"This is the true story of Adrian Boshier, a young Englishman who arrived in Africa at the age of sixteen and ventured into the bush alone, on foot, equipped with nothing more than a pocket knife and a plastic bagful of salt, to look for a world described a century earlier by Livingstone and Selous."
So begins Lyall Watson's deeply absorbing account of an amazing modern adv"This is the true story of Adrian Boshier, a young Englishman who arrived in Africa at the age of sixteen and ventured into the bush alone, on foot, equipped with nothing more than a pocket knife and a plastic bagful of salt, to look for a world described a century earlier by Livingstone and Selous."
So begins Lyall Watson's deeply absorbing account of an amazing modern adventure. For not only did Boshier survive alone in the inhospitable bush, he also succeeded in learning some of the secrets of tribal life. Two features won him the respect and trust of the African people: his extraordinary ability to handle the deadliest of snakes and his susceptibility to epileptic seizures, both traits which marked him as a "man of the spirit"—a being Lyall Watson compares to Africa's mysterious lightning bird.
Here are the thrilling stories of Boshier's initiation as a witch doctor; of his courageous struggles with adversity, danger, and infirmity in the untravelled bush; and of his dramatic rescue of a dying culture, just prior to his own death at the age of 39. The author also tells of Boshier's remarkable discoveries during his years in Africa: his findings of bone tools, rock gongs, and prehistoric cave paintings; his contribution to research on what may be one of mankind's earliest scripts; and his discovery of the oldest known mine in the world—all providing startling evidence that modern man, as well as early man, was born in Africa. Boshier's unique experience—and Lyall Watson's sensitive retelling of it—add to our knowledge of paleontology, prehistoric art, African culture, witchcraft and snake lore. Together, this born adventurer and the acclaimed writer who pursued his story have given us an unusually rich first-hand account of the real Africa....more
Hardcover, 256 pages
April 18th 1982
by Dutton Books
(first published 1982)
There is no such thing as coincidence, right? Sitting here in Oregon, I wrote a story about a guy in New Jersey, sent it to a site in England, where it was read by a guy in Greece, who pointed me to a story from South Africa, about a man I’d never heard of: Adrian Boshier (1939-1978). His life was described in Lightning Bird, a biography by Lyall Watson (1939-2008). Watson was the inventor of “the hundredth monkey,” a magical thinking meme that once went viral. The book was just what I needed: aThere is no such thing as coincidence, right? Sitting here in Oregon, I wrote a story about a guy in New Jersey, sent it to a site in England, where it was read by a guy in Greece, who pointed me to a story from South Africa, about a man I’d never heard of: Adrian Boshier (1939-1978). His life was described in Lightning Bird, a biography by Lyall Watson (1939-2008). Watson was the inventor of “the hundredth monkey,” a magical thinking meme that once went viral. The book was just what I needed: a visit to an old-fashioned society.
Boshier was an Englishman who moved to South Africa when he was 16. He was a reckless, brainy, and extremely lucky man who had a short, fantastic life — a whirlwind adventure in rewilding. He lived in the bush for most of his first six years in Africa. Unlike other whites, Boshier walked wherever he went, ate what natives ate, and drank their water. He would head off into wild country with nothing but a pocketknife and a bag of salt (for trading), and live off the land for as long as he wanted.
He became highly skilled at catching and befriending dangerous snakes. Walking into a village wrapped up in a 14-foot python, he terrified the natives, giving birth to his reputation as a powerful magician. He would catch an eight-foot cobra, milk its venom, and drink it before a wide-eyed crowd. They called him Rradinoga, the father of snakes.
By and by, Boshier met Raymond Dart, the archeologist who discovered Australopithecus africanus. Dart took him under his wing, and arranged museum work for him. The lad also made some money selling snake venom to labs.
Boshier was forced to unlearn his narrow Englishness. Natives taught him the juicy delights of gobbling three-inch caterpillars. Eventually, he learned how to chase down a young antelope and strangle it with his bare hands. When a leopard killed an animal, he would race at it screaming, scare it off, and snatch a hunk of flesh. He once tried to swipe some fresh meat from five lions, unsuccessfully, but he lived to tell about it.
He was fascinated by native culture, and decided to learn more about diviners or witch doctors. An elder told him to go to Makgabeng, a mountainous land that was home to fearsome spirit power. The mountains were so dangerous that you shouldn’t even point your finger at them, let alone walk into them. Boshier walked into them. Before long, he gained the respect of the residents.
Their chief introduced him to the keeper of the traditions, who told Boshier that the spirits had brought him to Makgabeng to learn. Why? “The lessons that the spirits bring cannot be doubted and they must not be ignored. If you disregard the experience offered by the sprits, you will fall. You may even die. But if you follow the path along which they lead, you will learn. You will gain power and your sprits will be happy.”
