The Journeys of Otok: A Mategosan Folk Cycle

I.
Once there was a boy who wandered in the forest. Robbers had killed his parents and the boy would have perished of hunger and thirst had not a pine-marten taken pity upon him and whispered to him which berries were good to eat and where a spring was to be found that he might drink of it.

The pine-marten asked the boy what his name was, but the boy replied, “I know not – I cannot remember what my mother and my father called me.”

The pine-marten replied, “Since I have taken you in, I shall give you a name. Remember it, boy, for it tells you of your fate! You are named Otok Kestena!” (Island of Chestnut Trees) “You will use the name Otok with one and with all, but Kestena keep you secret, that none else but you or I will know of your place of refuge!”

The boy understood the pine-marten and promised always to keep the secret of the chestnut trees. Islands in the world, there were many of those: but islands covered with chestnut trees none knew of, they were as secret as Otok’s second name.

Otok followed the ways of the pine-marten in the forest and grew happily enough. When the boy was old enough to be a man, the pine-marten said to him, “See now! You are strong in your youth and I am now old in my age, such is the way of the world! As I prepare to lay myself down, you must make ready to bring yourself up! Seek you a wife, find people who will follow you, and make your way to the land of your fate and there you shall be a ruler, happy and prosperous!”

Otok asked the pine-marten, “Old friend and forest-father! How do I know such things are true and not dreams?”

The pine-marten replied, “Ah! when you were a new babe and I was in my youth, I saw the three Royenitzes who spoke of your fate as you slept one night. I listened as the first said that you were to be an orphan wanderer. The second then said that you would only have one true refuge, an island covered with chestnut trees. The third said only if you found a people who would leave their prosperous lands to join you in your undiscovered refuge would you know happiness. So I remembered these things and watched over you. Lucky are you, Otok, to be a man that knows his fate!”

Otok gave great and humble thanks to the pine-marten and laughed and wept with his forest-father for three more days as the pine-marten passed from the world. A good burial gave Otok to the pine-marten, deep in the ground where the wolf would not dig. Otok mourned the pine-marten and, having completed his mourning, went to seek his wife, his people, and his land.

II.
Otok wandered alone in the forest. All his life he had lived in the forest and did not know where the lands of humans were. One day, he happened to see a wolf licking a wound on its back leg. Though the wolf was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the wolf could see him. The wolf was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Wolf! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Wolf?”

Wolf said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Wolf said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The wolf obliged his ally. “Here is a secret for you, Otok – add Zaton (cove) to your name, for I once heard the sun whisper that the most beautiful of all human maidens lived by a cove by the sea, and there you should seek your wife.”

Otok thanked the wolf and wandered more in the forest. One day, he saw a lion tending to a wound on its belly. Though the lion was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the lion could see him. The lion was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Lion! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Lion?”

Lion said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Lion said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The lion obliged his ally. “Here is a secret for you, Otok – add Hrast (oak) to your name for once I heard the wind whisper that the hardest-working men he ever saw lived among the oak trees, and there you should seek your kinsmen!”

Otok thanked the lion and wandered more in the forest. One day, he saw a giant eagle nursing a wound on its wing. Though the eagle was stronger than he, Otok stepped to where the eagle could see him. The great eagle was ready to pounce upon Otok, but Otok held up his hand in peace and said, “Eagle! Slay me not! I know your secret weakness, and should you slay me, I shall shout it aloud with my dying breath, that all the forest may hear of it! Spare me, and I shall aid you in battle. What say you, O Eagle?”

Great Eagle said to Otok, “It is better to have a stranger befriended than a whole world know of my weakness. I shall spare you, man, but tell me your name, that I may know you from other men, with whom I share no alliance.”

“Otok is my name, and one day, I shall ask you to guide me to where the other men are.”

Great Eagle said, “Otok is such a short name. Surely, there is more in your name, will you tell it to me?”

“Otok is my name. It is short, yes, but it will suit me well should there be no more name. If you have more to name me with, I would hear it now.”

The eagle shook its head. “No, Otok! Others may give you more names, but I shall not give a name to you until you have proven your worth to me in battle.”

Otok understood without complaint and said, “So be it, Great Eagle. When I have helped you in battle, you shall give me more to my name.”

III.
Otok traveled on in the forest and one day saw Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle readying themselves to fight each other. Between and before them was a dead ox-bull. Otok could see that each of the three wanted to claim first share of the prize. Otok could also see that each of the three feared that the other two would join forces and drive him away. Otok could further see that each of the three wondered which of the other two would be the weaker partner, the better choice of ally to defeat the third with. For always the strongest seeks a weak ally against a third power, that the weak ally may be subjugated when the third power is no more.

Otok stepped to where all three would see him, and declared, “I am here to help my ally in battle!”

