Literally lost: 66
Sunday 14 February 1999
a) where is the action taking place?
b) who is the author?
Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30-worth of book tokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.
"Ask for Grandpa Felipe," the lieutenant said. "He's the only pure-blood left."
The last of the Yaghans lived in a row of plank shanties at the far end of the base. The authorities settled them here so they should be close to a doctor. It was drizzling. Snow smears came down close to the shore. It was high summer. Behind the settlement the trees disappeared in the clouds. The water was smooth and black and across the channel were the ribbed grey cliffs of Gable Island.
The old man said I could come in. The hut was full of smoke and my eyes smarted. He sat in a pile of fish crates, crab pots, baskets and boat gear. He was hardly taller than wide and his legs were bowed. He wore a greasy cap and had the leathery face of a Mongol, and black unmoving eyes that registered no emotion or expression.
Only his hands moved. They were fine hands, agile and netted with dark- grey veins. He earned a little money making canoes to sell to the tourists. He made them of bark and withes and sewed them with sheep sinew. In the old days, fathers made these canoes for their sons. Now there were no sons and still very few tourists. I watched him whittle a miniature harpoon shaft and bind on to it a tiny bone harpoon.
"Once I made big harpoons." He broke the silence. "I made them of whale's bone. On all the beaches there were bones of whales. But they have gone now. I made the harpoons from a bone inside the head."
"From the jaw?"
"Not from the jaw. From inside the head. In the whale's skull there is a canalita and two bones along it. The strongest harpoons came from there. Harpoons made from the jaw were not so strong."
Literally Lost 65: The book was 'The Life of My Choice' by Wilfred Thesiger. The action took place in Ethiopia (or Abyssinia, as the author called it). There is no winner, so the prize will be rolled over to next week.
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