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Laurens van der Post

Laurens van der Post

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Sir Laurens Jan van der Post, CBE
CBE and C.B.E. are abbreviations for "Commander of the Order of the British Empire", a grade in the Order of the British Empire.Other uses include:* Chemical and Biochemical Engineering...

 (December 13, 1906 – December 16, 1996) was a 20th century Afrikaner
Afrikaners are an ethnic group in Southern Africa descended from almost equal numbers of Dutch, French and German settlers whose native tongue is Afrikaans: a Germanic language which derives primarily from 17th century Dutch, and a variety of other languages.-Related ethno-linguistic groups:The...

 author of many book
A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of hot lava, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf or leaflet, and each side of a leaf is called a page...

s, farmer
A farmer is a person engaged in agriculture, who raises living organisms for food or raw materials, generally including livestock husbandry and growing crops, such as produce and grain...

, war hero
A hero , in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion...

, political adviser to British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 heads of government, close friend of Prince Charles
Charles, Prince of Wales
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales is the heir apparent and eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Since 1958 his major title has been His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. In Scotland he is additionally known as The Duke of Rothesay...

, godfather
A godparent, in many denominations of Christianity, is someone who sponsors a child's baptism. A male godparent is a godfather, and a female godparent is a godmother...

 of Prince William, educator, journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

, humanitarian, philosopher, explorer, and conservationist
Conservationists are proponents or advocates of conservation. They advocate for the protection of all the species in an ecosystem with a strong focus on the natural environment...


Early years

Van der Post was born in the small town of Philippolis
Philippolis is a small town in the Free State province of South Africa. It was founded as a missionary outpost for the Bushman in 1823, making it the oldest settlement in the Free State. It was named after John Philip of the London Missionary Society. Adam Kok II, a Griqua leader, settled here with...

 in the Orange River Colony
Orange River Colony
The Orange River Colony was the British colony created after this nation first occupied and then annexed the independent Orange Free State in the Second Boer War...

, the post-Boer War British name for what had previously been the Afrikaner Orange Free State in what is today South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. His father, Christiaan Willem Hendrik van der Post (1856–1914), of Dutch
Dutch people
The Dutch people are an ethnic group native to the Netherlands. They share a common culture and speak the Dutch language. Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United...

 origin, had arrived in South Africa at the age of three and had married van der Post's mother in 1889. Her name was Lammie and she was of German origin. The family had a total of 15 children, with van der Post being the 13th, the fifth son. Christiaan was a lawyer and politician, and fought in the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

 against the British. After the Second Boer War he was exiled with his family to Stellenbosch, where Laurens was conceived. They returned to Philippolis in the Orange River Colony, where he was born in 1906.

He spent his early childhood years on the family farm, and acquired a taste for reading from his father's extensive library, which included Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

. His father died in August 1914. In 1918 van der Post went to school at Grey College in Bloemfontein
Bloemfontein is the capital city of the Free State Province of South Africa; and, as the judicial capital of the nation, one of South Africa's three national capitals – the other two being Cape Town, the legislative capital, and Pretoria, the administrative capital.Bloemfontein is popularly and...

. There, he wrote, it was a great shock to him that he was "being educated into something which destroyed the sense of common humanity I shared with the black people". In 1925 he took his first job as a reporter in training at The Natal Advertiser
The Daily News (Natal)
The Daily News is a daily newspaper owned by Independent News & Media and published every weekday afternoon in Durban, South Africa. It was called Natal Daily News between 1936 and 1962 and The Natal Advertiser prior to 1936 going back to the 19th century.In June 2010 the newspaper had daily...

in Durban
Durban is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city in South Africa. It forms part of the eThekwini metropolitan municipality. Durban is famous for being the busiest port in South Africa. It is also seen as one of the major centres of tourism...

, where his reporting included his own accomplishments playing on the Durban and Natal field hockey
Field hockey
Field Hockey, or Hockey, is a team sport in which a team of players attempts to score goals by hitting, pushing or flicking a ball into an opposing team's goal using sticks...

 teams. In 1926 he and two other rebellious writers, Roy Campbell
Roy Campbell (poet)
Ignatius Royston Dunnachie Campbell, better known as Roy Campbell, was an Anglo-African poet and satirist. He was considered by T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Edith Sitwell to have been one of the best poets of the period between the First and Second World Wars...

 and William Plomer
William Plomer
William Charles Franklyn Plomer CBE was a South African author, known as a novelist, poet and literary editor. He was educated mostly in the United Kingdom...

