LIGHTNING BIRD: One Man's Journey into Africa by Lyall Watson

LIGHTNING BIRD: One Man's Journey into Africa

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Adrian Boshier was an Englishman who came to Africa at age 16 and walked into the bush of the northern Transvaal ""alone, on foot, equipped with nothing more than a pocketknife and a plastic bagful of salt."" A courageous and self-educated explorer, often restless and cantankerous back in town, he died at age 39--presumably as a result of an epileptic seizure while bathing in the Indian Ocean. It is hard to fault Watson for over-romanticizing such a life--and indeed his pen soars in passages that capture the harsh beauty of landscape or the eloquence of tribal legends. But Watson is such a romantic in his own right that the reader must suffer through paragraphs of magic and mysticism as well as unstinting praise for yet another Watson hero, Raymond Dart, for whom Boshier subsequently worked. Dart has long held that the early South African hominids used bones as tools. Since Boshier himself used bones, and discovered a native tradition of the use of bones and stones in certain rituals of food preparation and divining, Dart felt vindicated. As Boshier's reputation with the northern Sotho grew--he was a noted snake handler, for example--he was able to learn more about religion and custom. He discovered many cave paintings that give evidence of an evolving tradition of cultural complexity. Much of the latter part of the book describes Boshier's spiritual apprenticeship--and analogies with Don Juan and Castenada come to mind. The climax comes with Boshier's discovery of the ""herd"" of sacred drums used in rainmaking, and the tribe's subsequent reenactment of a ritual long-suppressed by Christian missionaries; there, of course, ends the drought. Watson's belief in epilepsy as a ""sacred disease,"" his affirmation of folk medicine and magic, his devotion to Dart and his theories will make many a reader squirm. But the Boshier story is genuinely worth telling--and if the tales are a little on the tall side, this is the stuff that myths are made of.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1982
Publisher: Dutton