Lions and Lion Lands. From “The Book of the Lion”, 1913, by Sir Alfred E. Pease

Today our throwback takes you to the first chapter of a book by a person under whose guidance President Theodore Roosevelt carried out his first lion hunts. No lion will be hurt in the abstract below, this abstract is about why hunting is more than just killing animals, how to get to Africa on a budget, and the merits of the free, natural life as opposed to the so-called “Civilization” (and so much for the myth that all early African hunters were racists). The book was published in 1913 but the words sound as true today as on the day they were written. Reproduced with contractions. 

Before I get to lions and chasing them I want to say something about the Land of the Lion. I have loved the chase not only for its own sake, but even more for where it has taken me. I possess such a store of varied and happy memories as I would not exchange for all the wealth and distinction the world can give. Yet in my youth I believed myself so hemmed in by circumstances and duties that I thought I should never break through such barriers into the real world beyond. Conventionalities which then looked like a granite wall I have discovered to be a delusion. I have learnt that human beings do not always understand the language in which duty calls, and that by the use of a little force a hole can be made through the thorny zariba of circumstances by which the poor, impounded creature, whether peasant or potentate, may escape to taste of life, of space, of air, and to see the earth, the sun, the moon, and stars as Heaven intended he should know them.

How often have men younger, stronger, wealthier, and with greater leisure than myself asked: “How do you manage to get away; I cannot find time to do these things?” I can only reply: “I just book my passage and go.” The thing is extremely simple — first determine to go, then take your ticket. I find I always do go when I have done this. As for expense, it need never be more costly to travel or reside in the wilds of Africa than to stay at home, whatever your condition in life may be.

To get there, a working man need not spend more than what he expends over drink and his holidays in a single year. I have met many a white man who has spent years there without as much money as he would spend in a few months at home, and others who lived a pleasant, healthy existence on what they earned by work, by hunting, or by trade. Given a sufficiency of food, a comfortable bed, and an exquisite climate, life is more than tolerable to a liberty-loving man.

a roaring lionIf those who have money to spend freely wish to know what it will cost them just to wander once in Africa, with every comfort and provision for camp life, I assert it can be easily done in practically every part of the Continent for £100 a month. The outfitters in many countries will contract to provide for you, in first-class style, for any expedition, for considerably less than this sum, including every conceivable necessity in the way of guides, servants, hunters, transport, tents, camp furniture, material, and supplies.

One obstacle that man’s imagination sets up is the fancy that the bit of the world in which he lives cannot get on without him. It will some day, and however important he may consider himself, or the community about him may conceive him to be, his importance will dissolve faster than his bones.

Let the man who thinks wealth and social distinction or dissipations the chief prizes in his short life, stay at home—he would not be happy elsewhere. Yet such is even perverted twentieth-century man that he can, as a rule, revert to his primeval home among wild mountains, the wilderness, the jungle, or the bush, and enjoy as much as any one the sweetness of the simple life.

As for myself, I love these months and years in Africa as I do the shade of palms and the sound of waters after the dust and toil of a desert march. <…>

You go out to Africa to see savages, and you find them only on your return.  <…> After years of travel and sojourn among many native races, Arabs, Berbers, Sudanese, Abyssinians, Somalis, Gallas, Nilotic and Bantu natives of Equatorial and South Africa, I maintain, looking at this array of black, brown, coffee, or paler-coloured peoples, even from the standpoint of intellect, that there is to be found in primitive man of primitive habits, if you know how to look for it, as much intelligence, wit, wisdom, quickness of thought, as among our teeming populations; and though their general capacity for exertion and responsibilities may be vastly inferior, they have an equal endowment at least of those qualities which make for rulers, generals, poets, and lawgivers.

For example, few individuals drawn from the British proletariat could conduct their defence in a court of justice, give their evidence, and cross-examine witnesses with the same skill and acumen as, say, the average unsophisticated kraal Kaffir. Not many of our novelists could jump up and relate a romance fitted to reach the popular fancy of the moment, improvised on the spot, accompanying the recital with an effective display of histrionic and elocutionary talent. This thousands of African and Asiatic natives can do. Could our singers compose their own ballads as they do? Or are the majority of the songs they sing less silly or inane than the native’s chants about his women, and his heroes, or his camels and his cows? With no art schools and no masters of deportment, natives have an artistic sense which often prompts them to the most effective forms in dress and drapery, the most telling arrangements in colour, and, in its unconscious simplicity, to the most perfect grace in action and pose of attitude.

