Saturday, August 19, 2006

Henri de Monfreid, archaeologist

Reading through a paper by David Pleurdeau "in press" in the African Archaeological Review, I stumbled upon a reference to the original discoverers of Porc-Epic Cave, a Middle Stone Age (MSA) site in Ethiopia. Almost everyone interested in the MSA of East Africa knows that P. Theillard de Chardin (1930) was one of them (see also Pleurdeau 2005); fewer know that Henri de Monfreid was the other. Fewer still probably know about Henri de Monfreid, a French expat (mainly) who lived an adventurous life on and along the coast of the Red Sea, trafficking in weapons and other things, and doing a number of things often not completely within the bounds of the law. As it happens, Monfreid was also a very talented and prolific writer who captured a number of his experiences in written form. The first Monfreid book I had the pleasure to read back in 1994 was La croisière du Hachich, translated into English under the title Hashish (a fantastic read!), and I've been hooked ever since, reading compulsively anything of his I've come across over the years. A good overview of Monfreid's life and artistic output (he was also a painter) is provided by P. Baraduc in his Henri de Monfreid: Flibustier de la Mer Rouge (1998).

He is, hands down, one of my favorite writers, and it was a small pleasure to learn that he had, on top of all else he did over his lifetime, done paleoanthropological and ethnological work.

References

Baraduc, P. 1998. Henri de Monfreid: Flibustier de la Mer Rouge. Collection "Grandes aventures." Arthaud, Paris.

Monfreid, H. de. 1933. La croisière du Hachich. Grasset, Paris.

Pleurdeau, D. 2005. Le Middle Stone Age de la grotte du Porc-Épic (Dire Dawa, Éthiopie) : gestion des matières premières et comportements techniques: Porc-Epic cave (Dire Dawa, Ethiopia). L'Anthropologie 107:15-48.

Pleurdeau, D. 2006. Huma technical behavior in the African Middle Stone Age: the lithic assemblage from Porc-Epic Cave (Dire Dawa, Ethiopia). African Archaeological Review 22: in press. (DOI: 10.1007/s10437-006-9000-7)

1 comment:

me said...

Glad to see someone else appreciates de Monfreid. Hashish is indeed a fantastic book. I hear he's written up to 70 books in French.
There is a website for him www.henrydemonfreid.com (i think). Google translation makes it a hilarious read but maybe you know French!
I got to know him through Wilfred Thesiger who also a fantastic traveler and maybe a more eloquent writer. This is what Thesiger says of de Monfreid: 'he had nothing in common with the petit bourgeois mentality of his fellow Frenchmen' (a great compliment from an Englishman!)
Thesiger was tempted to join him on his read sea adventures but though de Monfreid's (strategically) converted to Islam, Thesiger thought he would be betraying his ancestors in doing so. Thesiger did not ascribe to the Christian faith but said he was Christian in culture.
I have come across another English book on de Monfreid which writes not only of the man but also the legend called Abdul Hai on the Somali coast. Apparently (so the legend goes) he was running a boat full of slaves across the red sea when a British warship detected him. Everytime the warship would close in on him, he'd fire a slave from his cannon into the sea and the English, being what they are, would stop to rescue the poor slave thus giving him time to gain speed!