Holi, holidays and hyraxes

I’m with Tony Jones on this.

I can’t really say I understand what the Hindu festival of Holi is all about, but it looks awesome (Tony has an amazing video at the link above). The joy and playfulness of this prompts me to what Krister Stendahl called “holy envy.”

My outsider’s understanding (based on Google) suggests Holi is a celebration of spring and of “the victory of good over evil.” So if if had been, say, a pre-Christian Celtic festival, then the Christian church would have likely long ago absorbed and incorporated the festive awesomeness of Holi into our own celebration of Easter. Instead of dyed eggs, plastic grass and chocolate bunnies, we’d be lighting bonfires and tossing colored powder at each other. (“Christ is risen.” Thwap! “Indeed.” Thwap! Thwap!)

One of the problems with Christianity nowadays is that Mardi Gras still seems like a bigger and better party than Easter itself. With or without colored powder, we need to fix that.

* * * * * * * * *

In The New York Times, James Gorman reports on the song stylings of the hyrax.

Hyraxes are “common in Africa and the Middle East,” Gorman notes, which accounts for their appearance in our Bibles.

The Sonic coney isn't kosher either, but for different reasons.

Two of those mentions (in Leviticus 11:5 and Deuteronomy 14:7) are in the context of the dietary codes. Hyraxes (or “conies” in the King James and the New Revised Standard versions) are listed among the unclean animals, and eating them was forbidden — which I imagine worked out well for the hyraxes.

The other two mentions in the Bible include praise for the little guys. Psalm 104, an all-creatures-great-and-small type hymn of praise for the creation, says, “The high mountains belong to the wild goats / the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.”

And in Proverbs 30, we read, “hyraxes are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags.”

I like the KJV’s rendition of that verse better: “The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks.”

Anyway, Gorman tells us about new research into the remarkable songs of these feeble folk:

Male rock hyraxes have complex songs like those of birds, in the sense that males will go on for 5 or 10 minutes at a stretch, apparently advertising themselves.

One might have expected that the hyrax would have some unusual qualities — the animals’ feet, if you know how to look at them, resemble elephants’ toes, the experts say. And their visible front teeth are actually very small tusks. But Arik Kershenbaum and colleagues at the University of Haifa and Tel Aviv University have found something more surprising. Hyraxes’ songs have something rarely found in mammals: syntax that varies according to where the hyraxes live, geographical dialects in how they put their songs together.

I found that story via Blue Girl & Yellow Dog’s always brilliant Nightowl Newswrap. They titled it — completely accurately — the “Cool Evolutionary Biology News of the Week.” I’ll second that, and also add “O Lord, how manifold are your works.”

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  • cjmr

    There are cultures where you crack eggshells full of colorful confetti over each other’s heads as part of the Eastertime tradition–that’s approaching the ‘throwing colorful powder’ stage…

  • Quinnthebrain

    I married into a non-observant Hindu family, and we do Holi.  You’re right, Fred.  It’s AWESOME.

  • We used to save eggshells all year to donate to the local Catholic schools’ fairs to make and sell those confetti eggs. Those are awesome.


  • DorothyD

    Coming right up. 

  • arcseconds

    hyraxes are the cutetist pachyderms ever.

    (well, cutest adults anyway – baby elephants still give them a run for their money!) 

  • JoyfulA

    Thanks for the introduction to the hyrax. Elephants, manatees, and the hyrax, huh?

  • Cathy W

    I live near a Greek Orthodox church – they have fireworks at midnight as part of their Easter observance, which I thought was kind of cool.

  • I think the big problem with Easter is that we don’t have exciting enough food associated with it.  I mean, the chocolate is good, but you’ve already eaten enough to last you the year by the time Easter rolls around.  I just can’t get excited about ham, and lamb is just kind of difficult morally.  I think we need some sort of awesome, new-traditional Easter feast, that would make Easter something to look forward to, like Thanksgiving.

  • Tricksterson

    I thought “coney” was Brit slang for rabbit?  Are you saying Sam Gamgee lied to me?

  • hapax

    I think we need some sort of awesome, new-traditional Easter feast, that would make Easter something to look forward to, like Thanksgiving.

