It's a secret obviously.
Well, not actually a secret, just sort of hidden, not revealed. La relates the story of Opar to Tarzan and it’s a pretty tale."I am La, high priestess of the Temple of the Sun, in the city of Opar. We are descendants of a people who came to this savage world more than ten thousand years ago in search of gold. Their cities stretched from a great sea under the rising sun to a great sea into which the sun descends at night to cool his flaming brow. They were very rich and very powerful, but they lived only a few months of the year in their magnificent palaces here; the rest of the time they spent in their native land, far, far to the north.”For those of you who need a little background, Opar was the first and most important lost city encountered in the Tarzan novels, and its queen, La is probably one of the most memorable fo Burroughs supporting characters. During his career, Tarzan would discover ant men, long tailed men and dinosaurs, lost roman cities, isolated crusader states, strange lands of talking gorillas or religious fanatics. In fact, Tarzan ran across so many lost civilizations in Africa, you wonder where they had time to put the Africans.
"Many ships went back and forth between this new world and the old. During the rainy season there were but few of the inhabitants remained here, only those who superintended the working of the mines by the black slaves, and the merchants who had to stay to supply their wants, and the soldiers who guarded the cities and the mines.
"It was at one of these times that the great calamity occurred. When the time came for the teeming thousands to return none came. For weeks the people waited. Then they sent out a great galley to learn why no one came from the mother country, but though they sailed about for many months, they were unable to find any trace of the mighty land that had for countless ages borne their ancient civilization--it had sunk into the sea.
"From that day dated the downfall of my people....” (Return of Tarzan)
But Opar was special. In the second Tarzan novel, Return of Tarzan, our hero discovers both Opar and La, and retrieves from Opar a treasure of gold that becomes the source of his fortune. A few books later in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, Tarzan returns to Opar to replenish his fortune with its lost treasures, and suffers a bout of amnesia. Then in Tarzan and the Golden Lion, villains are after Opar’s treasure, Tarzan winds up with La again who in turn loses her throne, and the two discover a city of Gorilla-Men in the valley behind Opar. In Tarzan the Magnificent, La again loses her throne, and she and Tarzan are embroiled in a fiendish plot to use Opar’s gold to start a communist revolution in Africa. In The Tarzan Twins and Jad Bal Ja, the action focuses on a group of exiles from Opar kicked out by La and looking for some place to build a new temple for human sacrifice. In all, Opar figures in five of Burroughs 24 Tarzan novels. Of all the remaining lost cities and civilizations Tarzan encounters, only one other of them appears even twice.
Such is the influence of Opar and La on Tarzan’s imagination, that when in Tarzan and the City of Gold, he encounters the lost city of Athne and its beautiful and ravishingly hot Queen Nemone, the Ape Man can only instinctively compare her to La. Embarrassingly, his wife Jane never enters his mind in that moment.
Opar does more than appear frequently. As noted, its role as the source of Tarzan’s fortune makes it a key part of the Lord Graystoke mythos. La, its Queen, with her stunning beauty, primeval innocence and raging hotness is one of the most vivid and compelling characters in the series. Indeed, in many ways, she seems like Tarzan’s true mate, Jane frequently pales in comparison. Some of the scenes between Tarzan and La probably warped many a young adolescent. There’s a ferocious sexual chemistry there. If Jane is the good girl next door that Tarzan deserves, then La is the exotic wild girl that we want him to have.
But where does Opar come from? Ten thousand years ago, the ancestors of the Oparians, Atlanteans, or Muvians or Lemurians or Khokarsans, or some such, came to Africa and built Opar. It was half mining colony, half cottage country and vacation home. It got to be a thriving city in its own right. Then one day, the vacation people stopped coming, messages stopped coming. The Oparians sent out a mission but it reported that the homeland had vanished.
After that, it was ten thousand years of slow decline, punctuated only by occasional matings with the local great apes. Wow, that’s worse than tragic, it’s boring. And slightly disgusting.
Okay, come on.
Ten thousand years of nothing much happening? That just doesn’t seem plausible. In ten thousand years, something must have gone on. Sure, the Oparians went into a decline, but they must have had ups and downs, they must have had some sort of history, rises and falls, victories and catastrophes. Their society must have gone through some changes.
And in fact, there’s some hints that things have to be a bit more complicated than we assume.
THE MYSTERIES OF OPAR
For instance, there are the Frightful Men. They’re not human. Seriously. They’re hominid obviously, but they’re not anatomically modern homo sapiens sapiens. It’s simple enough. We distinguish species by substantive anatomical or skeletal differences, sometimes it can be as little as coat and colouration.
The Frightful Men have brow ridges, fighting canines, they’ve got proportionately long arms, short legs, their toes are long, their chests are broad.“Here he saw his captors. There must have been a hundred of them--short, stocky men, with great beards that covered their faces and fell upon their hairy breasts. The thick, matted hair upon their heads grew low over their receding brows, and hung about their shoulders and their backs. Their crooked legs were short and heavy, their arms long and muscular. About their loins they wore the skins of leopards and lions, and great necklaces of the claws of these same animals depended upon their breasts. Massive circlets of virgin gold adorned their arms and legs. For weapons they carried heavy, knotted bludgeons, and in the belts that confined their single garments each had a long, wicked-looking knife. But the feature of them that made the most startling impression upon their prisoner was their white skins--neither in color nor feature was there a trace of the negroid about them. Yet, with their receding foreheads, wicked little close-set eyes, and yellow fangs, they were far from prepossessing in appearance.”They’re susceptible to the same fits of mush or ‘male madness’ that the great apes have:“There was a sudden commotion in the direction of the disputants, and Tarzan rolled his head in their direction in time to see the burly brute of a priest leap upon the woman opposite him, dashing out her brains with a single blow of his heavy cudgel. Then that happened which Tarzan had witnessed a hundred times before among the wild denizens of his own savage jungle. He had seen the thing fall upon Kerchak, and Tublat, and Terkoz; upon a dozen of the other mighty bull apes of his tribe; and upon Tantor, the elephant; there was scarce any of the males of the forest that did not at times fall prey to it. The priest went mad, and with his heavy bludgeon ran amuck among his fellows.” (Return of Tarzan)Burroughs consistently describes them in apelike terms:“For a moment Tarzan thought that by some strange freak of fate a miracle had saved him, but when he realized the ease with which the girl had, single-handed, beaten off twenty gorilla-like males.” (Return of Tarzan)Okay, well, fair enough. The Frightful Men we are told are a partially hybridized race. They’ve interbred with the Mangani, not enough to become nonhuman, but enough to pick up a series of beastial or apelike traits.
“One by one grotesque forms emerged from the jungle to creep stealthily upon the unsuspecting woman. Then they closed upon her with a rush. Lifting her bodily in his long, gorilla-like arms, one of the creatures turned and bore her into the jungle. A filthy paw covered her mouth to stifle her screams. When she regained her senses she found herself in the thick of the primeval forest. It was night. A huge fire burned brightly in the little clearing in which she lay. About it squatted fifty frightful men. Their heads and faces were covered with matted hair. Their long arms rested upon the bent knees of their short, crooked legs.” (Return of Tarzan)"In fact, the apes live with us, and have for many ages. We call them the first men--we speak their language quite as much as we do our own; only in the rituals of the temple do we make any attempt to retain our mother tongue. In time it will be forgotten, and we will speak only the language of the apes; in time we will no longer banish those of our people who mate with apes, and so in time we shall descend to the very beasts from which ages ago our progenitors may have sprung." (Return of Tarzan)But the thing is that they’re not just hybrids, they’re not strictly human/mangani offspring. Rather, most of them are Frightful Children born of Frightful Fathers. In other words, they are breeding true, and their breeding reflects a consistent phenotype.
“When Atlantis, with all her mighty cities and her cultivated fields and her great commerce and culture and riches sank into the sea long ages since, she took with her all but a handful of her colonists working the vast gold mines of Central Africa. From these and their degraded slaves and a later intermixture of the blood of the anthropoids sprung the gnarled men of Opar;” (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar)
Based on that, I’d characterize the Frightful Men as a human species or subspecies, sort of like Neandertals. Perhaps we’d call them Homo Horribilis, or Homo Sapiens Horribilis. They’re a hybridized species, but definitely, they’re a distinct enough population that we should assign them their own category.
Why are the women ‘human?’"But why are you more human than the others?" asked the man.” (The Return of Tarzan)When Tarzan asks his question, he asks it specifically to and of La rather than of Opar’s females generally. He seems to be asking why she’s more human than even the rest of of the females.“but by some queer freak of fate, aided by natural selection, the old Atlantean strain had remained pure and undegraded in the females descended from a single princess of the royal house of Atlantis who had been in Opar at the time of the great catastrophe. Such was La. “ (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar)There definitely seems to be something about La, she seems uniquely human. Perhaps she’s not truly from Opar. Perhaps, she’s immortal, possibly similar to or derived from the same source as the mysterious Kavaru of Tarzan’s Quest. Or perhaps her immortality is Barsoomian as in Tarzan on Mars. Or perhaps there’s some other explanation. La is her own mystery.
But even if the other females don’t reach La’s pinnacle, it does seem to be true that the other females are definitely more human in appearance than the Frightful Men.“The females were more symmetrically proportioned than the males, their features were much more perfect, the shapes of their heads and their large, soft, black eyes denoting far greater intelligence and humanity than was possessed by their lords and masters.” (Return of Tarzan)Well, I’m not sure that they are truly human. First, the Frightful people are practicing an extreme form of eugenics, using infanticide to make sure that male and female phenotypes are quite distinct. Sexual dimorphism is well established in animal populations, and the Oparians are clearly selecting for it.
“It is a peculiar fact that the men of Opar bear little or no resemblance to the females of their kind. The former are short, heavy set, hairy, almost ape-like in their conformation and appearance, while the women are slender, smooth skinned and often beautiful.” (Tarzan the Invincible)“Strange and inexplicable had been the providence of nature that had confined this deterioration almost solely to the males, leaving the females straight, well-formed, often of comely and even beautiful features, a condition that might be largely attributable to the fact that female infants possessing ape-like characteristics were immediately destroyed, while, on the other hand, boy babies who possessed purely human attributes were also done away with.” (Tarzan and the Golden Lion)Male sexual traits clearly include hairiness, fighting fangs, brow ridges, receding brows, and massive apelike builds. Female sexual traits include breasts, buttocks, hairlessness, absence of brow ridges or fighting canines, and slender willowy builds.
