This nearly-snowless winter picture of a barn by the road near my house was taken last Wednesday.  Since then it’s been snowing very hard, and today the snow blower has broken. We’re snowed-in, trapped until Monday.  To take my mind off it I’ve been reading about Rudolph C. Slatin Pasha and the Fuzzy Wuzzies.

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair,
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy,
Wuzz ‘e?

I don’t know the origin of that little rhyme or its relation to Britain’s colonial wars in Sudan.  I’m pretty sure there is one, though.

I grew up with Fire and Sword in the Sudan – well, in the same house, at least – it was written by Colonel Rudolph C. Slatin Pasha.  Here he is: short and British on the left, upright and Austrian on the right:

Slatin was appointed pasha by the Khedive, the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt (pashas ranked above Beys and Aghas, but below Khedives and Viziers).  Several years after the book’s publication he was promoted to Major-General Sir Rudolph Slatin GCVO, KCMG, CB, by Queen Victoria and made Freiherr von Slatin, in 1906, by Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria.

He had grown up near Vienna with (like Ludwig Wittgenstein a few years later) a Jewish merchant father who had converted to Roman Catholicism.  As a young man he had gone to Cairo to work in a bookshop; from there he had traveled up the Nile where he got to know General Gordon, the next governor-general of Sudan, and his career took off. By the age of twenty-four, he himself was governor of the province of Dafur, with the Ottoman rank of Bey.  Highly recommended by everyone, Fire and Sword in the Sudan is a thrilling account of the wars of 1883-98, eleven years of which Slatin spent imprisoned by the Mahdi, until on the eve of the battle of Omdurman and with the help of his friend Major Wingate of Egyptian intelligence, he escaped. My family’s copy of the book probably belonged first to my great-grandfather, a Victorian teabroker who lived for some time in Kenya. When I was a child it was one of the fatter and more prominent books in our living room; and although I never read it, I was always mildly curious at least to see the fire and sword (I remember looking for pictures).  I recently came across it again when I read about the battle of Omdurman in Winston Churchill’s My Early Life. Omdurman, you may recall, was British revenge for the killing of General Gordon at Khartoum (Gordon had been another pasha who as  governor-general of  the country had abolished the Sudanese slave trade).  In his memoir Churchill recommended Slatin’s book and now, after fifty-odd years, I’m finally considering reading it (it’s in London at my mother’s house).  One final thing about Slatin, from Wikipedia:

While administering Dara, […] Slatin gallantly defended his province and though he fought many successful battles, he gradually lost ground. At Om Waragat he lost 8,000 of his men in the first 20 minutes of the battle and was himself wounded three times but he managed to fight his way back to Dara. Believing his troops attributed their failure in battle to the fact that he was a Christian, Slatin publicly adopted Islam in 1883 and took the Islamic name Abd al Qadir.

So, much as his father’s conversion to Roman Catholicism from Judaism must have been, this was a politically-motivated expedient rather than the result of a Damascene moment.  I read elsewhere that Sir Rudolph later received absolution from the pope for having become a temporary Muslim.

Who were the Fuzzy-Wuzzies?  They were Hadendoa nomads, who were called Fuzzy-Wuzzies by British troops because of their (for the time) elaborate dos.

Partly from Wikipedia: According to E.M. Roper (Tu Beḍawie: an elementary handbook for the use of Sudan government officials, 1928), the name Haɖanɖiwa is made up of haɖa ‘lion’ and (n)ɖiwa ‘clan’. They were a pastoral people ruled by a hereditary chief, called a Ma’ahes. Osman Digna, one of the leaders of the Mahdiyyah rebellion, was a Hadendoa.  The tribe contributed some of the fiercest of the Dervish warriors in the wars of 1883–98.  So determined were they that the name Hadendoa grew to be nearly synonymous with rebel. They rebelled  because of misgovernment rather than for religious reasons; the Hadendoa were true Beja, Muslims only in name, and not unlike Sir Rudolph or his father in that respect.

Kipling celebrated the Fuzzy Wuzzies in Barrack Room Ballads, shortly after the end of the war.  For the British army, the Hadendoa were notable because they had managed to ‘break’ the square of troops.  The square consisted of two lines of soldiers: the front line kneeled, with their bayonets facing upwards, and reloaded while the back line stood and fired. The British carried Martinis – not drinks, but the latest breech-loading rifles. An Impi is an isiZulu word for an armed body of men. These Kipling poems ought to be recited in Cockney, but probably any accent that’s not British middle- or upper-class would do almost as well.


We’ve fought with many men acrost the seas,
An’ some of ’em was brave an’ some was not:
The Paythan an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o’ the lot.
We never got a ha’porth’s change of ‘im:
‘E squatted in the scrub an’ ‘ocked our ‘orses,
‘E cut our sentries up at Sua~kim~,
An’ ‘e played the cat an’ banjo with our forces.
So ‘ere’s ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
We gives you your certificate, an’ if you want it signed
We’ll come an’ ‘ave a romp with you whenever you’re inclined.

We took our chanst among the Khyber ‘ills,
The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,
The Burman give us Irriwaddy chills,
An’ a Zulu ~impi~ dished us up in style:
But all we ever got from such as they
Was pop to what the Fuzzy made us swaller;
We ‘eld our bloomin’ own, the papers say,
But man for man the Fuzzy knocked us ‘oller.
Then ‘ere’s ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an’ the missis and the kid;
Our orders was to break you, an’ of course we went an’ did.
We sloshed you with Martinis, an’ it wasn’t ‘ardly fair;
But for all the odds agin’ you, Fuzzy-Wuz, you broke the square.

‘E ‘asn’t got no papers of ‘is own,
‘E ‘asn’t got no medals nor rewards,
So we must certify the skill ‘e’s shown
In usin’ of ‘is long two-‘anded swords:
When ‘e’s ‘oppin’ in an’ out among the bush
With ‘is coffin-‘eaded shield an’ shovel-spear,
An ‘appy day with Fuzzy on the rush
Will last an ‘ealthy Tommy for a year.
So ‘ere’s ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an’ your friends which are no more,
If we ‘adn’t lost some messmates we would ‘elp you to deplore;
But give an’ take’s the gospel, an’ we’ll call the bargain fair,
For if you ‘ave lost more than us, you crumpled up the square!

‘E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,
An’, before we know, ‘e’s ‘ackin’ at our ‘ead;
‘E’s all ‘ot sand an’ ginger when alive,
An’ ‘e’s generally shammin’ when ‘e’s dead.
‘E’s a daisy, ‘e’s a ducky, ‘e’s a lamb!
‘E’s a injia-rubber idiot on the spree,
‘E’s the on’y thing that doesn’t give a damn
For a Regiment o’ British Infantree!
So ‘ere’s ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
An’ ‘ere’s ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your ‘ayrick ‘ead of ‘air —
You big black boundin’ beggar — for you broke a British square!

From Barrack Room Ballads, Rudyard Kipling, 1892.

A hayrick, Devon: