Maasai Mara Landscape ~ A Warrior’s View

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I’ve written about the Maasai Mara in other posts. Here’s an excerpt from a piece that was long-listed in the Brandt Travel Guide competition ages ago:

Dances with warriors

Night on the Mara River – darkness wraps round, close as a Maasai’s blanket.  It is cold, too, on the river’s bend. We press closer the campfire, our white faces soon roasting red. No one speaks. There’s too much to listen for. A hyena whoops across the water?  It sounds close. It sounds unearthly, sending shock waves through vulnerable bones – mine, conjuring packs of predators, out there, circling our ring of light. And even as I think it the Maasai are on us.  Six warriors, spears in hand and naked to the waist.  Their leader tosses his ostrich-feather head-dress that looks like a lion’s mane.  He is fearless.  He is lion.

Then the singing starts, a nasal falsetto that resonates through time and space – the winds’ whine through Mara grasses.  The Maasai girls trip lightly into the firelight, their wraps like flames – yellow, red; close-cropped heads hung with beads; chins jutting forward as the crescent necklets – tiny beads so patiently strung – rise and fall on skinny chests.  The moran start to leap – higher, faster.

Their dance fires the blood as it was once meant to in the days when the young morani proved their courage by killing a lion; but we see the collecting box left discreetly in the grass.  These kids are from the nearby settlements, but before I unravel the question of exploitation – theirs or ours – the dancers pounce, dragging us into a conga, pastoralist-style.  I let the Maasai girl take my hand.  She’s about fourteen years old and she is boss. After all, this is her land – the big skies and the rippling oat grass, and our small camp in the outer reserve remains there only on her clansmen’s say-so.  The hand that grips mine is small and hard.

So I follow her, graceless in the rhythms I cannot fathom, wend with the snake of dancers on and round the camp. The dancers know we’re squeamish and should not be put at risk, so we stray no further than the firelight’s edge, never crossing the bounds of the vast out there.

And of course, being on safari, and staying at a luxury, tented camp, we have been taken to visit the vast out there. We went earlier that day and naturally, being tender wazungu, we ventured only in daylight, with the rising sun at our back, and we went, not on foot, but in the Land Rover whose solid sides we were sure would protect us from too much closeness with the wilderness.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Continues HERE

 

Lens-Artists: Landscapes

 

An Ancient African City ~ Great Zimbabwe

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Among the gold mines of the inland plains between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers…a fortress built of stones of marvellous size, and there appears to be no mortar joining them. This edifice is almost surrounded by hills, upon which are others resembling it…and one of them is a tower more than twelve fathoms high. The natives of the country call these edifices Symbaoe, which according to their language signifies court.

Captain Vincente Pegado, Portuguese Garrison of Sofala, 1531

 

This scan of a photograph from our 1993 trip to Zimbabwe looks like one of those hand-coloured postcards from the days before colour film was invented – a fitting medium perhaps for these medieval ruins (and yes it’s probably appeared in earlier posts). Anyway by the time Captain Pegado was reporting from his base in Sofala, Great Zimbabwe had been in decline for a century and more.  It was begun in its stone-built phase by the cattle owning Shona people around 1200 CE. In its heyday (mid 14th century) it seems the rulers of Great Zimbabwe were controlling the passage of high value goods (certainly gold and copper, and probably also ivory, slaves, textiles) across the Zambezi valley, and exporting them by caravan to Sofala on Africa’s east coast (present day Mozambique).

By this time, Sofala had long been a trading centre for Zambezi and Limpopo gold, and was subject to the great Swahili city state of Kilwa to the north (present day Tanzania). Thus the merchants of Great Zimbabwe, through their contact with the Arab-Swahili dhow merchants, were part of a trading network that extended across the Indian Ocean to China, and north to the Arabian Gulf and thence into the Mediterranean and Europe where African gold was much in demand during the Middle Ages. This last factor was responsible for tempting the Portuguese around the Cape to come and fetch it for themselves, hence the presence of Captain Pegado in Sofala.