At the same time, Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle all said, “Good!” Then, at the same time, Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle knew that Otok was an ally to them all. And one who is an ally to all is one who can be trusted to make a just peace, for it is in justice that alliances are preserved. Weaker than all three of the others in strength and weapons, in his knowledge and bargaining, Otok was stronger than all three combined.

Otok mediated between Wolf, Lion, and Eagle and brought them to agreement on a fair division of the meat and bones of the dead ox-bull. Otok asked for no meat or bones for himself, such was his wisdom, for there can be no justice when the judge takes part in the spoils.

Happy were Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle to not have a battle, for each secretly feared that his secret wound would prove his undoing. Wolf departed with his portion. Lion departed with his portion. As Great Eagle made ready to feast upon his portion, Otok reminded him, “O Great Eagle! Did I not help you in battle, or do I yet owe you that service?”

Great Eagle nodded. “Indeed, Otok, you have helped me in battle, and I have not forgotten my pledge to you. Now hear me well, for I shall name you Govornik (speaker). You win battles with words, and so it shall be. Never will you bear arms, for in that day you bear arms, you shall die. Think much, and speak the words born of mature thoughts. Far and wide have I flown and I have seen troubles among men. Wars and battles are coming to the men of these lands.”

Great Eagle continued. “Here is a riddle I have heard the moon whisper as it passes over the lands of men and gives them dreams. ‘Earth, sea, sky – each realm has its champion, and each realm does battle with the other. Fight one and be crushed, befriend all three and prosper.’ Remember those words, Otok Govornik, and think on them, my friend. But tell me one thing, friend, who tutored you in your ways?”

Otok replied, “My forest-father, the pine-marten.”

Great Eagle nodded. “Lucky you were to have a pine-marten for your guide and tutor. Had the wolf tutored you, you would have been taught to bite, but you have no jaws. Had the lion tutored you, you would have been taught to maul, but you have no claws. Had I tutored you, you would have been taught to fly, but you have no wings. The pine-marten taught you to be clever, and look, you have words! So I say lucky you were to have a pine-marten teach you.”

Otok humbly thanked Great Eagle for all his words and left the forest that day, to walk in the lands of men.

IV.
Otok followed the setting sun and arrived at the seashore. He followed the seashore until he came to a beautiful cove. There, in the beautiful cove, he saw a beautiful maiden. Otok called to the maiden, “My name is Otok and I am not yet betrothed. Have you yet been promised to another?”

The maiden replied. “I am called Pučina (open sea) and I am promised to the one who is friend to the sun, the wind, and the moon. Prove that you are that man, and I shall be your wife.”

Otok said, “I shall prove my three friendships and shall be your husband.” With that, Otok set out to prove his friendships with the sun, the wind, and the moon.

A year later, Otok returned with a sack of grain, a barrel of fish, and a bucket of dried mushrooms. Pučina asked, “Tell me, Otok, what have you brought me?”

Otok said, “Fair Pučina, I will tell you. A year I have spent making friends with the sun, the wind, and the moon, and these are their gifts to me, as proof of that friendship. Would I have grain enough to spare had not the sun smiled upon me and helped me to grow my crops? Would I have fish enough to spare had not the wind guided my boat in the waters? Would I have mushrooms enough to spare had not the moon caused them to grow and shone its light to guide me to where they were?”

Pučina smiled and said, “That is good, Otok, you are indeed a friend to sun, wind, and moon. You shall prosper without conquering and your people shall know peace. Tell me now more of your name, that I may know you more.”

Otok said, “Wolf gave me the name Zaton, and it is here in the cove that I find you. Lion gave me the name Hrast, and it is among the oak trees that I will seek my people. Great Eagle gave me the name Govornik, and it is only with words, not arms, that I make my way in the world.”

Pučina asked, “Have you any other names?”

Otok said, “One other name, the pine-marten gave me. But this is a name that I must keep secret. Forest-father he was to me, and I promised him that I would keep it a secret, for my fate is in it. But the day my fate is made certain, you will know that name without my speaking it to you, for you are a woman and you will know of things that men must be told.”

Pučina nodded and smiled, “Well have you spoken, husband Otok, and we will learn to love each other in the years to come.”

V.
Otok followed the edge of the cove to where there was a river. He then followed the river upstream to a wood of oak trees. In that wood were several villages. The people of the villages worked very hard and were always ready to aid one another, just as Lion had said he had heard whispered by the wind.

But Otok did not make his home in that wood of oak trees: he did visit each village and he and his wife Pučina made good friends of the people, but Otok did not take up a dwelling there.

Instead, Otok traveled on in the lands surrounding the wood of oak trees. To the south, Otok saw an army that marched under banners of wolves. They would dig deep into the earth each night before sleeping, that their camp would be surrounded by ditches and mounds. The men of the army saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the north.

