Monday, August 12, 2013

W32: Lands and Peoples – Vol: 5

With a heavy thunk, the Biblio-Mat book this week landed hard, revealing an embossed camel on a faux leather cover that stirred up a bit of curiosity of the exotic, but mostly despair at the sheer encyclopedic thickness.

Why is the camel black while the sand is yellow? We will never know.
Lands and People turned out to be a series of which this tome was volume number five, covering ‘Africa, Australia, and Southern Islands’. First published in 1929 with this copy being printed in 1949 and edited by Gladys D. Clewell, a good amount of the 384 pages were filled with photos and 72 of the pages were surprisingly in full colour. The paper itself was a thick glossy stock that gave the images a certain luster not unlike a horribly made business card.

One cannot pick up this book and help but wonder that if volume five was about Africa, Australia, and Asia, what were the first four volumes covering? Short of having individual books on Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, and Austria, it’s a pretty good assumption that the volumes were laid out by importance rather than alphabetical nature, which is reflected a bit in the text.

Casablanca looks nothing like the film.
Lands and People: V5 actually touches on a good deal of geographic areas but didn’t get too in-depth into many of them. Perhaps it was the ignorance of the time or perhaps it was editorial preference, but many entries seemed too short for the scope of what they were trying to cover. With chapters ranging from Morocco to Malaysia to New Zealand, there was a lot of breadth. With chapters called “Among the Cannibals and Pigmies of the Congo”, “Pearls of the Orient”, and “Sunshine Isles and Savages”, there was also a lot of old school mildly racist sensationalism.

Pretty sure the kid's doing it wrong.
Each chapter began with a brief history of the country along with geographic facts and paints a vivid image of the land at the time. While some part were no doubt exaggerated, the book does not shy away from the darker elements that may be glossed over in travel books, such as the long descriptions of slaves on the streets with their eyes plucked out for theft. The images themselves were interesting in that they didn’t outwardly glamourize the countries, but also did not try to skew life in the area and simply provided a view into everyday life there.

Except for the actual pics of glamour.
The Egypt section was particularly of note for images as the majority of the photographs in this section focused on the ruins and excavation of the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Being first published in 1929, the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 was presumably still fresh in people’s minds and this volume of Lands and People no doubt was still greatly fascinated by this.

Bad mojo even looking at this.
The marvels of Egypt were followed by a look inside Nigeria, Congo, and Zimbabwe, which carried a different tone of showing the natives in their daily lives in the wilderness versus the life in the developed areas. This section had more photos and descriptions on a spectacle bent but did not outwardly force an opinion of the living conditions of the people that seems to exist in so many accounts of foreign lands in modern day media. If this section was written today, it would not be surprising to read about how western society is, or could be, changing their lives for the better.

Disappointingly, though, the section on Madagascar did not give any attention to the flora and fauna of this interesting country. The sections on Malaysia, Jakarta, and the Borneo also eschewed this, sharing just two images of a tarsier and an orangutan in the fifty-eight pages dedicated to these lands, which felt like a missed opportunity to explore the ‘lands’ part of Lands and People.

Not even a lemur.
The last section explored Australia and New Zealand, starting with the metropolitan areas then moving into the wild to show the lives of the indigenous people there. While the natives of Australia were glossed over quickly with nary a mention of didgeridoos, New Zealand’s Maoris did get their own section explaining how their cultures differed.

While the book was not the most accurate given the discoveries and transformations of the past eighty years, it was still interesting to see how western civilization saw the “savages” back in the day. In addition, it did stir up some desires to travel to these parts of the world to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same, which is exactly what a good geography book should do so despite it being a lengthy tome, it was still a worthwhile read.

Book rating: 8/10 (A bit dated but still invokes wanderlust)

Random quote: “He looks warlike enough with his sper and dagger and shield, and it is no wonder that men of his tribe make exceptional soldiers. His great mop of hair has earned for his tribe, as it has for the Baggara people, the name of ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzy’.”

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