The Omari and the Pango
Feb 01 ● BY Caroline Kim
A Case Study of the Omari and the Pango
HIST 202: Global History Final Paper
There has always been a dispute between the Omari and the Pango about who arrived in the Motherland first. The Omari point to their Big Book and say, “Look, here it is written that our ancestor, A, left his treacherous country and sailed to the shore of the Motherland in a vessel made of palm leaves. It should not have been possible. It is only possible because it was willed by Muda.” Muda is the Omari’s God.
Unlike the Omari, the Pango believe in many deities, humble everyday spirits who live in trees, rivers and rocks. No fearsome god like Muda exists in their consciousness. They do not have a Big Book to tell them when they came to the Motherland; they know only that they have been here from the beginning. According to their old songs, they are the descendants of the everyday spirits of the Motherland, and there was no time when they did not belong here.
The Motherland was split East and West, separated by a tall mountain range called the Ue. On the East were the fertile valleys and gentle mountains where the Pango lived, and where their ordinary spirits frolicked among the soft clover and talkative brooks. The Omari settled in the West, taking advantage of the long coastline to become skilled fishermen. For centuries, a select group of “Sea Women” were plucked from their families to become deep sea divers of octopus, conch, and abalone. It was considered a high honor to become a Sea Woman, and they were also especially hardy, continuing to dive well into their eighties.
For much of their known history, the Omari and the Pango existed peacefully, trading with each other for food, rope, cooking implements, farm tools, fabrics and other goods. They shared strict laws regarding woman-stealing, which kept them mostly separate.
In 1637, an unbearable stench entered the Bay of Uta; a ship soon followed. A foolish looking man with a dirty feather in his hat stood with his arms raised and shouted in a strange language. It was a stranger, Bartolomé de Foronda, but he was not talking to the Omari; he was both cursing his God for stranding him and his men in a windless sea for many months and thanking Him for saving them.
But before he could stake his musty, unfurled flag on the beach, and take a satisfying leak against a tree, he and his men were besieged by the Omari and killed, some by sling shot, some by machetes bartered for from the Pango. Afterward, they examined the Strangers’ bodies: wondered at their size (they made up almost two Omari), looked with disgust at the amount of hair on their bodies, were amazed how some of their teeth were made of wood and others of a shining metal. They treated their corpses with dignity, dragging the bodies up to the mountain peak to be eaten by birds. A second ship, waiting behind the first, beat a hasty retreat back to where it came from.
A year later, another Bartolomé de Foronda appeared. This time with thirteen ships, all of them bearing cannons aimed at the Omaris standing on the beach, frowning at them. They watched as a smaller boat was lowered into the water and men climbed down into it from a ladder thrown over the side. The Omari wondered why they smelled so bad; maybe it had to do with the ridiculous amount of clothing they wore. Big heavy wraps on their feet that came up to their knees. Pants and shirts with too much volume and material. Perhaps it was to make them look bigger. The standing man had strange eyes that blinded like a knife thrust and then went away. When Bartolomé de Foronda came close, the Omari saw that this power came from two glass pieces over his eyes. They did not understand the strange words he said, pointing here and there, to himself and his crew, to them and the land behind them, even up to the sky, to the clouds.
There had been some Omari the year before who had refused to eat the shared meal at the celebration after the Strangers were killed, instead angrily denouncing the others. What if it was a test? they asked. What if the Strangers were summoned by Muda to help them, to lead them?
Now that new Strangers had arrived, the oldest Omari stepped forward and stated in the Omari language that the Strangers would not be killed. Unfortunately, he did so in the traditional way, holding his spear in both hands and performing a joyous but aggressive dance. It frightened the Strangers, who started rowing backward as quickly as possible until they could turn safely around and row madly toward the waiting ships.
While the Omari considered this unexpected reaction, the ship’s cannons one by one gave great booms that made the leaves rain from the trees. When they looked up, they were hit with rocks of hot metal that melted their skin. Worse, it ignited their thatched roofs on impact and set their seaside village aflame. The Omari thought they had displeased Muda.
Afterward, the Strangers came to shore. They shot a few Omari before the rest understood the power of the weapons the Strangers pointed at them.
All this was in an early history written by a Pango who heard the story from an escaped Omari. It was not long before more boats and more Strangers arrived, and soon, even though there were many more Omari, the Strangers controlled everything.
Unlike the tribal architecture of the Omari, the Pango had operated under a feudal system for hundreds of years. Wealthy landowners acted as de facto governors of their provinces, sending their sons to the capital to be educated with the hope that one day they would be advisors to the King of Pango.
By the Strangers’ standards, the capital was only a little bigger than a middle-sized town where they had come from, with dusty streets where cows, water buffalo, tribes of goats, mobs of sheep, and random roosters made their daily pilgrimage from the River Wan, which bordered one side of the capital, to the bucolic fields on the other side. While the Palace was more imposing with its frightening facade of terrifying faces peering out from the corners of the roof, eyes swirling, mouths opened in an ugly toothless cry, the King and Crown Prince lived in a humble wooden house in the back.
While the Strangers were still subduing the Pango, the former King was dying of sepsis from a burst appendix that no one knew how to treat. As the Strangers set about climbing over the Ue Mountains, the dying King called for his son.
“Now it is all up to you,” the King said between spasms of pain that soaked him in sweat. “I’ll tell you the secret: the key to keeping peace between the Left and the Right is to stay in the Center. The Center is the Way.”
The Crown Prince was only nine. “The Center is the Way,” the boy repeated. Immediately, he had his advisors make copies of this statement and hang them in his quarters so he would not forget.
During the funeral, the boy cried and yelled and beat his chest and flung himself at the coffin periodically as the procession progressed through the city, authentically, and not just because it was expected of him. When the procession returned to the Palace, the Crown Prince took off his white mourning clothes and laid them atop his father’s brightly painted coffin. Then he set fire to it. The bonfire was so large, the sky above the Palace turned black with smoke. Afterward, the new King returned to his humble house, took a healing bath, put on fresh clothing, and murmured to himself “The Center is the Way” over and over until he was at peace.
Not long after, a stream of Pango entered the capital with stories of fearsome Strangers with powerful weapons. The new King’s advisors ran around like headless chickens, squawking that he should send men to fight, others saying he should invite them to the Palace. “The Center is the Way,” the new King said with a calm face.
The Strangers arrived on horses which they had apparently brought on their boats, magnificent creatures with gleaming coats that seemed dreamed up. The men themselves were dirty and grizzled, heightened by adrenaline for weeks on end, pared down to burnt muscles. Only Bartolomé de Foronda, who slept in a silk tent every night, looked recognizably human with his double-chin and bejeweled fingers. He rode his horse in through the Palace gates and was met by the boy King in the courtyard.
There was the problem of language, of course, but through pointing, hand gestures, facial expressions and crude acting, Bartolomé de Foronda let it be known that the boy King
could remain King but he would preside over nothing. The alternative was death for everyone, which Bartolomé de Foronda had his men enact with much pretend throat cutting, stabbing, shooting, and beheading.
The wise young King retreated to his humble wooden house. The Center of the Way in this case was doing nothing and losing everything.
Life Under the Strangers:
As a consequence of the Strangers’ conquest of the Motherland, the Omari and Pango mixed more frequently than they had before. The Strangers assessed the Omari’s strong, squat bodies, their thick trunks, wide feet and short necks, and put them to work building houses and paving roads that mimicked the houses and roads of the Strangers’ homeland.
They created schools for the taller, thinner, lighter Pango, and then gave them jobs as train conductors, telephone operators, factory foremen, accountants, and restaurant managers. The Strangers, of course, owned everything, ran everything, benefitted the most from everything.