“He also was aware that owing, to the scarcity of victims for the human sacrifice, which their rigid worship demanded it was common practice among them to use for this purpose either males or females who deviated considerably from the standard time had established for each sex, with the result that through the laws of natural selection an overwhelming majority of the males would be grotesque and the females normal and beautiful.” (Tarzan the Invincible)
This isn’t unheard of. After all, north European humans have men with extensive facial and body hair and women with breasts, buttocks and hairlessness. On average, male humans are larger and taller than females and have more upper body muscle strength. Among gorillas and orangutangs, males can be twice the size of females. Among baboons, males often sport prominent, often ferocious fighting fangs, while females fangs are much diminished.
Body morphology often seems to be influenced by which hormones the fetus gets at which stages of their development. The tall, slender, willowy female form seems to derive from a surge of ‘male’ hormones in late pregnancy, which produces a tall, slim, somewhat androgynous female. This is clearly a heritable trait, since it passes down through families. And there’s evidence that the fetus does interact with the biochemistry of the mother, sufficient that the hormonal washes and timing of hormonal washes are influenced by the sex of the fetus.
What does it all come down to? Dimorphism, sexual selection and heredity produces apelike men and humanlike women.
And let’s not forget the feminine art of beauty, or cheating. Excess hairs can be plucked or shaved, make up or paints can conceal peculiarities, too prominent fangs can be filed down. Tender childhood bones can be stretched, cramped, shaped. Adult frames can be tightened by corsets and fluffed by heels.
Are the Priestesses of Opar cheating a bit here and there? Almost certainly. They do, after all, seem fond of jewelry and adornment, and set great stock by very specific standards of beauty. In Tarzan and the Golden Lion, La’s perfume is so pervasive it disguises her scent and her identity from Tarzan. In Tarzan the Invincible, scenes with La show her spending a lot of each morning primping and looking after her appearance. Clearly the priestesses retained a lot of the knowledge of cosmetics.
But I’m betting that if we took a close look at those women, there’d be all sorts of little anatomical giveaways. Toes that are a bit too long and prehensile, a musculature that while slim, is just a bit heavier, small but still prominent canines, the suggestion of a brow ridge, arm and leg proportions that are not quite right. A woman of Opar might be able to walk down a New York Street or hang out in a bikini at Palm Beach, but I’d bet that an anatomist would see something not quite right. Something not quite human.
And I suspect that were one of these Priestesses of Opar to mate with a modern human, well, the girl babies might be passable, but the boy babies would grow up to be something much more apelike or Frightful than is typical, it would be a hybrid baby, not a human one. The genes for Frightful Males would still be there.
Now let’s move on to the city of Bolgani. This is located in the same valley as Opar, merely more deeply into the valley. It’s an architectural complex of great antiquity, but in considerably better repair:“But the glimpses he caught of the edifice, half concealed as it was amid the foliage of great trees, piqued his curiosity to such an extent that he felt an almost irresistible urge to investigate. He did not believe that the basin was inhabited by other than wild beasts, and he attributed the building which he saw to the handiwork of an extinct or departed people, either contemporaneous with the ancient Atlantians who had built Opar or, perhaps, built by the original Oparians themselves, but now forgotten by their descendants. The glimpses which he caught of the building suggested such size and magnificence as might belong to a palace.” (Tarzan and the Golden Lion)Let’s be serious here. This City of the Bolgani has to be part of the original Opar complex, call it a suburb or an industrial park. But it was part of Opar. What’s the alternative? That the lost civilization that constructed Opar built it right on top of or next to an even more lost civilization? What are the odds of that?
“The building within the enclosure was of great size, its different parts appearing to have been constructed at various periods, and each with utter disregard to uniformity, resulting in a conglomeration of connecting buildings and towers, no two of which were alike, though the whole presented a rather pleasing, if somewhat bizarre appearance. The building stood upon an artificial elevation about ten feet high, surrounded by a retaining wall of granite, a wide staircase leading to the ground level below. About the building were shrubbery and trees, some of the latter appearing to be of great antiquity, while one enormous tower was almost entirely covered by ivy.”
“By far the most remarkable feature of the building, however, lay in its rich and barbaric ornamentation. Set into the polished granite of which it was composed was an intricate mosaic of gold and diamonds; glittering stones in countless thousands scintillated from facades, minarets, domes, and towers. The enclosure, which comprised some fifteen or twenty acres, was occupied for the most part by the building. The terrace upon which it stood was devoted to walks, flowers, shrubs, and ornamental trees, while that part of the area below, which was within the range of Tarzan's vision, seemed to be given over to the raising of garden truck. He started slowly to circle the building that he might examine it from all sides from the concealing foliage of the surrounding forest.
“He found the architecture equally unique upon all sides, and that the garden extended entirely around the building, though a portion upon the south side of the palace was given over to corrals and pens in which were kept numerous goats and a considerable flock of chickens. Upon this side, also, were several hundred swinging, beehive huts, such as he had seen in the native village of the Gomangani.
“The lofty granite wall which surrounded the entire enclosure was pierced by but a single gate which opened opposite the east end of the palace. This gate was large and of massive construction, appearing to have been built to withstand the assault of numerous and well-armed forces. So strong did it appear that the ape-man could not but harbor the opinion that it had been constructed to protect the interior against forces equipped with heavy battering rams. That such a force had ever existed within the vicinity in historic times seemed most unlikely, and Tarzan conjectured, therefore, that the wall and the gate were of almost unthinkable antiquity, dating, doubtless, from the forgotten age of the Atlantians, and constructed, perhaps, to protect the builders of the Palace of Diamonds from the well-armed forces that had come from Atlantis to work the gold mines of Opar and to colonize central Africa.
“While the wall, the gate, and the palace itself, suggested in many ways almost unbelievable age, yet they were in such an excellent state of repair that it was evident that they were still inhabited by rational and intelligent creatures; while upon the south side Tarzan had seen a new tower in process of construction, where a number of blacks working under the direction of Bolgani were cutting and shaping granite blocks and putting them in place.” (Tarzan and the Golden Lion)
The Bolgani-Men themselves are clearly not true Gorillas:“Presently they saw him, swinging down the jungle trail toward the compound. A huge gorilla, but such a gorilla as Tarzan of the Apes had never looked on before. Of almost gigantic stature, the creature was walking erect with the stride of a man, not ever once touching his knuckles to the ground. His head and face were almost those of a gorilla, and yet there was a difference, as Tarzan could note as the creature came nearer -- it was Bolgani, with the soul and brain of a man -- nor was this all that rendered the creature startling and unique. Stranger perhaps than aught else was the fact that it wore ornaments -- and such ornaments! Gold and diamonds sparkled against its shaggy coat, above its elbows were numerous armlets and there were anklets upon its legs, while from a girdle about its middle there depended before and behind a long narrow strip that almost touched the ground and which seemed to be entirely constructed of golden spangles set with small diamonds. Never before had John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, seen such a display of barbaric finery.” (Tarzan and the Golden Lion)They have gorilla-like qualities. They’re hairy to the point of fur, they have gorilla-like features, and they have massive builds. They are far more massive than the Frightful men. Indeed, they’re actually bigger than ordinary gorillas. Tarzan notes that their faces resemble, but are not quite those of Gorillas. They are far more intelligent than Gorillas, they probably have a much greater cranial capacity, and they’re bipeds. None of the Bolgani-Men that Tarzan encounters are knuckle walkers. They’re all thoroughgoing bipeds, which means that they’re creatures of the homo line rather than true apes.
“They are a very powerful race, standing higher than Bolgani, the gorilla, and infinitely more cunning, for, as there is ape blood in our veins, so is there human blood in the veins of these great apes that dwell in the valley above Opar." (Tarzan and the Golden Lion)
What they seem to be is ultra-robust, steroid-hyped versions of the Great Apes, or perhaps a different kind of Mangani-Human Hybrid. This time, much closer to Mangani, but also selected or bred up for bulk and mass. It compares to a Mangani or Human the way a Wolfhound compares to a german shepherd or a collie.
It’s possible that the Bolgani Men are derived from Gorillas. Possible but not likely. They seem outside the range of what you could breed a Gorilla into being. You might breed big mean gorillas, but you couldn’t breed a radical change like bipedalism into them, and you couldn’t breed a revolutionary brain architecture into them. No, its far more likely that the Bolgani-Men are Mangani derived, or more likely, another Mangani-Human, another hybridized species breeding true. Call these Homo Robustus, or Homo Sapiens Robustus.
Then there are the Gomangani. Actually, Gomangani in the Mangani language is simply the word for black African, or negro. But whatever these creatures are, whatever the colour of their skin, they are definitely not negroes or any other known kind of dark skinned human. We will call them Gomangani to distinguish them from regular humans. Again, we’ve got a population that isn’t classically human.“Nor were the people any less strange to Tarzan than their peculiar domiciles. That they were negroes was evident, but of a type entirely unfamiliar to the ape-man. All were naked, and without any ornamentation whatsoever other than a few daubs of color, placed apparently at random upon their bodies. They were tall, and very muscular appearing, though their legs seemed much too short and their arms too long for perfect syrnmetry, while their faces were almost bestial in contour, their jaws being exaggeratedly prognathous while above their beetling brows there was no forehead, the skull running back in an almost horizontal plane to a point. .... The creatures squatting about upon their haunches were engaged in feeding. Several had bones from which they were tearing the uncooked flesh with their great teeth, while others ate fruit and tubers. There were individuals of both sexes and of various ages, from childhood to maturity, but there was none that seemed very old. They were practically hairless, except for scraggy, reddish brown locks upon their heads. They spoke but seldom and then in tones which resembled the growling of beasts, nor once, while Tarzan watched them, did he see one laugh or even smile, which, of all their traits, rendered them most unlike the average native of Africa. Though Tarzan's eyes searched the compound carefully he saw no indication of cooking utensils or of any fire. Upon the ground about them lay their weapons, short javelin-like spears and a sort of battle-ax with a sharpened, metal blade. Tarzan of the Apes was glad that he had come this way, for it had permitted him to see such a type of native as he had not dreamed existed -- a type so low that it bordered closely upon the brute. Even the Waz-dons and Ho- dons of Pal-ul-don were far advanced in the scale of evolution compared to these.” (Tarzan and the Golden Lion)This simply isn’t human anatomy. Instead, we’ve got extensive evidence of hybridization, but again, this seems to express in a cultivated and distinct form, a hybridized species breeding true. They’re more obviously human than the Bolgani-Men, they have little sexual dimorphism, but a different set of apelike features than the Frightful Men. Call these Homo Inferior, or Homo Sapiens Inferior.
