Two More Books
A number of years ago I bought two books at roughly the same time. They were both of a similar genre, telling tales of oppression & bravery. One was “The Washing of The Spears” which told the story of the uprising of the Zulu nation against the Europeans, and the film Zulu was drawn from one chapter of the story. Ignoring the rights & (more probably) wrongs of Europeans being involved in South Africa at all, I have always thought the film to be a rattling good impression of courage against impossible odds although I’m sure that the real-life events were nothing like those depicted in the film.
I do have a certain affinity to the film as I projected it in the “Ad Astra” cinema, RAF St Athan. Long before the days of “Beamers”, we used a pair of huge, synchronised, carbon-arc 35mm projectors, belching out heat, fumes and noise into a tiny projection room. Films in those days were spread over two or more reels and, if you watch closely the old films shown on TV, you will see a white “splodge” appear in the top right corner of the screen after about an hour, followed a few seconds later by another one. The first “splodge” was the cue for the projectionist to start the second projector running and the second “splodge” was his cue to stop the first projector. The result was supposed to be a seamless and invisible transition from the first to the second reel. It never quite came off though, unless you had years of experience.
I still have “The Washing of The Spears”, but its contemporary vanished a long time ago. That book was “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and recorded the suffering of the Native Americans at the hands of settlers in their country. As a child I was brought up on a TV diet of “Cowboys & Indians” and on first reading the book, as a very young man, would probably had some sympathy with the settlers, Custer, Buffalo Bill et al, but one matures eventually …..
I’ve moved house many times in the intervening years, downsizing latterly, but there was still a pang of regret – a feeling of loss – to realise that the book was gone for good. A bit like losing touch with an old friend.
A day or so later I was walking along Unter den Linden with Katharina and she spied a second-hand book-stall at the side of the footpath. One table had a few English books and there, in the middle, was a copy of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”. It came home with me and was promptly re-read.
I would like to think that the book is a one-sided hagiography favouring the Indian Nations but in my heart of hearts I know that it isn’t – it is a carefully researched record of the immense suffering visited upon the Indians, and the stoicism and dignity with which they met it. Time after time, tribe after tribe, with a resonance of nails being pounded into wood, the story is told of how the Indians were harried, moved, killed, cheated and lied to. The term “braves” is appropriate. Many braves chose a quick and certain death in battle than a lingering suffocation on a reservation.
I believe that nothing in life happens without a purpose and that everything that happens to you, or comes to you, does so at exactly the right moment in time – never too soon nor too late.
The book returned to me for a purpose, and at just the right time. It has strengthened my resolve to meet and deal with some difficult challenges in my own life.