Otok said, “To the north is a river. South of the river are plains where you can grow bountiful crops. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give that land to you, that you may farm it and soldier no more. Let them depart in peace and you shall have the land without war.”

The leader of the army under the banners of wolves said, “So it shall be! If we can gain the land without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok departed and then sailed on the seas to the west. There, he saw a navy that sailed under the banners of lions. They would unfurl their sails and move swiftly here and there, that they might claim the whole of the sea as their own. The men of the navy saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the west.

Otok said, “To the west is a river. Along the river are mighty oaks, excellent timber for mighty ships. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give those oaks to you, that you may build merchant ships and bring prosperity through trade, that you have commerce instead of war. Let them depart in peace, and you shall have the timber without war.”

The leader of the navy under the banners of lions said, “So it shall be! If we can gain the timbers without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok departed and then went to the mountains to the north. There, he saw great castles with high towers under the banners of eagles. They would build the tall towers to survey the land around and establish their rule. The men of the castles saw Otok and demanded that Otok tell them of the lands to the south.

Otok said, “To the south is the river. On the north bank are rolling hills, which offer magnificent views of the surrounding lands. No enemy from the sea or land would be able to pass unmolested from castles in those hills. Though a people lives there, if you promise them safety when they depart, they shall give those hills to you, that you may build mighty castles in them and establish the borders to your lands so that none make war upon you. Let them depart in peace, and you shall have castles without war.”

The leader of the castles with the high towers under the banners of eagles said, “So it shall be! If we can set our borders in the hills without war, it is a good thing that our blood be not shed.”

Otok then returned to the villages in the oak woods. He called to their elders to come to him to learn of what he had discovered in his travels. The elders gathered before Otok and Otok told them of the great forces to the south, west, and north that were converging upon the oak woods by the river. He told them of the army that marched under the banners of wolves that would make war to win the plains. He told them of the navy that sailed under the banners of lions that would make war to win the timbers. He told them of the castles with high towers under the banners of eagles that would make war to gain the hills. A great and terrible war approached their lands.

The elders asked, “How will we escape the war? We wish only to live in peace and to work to feed our families. We can defend against bandits, but how do we survive such a terrible war?”

Otok said, “I know a way, but you will follow me to a secret place I have not yet been to. You will know that I shall arrive there because it is my fate to take a people in prosperous lands to such an undiscovered place, where they will live in happiness. Lucky am I to know my fate, and lucky are you to be joined to it, if you but give your consent to follow me.”

The elders said, “That is well and good, your story is entertaining. But what tokens do we have of its truth?”

Then the wife of Otok, beautiful Pučina, stepped forward and said, “That I stand before you as the wife of Otok is part of that proof. He befriended sun and wind and moon to gain my hand, and now we are married and we learn to love each other.”

The elders said, “So that is a proof, a witness to your fate. What other proof have you for us?”

Otok replied, “I was named Zaton by friend Wolf, and it was in a cove that I found my wife. I was named Hrast by friend Lion, and it was in the woods of oak trees that I found you, who I ask to be my people. I was named Govornik by friend Great Eagle, and it is with words that I bring peace to those who listen. I have been given the riddle from Great Eagle: ‘Earth, sea, sky – each realm has its champion, and each realm does battle with the other. Fight one and be crushed, befriend all three and prosper.’ So we see that the wolf-banners of the earth, the lion-banners of the sea, and the eagle-banners of the sky are ready to battle. While none of them may we fight, we prosper in the peace we bring to them.”

The elders said, “So it is. We are convinced and shall follow you from our lands of prosperity to the undiscovered island of your fate.”

VI.
With the people of the oak woods following him, Otok returned to the cove where he had met Pučina. There, they stood on the edge of the land that they could walk no more as the sea they could not sail wet their feet and the wind howled cold and bitter through the mountains, chilling their bones.

Otok addressed them all: “Otok is my name, and it is to an island that we will travel and find our refuge. I have been given names by Wolf, Lion, and Great Eagle, but greatest of all is the name given me by my forest-father, the pine-marten. Alone I know my secret, but you shall all know of it when we arrive at our place of refuge. Pučina shall be the first to know and, through her, you will know as she knows, for she is mother to you, and mothers can teach lessons without speaking.”

An elder asked, “How shall we travel to the island that is undiscovered?”

Otok replied, “I cannot guide you there, but I have made friends of the sun, the wind, and the moon. They will help us arrive to the island of refuge.”

The people settled in the cove and awaited for Otok to bring them to the island of refuge.

One day, an old ship drifted into the cove. A single man stood at the rudder. He was older than the ship and looked to be weary of the world. He called down to the people of Otok to bring him safely to shore, and this they gladly did. On the shore, Otok asked him, “How did you come to be among us?”

The old sailor replied, “I awoke this morning and saw in the sun a promise. So I set my bearing to where the sun rises and traveled to this point. I am old and seek a place where I may rest my bones, and the sea is no place for resting.”

