African Elephants

It was in the dark of the night in an isolated village of Africa over a century ago. Village families had just completed a strenuous day of weeding the garden that would eventually feed the village for months to come. So on this one fateful night everyone had been fed, families snuggled into bed and off to sleep in a cozy, but frail grass hut. But then life changed.

One faithful husband and farmer was awakened in the middle of the night by a crunch and a crash. The sound was coming from the garden that he had worked that day. He knew exactly what was now happening, for it had happened almost every year since he could remember as a small boy. All the fathers and farmers of the village also knew what the crunch and crash meant. It meant that all the hard labor that they had put into their crops for over two to three months was now being both destroyed and stolen. The crunch and crash they heard was the monstrous feet of invading elephants going through their gardens, smashing the crops into the ground, while they dined on the succulent produce of the garden.

The gardens of every farmer in the village lost almost everything that fateful night to some merciless elephants who were trampling and feeding on their way from one village to another. This had been going on for centuries. There was no end in sight, and thus the villagers of Africa simply made the best of it, and struggled on. One thing can definitely be said about African villagers in those days, they were resilient and persistent.

I just finished reading for the second time J. A. Hunter’s book, Hunter, and W. D. M. Bell’s three volumes on his adventures as a “white hunter” in Africa. These were two of the most famous African hunters because they hunted in a different Africa than what exists today. In fact, their Africa will never exist again for there are now too many humans in Africa. Both Hunter and Bell were famous “white” hunters in Africa in the early part of the 1900s. At that time, these, and other African hunters like them, supplied most of the ivory for the world.

In the preceding books, both Hunter and Bell together recorded that they had killed thousands of elephants during their adventurous days of African hunting. In their business of ivory, they were only after the ivory that was shipped off to Europe. In view of the present status of the population of elephants in Africa, you might wonder why they killed so many elephants only for the ivory. Back then, ivory was big business. But there was a serendipity that came with their ivory business. Their hunting was good news for the villagers in Africa at the time who had been suffering from the marauding elephants for years.

When the white hunters entered the scene of the African community the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s, elephants often rampaged from one village garden to another, destroying one crop after another, year after year. There was no mutual coexistence between elephants and humans. So when the ivory hunters showed up, things changed.

When the white hunters went on one of their one to two year safaris for ivory, it was all good news for African villagers. Once an ivory hunter came to a particular village with his safari of up to one hundred people, wives and children included, they set up camp. All they had to do then was wait.

Word went out to all the surrounding villages that an ivory hunter was in town. Subsequently, from distant villages as far as twenty to thirty miles around came messengers from villages with news of elephants that had raided village gardens. The ivory hunter, with his tracker, gun bearer, and porters would then follow the messengers to the last location of the marauding beasts. In contrast to the village hunters who had only flimsy spears, the ivory hunter had big guns that would bring down with one shot the thieving monsters who had no concern for the local village people. The elephants wanted that for which they had not labored, and thus were willing to steal it for themselves. They simply stole and consumed, leaving the poor villagers with smashed gardens, and destitute of food.

But when the big guns of the ivory hunter arrived, the day was saved. Bell recorded in his elephant hunting adventures that he brought down in one particular day nineteen bull elephants. All he wanted was the ivory tusks. But the villagers swarmed over the carcasses of the now dead thieving elephants, and stripped them to the bone of all flesh. It was a joyous occasion when villages from miles around the killing zone heard the shots of the ivory hunter’s big guns. Everyone rushed to the scene in order to feast on the fresh meat of the now dead marauding elephants.

King Solomon was one of those kings of Israel who had great integrity with all his power. After reigning over all the territory of Israel from the great River Euphrates in the north, to Beersheba and the River Egypt in the south, Solomon deemed it time to build the house of God in Jerusalem (1 Kg 5 – 8). He set out to build the temple because God had given a concession to King David to do so. But King Solomon needed wood for the building of the temple, and the wood was in another country, growing in the “garden” of another king, King Hiram of Tyre.

Solomon then sent a message to King Hiram of Tyre and informed him that he needed some of the trees of Lebanon to build the house of God in Jerusalem (1 Kg 5:1-12). Hiram essentially responded, “We have trees. How many do you want?”

These were honorable rulers over two great nations in those days. So Solomon said to Hiram, “I will pay you wages for your servants” to cut down your trees and sell them to me (1 Kg 5:6). “Then Hiram gave Solomon cedar and cypress logs according to all his desire” (1 Kg 5:10). Solomon then paid for the wood (1 Kg 5:11).

