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February 20, 2019

Like humans, dik diks mark home boundaries

House under construction
House under construction

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Maya Angelou


If you want to strike a personal blow to someone you have learnt to hate, just ask the person one question – do you still pay rent or do you have your own home? If the person does not own a home, and if that person is a man, then you will have made a palpable hit, without using any muscle power. It hurts more than a sore wound when a grown man, almost at the retirement age, has to think of how to pay rent. It may not be the hardship of getting the money to pay the rent for the house that one lives in. It is the conscious realisation that time is running out and one still lives in a house owned by someone else. We attach so much importance to the places in which we live in that no man is comfortable in life if he does not own even the smallest and cheapest of a home.

When a man chooses a neighbourhood or a dwelling place, he is not just selecting a place to live in. They are also making a personal statement. Their choice of place or a house to buy says a lot about the individual, more than what clothes or behaviour says about them. It is remarkable to note how pervasive the need for our own physical and psychological space is, even in the poorest, most crowded communities. Even when people are forced by adverse circumstances to live in cramped conditions like in army barracks or even in jail cells, a man will always be able to secure a sense of personal territory to earn respect, even if he will be shunned by the rest. That is how bad a man wants to “own”.

Conversely, we become anxious or irate when what we assume to be our private space is invaded or threatened. We will fight vigorously to keep the territory that belongs to us even when the space we have found is far away from home. It is also interesting to note the fight to keep a territory that one has found especially far from home, say a cell in jail, or a locker in an army barracks, or outside a tent in a camping trip, is never serious – because the ownership is temporal. At some point, a man has to let go of such territory to avoid getting hurt. He knows he has to be healthy and fit to defend his main territory – his true home. Here, if threatened, he will fight to death. He will opt to die and be buried on the soil whereupon stands his house. His house is him. It defines him. He becomes a total man when he stands outside his house and watches his family going about with usual house chores.

There is no upper or lower cases when you describe the feelings of ownership. The smallest man, in size or possession, will be happy with what he owns and will protect his territory as fiercely and effectively as the mighty nations using the latest technology to protect the sovereignty of their state territory. And that will be the same state of affairs in the wild. Big or small animals who live in territorial grounds, will protect their territories as effectively as provided by what they need in order to survive. And just like we have beacons which marks the boundary of our plots or fences that provides a clear separation between “ours” and “theirs”, animals too have a way of marking the territorial grounds that belong to them. Some will mark by “ritualised urination” like the lions, leopards and the cheetahs, while most grazers who live in guarded territories will mark their boundaries with dung heaps placed at strategic positions.

One of the smallest gazelles in the bush is the dik dik. The male dik dik is tasked with the marking and guarding the territory in which him and his family lives in. I once saw a male dik dik become very offended when a group of elephants, the largest land mammal, passed through his territory. One of the elephant dropped a huge dung heap right where the dik dik had his. The dik dik did not attempt to fight the elephant. He waited patiently until the elephants were out of his range. He went to the place where the dung of the elephant had dwarfed his many day’s deposit of his own dung to mark his territory. He literally had to climb on top of the elephant dung, to place his little pebbles of dung on the very top, to reassure himself that the territory still belongs to him.

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