Warriors

Gerald Hanley

Warriors.jpg
Warriors.jpg

Warriors

Gerald Hanley

13.99

Somalia is one of the world’s most desolate, sun-scorched lands, inhabited by independent-minded and fierce tribesmen. It was here that Gerald Hanley spent the Second World War, charged with preventing bloodshed between feuding tribes at a remote outstation. Rations were scarce, pay infrequent and his detachment of native soldiers near-mutinous.

In these extreme conditions seven British officers committed suicide, but Hanley describes the period as ‘the most valuable time’ of his life. He comes to understand the Somalis’ love of fighting and to admire their contempt for death. ‘Of all the races of Africa,’ he says, ‘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’.

‘... travel writing at its best, observational writing at its most acute.’ - Observer
‘The foremost writer of his generation.’ - Ernest Hemingway 
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Warriors: Life and Death among the Somalis
ISBN: 978-0907871-83-5
Format: 232pp demi pb
Place: Somalia

Author Biography

Gerald Hanley was born in Cork in 1916. He wrote seven books, including The Year of the Lion (1953), The Journey Homeward (1961) and Gilligan’s Last Elephant (1962) which was made into a film in 1967. He also contributed to the screenplay of The Blue Max (1966). Warriors is taken from his work Warriors and Strangers (1971) which originally featured a section on Kenya substantially different in tone and content. Gerald Hanley died in 1992.
 

Extract from Chapter One

TRUE SOLITUDE is when the most restless part of a human being, his longing to forget where he is, born on earth in order to die, comes to rest and listens in a kind of agreed peace. In solitude, once the taste has settled, a man can think upon death with as much pleasure as upon life, and it is in solitude that one can best understand that there is no solution, except to try and do as little harm as possible while we are here, that there is no losing and no winning, no real end to greed or lust, because the human appetite for novelty can only be fully satisfied by death.

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. A man can never convey fully what it is that so strangely disturbs him, the uneasy unrest in him that nothing material can properly satisfy. It is a fear of accepting this which makes a man fear what he thinks to be loneliness, a being alone, without other people. Acceptance of enforced solitude gradually dissolves this illusion. After long solitude when you sit and talk with others you realise that most of what we say to each other means very little at all. Perhaps that is why a Zen monk will give a silent sermon to a multitude, laughing without trace because he knows there is nothing to say which does not require emotional undertones to give it the appearance of credibility. Even so, one likes to go on talking rubbish with friends, while listening to oneself doing it. At least solitude teaches one to listen to oneself talking this rubbish, whereas before one thought one’s every word was golden with value. In the early months of isolation in a wilderness, particularly when burdened with responsibilities which may suddenly turn dangerous, among actively violent and savage people, a sort of hysteria develops in the character. Ferocity will be replied to ferociously, out of fear, and fear is hatred. One’s first sight of ferocity arouses hatred for the ferocious, and one is liable to respond with savagery. It is hard to describe the hatred and contempt one can feel for tribesmen who have slain the women of their enemies, or caused them to die of thirst. Later, when hysteria has been replaced by acceptance of isolation – the fact 

Chapter 1

TRUE SOLITUDE is when the most restless part of a human being, his longing to forget where he is, born on earth in order to die, comes to rest and listens in a kind of agreed peace. In solitude, once the taste has settled, a man can think upon death with as much pleasure as upon life, and it is in solitude that one can best understand that there is no solution, except to try and do as little harm as possible while we are here, that there is no losing and no winning, no real end to greed or lust, because the human appetite for novelty can only be fully satisfied by death.

