Sahara Man: Travelling with the Tuareg by Jeremy Keenan
published by John Murray, price £18.99, ISBN 0-7195-6161-2
This is dangerous stuff. Not because of the terrain, snakes or scorpions,
let alone the Algerian civil war still rumbling away in the distant north of
this vast country. Our commonly held concerns about travelling in Algeria
hold no interest for Jeremy Keenan, who knows the area as of old when he
worked as a young anthropologist amongst the Tuareg in the 60's. No, the
danger in this book is not physical it is moral. For Keenan is a passionate
iconoclast and a dangerously well informed one.
One by one he topples the Cultural idols, even putting in its place the
current travellers obsession with the Saharan salt trade.
He investigates the hushed up catastrophe of In Eker, where a French atomic
test blew a hole in one of the Tefedest mountains. The generals were the
first to race away from the disaster, the major casualties being inflicted
on local Tuareg children.
In the valley of Irharhar he investigates the Tuareg defeat of the Flatters
expedition. Even Paul Bowles failed to invent anything quite as nasty as
the bizarre truth of this French misadventure with its madness, mass
poisoning and cannibalism.
Nor is it just the past that is unearthed as Keenan investigates a modern
Robin Hood of the Sahara, the ubiquitous bandit smuggler-in-chief, Mokhtar
ben Mokhtar. A man who has been 'killed' seven times, who commands a fleet
of hundreds of jeeps but who also might never have existed.
In his search for evidence of theft of rock art Keenan mawls the great
reputation of Henri Lhote, unearthing his casual cruelty, his dubious
political motivations and the bizarre levels to which his professional
jealousy could go.
It is a book that will make many enemies (especially in France) though his
reputation amongst the Tuareg can only be further increased. Anyone
interested in the Sahara will have to read it.
Back to Reviews page