The official language became one the Strangers spoke. Now the Omari and Pango had to learn to speak in a completely new tongue that would never feel natural to them. They had to force themselves to think in a language that denied them. The old Omari and Pango tongues became a whispered language, taught to children in secret, spoken only in places where no Strangers ever went. Since the Omari lived close together in tight, fetid, tin-roofed houses amid open drains, their language survived longer than the Pango’s.
The Pango might have seemed to fare better than the Omari, living amongst the less wealthy Strangers in small houses, working and eating with them daily. But they lost more of their culture than the Omari, whom the Strangers found difficult to penetrate, possibly because of their belief in Muda. Some Pango even reached great heights, plucked out of the local schools and sent back to the Strangers’ homeland for more superior schooling. They came back assimilated, impressing the Strangers back home with their latest fashions, updated slang, and knowledge of international politics. They were a new, higher tier of Pango, some marrying Strangers, others slowly and quietly building up an underground resistance to them.
Defeating the Octopus:
In the middle of the last century, a chill wind began to blow for peoples like the Strangers who had left their own homelands to conquer others. People everywhere began to rise up, demanding control over their countries, their destinies. In the Motherland, it began with a friendship between Tuan, a Pango, and Uti, an Omari. Tuan was descended from the young King who had gone around muttering “The Center is the Way” all his life, a puppet King parroting the same five words until he disappeared inside them. Tuan knew he would one day be king but didn’t look forward to it, knowing it would mean a lot of standing around in a tight suit shaking hands. Tuan preferred to play with Uti, the son of Tuan’s nursemaid; Tuan’s mother had died in childbirth. Some historians have attributed this early loss to his essential coldness later on, but it is impossible to know. In the large airy rooms of the royal plantation house, Tuan and Uti grew up like brothers.
Tuan insisted Uti be educated with him. Though Uti had the quicker mind, Tuan did better in his studies. He was methodical about his learning, setting aside the same number of hours each day at the same time. Once a thing was learned, it was kept. Like other Pangos, he liked rules and respected order; he believed they made life meaningful, prevented the wasting of one’s life. He believed the Center was the Way.
Uti believed in the laws of nature, in doing what felt good to him. Sometimes it was teasing the girls who did laundry as the wind played with their skirts; sometimes it was singing a song for the granny who was blind and lay in bed all day. Life was for living, not being bound by rules.
When Tuan was a teenager, he was sent to the Strangers’ homeland to study. The experience was eye-opening for him. He saw, for the first time, destitute and uneducated Strangers, dressed in little more than rags, begging in the streets. Their children ran around with dirty hands and faces, plucking coins, bank notes, pocket watches and jewelry from hidden pockets like magic. He grew to fear these ragtag children who once surrounded him on an early morning walk in the park, chanting, “Beast, Beast, Beast,” at him until he threw a handful of coins at them.
On the other hand, he was invited to many Strangers’ homes, especially those people he met at the university, who made a party of him, asking him questions about life in the Motherland, wanting him to sing songs and dance. When he demurred, saying he was not skilled at singing and dancing, they asked if he would like a drum or one of those reed instruments from his country to accompany him. Sometimes they put his picture in the paper for no reason, just to say Here is a Pango.
At first Tuan was fascinated by the enormous city that the Strangers had built, the way they had forced nature into just a few places to be enjoyed when they wanted. But the longer, he stayed the more he missed the Motherland.
After seven years, Tuan completed his studies and returned. Surrounded by his family and friends, he was shocked to discover how different his memories of the Motherland were from what he saw now. Yes, the land was as lush and fruitful as he remembered it, the rice paddies electric green, the apricots and peaches, sweeter and juicier, the sky taller and wider and more evenly blue than in the Strangers’ land. There were colors here he had never seen in the Strangers’ land. His body felt more relaxed and he even lost the nervous smiling he had developed as a result of his trying to look agreeable all the time. But not everything he saw pleased him.