With his great power, Solomon could have invaded Tyre, stolen the trees of Hiram out of his “garden,” “nationalized” them, and then taken them to Jerusalem. But these were kings of nations who had great integrity. They conducted their rule with national moral principles. And thus, they coexisted with one another with honesty and in peace. They did not invade one another’s gardens and take what they wanted. They did not barge into one another’s nations like hungry elephants and ravage the livelihoods of the people. (It seems that we now live in a world today wherein there is little honor among some dictators.)

The two preceding situations seem to reveal that we are living in an “elephant” age in the behavior of some nations. Here is an example. Good investigative reporting is interesting to read and watch. This is especially true in these days when the air waves are filled with so many lies and fake news stories. Nevertheless, there are still out there some very good investigative reporters doing their job in the free world. (We must never forget that democracies cannot exist without a free press.)

We were recently watching and listening to an investigative report that was aired on BBC international TV out of London. One BBC investigative reporter was presenting the results of his most recent research in working among the wheat farmers of eastern Ukraine. In order to do this investigative report, he stationed himself in eastern Ukraine in what is now under Russian control—the reporter probably spoke Russian fluently. He then went to work on a story of theft that was being rumored, but few believed. It was the theft of wheat from Ukrainian farmers.

The report was aired more than once on BBC TV because many people would not believe that such a deplorable deed was being done by one nation against another. For security reasons, the farmer being interviewed was an actor in the shadows with a disguised voice in order to conceal the farmer’s true identity. (More on this later.)

What the BBC reporter had done was to go to the empty wheat granaries where a farmer had stored his wheat from the recent harvest. During the interview, the farmer revealed that one day Russian trucks showed up at his farm and emptied out all his wheat granaries, and also, the granaries of neighboring farmers. The wheat was loaded on Russian trucks, and then, the trucks went on their way, where to, no one knew.

But this was a smart investigative reporter. One may not know what a GPS tracker is, but it is a small electronic device about the size of a man’s hand that communicates with satellites that circle the earth, receiving and sending out the exact location of the tracker. (For pilots, this is the same device as an ELT—Emergency Locator Transmitter—in an airplane.) Once turned on, the GPS tracker will stay in constant contact with the satellites, and then relay its exact location to a receiver on the ground almost anywhere in the world.

So the BBC reporter simply went to another farm where Russian trucks were emptying out wheat granaries. He then threw a GPS tracker into one of the loads of stolen wheat in a Russian truck. The truck went on its way, while the GPS tracker, unknowingly to the truck driver, continually sent to a satellite the exact location of that truck of wheat on its entire journey, and to its final destination.

During the BBC TV interview of this farmer in the eastern region of Ukraine, the reporter pictured the exact route of the truck on our TV screen as it left an eastern Ukraine farm with stolen wheat, out of Russian controlled Ukrainian territory, through Crimea and then on into northern Russia where the wheat was off-loaded into Russian wheat granaries. It was then claimed to be “nationalized” wheat of Russia, and sold to unsuspecting buyers around the world.

We simply cannot help but think of those herds of marauding elephants invading the gardens of innocent villagers in Africa a century ago who would have no harvest for another year. But now the table has turned. Because many African countries buy their wheat for making bread from Russia, some in Africa are now possibly eating sandwiches made from stolen Ukrainian wheat. (There is an awesome irony somewhere in this story.)

The Ukrainian farmer who was interviewed by the BBC reporter made the statement,

“The people who stole our wheat, also stole or destroyed our harvesting equipment. But I wonder if countries that are now buying ‘Russian wheat’ realize that they are actually eating sandwiches made from stolen [Ukrainian] wheat?”

An added irony to the story is that two weeks before the BBC reporter aired his report on international television, two representatives of the African Union went to meet with Putin in Russia in order to negotiate the continued sending of “Russian” wheat to Africa. Their trip was successful, and thus, the “nationalized” Russian wheat is subsequently being sent to many African countries, some receiving up to fifty percent of their supply of wheat from Russia.

As long as the elephants steal from the garden of some other neighbor, can we now conclude that we can eat the stolen crops without violating any moral principles? Maybe the world is closer to the judgment of Genesis 6:5 than we think.

(BREAKING NEWS: Of the estimated 800 thousand tons of Ukrainian wheat that was stolen from Ukrainian farms, the nation of Turkey recently seized a transport ship in the Black Sea loaded with “Russian Wheat” that was headed for sale to some nation in the southern hemisphere. This saga will continue.)

This might be the time to read again the biblical account of the wicked actions of a king in reference to stealing someone’s garden and crops (See 1 Kg 21 — Naboth’s vineyard.)

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