The Land of Uz
by Abdullah Mansur (G. Wyman Bury)
Garnet Publishing Ltd, 8 Southern Court, South Street, Reading RG1 4QS, 1998. Pp. xxviii + 340. Maps. Appendices. £14.95. Pb. ISBN 1-85964-121-0. First Published by Macmillan and Co, London 1911.
Arabia Infelix or The Turks in Yemen
by G. Wyman Bury
Garnet Publishing, 8 Southern Court, South Street, Reading RG1 4QS, 1998. Pp xxvi + vi +208. Maps. Appendices. Index. £14.95. Pb. ISBN 1-85964-122-9. First Published by Macmillan and Co, London 1915.
These two books are autobiographical and consecutive although written about the two parts of Yemen then under separate influences (one hesitates to cab them administrations). Despite their common earlier traditions and a vast amount of propaganda about what a good thing it would be if they were united, this has so far been difficult to accomplish to the entire satisfaction of all concerned. Rather like the single European currency, many consider it most desirable so long as they themselves run it and not someone else, Very little has been published on either part of the territory during the period covered — the start of the 20th Century.
The British had been in Aden for 60 years but the Government of Bombay its titular rulers, looked upon Aden as an important coaling station on the line of communication to more important parts of the British Empire — but very little else! They had no wish to get involved in administering the tribal areas which surrounded it, restricting themselves to occasional intervention when the perpetually warring factions got completely out of hand. The Turks, on the other hand, tried to run their part of Yemen as a self-supporting (at least) constituent of the Ottoman Empire. Neither were completely successful and Wyman Bury’s remarkably clear description of his adventures goes a long way to explaining why
In turn, Clive Smith’s introductions explain how Wyman Bury came to be there.
Wyman Bury was a scientist and explorer who managed to find his way around what became the Western Aden Protectorate in a manner which earlier (and later) European travellers were unable to emulate. His looks, build and command of colloquial Arabic were such that he was able in some situations to pass as a local inhabitant and, more often, be accepted as ‘one of the chaps’. He was handy when the Turks and British found it in their interests to try to settle the border between their spheres of influence and he was appointed Extra Assistant Resident in political charge of the escort of the British part of the Boundary Commission in the Dhala area. This seems to have later affected his scientific position and may have eventually caused his loss of favour in Aden, although one suspects that differences of attitude to his activities between Residents of the period, Generals Maitland and Mason, may also have had something to do with his expulsion. One can well imagine the kind of feelings he could have provoked among some of the more staid members of the Aden Garrison.
However, Wyman Bury was ‘hooked’ on Yemen. Not wanted in Aden, he succeeded in persuading the Ottoman authorities to allow him to continue scientific studies in their part of Yemen. Indeed, he carried out a great deal of valuable work there, particularly in ornithology, and many of his specimens and descriptions are still held by the British Museum. But Wyman Bury was a keen observer of all things around him and his detailed descriptions of the way of life of those whom he met and lived with in the days when the matchlock and spear were still weapons of ‘real men’ in southern Yemen and the motor vehicle had yet to arrive, are what will fascinate many of his readers. Such items as the description of the matchlock in action (Land of Uz, p.127) and its varying specifications (p.298) are possibly unique. Arabia Infelix is a more continuous tale and might have filming possibilities, with the court scenes (p.19) and the spectacular mountains around Manakha among the highlights. The rusting remains of the railway engine (p. 128), still lying in the Hodaida dock area, are more likely to provide inspiration than a photo-opportunity.
Bury’s forecasts of the future, if not so accurate, are also most interesting and betray a better insight into the affairs of the area just before the outbreak of World War I than had most of those in official charge in either part of Yemen.