The Soul Of The White Ant – Eugene Marais

The Soul Of The White Ant   –  Eugene Marais

 

First published January 1, 1925

 

His book “Die Siel van die Mier” (the “Soul of the White Ant”) was plagiarized by Nobel laureate Maurice Maeterlinck, who published “The Life of the White Ant” in 1926, falsely claiming many of Marais’ revolutionary ideas as his own.

 

 

Eugène N. Marais

 

 

Born in Pretoria, South Africa

January 09, 1871
Died March 29, 1936

  

Still the queen goes on growing. Here in her first palace she has not attained one-third of
her eventual size. At last she very nearly fills all the available space in the cell. There is
barely room for the tiny workers to carry the eggs away across the insensate bulk. A terrible
tragedy appears to be imminent – it reminds us of the question: what will happen if an
irresistible force meets an immovable mass?

The human observer is helpless at the threat of this terrible fate. In spite of all his knowledge
and intelligence he is unable to help in any way. But actually termites have never worried
about it at all. They had a solution ready – a very simple one. Just before her majesty
finally outgrows her cell they build a second one, half as big again as the first. It is parallel
and adjacent to the first, just as hard and with just such a narrow door. The queen is then
removed and placed in the second cell where there is space for her to grow for perhaps
another year. So she gets transposed from cell to cell until there have been about six changes
with the queen in the last and biggest. The chamber doors are always equally small –
much too small for the queen to come or go by.

We must clearly establish another fact which makes the whole matter even more
complicated. One could easily prove by measurement that the queen’s subjects could
not possibly move her. The lifting power of one termite can be estimated fairly closely, and
the area of the queen’s body available for workers to grasp during lifting can be
measured. During the later stages it would need thousands more termites to lift her than
there is available grasping space for the body.

We present to you the following facts:

1 The queen is incapable of movement.
2 The doors of the cell are too small for her to come or go by.
3 The insects cannot lift her.
4 Yet she vanishes from one cell to appear in another.

The only explanation that seems feasible is that there are several queens and that it is not the

same one each time. If the first gets too big for her cell, she is killed and eaten and then the
workers carry a potential queen into the second cell where she develops into a queen. The only
intelligent explanation, perhaps, and very simple, now we have thought of it.
The only pity is that it is not true. We have been deceived by the analogy of the bees,
which make queens, kill, and move them. It is quite an easy matter to mark the termite queen
and so prove that it is the same queen which gets moved. I have tested many theories
brought forward by friends who have studied entomology, but have never found one which
coincided with all the facts. Perhaps one day a future Fabre will discover the truth.

3
LANGUAGE IN THE INSECT WORLD

I HAVE told you how, shortly after she discards her wings, the flying queen sends a
signal into the air, which is always answered by the appearance of a male flying through the
air. What exactly the signal was I did not make clear, but left it for some later opportunity. I
want to talk about it now. But I am afraid there will be a long preface before I begin – perhaps
the preface may take even this whole chapter.

The inquisitive reader need not be disappointed, however, for I am sure this preface
will prove interesting, too. In order to under stand the language of animals, one must first of

all learn its A B C, but of far more importance are the things you must unlearn. We will
therefore begin at the very beginning.

An individual member of any animal race which wishes to communicate with another at a
distance can use one of three things; colour, scent or sound. And at this point you must
begin unlearning. If you think of colour and scent and sound in terms of the impression
which these make on a human being, then you will be lost before you begin your journey.
Listen. There is one kind of termite which constantly signals by means of sounds. If ever

 

Marais (‘mah-REH’, silent s) was the thirteenth and last child of his parents, Jan Christiaan Nielen Marais and Catharina. He attended school in Pretoria, Boshof and Paarl and much of his early education was in English, as were his earliest poems.

After leaving school he worked as a legal clerk and later as a journalist before becoming owner (at the age of twenty) of a newspaper called Land en Volk. He involved himself deeply in local politics.

He began taking opiates at an early age and graduated to morphine (then considered to be non-habitforming and a safer drug) very soon thereafter. He became addicted: An addiction that ruled his affairs and actions to a greater or lesser extent throughout his life. When asked for the reasons for taking drugs, he variously pleaded ill health, insomnia and, later, the untimely death of his wife. Much later, he blamed accidental addiction while ill with malaria in Mozambique.

He married Aletta Beyers but she died from puerperal fever a year later, eight days after the birth of their son, Marais’ only child.

In 1897 – still in his mid-twenties – he went to London, initially to read medicine. However, under pressure from his friends, he entered the Inner Temple to study law and qualified as an advocate.

When the Boer War broke out in 1899, he was put on parole as an enemy alien in London. During the latter part of the war he joined a German expedition that sought to ship ammunition and medicines to the Boer Commandos via Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). However, he was struck down by malaria and before the supplies could be delivered to the Boers the war ended.

From 1905 he studied nature in the Waterberg (Water mountain) and wrote in Afrikaans about the animals he observed. His studies of termites led him to the conclusion that the colony should be considered as a single organism. Although Marais could not have known it, he was anticipating some of the ideas of Richard Dawkins. In the Waterberg Marais also studied the black mamba, spitting cobra and puff adder as well as observing baboon troops at length. He was the father of the scientific study of the behaviour of primates.