Everywhere Tuan looked, the Strangers were at the top. They were in charge of the government, the newspapers, the telephone company, all transportation, as well as controlling the flow of electricity, gas, water and food to every household. Though the Strangers were not from the Motherland, they had their tentacles around every vital part of making it run. Tuan began to call them the “Octopus.” He thought of how he had been treated by the Strangers in their land, the contempt he had felt, the way he’d been presented as an object to be studied and enjoyed, and he grew angry. He began assembling in private with like-minded Pango, distributing an underground paper called “Death to the Octopus.”
To be successful, Tuan knew he must include the Omari. He turned to his old friend, Uti, who had moved to the capital and married. He had done well for himself as an Omari, rising to become a manager of a grocery store. He enjoyed his simple life and didn’t want to join Tuan at first. But after Tuan walked him through the Omari slums outside the city and made him understand that this was not ordained by Muda but, rather, perpetrated by the Strangers, Uti agreed to help Tuan.
At first the Strangers dismissed them as troublemakers. They threw Uti in jail and kept Tuan under house arrest. With help from sympathetic guards, Uti escaped to the countryside. There were strikes, boycotts, homemade bombs thrown at police stations and government buildings. Tuan wrote a steady stream of letters to world leaders from his house while Uti moved every few days, both to elude the authorities and to encourage the Omari to keep fighting. In the second phase, the Strangers made concessions. They agreed to sell some of the big industries to the Pango and raised wages for everyone.
But it was too late. The Omari and Pango would only be satisfied with one thing: independence.
The third phase of independence was the most violent. The Strangers, angry that the Pango and Omari were not satisfied by their concessions, withdrew them, and instead fired upon them where they gathered. Videos of violence were smuggled out of the Motherland and played around the world. Many nations turned against the Motherland, refusing to trade with them and cutting off relations. Still for a time, the Strangers persisted. They could not give up. Many of them had now lived in the Motherland for generations and could not fathom going anywhere else. They felt the Motherland belonged to them.
The more freedom fighters they killed, the more freedom fighters they raised, until there was no one willing to cross the picket lines and take jobs no matter how high the salaries. When the power company had to shut down for lack of workers, the Strangers finally gave up. They sat and wept in front of their televisions as the President, a Stranger who could trace his lineage back to the very first Bartolomé de Foronda, put down the gnarled wooden stick that was passed from one President to another and resigned.
That day is known as “Death of the Octopus” and is celebrated without fail every year.
Like all interlopers, the Strangers were at their core insecure about their right to the Motherland, and once that was disputed and eventually overthrown, they fled. They left behind a railroad system, paved roads, power plants, gas stations, miles of telephone wire, as well as a rigid class system, desperate poverty, inferiority complexes, and the ascendence of tribal divisions.
The day after the Strangers announced they were leaving, Tuan walked out of the grounds of his house for the first time in eight years. He had been busy during that time, receiving important international guests, giving interviews that were broadcast around the world, writing impassioned treatises calling for the freedom of every man, woman and child. He had been wrong; it was good to be King. He was finally having an effect.
Uti came out from hiding, reuniting with his family at long last, amazed that what he had considered undoable had been done. He was dark and weathered from sleeping outside or on the floors of huts and basements, eating whatever was at hand if he ate at all, riding in the backs of covered trucks or walking all night in woods that had no name.
Uti and Tuan had kept in touch through the years of fighting by way of smuggled letters. They had written to each other as brothers of a lost cause, dreaming of the day they would stand side-by-side on the top steps of the power station, the most imposing government building in the capital, raising their fists in victory.
Now, it had all come to pass.
Uti was the face of the Omari, beloved by them. He knew how to fight, how to move stealthily from one place to another, how to do the most damage to the Strangers. He had not shied away from difficult decisions. He was responsible for the assassination of the Prime Minister who had stripped the Omari of citizenship in the Motherland, and also of the Justice of the Court who had upheld the vile new law. Now he turned to Tuan to repair the injustice.
