BOOK REVIEW – LANGUAGE HUNTING IN THE KARAKORAM. By E. O. Lorimer.

LANGUAGE HUNTING IN THE KARAKORAM. By E. O. Lorimer.
London: George Allen and Unwin, 1939. 9 X 5 r2 inches; 310 pages; illustrations and map. 12s 6d
The officials who go back to India after their service is done are very few. Colonel Lorimer set out again, accompanied by his wife, for the frontier region of India ten years after his retirement. The incentive to the journey was a scholarly interest in the language of the Hunza people. His service had brought him into contact with most of the languages of the North-West Frontier district; it had been his hobby to study the grammar and relationships of such languages as Shina, Khowar, and Burushaski; his return was to complete his observations on the latter, the language of Hunza.
Mrs. Lorimer’s book is a record of the day-to-day events of this interesting experience. It is, as it were, an hors-dfoeuvre to the book which we hope will soon come from Colonel Lorimer’s hand. Taken by itself it is therefore tantalizing, because nowhere has she allowed herself to poach the rich preserves of her husband’s notebooks; whenever the text leads her towards any of the many fascinating questions of the origin of the Hunza people or their language she faithfully turns aside at the last moment. What we experience therefore is an introduction on a personal level to the hill people of Hunza. We accompany these determined and experienced travellers over the Burzil pass to Gilgit and thence to the glorious vale of Hunza; we are shown the day-to-day progress of the work while they are settled in Aliabad; and we come directly into contact with the individuals and families who live there.
The book is clearly the work of an experienced writer. But there are two motifs that jar, both probably springing from the intellectual vigour which inspired the journey and the book. On the one hand there is an implied superiority of experience and background demonstrated at its most exasperating when the reader, approaching the Burzil pass, is offered a bouquet of erudite quotations from poetry in four (European) languages. On the other, there is a constant nagging at European culture and its deficiencies by comparison with the culture of the Hunzukuts. The roads of Hunza, the author claims, are safer than our murderous motor roads; and the people of Hunza, on another page, are better educated than the products of our costly schools, and so on. If an author is to attempt to assess the value of a foreign culture he should not dismiss the whole tradition of Europe with a sneer. But our author perhaps disarms criticism by her appropriate choice of a couplet from Goldsmith: ” ‘Tis yours to judge, how wide the limits stand Between a splendid and a happy land.” She will have it that there, at 8000 feet in a remote part of the Himalaya, the blossom of the apricot and the tinkle of the goat-bells reflect not a splendour which passes far above the heads of all but a few, but a happiness which is shared by the humblest. M. A. S.
Language Hunting in the Karakoram. By E. 0. Lorimer. London: Allen & Unwin, 1939. 310 pp., xxiii plates. Price 12s. 6d.
In her forenote, Mrs. Lorimer disowns for her book any claim to be serious or anthropological; she offers it merely as an account of a silver honeymoon spent among the Burusho of Hunza on whose language and ethnography her husband was at work. She is too modest. The account she gives of the life of the people of Hunza is of no little anthropological interest. After describing the circumstances of the expedition and the journey from Kashmir to Aliabad in Hunza, Mrs. Lorimer takes her reader through a whole year of Hunza life. Agriculture, clothes, crafts, and the daily round of Aliabad are portrayed in some detail and a picture is given of what seems one of the most idyllic existences left in a world too generally sophisticated by modern means of communication and the products of machinery. Much of the information given is of great interest. One learns, for instance, of the most ingenious method of dealing with infants, who are packed in dried cowdung, which is changed from time to time, and found ‘vastly ‘preferable to the eternal washing of nappies,’ an alternative impossible in any case to a people having little cloth, less fuel, and no soap, but who are, never-theless, so clean that vermin does not exist in their houses, while their sanitary arrangements are far in advance of most of the Indian peninsula. Blacksmiths form a caste of foreigners living separate lives and speaking an Indo-Aryan language, ampng a nominally Muslim people who are otherwise free from caste, who observe no purdah, who do everything except black-smith’s work for themselves without any but the simplest machinery of water-mill, hand-loom and primi-tive lathe, and who speak a language of their own, Burushaski, which has no known affinity with any other, and to the learning of which a chapter is devoted. From the account given, no less than from the fifty or so very attractive photographs which accompany it, the Hunza and the Hunzakuts must be among the most delightful places and people to be found, and Mrs. Lorimer has described them in a manner not unworthy of her subject. ” Savagery,” said Sir William Hunter, ” is a condition of unrest; civilization is a state of ” repose.” If his aphorism be true, it is rather in the simplicity and poverty of the inaccessible Karakoram than in the industrial restlessness of the over-mechanized west that real civilization is to be found. At any rate, no one who reads of Mrs. Lorimer’s Burusho could possibly declare them other than civilized. J. H. H.
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