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Wilfred Thesiger's death mourned

posted on 27/08/2003: 3392 views

The death of a great British explorer who became the inspiration of the young and the old alike in Arabia came as a shock for his friends in the UAE and Gulf region. Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who made the UAE his second home, and who made the world share and realise the difficult challenges of the Arab Bedouin desert life, passed away on Sunday, August 24.

The news of his death was received by all his friends and old companions as a sad event. "It is shocking news for me. I've lost a great friend, a caring brother and an honest man who always stood by us in hardship," Salem bin Kabina, the local team leader during Sir Wilfred's first Empty Quarter expedition, told Gulf News from Oman where he has gone for a summer break. Thesiger was the last and the greatest of the small number of explorers to cross the harsh Rub Al Khali (The Empty Quarter) more than 55 years ago. According to bin Kabina, he has not seen a man like 'Mubarak bin London', the name he gave to Sir Wilfred.

"He was a strong man to brave the harsh Rub Al Khali under scorching sun, and that with patience and glory," he said of his experience during their desert expeditions. Upon receiving the news, Bin Kabina said: "We were a good team during our good old days. Now I feel as if I have lost a part of my body. I've lost one of my arms." "I'm proud to say that I had a friend who was a man of wisdom and full of blessing to overcome nature's odds in hostile deserts. He is a legend and will continue to live among us and the generations to come."

Bin Kabina, a member of one of the biggest Al Ruwashid tribes of the desert in Arabia, also recalled how all the expedition team members – himself, Sir Wilfred, Salem bin Ghubaisha and Amair Omar – were reunited for a grand feast in Abu Dhabi's Al Wathba area in 2000. All four desert heroes had an emotional reunion. Traditional Bedouin food and beverages were served at the feast. "It was great to see all of us and our people meeting a great friend of Arab Bedouins."

Offering his condolences, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said the entire nation and the Gulf region feels this great loss. He said the death of Sir Wilfred, the recipient of UAE's Order of Independence for his contributions to the country, is a great shock deeply felt by his friends, old companions, the people of UAE and the region.

Sheikh Nahyan said: "Sir Wilfred Thesiger has documented the important parts of the UAE history and the region. He was a man of vision and wisdom who admired and predicted President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's wise leadership and major role in the regional world politics." He added that Thesiger had many Arab friends, including Sheikh Zayed, and the people of the UAE who feel the great shock. Sheikh Nahyan said Sir Wilfred's books about Arabia are valuable both as literary pieces and written history.

The Centre of Documentation and Research at the President's Court also mourned the death yesterday. Dr Abdullah Mohammed Al Raisi, Director of the Centre, said the sad demise of Sir Wilfred is a big loss for the country, especially research institutions. "His writing truly reflects his friendship and deep-rooted relations with the Arabian desert and its people." Mohammed Amer Al Neyadi, Director of the Department of Antiquities and Tourism in Al Ain, said: "He was a complete encyclopaedia on desert life, particularly on the UAE. He dressed and ate like us. He was one of us. We have lost a great brother who has contributed in saving our history and cultural heritage."

He recalled he was very close to Sheikh Zayed who once gave him a camel as a gift during one of his visits to Al Ain. The Emirates Union of Writers also mourned his death. Hareb Al Dhaheri, Chairman, said: "Mubarak bin London was a true friend of the UAE people. He promoted the local cultural heritage worldwide through literary works and expedition experiences. We all and the people in the region will miss him but he will always be remembered as a true legend."

Easa Saleh Al Gurg, the UAE Ambassador to the UK, also paid tribute to Thesiger: "I first met Wilfred more than 50 years ago in Dubai, after one of his famous journeys through the Empty Quarter, and I have been delighted to keep in touch with him ever since. He was indeed a remarkable person and a great friend of the Arab people." (The Gulf News)


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