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. A man can never convey fully what it is that so strangely disturbs him, the uneasy unrest in him that nothing material can properly satisfy. It is a fear of accepting this which makes a man fear what he thinks to be loneliness, a being alone, without other people. Acceptance of enforced solitude gradually dissolves this illusion. After long solitude when you sit and talk with others you realise that most of what we say to each other means very little at all. Perhaps that is why a Zen monk will give a silent sermon to a multitude, laughing without trace because he knows there is nothing to say which does not require emotional undertones to give it the appearance of credibility. Even so, one likes to go on talking rubbish with friends, while listening to oneself doing it. At least solitude teaches one to listen to oneself talking this rubbish, whereas before one thought one’s every word was golden with value. In the early months of isolation in a wilderness, particularly when burdened with responsibilities which may suddenly turn dangerous, among actively violent and savage people, a sort of hysteria develops in the character. Ferocity will be replied to ferociously, out of fear, and fear is hatred. One’s first sight of ferocity arouses hatred for the ferocious, and one is liable to respond with savagery. It is hard to describe the hatred and contempt one can feel for tribesmen who have slain the women of their enemies, or caused them to die of thirst. Later, when hysteria has been replaced by acceptance of isolation – the fact that one is hundreds of miles out of reach of ‘rescue’ should anything go wrong, one feels merely contempt for savagery. You do not hate the active savage anymore. You realise instead the size of the pitiful value he places on the need to kill, the need for revenge, the desire to humiliate his enemy (which includes you), especially when thousands of helpless people were being slain by bombs in European cities every night. One knew then that one was one with the savage, while not being so innocently honest about one’s savagery as the desert savage. Then despair tries to set in.

There is nothing like isolation in an atmosphere of electric violence for bringing before one’s mind the understanding that the varnish of two thousand years is so thin as to be transparent. It is living in civilisation that keeps us civilised. It is very surprising, and alarming at first, how swiftly it vanishes when one is threatened by other men, men of almost mindless resolve. They know if you are frightened of them. They know too if you will kill as readily as they.

But the fear does slowly seep in, if you are isolated for long enough among warriors who hate what you represent, a threat to their joyous wars.

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. Yet he knew I meant it because I had come to hate him, as much as he hated me. Even so he started laughing, and I laughed with him at the absurdity of our situation in that wilderness.

‘What if I cannot stop the warriors?’ he said.

‘Do you want to stop them?’ I asked him. He laughed. ‘I will be honest,’ he said. ‘I do want them to kill their enemies. But I will try and stop them. You are not allowed by the government to kill me, are you?’ he asked me, serious and calm.

‘I’m not allowed to, but I will,’ I assured him. ‘All you have to do is to see that your warriors do no more killing.’

That threat to the chief was a sign of fellow savagery, though I did not know it until years later. It was a sign of fear, fear of 

what might come if tribal killing started again. If one could kill the real cause of the blood feuds, this chief, then the cause of the trouble would be gone. It seemed simple, and the chief understood its simplicity.

I had no desire to civilise these wild nomads, and told them so quite often. They could kill again after I had gone, but while I was there among them I wanted peace. This seemed very unreasonable and selfish, to the chiefs with whom I discussed it.

‘Then you do not care what happens to us?’ one of the chiefs said, with that ready playful wit one appreciated so much among the nomads.

‘If you chiefs could vanish,’ I told them, ‘your young men would have a chance to forget the feuds of the past. You are out of date now.’

And that was true, and tragic too: the story of all the tribal cultures which have seen the cement mixers and the schoolmasters on the horizon, and feared them.

The nomads were just as maddened by that huge glaring sun above as were we few white men thrown by chance among them.

Yet it was the isolation more than anything which was hardest to bear, at first. Eventually one grew to love it, and those who knew long isolation in those Somali wastes and survived it, will miss it forever. It was the most valuable time of one’s life.

One had years of wilderness in which to brood on the reasons why men kill each other, in wilderness in which killing a man was only an act of pleasure, though disguised as a tribal duty. One had years to discover that one’s longing for mail, newspapers, radio, could slowly diminish. After Somalia nowhere would ever be lonely, or isolated, again. The silence of wilderness eventually seeps in and makes an area which will always long for that kind of silence again.

To wake up at first light, a flea on a prairie of rock and sand, each morning, is to realise that one’s own importance is something one highly overrates. It also teaches one to love life, and to try and not kick too hard when death slips in and it is time to go.

One was mad, all right, after a year of it. One sees that now, looking back.