Otok said to him, “Let us use your boat that my friend the sun guided to us and we shall take you to a place of refuge, where you may rest your bones.”

The old sailor said, “Well and good is to be in the company of a friend of the sun! I shall join with you and your people this day.” At that moment, the people of Otok set about to prepare the ship for a voyage.

When the ship was ready, the people of Otok boarded the ship and made ready to sail. As they sails were unfurled, the winds ceased to dodge here and there among the rocks and caves. The winds made an end of their constant squabbling around the shores and with unanimity, made as one and gave a direction constant and true to the ship bearing the people of Otok. Through waves and mists, the ship continued on its unerring path. The people sang praise to the friend of the wind, and that it was well and good to be in his company.

One day, an island covered in chestnut trees lay before Otok. When Pučina saw it, she knew at once the secret name the pine-marten had given to Otok. When Pučina turned to face the people of Otok with a smile on her fair face, the people learned from their mother that this was the place of refuge. At night, the wind gave a great gift to its friend Otok as it caressed the tides to gently land the ship on the shores of the isle of refuge, the isle of the chestnut trees, the Island of Mategosa.

Is There One Among You?

“And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!” – Alma 5:20-21

We often think that if we do not personally mock or persecute that we are innocent of such accusations. We think that if we are constantly and consistently polite and careful with our personal interactions, we are free of the charges of mocking and heaping persecutions on others. But we must look beyond the personal experience if we wish to be judged correctly.

The first place to look is in the minds of the persons we interact with – we cannot read those minds, but we know that they are not our own. How do we know that what we think of as polite and proper is interpreted to be the same way in the minds of our neighbors, the people we meet and work with directly? How often did politeness give an appearance of kindness as it papered over apartheid, segregation, and antisemitism? Even as I speak of those things as national policies, they had impacts on the personal level to where the persecutors were unaware of how hurtful they were because, in their minds, they were always polite and proper.

When we use words that are pointed out to us as having a negative implication to an audience, we should seek to stop using those words. Accusing the audience of overreacting or taking us the wrong way is not a defense – it is not a rethinking, a repentance. When we rethink, we repent. When we repent, we not only become aware of how to keep peace on earth, but also how better to approach God.

And when we look at the larger picture, we must be sure and certain in not supporting legal regimes that “heapeth persecutions” on one or more groups. Mockery may or may not be in the legal wording: older American laws specifically stated that Blacks, Latinx, Asians, First Nations, and other cultural minorities were to be restricted vis-a-vis their White counterparts – mockery and persecution, combined. Modern American laws may remove the direct mockery, but preserve the persecution by creating use cases defined by factors common to those cultural minorities.

Gender and sexual preference are also targets of laws that create persecution. Again, they can be directly called out with mockery directly included with the persecution; or, they can be indirectly implied, with the mockery buried under cleaned-up words. But, with or without the mockery, the persecution remains as an indictment against the godliness of the people that put it into place.

“And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yeah, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting you hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?
“Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God… and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” – Alma 5:53-55

Alma makes it very clear that he is speaking to a society, not each person as an individual. This is a collective sermon that targets inequality in the society. As above, the supposition of being better than another person can be masked by politeness and protocol. If I say I am the same as everyone else but then expect to be treated differently due to my status, wealth, profession, or some other irrational criteria, then I am quite likely a hypocrite. I should strongly note that differentiated treatment to overcome disability or poverty is justice, not discrimination. Preserving one’s power through denial of justice is discrimination, is persecution, is mockery of one’s own brother in the most ungodlike way possible – the building up of a kingdom rooted in cruelty, injustice, and the violence necessary to support such a thing.

The door is not yet closed on those who persecute – as long as we have thoughts, we can rethink them. We can repent and choose instead to treat one another as equals not only in our personal relations, but in how we frame the laws of our nations. It means we must think harder and produce solutions that may not seem intuitive, but if we wish to attain the pearl of great price, those efforts are part of the price we pay for the treasure of Eternal Life.

The Ancient Origins of Mategosan Banking

Mategosan archaeology indicates the earliest formal settlements began around the 9th Century BCE. A few fishing settlements of the Delmatae tribe, identified by their burial methods and a shrine to Vidasus, bear witness to the earliest permanent inhabitants of the Mategosan islands. Later, as a result of the Great Illyrian Revolt, the Romans sent in colonists from Latium to settle and pacify the islands as part of a larger move to incorporate the province of Illyricum.

Mategosa was seen as a strategic hold in the Adriatic on the main route for shipping Dalmatian gold back to Rome. Cassius Dio noted that Mategosa provided a watchful eye over the ships carrying the gold. In his typical cynicism, Cassius Dio also commented on how Mategosa also seemed to have an outstretched hand to collect any parts of those shipments that went astray.

