March 21, 2012

Classic history book reprinted!

First published in 1956 by Andrew Paul, a British administrator in Sudan, "The History of the Beja People" has been reprinted by Cambridge University Press, and should be available this month.

A very early review of this book was published in the academic journal "American Anthropologist" in 1956. (Volume 58. Issue 2. April 1956 (Pages 385 - 386)) Here is the complete review [or 2 page pdf download].

Mr. Paul is a British colonial administrator who served in the Sudanese Political Service from 1929 until, presumably, its end in 1955. Of natural interest to anthro- pologists because of its subject, his book is organized on a strictly historical framework, leaving the reader to pick up cultural details in transit. Nowhere before Appendix Two is one given a listing of the tribes which form the subject of the book, and information must be assembled piecemeal as to which tribes speak which of the three local languages; To Bedawie (Hamitic), Tigré, and Arabic. The maps fail to show many of the places mentioned. Interlarded with the narrative are provocative glimpses of the environment, material culture, family organization, and tribal structure-- glimpses which are never blown up into whole pictures. It is clear that Mr. Paul is capable of painting such pictures. He knows, understands, and respects his Beja, without glorifying, idealizing, or vilifying them. He writes easily and with a sense of humor. Now that the historians have been fed, let us hope that he will write a companion book of Beja ethnography.

While awaiting this work, we may gather from A History of the Beja Tribes that the Beja are a mixed bag of some 285,000 nomads and ex-nomads, popularly known as Fussy-Wuzzies, who inhabit some 100,000 square miles of territory barren in various degrees and lying between the frontiers of Egypt and Eritrea, and between the Red Sea coast and the hills flanking the Nile and its tributary, the Atbara River. Living off flocks of camels, goats, sheep, and in favorable places cattle, like most nomads they grow a little grain where and when they are able. Supposedly descended from an old Hamitic-speaking Caucasoid stock mixed with Arab, Tigré-speaking Yemenite, and Negro, they have achieved a striking and well-known racial appearance of their own. Like the Swiss, they speak several languages. Officially they are Muslims.
 The book’s theme is the sluggish stream of local history from the time of the shakily postulated appearance of the Bejas’ ancestors in the Sudan, in the guise of Neolithic pastoralists from the North, through Pharaonic, Ptolemaic, Roman, Axumite, Arab, Turkish, Egyptian, and British periods of influence to the paradoxical present. This history has seen the Beja shift religions several times, while certain tribes also changed their speech. It has witnessed the addition of new genes to their chromosomes, without marked physical change at variance with the needs of their special and highly selective environment. It has seen the addition of a new and particularly destructive beast, the camel. It has failed to record any basic change in Beja cultural attitudes. In 1955 they are just as rugged, individualistic, withdrawn, and completely self-centered as ever. Tell us more, Mr. Paul.

How to buy this book.
This book is printed one copy at a time, as orders come in. It costs about $35. In Canada, try here.

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