Friday, March 27, 2015

Wanderers and Nomads

I keep coming back to the old Juluka song "Digging for some words" because of its uncanny evocation of the "wanderers and nomads" who erupt from time to time to menace and destroy the accumulated wisdom of more settled societies. They have come to the gates again and again, bearing different or no ideologies but finally, a lust for destruction. "They've locusts in their scabbards, they've deserts in their eyes." Yes. Some would say  this cinematic evocation of the destroyers, from David Lambkin's overlooked The Hanging Tree, is too romantic. Why do disaffected youth stream toward the Desert Plague if not for the romance of death? The raiders here are Somali Shifta pouring into a paleontological dig, but Wanderers and Nomads are always in the wings.

"They came down on us at dawn like a pack of wild dogs.
"There was no warning. The first I knew of the attack was the drumming of horses’ hooves that rose up from the ground…

"I ran out of my tent in a panic, still half asleep and looked to the east. There I saw a strange sight, half biblical, half the echo of an ancient dream of violence and pillage, all as if in slow motion.

"Pouring down on us from all sides out of a stony desert hills came a horde of Somali shifta. Some were mounted on camels, bridles chased with silver. Others rode wide-eyed Arab stallions, wet with sweat, their bits thick with foam. Others drove Land Cruisers, recoilless rifles mounted in the rear, heavy sandbagged Russian machine guns biting the air with a slow measured thudding.

"They seemed resurrected from all the ages of man. A nightmare dredged from the

 deepest levels of the spirit. There were footsoldiers wielding curved Ottoman swords with

 jeweled hilts that caught the low sun. Flowing robes and shining armour; rag-tag bits and

pieces of khaki and tattered flak-jackets, half-naked warriors with matted hair and

warpaint. A horseman wearing a suit of chain-mail shone godlike in the low sun.

Everywhere there were weapons: silver-inlaid jezails that coughed black-powder smoke,

old Lee-Enfield three-oh-threes, AK-47s, scimitars, stone clubs, spears bound about with

tufted fur, turbans, bronze helmets, braided locks of hair, wild eyes and pounding feet.

And in the halo of the morning sunlight I could almost hear a hymn: this was more

ancient than love, more trenchant than sex. There was a lascivious delight, almost

palpable, in the air. A lust for decreation and decay, all counterpointed by the clattering

 rattle of automatic rifle fire and the thump of exploding grenades."

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