Once upon a time, there was a large valley among the mountains in which lived several troops of baboons.
Now, this valley was large and the topography was varied. Some parts of it had abundant water and trees laden with fruit, while others were drier and had nice juicy locusts and beetle grubs, and yet others, high on the slopes overlooking the valley, had herbs growing which could cure most illnesses.
There was also a certain kind of nut which grew in the valley. These nuts weren’t eaten by the baboons most of the time, because they were hard-shelled, difficult to break, and not really very tasty at all. But they kept excellently, and so the baboons stockpiled them for times when the food supply ran low. These nuts grew more in some parts of the valley than in others, and they grew in greatest profusion in those parts of the valley which were most arid, desolate, and isolated – in fact, those that had hardly anything else at all.
“We have nothing else but these nuts,” the troops of baboons which lived in those areas said. “We have no fruit, or beetle grubs, or even locusts here, which keep the other troops so well. But we have the nuts, and they do not.”
“We should trade with the others for their fruit and beetle grubs and locusts,” the baboons then said to each other. “That way, we can have the best of what the others have, and they can have the nuts that can keep them alive during times of trouble.”
And so the baboon troops began trading with each other, and soon the nuts became the currency of exchange.
Now it so happened that among the baboon troops there was one which, while not the largest, was peculiarly vicious and aggressive. This particular troop, in fact, had occupied a prime part of the valley by attacking and driving away the more peaceable troops that originally occupied the spot; and though it had plenty of water and fruit, locusts and beetle larvae, the troop was not satisfied.
“We must take as much of the fruit and water, locusts and larvae, as we can from the other troops in the valley,” the elders of the troop declared. “Our baboons deserve nothing less!”
“We are the greatest troop of all,” the troop said. “Clearly the Great Baboon favoured us above all others, and we are exalted in His eyes.”
“But,” some lesser baboons ventured, “we have hardly any nuts growing here, so we have nothing to trade with.”
“That does not matter,” the elders declared confidently. “We have stones aplenty in our territory. We will force the other troops to accept these stones in lieu of nuts.”
“But what if the other troops do not agree to accept stones instead of nuts?” the lesser baboons demanded.
“Why, we’ll promise to exchange them for nuts at some time in the future,” the elders said. “And they can wait forever and a day for the future to come, as far as we’re concerned.”
“And if they should refuse to accept the promise?” the lesser baboons countered.
“Are we not the strongest, meanest, most vicious troop in the valley?” the elder baboons snapped. “Who dares stand against us? Are you un-Troopian, and therefore you oppose what is best for our troop? Do you oppose the will of the Great Baboon?” And they signalled, so that cohorts of the most aggressive and savage of the baboons closed in around the dissenters. “Well?”
Seeing no alternative but to acquiesce, the lesser baboons gave in, except for a few holdouts, who were accordingly torn to pieces. And the Troop of the Great Baboon went out to the others, and forced them to accept stones in lieu of all their fruits, and larvae, and locusts. Whenever any troop refused, or claimed that they did not have enough for their own use to be able to spare any for themselves, the Troop of the Great Baboon invaded their territory, massacred them, and took everything that it wanted, scattering a few stones as payment. And the other troops shivered in fear when they saw all this, and most of them gave in meekly.
One year it so happened that there was a drought on the land, and the supply of food was growing short. The Troop of the Great Baboon had no nuts growing in their own territory. Moreover, having long since decided that they could go and take by force whatever they could not exchange for stones, they had bothered to save no food at all. And they looked around them and realised that they would have to acquire food from the other troops, if they were not to cut down on the amount they had grown used to consuming.
“It is clearly not intended by the Great Baboon that we should starve,” the elders said. “Therefore it is not just our right but our duty to take from other lesser troops what we need.”
But the other troops themselves had little left over, and they refused to accept payment in the form of stones; so the Troop of the Great Baboon attacked their lands, expecting that they would give up like always before. But the lesser baboons knew that it was a question of their very survival, so they fought like they had never fought before. And the Troop of the Great Baboon was forced to spend more and more blood on fighting, and got nothing at all in return.
Now among the Troop of the Great Baboon there were two cliques, which distinguished themselves from each other by staining their muzzles with the juice of berries; one group stained itself blue, and the other red. Both these cliques squabbled much among themselves, loudly and angrily, as a matter of course, and each claimed to have the special favour and divine sanction of the Great Baboon himself.
Every few years these troops would gather to select from among themselves an Elder of Elders, who would rule over them. Each clique would choose one from among themselves, and all the baboons would throw sticks into a circle, which would then be counted. The clique which managed to throw more sticks into the centre of the circle would get to have its chosen baboon become the Elder of Elders. And then they would go right back to living, and squabbling, as usual, until next time.
Now this time the food situation, owing to the failed battles, was getting serious, so the two cliques began screaming even louder than usual to lay their claims to the position of Elder of Elders.
“If I win,” the candidate from the Blue clique, who was already one of the troop’s most vicious enforcers, declared, “I will send even more baboons to attack even more troops – and all the food they capture, I’ll make sure to distribute among the troop members. Well, of course,” she added hastily, “some will get more than others, but that’s how the world is.”
“I’ll end all the wars,” the other candidate, from the Red clique, declared, “and bring the baboons home. Of course, we’ll have less food that way, so everyone will have to eat a little less. Of course,” he added as hastily, “ that doesn’t apply to the elders, who need all the food they can get to have the energy to lead our Troop.”
“He’s right,” the Red clique yelled. “No, she’s right!” shrieked the Blue clique.
And the baboons gathered to select the Elder of Elders at the circle. They gathered, and as the time of the casting of the sticks grew nearer they began squabbling more and more, and then they began to bite and scratch and wrestle each other.
“Which of them has won?” they demanded, after throwing their sticks into the circle at last. “Ours, who is the Anointed of the Great Baboon...or theirs, who isn’t?”
The baboons whose task it was to count the sticks picked them up, and looked at them, silent.
“Well?” the cliques demanded. “Which is it?”
The baboons just stared at the gathered cliques. “What difference does it make?” one asked at last.
And the gathered baboons looked at each other, at the juice which had rubbed off and mingled during their fighting, so that red and blue were mixed and matched to a uniform purple. They looked at each other, and then at the two candidates.
And already it was impossible to say which was which.