Finally, of course, we’ve got the Great Apes. It’s pretty clear that the Great Apes, or Mangani are not true apes. True apes are tail-less quadrupeds, walking on hands or knuckles, and only occasionally taking an upright posture. The Mangani are clearly bipeds, and they have language and abstract conceptual structures which suggest a substantially greater cranial capacity or neural wiring than apes. The Great Apes on the other hand, have a number of apelike features - Hairy bodies, short legs and long arms, prehensile or partially prehensile feet, brow ridges, fighting fangs and apelike facial features. They’re clearly a species of earlier hominids. Most likely they’re a form of Homo Erectus, although theoretically they might be some earlier form, perhaps Australopithecus or Ramapithecus.
However, they’re apparently capable of cross-fertility with humans, in the way that zebras, donkeys and horses are crossfertile, or in the way that lions and tigers, or asian and african elephants are. So they’re likely a fairly close species to Homo Sapiens. My money is on Homo Erectus. Even there, it may be a leap to suggest cross fertility, but I think its reasonable.
There doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable about the Mangani around Opar, except for one thing. There are a lot of them.
This in itself is interesting, since the Mangani seem to be comparatively rare. Their population, from what we can gather from Burroughs, is minuscule compared to Chimpanzees, Bonobos and Gorillas, and they are dwindling in numbers through the series. According to J.T. Edson’s Bunduku books, the Mangani seem to have completely disappeared and are presumed extinct by the 1960's. The Dark Horse Tarzan comics of the 1990s also presumed the Mangani mostly extinct.
However, if we go by La’s words, the Mangani seem to be relatively common around Opar. Common enough that the Oparians occasionally war with them and apparently capture and sacrifice them to the flaming god on at least a semi-regular basis. The Oparians have adopted the Mangani language, and unlike just about every other culture in Africa, seem to encounter them commonly.
It’s just a guess, but given the infusion of Mangani genes into the three local races of Opar, it’s likely that the Mangani around Opar, in addition to having a higher population and population density than anywhere else likely have a scattering of human genes in their makeup. Perhaps this results in increased intelligence, greater fecundity, or just better survival. Who knows.
So, what’s missing from this picture?
Where are the anatomically modern humans? The true humans. We have the Frightful Men and their priestesses, we have Bolgani-Men and we have Gomangani, we even have Mangani. But we don’t have classical modern humans. What’s up with that?
It’s possible that Opar and its progenitor culture were not anatomically modern humans. Perhaps they were a side branch, Neandertals or some relative. But then this would almost certainly make Opar/Atlantis far far older than a mere 10,000 years. Moreover, this seems to contradict La’s narrative, which indicates that the Oparians have degenerated to their current beastial state. The implication is that the Oparians were once fully human. Tarzan’s other lost cities/races - Xuja, Athne and Cathne, Ashair and Thobus, the Kavuru all seem to be anatomically modern humans. If Opar is related to them, which seems likely, then Opar had to have been a modern human population at one point. So where did they go and what happened to them?
And here’s the other big mystery: How exactly could three separate hybrid subspecies develop in essentially the same habitat right on top of each other?
It’s very simple. Miscegenation of the odour of the day. Mixing is what comes naturally. We have all these different specialized breeds of dogs, but if we left it up to the dogs, all we’d have is mutts. All these breeds of dogs would tend to collapse towards a single generalized average breed with a lot of diversity.
Same thing with humans, we’re always trending towards each other ethnically. Mixed marriages happen all the time, and over time, two populations will get so mixed they start becoming hard to distinguish. Any time you’ve got two distinct populations, a mixed population will emerge.
Take the United States - despite centuries and segregation and racism, 1/3 of ‘white Americans’ have black ancestry and black genes in their makeup. Among American blacks, 90% of them have white ancestry and white genes in their makeup. That means that over 40% of the White and Black populations of the United States are actually ethnically mixed. In South Africa, another country that set great store by racism, they identified a mixed white/black race for some purposes, and this was about as large as the white population.
Normally, speciation or different breeds emerge when populations become isolated for one reason or another. Geographical isolation is the most common form of isolation. But there’s also lifestyle isolation, if one population starts to specialize in a different foodstuff, starts to make its home in a different place, etc. then specialization of behaviour leads the critter down its own path. It may be neighbors with the Jones, but the Jones are leaf eaters, you’re a frugivore, so you don’t actually have a lot to do with the Jones.
Among humans, small ethnic differences can become the basis for geographical separation, or cultural or lifestyle separation, as ‘races’ are divided into different economic or cultural castes. However, among humans, these races or castes are generally pre-existing in a community. Human society is generally so fluid that normally, ethnicity doesn’t follow from social organization, its generally the other way around.
Biologically, if you set two similar populations together that are capable of interbreeding, well then the natural tendency is for them to converge. Once that starts happening, you have three subsets - the two originals, and the mixed population.
What you don’t get naturally is the mixed population bifurcating into several distinctive subspecies all occupying the same habitat, sharing the same lifestyle and living in close proximity.
Opar should have produced only a single mongrel race of Mangani/Human hybrids, not three distinct races. That is simply not natural, and its not natural selection.
So what’s going on?
Well, obviously, if it isn’t natural selection, then clearly, it’s.... unnatural selection.
The inescapable conclusion is that the semi-human races of Opar are entirely artificial.
By that, I mean, they’re obviously not robots, nor the products of ancient super-scientific genetic engineering. Rather, I’m suggesting that they were deliberately bred into being, much as we have bred varieties of dogs, cats, sheep and cattle.
In fact, the only way you’d get hybrid lines differentiating into Frightful Men, Bolgani-Men and Gomangani-Men is to use the same sort of selection and breeding techniques as produced Doberman Pinschers, Russian Wolfhounds and Irish Setters. Essentially, you breed hybrids, keep note of the different traits, and then reinforce specific traits by inbreeding and selective breeding.
This is the breakthrough that allows us to reconstruct Opar’s hidden history to work back to an understanding of what and how Opar’s society evolved after the cataclysm destroyed its founding civilization.
La says:"From that day dated the downfall of my people. Disheartened and unhappy, they soon became a prey to the black hordes of the north and the black hordes of the south. One by one the cities were deserted or overcome. The last remnant was finally forced to take shelter within this mighty mountain fortress. Slowly we have dwindled in power, in civilization, in intellect, in numbers, until now we are no more than a small tribe of savage apes.” (The Return of Tarzan)This is interesting in that it tells us three important things. First, Opar wasn’t the only colony in Africa that survived the cataclysm. There were others. Second, that at least some of these others may still be around today, assuming that Opar merely lost contact with them. Third and most important, Opar was not just a mining town/vacation paradise... It was also a fortress.
That’s very important. Opar was a fortress. That is, it was a military center, perhaps the major military centre. As La describes it, Opar was ‘the fortress’, and not just ‘a fortress.’ The other surviving colonies that La mentions casually are not presented as fortresses.
Burroughs never explicitly presents any other lost city as related to Opar. But he does provide us with several who have no clear origins, and a number of similarities. Burroughs himself drops a few hints. The city of the Bolgani lays in the valley of Opar and almost certainly the two share a common origin. One of Burroughs characters speculates that the cities of Athne and Cathne may be descended from the same Atlantis to which Opar’s origins are attributed. The amazons of Kaji and Zula are located remarkably near Athne and Cathne. Ashair is all too obviously a phonetic distortion of Opar or Ophir.
This group of cities all seem to share overlapping traits. Almost none of them possess or employ the bow and arrow, lucky for Tarzan. The Athneans and Cathneans are quite mystified, the Oparians never use it, the Ashair and Thobus use spears instead. The Oparians work with clubs and spears.
Most of them seem to be ruled by Queens or Priestesses, or their societies feature co-equal gender based hierarchies of male and female priests/priestesses or royalty. Opar, Athne, Ashair, Xuja and Kaji and Zula are all ruled by Queens. In Thobus the Queen is co-equal with the King.
Lions are venerated by Athne, Xuja and the Bolgani city. Apart from that, each city seems to sport a patron deity - the Sun for Opar, the Elephant for Cathne, a parrot of Xuja. H.Rider Haggard’s Kor features competing Sun and Moon cults.
They’re all ancient, mostly caucasian societies. And the architecture for these cities is remarkably consistent. They are all walled cities, with immensely high walls. Internally, their works feature domes, towers and minarets. Visually, despite or perhaps because of Burroughs minimal description, they all resemble each other.
Okay, let’s put it this way. The old empire vanishes, leaving a bunch of colonies. And of the surviving colonies, you’re the one with the best fortifications, and presumably the most soldiers and swords, and quite a bit of wealth. What do you do?
Empire Mark II, with yourself as the capital city. The disappearance of Atlantis, or Mu, or Khokarsa opens the door to the Empire of Opar.
By the way, let me give a shout out here to Philip Jose Farmer’s novels, Time’s Last Gift, Hadon of Opar and Flight to Opar. Farmer’s first novel has Tarzan returning back some 25,000 years into the past, where he will live through human history, appearing as such persons as Hercules and Kukulkan.
One of Tarzan’s by-blows is his contribution to a sea faring civilization called Khokarsa in Africa based around a couple of giant inland seas in the Chad and Congo basin some 12,000 years ago. This is the civilization that creates Opar and the other mysterious lost cities. Farmer even squeezes in a few references to H.Rider Haggard’s lost cities and artifacts of ‘She’ and ‘King Solomon’s Mines.’
Khokarsa’s end comes when erosion cuts a channel from one of the seas to the Atlantic, eventually draining both seas. The Khokarsans are a sea empire based on sailing, and with the loss of their seas and coastlines, and the attending disastrous climactic changes, that’s it for them.