Ah! but they cannot draw and paint! It is true that with ” civilization ” you find amongst those less oppressed with toil a yearning for artistic expression, and that this longing finds vent in attempts to describe feelings and emotions with pen in verse or in prose, and to transfer to canvas with a brush what it has caught in moments of reversion to nature, or in glimpses outside the actual environment. This kind of art is but a suggestion, a shadow, a memory of what our race and all races once possessed.

Account for this, please: with no box of tubes and no camel’s-hair pencil, the lowest type of African aboriginal betrays the latent faculty of even your art in his quite extraordinary representations of men and animals in thousands of “rock paintings ” on the walls of the caves and cliffs in which he goes to ground with the dassies or rock rabbits. <…>

A painting of Eland hunt by the San people

I once introduced a Somali boy for the first time in his life to a locomotive engine and train. I knew a native too well to expect any sign of astonishment, —he does not give himself away like that, — but I asked him what he thought of it he replied simply, “The white man he can do all sorts of things, but he has got to die just the same as a Somali.” This boy had come to me from his karia on the Toyo plains, in his white tobe, shield on arm and spear in hand; he became my personal servant and accompanied me to Algeria, India, Abyssinia, and England. In the time I should have taken to acquire one language very imperfectly, this barbarian, without a soul to instruct him, unable to read a word, mastered, with no apparent effort, Arabic, Hindustani, Amharic, and English, and picked up a smattering of Harrari, Galla, and French. <…>

Perhaps I have over-coloured my general sentiments in the foregoing remarks. After all, I am English, and therefore conform, outwardly at least, to the worship of our national fetish. I participate, with certain mental reservations, in the task of teaching the mass of mankind that it is not to relapse into primitive simplicity — it must progress, that is — it must raise its eyes to the great hub of Civilization, and if its motto be “Excelsior” the major part of humanity may eventually reach the ecstatic plane, where each civilized man may rise each morning by gaslight, gulp down tea and stale eggs by fog-light, put on his waistcoat with patterns on, seize on his umbrella, rush to a station, read his grey, pink, or green paper in a crowded compartment, inhaling the breath of others diluted with subterranean fumes, splash through mud, elbow his way over greasy pavements to hail his motor-bus, spend his day at his work under dust-covered lights, in dingy holes, and at the end of his day return much as he came, to supper, quack medicines, and bed. Of course soap, whisky, braces, nail brushes, and many other Wants are thus created. <…> 

Verily if man were born in hell he would mistake it for heaven. Man’s imagination can work miracles. The crowd’s smoke-filled chest swells, its sooty nostril dilates, its dusty-cornered eye gleams with the pride of its race. It fights its country’s battles in the newspapers, it is an athlete watching football, it is a “sportsman ” when bookies are bawling the odds or when at night it gets “all the winners.” It lives by proxy, its romance is in shilling dreadfuls, its travels and adventures in electric theatres. Yet who dare say that its life is not sweet. Happiness is provided for man in the most awful surroundings where there is love and duty done. 

But the great undertaking of the day is the building up of our Empire. We must have more crowds, more smoke, more trams, trains, and tubes, more iron bridges and overhead wires, more hoarding advertisements in our fields, so that we may know where to get lung tonic and the sort of soap to make the dirt drop out, more sewers and refuse heaps. We must get more paper and broken bottles in the country, more rivers running ink, and our lanes well fenced with barbed wire and railway sleepers to keep us from straying off the cinder footpaths on to the fields strewn with pieces of linoleum, tins, and night-soil. <…>

When I resided in Algeria I knew of a French general, born an Arab of the tents in the northern Sahara, who entered the army through the native ranks, obtained promotion, and then naturalization which qualified him for the superior grades, which he attained to, one after the other, till he was a general of a division. He became intensely civilized according to Western ideas; he had the entre to the best European society, frequented the salons and cercles of Paris, where he had his hotel, and possessed as well a chateau in the country. The day came when the rule of age retired him from military service. What did he do? He had lived two existences; the last as good as the West could give. Off with his hideous European coat, collar, cuffs, top hat, and trousers, one kick and his patent leather boots, with the dust of the West, were off his feet, and into the burnous once more! When last I heard of him he was among his camels and his flocks in the douar of his tribe in that desert which had called him back.

I often think of him as sitting at the door of his tent, reflecting on Western ideas of happiness and of what we call success, the horizon of which retreats as it is approached, just as surely as the one of the great desert on which he gazes.

This may seem a strange digression from the track of my lions, but the idea in my head was that in lion lands there are other things to see and think over besides the game.


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