By Richard Owen
Matador – £15.00
This ceremony has to be gone through, involving an inaugural speech, and the cutting of the tape, the symbolism of which is by now well enough understood, with the usual accompaniment of a large crowd, beef, beer, drums and dancing. The chosen head of the local government and some of his most honourable aldermen tuck up their gowns and join gravely and without self-consciousness in the terpsichorean exercise. Somehow it all seems perfectly appropriate, natural and dignified, where the Lord Mayor of London, dancing to a barrel-organ at his own show, with this robes tucked up, would not.
(‘The Nilotic South’).
Sudan Days transports one back unto another era; anther time, where the entire fanfare of the British Empire glistened to the tune of God and country and a whole lot more besides. For such was the resolute belief that South Sudan’s cantankerous, impending ”mealstrom of revolution and war” could be thwarted from Downing Street – in one mere swoop of the mighty pen.
Naturally it wasn’t, and it goes without saying that those involved, such as the author of this book, Richard Owen, found themselves shunted to the varying sideline(s )of miscalculated, political calculation: ”Over simplification is dangerous in historical affairs; but it is fairly accurate to separate the first and second quarters of the century, and to say that the main objective of the first was the establishment of order, sound administration and economic stability, whereas that of the second was political advance leading up to self-government.”
Herein lies the essential trajectory of these eighteen chapters as a whole (not including the Author’s Introduction and Preface), which, as already mentioned, visits another time and another place.
Written in such a way that is both compelling and oddly captivating, Sudan Days is as equally considered as it is colourful in both imagery and tonality: ”I know that my colleagues were not all paragons, that the Government we served made errors, that I personally made some gross ones; and that among the Sudanese themselves, from the highly-civilised urban intellectual to the bush-living primitive, there were thugs and scoundrels, as there are from Chicago to Vladivostock. Yet in nearly all that kaleidoscopic mass of humanity there were contrasting virtues.”
Just as there still are (I guess).