Saturday, February 28, 2015

Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis Kindle Highlights

Below are my highlights from a selection from my 2014 Reading List selection.

I read Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis on the recommendation of Aiden Hartley (who wrote one of the best books on Africa out there).  It's not the easiest read but offers great insight into the Somali psyche. 

Warriors: Life and death among the Somalis by Gerald Hanley, Aidan Hartley, Joseph Hone
You have 68 highlighted passages
Last annotated on October 23, 2013

Thousands of days and nights spent in wildernesses taught me that a person can never truly know another, or be known by another, and that the pleasure of life is in the trying.
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I once told a chief that I would kill him myself if he let his warriors go killing again (something he was planning to do). He liked that. He smiled, after studying my face. After all he could understand that far more easily than the kind of government he thought I represented.
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‘When all your machines, and ships, and aircraft, and all those things you make, when they are all finished, our Arab dhows will still be sailing the seas, and we Arabs will hold together the world that we made, from India and farther East too, to here and to Europe. We are not finished yet, even though we are beggars now.’
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But of all the races of Africa there cannot be one better to live among than the most difficult, the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the most merciless, the friendliest; the Somalis.
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He did not go far beyond the towns of British Somaliland, a fairly quiet little area, never entered the real desolation, but his report said that nearly every officer was slightly to violently unbalanced.
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New-born camel was the best meat I ever ate in Somalia.
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the Midgan hunters for a couple of months and collect all their lore before it vanishes forever.
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What these Mijertein people meant was that up there you got the finest camel milk, and for the nomads there is no greater praise of a howling wilderness than that.
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There cannot be anywhere in Africa such ready and hungry people, with such swift minds, waiting to read their way out of a thousand years of dependence on the camel, and the spears that had ensured its possession.
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Ali thought that God had handed the Somali race the most barren piece of Africa, and it was all I could do not to ask him if he had ever heard that the original fathers of the Somali race were cast out of Arabia into Africa because one of them had stolen the Prophet’s slippers. I have never been able to trace the origin of this tale which so used to enrage the Somalis whenever anyone threw it at them during an argument.
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The bought safari must be infinitely more rewarding as ‘adventure’ than the
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Primitivism is a very much overrated way of life, and is merely pitiful in essence, no matter how fascinating the carvings and the masks and the quiet zoomorphic ravings on stone and wood, those endless circles in which the tribe has wandered and lost itself, waiting for the stranger to come with the message, even when it leads to the atom bomb.
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They were as appalled as the rest of us by the scenes in Germany, but they had an extra reason for puzzlement, and perhaps they knew that until the white man could manage his own anthropoid passions he should stop feeling superior to blacks merely because he was a white man.
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Despite this I have never subscribed to the school of worship of the African primitive, or any other primitive, Nazi or Stalinist. The whole world, it seemed to me during those long nights on the sand under the thorn trees, was in need of rescue, as one world of people. I have never believed that any race of people is better than another race. They are all splendid when allowed to be, and brutes too when the chains break, and they need a government now, and in about a century or two they will have it, if they can resist the longing to smash it all up when boredom sets in. For men will be bored without war for some time to come, that oldest way out and pastime of all, an historic habit.
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‘What do you want most?’ I once asked an old Somali. ‘To be well governed, but to be left alone,’ he told me. I often thought of that and found that I agreed with it, but how to get it?
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You come across these old men in all countries with long, unbroken race memories and tradition, some of them holding the remains of cultures in their illiterate heads, in those marvellous memories unimpaired by reading, knowledge which waited too long for the new popular interest in archaeology, folklore and anthropology to come and rescue it and give it the dignity which would make it respected by the youth who despise the old men. You can find these old men in Ireland, India, Africa, the remains of the ancient world which was defeated and cast aside for the worship of money and machinery during the time of the alien imperial power which had smashed their world so pitilessly.
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It is no use trying to be exactly right. We have no control of the future, only of what we have let happen to us.’
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They represented the real Africa, the Africa which has invented a thousand more new religions since the several hundred versions of Christianity began to puzzle them, the continent of the enormous brown rivers and of packed trees and alligator men, leopard and lion men, rainmakers and cursers and poisoners, and these haunting yet menacing drums were the pulse of it, brought out into the temporary streets, as if to show that not very much had happened to Africa yet.
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That evening in Mogadishu when I had watched the goat-masked Malablei dancers has always stayed in my memory as an unexpected manifestation among the buildings, of an Africa which may never completely disappear, which lived on through centuries while to the north Greece and Rome rose and fell. They never came down here, those conquerors in helmets. They went to cold Gaul and Britain instead. Those Malablei and their brother tribes along the hot river were still part of the forest, of its spirit, and they looked it as they danced through the Somalis who knew nothing of their secrets, their magic, their black mystery.
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yet they wanted their country back for themselves, while enjoying the ‘peace of the grave’, as Pandit Nehru once called it, in which they now toiled under aliens.
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We do not want to be ruled by any strangers anymore. They beat us with cannon, but every inch of this land is ours. Ours. It can never belong to any strangers. Men cannot live under strangers who have taken their lands. Never. If I had a spear and you had nothing and I came and took your house from you, and made you work in your own garden for me, you would not like that. That is what they have done, these governments. And it must come to an end now. You can tell them that, for that is what we all feel.’