, published a satirical magazine called Voorslag (whip lash) which promoted a more racially integrated South Africa; it lasted for three issues before being forced to shut down because of its radical views. Later that year he took off for three months with Plomer and sailed to Tokyo and back on a Japanese freighter, the Canada Maru, an experience which produced books by both authors later in life.

In 1927 Van der Post met Marjorie Edith Wendt (d. 1995), daughter of the founder and conductor of the Cape Town Orchestra. They traveled to England and on March 8, 1928, married at Bridport
Bridport is a market town in Dorset, England. Located near the coast at the western end of Chesil Beach at the confluence of the River Brit and its Asker and Simene tributaries, it originally thrived as a fishing port and rope-making centre...

, Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

. A son was born soon after on December 26, named Jan Laurens (later known as John). In 1929 van der Post returned to South Africa to work for the Cape Times, a newspaper in Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

, where "For the time being Marjorie and I are living in the most dire poverty that exists," he wrote in his journal. He began to associate with bohemians and intellectuals who were opposed to James Hertzog
James Barry Munnik Hertzog
James Barry Munnik Hertzog, better known as J. B. M. Hertzog was a Boer general during the second Anglo-Boer War who later went on to become Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1924 to 1939...

 (Prime Minister) and the white South African policy. In an article entitled 'South Africa in the Melting Pot', which clarified his views of the South Africa racial problem, he said "The white South African has never consciously believed that the native should ever become his equal." But he predicted that "the process of leveling up and inter-mixture must accelerate continually ... the future civilization of South Africa is, I believe, neither black or white but brown."

In 1931 he returned to England and formed friendships with members of the Bloomsbury group
Bloomsbury Group
The Bloomsbury Group or Bloomsbury Set was a group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists who held informal discussions in Bloomsbury throughout the 20th century. This English collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied near Bloomsbury in London during the first half...

 including Arthur Waley
Arthur Waley
Arthur David Waley CH, CBE was an English orientalist and sinologist.-Life:Waley was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, as Arthur David Schloss, son of the economist David Frederick Schloss...

, J. M. Keynes, E. M. Forster
E. M. Forster
Edward Morgan Forster OM, CH was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society...

 and Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf
Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century....

. Virginia and her husband Leonard Woolf
Leonard Woolf
Leonard Sidney Woolf was an English political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant, and husband of author Virginia Woolf.-Early life:...

 were publishers, and had previously published William Plomer's works, and it was through Plomer's connections that van der Post gained introduction to the Woolfs and the Bloomsbury Set.

In 1934 the Woolfs published van der Post's first novel under the Hogarth Press
Hogarth Press
The Hogarth Press was founded in 1917 by Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf. It was named after their house in Richmond, in which they began hand-printing books....

 label. Called In a Province, it portrayed the tragic consequences of a racially and ideologically divided South Africa. Later that year he decided to become a dairy farmer and, possibly with the help of Lilian Bowes Lyon
Lilian Bowes Lyon
-Biography:Born 23 December 1895 at Ridley Hall in Northumberland. She was the youngest daughter of the Honourable Francis Bowes Lyon. and was a first cousin of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother....

, bought a farm called Colley Farm, near Tetbury
Tetbury is a town and civil parish within the Cotswold district of Gloucestershire, England. It lies on the site of an ancient hill fort, on which an Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded, probably by Ine of Wessex, in 681. The population of the parish was 5,250 in the 2001 census.In the Middle Ages,...

, Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean....

, with Lilian as his neighbor. There he divided his time between the needs of the cows and occasional visits to London where he was a correspondent to South African newspapers. He considered this a directionless phase in his life which mirrored Europe's slow drift to war. In 1936 he made five trips to South Africa and during one trip he met and fell in love with Ingaret Giffard (d. 1997), an English actress and author five years his senior. Later that year his wife Marjorie gave birth to a second child, a daughter named Lucia, and in 1938 he sent his family back to South Africa. When the Second World War started in 1939 he found himself torn between England and South Africa, his new love and his family; his career was at a dead end, and he was in depressed spirits, often drinking heavily.

War years

In May 1940, van der Post volunteered for the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 and upon completion of officer training in January 1941 he was sent to East Africa in the Intelligence Corps as a Captain. There he took up with General Wingate's Gideon Force
Gideon Force
The Gideon Force was a small British-led African regular force which acted as a Corps d'Elite amongst the irregular Ethiopian forces fighting the Italian occupation forces in Ethiopia during the East African Campaign of World War II...

 which was tasked with restoring the Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne in Abyssinia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

. His unit led 11,000 camel
A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as humps on its back. There are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single hump, and the bactrian has two humps. Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia,...

s through difficult mountain terrain and he was remembered for being an excellent caretaker of the animals. In March he came down with malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

 and was sent to Palestine to recover.

