Saturday, July 24, 2010

I go be bushman...No be so?

One of the best yet least know authors of the last century was Gerald Durrell. He was an English naturalist who spent most of the years from 1946 to 1972 on trips collecting animals for zoo's. Public zoo's, some private and eventually his own zoo, on the Jersey islands.

Gerald Durrell primarily wrote accounts of his life and various collection trips. The trip locations varied from Africa to South America to Australia. He has a delightful ability to write about the capture attempts of the various animals, and has wonderful descriptions of working with the local natives or "bushman" . His transcription of talks with the bushman, as they work together to capture a anteater, hairy frog, flying squirrels, or multitudes of other animals that you have ever heard of are a hoot! They will keep you laughing and entertained!

He wrote numerous books, articles and short stories. He didn't profess a love of writing, but saw it as a way to fund more animal collect trips. While his writing might have had econmical motivation more then a joy of his, the books clearly show his love and respect for the different animals and cultures that he encounters on his trips.

I have read several of his books. My Family and Other Animals is one of his better know books and is about his childhood in Greece. the overloaded ARK and The Bafut Beagles are both favorites and have been read several times. He has several other books I've read including Three Singles to Adventure and A zoo in my luggage are both exciting and addictive. As sometimes happens though, the books written later in his life are more political and environmentally focused.

A short exerpt from the overloaded ARK regarding the his introduction to his hunters in Africa Eshobi:

"Good Morning, Masa" said the short one, displaying his teeth in a ingratiating grin.
"Good morning, Masa" echoed the tall one, simpering at me.
"Good monring. Are you the hunters the chief sent?"
"Yes,sah," they chorused.
"What are your names?"
"What they dey call you?" translated Pious (bushman helper from earlier) from behind me.
"Elias, sah," said the short one in his husky voice.
"Andrais, sah" said the tall one, wriggling with embarrassment and draping a long arm over his companion's shoulders.
"Pious" said I, "ask them if the will be my hunters. I will pay them one and six a day , and they will get dash for every animal they catch. If it's an animal I want very much then the dash will be big. If it's some other animal then the dash will be smaller"
Pious listened carefully, his head on one side then turned to the hunters and translated rapidly into pidgin-English:
"Masa say; you go be hunter man for him, eh? Masa he go pay you one shilling and six pence every day you go take Masa and go for bush, eh? If you go catch beef kind Masa de like plenty, he go dash you fine. If been no be good Masa go dash you small., You de hear?"
"We hear," chorused the hungers grinning.

And another excerpt regarding the attempt at a capture of a skink.

"Elias, you haven't lost it?..."
"E go for bush, sah," said Elias dismally.
"Why you no catch no get hand?" I inquired angrily, brandishing my skink under his nose by way of illustration.. He backed away hurriedly.
"Mas, na bad beef dat. If'e go bite you, you go die"
"Nonsense" I retored and I pushed my little finger between the lizards's half-open jaw and let him bite. It was no more then a slight pinch.
"You see? He no be bad beef. he no fit bit proper, no get power"
Masa, 'e get poison" said Elias, watching fascinated while the skink chewed on my finger "no bad beef, sah, for true."
"Well, if he bite me I go die, no be so?
"No, sah" said Elias, iwth one of the wonderful twist of African logic which are impossible to argue against. "you be white man. If dat beef go chop black man he go die one time. White man different"

1 comment:

  1. I love Gerald Durrel's books. They are some of the few, along with Wodehouse, that make me laugh out loud while I read them! Tell your family thank you for introducing them to me. :-)