La herself never names the progenitor civilization in Return of Tarzan. Burroughs in subsequent novels took to calling it Atlantis, that didn’t seem to be based on anything much. It could just as easily have been Lemuria or Mu.
Farmer’s invention of Khokarsa was based in part on the observation that Tarzan was lucky most of the white lost races that he encountered didn’t have the bow and arrow, or he would have been a pincushion. From there, Farmer noted other similarities between the cultures, the fact that many of them, Xuja, Athne, Bolgani-City for instance all seemed to worship or venerate lions was one example. Another was the recurrence of ruling Priestesses or Queens, as in Ashair, Athne, Opar.
Farmer speculated that many of the lost cities were descended from a common civilization, and developed his sea-going empire from there. In addition to the two novels, he’s done a brilliant history and chronology of Khokarsa, which is simply the last word. One of the reasons I’ve avoided writing about Tarzan’s lost cities is that I simply didn’t think I could make a contribution that would stand with Farmer’s work.
It’s up to the reader to decide whether to accept Khokarsa as the true ancestor of Opar, whether to accept Farmer’s novels as in some way ‘canon.’ Or whether to just stick with Burroughs proper and go with Atlantis. For myself, I’ll go with Khokarsa. But it’s academic. This essay focuses on the history of post-cataclysm Opar, so whether it's Atlantis or Khokarsa, is really irrelevant. Basically, this Hidden History is applicable to a post-Atlantean Opar, or a post-Khokarsa Opar.
Empire is a tricky thing. It’s not necessarily a cheap or easy thing to accomplish. You need certain advantages - overwhelming military power, which Opar may have had, is just one of them. You also need a fair bit of wealth, because Empire, even when its profitable, is an expensive undertaking. Luckily, Opar had wealth. Of course, Opar’s overwhelming military power and wealth wasn’t nearly on the level with the home society - rather, Opar was just the biggest and richest of the leftovers.
But you need more than that. Successful Empires are very good at transportation and communication. The Incas had their network of bridges and runners. The British had their sailing ships, the Romans had their roads. Basically, you have to be able to know what’s going on or what is about to happen in the tribute states very quickly, and you need to be able to get troops and tribute out and back quickly. The longer or more difficult your lines of communication and transportation are, the harder a time you have reacting to events and the more expensive it gets to get troops out there and maintain those troops. That’s why Empires stop growing in certain directions, it just stops being cost effective.
A home grown Empire stacks the deck in its favour. All roads lead to Rome? That makes it very easy for the Romans to send their armies everywhere. The Romans set it up like that. On the other hand, if you weren’t growing your Empire, you have to take the transportation set up that you find. It’s unlikely that all of the transportation and communication routes in Africa were centralized on Opar, rather, more likely the roads and transport networks all tended to feed towards the imperial homeland. Opar was at the end of one of those roads, it wasn’t the center of roads. That’s a disadvantage.
And of course, Empires tend to have a few other tricks up their sleeve. They move people around, they foster loyalty towards the Imperial city, they usually have some sort of technological or infrastructural edge, they place talented bureaucrats or administrators in key positions in the colonies. Opar doesn’t have any of these advantages, each city has its own set up, loyal to home.
Geography works against Opar. Take Egypt. Egypt is basically a country along a riverbank. Easy and cheap to move up and down. Easy to conquer your way up and down, and hold those conquests. Mesopotamia is tougher. It’s the bottom of a flood plain, there’s a couple of parallel rivers. It’s got a longer period of warring states before one finally manages to consoldate. Greece? It’s geographically scattered, the sea offers a connection, but its geography means that it is only occasionally unified and mostly that unity is imposed from outside. The Greeks could never get it together themselves, except when the Persians threatened, or when the Macedonians and later the Romans, and the even later Ottomans took over.
On the other hand, Opar is an inland state in rugged country, which means its hard to conquer its neighbors, and easy for those neighbors to defend or revolt. That makes establishing and keeping an Empire an uphill battle. It can be done. take a look at Russia, China, Persia, but its generally a slow and incremental conquest. On the other hand, Opar’s new Empire is not the product of slow and incremental conquest. Rather, it all falls into Opar’s lap, as a result of a sudden power vacuum, the disappearance of the real capitol. Of course, when it happens like that, the trick is not winning the Empire, but keeping it.
So, Opar tries to be the center of a new Empire, the colonies or member states thereof are not automatically persuaded of the virtues of bending knees to the new Opar. Opar doesn’t have particularly greater status, it may not have an overwhelmingly robust economy. Indeed, economically or by population, it might even be second or third. It’s military superiority may not be matched by a bureaucratic or administrative set up which is the real key to domination. And the existing trade, communication and transportation networks may not default automatically or easily to centralize on Opar. So there may be a whole bunch of cities thinking ‘we should be independent’, or ‘we should be the capital of this Empire.’
Which suggests that Opar’s new history as an Empire in the center of Africa is going to be a stormy one, riven by uprisings, rebellions, coups, insurrections and civil wars.
STATES OF WAR
Opar’s post-colonial history was likely to be rocky as hell. It moves into the power vaccuum left by the founding society, at first it establishes domination, but over time, revolts break out in the other cities, there are political and economic tensions. In fact, a lot of Opar’s Imperial history probably consists of putting down endless revolts, revolutions, uprisings, insurrections, civil wars and power struggles. That’s simply the nature of the geostrategic hand that Opar gets dealt.
What happens? Given that sort of inherent instability?
First, expansion stops. Opar has enough trouble controlling the existing colonies and cities. It doesn’t want new ones being established further and further away, which will be ever harder to dominate. Opar’s Empire is focused on control rather than conquest. Sending the armies out to conquer new lands is incredibly expensive, and its incredibly dangerous when the old lands are prone to rising up in revolt or trying to take over.
Opar’s culture ceases to grow or expand beyond its boundaries. Indeed, such growth or expansion is actively discouraged by the Imperial city which sees such efforts as undermining central power, either a revolt now, or trouble in the future. So instead of our Oparians expanding to rule all of Africa, they go into a holding pattern, and other cultures occupy and conquer. Outsiders have the initiative.
Turning inward, keeping the local tribute states in line and ignoring the barbarians is probably not a good recipe for successful Empires. As a matter of fact, the last great Empire to take this tactic was Rome in its declining days. How is the Roman Empire doing these days, anyone know? I suspect it didn’t work out well for them.
But expansion doesn’t just stop in terms of geographical growth and expansion. Expansion stops economically and technologically. Basically, if it isn’t happening in Opar, then its not desirable anywhere in the Empire. Suppose some tribute city starts thriving, it comes up with a new technology, or provides a new good or service. Well, the next thing you know, its accumulating wealth and power, it’s a threat to the central state of Opar. Perhaps as it rises economically or in population, Opar falls either proportionately or in real terms. Power becomes unbalanced. Sooner or later there’s an uprising or a revolt.
After a few experiences like that, the Oparians learn to put a stop to those developments whenever they start happening. States that start doing too well economically start getting taxed horrendously. Minor disputes result in extreme punishment now, while they’re easy to kick around, rather than later when they may be tougher. New technologies, new forms of organization, new goods, new science or inventions, new discoveries are all looked at with disfavour - denounced as anti-Oparian, and probably offensive in the eyes of the Gods. Religion becomes extremely conservative since ‘The Gods don’t like it’ is a handy answer to just about anything.
The result is that the Oparians become a very conservative, very repressed and repressive Empire, always paranoid, always watchful of their vassal states, all too ready to apply the fist and boot. And needfully so, since those tribute states are always chafing, always ready to revolt, always dreaming of installing themselves in Opar’s place.
Meanwhile, Opar becomes an increasingly militaristic and warlike society. It has to be to keep control. The other states under Opar’s domination must be kept down at all costs. Of course, Opar has one big advantage that the others do not. It’s a fortress. That means that Opar can be defeated, but it can’t be conquered. The other cities can be razed, but Opar’s walls can’t be breached. This means that ultimately, no matter how many revolts or civil wars, no matter how many temporary usurpations, Opar always eventually wins the wars through attrition. It outlasts its enemies.
Unlike Greece where power flowed back and forth among several city states, Opar is mostly always the top dog, but never secure as top dog. Opar is an Empire that endures for thousands of years but never knows peace. Opar’s Empire is a ferocious tyranny, make no mistakes, the Oparians become a tyrannical, repressive, brutal, and bloodthirsty people. Arts, culture, learning, science, technology, all of this becomes subordinated to warlike virtues and ideologies of power and blood. The Oparians become the Spartans of their day.
Perhaps things might turn out different if Opar had not tried to be an Empire, and if the surviving colonies had tried to form a Federation or Confederation. But historically, such Federations are always extremely rare. Mostly, it’s a struggle to see who can become the top dog and rule over the others.
A NATION OF SLAVE-SOLDIERS
As I said, the Oparians situation would have driven them to become the Spartans of their day. Their entire society would have slowly revolved around creating a nation of soldiers, a people whose purpose was war and domination.
A word about the Spartans: Some of you may have watched that movie, “The 300.” It’s very nice. But the truth is that the Spartans were the assholes of Greece. Their history is that they had conquered a neighboring state, Helot, and ruled it badly. The Helots eventually, understandably, revolted. In the ensuing civil war, the Spartans were almost destroyed, but eventually triumphed. The experience was traumatic, scarring their nation and driving them to become a nation of warriors. The Spartans made themselves into what they were, Greece’s ultimate soldiers, because they were afraid. They were terrified of their own slaves, and forever terrified of those slaves rising up against them. Because of their fear, they sacrificed everything about themselves except for power and strength, they abandoned every virtue but violence. Their terror of their slaves and subjects lead them to abuse and mistreat their subjects, mocking them, subjugating them, humiliating them at every opportunity, always convinced that if they spared one inch of brutality, that would be the room the slaves needed to strike back. They lived in an imaginary world of terror, always surrounded, always beleaguered, always taking up arms against a host of enemies, and by those actions, creating enemies, and victimizing everyone around them.