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‘That’s because you’re a romantic,’ he said, ‘like your friends. You’ve learned a common unit feeling, living a life that only a few of you live. It can get so bad that officers have to be ordered to go on leave. In other words, if you’ve got to live rough, then live the roughest, with your friends. That’s romanticism, and highly necessary in an army, of course.’
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They always made me feel, those nomad dead, as if they announced to the world that there was no purpose after all behind life, and that it was all like this beneath the tapestry, loneliness and vengeance and waste. I think that that was what I hated most about their wilderness; that it showed you how the world had once been, everywhere, and could be again if the compassionate will of civilised men was ever finally defeated by the spirit of death, which the scientists have packaged at last, and who know, far better than the warrior generals, that there can be no next war, only the last one.
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the vecchi coloniali liked to say, ‘Un anno in Somalia è come cinque anni in Italia,’ so cruel was the climate, and it was worse in defeat before the Somalis. Nevertheless the Somalis liked the Italians, when all was taken into account; most people did when they got to know them.
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There is no one alive as tough as the Somali nomad. No one.
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We’ve got to have the poor so that we can give charity. I was a starving maskin myself when I was a child, and they threw coin to me now and then at the mosque. What harm has it done me? Leave the maskin alone, Effendi. They’re necessary for charity. It is the religious law that we give charity to the poor. If you abolish the poor you attack religion.’
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AFRICAN MAGIC IS REAL, quite often, and at other times it is the application of practical human psychology by the medicine-men or druids.
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How could they go on with this lashing of each other, their senses acute enough to do it to rhythm, and they laughed as they did it. This dance is called Kurbash, the Whip Dance.
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Until I lived on the Webi Shabeli I had thought that the ‘talking drums’ were purely West African, never having come across them in Eastern Africa myself, but they were there on the River of Leopards among the small black forest people.
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Down the river and near the southern Juba there is a dance tradition called Sarlugéd. You, the guest, sit watching as the tribesmen dance with their spears about twenty yards from you, dancing to and for you to the drums. They advance slowly in the dance until they are only a few yards from you; they then spin and charge, plunging the spears at you in one determined thrust, the points resting, halted, on your chest, and you are not supposed to flinch, even at the savage exultant shout that goes up from all the throats around
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All through my wanderings there I had sought to find someone who would show me how the powerful arrow poison, called Wabaio, of the small Sa’ab tribal group was made. It became a goal for me but I noticed early on in my enquiries that the Somalis themselves, the conquerors of the Sa’ab group who claimed to be the original inhabitants of Somalia, did not want me to take an interest in these people.
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The Midgan belonged to a group, he told me, called Sa’ab. The Sa’ab are a sort of outcast people made up of four groups called Midgan, Tomal, Yibir, and Yaha. ‘We,’ he said, stabbing a long finger against his bare glistening black chest, ‘we, the Midgan, are the most important of the Sa’ab. Without us there could be no Somalis.’ Then he burst out laughing to think of it, like all conquered races when they consider the proud masters who are frightened of them.
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In the lands of the Somali you need quicksilver in your mind in order to keep pace with a Somali plan for greatness, money, revenge, in which your aid is sought with steady, subtle and admirable patience. Things might be at stake which are of the greatest importance to the Somali, tribal position and pride, rights to a waterhole, camels (the greatest single possession of a man in this world) or the removal of an insipid chief. The longing to kill in the terrific excitement of a raid, the protracted and fascinating negotiations
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afterwards about blood money, these are real and important things.
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camels and water and honour, the dreary trinity of the Mijertein desert.
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You cannot beat them. They have no inferiority complexes, no wide-eyed worship of the white man’s ways, and no fear of him, of his guns or of his
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The tree itself is called Wabai. The correct name for the poison got from it is Wabaio. Jama explained this and then said that a truly powerful tree was the one on which the birds would never sit, for it would kill them.
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When leaving London for India in 1950, I was over-burdened with baggage. So I buried the Wabaio, with nostalgic thoughts for Somalia, three feet deep, in a garden in London, where it now lies, ‘happy’ in its khaki and colours.
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‘Remember,’ he said, looking into all their eyes in the pause, ‘remember that it is the elephant asleep in the long grass which defeats the greatest men.’ He had no idea what he meant (though he used to invent wonderful, idiotic tribal proverbs),
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Frightened of nothing on earth, willing to try anything anywhere, the Somali is never over-impressed by what he sees in the West, and they are great travellers. If he sees New York, or London, or Paris, the sight of these places with their superb machinery in no way diminishes his love of his desert home. He will go back there one day and wander with camels again. Once, in as blasted, dried-out and stark a piece of scenery as I ever sighted in Somalia
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If you have the patience and use the slow, steady drip technique, keep your temper, stick to your points, and never let yourself be rushed, you can beat a Somali in argument.
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but for me it was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had, seeing a desert savage shivering in front of the ocean for the first time, as if expecting the ground to melt and swallow him up at any moment. We must all have been like that once, in
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He is mad, this boy, Effendi, and God likes the mad.
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I was silent and let the time slide and pile over him, but I never forgot him, or those moving moments when he stood transfixed by the sight of the heaving blue Indian Ocean. All over a bottle of Aranciata brought one night to a white man lying smoking beside a convoy where Kenya, Somalia and Abyssinia meet on the map.