A witch doctor reinforced this message. She told him that his health problems resulted from his resistance to the spirits. “The hospitals in your cities are full of the hornless ones, those who have been called and would not go. No one asks for the spirits and it is not easy to live with them. Everyone fights in the beginning, but in the end one must obey them and do their work. You should be dead. I do not know why they let you live.”
Eventually she taught him the skills of a witch doctor, and he was honored by an initiation ceremony. But whenever he got too stressed, he would flee to Johannesburg and spend time with the whites. He straddled two incompatible worlds, and never felt at home in either one.
In the mountains, he visited many caves, and studied the paintings on their walls. Some were recent, and some were very old. He met elders who understood their meaning. They were not just decorative graffiti. The images recorded information, something like writing. Tribes who spoke different languages all understood the painted symbols in the same way, because they were like a universal form of communication, archetypal images.
The bright climax of the book occurred when a severe drought came to Makgabeng. Since he was a powerful witch doctor, the people asked him to make it rain. He responded in a beautiful way. He found their sacred drums in a forgotten cave, where they had been hidden 50 years earlier, when German missionaries demanded their destruction. A black bull was sacrificed to provide new hides for the drums. To bring rain, everyone had to be initiated in the old ways, and the ancestors fully honored. The people were united by an empowering healing process. It rained. Joy!
“There is in African custom an essential harmony, an equilibrium with the land which seems to be lacking in our lives.” Africa is a special place. The roots of the old culture go “all the way back, in one long unbroken line, to the origins of man.” For all of us, a journey to Africa is a homecoming. “There are few things in traditional life in Africa than can be identified as distinctively sacred in the sense that they can be separated from the rest of life. For Africans, the whole of life is sacred.”
The megafauna of Africa did not go extinct, because humans coevolved with them. Living in the tropics, we needed no clothes or substantial shelters. A sumptuous buffet was available year round — lizards, snakes, roots, berries, nuts, grubs. We got by with very simple tools for a long, long time. This was the normal, time-proven, sustainable mode of human living — a mode that our genetic evolution had fine-tuned us for (with the same genes we have today).
Then, folks migrated out of Africa, to non-tropical lands where living conditions were less perfect, and survival was more challenging. Dwelling outside of our evolutionary homeland turned us into something like moon explorers. Without technological crutches, we would have been unable to survive. Be clever or die!
The dark climax of the book was one of humankind’s big tragedies. Some old cave paintings that Boshier studied had images of sheep. Sheep were not indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa. They came from the Middle East, where clever people had reduced strong and powerful wild mouflon into fuzzy, sub-intelligent freaks that could not survive without human care.
Portraits of sheep indicated that the clever moon explorers had returned to sacred Africa, bringing with them domesticated livestock, sacks of seeds, and the consuming mindset of the colonizer and domesticator. “The introduction of a pastoral economy, starting perhaps three or four thousand years ago, seems to have marked the beginning of a relentless destruction, now almost complete, of the earliest way of human life. It was the end of a society that had discovered how to live in harmony with — rather than at the expense of — nature.”
The archaeological community was always on the lookout for evidence of the miraculous transition, when primitive hominids, who lived by instinct, crossed the Rubicon and became self-aware Homo sapiens with complex brains — incredible modern humans! Well, here we are, neck deep in a bubbling cauldron of toxic progress soup, big brains and all. Success! These days, the primitive side of the Rubicon is looking more and more like where we really belong — home. Can we learn something here?
Boshier was an epileptic. To Europeans, epilepsy was a disease. To Africans, he was blessed by the spirits, very special. Near the end of his life, he was having as many as 30 epileptic attacks per week. On 18 November, 1978, Boshier waded into the waters of the Indian Ocean and died. The next day, a storm raced into the bone dry Makgabeng, the thunder rumbled, and “it rained and rained and rained.”