The Spartans produced nothing of worth. They left no art, no theatre, no discourses, no politics, no science, no philosophy, no monuments. They pitched in for a couple of crucial battles in the Persian Wars. After that, they played spoilers, struggling to displace Athens and to conquer Greece. Unfortunately for them, all their vaunted military prowess was insufficient to the task. No matter how mighty their soldiers, they couldn’t conquer Greece. They might defeat Athens or Corinth, but they couldn’t hold it. Indeed, other Greek states proved to be as formidable on the field. The Spartans were defeated in battles.
In the end, they proved to be a historical dead end. The Spartans sat on their hands and pouted while Alexander the Great conquered the world. A few centuries later, they were still twiddling their thumbs as the Roman Empire took over. They came to nothing.
So if I say that the Oparians were becoming the Spartans of their day, it’s not a good thing. They were becoming equivalent to the Nazi’s of Germany or the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. Just another group of bloodthirsty narrowminded martinets, another dead end in the human story.
Like the Spartans, the Oparians were out to create supersoldiers. They organized their society, their religion, their politics to create the best and most ferocious soldiers that they could develop.
But the Oparians had something that the Spartans didn’t.
The Oparians had become a people who worshipped strength and ferocity. They probably worshipped Lions, and venerated the Mangani.
The Great Apes, or Mangani were around. It’s likely that in that time, thousands of years ago, the population of Mangani was much greater, the creatures were far more common, even around Opar.
Given their humanlike qualities and remarkable strength and ferocity, the temptation must have been there to try and domesticate the Mangani. Other animals, elephants, horses, dogs have been domesticated and used in war. Why not Mangani. Unfortunately, the Mangani wouldn’t make good soldiers or beasts of war. They didn’t have the intelligence for soldiers, and they were too independent to be disciplined. Still, the Mangani’s physical capacity is remarkable, and probably fascinated.
It’s likely that sooner or later some natural hybrid emerged in Opar. After all, there’s a lot of Mangani, there’s a lot of lonely soldiers, there’s a lot of horny babes. At some point, birds meet bees, nature takes its course, and someone or something that’s never existed before gets born. This new sport of nature might be a local Hercules, a remarkable prodigy. He might become an ogre or a hero, no matter what, he was, just for being what he was, certain to have an eventful life. He was going to make waves and get noticed, for good or bad.
And sooner or later, the people who observe such things would conclude that where one, or a handful might come about naturally.... Well, you could get battalions, whole armies, if you went about it systematically. That had possibilities.
So the Oparians began a systematic breeding program to create their Frightful Men. Stronger, faster, more durable and more ferocious than ordinary men. Unstoppable warriors for a culture which lived by strength of arms, whose weapons were club and spear.
Did it really happen that way? Well, let’s be clear, there is no natural way that you are going to get three distinct hybrid subspecies all living together or in proximity. You might have gotten a single mongrel race. But even there, one shot mongrels here and there have a hard time of it, and might well have simply dropped out of the population.
No, to establish the Frightful Men, you had to have a dedicated and systematic breeding program. To get to the Bolgani-Men and Gomangani Men, you had to practice selective breeding across perhaps dozens of generations. Which means that you’ve got to have a pretty good reason for trying a breeding program like that. People aren’t going to volunteer for it on their own, and they won’t volunteer generation after generation. So if there’s a reason for a breeding program like this, apart from producing slaves, I can’t imagine it. And given the results in two of the three new subspecies, the slaves seemed to be bred for soldiers.
A Human takes at least fifteen years to become mature enough to reproduce, and to become large and heavy enough to have an idea what its adult form will be. We can assume a Mangani has similar time frames, after all, they raised Tarzan. Dogs and cattle can be bred over only a few years. A dedicated dog breeder can produce a new breed of dog in the course of his lifetime, assuming he gets lucky enough to find the right stock to start with.
Human/Mangani hybrids were a very limited stock, heavily bred back into humans, and with each other. You’d have to rely upon natural variation to throw up genes for bigger and bigger bulk, heavier muscle. But once you had those genes expressing, you could inbreed and concentrate and build your Bolgani-Men. By the same token, you’d have to wait for genes for docility, but again, once those traits showed up, you could reinforce them by inbreeding again and again. The Bolgani Men probably had more infusions of Mangani, the Gomangani had more infusions of human.
Assuming a careful and intensive breeding program with reproduction as soon as possible, the eugenic program which produced the three hybrid races might have taken anywhere from ten to twenty generations, as little as 200 years, as long as 500 or more. But compared to Opar’s 10,000 year history, that’s a drop in the bucket.
Most cultures wouldn’t make anywhere near such a long term investment. Still, over longer periods of time human cultures have done even more remarkable things with domesticated plants and animals, so its certainly possible.
The question is motivation. Why would anyone need to do this? What ruling class, what aristocracy would commit itself to such a breeding program? Why bother? In our world circumstances change quickly. What’s state of the art now is obsolete in a few years. A breeding program that will take two or three decades to produce your first generation of super-soldiers is pretty useless usually. Even in ancient times it would be a useless project - after all, those soldiers would be needed RIGHT NOW.
This is the thing with war, its usually pretty immediate, it usually calls for short term planning and thinking. It generally tends to use up its resources right away. Because after all, you have to win the war you are in, which means you have to give it your all. If you don’t win the war you are in right now, you won’t be needing to worry about the war a generation away. This is why wars are often incredibly destructive, everything gets burned up in the immediate moment. Only wealthy societies invest in long term planning and development for their wars, and usually its pretty passive, fortifications and defenses and such. Only the most insane emperor would dream of breeding soldiers for a war twenty or thirty years off.
But Opar, ah, Opar was a special case. For Opar’s breeding program to make sense, Opar had to be a society continually engaged in wars. It had to be unconquerable, but at the same time, ultimate victory had to always be just outside its grasp. Opar had to be the sort of society, almost like the Spartans, who could see a rational need for breeding super-soldiers to fight wars decades and centuries into the future. This is the only kind of society that could breed such races.
This is what Opar must have been in order to produce the inhabitants it has now. And this is consistent with the very little we know of its overall geography and history.
And it tells us a little more. What kind of culture could undertake such a breeding program. A long established culture, a tyrannical society with a fierce ruling class. We are, after all, talking about using crossbreeding two different species. It’s likely that the brood mares were all human, and the studs were a handful of trained Mangani. From the little we know, Mangani females don’t seem to be nearly as fertile or fecund as human females, and Mangani females would have had trouble with the larger hybrid craniums during birth. On the other hand, with a ready supply of human female slaves, you only needed one or two or a few male mangani to impregnate large groups.
This is what we are really talking about. Generation after generation after generation of terrified human slave women being raped repeatedly by apes and ape-men, massive infanticides of unwanted or defective babies, mothers and fathers being bred to sons and daughters, brothers and sisters bred to each other, all to reinforce or exaggerate traits. For the offspring, lives of harsh discipline, brutality, mutilation and ultimately violent death, leavened only by the occasional opportunity to rape their family members to contribute to the breeding program.
Opar at the height of its Empire would have probably given Mordor a run for its money. They were not nice people. And its rulers would have terrified Pellucidar’s Horribs with their cold blooded ways. In a city to be overrun by non-human races, the most truly monstrous, the most truly inhuman race of Opar were its human ruler..“Such a wondrous creature as La could never have felt love for any of the repulsive priests of Opar. Custom, duty and religious zeal might have commanded the union; but there could have been no love on La's part. She had grown to young womanhood a cold and heartless creature, daughter of a thousand other cold, heartless, beautiful women who had never known love. " (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar)
THE GLORY OF OPAR
We know that Opar’s selective and entirely non-natural breeding program succeeded, because Tarzan meets the three races in our modern era. They would not exist without some sort of deliberate breeding program, and only a toxic and deformed society would have initiated and followed through on such a program. Trust me, this isn’t something that a sane people would have done, not with the attention to detail and over the time frame that would have been needed.
We also know that the breeding program was not merely successful with its purposes, but with its goals. If the hybrid Mangani/Human super soldiers had turned out to be inferior soldiers, they would have all died on the battlefields and not returned to reproduce, and their descendants would never have met Tarzan.
The fact that their descendants were alive thousands of years later tells us that Opar was successful in breeding its super soldiers, and that its super soldiers were successful in War. Successful enough that the Oparians would want to perpetuate and maintain the experiment. This would in turn shape the next phases of Opar’s future.
Remember what I said about how, if it was all left up to the dogs themselves, all those hundreds of wonderful varied breeds, from pit bulls to poodles, wolfhounds to terriers, would soon start collapsing to a generic mongrel? Humans are no different. Having created distinct hybrid sub-species, the trick was to ensure that they perpetuated themselves. No mongrelization allowed. Fraternization with humans, or between subspecies would dilute the purity of the breeds, which would in turn diminish their effectiveness in war or as slaves.
Opar’s culture became even more conservative and rigid. The subspecies were kept separate by rigid caste systems, and brutal pecking orders. Penalties for crossing the lines had to be made as brutal as possible, even lethal. Castration, mutilation, human sacrifice became even more the order of the day. This was what was necessary to keep the newly established races from mixing.
Even in modern times, these were the techniques. Look at the history of American racism. American blacks were subject to a brutal caste system in the era of slavery. They were subject to torture, mutilation, slavery and systematic degradation. Occasionally some revisionist comes up with the notion that black slaves were content with their lot - not true. Every slave owner slept with a pistol under their pillow, they lived in perpetual fear of slave rebellions, they used extreme violence to maintain order and despite or because of this the underground railroad did booming business. Running away, trying to escape to freedom was such an endemic or epidemic fact of slavery that southern doctors described it as a medical condition ‘drapsomania’, and southern lawmakers forced through horrendous punishments for those who harboured escaped slaves.
In the post-slavery era, the American South enforced ‘racial purity’ through an insane system of segregation. Whites and blacks could not sit in the same railway cars, they could not drink from the same fountains, go to the same bathrooms, attend the same schools or be treated in the same hospitals. Blacks were forbidden from sections of buses and movie theatres, they were excluded from restaurants, in some towns they couldn’t even buy stamps from the same post office window. Laws prohibited marriage between blacks and whites, as well as any form of sex. And if the laws weren’t enough, there was an omnipresent thread of violence, blacks were lynched, beaten, brutalized, their property stolen or vandalized. Anti-Black race riots were not uncommon, and resembled the anti-jewish pogroms of eastern Europe. Entire black towns and neighborhoods were wiped out from time to time, simply erased from the map, with victims interred in unmarked mass graves. The Jim Crow era from 1870 to 1970 was nothing more or less than a century long campaign of terrorism against American blacks more systematic and more diabolical than anything Osama Bin Laden could imagine.