There was no overt brigandage or piracy in these transactions: although the ancient records are sparse on these matters, what records we do have either hint or directly accuse the Mategosans of being part of a greater chain of financial arrangements, always with the implication that imperial treasuries were involved as partial beneficiaries of these diversions of gold, the Mategosan middle-men being the other party that answered the question, “cui bono?”

All of the Claudian emperors enjoyed the secrecy and creative accounting provided by their Mategosan citizens. The island itself, while ostensibly part of the province of Illyricum, had a special governor appointed to oversee the special administrative arrangements performed on the island. The nummularios (money-changers) of Mategosa would register the inbound shipments of gold by “reviewing” the cargo manifest of the ships. In reality, the Mategosans were making an identical copy of the manifest, bar a change on the amount of gold in the shipment. The doctored manifest would be returned to the ship after an appropriate amount of gold had been removed to true-up the figures.

The removed gold would then go on to the treasuries of both the Emperor and the nummularios of Mategosa. Over time, each of the family groups on Mategosa became involved in the gold traffic. The proceeds of their operations did not go to just one person, but were considered to be assets for each family as a whole. The Claudian period is where we see the development of the familial/clan social structure in Mategosa that persists to this day.

After the Claudians, there was a gap in imperial usage of the Mategosan connection. Dalmatian cargo was interrupted during the chaos of The Year of the Four Emperors and the Flavians did not renew the system favored by the Claudians. Trajan, however, revived the old gold route, along with the diversion on the docks of Mategosa harbor. Commodus neglected the arrangements and the lack of private finances is considered to be a contributing factor to the instability of his regime. Septimus Severus worked with the Mategosans, but is an exception in the regnal list for many years, as the Empire became more chaotic and the Crisis of the Third Century commenced.

The reign of Gallienus was a period of governmental stability in the 3rd Century, even if the frontiers of the Empire were fraying and regional governors were often rebelling. Gallienus visited Illyricum several times between 253 and 258 and stopped at Mategosa more than once: it is unclear if the islanders were able to convince the Emperor to take advantage of their services. Given that the economy collapsed during the later years of his reign, it is unlikely that he did. Or, if he did, he did not make effective use of such services.

What we do know is that the gold began arriving again at Mategosa during the 260s. From the transactional records we have, we can determine that once again the Mategosans were changing manifests, but they do not seem to have included the Emperor in their arrangements. In the turmoil of the next 20 years, the Emperors forgot completely about Mategosa. By the time of Julius Nepos in 474-480, the Dalmatian coast was accountable to the Emperor only because he lived there. After the fall of Julius Nepos, Mategosa fades from history with the rest of the Dalmatian coast. But the gold, hidden away in the underground cavern systems of Mategosa, never lost its luster. As trade and banking returned to the region following the establishment of the Byzantine theme of Dalmatia and the Kingdom of Croatia, Mategosa was ready to provide the secrecy and special arrangements that are often attached to that industry.

The Implication of “Skins”

Racism is any thought, law, action, custom, or practice that provides treatment or outcomes that are different based upon race. Nationalism is the same, but for culture. Sexism for gender, and so on. All of these can be gathered under the umbrella of “irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes.” And while it is very easy to say “I am not a racist” as a smokescreen that exempts one from deep self-examination, it is much harder to say “I am an antiracist” and then work the difficult work of removing one’s own prejudices – conscious and unconscious – that result in irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes. These treatments and outcomes are not only as a result of one’s own personal interactions, but also because of the public policies one supports or opposes, based on these lurking biases.

To say, “I am an antiracist” means that we are actively re-thinking our thoughts and changing our ways – in a word, repenting. We do not just ask for forgiveness, but we must make real and meaningful changes in coming to accept all people as equals. The word of God has in the past been used to justify irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes – but such usage is the word of God, perverted. When I read the scriptures, I read that God provides a path of salvation to all humanity. Male and female, black and white, bond and free, young and old, warm and cold, wet and dry – make up your opposite pair and God provides a path of salvation to the extremes and the folks in the middle. All of them.

To be an antiracist, therefore, is to accept the equality mandated by God and to unravel it from toxic ideas of people who created misleading and damnably incorrect ideas to rationalize their own unjust concentrations of wealth and power, relative to other groups. To be an antiracist is to accept that one’s own mind has been infected with any number of these ideas and that removing those ideas is going to be a lifelong process.

And that brings me to Chapter 4 of Alma in the Book of Mormon.

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them…” – Alma 4:6

Even with context, it’s a harsh assessment. While modern readers are frequently quick to assume that the skins in question are the human epidermis, it’s more likely that the author was referring to how the Lamanites “were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins”. Animal skins, in other words. And that this is in a discussion about how their allies the Amlicites marked themselves with red paint in their foreheads indicates that the markings are elective, not markings from birth.

