Book of da Week: Wilfred Thesiger’s the Marsh Arabs

Wilfred Thesiger The Marsh Arabs
Wilfred Thesiger’s super the Marsh Arabs.

This week we’re going to go on about Wilfred Thesiger’s book you already know the name of. Thesiger (full title, we joke you not, Major Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger, CBE, DSO, FRAS, FRGS, and Mubarak bin London (“the blessed one from London”) was about as British as you can get and kind of marks the end of the British Empire type notion of British people.

The travel book is something rather special, frankly. It’s written with such an insightful verve and it brings to light a way of life which had been in operation for a rather long time. The Marsh Arabs is a celebration of this unique way of living – it’s at times frighteningly out of touch with reality, but at others it’s peaceful and makes one pine for quaint times. Reading this book at least allows you to journey back to simpler times.

The Marsh Arabs

Sir Thesiger, a traveller and writer, spent many years living with the Marsh Arabs in Southern Iraq, which in the mid-20th Century was a way of life which had gone unchanged for thousands of years. Being British he stood out like an enormous rabbit would at a donkey convention, but the locals welcomed him into their society and grew to view him as a friend and something of a medical expert (due to his basic knowledge of medicine).

If anything it’s a reflection on the passage of time and how technology has changed us all, but the bit which sticks with us the most is when he describes the intense heat; simply sitting still and not moving he’d have sweat pouring off him. Now, being Mancs from Manchester, this is the type of thing we couldn’t hack. But, tally bally ho, we’re not adventurers!

Frankly, it’s travel writing at its finest. The account has moments of tragedy and comedy, but above everything it’s a remarkable insight into a way of life which occupied thousands of humans for eons. This makes it an important as a historical document for a way of life which quickly disappeared with the arrival of big business and technological advancements.

Thesiger in Later Years

Sir Wilfred Thesiger died in 2003 at the ripe old age of 93 having donated his 23,000 travel photographs to an Oxford Museum.

This may sound impressive, but your average person takes at least 23,000 Selfies every day on their treks to work, sandwich shops, and the butchers. For the thyme, though, we have to compliment Thesiger. Good effort, man. What a legend.

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