollars inside. For third place: one envelope to Rickey Tan with $25 inside.  For second place: one envelope with $50 inside. “I’ll just take that,” Lido said quickly grabbing the envelope from Joe’s hand. ‘That bull’s a friend of mine. I’ll see that he gets it.”

As Lido and the boys were walking back to the Duesenberg with the waiting blonde, Frank Sharpy said: “You got brains boss. You got smarts, telling Hans to wear that red jersey just in case something went wrong.”

“Yeah, like I always got a backup plan. I’m the brains of the outfit,” Lido said pointing to his head. 

“You sure are boss. You sure are.”


About the author:

Erich von Neff is a San Francisco Longshoreman. He received his masters degree in philosophy from San Francisco State University and was a graduate research students at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Erich von Neff is well known on the French avant-garde and mainstream literary scenes. he is a member of the Poetes Francais and La Societe des Poetes et Artistes de France.



I am the Proud Mother of Two Naughty Cats

I will soon add pix of the two cats, Tami, the older woman with the much younger man.

Here’s the naughtiest of the naughty cat: Orlando-Murray-Baby mubabyr

Eleven years separate them and his previous owner called him “Lorenzo” for his lover qualities, and he is quite popular with humans. But then he name was changed to “Murray,” a perfectly good name but he never answered it. He loves to be called “Baby,” so that’s his name, Baby. 

Meanwhile here is a photo of my mom’s family taken during WWI. They look veery grim, indeed. The picture includes my mom, uncle, grandmom and granddad, a musician who was accidentally shot on the last day of the war (somewhere near the Alsace Lorrain


My mom is the one with ribbon in her hair. They look strict, don’t they? Not one of them is smiling; I wonder what was going on in their minds. Of course, all are gone, now.

John Vonderlin: There’s a (1898) Shipwreck in Your Front Yard

Story from John Vonderlin
Email John ([email protected])
Hi June,
   You know how I love mysteries. With that in mind, I decided to start organizing the material I have on the shipwreck of the New York, which you could have seen from your front yard if it happened today. The mysteries here are, why did the ship go aground, was it deliberately beached, and if so, for what gain?
   I’ve attached a ScreenShot of a drawing of the New York’s bizarre path before it beached itself and a few of the ship. The photo of it beached with the horse and buggy in front of it 
   Enjoy. John
[ more coming]

Anthropology 106 with Dr. Kearton

Before I broke my arm, I chose to write a paper called MBUTI RELIGION

First the comment from Dr. Kearton:

Paper seems to be about the relationship between music and religion in Mbuit society. If so, why keep it a secret?


(comment from Dr. Kearton: How so?)

This paper is concerned with the religion of the African Mbuti (Pygmy) people living in the Ituri Forest in the Belgian Congo. The net-hunting people I have studied are hunters and gatherers living in a vast expanse of rain forest. The Mbuti occupy only the dense forest where the migration of game and the nature of vegetation are relatively unaffected by outside influences.

The Mbuti hae been in the forest for many thousands of years. A record of an expedition sent from Egypt in the Fourth Dynasty to discover to discover the source of the Nile states that the commander of the expedition entered a great forest to the west of the Mountains of the Moon and discovered there a people of the trees, a tiny people who sang and danced to their god. The Mbuti of today lead much the same kind of life characterized by singing and dancig to their god.

It is important to recognize that to the Mbuti the forest is considered generous and friendly, while the village cultivators regard it as hostile. The forest supplies the Mbuti  with all their needs such as water, food and shelter. The forest is interlaced with many streams, and throughout the year there is plenty of game and vegetable foods. Firewood and the materials needed to build shelter are always at hand.

The Mbuti roam the forest at will, in small isolated bands or hunting groups. The fact that they average less than four-and-a-half feet in height is of no concern to them. Their taller neighbors who laugh at them for being so puny, are as clumsy as elephants–a reason why they must always remain outsiders in a world where one’s life may depend on one’s ability to run swiftly and silently.

The world of the forest is a closed, possessive world, hostile to all those who do not understand it. In many villages, there is the same suspicion and fear of the forest. It is from the plantations that the food comes, not from the forest, and for the villager’s life is a constant battle battle to prevent their plantations from being overgrown by the forest.

The villagers speak of the world beyond the plantations as being a fearful place, full of malevolent spirits and not fit to be lived in except by animals and BaMubti, which is what the villagers call the Mbuti. 

