The Books of Bokonon
From Cat's Cradle
In Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., created a new religion,
Bokononism. The holy scripture of Bokononism was the ever-growing
"Books of Bokonon", written by Bokonon -- a British Episcopalian Negro
from the island of Tobago whose real name was Lionel Boyd Johnson
[ 48 ] -- as a way to distract the people of San Lorenzo from
their pitiful lives. What is sacred to Bokononists? Not God; just
one thing: man. [ 94 ]
All material contained below was written by Kurt Vonnegut and
scattered throughout Cat's Cradle wherever it best suited the
novel. I have merely tabulated -- as best I could -- his snippets
into an order that one might find in a real copy of the Books of
Bokonon. I have also tried to cross-reference these snippets to the
numbered sections of the novel, where you may read of scripture in the
context of Vonnegut's story.
Index to The Books of Bokonon
The First Book
Warning from title page: Don't be a fool! Close this book at
once! It is nothing but foma!
[ 118 ]
Verse 1: All of the true things that I am about to tell you are
shameless lies. [ 4 ]
Verses 2-4 (?): In the beginning, God created the earth, and he
looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.
And God said, "Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can
see what We have done." And God created every living creature that
now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God
leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man
blinked. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.
"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.
"Certainly," said man.
"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.
And He went away. [ 118 ]
Verse 5: Live by the foma that make you
brave and kind and healthy and happy. [ frontispiece ]
The Sixth Book
[ This book "is devoted to pain, in particular to tortures inflicted
by men on men". [ 118 ] ]
If I am ever put to death on the hook, expect a very human
In any case, there's bound to be much crying.
But the oubliette alone will let you think while dying.
The Seventh Book: Bokonon's Republic
[ "...a whole book about Utopias". [ 126 ] ]
The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world.
Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores, a chain of
grocery stores, a chain of gas chambers, and a national game. After
that we can write our Constitution.
The Fourteenth Book
[ A short book with a long title. [ 110 ] ]
Title: What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth,
Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?
Only verse: Nothing.
- On Dynamic Tension [ 47 ]
- "Papa" Monzano, he's so very bad
But without bad "Papa" I would be so sad;
Because without "Papa's" badness,
Tell me, if you would,
How could wicked old Bokonon
Ever, ever look good?
- On the Natives of San Lorenzo: [ 56 ]
- Oh, a very sorry people, yes,
Did I find here.
Oh, they had no music,
And they had no beer.
And, oh, everywhere
Where they tried to perch
Belonged to Castle Sugar, Incorporated,
Or the Catholic church.
- On the creation of Bokononism: [ 58 ]
- I wanted all things
To seem to make some sense,
So we could all be happy, yes,
Instead of tense.
And I made up lies
So that they all fit nice,
And I made this sad world
- On the end of the world: [ 119 ]
- Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to end,
And our God will take things back that He to us did lend.
And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God,
Why just go ahead and scold Him. He'll just smile and nod.
- The Boko-maru Calypso [ 72 ]
- We will touch our feet, yes,
Yes, for all we're worth,
And we will love each other, yes,
Yes, like we love our Mother Earth.
- The Fourteenth Calypso [ 48 ]
- When I was young
I was so gay and mean,
And I drank and chased the girls
Just like young St. Augustine.
He got to be a saint.
So, if I get to be one, also,
Please. Mama, don't you faint.
- The Fifty-third Calypso [ 2 ]
- Oh, a sleeping drunkard
Up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter
In the jungle dark,
And a Chinese dentist,
And a British queen--
All fit together
In the same machine.
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice--
So many different people
In the same device.
- The Hundred-and-nineteenth Calypso [ 102 ]
- "Where's my good old gang done gone?"
I heard a man say.
I whispered in that sad man's ear,
"Your gang's done gone away."
From the Autobiographical Section
- A parable on the folly of pretending to discover, to understand
[ 3 ]
- I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who
asked me to design and build a doghouse for her Great Dane. The
lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly.