Tuan agreed, in theory. He knew well the history of the Motherland, how for many centuries the Pango had existed in harmony with the Omari, one in the East, one on the West. Things were not so clear cut now. The Strangers had moved many Omari to the West in order to exploit them for their labor, and they had encouraged many Pango to go East to manage their fishing and trading operations. From the beginning, the Strangers had established the lighter, taller Pangos as a higher class than the Omari, providing them with better educations, more job opportunities, and more respectability, in order that eventually the Pango would keep the Omari down themselves. It worked beautifully.
After only a short time, the Pangos came to believe they had always been better than the Omari: smarter, more able, more refined. Even the Omari swallowed this absurdity, believing themselves to be closer to the earth, simpler, more humble, and, it couldn’t be helped, dumber. Perhaps they were used to prostrating themselves before others because of their experience with Muda.
Tuan gave speeches before the Pango where he asked them to remember that the Omari had been their brothers in arms, that they had suffered with them under the oppression of the Strangers. That though they had arrived by boat to the Motherland, from where no one knew anymore, the fact that they were citizens of the Motherland could not be disputed.
But Tuan hit resistance where he had expected none. The other Pango leaders recalled what great fighters the Omari were, how naturally skilled they were at killing the Strangers. What if one day they turned against the Pango? And it was true the Omari had much to grumble about. Their houses were smaller, their cars less reliable, their schools moldy and run-down; even the air they breathed was dirtier. It couldn’t be denied that it was much better to be born a Pango than an Omari.
They agreed the new constitution would assert that both the Pango and Omari were the only true, rightful citizens of the Motherland, but there would have to be something added about how the Omari had once come from somewhere else. Tuan found this egregious and said so. The rest of the Pango leadership looked at him calmly while he strode back and forth in the middle of the Parliamentary chamber denouncing this cheap trick, and said, “Dear Tuan, this is our shared wish. If you do not like it, you do not have to be here. We can lead the Motherland just as well without you.” An ineffectual King once again, his family’s true legacy.
That night Tuan invited Uti to his house in order to discuss the issue with him in person. Uti drove up to the house he remembered so well from his youth, remembering how he and Tuan would steal food from the kitchens and run dirty through the public rooms of the house while the housekeeper yelled at them to go outside. When the two saw each other, they clasped hands and laughed because each had come so far.
Tuan had thought and thought of what he should say. He knew if he was ousted, it could get even worse for the Omari. Then no Pango would care whether the Omari had citizenship or not. At least Tuan had wrested some concessions for them, not only citizenship, but also allowing the Omari to serve in Parliament, even with a quota. There would always be quotas for the Omari: how many could own land or work in specific industries, be allowed into the top universities, even appear on television shows or publish books. They would say that this was to guarantee representation for the Omari, but in reality, it worked to keep the influence of the Omari tepid and inconsequential.
“My Brother,” Tuan began when they were both seated by the fire. “I come to you truthfully. You will not like what I have to say but you must do it. It is in the best interests of the Omari. They want to say in the constitution that the Omari came from another place. That is all. Now that we are free, life will be better for all, including Omaris.”
Tuan could not answer why. Instead, he repeated that it would be worse if the Omari did not agree with this new world order; they would be left with nothing. Something was better than nothing, was it not? And how much would life change for the Omari anyway?
“Do you hear yourself, my brother?” he asked. “Are you saying we the Omari will never have a chance to move up, to make something of ourselves? How is that any different from living under the Strangers? At least the Strangers never pretended to be our friends and countrymen!”
Tuan tried to appease his friend.
“No, of course Omari will be valued citizens of the Motherland. Just look how we are allowing you to represent yourselves in Parliament. You will have full rights as citizens just like the Pango. Only your papers and passport will be a different color, is that such a big thing? Think of what is best for your people.”