How insane was the American south in pursuit of its lunatic policy? Southern libraries in the 1950s went so far as to ban a children’s picture book called ‘The Bunny Rabbits Wedding’ because the drawings featured white and brown rabbits (as rabbits are wont to be). This was interpreted as advocating interracial sex.
Not that the American north or center or west was much better. Many of these places were extremely intolerant of blacks. Ever hear of ‘sundown towns’, basically, these were towns throughout the United States where if you were black and still there when the sun went down... Well, if you were lucky, you were taken to jail. If you weren’t... Even into the 70s and 80s, many of these towns and suburbs maintained their white only character with leases or covenants prohibiting the sale of land to blacks.
The United States is only the nearest example. South Africa built an equally toxic evidence of physical and sexual repression with Apartheid. Many Latin American states have dealt with the large native and mixed blood populations in brutal ways. The Indian subcontinent accommodated the waves of different races of conquerers by evolving a brutal and repressive caste system.
Give people free choice, and some of them will mix. That’s just a fact of life. Here in Canada, we have an entire national group, the Metis, who came about as a mixed race nation - the offspring of First Nations and French Fur traders.
If you want to prevent people from mixing, if you want to reduce the possibility of messy mongrels and hybrids, then you have to be strict and cruel. You have to separate people culturally and socially by any and every means possible, to the point where they don’t drink together, eat together, or socialize. You have to build every barrier possible. You have to bring religion into it to have the gods forbid it. You have to make them hate and despise each other. And still they’ll sneak off into the bushes together, so you have to punish, hurt, maim and kill, so that everyone gets the message.
So it was in the Jim Crow South. And despite all that insane policing, in spite of all that hideous cruelty, centuries of religious and social proscription, slavery, segregation and lynching... A third of white Americans have black ancestors, and ninety per cent of black Americans have white ancestors.
So it was in the even more savage and warlike society of Opar. A brutal and tyrannical city state, in order to perpetuate and maintain its creation, had to become even more brutal, more tyrannical, more toxic and insane. Opar made the repression of Jim Crow look like kid’s stuff. These were serious people, doing seriously horrible things. Horrific things were necessary on a scale more ferocious and more enduring than anything the Jim Crow south might have imagined. The vileness and terror of American slavery and segregation, is, at its worst, merely a hint of what Opar had to become to create its hybrid warriors.
Slave soldiers are well known in history. The most famous examples of the Janissaries of the Byzantine Empire, and the Mamelukes of the later Ottoman Empire. These were men literally born to war, raised to be soldiers literally from their births. The Slave-Soldiers of Opar would merely be a logical extension.
And of course, in its paranoia, no challengers could be allowed. The Oparian slave-soldier races would be unique to Opar. No other city state would be permitted to breed their own super-soldiers. A rule easy enough to enforce, given that an army of hybrids would take a generation. A generation was ample time to find and destroy it before it could become a problem.
This is why we don’t see Frightful Men or Bolgani Men or Gomangani in the other lost cities or (with one exception) among the other lost races encountered by Tarzan which might be related to Opar. The slave-soldiers version of prehistoric nuclear weapons. It wasn’t prepared to allow any other ‘nuclear’ armed city state.
But this of course meant that the numbers of the slave soldiers were limited to that produced by a single city. Limited numbers meant limited use. Even with a force of unbeatable super-soldiers, the Oparians could not do more than control their empire. They didn’t have the forces to expand it. Indeed, they couldn’t stop the inevitable revolts or insurrections. They simply found it easier to put down.
As the slave soldiers became an institutional part of Opar’s culture and empire, they became more essential. Whoever heard of putting down revolts or uprisings with nothing but human troops? Modern generalship in Opar demanded a mixture of forces, that was the way to go. If and when it didn’t work, well the solution was ever more slave soldiers, more extreme breeding practices, stricter social control.
This is simple human nature. If something worked or seemed to work in the past, then the instinctive human approach is to do it, to keep doing it, to do it more and harder. Of course, everything has its laws of diminishing return, every strategy runs its course. But humans, being what they are, if something stops working, or stops working as well, then the impulse is to redouble our efforts. After all, it worked in the past, so it will work again, all we have to do is try harder, do it more, spend more, go longer. Human nature is what throws good money after bad. Human nature is all about digging ourselves deeper into a hole in the hopes of seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Human nature is what keeps America in Iraq, and it’s the reason why, with no rivals left on the planet, the United States continues with a runaway military buildup which is now responsible for more than half the world’s military expenditures.
And human nature points the way to the direction that Opar’s society would develop. Having begun as a colony set adrift, having seized empire, having devolved into tyranny, and that tyranny having produced a military society, that military society having bred segregated super-soldiers, the inevitable direction was already clear. Opar would focus its energies and its wealth on breeding and building ever more terrible armies of super-soldiers. Those segregated armies, those segregated races would define its society, would consume its resources.
Look at it this way. There is only so much manpower, so many man-hours available in a population. People can’t work 27 hours in a day. A society has needs. It needs potters and weavers, it needs bricklayers, farmers, architects, engineers, soldiers, policemen, bakers, rulers, craftsmen, philosophers, etc. And how much of each, and in what proportions it has of each depends on the importance that it places on each.
Well, the United States has decided that it’s a lot more important to spend money on fighter jets than on elementary schools, that soldiers are more important than teachers. That’s a defensible choice, a justifiable one, but bottom line is a choice. So to with Opar. But where the United States is a democracy and its choices are subject to public approval, Opar was a fairly deranged tyranny. It was a tyranny build on segregated races of slave soldiers. What’s it going to do?
Each budget, year by year, increment by increment, century by century, gave more money, more power and wealth to the keystone of its power. The slave soldiers. Opar cared less and less about manufacturing, about weavers and potters, carpenters and architects. Why? Because it could get these things from its tribute states, it didn’t need to develop it or maintain it itself.
Opar had a choice. It had a certain amount of money available. It could use that money to turn out a slave soldier who will win honour and glory, protect it from its enemies, and enforce tribute including pottery and treasures of all kinds from its subjects. Or it could use that money to turn out a potter who will.... make pots. If it opts for the potter, well, it can better damned hope that in its next war it turns out not to be that one slave soldier short. If it opted for the slave-soldier, well, you can demand all the pottery you want the next time you win the war. That’s the choice. What would you do.
Of course, its not quite like that. Rather, its gradual, its incremental, its progressive. Priorities change and shift over time, trends take place.
Eventually, Opar, which was once a thriving city of craftsmen and artisans of all sorts, evolves into a city of slaves and soldiers. The thriving middle class, the artisan base, the manufacturing base, gradually withers away so slowly that no one realizes its not a good idea from one increment to the next.
Instead, the human population, apart from the ruling class, diminishes in size and importance. It becomes ever more marginalized. The minimal amount of vital skills and functions are carried on by slaves. The economy of Opar is sustained by the economies and contributions of tribute states, who supply Opar with the manufacturing, the goods, even the foods it no longer produces for itself.
Opar has reached the pinnacle of its wealth and power. It’s Empire is at its most secure, its influence over its tribute states is at its height. It even has occasional trade or exchanges with states from ports on the Indian Ocean, including the Jewish Kingdom of Solomon.
Yes, Tarzan’s Opar is indeed the Ophir of King Solomon in the Bible. The biblical Ophir or Opar was mentioned several times. It was a land and a people located south or southeast of the land of Palestine, from which Phoenician and Judean ships set out on trading missions."Once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.” (1 Ki, 10:22, Bible).Other passages mention gold, jewels and precious stones, and ‘Almug Wood.’ Ophir or Opar was mentioned several times in the bible, mostly in connection with gold, and for the extreme purity of its gold. At times, Ophir seems synonymous with high grade gold. Ophir also appears on some written records and inscriptions outside of the bible from the region.
However, neither the bible nor any other source was terribly clear on where Opar or Ophir was, and gives us no information at all as to its kingdom or society. The Ophirians don’t seem to have been a seafaring people, rather, ships from the middle east went out to them and came back. Unlike the Queen of Sheba, the Ophirians never visited, never sent embassies, and had no particular relationships with any biblical figure. It’s simply referred to in passing, and has faded from history. That makes it one of those biblical mysteries. In a sense, it’s almost the bible’s version of Atlantis, or of the Koranic Irem, a mysterious lost land.
Over the years, there have been almost as many theories as to Ophir’s location as for Atlantis. Among the candidates: Arabia, Yemen, Eritrea, Djbouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Australia and even Peru. Given the apes, ivory and peacocks, assuming that these items came directly from Opar, and given the remarkable three year length of the journey, this may argue for an African or Indian origin. Unlike Atlantis or Irem, the bible never records Ophir as coming to a bad end. In fact, it doesn’t say much about Ophir at all. It just sort of vanishes from the records.
Burroughs wasn’t just inspired by Ophir, but clearly, he’s intending that his Opar is the same as the biblical Ophir, an incredible treasure house of gold and jewels located inaccessibly in the heart of Africa. H.Rider Haggard, in his novel King Solomon’s Mines also places Ophir in central Africa. Burroughs had a major stroke of genius in connecting Opar to that other fabled lost land, making it a colony of Atlantis (according to Plato, sank 10,000 years ago), or perhaps Mu or Lemuria.
If Burroughs intended that his Opar was the same as the biblical Ophir, that means that it seems to have endured many thousands of years. La gives the date of founding as more than 10,000 years ago, but the era of Solomon was only 3000 years ago.
Is this plausible? Sure. We have to assume that Opar endured for a long time after its founding civilization fell. Opar, focused on internal control and repression was no threat to outsiders. It wasn’t terribly interested in the outside world, it does not send out ships or fleets, establishes no embassies, sends out no missions of trade, diplomacy or exploration. It is content enough to explore It becomes known for its fantastic wealth, but is a distant and inaccessible land. Interestingly, it’s also known for its apes.