In 1955 Adrian Boshier, a sixteen-year-old English boy inspired by the writings of nineteenth century explorers like Stanley and Livingstone, walked into the South African bush with nothing but a compass and a pocketknife and lived there for months among the insects, the wild beasts and the natives. He learned to survive the hard way—by doing it. For example, he learned that when you went to sleep at night you must lie in one position as though dead, and when you awakened you must move very, ve In 1955 Adrian Boshier, a sixteen-year-old English boy inspired by the writings of nineteenth century explorers like Stanley and Livingstone, walked into the South African bush with nothing but a compass and a pocketknife and lived there for months among the insects, the wild beasts and the natives. He learned to survive the hard way—by doing it. For example, he learned that when you went to sleep at night you must lie in one position as though dead, and when you awakened you must move very, very slowly. Why? Because more than once he woke up to find a deadly puff adder curled up beside him, taking advantage of his body heat. Boshier was fascinated by snakes and liked to catch them. The book describes encounters with a neurotoxic boomsling, a black mamba, a cobra and a python. Here’s the python:
The first time Boshier saw a python, it was so big that he almost failed to recognize it. Then he noticed that the tree trunk in his path was moving. He stood entranced as yard after yard flowed by. It was unbelievable; somewhere was a head and, at some stage still to come, a tail. And in between, more snake than he would have thought possible. When he plunged into the undergrowth in search of its head, the python began to coil its body. This seemed an undesirable situation, so he put his stick across its back and made a grab for its head. It was then that Boshier learned the difference between the strength of a snake that relies on poison, and one that depends on its muscle for a living. He was jerked right off his feet and forced to cling to its neck with both hands, whereupon it promptly behaved like a python and began to engulf him in its coils. Boshier released one hand and tried to pull free, but could not even get a grip on the broad body. Then he tried unwinding the snake and found to his relief that this worked. Pythons seem to be unable to resist a strong centripetal force. As fast as it threw its coils around him, he unwound them. And there they remained in an animated embrace. “We became acquainted,” he said later. “We really did!” After an hour of action, the python began to relax and Boshier released the pressure on its neck. He watched carefully for any sly maneuvers, but the snake lay without resistance. Boshier felt so certain of this change in attitude that he even stroked it. And it seemed to settle itself more comfortably, half of its enormous length cradled in his arms.
The natives were awestruck by Boshier’s fearlessness with snakes, assumed the snake was his totem, and dubbed him “father of snakes.” Often they treated him as someone very special.
Late one afternoon, a number of men came into [Boshier’s:] camp carrying between them a rusty oil drum that had been chopped through longitudinally. They greeted him with their right hands held aloft, palms facing outward, and then set about their mission. He watched with interest as the drum was propped up on a stone platform over an open fire and slowly filled with muddy water from the stream. As soon as it began to steam, the fire was doused and the men motioned that all was now ready. They had built him a bath. He was overwhelmed by this spontaneous display of friendship, but nevertheless concerned about the danger of bilharzia, a disease produced by parasites found in all the rivers in Africa which flow eastward into the Indian Ocean. It is produced by a small flatworm that leaves its host anemic and listless with cirrhosis of the liver and enlargement of the spleen. This animal represents an ever-present threat which, in much of Africa, keeps wise people away from the water. Here was Boshier’s dilemma: a little warming of the bath was unlikely to kill any of the dreaded larvae, but it was other hand extremely difficult to refuse so kind an offer. He decided in the end that it would be impossible to explain why he, who played with ten-foot snakes, was frightened by a microscopic worm. So he bathed.
Boshier learned that he could turn his snake-handling to account by selling the poisonous snakes to be milked for anti-venin. But snakes were not Boshier’s only long suit with the natives: he was also an epileptic, and when they observed him having a fit, they knew that he was possessed by the spirits and had a special connection with them, and should therefore become a diviner. He was soon initiated.
Adrian Boshier never came near to realizing the tribal efficiency of a true diviner, but given the constraints of his particular personality and the brevity of his life, he did astonishingly well. His snakes helped, by providing him with ready-made symbols of great power. These are exactly the sort of “tools” a good diviner needs. Boshier was able in certain situations to use this material wisely in ways that helped to redress social imbalances and assist others to adjust to the cultural shock that is a routine part of black-white relationships in Africa.
His status as diviner gave him easy access to other tribal diviners:
On one occasion [Boshier:] had been asked to help the manager of a large department store find a pistol stolen from his office during a brief absence. Police in Africa deal harshly with those who lose weapons and the man was more anxious to get his gun back than to find or prosecute the thief, who he thought might be one of his own black staff. A diviner seemed the best answer, so Boshier took one he had just met along to the store. She was a tiny woman, barely five feet tall, but, decked out in beads and red ochre, she carried all the authority of her profession. In the store she caused some consternation by going directly into possession-trance on the showroom floor, screaming in a high-pitched voice and writhing on the ground. She emerged triumphant from this session with her spirit to announce that the missing object was “a gun that is held in the hand.” (In accordance with accepted practice she had been told only that something was missing and given no insulting details.) She looked very hard at one of the male assistants and then announced that the weapon was hidden in a toilet, and suggested that she and Boshier go to fetch it. She led him straight out the staff door of the store into a courtyard, opened the door of a lavatory, and pointed at an old-fashioned water cistern high up on the wall. Boshier climbed up on the seat, unbolted the lid of the cistern, put his arm into the tank, and found that his hand closed almost immediately over a loaded automatic pistol. This was returned without further ado to its flabbergasted but extremely grateful owner.
Boshier was a hit not only with the natives, in particular the Sotho tribe of the Transvaal, but also with archeologist Raymond Dart in Johannesburg. Dart took the uneducated Boshier under his wing and subsidized him to look for specific artifacts while wandering in the bush. Because of Boshier’s ready access to the Sotho and other tribes, he made many discoveries.