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Imagine the trust a servant placed in his wandering employer in the great spaces of Asia and Africa, the total commitment involved in travelling enormous distances, sometimes thousands of miles from his tribal home, to some outpost, malarial or parched, where he may be thrown out of his employment by his master. They have done this for centuries for men of all colours and creeds, and asked very little in return. In a way they place their whole life in the hands of the stranger, who may be cruel, or mean, or thoughtless. They never know. These servants were the true adventurers, the men who gambled all, took all kinds of chances, survived all sorts of dangers, forgave and were forgiven, and usually possessed little more when they were finished with their master than they had set out with.
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He spoke four languages fluently, could read and write them perfectly, and could have gone far in many a career away from his desert, but he was going back to that lonely life of the nomad. Perhaps this is a real strength in the Somali. He does not think there is anything discreditable in being a member of his primitive living group. They do not have the sad longing of the Bantu and the white men for a collar and tie and a desk, yet it will be the Bantu who will soften and civilise Africa, because he longs for comfort and ease. The Somali never surrenders to the armchair or the big house.
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embittered warrior said. ‘But it is good to know what the war is for. White men do not seem to know why they fight. We Somalis fight for camels, and here you are chasing us about and annoying us for
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doing it, while you, the white men are fighting all over the world.
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me. I knew all this but could not change the Somali feeling of superiority over these chunky black people from the lush south, nor wipe out the memory they had of a time when these Bantu people were slave material for the Muslim world to the north. That was the trouble, the curse of race, looks, noses, lips, eyes, legends. Colour has little to do with it. They liked
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Somali men knew how to love, but not with the hopeless tenderness which the Nyasa soldiers brought to it.
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A great deal of it had to do with looks, facial features, and the Somali, lean and handsome and hawknosed, felt himself to be more becoming than the Bantu African. In fact the Somalis resented being considered Africans at all, and they demanded different treatment in rations and uniform than that given to the Bantu. Bantu troops like discipline. Somalis resent it. Every individual Somali fights to stay himself, a person. The Bantu liked the certainty and safety of unit life, and functioned well as a receiver of orders. The Somali fumed under discipline and loved the irregular life, the scattered patrol and the lone effort which might bring him to individual notice, to recognition for what he might achieve on his own. The Bantu had patience. The Somali had to control himself, even when learning how to handle weapons, which he loved and cherished. I have seen a Somali tear a machine-gun out of the hands of an instructor and prove on the spot that he needed no more instruction, that he knew it all and could handle and strip and assemble the weapon after one lesson. He had resented the very implication that he needed the long dreary lessons which the instructor seemed resigned to giving him.
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In the deserts of Somalia the Nyasa soldiers were all right for about six months, but after that, worn down by isolation and heat, insult and hostility from the Somalis, they deteriorated. They could not understand this continual challenge, this nomad machismo, or the sharp, impatient bloody-mindedness of the Somali.
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the pretence at making the dirty thing great and grave. The world has been a jungle since it began, no doubt of it, and The Bomb may be the one thing which has brought it to an unwilling stop, for war was man’s only holiday from his poor effort at coping with the great mess which all our ancestors have left us, history which stinks of blood and lies and suffering and hunger,
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and which we have not even yet begun to face properly. They may burn all the flags, the wigs, the thrones and robes and parchments and the paranoiac history books one day, may even teach real history – how one half of the human race sucked the life out of the other half and hid in stately homes, courts, gaols, barracks. August 15th may, in an ironic way, turn out to be the greatest day in history, and the burned thousands of Japan, the new heroes.
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The Bomb has been a godsend because for the first time it has held up the usage of the ancient way out, war for a dozen splendid reasons which are forgotten six months after the war has started.
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Nobody? Isn’t there anybody who can stop the war coming?’ Perhaps an assassination club could help, so that when the world is finally on the edge of the war which will annihilate it and the politicians and the generals and their scientists are about to take us all into that last manic plunge, the club assassinates a certain number of ‘great men’ in Moscow, London, New York, whichever of them are going through the old pathetic masculine routine of who’s toughest and strongest, and then issues an ultimatum. What are a few politicians, generals and scientists compared to the human race which is in their little, stupid hands today? We can always get a few more of them to start all over again and it might be that eventually we could get actual disarmament, a world without soldiers and their dead, useless traditions. But I did not mention these wild, nihilistic anti-nihilistic thoughts to Ali.
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‘Goodbye,’ Ali said. We shook hands, and he took the notes out of my hand with a smile and a nod. ‘Take five shillings back,’ he said, handing me one of the five shilling notes. ‘Why?’ ‘I have enjoyed our talk,’ he told me, ‘and we are friends. This is enough.’ He waved the other notes. It was a very Somali gesture, handsome and proud, and not about money at all.
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There was no shade in that big loaded barge and the Italian seaman and I sat there in the glare and sweated, hatless, the sun hitting us like a hammer as we smoked and exchanged fragments of thoughts about our various lives. The sun struck the water and flashed off it and into the brain, through the eyes, like a white, flaring sword.
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The Italian empire had vanished and the wilderness belonged, as it had always belonged, and will always belong, to the nomads and their camels.
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Donne had it wrong. Every man is an island, in the desert or the city, and I can remember coming to feel certain of this one night on a high rock in fierce moonlight, looking out across Africa which stretched forever in the luminous silence.Read more at location 2628

