Historians at the University of West Terrier believe that it began during the second wave of immigration to The Park. This was the era during which Park Animals needed to find ways to ensure that the many different species that had taken up residence here could live together in harmony.
“Peace, made possible by interspecial harmony, is one of the tenets of zoocracy. It is seen not only as an important aspiration, but as something that was and is attainable. It was foremost in Jor’s mind when he established zoocracy. But long before that, interspecial harmony was not an ideal; it was a necessity. Without some semblance of it, there would have been no Park in which to establish zoocracy. So, the rôle of Keeper of the Nut was a very important one in those early years,” says Beatrice Zilonis, a professor in the Department of History at the University of West Terrier.
Originally, the position was called “Keeper of the Nuts.”
“This is a very important distinction,” says Clark Cascanueces, President of the Park Historical Society. “The plural marks the difference between real function and symbolism. Although there was, indeed, symbolism involved in the position, function was its most important aspect,” he says.
The Keeper of the Nuts was charged with the responsibility of guarding the property of those who went into hibernation.
“This was not as easy a task as it might seem,” says Cascanueces. “These were not lawful times; there was plenty of plotting and thievery going on in The Park. Hibernators (and estivators) were especially vulnerable to it. No institutions, such as banks, had yet been established. There was no organized storage and homes were makeshift. In a very real way, Animals were on their own,” Cascanueces says.
No one is sure how the rôle of Keeper of the Nuts began. Some theorize the rôle evolved through a series of what historians call “stages of trust.” Others believe that it was established through thievery, itself.
“What we do know,” says UWT’s Zilonis, “is that once it was established, it took. There was no going back. Little by little, Animals had found a way to trust those outside their own species and to use that trust to benefit themselves and others.”
In the beginning, it appears that the selection of Keeper of the Nut was made by Park elders, based upon the recommendations of a variety of Animal communities.
Today, final selection is made by ballots cast by the Small Animal Hibernating Community (SAHC). Based upon personal knowledge and the recommendations of Park citizens, the SAHC invites Animals to stand for the position. The right of refusal ensures that only those who wish to fulfill the rôle will be selected by the Community.
THE KEEPER IN LITERATURE
The first references to the rôle are found in early epic poetry. From these poems, we learn that there was more than one Keeper of the Nuts per season.
“That would make sense,” says Zilonis, “since they would check up on each other and that would reduce the likelihood of internal theft.”
The epic poems also tell us that the word “nuts” meant foodstuffs in general, rather than only nuts. Other foods are mentioned, including seeds, leaves, and certain mud mixes.
Even at its most functional, the rôle of Keeper of the Nut held important symbolism for Park Animals. The rôle symbolizes the trust that Animals place in each other for their very survival.
Over the years, due to the establishment of zoocracy, organized storage, banking systems, and extra-hortulanial trade, the Keeper of the Nut has become more of a ceremonial rôle. Its symbolism remains powerful, however, and while the “nut” is now less a symbol of food than it is of Animals’ hopes for The Park’s future, a recent Park survey indicated that the majority of Animals think first of survival when they think of the Keeper of the Nut.
SURRENDER OF THE NUT
“Historically, the Surrender of the Nut was a solemn occasion. It was a recognition not only of the harmony of the species, which is symbolized, of course, by the trust that Animals put in the Keeper of the Nut, but of the ephemeral nature of life, itself,” says Professor Zilonis. “Animals didn’t know whether they would wake from hibernation. And, if they did, they didn’t know what world they would find themselves in. They saw the surrender as just that — ceding control over their future. It has always been a very powerful moment for us.”
These days, while it remains a serious occasion, it is a celebratory one, as well.
“I think we’ve evolved to the point of being able to celebrate the unknown, at least to some extent,” Clark Cascanueces says. “I think we can surrender ourselves to the future, while acknowledging that there may not be one for some of us.”
The Surrender of the Nut occurs every year on November 14 at 11:00 in the morning.
The Mammalian Daily gratefully acknowledges the assistance of members of The Park Historical Society and the University of West Terrier Department of History in the preparation of this article.