Rouli

I flutter and reach an engulfed meadow circled by low-lying shrubs. It’s that hermetic land where the tribe of Rouli resides. Its people call themselves Rouliers. 

Not a single bone in their body, their palms and feet are flipped upward from birth, as if in a perpetual begging position. This physiognomy is manifest in their relations to the world. They talk in such a sentimental way, as if they can only speak in country music lyrics: “How would you choose between dying with a broken heart and thriving with a wretched body?” 

Rouliers have abolished private property and consider self-sufficiency a profanity. Their economy operates primarily according to a beg-thy-neighbor policy. With no domestic productivity, they are thoroughly dependent on the outside: They make nothing on their own—no grains, no cotton, no metal, no wood—and relying on charity for a living, they don’t use money. “To be able to trust again, you need to give 100% of yourself to the world. You need to let go in order to be loved.” 

Since birth, they’ve lived on the excess margins of capitalism: trash, overstock items, expired goods. Surprisingly they seem to lack interest in value judgement. I used to see Rouliers eating chocolate candy wrapped in golden foil, smoking hookah and using alligator-skinned oxford shoes as tanks for catfish. I’ve seen a Roulier burst into tears because some intruder came in and stole all the marijuana they grew: “Why didn’t he ask; did he feel embarrassed?  I don’t know why he didn’t just ask, because I will give him anything if he asks. It hurts my feelings that people are afraid of voicing their needs. I’m so devastated, even though I’ve never met him. I feel I’m probably in love...” I also see them worship a piece of chewed gum, passing it around and kissing it like a ceremony. There was a period of time where Rouliers consumed cocaine daily, but as soon as the supply chain got cut, they gave it up in a week. Lots of tribes got screwed by crack; I don’t know if Rouliers had extraordinary willpower or if they were simply immune. 

When I descend, I see them giving blow jobs and caressing each other. In wintertime, naked cuddling to aggregate body heat is a fashion. Their mortality rate is always higher in the winter due to this custom of not wearing clothes. This nonsensical practice is telling about their need for extreme pleasure.

Sometimes I admire how Rouliers appear simultaneously soft and hardcore. They never store up food and goods for the cold; they keep jars of cranberry jam wide open and let them dry in the open air. This lack of preparation seems idiotic at times. I guess some anarchist environmentalists would be fond of them, because they upcycle everything and go zero waste, even though gas emission and entropy are not on their mind. 

Once an NGO associate came with a recording pen, but a Roulier gave cringe worthy compliments that sound like harassment, asking to lick their cufflinks. The Roulier said it in a soft trembling voice paired with an assertive attitude. In the end the person had to give up the cufflinks to exit. 

They don’t have any idea about eschatology. In fact, they often pretend that they don’t know what you are talking about, it’s impossible to have an argument with them. Sometimes I wonder what keeps them going. They are probably atheists. Some say they embody tribal primitivism, which is progressive with a regressive spin. They don’t subscribe to any discourse above.  

A day in Rouli begins like this: without a bone in their torso, one of them will inevitably fall, knocking over another, setting off a domino effect among the group, until all of them fall and start to roll around like noodle strips. While they groan and moan on the ground, they suck on each other’s bare skin for comfort, pushing back and forth or apologizing for kicking. From an outside perspective, they gradually become one single breathing entity. I’ve always wanted to take a chance to join them in the knocking-over. I’m simply too bony for the ritual and it could be exhausting to perform for long durations. The game could take more than half of their life span, something so pointless that’s lauded as the central activity of their life. 

They have developed a pretty unitary gesture to beg that remained constant throughout the history, something nonchalant, uneventful and effortless. It consists of bobbing heads and rolling eyes. They look identical to each other, impossible to distinguish physically. Inside the tribe, there has never been debate about who is more incapacitated or who is more in need. I put myself into their shoes: isn’t it liberating that you can from now on save all the mental labor for self-defense? Simply show up to the doorsteps of another, flip your palms upward, bob your head, roll your eyes, and beg. Rouliers never verbalize emotions like pity and sympathy that saturate every fiber of their being. “Neediness,” like “politeness” and “confidence” is considered a civility, agreed upon and legitimized since time immemorial.  

The most impressive thing about them is their adeptness at blatantly displaying vulnerability. It must have been their diplomatic strong suit. They are famous for resorting to neighboring countries for help. As a consequence, the neighbors are spurred by extra developmental incentives and become even more dependable. They keep the population size lean and mortality rate low, other than casualties of the cold. They were once nomads, but at some point decided to stay in the middle of nowhere in the arms of a swamp.   

People who are curious about “soft diplomacy” and its tactics come to visit Rouli. The first thing they are taught is begging, with the best physical posture you can possibly pull off: shake your shoulders, induce a seizure, instigate a stroke, cut off your pinkies, and do anything you are willing to do to get attention. Rouli helps set you up for future begging. You are encouraged to keep practicing self-pity. Many newcomers are advised to stay on the ground and do nothing for days before they can stand up and walk again.

Rouliers have been the most protocol-intense specimen that I witness, interestingly they were under-documented in Shanhaijing, merely mentioned as a boneless people with no past or future. But the Rouliers in front of me have evolved into an exciting community that’s prosperous. I consider myself their friend, because they never fail to amaze me. 

 

Macalline Art Center is a practice-oriented site focused on contemporary visual inventions. The Center engages with artists and art groups by building physical and online communities through events and research. The Center is guided by the working processes of artists, constantly re-defining and testing itself and renewing perceptual and cognitive systems in contemporary situations and contexts.