She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what
had been or about what was going to be.
And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed
to build, she said to me, "I'm sorry, but I never could read one
of those things."
"Give it to your husband or your minister to pass on to God," I
said, "and, when God finds a minute, I'm sure he'll explain this
doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand."
She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God
liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in
motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw
a worm, she screamed.
She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he can
see what God is Doing, [writes Bokonon].
Unreferenced Verses and Stories
- Referring to one's karass:
- Man created the checkerboard; God created the
karass. [ 2 ]
- If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no
very logical reasons that person may be a member of your
karass. [ 2 ]
- Likes and dislikes have nothing to do with it. [ 9 ]
- Referring to inevitability:
- As it was meant to happen... [ 10 ]
- Referring to the wampeter:
- No karass is without a
wampeter, just as no wheel is without a hub.
[ 24 ]
- Around and around and around we spin,
with feet of lead and wings of tin... [ 24 ]
- Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.
[ 31 ]
- Referring to a duprass:
- A true duprass can't be invaded, not even by
children born of such a union. [ 41 ]
- Referring to a granfalloon:
- If you wish to study a granfalloon,
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon. [ 42 ]
- Regarding Jesus' "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are
- Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest
idea what's really going on. [ 46 ]
- On his own re-birth
- A fish pitched up
By the angry sea,
I gasped on land,
And I became me.
Be like a baby,
The Bible say,
So I stay like a baby
To this very day. [ 49 ]
- On Mona Aamons Monzano:
- Mona has the simplicity of the all. [ 64 ]
- A poem on pretending to understand:
- Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, "Why, why, why?"
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand. [ 81 ]
- On cosmology: [ 85 ]
- ... wherein Borasisi, the sun, held Pabu, the
moon, in his arms, and hoped that Pabu would bear him a
But poor Pabu gave birth to children that were cold, that
did not burn; and Borasisi threw them away in disgust.
These were the planets, who circled their terrible father at a
Then poor Pabu herself was cast away, and she went to live
with her favorite child, which was Earth. Earth was
Pabu's favorite because it had people on it; and the
people looked up at her and loved her and sympathized.
- Bokonon's opinion of his cosmology: [ 85 ]
- Foma! Lies! A pack of
- On maturity: [ 88 ]
- Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists,
unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.
- On Mona's fate: [ 88 ]
- Mona Aamons Monzano will marry the next President of San Lorenzo
[after Papa Monzano].
- On parting: [ 102 ]
- It is never a mistake to say good-bye.
- On love: [ 104 ]
- A lover's a liar,
To himself he lies,
The truthful are loveless,
Like oysters their eyes!
- On God: [ 107 ]
- God never wrote a good play in his life.
- On man's troubles: [ 110 ]
- Sometimes the pool-pah exceeds the power
of humans to comment.
- On man's power to control: [ 111 ]
- Any man can call time out, but no man can say how long
the time out will be.
- Also on man's power to control: [ ? ]
- It is not possible to make a mistake.
[ Mona says this to John, and it is described as a
"customary greeting given by all Bokononists when
meeting a shy person." ]
- On history: [ 113 ]
- History! Read it and weep!
- On religion: [ 118 ]
- Of course it's trash!
- On man's destiny: [ 119 ]
- Today I will be a Bulgarian Minister of Education.
Tomorrow I will be Helen of Troy.
- We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do,
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must;
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.
- On the ignorance of learned men: [ 124 ]
- Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it,
and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous
resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by
their ignorance the hard way.
- On "the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality,
and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it:"
[ 125 ]
- Midget, midget, midget, how he struts and winks,
For he knows a man's as big as what he hopes and thinks!
