On the origin of ‘Safari’

“‘Safari’ is itself a Swahili word of Arabic origin, meaning an expedition and all that pertains to it . . . Travelling by marches from camp to camp plays a regular part in the life of the average Central African officer . . . It is a recognized state of being, which often lasts for weeks, and sometimes for months.  He learns to think of ten days’ ‘Safari’ as we at home think of going to Scotland, and twenty day’s ‘Safari’ as if it were less than the journey to Paris.”                                                            Winston Churchill From My African Journey, Winston Churchill, 1908

When we think of ‘Safari’ we envision wild game and East Africa and Dr. Livingstone, I presume.  We think of the elite, of ‘Safari Chic’, of a way of life that does not befit the average working American.  And yet, as Mr. Churchill points out, the actual Thesigerorigin goes back to Swahili and before that, into Arabic, to a mode of transport known as the “ships of the desert” – to the crossing, nomadic Bedouin travelling the deserts via camel.  The great adventurer, Sir Wilfred Thesiger, raised in Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia), penned a lifetime of travel in the true sense of ‘Safari’ in such books as Arabian Sands and The Marsh Arabs.  For Thesiger, it wasn’t at all about travelling as an elitist or with the well-heeled.  “Once an old man in rags joined us,” wrote Thesiger.  “My companions, some thirty of them (for we were travelling through hostile country), greeted him with great respect. I asked the youngest why they paid him so much deference.  ‘Because he is generous. He hasn’t now, but once he owned many camels; he killed them all to feed his guests, till at last he had none left.’  I could hear the respect, even envy in the boy’s voice.”

Dan Eldon, a fellow fan of Thesiger, underlined the following passage from Arabian Sands, early on on the second page of the book.  “I have often looked back into my childhood for a clue to this perverse necessity which drives me from my own land to the deserts of the East.”  It would be in the deserts of East Africa where Dan would lose his life, in one of the many locales where the nomads would historically bring their camels from North Africa down through Somalia into Northern Kenya.  But the story of Dan Eldon is a celebration of life, of a life well lived, of a life that continues to touch and inspire many, of a life spanning multiple continents, including that of America.  “Energy, sincerity, clarity of vision, creativity,” wrote Dan, being his “Mission Statement for . . . Safari as a Way of Life.”

Like countless others inspired by Dan, one of my goals for Flash River Safari is quite simply to take him up on this call to freedom, in this case, back into the heartland of America, as opposed to the popular idea of ‘Safari’ as a far-flung exotic locale.  Straight into the center of who we as the American people are.  As Dan once wrote, “To explore the unknown and the familiar, distant and near, and to record in detail with the eyes of a child, any beauty, horror, irony, [meets] traces of utopia…”

We’re looking for Creative Activists today who want to make a difference.  Who want to help tell the American Story, one camp, one town, one city at a time.  Who want to join in on a bona fide Safari.


Filed under Literary Reverie, Wanderlust

2 responses to “On the origin of ‘Safari’

  1. Wynette Jameson

    My students and I look forward to Neal’s journey. Some of us may even join him at various ports of call. Dan inspires us daily and we follow his adventures through his other fans and family. Thank you for realizing how important the safari can be.

  2. flashriversafari

    Thanks a stack, Wynette. I sincerely appreciate your interest and support from the very beginning… It’d be an honor to meet up at absolutely any point of the expedition that works. All best, Neal

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