Boshier was instrumental in demonstrating the continued use of simple bone tools for sacred purposes, thus providing evidence supporting the possible prehistoric existence of a Bone Age culture. By his way of life, he showed that even now it is possible for a man alone, unarmed and far from others of his kind, to make a living as a scavenger, stealing food from the mouths of predators. [He would charge at leopards and lions, scaring them off their prey.:] Although he first became involved with snakes out of simple curiosity, Boshier’s later acceptance by tribal people owed a great deal to the reptiles; and drew attention to the continuing significance and survival of totems in African culture. Boshier uncovered an unsuspected early trade in special stone for the purposes of pounding, and helped revive an interest in the importance of the process of pounding as a precursor in the development of more sophisticated stone tools. He was aware of the spiritual significance of stone and helped foster an interest in rock gongs as a possible clue to the origins of human dance and song. He explored the symbolism in prehistoric art, recording a number of important sites, showing that many of these retain their meaning to those who still live in the land. He was involved in work which suggests that one of the earliest known scripts was used in, and may even have evolved in, Africa. Boshier showed how magic—or, if you will, a belief in magic—can be an essential tool for survival; and he contributed to research that continues to lead toward an understanding of the origins of religion. He discovered the oldest known mine in the world which may well have doubled the antiquity of modern man, showing that our genesis and formative history were peculiarly African. He helped excavate evidence of the first recorded use of personal adornment, demonstrating the early origin of and interest in ceremony and symbology, and making it necessary to revise the entire Stone Age chronology for Africa.
With age Boshier’s epilepsy got worse, but he refused to have it treated either by Western medications or by a tribal expert. Indeed, his instructor in divination kept telling him that though he was favored by the spirits he failed to show them due respect, and that he must progress to the next level of initiation, which would show him how to appease the spirits and also ease his epilepsy. But for some reason the special white man, the Father of Snakes who was also identified with the sacred Lightning Bird, would not do it.
The people treat the [Lightning Bird:] with elaborate respect, keeping their distance, but watching constantly for omens and portents in its behavior. Their regard is tinged with fear and colored by the belief that sometimes, perhaps once in many generations, the Lightning Bird takes it upon itself to appear among them in human form.
On November 18, 1978, [Boshier:] went, against his will, on a trip with friends to the shores of the Indian Ocean. In warm, clear water on the very edge of the narrow continental shelf, the Lightning Bird arched its back, beat its wings, and returned to its birthplace in the deep. Adrian Boshier struggled for a moment at the surface, then sank slowly, almost gratefully, into the void. He did not drown; but when they brought him back to the surface, he was dead. The next day, they say, an enormous dark bank of cloud came sailing up out of the far southeast to run itself aground on the slopes of [the mountain called:] Those-Who-Point-Will-Never-Reach-Their-Homes. Then lightning flashed, the thunder roared, and it rained and rained and rained in the dry Makgabeng.
This highly readable book about a fearless adventurer provides a great deal of insight into African culture and the development of the human mind.
Lyall Watson was a South African botanist, zoologist, biologist, anthropologist, ethologist, and author of many new age books, among the most popular of which is the best seller Supernature. Lyall Watson tried to make sense of natural and supernatural phenomena in biological terms. He is credited with the first published use of the term "hundredth monkey" in his 1979 book, Lifetide. It is a hypothLyall Watson was a South African botanist, zoologist, biologist, anthropologist, ethologist, and author of many new age books, among the most popular of which is the best seller Supernature. Lyall Watson tried to make sense of natural and supernatural phenomena in biological terms. He is credited with the first published use of the term "hundredth monkey" in his 1979 book, Lifetide. It is a hypothesis that aroused both interest and ire in the scientific community and continues to be a topic of discussion over a quarter century later.
He was born in Johannesburg as Malcolm Lyall-Watson. He had an early fascination for nature in the surrounding bush, learning from Zulu and !Kung bushmen. Watson attended boarding school at Rondebosch Boys' High School in Cape Town, completing his studies in 1955. He enrolled at Witwatersrand University in 1956, where he earned degrees in botany and zoology, before securing an apprenticeship in palaentology under Raymond Dart, leading on to anthropological studies in Germany and the Netherlands. Later he earned degrees in geology, chemistry, marine biology, ecology and anthropology. He completed a doctorate of ethology at the University of London, under Desmond Morris. He also worked at the BBC writing and producing nature documentaries.
Around this time he shortened his name to Lyall Watson. He served as director of the Johannesburg Zoo, an expedition leader to various locales, and Seychelles commissioner for the International Whaling Commission.
In the late 1980s he presented Channel 4's coverage of sumo tournaments.
Lyall Watson began writing his first book, Omnivore during the early 1960s while under the supervision of Desmond Morris, and wrote more than 20 others....more