Research studies

Douchan Gersi’s Book: Issue, The Ahaggar Region

 

Prepared by the researcher  :  Dr. Aicha Douar,  Oran Graduate School of Economics, Algeria

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of Human Resources Development for Studies and Research : Fourteenth Issue – October 2021

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
  ISSN 2625-5596
Journal of Human Resources Development for Studies and Research

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Abstract

    Tamanrasset is regarded as a province that can contribute to improving the touristic, cultural and economic situation in Algeria. Its cultural traits, its geographic landscape featured in its Ahaggar /Hoggar massive and, its geostrategic position make of it a point that links Algeria to the other continents. These attributes could serve as arguments to answer the question about the importance that has been given to it. These attributes have inspired many researchers, explorers and documentary film makers, like Duchan Gersi, among whom a spectrum of intellectual affinity is witnessed. The purpose of writing this paper is to shed light on the book of Gersi; a literary work that supports some previous scientific researches.

Introduction

     The book Faces in the Smoke was written by Duchan Gersi (1947-2015) who had already travelled to the Hoggar/ Ahaggar in the Algerian Sahara in the 1970’s. Geris’s book was ordered in February 2020 from Amazon but arrived four months later because of the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This book is important because it serves as a further support to what has already been written about the Algerian Sahara.

     Reading Gersi’s book Faces in the Smoke reveals further authentic details about the Ahaggar besides observing its resemblance with the Arizona Sahara in America. This observation had previously inspired E. F. Gautier; for proof he wrote an article in 1925 under the title ‘Déserts comparés, Amérique et Afrique’. Both Gautier and Gersi made the same observation though they did not travel to both deserts together but separately; they might not even have known that they had dealt with the same idea.

     Reading the book reveals something like a continuum of ideas without meeting or reading about him before. After the viva of my PhD thesis -in March 2018- which title is: Native Americans and the Targuis: Similar Aspects of Life– and in which I made a survey during which all the questioned Algerians thought the pictures of Arizona were the ones of Ahaggar, I found out he had already dealt with the panoramic resemblance between the mountains of Ahaggar and Monument Valley too. Later, in December 2019, I published an article under the title A New Trend in Tourism Industry. It consists of promoting tourism to similar touristic places that exist in the world stating the cultural specificity of each area. Blind people are initiated to contribute in launching this new trend of tourism; launching branded handmade designs that reflect both the Navajo and the Tuareg culture. The guide of the work team is a blind woman. Faces in the smoke reveals that Duchan Gersi’s guide in the Hoggar was a blind man. Facing this other coincidence- meeting a person’s mind without knowing or reading about him earlier- makes it deducible to contend that the intellectual encounter simulates further research and writing opportunities.

A General Description of the Book

     The full title of Gersi’s book is Faces in the Smoke an Eyewitness Experience of Voodoo, Shamanism, Psychic Healing, and Other Amazing Human Powers. It was published in 1997 by the Library of Congress Cataloging -in- Publication Data in the United States. The book is of a medium size format that consists of 223 pages. The chapter that deals with Tamanrasset, where the Tuareg of Ahaggar reside, starts from page 63 till 91.

     At the beginning of the book the author, who is the producer and the director of the T.V. series Explore, addresses the humanity in all through GOTANA BUDDHA words of wisdom: To Love, pure Magic, the most precious gift that the Creator has given to humans. To those I love. We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts We make the world.

      When introducing his book, Gersi says he is an explorer who spent most of his life traveling in parts of the world where the understanding of man took on another dimension. He lived among the Asian, Amazon and African tribes. The first place he stepped in, after leaving his native country Czechoslovakia, with his parents as political refugees, was in the Belgian Congo that is Zaire actually. He introduces the different modes of logic which peoples of tradition use among which is the existence of an invisible world, speculating God, divinities and spirits.

Gersi’s Description of the Ahaggar Landscape, the Imohagh and their Origin

     When describing the Ahaggar in Tamanrasset, that is located in the south of Algeria, Gersi contends the landscape of this part of the world serves as a witness of ancient volcanic activity. He refers to it as a broken landscape which reflects some of the universal secrets. He wrote:

« Soon the large expanses of sand dunes give birth to stone pillars, basalts, and high plateaus witnesses of ancient volcanic activity. It’s a broken landscape that seems to have been there since the beginning of the universe and which may well reflect how the end of the world will look. It keeps the memory of the time when fire and water fought together to build the earth, when the earth became hell within the time-space of eternity. Everything is painted with dead colors. Sinister set of rocks seems to be willing to tear the sky apart. » (Gersi: 1991. 67)

     The Saharan landscape made him refer to the ancient volcanic activity of the creation of our planet; the universe came to existence when fire and water fought one another. The Saharan landscape caught his attention, mainly its sinister colors. His careful eye of a documentary film maker depicted every detail that was displayed in front of it and gave it a fascinating description. Facing the Ahaggar massive made him relate it spontaneously to the Monument Valley Mountains in Arizona. To stress the visible affinities between both areas he wrote:

« Then comes the red and brown of the Hoggar-dry Rocky Mountains and peaks much like those of America’s Monument Valley, but more massive and higher. Rocks stretch toward the sky, giant claws ruffle the clouds, and ridges are outlined on the horizon…. Some formations look like giant fossilized books, the pages of which seem to be breaking apart of old age. There are monstrous flowers and forests of rock… Is ten tousand- foot-high Atakor Mountain a stone prayer or a divine clamor? » (Gersi : 1991. 68).