The villagers, some Bantu and some Sudeanic, keep to their plantations, and seldom go into the forest, unless it is absolutely necessary. For them it is a place of evil they are outsiders.

The Mbuti have no fear of the forest, for them there is no danger. Their life consists of little hardships because the forest supplies them with all their needs. Consequently, there is no belief in evil spirits, and for the Mbuti, the forest is a good place.

The Mbuti are a practical people whose physical existence is determined in a day-to-day context. Thus, they are content with the present, rather than the past or future. When discussing the future in this life or the next, the Mbuti deny speculation not having been there, they do not know what it is like, and not knowing what it is like, they cannot predict what their behavior will be. The Mbuti who does speculate on the future is a person who acts “emptily,” or whose head is loose and not properly attached to the  body.

Author Colin Turnbull found this denial of absolute knowledge about the future or of afterlife to be a common characteristic among the Mbuti he encountered. This did not prevent individuals from having ideas about the unknown; rather, ideas about the unknown were considered to be fruitless, and sometimes took the form of established legends.

The Mbuti believe in a power greater than themselves which is not of the natural order,they see and know around them. This belief can be considered a spiritual power which the Mbuti do not claim to understand but which they utilize to explain the unknown. The terminology used to explain the unknown is not standardized among the various bands of Mbuit.

The Epulu Mbuti use in one instance five terms interchangeably–pepo, keti, boru, roho and satani. These terms indicate for the Mbuti that man himself is in part spiritual and that life deserves not from the flesh but from other sources. Each of the five terms denotes this personal force, but each one also is used to denote to different species of that force.

[more coming, remember this was written in about 1970. Colin Turnbull, whose books I was reading, were published in the 1960s, so I don’t know what current research reads like.)

It is generally believed among the Mbuti that each man and each animal is endowed to some extent with such power. This power derives from a single source  which is the forest  itself. There are many names which represent this power source, but “the forest” is simplest to use for this is how the Mbuti themselves describe it.

Also deriving from the prime source of spiritual power are certain disembodied spirits which, like the Mbuti, inhabit the forest. These spirits have no power to harm or help. There is a vague belief that there is a conflict of interest at times between the spirits and the Mbuti helps to explain strange occurrences. For instance, someone who trips while chasing an animal may say that he collided with a “keti,” which is the term used by the Epulu Mbuti  for this spirit, who was chasing the same animal.

The disembodied spirits are thought to live a similar life as the Mbuti, for as they themselves say, what other kind of existence can there be in the forest? There is no competition or rivalry between the spirits and the Mbuti, and the spirits are thought of only when explanations are needed.

The Mbuti also believe in individual personality, which is essentially of the body than of the spirit, but which is enhanced and activated by the spirit. Thus individuals justify their thoughts or actions by saying that their “heart” is pleased. The heart is usually thought to be the location of this personality and when displeased the heart jumps and leaps about in the chest.

The first term used to express the general concept of personal force is PEPO. PEPO is the life force of breath which animates all living things.

KETI are the disembodied spirits which are animated by the life force PEPO. The KETI lead a comparable existence to that of the Mbuti, and sometimes the two worlds become confused. Hallucinations and dreams are the result of accidentally slipping from the one world into the other.

Any meetings between the KETI and the Mbuti are considered as abnormal and not to be sought. Here is a fear that a Mbuti may cross-over in the KETI world unable to return back. In this case, the Mbuti say that you might not even know you had crossed over because of the similarity of the two worlds. Thus, dreams are thought of as being real experiences in a mirror world from which one can learn.

BORU is the term used to designate the “house” (flesh, body) inhabited by the life force PEPO. The Mbuti do not tolerate violence which causes abuse or mutilation to the  body because they fear that the PEPO will escape through the open wound, causing death.

ROHO is the personality associated with the heart. The heart is spoken of as being hot or cold, noisy or quiet: Hot and noisy are bad qualities while cool and quiet are good. The state of an individual’s ROHO may be used as justification for his actions.

SATANI is a term derived from the villagers indicating evil spirits. Since the Mbuti do not believe in evil spirits they only use the term when recounting a village tale. The Mbuti believe only in the keti who are no better or no worse than the Mbuti.

From the description of the two levels of existence, human and keti, and of the principle of spiritual animation, it seems plausible that there should be a source of this spiritual force. That source is, of course, the forest.

