This is the best model for government: "The
program that draws the shortest straw gets its
funding cut. Looks like it's you again,
This is just one of the methods of sortition out there, and one of the oldest. No matter whether you pick a black-marked piece of paper out of a hat to see if you're responsible for a good harvest, or have your voter registration number "honor" you with a spot on a jury, beating the long odds is the last thing you want to do.
But who do we have to thank for this stressful game of blind pickup sticks? My theory: look no further than 16th-century explorer Jorge de Meneses (his daughter, Paola Meneses Silva, was the founder of PMS), the proud natives of New Guinea, and cold harsh ethnocentrism.
Back in the 1500's, New Guineans were known for three things:
- Their papua (Malaysian, literally: "beautiful afros").
- Fantastic pig roasts.
- The impressive Koteka, or penis gourd.
This didn't stop proto-anthropologists and pre-colonialists from jumping to the same conclusions as you did, you filthy racist. In the same way that every brown person was accused of people-eatin', early sailors immediately decided that those with the biggest phallocrypt had to be the top native (Note: Sailors are the same group of people that thought Manatee=Mermaid).
Sailors—who have had some of the most infamous (and delicious) outcomes involving "drawing straws"—are also known for drinking, making up stories, and being kind of bastards.
Thus I posit: One night at sea, drunk on the captain's rum, fresh from a shore leave that gifted them with brand-new types of VD, a bunch of Portuguese sailors sat around the concertina and started talking shit about the guys with the phallocarps (the least of which being the disturbing number of official synonyms for "cock squash").
The story that made it out of that night probably went something like this:
Once a year, all the boys who are around the age of 16 undergo the Ritual of Manhood. There's the regular feasting, feats of strength, and dancing, but the unusual bit comes at the end, when the new men are welcomed as adults and are assigned their social class and duties.
A reed mat is brought out, with the tips of penis gourds sticking out the end, lined up to appear to all be of the same length. One by one, those who used to be mere boys go up and choose their koteka. At the end of the ceremony, they are lined up from longest gourd to shortest and given their life's assignment. Those with the longest gourds are sub-chiefs, those with middling-sized are hunters, all the way down to one unlucky individual, whose gourd barely fits over his terrified manhood.
He is the short gourd, the digger of latrine pits and one on whom babies spit. Even the yam-peelers laugh at him. His is a life of shame and despair.
|An optimistic rom-com.|
I'm sure this story was hilarious and light-hearted until a month later when five of them found themselves adrift on a packing crate, their ship scuttled by a storm. One man, half mad with sunstroke and starvation, had been making dolls out of the straw within the crate, which I'm sure was used to protect a dining set (maximum irony). A couple of the dolls are of the New Guineans, and perhaps for a few hours they took their minds off their crippling hunger pangs by recounting their foolish story.
Maybe they were quiet for some time after that, having been too weak to laugh and so thirsty that their smiles cracked their sun-and-salt-dried cheeks.
Then one of them looks down and the pile of varying-length straw "gourds", licks his lips, and says "I have an idea..."