Even so, this is a discrimination: the verses that follow talk about the incorrect traditions of the Lamanites and how those who intermarry with them joins with them in their curse. Those who leave the Lamanites to join with the Nephites are noted by their change in dress style, are numbered among the Nephites, share in their customs, and are otherwise indistinguishable from the Lamanites. So if this is not racism, it is still nationalism or tribalism, is it not?

The proscription on mingling with the “other” in this case is a religious one. The idea being that the children of such unions will have divergent guidance, at best, and will not be able to grow up with the proper knowledge and faith necessary for salvation. Given that the Nephites themselves were constantly dealing with rebellion, apostasy, and general unrighteousness, however, one cannot consider that being among the Nephites was a sufficient condition for living a good life, dedicated to God. The Nephites may not have dressed in dark animal pelts as the Lamanites did, but when they put on costly apparel, they generally embark upon the road to perdition.

Just as the Amlicites painted their foreheads red, just as the Lamanites wore the pelts of dark animals, the Nephites that chose to wear costly apparel marked themselves in their rebellion to God. So what is the solution for these problems? Is it Kurtz’ rage to “Exterminate the brutes”? While there are Nephites who believe that very thing, the righteous among the Nephites reject that solution.

When God provides a path to salvation for us all, it is not at the edge of a blade or the barrel of a gun. It is through kind invitation and patient teaching. The solution is not to curse the enemy, but to pray for them and to show them kindness and mercy. Here, therefore, is a rational discrimination. There are differences, yes, but they do not prevent a person from accepting God’s invitation to salvation. They may add interesting twists and turns in that path, but so it is with all of us and our personal journeys.

The rational discrimination is to not assume that they know everything that you know and that you do not know everything that they know. The rational discrimination is to await the learning opportunities for yourself as avidly as you do for them. Once the learning is underway, we are all prepared to be a “we” and not an “us and them”. And it is as a “we” that we approach God. An unconditional, loving, equal “we”.

That is not to say that the Nephites as a people were ready to drop their prejudices at this point in the narrative. There were two bodies of people in attendance at King Mosiah II’s farewell address and reform of the government. The Amlicites emerged as a rebellious faction from within the Nephites. Class divisions appear as the people choose to wear costly apparel – are any of these groups ready to see the Lamanites, the generationally-established “others” as anything but different?

I would say that the more righteous a person is, the easier it is to see beyond the differences defined by human thought and see the eternal equality that God sees. I would say that the more righteous a person is, the easier it is to ask for that equality before God to be made evident in law and society and church.

Prosperity Through Charity

The first chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon covers two rival approaches to prosperity: individualism and communalism. Those who follow God go with communalism – giving to those in need, without regard for race, gender, or whether or not the person in need is a fellow-believer. These are specified in the text, so the above are not inferences from context.

The wicked do not do as the righteous. They follow a path of individual, personal aggrandizement. They are called out on their “costly apparel” along with pride, persecuting, lying, thieving, robbing, whoredoms, and murdering.

As a group, it is the righteous who are collectively more prosperous. When we choose not to indulge ourselves in excesses, we have plenty of resources to support other people who are in need. When we do not insist “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours” – or variations on that – we can instead teach that what we have here is all God’s and we have no ownership, but stewardship. And, as stewards, we must follow our Lord’s instructions in handling those resources – and our Lord has told us to share freely one with another, that we all might prosper and live in peace.

What’s mine isn’t really mine, if I want to prosper. What’s God’s is for all of us to share equally and fairly. We cannot inherit His kingdom if we are not prepared to share it.

A Land of Liberty

“And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.” – Mosiah 29:32

With those words, King Mosiah began to dismantle the monarchy of his people and convert their rulership over to a system of judges, that his people be equals. While there were still social divisions as I noted previously, removing distinctions of wealth and nobility was a major step in the direction of become one with God, for one must first be one with other humans before being one with God – we don’t hop over each other on our eternal progression.

Now, the question arises, is this a land of liberty if not everyone enjoys rights and privileges alike? If there is nothing being done to change that situation, then no, this is not a land of liberty. If there are changes being made, but they are so slow or so small as to be of little impact relative to the remainder of injustices, then also no, this is not a land of liberty. But if the changes are such that we see a complete change for the better, where we as a people do not stand for having disproportionate impacts on any group that has been long oppressed, and we push together for changes so that laws are equal both in their writing and in their application, then and only then can we answer that, yes, we are a land of liberty.

If God does not yet walk amongst us, then we are not yet one with God. If we want to be one with God, we must be one with each other first. If we want to be one with each other, then we need to make changes in how there are rights and privileges that are not enjoyed alike among all the people.

Social Division in Mosiah 25

“And now all the people of Nephi were assembled together, and also all the people of Zarahemla, and they were gathered together in two bodies.” – Mosiah 25:4

This is a problem waiting to happen. Why could the people not be gathered together in one body? What social restrictions or divisions prevented the people from being one?