The Mbuti frequently sing and shout to the forest and address it as “father,” “morher,” “friend,” or “lover.” The Mbuti explain the usage of all these names when they say that “the forest is everything.”On the hunt the men address it as “father,” the women as “mother.” A man receiving a sudden favor is apt to address the forest as “mother.:” A woman who is having a hard time finding the leaves she wants, will,when getting into a tangle of undergrowth, almost certainly start addressing the forest as “father” and accuse it of being far too severe and strict.

The Mbuti personify the forest to the extent that they say gives them not only food and shelter, warmth and clothing, but also affection. This aspect of affection was emphasized by Kenge who was found dancing alone in the night. When asked why he was dancing alone, he replied: “Buy I’m not dancing alone. I am dancing with the forest, dancing with the moon.”

The perennial certainty of economic sufficiency, the general lack of crisis in their lives, all lead the Mbuti to the conviction that forest is benevolent and that the natural course of life is good.
Dr. Kearton’s comment: “Good summary but you have not told us exactly you mean to undertake.”

Next Chapter: The Power of Sound

Dr. Kearton’s comment: Why is this so important?

Birth is the period in which to establish a relationship of strength ad affection between the forest and the individual such as tying a vine to the wrist or around the waist. This relationship is reinforced at puberty in the manner of song. Song requires continued effort which is direct and personal and powerful. It is believed that song attracts the attention of the forest and also pleases it.

There are distinct musical forms for distinct occasions of importance in forest life such as hunting, honey gathering, puberty and death. Songs sung by the Mbuti in the village are different in musical form from those sung in the forest and are spoken of as “empty sound” or “noise.”

Among the Mbuti are four major types of songs. Two concern a economic activities and the other two are more religious in nature being concerned with puberty and health. The puberty songs deal with women and youths, and are first learned and sung at puberty but may be sung at periods such as growth, birth and marriage. For example, elima sons or puberty songs may be sung at birth if there is special concern over the child’s welfare.

Death songs are usually song at the death of an adult during the molimo festival. Dr. Kearton’s comment: (Which is?). Some death songs may be sung at other times of crisis that threaten life.

Whereas elima songs are of more importance to women, molimo songs are more important to men. However, male youths play a role in the elima festivals since it is a celebration of their puberty as well as that of the girls. During the molimo festival, also, the roles of the sexes are reversed with the women taking over the men’s songs.

Song form reveals other areas beside food getting activity, life and death. For instance, there is a concern for cooperative activity since each type of song requires a group to sing it. If there is a solo it is sung over a chorus and the solo is passed from one individual to another. Certain parts of songs are sung by youths, hunters or elders,  according to age which reinforces the concern for age differential in their social structure.

All the songs share the same power of sound to awaken the forest and indicate the area of interest of the Mbuti at that moment. This attracts the forest’s attention to the immediate needs of the Mbuti. For this to be of optimum use to the Mbuti, the sound must be pleasing to the forest.

It is not surprising then, that sound so carefully controlled as song should be considered as the “strongest” possible kind of sound, activated by the breath that is so mysteriously connected with pepe. Song is used to communicate with the forest and the emphasis is on sound not on the words.

The Lesser Molino

[Dr. Kearton’s comment: bird, plane or superman? Was there another Molimo? And what is it?)

The lesser molimo is used in reaction to a crisis over which the Mbuti have no control. For instance, continuous bad hunting or long illness becomes a matter of the forest. The lesser molimo differs from the greater molimo in that it lasts only a few days since there is usually a change taken as an indication that the forest has awakened. The dancing is done by the youths only, and most important is the exclusion of the molimo trumpet in the lesser molimo festival.

All adult youths and men are expected to attend although there is not the same criteria for non-attendance as during the greater molimo.
Next Chapter: The Greater Molimo

[comment by Dr. Kearton: I now know there two Molimos but I still do not know of this man or mouse.]

There is no rule as to when a greater molimo should be held. It is based on nature of death, the importance of the deceased to the band, and conditions like hunting at the time. A combination of poor hunting and sicknesses associated with the death of a child in the band could bring about a molimo to awaken the sleeping forest.

Whomever initiates a molimo festival must take the responsibility to see that everyone cooperates in providing food or he himself. Since most molimo festivals do not last less that a month, the undertaking is a great economic responsibility limiting the number of festivals held.




[more coming….remember this paper was written in 1971.)

Anthropology 106 with Dr. Kearton

Note: I could not have created the bronze sculpture of the Ivory Coast mask without the assistance of bronze sculptor John Battenberg, who was then teaching art at San Jose State University. He made it possible to use his “ovens,” to create the work, and I have discovered that some of his huge full body pieces are available through the IWolk Gallery in Napa.