    We do at our house. 

    I’m not sure why lamb is more “morally difficult” than any other meat — assuming one doesn’t buy veal or the kind raised under similar appalling circumstances (and why would one?  Free range always tastes better), but it isn’t the centerpiece of our Easter feast. 

    That would be tsoureki (Greek Easter bread), which I start dreaming about halfway through Lent.  Then there are at least four other pastries, new red potatoes fried in butter and garlic, barely steamed asparagus and other spring vegetables, and of course all sorts of wonderful egg souffles and omelets and deviled eggs…

    [is starving now]

    Of all the “big” holiday feasts, Easter is my favorite.  Of course, a feast is always tastier when you observe the fast preceding it.

  • hapax

    Also, I like our Easter decorations (the whole house gets “butterflied” — mylar, mirrored, sequined, enamelled, sparkling, etc. butterflies just magically appear everywhere! — better than the Christmas decoration — and its more fun to hunt for (and hide) baskets of gifts, than to just walk over and pick up a stocking…

  •  Yes, “coney” is a British word for rabbit. The King James’ translators didn’t have a clue what a hyrax was, so they just substituted a different small mammal.

    So much for “divinely inspired Word of God”

  • EllieMurasaki

    assuming one doesn’t buy veal or the kind raised under similar appalling
    circumstances (and why would one?  Free range always tastes better)

    My understanding? Chicken raised in little cage: $. Chicken raised in big cage with lots of other chickens in the cage and a ten-foot strip outside the cage for these hundreds or thousands of chickens to run around in: $$. Genuinely free-range chicken: $$$ and have fun finding a vendor nearby because these aren’t the sort of operation that’s big enough to package chicken up in plastic and ship it to the base commissary. DuckDuckGo says there is jack, and also, shit. (There’s gotta be something—the restaurant at the racetrack has free-range chicken—but they might just ship it in from another state.)

    As for the taste, my family consistently prefers no-name box mac&cheese to Kraft, white pasta to whole wheat, cheap crap to expensive good stuff; why would free-range animal products be any different? And to be honest, I don’t care about animal welfare, except where it impacts human welfare—stuffing antibiotics down a healthy cow’s throat is bad, from my perspective, less because it screws up the cow and more because it screws up the meat or the milk and also because people die for lack of access to these same drugs.  (Somebody I know described this as the dump-stat phenomenon. Can’t care about everything, so here’s the one thing I will massively not care about.)

    So asking my mom to shift the meat budget from the raised-in-cruelty animal products to free range is a futile venture on several counts.

    (This is in no way meant to be a defense of eating raised-in-cruelty animal products—I have read The Omnivore’s Dilemma—but it’s an explanation.)

  • Growing up, one of our christmas traditions was tha the last presents were hidden somewhere in the living room, and we had to seek them out and find them.

    this tradition originated  when I was three or four or so, and in the hubbub of christmas morning, my Baboon Ball game got kicked under an endtable and went missed and unnoticed until some time the next day.

  • Tricksterson

    Ine of my favorite webcomics recently did a thing on holi.  Hope I don’t screw it up:  http://thedevilspanties.com/archives/6765

  • Yeah. Even free range eggs are like twice the cost of normal eggs. I’d probably spring the $5 for a dozen once in a while, but that stuff adds up. :

  • Lori

    As with many things, it depends on where you live. We don’t have much out here in Nowheresville, IN, but we do have Amish farms. That means that we can get free range eggs pretty easily and for not that much more than mass-produced store eggs. And “free range” actually means that the chickens often wonder around the yard, unlike faux free range which means that there’s a tiny little door that leads to the outside and none of the thousands of chickens crammed in the barn ever use it.

  • The place I get free-range chicken eggs from, last time I was there, a chicken was contemplating crossing the road as I drove up.

    I think in the end she decided against the endeavor, ’cause f#$! if she knew a good reason why, either.

    I do not want a hyrax to eat. I want a hyrax to sing pretty songs from the places where all I usually hear are prairie dogs going EEEP! It looks like a prairie dog, after all. I love the idea of a hyrax infiltrating the warren out along the Foothills bike path.