“I am,” Uti said. “Don’t you see I am? The difference is just a color today but it will be something more tomorrow. The important thing is to not treat us differently. There is no good reason to do so, only bad ones.”
“You don’t trust us,” Tuan said. “You think badly of us when we have caused you no harm.”
“Yet,” said Uti.
The two stared at each other. Finally, Uti said quietly, “Brother, you wrote many times how every person, whether they are man, woman, or child, whether they were born in one place or another, that every human being has the same rights as everyone else. Do you still believe that?”
“Of course,” Tuan said. “More now than before. But Uti, I am also a realist. Change takes time. It takes steps. Change is not swift.”
“Says the man who does not desire change.”
Tuan was growing exasperated. “Uti, you do not understand what could happen if the Omari do not agree to this. You may be pushed out altogether.”
“Then try,” Uti said.
The New Motherland
The first bomb went off in a restaurant at an elegant hotel popular among wealthy Pangos. This happened after a new law was passed calling for a curfew for the Omari from sunset to sunrise. Another bomb exploded in a police station, then another at a department store, then one during a popular summer festival. Each time more and more Omari were taken prisoner. Each time the call for something to be done about the Omari grew louder.
Citizenship rules were changed so that the Omari had to prove with stamped documents that they had been born in the Motherland. But they were hard to find, made difficult by the slowness of bureaucracy, incomplete files, lost paperwork, computer errors that transposed Omari names, confusing last names with first. A deadline was given, and all those who could not meet it were to be sent away.
Tuan still fought for the Omari but not strongly enough. He could have turned against the Pango, denounced them, but then he would be left all alone. Fewer world leaders and celebrities came to visit him now that he had power. The Motherland was too small and in- significant to keep their interest. The handsome young King in exile in his own land was romantic and tragic, but that King taking power and stripping half the population of its rights was an embarrassment.
The police pushed the Omari out of the city, far out to the countryside. They put them in tents and created conditions so poor, they hoped the Omari would choose to go away on their own. They drove them back to the sea.
Rumors of violence began to bubble up. Pictures appeared of empty tented areas littered with the detritus of a massacre—strewn clothes, broken household goods, ripped tents, wet spots on the earth, dark and sinister. Though human rights organizations spoke loudly, there were too many other competing disasters—famines, droughts, terrifying new diseases, a rise in hatred—to raise even the tepid interests of other countries.
The current situation in the Motherland is dire. The Omari population has dwindled to only hundreds of thousands, though many more have gone into hiding or purchased doctored papers with new names. Others have signed over their lands, houses, and other properties to Pango friends, hoping when they return one day, their friends will hand back what is rightful- ly theirs.
Tuan, at 66, is still King. Because of the violence perpetrated against the Omari, he has been disavowed by many of the world leaders and celebrities who once championed him.
As a result, he has largely disappeared from public life, turning over most of his official duties to his son, Paro, who is short, squat, and strong. Also charming and bright. Unlike Tuan, he enjoys the ceremonial part of being a King, gaining energy from the attention and applause. Some whisper that he’s really the son of Uti, whom Tuan executed on the night they met to talk. After that, Tuan retreated, and it is said he spends his days lost in meditation, chanting “The Center is the Way. The Center is the Way. The Center is the Way . . .”
Ullman, R. (1987). A Story of the Pango and Omari. New York, NY: Scribner.
Suarez, J. (2002) Bartolomé de Foronda, Explorer Extrodinaire. London, England: Bloomsbury.
Riley, S. (1992, December). Uti and Tuan, A Tale of Two Brothers. Life Magazine, Vol. 62(23), 30-38.
Koari, M. (2001, September). The Beautiful Masks of the Omari, National Geographic, Vol. 78(9), 12-20.
Tang, O. (1998, March). Tragedy of the Motherland, The Journal of American History, Vol. 2(1), 76-94.
Tua, P. (2003, November). Who Settled the Motherland First? Time Magazine, Vol 102(44), 44- 48