Great Zimbabwe inside the great enclosure

Of course when the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were re-discovered by Europeans in the late 19th century, specifically by one Carl Mauch, it was thought that the city could not possibly be the work of indigenous people. Surely it was the lost  kingdom of Ophir whence King Solomon received regular cargos of gold, silver, apes and peacocks. Even in the 1970s when Zimbabwe was still colonial Rhodesia, all the considerable evidence (revealed by a series of archaeologists over previous decades) that showed it was built by the local African people was officially censored by the Smith regime.

Quite apart from perverting the course of scholarship and its all round offensiveness, the stance seems somewhat odd when you discover that Great Zimbabwe was not a ‘one off’. There are scores of similar medieval stone-built complexes across southern Africa, including Chisvingo and others in Zimbabwe. When Great Zimbabwe fell into decline at the close of the 15th century, another centre of power grew up at Khame, near Bulawayo in Matabeleland. It was the capital of a royal dynasty that lasted some two hundred years, all of which is food for thought on days when one cares to re-adjust one’s picture of the history of African peoples before the white folks arrived.

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The stone built complex of Great Zimbabwe originally covered 1,800 acres (730 hectares). There were also several enclosures on the hilltop where I’m standing to take this photo, including one that revealed evidence of gold smelting. The gold items found on the site were worked into coiled wire, small rods and discs or cast into beads – all highly portable. Copper was also worked, either cast in soapstone moulds to produce ingots for trade, or made into ceremonial spears (ceremonial because unalloyed copper is too soft a metal to be militarily functional).

Finds that demonstrate the city’s external trading contacts include glass beads commonly used in the medieval Indian Ocean trade, glass shards from vessels made in the Near East (13th-15th century),  and pieces of Chinese celadon export ware from the Ming (1368-1644) and earlier dynasties.

The classic work on the excavations is Peter S Garlake’s Great Zimbabwe. It also makes detailed reference to related sites.

 

Lens-Artists #Cityscapes

Winter Sky Through Our Hedge

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I was in the kitchen, faffing not writing, when the light through the hedge at the top of the garden caught my eye. Hurrah – a project! I dashed outside with my camera to capture the high definition catkins against the sunset, and caught this little bird as well – probably a dunnock; it’s hard to tell. But whatever it is, I like the tiny curve of sunlight against her breast.

Lens-Artists #Curves  Please visit Tina to see her fine gallery of curves.

A Year Looking Over The Garden Fence ~ December 2017-December 2018

Last December we had over a foot of snow which lasted for a couple of weeks. This year we’ve barely had frost. Anyway, prompted by Lens-Artists, I thought I’d finish 2018 with ‘a year in the life’ of Townsend Meadow behind our house.

Happy New Year everyone, and may sanity and kindess be restored to Planet Earth and all who voyage on her.

 

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Lens-Artists

Ann-Christine asks for a photographic review of 2018, however we choose to do it.

Reflections Intentional And Accidental

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C-Curve by Anish Kapoor and reflective puddles courtesy of the rain god; photo taken several freezing Decembers ago in Kensington Gardens. You can spot the Farrells looking a bit stiff – centre twosome on the left.

Lens-Artists ~ Reflections  Patti set the challenge this week. Her fantastic photo of the Chicago Bean sculpture by Anish Kapoor reminded me that I had photos of his work too.

Welcome To The Night Garden ~ Yesterday At Powys Castle

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As darkness closed in and yet another squall blew up, we slipped over the Welsh border and headed for Welshpool. We had  hemmed and hawed up to the very last minute of departure: should we or shouldn’t we go; it could be muddy; the parking a nightmare; too many people; the prospect of getting soaked; nearly an hour’s drive on unlit winding country lanes. So many reasons not to go. And then we simply gave up the argument and set off.

It was not promising. The constant swish of wipers; rain that felt set-in; roads awash and headlights picking up flooded fields and burst river banks. But as we reached the outskirts of Welshpool the rain suddenly stopped, and ahead and high on its rocky promontory Powys Castle glowed like some fairy-tale bastion. And as it turned out, parking was easy; we were not mired in mud despite days of rain; and though there were plenty of visitors, we all soon lost ourselves in the castle grounds and it quickly became a big, magical adventure.