So Tarzan’s Opar is indeed the Opar of King Solomon’s era. It is Opar at the height of its wealth and power, a pinnacle whose fame even reaches to the edges of the civilized world. And it’s the beginning of the end.
THE FALL FROM EMPIRE
The truth is that Opar’s Empire has become a house of cards. It has literally painted itself into a corner. A path which in the beginning seemed bright and shining, destined to lead it into a greatness that would supplant even the memory of its founder, has by step by step lead it down into abyssal darkness. And even worse, the steps have made it a refined and narrow thing, a society so limited, so focused, so restricted, that it has become brittle. Its steel has hardened to glass, and its glass is at the limits of its stress. Any disaster may undo it completely.
And there’s no shortage of potential disasters awaiting Opar.
Let’s take another look at its local environment, for instance.“But before him was the view that centered his attention. Here lay a desolate valley--a shallow, narrow valley dotted with stunted trees and covered with many great boulders. And on the far side of the valley lay what appeared to be a mighty city, its great walls, its lofty spires, its turrets, minarets, and domes showing red and yellow in the sunlight. Tarzan was yet too far away to note the marks of ruin--to him it appeared a wonderful city of magnificent beauty, and in imagination he peopled its broad avenues and its huge temples with a throng of happy, active people.” (The Return of Tarzan)Notice something?
“But, finally, after what seemed long ages to the impatient ape-man, he topped the barrier cliffs that hemmed the desolate valley, and below him lay the grim and awful ruins of the now hideous city of Opar. At a rapid trot he started across the dry and dusty, bowlder-strewn ground toward the goal of his desires.” (The Return of Tarzan)
“At the edge of the desolate valley, overlooking the golden domes and minarets of Opar, Tarzan halted. By night he would go alone to the treasure vault, reconnoitering, for he had determined that caution should mark his every move upon this expedition. (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar)
“Tearfully they .... made their mournful way back across the desolate valley of Opar, and downward through the forests.... (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar)
“From there the well-worn trail led them beyond the outer fortification to the desolate valley of Opar. (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar)
“The trail led apparently toward the rocky hills which protected the barren valley of Opar. (Tarzan and the Golden Lion.)
From the location of the stars and moon, and from the upward trend of the trail, Tarzan knew that he was being led into the mountains that lie behind Opar -- a place he had never thought of visiting, since the country appeared rough and uninviting, and not likely to harbor game such as Tarzan cared most to hunt. He was already surprised by the nature of the vegetation, for he had thought the hills barren except for stunted trees and scraggy bush. As they continued upon their way, climbing ever upward, the moon rose higher in the heavens, until its soft light revealed more clearly to the keen eyes of the ape-man the topography of the country they were traversing, and then it was that he saw they were ascending a narrow, thickly wooded gorge, and he understood why the heavy vegetation had been invisible from the plain before Opar. (Tarzan and the Golden Lion)
As the expedition wound along the trail that leads to the foot of the barrier cliffs that hem the lower frontier of the arid plateau beyond which stand the ancient ruins that are Opar (Tarzan the Invincible)
“Tarzan and Nkima had disappeared beyond the summit and were crossing the desolate valley, upon the far side of which loomed the great walls and lofty spires and turrets of ancient Opar.” (Tarzan the Invincible)
“It was with such reveries that the mind of the ape-man was occupied as he crossed the desolate valley of Opar, which lay shimmering in the bright sunlight that was relieved only by the shade of an occasional gnarled and stunted tree.” (Tarzan the Invincible)
“It was a silent party that filed across the dusty plain toward Opar” (Tarzan the Invincible)
Desolation anyone? Opar’s countryside seems pretty barren.
The valley of the Bolgani is still somewhat lush, supporting some agriculture and a population of a few thousand. Presumably the Frightful Men do a bit of farming and hunting.
But overall, Opar’s countryside simply doesn’t seem to be productive enough or fertile enough to support the size of city signified by the ruins. Opar’s valley, judging by the size of the city complexes, must have supported tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands. Not so now.
What happened? It’s possible, but unlikely, that Opar’s lands were always like this and that Opar imported much of its food. Possible but unlikely. It’s possible that ten thousand years of intensive farming simply slowly wore out the soil, leaving it barren. It’s possible that Opar’s farmlands were destroyed by bad agricultural practices. It’s possible that there was a change in climate. It may have happened quickly, as a series of catastrophic crop failures. Or gradually, with the diminishing crops made up by imports from tribute states.
But the bottom line is that the agricultural base that sustains Opar’s population withers away. As an Empire, Opar can keep going by keeping the food shipments coming. Unless of course a big enough revolt or an invasion interrupts those shipments. And Opar starves, and the Empire collapses.
Or it could have been something else. Perhaps the simple fact is that Opar finally pushed its tribute states too far, the war broke out, and Opar lost. It wasn’t overrun, but its economy was so vestigial, so heavily dependent on tribute, that the vassal states simply had to hold out long enough and Opar collapsed, and so did the Empire. Or Opar destroyed its tribute states or reduced them to such ruins that they were unable to sustain Opar with tribute, and without that, Opar collapsed.
Or how about this, germs came to the Empire. Periodically plagues sweep through, populations are decimated. The Empire of Opar was inward turning, inclusive, regressive. It might have been devastated by a plague. In the aftermath, the Empire can’t hold together, it collapses.
Here’s another possibility. Invasion. All those black barbarians that the Oparians have been ignoring all those years finally come to collect their due. They have superior technology, bows and arrows, superior numbers, the Oparians and their tribute states are weakened and exhausted by yet another round of their regular civil wars. Just as in Rome, the Barbarians move in, and the Empire collapses.
There might be more. Broad based climate change might have made the Empire unfeasible. Or perhaps most of the Empire’s tribute states encountered soil exhaustion. It might have been something as simple as the emergence of the Tsetse fly which wiped out the Empire’s cattle and beasts of burden, a loss with wide ranging repercussions. Or maybe it was something as simple as Opar’s economic contradictions finally catching up with it, and the Empire collapsing in the pre-industrial version of a great depression/fiscal-currency crisis.
What is clear from La’s description is that the Empire goes first, the other cities fail one after the other, they’re destroyed or isolated. Not every city of the Empire is destroyed. Xuja, the most remote colony, survives, as does Athne and Cathne. Tarzan encounters Xuja in Tarzan the Untamed.
Athne and Cathne also survive. The division into two cities was likely the product of Opar’s meddling, dividing the people into two populations in order to discourage or undermine revolt. Tarzan encounters these lands in Tarzan and the City of Gold and Tarzan the Magnificent. The Kaji and Zula seen in Tarzan the Magnificent may be further offshoots or survivals.
The Kavaru, a ruling priest caste, manage to survive the destruction of their city and perpetuate themselves as an isolated community, surrounded by blacks. The Kavuru have procured a form of immortality which requires them to prey upon blacks like vampires. It’s possible that this secret of longevity was generally known to select among the ruling class of Opar and at least some of its tribute cities. This might explain the long term but narrowminded planning that would result in the creation of the hybrid races. Tarzan encounters the Kavuru in Tarzan’s Quest.
Opar is thrown upon its own resources. Resources it no longer has. Remember the parable of the potter versus the slave-soldier. Opar has lots of slave-soldiers, not much of anything else. It’s still a fortress, still impregnable, but nowhere close to fully self sufficient. This doesn’t mean that Opar has no potters or artisans whatsoever, but their numbers and status are much reduced and not enough.
This is the era of Opar’s last stand. It’s armies and tactics are obsolete. Superhumanly strong hybrid slave soldiers are of no use against invading enemies who shoot arrows at a distance and who refuse to accept close combat. Many of the tribute cities find themselves equally overwhelmed, and they don’t even have the advantage of hybrid slave soldiers. Many of them fall. Others are isolated and cut off. Opar is unable to protect or even reach its former tribute states, attempts to do so end disastrously. They are abandoned.
Alone in the world it faces a sea of enemies and problems, and faces them with its long accustomed savagery. Barbarian sieges are mounted on Opar’s very walls and then broken, famines are confined to the most disposable elements of the population, accelerated pace of human sacrifice and terror keeps a restive population in line. Even with its Empire shorn, Opar is still unconquerable. But its suffering is immense.
Opar no longer has the resources to extend its sway over an Empire whose cities no longer exist anyway. Nor does it have the resources to rebuild those cities. Instead, its now confined to its valley. Opar vanishes from the pages of biblical history.
THE CIVIL WARS
A sane and sensible civilization, upon finding itself shorn of Empire and trapped in a single valley in which it no longer has the capacity or resources to maintain its civilization, might make some changes.
It might, for instance, begin reducing the size of its vast military apparatus, lowering the populations of slave soldiers, or re-assigning them into more productive social and economic roles. It might seek ways to rebuild its economy and infrastructure in this new environment. It might seek peace with its neighbors, open trade and build bridges into the future.
But then again, a sane and sensible civilization has never existed upon the Earth in the whole of genuine history, so it’s pretty unreasonable to expect this of Opar.
Instead, they were likely to go on doing what had worked in the past and but was no longer working now. And since it wasn’t working now, the natural response would be to keep doing it more and harder.
In Opar’s term, that meant an even more tyrannical and ferocious ruling class, more human sacrifice to propitiate the gods and keep everyone in line, more brutal slavery, more segregation and racial isolation and hatred and a military far larger and more expensive than they can afford.
Opar by this time is divided into a rigid caste society. There are five groups:1) The Gomangani slave-subspecies which carries on the farming outside and around the city, and the heavier beast of burden work inside the city;It can’t and won’t last.
2) A human caste of slaves, artisans, warriors, bureaucrats and middle class whose status (except for its warriors) is barely above the Gomangani and who are maintaining the barely functioning civilian infrastructure;
3) The caste of the Bolgani-Men, slave-soldiers whose military significance and power makes them one of the most powerful castes in the city, but whose role is narrow and restricted to war;
4) The caste of the Frightful-Men, balancing and rival to the Bolgani-Men, more numerous, but equally dedicated warriors; and
5) The ferocious and tyrannical ruling class.
There is no more Empire to rule, there are no more external wars to fight. Indeed, sending out the warrior castes to battle is seen as foolhardy, the spending of Opar’s real treasure - fighting men, to no good effect. There is no goal out there to be achieved, only casualties. So the warriors stay home, becoming restive.