     The typical geographic landscape of the areas made him compare the Hoggar mountains to fossilized books that tell about the history of our planet. According to him, the area is a desert garden decorated with flowers and forests of rocks and fierce volcanic peaks. The reigning colors are black; brown and red. All seem to mark the divinity of the place. The lords of the desert inhabit this hard climatic place. When writing about the Imohagh, later named the Tuareg, Gersi describes them as being different:

 « In this magical desert, where life seems merely a long, ultimately terminal disease, live the Tuareg_ a people who always seem to appear suddenly, from a world that is not ours. They are the lords of this universe of desolation, sands, and stones. One doesn’t know if they belong just to solitude or to these spaces from another time where anything can « be » or be a new. Their faces are covered with twelve-foot-long blue or white veils, of which one can see only the piercing eyes. » (Gersi: 1991. 69).

     In the above passage, Gersi tries to focus on the peculiarity of the Tuareg. They are distinctive with their ability to cope with the desert environment. Their affinity with the stony and sandy spaces makes of them the lords of the desert. The Imohagh- a Targui word which means a free person- veils his face with a long piece of cloth letting only his eyes appear. After dealing with the Tuareg and describing the landscape of the Ahaggar, Gersi mentions some of their legends. One of the Imohagh’s legends reveals the mythical origin of the Saharan inhabitants. From the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where they used to live -on an island- they sailed to the African coast and to the Sahara during an ancient period of time for some transatlantic trade:

« As for the Tuareg, according to one of their legends their motherland was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Their ancestors used to sail up the African coast to the Sahara, where they sold, traded, and bought goods. One day their land disappeared under the water. Modern-day Tuareg claim they are the descendants of those who were in the Sahara on business when the catastrophe occurred. »

     Some videos on the internet reveal that the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is the middle of nowhere. This S-shaped Ocean joins three continents: Africa, America and Europe. The middle of the Atlantic Ocean is said to be composed of dry lands. One of the islands that is situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is called Fernando de Noronha. It rises from the continental margins of Africa and South America, at Portugal. According to the editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, it is of a volcanic origin. It is named after the Portuguese Fernando de Noronha who discovered it in 1504. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was attacked by naval colonies and some prisoners are still sent there. According to the same source, it was used between 1957 and 1962 as a tracking station for U.S. guided missiles.

     According to the Tuareg’s legend their presumed ancestral habitat disappeared under water due to a catastrophe originating from fire. The NASA Earth Observatory image, sent by Laurin Dauphin, reveals that there is a fire in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This scientific data could argue the following hypotheses: The Tuareg’s legend holds some truth. It points to the lost Atlantis about which many different speculations and studies have been made since ancient times.

      The lost Atlantis, a mysterious island that had lain in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, had witnessed a great civilization in the prehistoric time. Many European writers claimed that the presumed sunk island used to be located in the Algerian Sahara, precisely in the Tassili where the caves’ drawings record the climatic changes and the evolution of the human life.

     A new theory based on satellite scans of North Africa claims that the Atlantis could have been in the open for thousands of years. The following pictures which were taken in the Sahara Desert support the theory. The popular YouTube channel Bright Insight claims to have uncovered Atlantis’ location in the Sahara Desert – the world’s largest hot dessert spanning the entire width of North Africa.

     According to Jimmy, who hosts the YouTube channel Bright Insight, the city of Atlantis could be tucked away in central Mauritania near the town of Ouadane, in a structure known as the Eye of the Sahara. The latter is an incredible formation of concentric circles which are dug into the exposed rock of the Sahara. He says the shape of this eye matches much with the description that Plateau had given to Atlantis. According to Sebastian Kettley, the unusual formation is largely considered by geologists to be a natural formation caused by a so-called laccolith intrusion. (1)

     The lost Atlantis of Plato seems to be localized in different parts of the world.  Some refer to it as being the sunken land-mass whose remnants are the Canary and Cape Verde Islands. (2). Some scientific studies reveal that many ancient words of the Canary language are of Ahaggar origin. (3). The Canary Islands are situated in the Atlantic Ocean, not far from Portugal. Some others pretend Atlantis is in Indonesia, etc. The inability of locating the lost island of Atlantis could be due to the fact that Plato himself did only hear about it from a second-hand source of information as it is stated in this quote: “Plato did not hear the story of the Egyptian priest himself, but only heard it at second or rather at third hand. The story as told by the priest himself to Solon was probably confused enough, and when it reached Plato, it was still more confused.” (4) Being narrated with confusing details and being related to a lost city under water made some writers contend it could have been related to the Deluge which had swept Earth in ancient times. Under this head, some verses are listed below:

“But Hellene’s land, the deluge o’er

Was once more peopled as before

By those who came from other lands.

