Portfolio 1 ( Images | Print Availability | Touring Shows )
Pagan (now Bagan), Burma.
Sunday 5th January 1958
The colossal sandstone seated Thandawgya Buddha was decapitated in the 1975 earthquake. This may well be the only surviving photograph of this Buddha’s original head, which has been replaced with crude faceless blocks. Six meters tall, it was erected by King Narathihapate in 1284, three years before the Mongol invasion.
Mali and Niger
The younger Tuareg girl seemed to me to be as elegant and poised as any Paris model. The simple stylishness of her dress and her graceful pose could be thought of as ‘wasted on the desert air’ and yet I find it comforting to know that unselfconscious beauty like this exists in the most unexpected places.
Niah Cave, Sarawak, Borneo February 1958
I reached the Niah cave by boat and walked in from the coast, as there was no road there then. Tom Harrison and Gathorne Medway (now the Earl of Cranbrook) were living in the cave excavating the then earliest prehistoric skull in the world: 40,000 year old Borneo Man. They were also studying the many bats and I was put to work dissecting bat lice.
On the Tinjar River in Sarawak the girls used heavy brass weights to stretch
their earlobes down to their shoulders. Today they have nearly all had them sewn up. This girl had put on her best blouse because we were visiting her longhouse with the Catholic bishop of Borneo on his annual tour. The longhouses along the banks of Sarawak’s rivers were a delight to visit in those days. We would be welcomed with some bangs from ancient shotguns and then escorted up the slippery notched poles to the house by captivating bare breasted girls, who sang and chanted as they helped us not to fall.
Mentawai man by a waterfall on the Island of Siberut off the coast of Sumatra. Marika and I were the first outsiders to see this waterfall, which was up a long, rocky riverbed and was called Kulukubu. It fell in a white curtain shot with rainbows a sheer hundred feet into a deep pool of clear water, silencing the tropical din with its rushing and wetting the surrounding vegetation with spray. There is a legend that two women were fishing at the top and one fell near the edge. The other went to help her and both were swept over and drowned. Now sometimes their hands are seen above the water in the pool, a bad omen foretelling disaster.
At the headwaters of the Tinjar I joined a group of Penan to cross the
watershed between that river and the Belepeh River, a tributary of the
Rejang. This journey had not been made since Tom Harrisson did it for
the first time in 1932 while on an Oxford University Exploration Club
expedition. This was one of the young Penan who accompanied me. He and
his companions were supremely fit and revelled in the excuse to make the
journey with me. We took blowpipes and hunting dogs with us and lived
off the land. A network of rivulets and rocky stream beds took us
through pristine forest.
In 1958, while making the first land crossing of South America at its
widest point with Richard Mason, we reached the island of Bananal on the
Araguaia river. The Karaja Indian shamans were conducting a ceremony,
which we were allowed to watch. They moved in two pairs, long grass
skirts falling from below their arms and curtains of black grass swaying
from high hats, hiding their faces completely and giving them the
stature of giants. They shook black rattles and walked with short steps,
bowing from side to side.