My Many Hats (1. The Pith Helmet)

A few weeks ago I alluded (tantalizingly, I hope)  to my "jungle explorer phase." Now, for the first post of 2015 and the seventh year kickoff of this multifarious blog, I give a hat-tip (if you'll pardon the pun) to the current Sepia Saturday theme by delving somewhat deeper into that period of my distant youth.
The author, aka "Bwana," takes aim at a 1963 Christmas wildebeest, or perhaps his baby sister.
I believe that's a red/green/white flashlight at the waist. Note the gunbelt for the de rigeur .45. 
In the early 1960s, I had run across, in the children's section of our local library, the books of one Carl Ethan Akeley.

Akeley won renown in the early 20th century with not only his explorations of the then still "darkest Africa" but his groundbreaking expertise in the lifelike taxidermy of large mammals.

I had gotten hooked on Africa around this time, thanks to this movie.

Set in the modern day, "Hatari" did not have the suspenseful atmosphere of Akeley's books, which despite their dated diction (with a spot of paternalistic racism) were thrilling, set in a time when "white men" had to rely on native tribespeople to guide them through an uncharted, savage wilderness.

I spent many a happy hour memorizing Swahili words from Akely's glossary.
Such as the essential "Bwana."

I was young, and we all were too naive at the time, to register the sad realities of Akeley's adventures, which were primarily undertaken under the auspices of the New York Museum of Natural History, to build a stellar collection of African wildlife specimens. Although he did do a lot of photographing of rare wildlife, including the mountain gorilla and the newly discovered okapi, even designing a movie camera for his fieldwork, most of Akeley's work ultimately meant the shooting of large numbers of animals.

Akeley and his camera
Akeley's famous elephant exhibit, 1914
Still, it was the adventure I was keen on, such as Akeley's famous hand-to-hand combat with a leopard, which miraculously, though not without damage, he won, or his being half-crushed between the tusks of a bull elephant.

Tip: To kill a leopard with your bare hands, crush its rib cage by kneeling on it.
Tip: Don't get in the way of a mad elephant.
One panel from a great Akeley comicbook
Carl's wife, Mary Jobe Akeley, accompanied him on most of his trips, and wrote or co-wrote many of the books I devoured.


  1. A great post! The movie Hatari! was one of my early inspirations for adventure too. Akeley's story though must have influenced many more young dreamers.

  2. A fine romp through the jungle to kick off the new year. I had vaguely heard of Akeley, or at least stories about such explorers and collectors. I too had a pith helmet when young, bought at a jumble sale. I seem to recall that it was very heavy : how on earth they wore such things in the heat of the jungle I cannot imagine.

  3. I remember enjoying 'Hatari' but I couldn't tell you what the plot was. But when I was a teenager I used to drive my parents mad by playing 'Baby Elephant Walk', from the movie, over and over and over on our piano:)