For such is oft the stern demands

Of circumstances, for which man,

Is helpless to foresee the plan.

Not so upon Atlantis’ Isle, did providence with favor smile,

For when the deluge o’er it came:

Sinking from site, ‘twas rent in twain’

And naught was left of its fair shores

But the bleak islands, the Azores.” (5).

     Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands which are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. “The Azores archipelago is located between the latitude 37º to 40º N and the longitude 25º to 31º W, extending for 480 kilometers in northeast-southeast direction. This group is formed by nine islands, and their origin it is directly related with the tectonic movements of three plates, the African, the American and the Euroasia. The Azores is located in the microplate of Azores and demarks the frontier of these three plates.” (6) Having a look at the world Atlas, it reveals that the Azores islands and the Fernando de Noronha islands are all situated in the Atlantic Ocean between America and Africa.

      It is worthy to mention that both the Imohagh’s legend and the poem’s content meet at one point; a planetary catastrophe occurred in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Similarly, a native Americans’ myth contends that in ancient time heat and fire contributed to a planetary catastrophe. “A great earthquake caused the mountains to incend. The flames ascended to the skies. The stars fell down as molten stone. The flood ensued, and humans tried to escape by building an enormous tower.” (7) This convergence could be due to the fact that universal beliefs and common myths are shared all over the world. Further readings are worthy of thinking it over though.

     When dealing with the inhabitants of the Algerian Sahara, some writers point to the Native Americans spontaneously. Among them, and not all, Dane Morel called the Tuaregs the ‘Red Skins of the Sahara’ (Morel, 2013: 253). Jack Soustelle pointed to the similar visible traits which they shared with the Native Americans when visiting the Sahara and saw the Tuareg for the first time. (8). Gersi is also one of those who have pointed to the commonness: « Among the Tuareg birth control is necessary for survival. Tuareg women use a Saharan plant to accomplish this. A monthly infusion of it starts a menstrual period that would otherwise have been interrupted by ovulation. Similar natural techniques were used by some North American Indian tribes, and are still used in Asian jungles and wherever else people need to limit birth. » (9).

      When writing about the Ahaggar, Gersi did not mention that he intended to compare it with Arizona; it is the striking resemblance of both mountainous regions that made him write about it spontaneously. While writing about the Tuareg, he mentioned the Native Americans in the above passage because he found out that both people prepared the infusion similarly. Gersi’s spontaneous description of the Ahaggar region adds more authenticity to the content of the book since it is based on a field work study. As he lived among the Tuareg he did not miss to write about the details of their behavior, giving it a legendary interpretation. The writer says if one falls asleep, a quiet whisper can awaken him/her as it is stated in the following quote:

 « Douchan … Douchan … » Someone was whispering my name, softly and quietly at first, then gradually raising the tone of his voice, until I opened my eyes. (Tuareg do that so as not to awaken someone brutally. They are aware of the importance of the awakening, which decides the mood of the whole day. Many cultures of tradition use this technique of quiet awakening, for they believe that the human soul travels during sleep to other universes and other levels of time/space _ adream being just a memory, a remembrance of such voyages. Calling someone’s name quietly will give his soul time to get back into the body before awakening. »

     Living among the Tuareg and sharing their daily life made Gersi discover more about the Tuareg who seem to live more in tune with themselves and nature than we do in urban cities. They are accustomed to rely on the stars ‘light to guide them when they are on travel at night. The industrial light seems to disturb them. He noticed that they preferred the moon and the stars’ light instead. Witnessing this experience on route at night, he wrote: « The other problem I had with these guides was in driving at night with the headlights on. Because they were accustomed to traveling by the light of the stars and moon, they couldn’t find their bearings at night because the car’s headlights distorted the terrain’s appearance. So, I had to drive with the headlights off. However, I must admit that it was an amazing experience, truly magical to drive by the light of the moon and the stars, with the feeling of being suspended between the human unknown and the mysterious – becoming, at last, a part of the cosmic reality, where anything could happen, even the impossible. »

     The cosmic reality of the Sahara was not limited to the stars, the moon and the magical traveling under their light at night only but was also witnessed at daytime. The absolute silence of the desert makes the visitor feel having lost one’s hearing sense. « There is a Tuareg saying: « Facing the desert, don’t say ‘What a silence,’ but say ‘I can’t hear.’

Discussion of the Book

     It is a personal narrative which was written while visiting the Algerian Sahara in the 1970’s. Gersi was an explorer who made films about his trips. Tribesmen, jungles, and savannahs were his playground. He shared the way of life of the Tuareg who dwelt the desert. When his father died, the family moved from Africa to go to Belgium and tried to cope with the daily life of the modern world. When he told his mates about the stories he witnessed during his African childhood, he was mocked. Later, in his adulthood, he went to India where he studied Voodoo in Haiti for five years and where he could remember faces of the smoke he used to see in Africa.

     In a simple English, the writer tells us about the tribesmen who live in realities that are other than ours. He wrote about the panoramic resemblance of Ahaggar and Arizona Mountains. Gersi’s description of this resemblance was similar to the one made by Emile Félix Gautier (1864-1940) who wrote: “I think the American desert and the Algerian Sahara are, among the planetary deserts, the ones which necessitate a study…. the accustomed eye to the Algerian Sahara, finds in the American desert familiar impressions. Whether in the Gila Valley and in its affluents of Arizona, …. in Utah, …. Green River….in Algeria, with a small effort of imagination, we could believe we have not left Africa.” (10).

     In December 2020, when writing to his Russian friend Michel Drachoussoff (born in Congo in 1950), he replied:” Douchan Gersi was my friend since 1976 and he was inspired by my book Bolivie, Magie et Traditions Indiennes which he distributed in his Explorer series.” Concerning Gersi’s description of the panoramic resemblance of both Ahaggar and Arizona Mountains Drachoussoff said:” There is a certain resemblance of some rocky peaks, but the size of the mountain range and the composition of the rocks are totally different. The superb Ahaggar, is a real rocky massif, while the stone blocks of Monument Valley are scattered over a vast plain; they smell the fruit of endless erosion by the wind and successive temperature differences.”

     To conclude, the writer of Faces in the Smoke adds further authentic details to the description of the Ahaggar landscape. These details boost tourism to Ahaggar and Arizona, and inspire more people to visit both regions and make documentary films about them. With his descriptive style and easy words, Gersi enables the reader to foresee what is behind the Saharan inspiring universe of desolation, sands, and stones.

End Notes

References

Alexander Militarev, Libyo-Berbers – Tuaregs – Canarians, (Tamâhaq Tuaregs in the Canary Islands in the Context of Ethno-Linguistic Prehistory of Libyo-Berbers: Linguistic and Inscriptional Evidence, Russian State University of Humanities, December 2018.

Arysio. N. dos Santos (2011), Atlantis: The lost continent Finally Found. The Definitive Localization of Plato’s Lost Civilization, Chapter five: Atlantis in America, Atlantis Publications, U.S.A.

Drachadoussoff, Michel (1979), Les Fils du Condor Bolivie, Magie et Traditions Indiennes, Bruxelles.

Douar. A (2019), A New Trend in Tourism Industry, Conference Proceeding Issue Published in International Journal of Trend in Research and Development (IJTRD), ISSN: 2394-9333, www.ijtrd.com, Singapore, 2019.

Douar. A (2018) The Tuareg of the Algerian Sahara/ The Navajo of the American Sahara, I2I Publishing, Manchester.

Edward. N. Beecher (1897), The Lost Atlantis or the Great Deluge of All, An Epic Poem, Brooks Company, U.S.A.

Ferhat. Farhat (2014), England and the New World, Office des Publications Universitaires, Algiers.

Gautier, E.F. (1926), The Ahaggar: Heart of the Sahara, the University of Algiers, Geographical Review, Vol. 16, N°.3 (Jul 1926).

Gautier. E. F. (1925), The Ancestors of the Tuareg, Vol. 25 N° 1, June 1935, University of Algiers.

Gersi. Douchan (1991), Faces in the Smoke an Eyewitness Experience of Voodoo, Shamanism, Psychic Healing, and Other Amazing Human Powers, New York.

Morel. Edmund Dane (1968), Affairs of West Africa, Frank Cass and Company Limited, London.

Soustelle. Jacques (1956), Aimée et Souffrante Algérie, Librairie Plon, Paris.

Atlantis or Minoan Crete Author(s): Edwin Swift Balch Source: Geographical Review, May, 1917, Vol. 3, No. 5 (May, 1917), pp. 388-392 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Encyclopedia Britannica

SEBASTIAN KETTLEY, Atlantis FOUND? Conspiracist convinced THIS PHOTO proves location of lost city of Atlantis, PUBLISHED: 16:59, Thu, Nov 8, 2018. UPDATED: 17:11, Thu, Nov 8, 2018.

https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/1042776/Atlantis-found-lost-city-Sahara-desert-atlantis-eye-of-sahara-location-conspiracy.

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