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Camels, Coffee and Curios

Returning to Quex in 2018 I was welcomed by the residents - two peacocks either side of the main entrance who squawked their greetings as if to say `What`s the story? Morning Glory?’  Dodging their possible poo bombs I hurriedly gathered my thoughts. What indeed? After spending many months studying London property deeds, I felt an African project coming on, and Hazel agreed. Animals in Sudan, cultural food and drink, and the many curios collected led me to my title.  Diana, the Major`s daughter, led me to my sources, for she had left extensive diaries of her travels in 1933/1934, firstly with her father trekking through the Red Sea Hills of Sudan and then staying on alone in Italian Somaliland.

As I tried to transcribe, certain codes and names appeared. Types of buildings were seen as belonging to different peoples; cultural habits were marked by different ways of making and serving coffee. Grave rituals often denoted status. Inside huts were bows, quivers and toxic poisons for arrow tips. Amongst the more curious items was eye black, perhaps for medicinal reasons, perhaps to put fear into the hearts of enemies.

Taking up her father`s scientific cataloguing habits, Diana`s notes cover, in detail, a wide range of anthropological issues. These range from ritual head shaving for both men and women, possibly from Egyptian and Arab practice, to belief systems, and ways of making flour and coffee. For Somali women spoon making was a major occupation, whilst for men construction of beer houses, like long barns, was a priority. Camels were unsurprisingly the main form of transport, providing wool for clothes and rugs, and meat. Just as the buffalo was crucial for the native Americans so was the camel for these peoples. Nothing was wasted.

Diana was keen to engage with local tribes, and was `sorry to go`, being enamoured of the `brown babies`, (camel babies), whereas the Major was always keen to press on. He was well aware of seeking shelter by nightfall, besides his camel was probably fidgety and needed sustenance. They take six hours to feed but require frequent stops, every half hour or so, as they have relatively small bladders. I wonder if Diana discovered that washing your hair in camel urine gets rid of nits and colours it red! Diana was highly observant, noting a Haddon Dowie woman riding to Toker `with face uncovered, plaits flying in the wind, with no nose ring`. Further references include interests in the different hair styles and close plaits, with decorative pins. I feel sure that these refer to both tribal and religious belief systems, as they do today.

As they continued on their journey they paused at numerous burial sites, observing differences denoting the rank and status, with large circular stones and white quartz. Arabs were buried with their right side facing Mecca. Poorer people had piles of small stones heaped upon their site. This seemed fair, until you learn that these graves also served as ammunition dumps, against their enemies. To us we can work out the status of the buried by the shape and colour of the stones and their resting position. We do not seem to have any evidence of cremation so far. However moving on to Andal colours of costumes and gender divisions show us evidence of some uniformity and a possible nomadic existence. Were these differences as the tribes followed the seasons, hunting or practical?

As I continue to read this fascinating material there will be so much more to find out.                            

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