And not a little bonkers, I must admit – going round the steeply terraced castle gardens in the dark – the whole thing laid on by the National Trust as part of their season of festive celebrations at the castle. Anyway, here are a few other-worldly scenes from the night garden of this ancient Welsh borderland fortress.

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Lens-Artists: celebrations

There Can Be Good ‘Black Dog’ Days Too

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This one was on Newborough Beach, Anglesey, one late December morning. You can just see the mountains of Snowdonia on mainland Wales in the distance.

But not to make light of those who suffer bad black dog days, and there are very many of us who do, intermittently or full-time, here is a hopeful little video from the World Health Organisation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc

Lens-Artists: Splash Please visit the Lens-Artists to see their spirit-raising photos.

Pursuing The Light In Wenlock Priory

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On Saturday the weather gods handed down sunshine and stillness, and so after lunch I spent an hour wandering round our local ruins, trying to catch the best of the light. We take them for granted, of course, these ruins. They are practically on our doorstep, a few minutes walk past the Linden Field and down the Cutlins where the sheep are presently grazing. Even before you get there you can glimpse the ragged elevations of the 13th century priory church through the Corsican pines, the old sandstone with its strange quality of luminosity, no matter the weather.

The ornate Norman arches you can see in the header photo date from c1145 (I’m standing in what was once the cloister to take the photo) and this is the entrance to the Chapter House, the monks’ meeting room. The building to the immediate right, is now a private house, long known as The Abbey, but once containing the monks’ infirmary and dormitory. You can also glimpse the rooftops of the later and very grand Prior’s Lodgings beyond it (late 1400s). (You can see more about them at Going behind the scenes at Wenlock Abbey.)

The less imposing doorway to the left of the archways leads to the library. This is not the original entrance but was added after the Dissolution when the priory remains were used as farm buildings. Above it soars the remains of the south transept, once part of one of the most imposing monastic edifices in all Europe. It’s hard to imagine the full scale of it now. Not only did Henry VIII’s dissolving crew do a good job in 1540, but the good citizens of Wenlock were quick to repurpose all that well cut stone. Most of the oldest houses in the town doubtless have some monastic stonework in them somewhere.

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This view from St. Michael’s Chapel (the Prior’s private place of worship) shows the southern edge of the church nave. The church originally extended to the far wall just in front of the trees (107 metres/350 feet). The stone stumps are the remains of gigantic columns, a matching arcade to the north side (out of shot). The remains to the right of the columns belong to the south transept. See next photo.

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St. Michael’s Chapel right, south transept centre, north transept left. And still it is hard to grasp the original scale of the place. The roof of the nave would have risen way above the south transept, the church forty years in the building.

But now I’ve lingered too long. The shadows are gathering. My presence here feels like intrusion. Time to head home.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

More about the priory’s history in an earlier post HERE. And for an account of Henry James’ visit to The Abbey see When Henry James Came to Wenlock.

 

Lens-Artists: Doorways  This week Tina gives us doors and doorways as the Lens-Artists’ theme. Please pop over to see her ever impressive work, and don’t forget to visit the other Lens-Artists.

The Magic Of Winter Light

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You cannot beat the Menai Strait for magical light shows, and especially in December when there can be perfect days like these. These photos were taken on Anglesey near Beaumaris, looking across to mainland Wales: the first at midday, the second in the early morning from behind the town, and the third at Penmon Point in late afternoon.

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Lens-Artists #19: Magical Light

For more inspiration please visit Amy and the other Lens-Artists to see their take on magical light.

Lions ~ Now You See them, Now You Don’t

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Lions are the past-masters when it comes to both standing out and blending in – this week’s photo challenge from Ann-Christine at Lens-Artists, which sent me rifling through the old Africa Album for some good examples. These were all taken in Kenya’s Maasai Mara back in another lifetime. The header shot shows both leonine proclivities – the art of showing off and of disappearing in foot-high oat grass. I think there are at least three lions in this shot. In the following close up you can see one of them – just right of the lioness’s left ear. Probably a male.Mara lioness 2 (2)

But what about this next shot – can you spot the second lion? Course you can, now you know what to look for:

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And here’s a different kind of concealment – the whole pride in a gully; their concentrated gaze suggesting thoughts of dinner and where they might find it.

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Lens-Artists: Blending in or standing out