The Arab Marshes of Iraq is the place where the first civilization (Sumer) ever on the earth existed and, it is the proposed location of the Garden of Eden as per most of the scholars, it is in southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers run into the sea.
Despite the historical facts of Iraqi Marshes, this is not the real reason that drew the attention of many travelers, authors, journalists, photographers, filmmakers, and tourist to visit the place.
There are many places similar to, and more attractive than the Iraqi Marshes, nevertheless, the French journalist Emiliana Malfatto has spent months in the Marshes walking around villages and interviewing the inhabitants, Emiliana in a personal interview, answered this question:
“There are many marshes in the world, but no one has retained the same lifestyle and environment for more than 5,000 years; therefore, it answers many questions about the mechanism of adapting the Marshy inhabitants to the environment and their co-existence with the natural, uncomplicated components and ingredients such as reed houses, or cattle like buffalos despite all the technological advances which overwhelmed the rest of the marshlands in other regions of the world which began to erase the image of the original life of the population there.
Below, a brief review of the most famous authors and travelers who visited the marshes
Pietro Della Valle, (1586–1652)
Pietro della Valle (2 April 1586 – 21 April 1652) An Italian composer, musicologist, and author who traveled for 12 years throughout Asia during the Renaissance period. His travels took him to the Holy Land, the Middle East and Ira, Northern Africa, and as far as India.
Gavin Young referred in his book that Valle was the first who introduces the word ” Maedi ” to the world as the terminology of marsh’s inhabitants.
George Thomas Keppel (13 June 1799 – 21 February 1891) A British soldier and writer, who visited Iraq, wrote about it, met the Marsh Arabs (marshy people) in 1824 and has a report pointed out by Gavan Young about the Marsh Arabs.
George Keppel, (1799–1891)
T. E. Lawrence, (1888-1935)
Thomas Edward Lawrence or “Lawrence of Arabia” (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935): In 1916, the Iraqi marshes were one of the stations he passed. He stopped in Basra and the city of Azir (Ezra) and recorded his observations about the Marsh Arabs: “It was very difficult to have a complete conversation about them, they are all the time in the water, all their lives. ”
Wilfred Thesiger, Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger (3 June 1910 – 24 August 2003), Mubarak bin London ” the blessed one of London: a British military officer, explorer, and writer. Thesiger was the first to write a book about the Iraqi marshes titled: “The Marsh Arabs” in a detailed and accurate description of their life. His book is important in preserving the history of the period which he spent in the marshes and which lasted for months between 1951-1958 followed by the publication of his book, which we mentioned, in 1964.
Wilfred Thesiger, (1910-2003)
Wilfred Thesinger (on Right) with Gavin Young – 1979
A rare copy of Thesiger ‘s book with his autograph, worth £1720
Gavin Maxwell (15 July 1914 – 7 September 1969): a renown Scottish naturalist and author. He traveled with Thesiger to the Iraqi marshes and wrote his well-known book ” A reed shaken by the wind” in 1957 which republished and retitled as ” People of the reed”
Gavin Maxwell, (1914 – 1969)
Maxwell got a little otter from the Marshes where it is known as (Chelayeb Almay) and wrote the book Ring of Bright Water (1960) about how he brought it back from Iraq and raised it in Scotland. He named it after two of his Iraqi friend: Mijbil to find out later that this otter was of a previously unknown sub-species which was subsequently named after Maxwell.
Wilfred Thesiger wrote in his book The Marsh Arabs: In 1956, Gavin Maxwell, who wished to write a book about the Marshes, came with me to Iraq, and I took him round in my tarada for seven weeks. He had always wanted an otter as a pet, and at last, I found him a baby European otter which unfortunately died after a week, towards the end of his visit. He was in Basra preparing to go home when I managed to obtain another, which I sent to him. This, very dark in colour and about six weeks old, proved to be a new species. Gavin took it to England, and the species was named after him.
Gavin Maxwell and Mijbil in 1956
In 1969, the Ring of bright water was produced to a film which is getting 7.2/10 on IMDB.
Ring of Bright Water – To Departure of Graham
Gavin Maxwell – Ring of Bright Water & Beyond
E.S. Drower from the late 1920s, Baghdad-Iraq
Ethel Stefana Drower or Lady Drower (1 December 1879 – 27 January 1972): A British cultural anthropologist who studied the Middle East and its cultures. She was considered the primary specialist on the Mandaeans (an ethnoreligious group in southern Iraq), and the chief collector of Mandaean manuscripts.
Gavin Young (24 April 1928 – 18 January 2001): A British journalist and travel writer. He was very impressed by the Iraqi Marshes, he visited the place and lived with inhabitants for long periods to write the most wonderful book about it and about the Marsh Arabs titled ” Return to the Marshes”, Life with the Marsh Arabs of Iraq. The book published in 1977 (photographs by Nik Wheeler)
Young was influenced by Thesiger writings about Marshes and visited the marshes with him in 1950s, he returned again to it in 1973, that’s why the book’s name is ” Return to the Marshes”.
Young met with the great Marshy figure “Sayed Surwet”, as in the video below, and wrote about his majesty and the respect of his people. Yang seems to be very impressed with Sayed Surwet personality. He is also deeply impressed by the generosity of the marshies people because they treat strangers or visitors as one of them.
Return to the Marshes: this is the most wonderful book in style written about the Iraqi Marshes. It draws the readers attention to the events described by Young. It is also enriched by stunning pictures taken by the world photographer Nick Wheeler, who accompanied Young during his return journey to the marshes. The book was published in several editions and translated into Arabic by Dr. Hassan Janabi, Iraqi Water Resources Minister in 2018.
Personally, I have collected many copies of this book which I give as a present for special people.
https://youtu.be/oX9mCiHcEzAGavin Young and Sayed Surwit
The Monument of the martyrs of the marshes in Chabaish – Thi Qar – Iraq
Marshy girl with her goat
A village in Chibaysh
A top view of Eshan Gubba – Archeological place in the middle of the Marshes
Abu Hayder, a public figure in the Marshes
The Sumerian buffalo