For those not familiar with the Book of Mormon, the following is a spoiler: there are going to be severe social rifts among the Nephites because they’re actually the Nephites and Zarahemlites, and not all Nephites. If the people cannot be as one, the risk is that the lines of social division become more well-defined and rigid over time, leading to clashes when a subservient group chooses not to “stay in its lane.”

God asks of us that we become as one. Therefore, God asks of us that we obliterate those conventions of humanity that keep us apart. God asks us that we erase the lines of social division, so that nobody has to stay in a lane to keep society running smoothly. There should be no statistical over- or under-representations based on race or class in any statistics. There should be no “wrong side of the tracks” or “bad part of town” in a truly Godlike society. The motto of the USA is “e pluribus unum”: “from many, one”. The more that are in the many, the stronger is that one.

A Cunning and a Wise People

In Mosiah 24, Mormon characterizes the Lamanites in a negative cultural light, but it’s a different light than before. Earlier references to Lamanites describe them negatively as mostly hunter-gatherers, unsettled and uncivilized. However, their urbanization seems to have proceeded independently of Nephite prejudice. In the later timeframe of the events in Mosiah, the Lamanites present a monarchial-feudal social structure and the ability to project force in ways more organized than simple raiding parties.

But the Lamanites still don’t catch a break. It is the Nephite dissenting group, the followers of Amulon, who provide administrative innovations for the Lamanites and who also teach them in the language of the Nephites. After that cultural exchange, the Lamanites are now described as “… a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren.”

There are two threads of denigration, one expressed and one implied. The expressed one is that the Lamanites are still a demonized “other” in the ways they delight in wickedness and plunder. The implied one is that the Amulonites had something significant to do with the Lamanites no longer running around in loincloths and getting some civilization.

That implication that the Lamanites need to be improved and that the improving involves them becoming more like the Nephites, even the wicked Nephites, is a dangerous idea. While it seems to open a door for equality, it typically results in a situation where the one group is never truly good enough for the other. The Lamanites, in this implication, can become better than they are, but never as good as the Nephites, when all is said and done.

In a more modern view – and we see something of this later in the Book of Mormon – it is better to say that we are all imperfect and that to better ourselves, we all draw closer to God. That path does not mean becoming more like some other culture here on earth. It means becoming closer to God by leaving behind the things of the world. While I may feel more comfortable around people who speak the same language as I do and who do things in ways similar to how I do them, that is not Heaven. Heaven is made up of a widely diverse group of people, none of whom I was told to copy and none of whom were told to copy me. All who are in Heaven are those who leave the world behind and follow after God.

I want to go back to the bit about wickedness and plunder, except among their own people: before we think such traits to be unique to the Lamanites at that point in time, or unique solely to peoples in either faraway lands or long-ago times, let us consider the experience of nations that faced down the wickedness and plunder of Portugal, Spain, France, England, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States of America. There are others that can be added to the list – these are the chief examples of nations that plundered other parts of the world for their own benefit.

While there is a strong temptation for an American to read the Book of Mormon and equate the Nephites with the USA, and everything right and good along with that, we have to remember certain things. One, the Nephites were a people that dealt with some massive problems of their own, stemming from major economic and social inequalities. The equation of “Nephite equals good guys” is entirely one of our own imagining. There are Nephites that we root for, but even those people have their flaws that need shedding before they make the final approach to God.

Next, the undesirable characteristics of governments described in the Book of Mormon are available to one and all. History does not care where its rhymes or repetitions occur. And when you look at the history of a nation built on the backs of slaves, that demanded an extension of the slave trade to recover the manpower losses of slaves that bolted for freedom in the American War of Independence, well, we are looking at the history of “… a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren.”

Plaza Turcha

In the citadel of Mategosa, there is a lovely cafe that sits atop a tunnel. While the tunnel is part of a recent traffic-control effort, the plaza has been there since the 15th Century. It is known as “Plaza Turcha” and it is where the Ottoman Empire arrived – and departed – from Mategosa.

As Sultan Mehmed II stormed through the Balkans after the fall of Constantinople, the citizens of Mategosa prepared for the day that the sultan’s shadow would fall across their island. The city council had no love for the Venetians: none would seek to find shelter behind Venetian galleys, as that meant financial entanglements entirely opposed to Mategosan interests.

Neither did the Mategosans seek aid under the Croatian flag. The seemingly unstoppable Turkish hosts would swallow up Croatia, it seemed, and no part of that nation would escape the onslaught from the East. Flying a Hapsburg banner was equally distasteful to the Mategosans. The only way to survive would be, as it so frequently is the case in Mategosan history, to go it alone.

