Random Ugandan Acts of Unkindness

By Geoff Olson

In the latest installment of Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger series, the author devotes a chapter to a very bizarre news item. According to the Coventry Evening Telegraph, a hunter in Uganda is being sought by local authorities for illegally hunting gorillas. He shoots them with a tranquilizer gun and dresses them in clown suits.

That's right, clown suits. According to the report, six gorillas have been found in clowned condition in the wild, wandering around like primitive Pagliaccis.

You may recall Sniffy the Rat, and the outrage that followed "artist" Rick Gibson's threat to drop a brick on the rodent. Here's a new twist on the Sniffy routine-- assuming we can ascribe any aesthetic spirit to these random Ugandan acts of unkindness, as Wilson does.

"I wonder a lot about this bizarre Ugandan," writes the author. "Once having found his metier, will he repeat himself endlessly (the usual fate of the inferior artist) -- or will he begin experimenting more broadly? Can we look forward to reports of wildebeests in polka-dot pajamas, chimpanzees in tuxedos, zonked zebras waking in the garb of a Gay Leather Bar?"

Dada, the great granddaddy of today's "performance art", was a post-WW I program of slapstick assaults on bourgeois sensibilities. An enclave of cafe philosophers with a joy buzzer sensibility, the Dadaists wanted to subvert rationality for the sheer hell of it. Is the Ugandan a jungle Dadaist?

Think of it: an unknown African on a mission to resurrect a moribund European art movement! The mystery marksman lives up to Dadaism's spirit, even if his efforts sound more like a gorilla joke by Steven Wright than a guerrilla routine from Tristan Tzara. In any case, it can't be much fun to be an ape on the receiving end of an inexplicable intent. Writes Wilson: " I bet they hate it -- feel acute terror and rage -- when they wake up covered in something constraining which they cannot possibly understand."

The story has a screwball poignancy about it, and not just for it's animal pathos. Human behaviour, with its catalogue of whimsies and obsessive thoughts -- punctuated by perversions of the most darkly Gothic kind -- is often mysterious. The distorting lens of cultural differences makes it even harder to understand. What would extraterrestrial beings, surveying a Ugandan game preserve dotted with apes in clown costumes, make of the human psyche?

It's a great story, this news item of primates in circus couture, but It's provenance is another matter. Wilson wondered whether the Coventry Evening Telegraph employed "a drunken and unreliable part-timer covering animal news from Africa..." Yet the author also heard a later radio report claiming the Ugandan clowning continues: the gorillas cannot remove the suits unaided, and the wardens must "retranquilize and unclown them." Says the chief warden: "We are dealing with a very sick mind."

However, a certain Loren Skaggs, posting to the Internet news group alt.follklore.urban, says he contacted the gorilla conservation office in Rwanda (which monitors ape populations throughout Africa, including Uganda). A spokesperson there assured him that there has been no such "hunter," and no occurrences of this nature.

"She hastened to point out that such an act would be highly unlikely, since gorilla poaching is a very serious crime, and that anyone who would take the risk of actually shooting a gorilla in that impoverished part of the world would surely not waste it on a lame practical joke." Skaggs was told that gorilla parts are extremely valuable on the black market; there's no way a poacher would leave a gorilla to recover consciousness, clown suit or no.

Perhaps then Bozo the Ape belongs in the suspect company of the phantom hitchhiker and the pet in the microwave oven. Though I contend that if the story's not true, it's definitely bizarre enough that it should be.



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