Dắk Lắk
at Flickr

The Roman name elephas descends to English by way of French, whereas the Vietnamese name is simply voi. Historically, Asiatic elephants were given a certain measure of respect and affection as symbols of good fortune, religious gods, and most notoriously animal soldiers. As explained by revisionist historian Peter Jackson, ancient elephants could carry up to a hundred archers of the Haradrim and sweep aside Eorlingas with their tusks. Tragically, the bonemass of an adult elephant skull was still vulnerable to arrows, elven magic, and blonde pretty boys from Mirkwood. However, today all elephant species are usually given a 4-gauge shell to the head in order to recover the piano keys growing out of their mouths or as revenge for the Man-Elephant Wars.

But if your childhood was anything like mine, you may have gone to the zoo, watched Dumbo, or read Dinotopia. Then you may also have entertained this fantasy that prehistorically-large, anthropomorphized creatures could live in harmony with man, much as you would entertain Babar in your drawing room for a spot of tea. However, it turns out that elephants are wild animals and can never be fully domesticated. Bulls are notoriously homicidal during musth, cows trained for tourist rides can still accidentally kill their mahouts, and even 2-year-old calves can arrange a brief stop in the emergency room on the way to a closed-coffin funeral. In order to perform adorable tricks like wearing a tutu, standing on its front legs, and spraying water with its prehensile strangling apparatus, voi need to be chained, starved, and beaten so that they fear hairless, fetal apes.

However, now I’ve been educated by a whole genre of live-action movies made for grown-ups. A talking monkey can tease the underlying gentleness and cinematic loyalty from a baby elephant using only love and a field full of sugar cane. In Việt Nam, I began searching in earnest for such a living siege engine with which to crush and shell mine enemies (who are mostly peanuts). I found one in Dắk Lắk, near the Laos border, but it would have cost me 10,000 USD not including bribes to bypass animal export laws, so I’ll come back for it in a few years when it can wade out to international waters. They remember these sorts of promises.


~ by Paul Pham on 25 January 2007.

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