Sunday, May 15, 2011

Garram the Hunter: A Boy of the Hill Tribes, by Herbert Best

Garram is a young boy who lives with his tribe in the hills of Nigeria (the country is never explicitly stated, but certain cities and landmarks make it easy to identify). A quiet fellow, he prefers solitude, hunting in the wilderness with only his well-trained dog, Kon, as company. Warok, the tribal chief, is his father. The tribe has enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity. Warok knows that his people have grown lazy and must fortify their borders and prepare against invasion, but when he tries to enforce dictates to this effect, Sura and his son Menud stir up the people against him. Sura and Menud were not born to the tribe, and resent those in authority. Menud has, through clever words which overshadow his lack of actions, established himself as a leader of the hunt among the youths. Similarly, Sura's cunning words have gained him a position of influence among the Hillmen despite the fact that he has done nothing to earn it.

It is well known among those wise enough to pay attention that Sura is working to eventually kill Warok and seize power. This means Garram's life is also in danger. His friend the Rainmaker warns him that the best way to ensure his safety, and that of his father, is to leave. He believes that Sura will not move against Warok if there is a threat that Garram is growing strong and angry elsewhere, and will return someday to exact his revenge.

So Garram decides to leave his tribe stealthily and head into the city of Yelwa, populated by the Fulani people. They are as baffled by him as he is by them- their clothing, language, and ways are incomprehensible to him. An Islamic society, the Fulani people in Yelwa are ruled by the Emir, who has a council of advisors. Due to a mishap with his dog, Garram is called before the Emir for judgment and immediately ingratiates himself to the ruler because Kon attacks a man attempting assassination. Garram eventually becomes a special friend to the Emir and his Captain of the Guard, but others in the palace are jealous of the straightforward and honest young man's influence and seek to oust him through a series of unfair accusations (one of which being his friendship with his dog- and unclean animal). Although Garram is eventually able to show this for the joke that it is, he knows that he doesn't belong among the Fulani. He has begun to feel that Warok is in danger, and begins the journey back to his people to help him.

I won't spoil the climax of the book or its ending, but rest assured that Garram did not make friends in vain, and his cleverness helps to save the day, restoring things to how they should be. This was a very easy read for being reasonably long, with adventure, danger, and humor. I found it to be rather enjoyable.

One thing I found very odd in this book is the lack of women. Garram takes place entirely in a man's world. No women are mentioned at all in the city of Yelwa, nor are they among Garram's peers in the hills. They are only mentioned as a group in the background of just a few scenes (in one case, giving voice together for a death wail, and in another, heaving rocks from a hill onto unwitting enemies below). How strange that no one in this story seems to have wife, sister, daughter, or mother (although the Emir has a young child- perhaps it materialized spontaneously from thin air).

Sadly, I was unable to find any information at all about Herbert Best, the author. I like to know a bit about a writer's experiences with his subject matter, but I'm hitting nothing but dead ends here. Please enlighten me if you have anything on him!

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