NAME: Andrew Rae
DIARY ENTRIES: 21
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CURRENT COMPANY: Mopane Bush Lodge
I have always been fascinated by mankind’s obsession with carnivores, particularly the big cats. On countless safaris spanning the last two decades I have witnessed morbid curiosity for the kill and an almost rabid desire to just glimpse the animals that hunt and prey and feed. I have pondered this need in people, this weird paradox that has us mesmerized and beguiled and yet still dreading these beasts and their incredible and insatiable need for rapine and death.
My conclusion is fairly simple. This fear and fascination are indelibly hard wired within our DNA. Evolution is reminding us of our distant ancestral past and the fact that the lion’s ancestors hunted and fed on our own. You see, constant reader, our fear is primal and that fear manifests itself today on safari, as we look into the eyes of a leopard or lion…as the lunacy in that bezerker stare draws us inexorably toward it. The shiver that tickles your spine comes from your own primordial memory. Your cells are reminding you of an ancient time when, as early hominids, we lay prostrate on a cave floor and listened for the ragged breathing of a sabre toothed beast and ached for the light of the oncoming dawn.
Master horror film director Wes Craven knows what I am talking about. He is the creator of classic “slasher” films like Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street. When asked about his inspiration for the murderous character Freddy Krueger in the “Elm Street” movies, Craven had this to stay:
I was looking for a primal fear which is embedded in the subconscious of people of all cultures. One of those…is the claw of an animal, like a saber-toothed tiger reaching with its tremendous hooks. I transposed this into a human hand.
Wow…Mr. Craven frightened the stuffing out of an entire generation by simply exploring and plumbing the depths of our darkest subconscious dread. He came up with something we all apparently fear the most…evisceration by tooth and claw!
One of the most famous stories on the subject of man eating is surely Lt. Colonel J.H. Patterson’s book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo. In the last year of the 1800’s, two male lions completely halted the construction of a railway line through what was then British East Africa. They did this by choosing to dine on roughly one hundred Indian railway workers over the period of almost a year. Patterson himself accounts several times in this macabre tome to listening to the screams of the men in the labour camps as they were being dragged, dispatched and eaten by the big cats. Patterson eventually killed both lions. His construction staff were so grateful that the presented him with an ornamental bowl. The inscription on the gift reads as follows:
“SIR, -- We, your Overseer, Timekeepers, Mistaris and Workmen, present you with this bowl as a token of our gratitude to you for your bravery in killing two man-eating lions at great risk to your own life, thereby saving us from the fate of being devoured by these terrible monsters who nightly broke into our tents and took our fellow-workers from our side. In presenting you with this bowl, we all add our prayers for your long life, happiness and prosperity. We shall ever remain, Sir, Your grateful servants,
Baboo PURSHOTAM HURJEE PURMAR, Overseer and Clerk of Works, on behalf of your Workmen. Dated at Tsavo, January 30, 1899.
Terrible monsters indeed. Think about it though the next time you are on safari and watching lions feeding or as you listen to the blunt sawing rasp of a territorial leopard or the lunatic chuckle of hyena across the bushveld nightscape. Ponder that delicious feeling of utter dismay and where it might come from. It is a reminder, friend, of a time long ago when we were the hunted and our nights were filled with darkness.