His book “Die Siel van die Mier” (the “Soul of the White Ant”) was plagiarized by Nobel laureate Maurice Maeterlinck, who published “The Life of the White Ant” in 1926, falsely claiming many of Marais’ revolutionary ideas as his own.

Marais contemplated legal action against Maeterlinck but gave up the idea in the face of the costs and logistics involved. Marais had by now for some time been a morphine addict and suffered from melancholy, insomnia, depression and feelings of isolation.

In 1936, deprived of morphine for some days, he finally borrowed a shotgun (on the pretext of killing a snake) and shot himself in the chest. The wound was not fatal and Marais therefore placed the end of the weapon in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Marais is amongst the greatest of the Afrikaans poets and remains one of the most popular, although his output was not large. Along with J.H.H. de Waal and G.S. Preller, he was a leading light in the Second Afrikaans (language) Movement in the period immediately after the Second Boer War, which ended in 1902. Some of his finest poems deal with the wonders of life and nature but he also wrote about inexorable Death. Although an Afrikaner patriot, Marais was sympathetic to the cultural values of the black tribal peoples of the Transvaal; this is seen in poems such as “Die Dans van die Reën” (The dance of the rain).

 

This book by Eugene Marais is a passionate, insightful account into the world of termites. It is a meticulously researched expose of their complex, highly structured community life.

Originally translated into English in 1937, the quality of research remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published. This illuminating account will not only appeal to those with a scientific interest in termites, but will similarly enthrall readers who are new to their captivating world. An exceptional feature of his detailed research is the extraordinary psychological life of the termite.

While the studies are based in South Africa, the extensive research also includes the termites of Magnetic Island, Australia. You will be taken on an exciting journey into the amazing life of termites, as their astonishing world of hierarchy and roles within their community is revealed in captivating detail.

His years of unceasing work on the veld led Eugène Marais to formulate his theory that the termite nest is similar in every respect to the organism of an animal. He observed that the workers and soldiers resemble red and white blood cells, while the fungus gardens are the digestive organ. The queen functions as the brain, controlling the collective mind, and the sexual flight of the kings and queens is similar in every aspect to the escape of spermatozoa and ova.

Marais was also the author of The Soul of the Ape. It was always his intention that his two bodies of work, on termites and apes, were companion pieces in the search for an understanding of the psyche that would span the gulf between the insect and primate worlds. The point of Marais’ work was, always, the mystery of consciousness itself, on which grounds it is as relevant as ever.

“He offers a vision of nature as a whole, whose parts obey different time-laws, move in affinities and linkages we could learn to see: parts making wholes on their own level, but seen by our divisive brains as a multitude of individualities, a flock of birds, a species of plant or beast. We are just at the start of an understanding of the heavens as a web of interlocking clocks, all differently set: an understanding that is not intellectual, but woven into experience. Marais brings this thought down into the plain, the hedgerow, the garden.”
– Doris Lessing in The New Statesman

Reviews

“I have never read a book written in such a unique style. It is as though Eugene Marais breathes life into the words, animating the lives and struggles of the white ants in such a way that they almost seem human.”

“As a safari Guide in the Okavango Botswana for many years, I used this book as a basis for presenting a fascination for the smaller creatures of the African bush, my home for my entire life and which I was privileged to share with many clients from different countries. Termite mounds are really interesting and Eugene Marais compared the infrastructure of a termitary to that of the human body. Writing from the heart, this scientific author instills a wonder in the reader, of the incredible intracacies of nature, in a light-hearted, easily readable manner.”

“Brilliant and thought provoking material.”

 

Contents

  1. The Beginning of a Termitary
  2. Unsolved Secrets
  3. Language in the Insect World
  4. What is the Psyche?
  5. Luminosity in the Animal Kingdom
  6. The Composite Animal
  7. Somatic Death
  8. The Development of the Composite Animal
  9. The Birth of the Termite Community
  10. Pain and Travail in Nature
  11. Uninherited Instincts
  12. The Mysterious Power which Governs
  13. The Water Supply
  14. The First Architects
  15. The Queen in her Cell

 

The Soul of the White Ant by Eugène Marais is a passionate, insightful account into the world of termites.

It is a meticulously researched expose of their complex, highly structured community life. Originally translated into English in 1937, the quality of research remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published.

This illuminating account will not only appeal to those with a scientific interest in termites, but will similarly enthrall readers who are new to their captivating world. An exceptional feature of his detailed research is the extraordinary psychological life of the termite.

While the studies are based in South Africa, the extensive research includes the termites of Magnetic Island, Australia. The Soul of the White Ant is part science, part mysticism, a sort of manual of pantheism, and a very personal and careful observation of termites as a life form.

There are some weird translation errors here and there, even though I paid for this book so that is sort of strange. Ok it was not so expensive, but that aside.

It is still one of the most fascinating books I have ever come across.

It has a deeper meaning , probably lost on most but that is ok.
This never was for the masses to begin with.

Anyway

Cheers & Enjoy

 

 

 

 

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