A Reed Shaken by the Wind

A Reed Shaken by the Wind by Gavin Maxwell Page A

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Authors: Gavin Maxwell
would halt suddenly while first one and then the other shoulder shiveredand vibrated in convulsive spasms, or his hips writhed and shimmied in a paradox of controlled abandon. His eyes rolled and his tongue protruded; only the exquisite timing of his movements to the drums betrayed that he was not in epileptic seizure.
    So caught did he seem in the demoniac rhythm of his own weaving that there seemed no possible end to the dance; here, it seemed, was the magic by which le moment critique became l’ heure critique. For more than twenty minutes he maintained the pace without a falter, then suddenly he flung himself to the ground and lay jerking and twitching to the beat of the drums in a frenzied yet stylised pantomime of orgasm.
    The drums stopped, and he rose in a storm of laughter and applause. Seated cross-legged again at the side of the reed hearth he was once more a staid and demure child, big-eyed, shy and wondering. His breathing was not perceptibly quickened, nor at the end of a twenty-minute encore was he more ruffled than if he had awoken from a light refreshing sleep.
    In the morning we went out to shoot pig. Much as the water buffaloes are the mainstay of the marshmen’s life, so the wild pig of the marshes are the greatest and most universal enemy. They are one of the commonest animals of the marshes, and they compare to the wild pig of Europe, or, I think, of India, as a Great Dane would compare to a terrier. They are probably the largest pig in the world. They are huge, evil-tempered, and useless; for their flesh is unclean food to any Muslim, and their drab, well-camouflaged hulks lurk in every reed-bed. Here they build for themselves little soggy islands of broken reed on which to sleep, and often a party of hashish -gatherers, forcing its way through the reeds, stumbles unaware on a still form that becomes in a moment a raging tornado of slashing tusks that rip the fleshlike knives and leave white bone open to the sky. Whether the pig actually kills or not is largely a matter of chance and whether the victim has fallen on his back or face, for after a sort of routine savaging of a few seconds the pig usually makes off.
    The most serious injuries result when the victim has fallen on his back, exposing his face, throat, and stomach to the onslaught of the tusks, and these wounds are often fatal. But because the pig never stays to make sure that his enemy is dead there is always a good chance of escape, and a great many of the Ma’dan carry scars of past gorings that they have survived. Pig will even attack a large canoe if it surprises them while sleeping, and Thesiger told me that he had seen the bows of a thirty-six-foot tarada completely stove in in this way.
    It is small wonder that the marshmen hate the wild pig, and kill them by any possible means. Thesiger, who is a very good shot with a rifle, had earned the gratitude of many villages many times over, for he had killed literally hundreds of pig during his years among the Ma’dan, and they now felt it to be part of his natural function, like the doctoring of their diseases. But firearms are not universal, and ammunition rare by comparison to the great number of pig, so that the marshmen’s means of attack are strictly limited. They say—though I never saw it done myself, and it contrasts strangely with the terror I have seen them display toward a moribund boar struggling in deep water—that when a pig is swimming a man will dive into the water and drown it by imprisoning the hind feet. Many pigs, too, are killed by spears and clubs as they swim; one village we passed through claimed to have killed as many as a hundred and forty pigs in a year. The young fallow-spotted piglets they slaughter unmercifully and unpleasantly, for they are the enemy shorn of his weapons, and can show no fight. In these circumstances the marshmen show an active cruelty no different from the treatment of any other scapegoat elsewhere, butdifficult superficially to

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