Do you have any idea how heavy bronze can get? My mask shown below must weight more than 20 pounds; it’s solid bronze. Dr. Kearton thought I should shop it around at galleries back in the early 1970s.

I also recall John Battenberg visiting the home rented by John Morrall and me in San Jose. John had created a floor high”maze” for Halloween. Guests, including the artist Battenberg, entered through the front door. They had to get on their hands and knees and then crawl through from one level to the next, finally sliding down into the living room. I think I filled the “maze” with balloons to create some extra atmosphere!

[Image of a very old book about traveling to the West Coast of Africa. I wanted to go so badly. Below that is the receipt for the book,one of the most expensive books I had ever bought but it was a book of dreams for me.]

When I went to San Jose State (SJS) way back when, my major was in the Social Sciences. Most women I knew expected to go into social work of some kind. Even though all I wanted to do was write, there was no encouragement, no one to say: “hey, do this, then do that.” I did have a column in the “Lincoln Log,” at Lincoln High School but nobody edited it; I have to admit it was truly written by the “child” I was.

I also came from a bilingual family, and that can be a tough road when you don’t understand the ways of the culture you’re living in. Some of you may not understand this, but believe me, the path is tougher. I was pretty and that helped. I admit it.

At SJS, I was on my own.

Social Science included history, anthropology and sociology. I took psychology courses, too, because I had become addicted to Dr. Freud and Dr. Jung at a very young age. Symbolism and inner goings on and the meanings of dreams, what a turn-on for me. Psychology became my minor. Today, I hear of double and triple and quadruple majors; where do they find the time? Certainly, the internet helps. We had to read real books back then, stacks of them.

Dr. Kearton was my anthropology professor (sounds better than teacher, don’t you think?) Not only nice but kind enough to allow me to take Independent Studies when I broke my arm in a bicycling accident. I couldn’t write or type with the broken arm, I think the break was at the elbow.

(I lived in a house some blocks from SJS with other artist-type students (including my future ex-husband) and we all biked to school. The weather was balmy, we were without our parents, and learning about personal choices and freedom.

Dr. Kearton’s anthro class focussed on Africa, and I was very interested. Remember, I am a deep romantic and I found an obsession with the Ivory Coast, located on the west side of Africa. French-influenced originally, but now in turmoil. I never got to visit the Ivory Coast but I made an African dance mask, using the lost wax casting method.

I’m going to get a little blurry because I forget how I did it. But I used black colored wax (I guess) to carve the features of the mask, the eyes, nose and mouth, and horns. I used a special metal  tool and I loved working on the project because it was so gratifying. A face emerged just like the one I was copying from a book of African masks. This was from Benin on the Ivory Coast. (I may have to re-check that connection.)

My future ex-husband was a terrific artist. He could do anything. He’s the one who taught me about art and gave me an intense love of paintings and sculpture and circular buildings. His sculpture teacher was John Battenburg, who was well known for real-size sculptures—like a man on a motorcycle. So I had access to the foundry in the art department. That meant after I finished the wax part of the sculpture, I could put it in the intense heat of the  foundry where the wax melted and was replaced by bronze.

You see, in the end my Benin mask was made of pure bronze, and is very heavy. I still have it today. Of course, it does not match the beautiful original but Dr. Kearton liked it enough to advise me to try to sell it at the local galleries. I didn’t have enough self-esteem to do so and the mask stayed with me which is just fine. A good memory.

Long after I graduated from SJS,I tried to get plane tickets to the Ivory Coast. I was going alone, my usual modus operandi.

I found a travel agent who specialized in exotic trips; that was back when hardly anybody went anywhere. Not like today. The travel agent told me there was trouble brewing in the area and it might not be a good idea for me to go, especially not alone. She said she had a contact who traveled around West Africa and she would soon get a report from him. This was in the early 1980s, I’d say.

A few days later the report came and the travel agent said: too dangerous now. Forget it.

So I never got to the Ivory Coast but I kept my mask,a reminder of a long ago dream.

Meanwhile what happened to Dr. Kearton and John Battenburg?

[Images: Above my “copy” of the original Benin below.)


Sat. May 15: Come Celebrate Big George Moore




Attached is the flyer fr Georges Memorial. Sorry for the delay in notification, but I couldn’t get a confirmation from the Legion on the space. Please do try and come, if there are any questions feel free to calL 707 761 3002.

Thanks and again – please try and come