Only the Camels

Robert Irwin

  • Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer by Alexander Maitland
    HarperCollins, 528 pp, £25.00, February 2006, ISBN 0 00 255608 1

Wilfred Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa in 1910 and spent the first nine years of his life in Abyssinia. Visions of Abyssinian barbarism and splendour were to stay with him for the rest of his life, in particular his presence at Ras Tafari’s victory parade in 1916 after a battle on the plain at Sagale. The defeated but proud Negus Mikael walked in chains, while victorious tribesmen with spears, banners, drums, trumpets and horses draped in the bloody clothing of slain enemies processed in triumph through the Abyssinian capital. In his classic travel book, Arabian Sands, Thesiger presented his enchanted memory of this colourful and noisy parade as one of the things behind ‘the perverse necessity’ that drove him out from England ‘to the deserts of the East’. But other, less exotic things shaped him, too.

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