It was interesting to see how Gandhi had been right, how as soon as Britain lost its empire the English working class had to be given work and wages and new freedoms. Gandhi was the friend of the English working class. In freeing India he freed them too. He knew too, and said it, that once India had freed herself nothing
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She did not look threatening in the livid light breaking across her vastness, and she never has threatened anybody yet. She has been sold, underpaid, used, but always loved by those strangers who have got to know her.
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Professionally, Gerry did reviews for the book programme I ran at the BBC then. Later, as an editor with Hamish Hamilton, I brought Warriors to the firm – or Warriors and Strangers as it was originally called, when it included a second part,
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being with Gerry that only in his novel Without Love did
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In this and other ways, both as man and writer, Gerry resembles Hemingway, whom he worshipped long before Hemingway described him as ‘the foremost writer of his generation’.
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there is no solution, except to try and do as little harm as possible while we are here.’
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Gerry’s return to the liner after his three hours in Mogadishu, ‘What was it like? … Like when you see a woman you loved years ago. The fever has gone and you can look at her without trouble. Was it like that?’ ‘Yes, it was like that.’
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We should not complain. A writer has only so many heartfelt books in him. And these are what we need, not new books which would have been written at half-steam.
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1 comment:

  1. Despite being precise, it's an amazing article or work that really takes you through the writer's experience of life from a window within the book,though the book is the main frame of the window. It really uplifts whoever is intrested in reading the book to actually tackle his intrest.