Margaret Mead was asked by her student, when was a civilization born? The pupil was shocked when Mead replied, more or less, when a 1,500-year-old femur fractured and healed.

Mead is a prominent anthropologist and one of the pioneers in the field. Instead of answering that civilization began when humans first invented pots or other living utensils, he referred to the archaeological discovery of a fractured and healed femur (the longest bone in humans). In the animal kingdom, Mead said, breaking a leg is the same as death. Animals with broken legs will become prey of predators, they will be abandoned by the herd.

The femur is the longest bone that connects the hip to the knee. A fractured femur takes six weeks to heal. A healed fractured femur indicates that someone else is accompanying the broken leg, caring for it, keeping it from becoming a predator’s prey. A healed fractured femur is a sign that someone else has not left the person with the broken bone to become prey for animals in the wild.

Helping others in times of difficulty, is when a civilization is born, Mead said. The pandemic, the global epidemic, gives us the opportunity to rediscover the values of this civilization and the basis of civilization. Restoring body, restoring soul, together. Give attention to other people, around us, or on our screen, then take care of each other. Amid so much anxiety, death, and loss, we find restoration and solace for the soul in prayer and art.

Maybe death is getting closer [*]. However, in this siege of loss, we chat with fellow humans, stare at smartphone screens, establish communication, and enjoy works of art. Then we rediscover an old Latin adage: Vita Brevis, Ars Longa. “Life is Short, Art is Long”.

Art, in this sense, is able to lengthen the meaning of our short life in the history of this civilization.***

[*] Borrowing a famous sentence from a poem by Subagio Sastrowardoyo in the book Dan Kematian Semakin Akrab, Gramedia, 1995.


Hikmat Darmawan
Festival Board
Madani Film Festival