Mategosa called up no soldiers for its defense: dying on the field of battle would be a noble, but futile gesture for an island as small as Mategosa. The might of Mategosa lay instead in its ability to call to service the infamous istražitelji, the crack financial investigators of the island. The istražitelji were known far and wide in banking circles – and feared wherever they were known.

The first move of the istražitelji was a distraction: it is now known today that a Mategosan agent was behind the incident that led to the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1463-1479. A cell of istražitelji agents in Athens identified an Albanian slave in the household of the local Turkish commander whose daily activities left him unsupervised near the gates of the city. After the agents provided the slave with 100,000 silver coins and instructions on how to get to the nearest Venetian fortress, the slave was only too happy to run for his freedom. With the Turks occupied in a war with Venice, the istražitelji would enjoy years of preparing their next defense.

Not to say that all istražitelji were engaged against the Ottomans: more than a few kept track of the 100,000 coins and followed them through the accounts of the Venetians. When the Venetians sued for peace with Mehmed II at their gates, it was a ledger provided to the Sultan’s entourage by the Mategosans that guided the negotiations on what sort of financial indemnity the Venetians could afford to pay. This monetary blow to Venice, scholars agree, kept the Venetians from ever again being able to assert themselves over Mategosa. Continued Mategosan interference in Venetian monetary matters is frequently cited as an underlying reason behind Venice always coming up short of funds whenever it considered a punitive expedition against Mategosa.

As Venice lay prostrate before the Ottomans, the istražitelji worked to convince the Ottoman councils of invading Italy. In 1480, Mehmed II sent an army to attack Otranto. With Turks so close to home, the Pope demanded a Crusade – just as the Mategosans had hoped for – and powers from outside the region dealt a blow to the Turks that halted their advance in the Adriatic.

After Mehmed II passed away, his successor Bayezid II initially wanted to continue his father’s empire-building in the Adriatic region. Prior to the launching of the battle-fleets, however, the Mategosans issued an invitation to the Sultan to be their guest for discussions about the status of the island.

We know that Bayezid II traveled to Mategosa – the Ottoman Empire Archives contain documentation of the clandestine visit. That the visit was kept so secret has mystified scholars until recently. With the discovery of the so-called “Gizli Odalar” (hidden rooms) section of the Ottoman Archives in 2018, researchers have uncovered the papers that must certainly have compelled Bayezid II to quietly arrive at Mategosa. The papers were financial records implying that Bayezid II had been a victim of embezzlement – and only the wily istražitelji could provide recovery of the funds and apprehension of the thieves.

And so, on 27 October 1481, Bayezid II and his closest advisors met with Mategosan financial experts on the Plaza Turcha. There, the masters of the istražitelji guild laid out their case against secret supporters of the Ottoman pretender Cem, offering up incredible details regarding their financial transactions and stores of wealth.

Impressed with the fiscal discretion with which the istražitelji conducted themselves, Bayezid II agreed to a secret treaty, a copy of which was found in the Gizli Odalar. In the treaty, Bayezid II pledged to leave Mategosa unmolested in exchange for the istražitelji‘s continued watchfulness over the imperial treasury. It was an agreement honored in perpetuity by the Ottomans for centuries – and the maintenance of the istražitelji effort a constant source of clandestine wealth for the Isle of Mategosa.

And so, the Plaza Turcha is a special spot in the hearts of all true sons and daughters of Mategosa, as it is where more than freedom was secured for Mategosa – security and safety were bought there, as well. When the sottocollina road improvements were proposed in the late 1950s, it looked for a moment that Plaza Turcha would have to be sacrificed in the name of better traffic flow. But, through the patriotic genius of the civil engineers of Mategosa, innovative tunneling techniques allowed the plaza to be preserved and the traffic to flow smoothly underneath the place where the Sultan and the istražitelji guild-masters struck their bargain.

The Equality of the Righteous

“… thus saith the Lord: “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another.” – Mosiah 23:7

The path forward for those following God with all their heart is simple: do not think that one person is better than another; do not think that one people is better than another. If you say something that involves another person or people having a different overall value than another, then you are not following God with that statement. If you believe that there are differences in the races or that certain people are just naturally better or worse than others, then you are not following God with that belief.

A righteous nation does not permit differences in classes, no matter what the classes may be based upon. Not wealth, not race, not ancestry, not gender, not condition of prior servitude, not condition of prior servitude of one’s ancestors – *no* reason is allowed to permit differences of classes to exist in the righteous nation.

By association, it is not a righteous people that accepts, condones, or supports a class structure of people. It is not enough to say that one is opposed to differences in society based upon wealth, race, or other differentiating factor. One must also be opposed in heart, mind, and, above all, action to any different treatments in society when those are made plain.

As a people or nation makes progress towards full equality under the law, that people or nation approaches God in righteousness and in peace. As a people or nation entrenches inequalities under the law, that people or nation ripens for destruction.