The Final Sentence
- If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity;
and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back
with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some
of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make
a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing
my nose at You Know Who. [ 127 ]
Dictionary of Terms from The Books of Bokonon
- The boko-maru is a Bokononist ritual for "the mingling of
awarenesses". [ 72 ] It consists in two people extending
their legs, thrusting their arms behind them for support, and putting
their bare feet together. [ 91 ]
- Busy, busy, busy is what a Bokononist whispers "whenever [he]
thinks about how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life
really is." [ 32 ]
- Duffle is "the destiny of thousands upon thousands of persons
when placed in the hands of a stuppa." [ 89 ]
- A duprass is "a karass composed of only two persons".
The members of a duprass die within a week of each other.
[ 41 ] A duprass "is a valuable instrument for gaining and
developing, in the privacy of an interminable love affair, insights
that are queer but true." It "is also a sweetly conceited
establishment." [ 55 ]
- Foma are "lies" [ 118 ]; "harmless untruths"
[ frontispiece ]; "a useful and harmless sort of horseshit".
[ ?? ]
- A granfalloon is "a false karass, [...] a seeming team
that [is] meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done."
Examples of granfalloons are "the Communist party, the Daughters of
the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the
International Order of Odd Fellows -- and any nation, anytime,
anywhere." [ 42 ]
- A kan-kan is the instrument which brings one into his or her
karass. [ 1 ]
- A karass is a "team [of people] that do[es] God's Will without
ever discovering what they are doing". [ 1 ] Humanity is
organized into many such teams. One can try to discover "the limits
of [one's] karass and the nature of the work God Almighty has had it
do ... but such investigations are bound to be incomplete."
[ 2 ]
- Pool-pah is translated both as "shit storm" and "wrath of God".
[ 110 ]
- To saroon is "to acquiese to the seeming demands of [one's]
vin-dit." [ 90 ]
- A sin-wat is "a man who wants all of somebody's love. That's
very bad." [ 93 ]
- sinookas are "the tendrils of [one's] life". [ 4 ]
- A stuppa is "a fogbound child". [ 89 ]
- A vin-dit is "a sudden, very personal shove in the direction of
Bokononism". [ 34 ]
- A wampeter is "the pivot of a karass, around which the
souls of the members of the karass revolve." A karass
has two wampeters at any time, one waxing and one waning.
[ 24 ]
- A wrang-wrang is "a person who steers people away from a line
of speculation by reducing that line, with the example of the
wrang-wrang's own life, to an absurdity." [ 36 ]
- Zah-mah-ki-bo is "fate -- inevitable destiny". [ 82 ]
Also by Bokonon
- The San Lorenzan National Anthem [ 63 ]
(Sung to the melody of 'Home on the Range'.)
- Oh, ours is a land
Where the living is grand,
And the men are as fearless as sharks;
The women are pure,
And we always sure
That our children will all toe their marks.
San, San Lo-ren-zo!
What a rich, lucky island are we!
Our enemies quail,
For they know they will fail
Against people so reverent and free.
- A Poem on the Creation of Bokononism [ 78 ]
- So I said good-bye to government,
And I gave my reason:
That a really good religion
Is a form of treason.
- The Last Rites of the Bokononism [ 99 ]
(Each line is said once by the person giving the rites
and then repeated by the dying person.)
- God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, "Sit up!"
"See all I've made," said God, "the hills, the sea, the sky,
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God!
I certainly couldn't have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think
of all the mud that didn't even get to sit up and look
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
I will go to heaven now.
I can hardly wait...
To find out for certain what my wampeter
And who was in my karass...
And all the good things our karass
did for you.
- On a Boulder near the Post-Ice Nine Mass Suicide
[ 120 ]
- To whom it may concern: These people around you are almost all
of the survivors on San Lorenzo of the winds that followed the
freezing of the sea. These people made a captive of the spurious
holy man named Bokonon. They brought him here, placed him at
their center, and commanded him to tell them exactly what God
Almighty was up to and what they should now do. The mountebank
told them that God was surely trying to kill them, possibly
because he was through with them, and that they should have the
good manners to die. This, as you can see, they did.
Eugene Wallingford .....
May 16, 2010