"The Dao of Duiker" by Sondu, written August 4, 2008

“That thing is a WHAT?”

“Eww, that’s ugly! What is it, some sort of retarded cow?”

“I’ve never even heard of those things before. Why are you so crazy over them?”

These, as you can probably imagine, are just a few of the interesting questions and comments I occasionally get over what I shall now refer to as “the duiker thing”. I have a hard time answering the popular drunken party question of, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” The true answer to that is that if I could actually CHOOSE- from the perspective of my human preferences- what type of animal I was, I’d probably say horse or wolf or black panther. But in truth those are not my REAL inner beasts, and thus it wouldn’t feel “right” to say any of those. So I usually, sheepishly say something along the lines of, “Well, I’d be a puma. Or some type of antelope. Or maybe a mix of both.” The puma they get. The antelope not so much so, especially if they actually ask for specifics, in which case I admit to said antelope being a small forest animal vaguely resembling a pig that virtually no one has ever heard of. So they either laugh or ask questions, and become downright flabbergasted when they see photos of this particular creature.

I could probably go on about the issues surrounding therianthropy and wishful thinking concerning the prevalence of big bad animals in the community, but that isn’t what this essay/musing/brain fart is about. Rather, I hope it serves as a way to give insight to people curious/incredulous about why I identify with the yellow-backed duiker, whether they are also animal people or not. Also, it is a way for me to express how I experience the duiker and how it fits into my tri-pronged identity.

For me, each of my three identities-human, feline (puma), and bovine (duiker)- contribute a different set of feelings experiences, and most importantly, worldviews (there’s potentially a third animal in there- which I’m almost 100% certain is another antelope- but I’m still in the beginning stages of thinking about the likelihood of that). I’m a contherian, so instead of shifting into each one separately I feel all these parts of me at the same time- though each one takes prevalence over the others at various times so that I notice the “dominant” one more at any given time.

One major difference between the three is the sociality of each and how it affects my everyday life. As a human- which I would argue is the closest thing to a “primary” that I have, seeing as I AM a human being in body and intellect- I am a social, easygoing, amiable primate. As a cougar, I am an individual who is relatively ambivalent to social relations. I could go on about these, but I will save those (at least puma) for another piece of writing.

Duiker, on the other hand, is unique in its social worldview. Usually when people think “antelope” they picture gazelle or topi or some other species that lives in large herds, out in the open. Those animals are prevalent because of these qualities and thus limit the definition and view most people have of antelope. Duiker is not these animals, and thus Duiker by definition has no notoriety. They live deep in the African jungle (most, anyway- the common duiker does not, but ironically it is not of the same family as other duikers), and they travel through their territory primarily by themselves, even the mated ones. I would not describe a duiker as a “herd animal”. Nor would I describe myself as such, even though I have many friends and acquaintances whom I do many fun things with. Even in those groups I seem to manage some manner of individuality, even though I am not necessarily TRYING to. To many people this behavior is either a sign of trying to be edgy or of someone who is uncomfortable or not trusting, but to me it’s a state of being.

I think that reflects itself in how I view my future. The absolute ideal relationship for me would be one of a loose liaison between people. We’d share a general territory (in our case a house or large apartment) with smaller individual territories within (rooms). We’d do our own thing, come together physically on occasion to reinforce the bond, take turns protecting the territory, but we’d be individuals through and through. None of this “ becoming one entity” stuff most people go for in their romantic endeavors. This is the backbone of the Duiker way of living. Duikers are solitary social animals.

I feel like Duiker’s inherent nature is to be inconspicuous. Even in fear and danger they instinctively avoid drawing attention to themselves. Just as a contrasting view, an antelope living with the herd in the open will flee in any way it can, peace be damned. It’s impossible to be oblivious to a wildebeest herd on the move. They run , they moo, they kick up dust. All the animals in the savannah know exactly what’s going on. That’s not the Duiker Way, nor is it the way of many other forest ungulates. The strategy of a duiker when faced with immanent danger is to hide, and to hide right under the enemy’s nose (“duiker“ is Afrikaans for “diver“). It’s ironic that my individual need to blend in makes people notice me, but that is probably due to the human need to recognize that which isn’t part of a group. We see the innate need of some to be separate as a form of rebellion even when it isn’t.

One of the most important things that makes Duiker what he is is how he relates to his environment. Most other antelope- as well as pumas- live mostly in the open, in some cases above the world in the mountains. Not duikers. They thrive in the crowded, humid, thick jungle, with tall trees and thick undergrowth and noisy birds and monkeys dropping fruit to them below. I obviously don’t live in the jungle- and I doubt that if I did I would survive as a North American-born, European-descended human. However, I thrive in the city which is a figurative jungle in itself. Part of this is distinctly, mundanely human: I like being close to a major international cultural center, to be able to socialize with all manner of people whom I wouldn’t be able to get to know in the suburban Southeastern US. But another side of it is deeper, more primal. The buildings remind me of hulking trees, the landmarks like waterfalls and boulders and other ancient landmarks, the alleyways and benches its covering and shelters, the people are animal denizens. It’s like a jungle to me. The duiker feels at home in this controlled chaos, by himself with the world around him to shield him. He gets lost in it, and that suits him fine. This is how I feel about the city, beyond the aesthetic aspects that I enjoy as a person.

Then there is the duiker body itself. Unlike puma, which is confident enough in his surefootedness that he can climb the highest boulder without complaint, the duiker likes to keep his feet squarely on the ground, thank you very much. Occasionally he’ll climb a small dirt mound or relatively high point in the jungle in order to keep an eye on his territory, but overall he’s content to be on the forest floor, near his shelter of bushes and undergrowth. After all, he is the epitome of Inconspicuousness; who needs flight or even catlike reflexes? He is comfortable seeing things squarely at eye level.

When duiker is feeling lightfooted- or feeling endangered- is the closest he comes to flying. Duikers are noted for their ability to spring like a shot through the undergrowth of their habitats when the need comes along, but they do it silently and efficiently. When you’re a duiker, the point is to get away in such a manner that your enemy can’t see you- you’re gone before it even registers to them. This ties in to the feeling of being inconspicuous that is so important to duikers as well as myself.

In terms of physicality, Duiker is unique. He’s got an arched back; small, backward-facing horns; giant preorbital glands below his eyes; and small hooves. All of these are physical aspects of the duiker that I relate to in some manner. When I’m listening to music- one of the things that helps me feel more in tune with my inner beast-, I often feel myself leaning forward, my back arched and rocking back and forth in tune with the music. In my mind’s eye I see myself running on hooves, digging in to the ground (this is more like another antelope than a duiker, but since I’m still exploring that aspect of my identity, and because it often occurs when I’m feeling duiker physically, I thought I’d mention it here). When I first began considering the possibility of an antelope as part of my identity I sought out videos and documentaries of various species, and one of the things that absolutely clicked were the preorbital glands that many had. They just felt so _right_ to me. And the nose- it felt more correct than that of a puma’s ever did, and even more than my own human schnoz.

These are just some aspects of Duiker that resonate with me. This writing is a work in progress, but hopefully just by reading it- no matter how rough around the edges it is in its current state- one can get an understanding of both these weird, wonderful little creatures, as well as myself.