The ruling class sustains itself by playing the three warrior castes off against each other. The Bolgani-Men are opposed by the Frightful-Men, who are opposed by the Human warriors, who are opposed by the Bolgani Men, who are opposed.... And so on. The ruling class ensures its own power by stirring the pot, keeping any one caste from becoming too powerful, making sure that each is checked by the others.
The lower castes, the Gomangani and the Civilian Humans are of no account. They are subject to brutal repression by the ruling class and the warrior castes.
Keeping the pot stirred is not the best ruling strategy. The technique of playing one faction off against another can’t last. Sooner or later the pots start to boil over.
And from Opar’s current shape, we can even tell which pot boils over first. The Bolgani-Men revolt. Civil war breaks out between the Ruling Class, backed by the other Warrior castes, and the Bolgani-Men. Unable to triumph, the Bolgani-Men retreat into the valley, establishing their own fortifications in the deeper parts of the city, and dominating the Gomangani of the fields. Unfortunately, the Oparians are skilled at standing sieges, not breaking them. They can’t break the Bolgani-Men’s defenses, after a while they don’t even bother. The two communities are now separate and hostile. Tarzan discovers the Bolgani-Men and their city in Tarzan and the Golden Lion, and they are mentioned again but not seen in Tarzan the Invincible.
Interestingly, the Bolgani-Men managed to keep far more of Opar’s original culture and civilization intact than the Frightful-Men would. As late as Tarzan’s Time they were maintaining an organized agricultural society, continuing ritualistic or religious mining, maintaining their buildings and even constructing new ones. The Bolgani-Men, unlike the Frightful-Men, also remembered clearly their rebellion from and war with Opar, and remembered that Opar’s Queen was their hereditary enemy.“The old man looked his incredulity. "Impossible!" he cried. "It cannot be that the queen of Opar has risked her life by coming to the home of her hereditary enemies." ....The trail to Opar they do not guard, because they no longer fear the Oparians, “ (Tarzan and the Golden Lion)One contingent of the Bolgani-Men find themselves trapped outside the Bolgani-City on the wrong side of Opar. Unable to reach their refuge, small in numbers and facing obliteration, they strike out from Opar into the jungles. After much struggle they make their way to a secluded valley where they set up their own community. Millennia later the will come under the influence of an insane British renaissance alchemist who styles himself God and teaches them English. Tarzan will encounter this culture in Tarzan and the Lion Man. Although God claims to have created these Bolgani-Men, modern genetics makes that a laughable proposition, particularly with the state of science and technology available to God. Instead, more likely, God encountered a troubled and degenerate population, was able to use the medicine and techniques available to him to help, and used this to parlay himself into divine status. After that, God, like Elvis, bought into his own PR and started rewriting history.
At first, it seems like a triumph, the Bolgani-Men have been driven from the city proper. The Frightful-Men and human warriors are ascendant with the Ruling Class. But the downside is that Opar has lost a large part of its agricultural capacity. The city has even more trouble feeding its remaining population.
The response? More terror and repression. The surviving Gomangani of the fields and the city are blamed for the disaster. Clearly some sort of treason lay at the heart of this defeat. The sacrificial altar works steadily. Eventually, through pogroms and repression, the Gomangani outside of the Bolgani City are purged into extinction.
Meanwhile, the defeat is overcome by purging it from memory. Histories are unwritten, the matter is forbidden to speak of, the Bolgani-Men and their rebellion are forbidden to discussion. Any talk of any rebellion is forbidden, after all, people might get ideas."In this direction lies an unknown country, filled for us Oparians with legends of grim monsters and strange people. Never has an Oparian ventured here and returned again to Opar. But if there lives in all the world a creature who could win through this unknown valley, it be you, Tarzan of the Apes." (La, Tarzan and the Golden Lion)Of course, this leaves the ruling class’s three legged stool with only two legs. The Ruling Class balanced its military castes, playing off human warriors, frightful-men and bolgani-men. Now there are only frightful-men and inferior human warriors.
At some point the Frightful-Men realize that there’s nothing to stop them from taking over. The second civil war is short, bloody and thorough as the Frightful-Men rise up and take over, purging the ruling class and decimating the human warriors. They and their priestesses now rule Opar and will continue to rule it for the rest of its history.
Unfortunately, there is a problem. The Ruling Class, brutal and tyrannical as it was, at least knew how to rule. The Frightful-Men know only brutality. Under their arbitrary and incompetent governance, Opar rapidly goes to hell. Conditions worsen dramatically. The Frightful-Men push their oppression of the human underclass to extreme proportions.
So of course, eventually, there’s an uprising and the human underclass revolts. What choice do they have? It’s likely that they are lead by the remnants of the ruling class that have survived the purge. Of course, they’re no match for the Frightful-Men at the height of their power, and the Bolgani-Men are out of the picture in their own city.
The humans of Opar have too choices. They will either be wiped out or reduced to an even more abject tyranny and slavery in Opar. Or they can flee.
They, or their survivors flee, striking out for a refuge safe from the black barbarians and from the frightful men. Eventually they find it in a hidden and inaccessible valley that can be reached only by paddling their biremes up a river into a cave tunnel. There they find a strange paradise, a land secure from their enemies, but filled with strange and terrifying reptiles, a primeval lost world. The refugees in their journey encounter and are heavily influenced by the native blacks who have taken over the region, even to the point of adopting much of the Swahili language.
It’s likely that the valley itself was discovered, and perhaps even garrisoned during the Imperial age of Opar, its location a guarded secret among certain of the ruling class. When the human Oparians flee it is probably centuries after discovery. Of course, colonizing this valley results in extinction for many of the stranger and more dangerous reptiles and other odd life forms. But the lake still teems with sea monsters, and the outer forests still sustain smaller (but still gigantic) versions of biped carnivorous reptiles.
The valley was likely once an entrance to Pellucidar, accounting for the dinosaurs and sea monsters. It would be interesting to conjecture whether the passage to Pellucidar was still open at the time of Opar’s discovery. Perhaps the Sagoths of Pellucidar are actually derived from a force of Bolgani-Men from Opar, who passed through that gateway before it closed. It’s an interesting speculation.
But now we’re looking at a much later era. That passage to Pellucidar, if it was ever open during Opar’s history is now closed. Opar is in its final stages, and the human refugees fleeing Opar’s last civil war come here to found a new city and name it Ashair. Ashair, for its part is an obvious corruption of Opar or Ophir. Meanwhile, as they build their new city, dissension breaks out. Renegades and malcontents, unwilling to sea the old remnants of the ruling class attempt to recreate the hell on earth that was their old city, retreat even further into the valley, founding their own rival city which they name Thobus.
Tarzan later encounters both Ashair and Thobus in Tarzan and the Forbidden City, and learns that this strange city was founded perhaps three thousand years ago, in the time of the biblical Opar, and perhaps in the subsequent era of Opar’s decline and fall.
Opar is now left to the Frightful-Men and their Priestesses. They were a warrior caste, the trades of bricklaying and construction, pottery, weaving, metallurgy, and the hundred other skills needed to keep even a bronze age culture going are lost to them, and worse, are disrespected. Over time they are able to rediscover, recreate or regain some of these skills, but never to the levels achieved by their forebears and they never learn to respect these skills. In governance, the only lessons they’ve learned are brutality and tyranny. Desperation forces them to hunt and farm sufficient to keep their reduced population going, but even there the population continues to decline until it reaches manageable proportions of perhaps merely a few thousand, or even a few hundred, a fraction of former glory.
The Oparians preserve their Empire’s God, the Flaming God or Sun Deity. From the surviving cities, it seems that each city of the Empire had a patron deity. The Oparians were unpleasant enough that with their fall or isolation, so too would their God fall from favour. Other cities, the Bolgani, the Xujans, Athne, would worship Lions instead. The Xujans also worship Parrots, the Cathne elephants. The Ashair and Thobus preserve the worship of Isis but also venerate ‘City’ deities. In H.Rider Haggard’s ‘She and Allan’ we find that Ayesha (She who must be obeyed), as the priestess of a moon cult engaged in rivalry to a sun cult.
The Frightful-Men of Opar see themselves surrounded by enemies on every front. Truthfully, there’s nothing new to this, their world view has always been steeped in paranoia. However, circumstance and their own efforts have combined to make it real. Behind them are the traitorous Bolgani-Men and Gomangani. They waste themselves on futile wars. Eventually the futility reaches even them, they abandon the interior of the valley, purging it from their minds. It becomes a no-man’s land.
Beyond the valley are the black barbarians and if they’re still alive, the rebel humans who fled, the cities of perpetual revolt of the Empire, if any are left. Both are enemies and unwelcome. Even the Mangani are enemies.
Opar remains a fortress, the Frightful-Men remain savage and superlative warriors. The occasional assault by black tribes always ends disastrously for the tribes. They learn to leave Opar well alone. The desolate landscape holds little appeal for invaders, and the walls, even broken, are still insurmountable. But the bows and arrows of black tribes are proof against any incursions by the Frightful-Men, a lesson that the Frightful Men learn. It is not good to leave Opar. They remain bottled in their fortress, the siege is permanent in their minds.
The Frightful-Men are trapped by their paranoia, hiding in their isolation, turned ever inward. There’s no place left for them to go but down into madness and degradation, their lives filled with superstition and brutality.
This is the end of history for Opar. Centuries may pass, but nothing significant will transpire. Eventually, the ape man will come there and meet La, who may or may not be immortal, who may or may not be of Barsoom, in the Return of Tarzan, and history begins anew.
Tarzan novels referenced
The Return of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Tarzan and the Golden Lion
Tarzan the Invincible
The Tarzan Twins and Jad Bal Ja
Tarzan and the City of Gold
Tarzan the Magnificent
Tarzan and the Forbidden City
Tarzan the Untamed
Tarzan at the Earth’s Core
Hadon of Ancient Opar, Farmer
Flight to Opar, Farmer
Time’s Last Gift, Farmer
The Return of She, Haggard
King Solomon’s Mine, Haggard
She and Allan, Haggard
Dave Hoover's La at the Altar
Den Valdron's Fantasy Worlds of ERB
John Carter Film
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