In early 1942, as Japanese
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

 forces invaded South East Asia
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

, van der Post was transferred to Allied forces
American-British-Dutch-Australian Command
The American-British-Dutch-Australian Command, or ABDACOM, was a short-lived, supreme command for all Allied forces in South East Asia, in early 1942, during the Pacific War in World War II...

 in the Dutch East Indies
Dutch East Indies
The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony that became modern Indonesia following World War II. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Netherlands government in 1800....

 (Indonesia), because of his Dutch language skills. By his own statement, he was given command of Special Mission 43, the purpose of which was to organise the covert evacuation of as many Allied personnel as possible, after the surrender of Java
Battle of Java (1942)
The Battle of Java was a battle of the Pacific theatre of World War II. It occurred on the island of Java from 28 February-12 March 1942. It involved forces from the Empire of Japan, which invaded on 28 February 1942, and Allied personnel...


On April 20, 1942, he surrendered to the Japanese. He was taken to prison-camps first at Sukabumi
Sukabumi is a city surrounded by the regency of the same name in the highlands of West Java, Indonesia, about south of the national capital, Jakarta....

 and then to Bandung
Bandung is the capital of West Java province in Indonesia, and the country's third largest city, and 2nd largest metropolitan area in Indonesia, with a population of 7.4 million in 2007. Located 768 metres above sea level, approximately 140 km southeast of Jakarta, Bandung has cooler...

. Van der Post was famous for his work in maintaining the morale of prisoners of many different nationalities. Along with others, he organised a "camp university" with courses from basic literacy to degree-standard ancient history, and he also organized a camp farm to supplement nutritional needs. He could also speak some basic Japanese, which helped him greatly. Once, depressed, he wrote in his diary: "It is one of the hardest things in this prison life: the strain caused by being continually in the power of people who are only half-sane and live in a twilight of reason and humanity." He wrote about his prison experiences in A Bar of Shadow (1954), The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970). Japanese film director Nagisa Oshima
Nagisa Oshima
is a Japanese film director and screenwriter. After graduating from Kyoto University he was hired by Shochiku Ltd. and quickly progressed to directing his own movies, making his debut feature A Town of Love and Hope in 1959....

 based his film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a 1983 film directed by Nagisa Oshima, produced by Jeremy Thomas and starring Jack Thompson, David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yuya Uchida, and Takeshi Kitano.It was written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg and based on Laurens van der Post's experiences...

(1982) on the last two of these books.

Following the surrender of Japan
Surrender of Japan
The surrender of Japan in 1945 brought hostilities of World War II to a close. By the end of July 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy was incapable of conducting operations and an Allied invasion of Japan was imminent...

, while his fellow POWs were repatriated, van der Post chose to remain in Java, and on September 15, 1945, he joined Admiral William Patterson
William Patterson
William Patterson may refer to:* William Patterson , 19th century engineer and boat builder* William Patterson , U.S. Representative from New York* William Patterson , U.S...

 on HMS Cumberland
HMS Cumberland (57)
HMS Cumberland was a County class heavy cruiser of the Royal Navy that saw action during the Second World War.-Career:Cumberland served on the China Station with the 5th Cruiser Squadron from 1928 until 1938, returning to the UK in March 1935 for a refit...

 for the official surrender of the Japanese in Java to British forces representing the Allies.

Van der Post then spent two years helping to mediate between Indonesian nationalists and members of the Dutch Colonial Government. He had gained trust with the nationalist leaders such as Mohammad Hatta
Mohammad Hatta
was born in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, Dutch East Indies . He was Indonesia's first vice president, later also serving as the country's Prime Minister. Known as "The Proclamator", he and a number of Indonesians, including the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, fought for the independence of...

 and Ahmed Sukarno and warned both Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS was a British Labour politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951, and as the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955...

 and the Allied Supreme Commander in South East Asia
South East Asia Command
South East Asia Command was the body set up to be in overall charge of Allied operations in the South-East Asian Theatre during World War II.-Background:...

, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten
Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma
Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas George Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, KG, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO, PC, FRS , was a British statesman and naval officer, and an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh...

, whom he met in London in October 1945, that the country was on the verge of blowing up. Van der Post went to The Hague
The Hague
The Hague is the capital city of the province of South Holland in the Netherlands. With a population of 500,000 inhabitants , it is the third largest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam...

 to repeat his warning directly to the Dutch cabinet. In November 1946, British forces withdrew and Van der Post became military attaché to the British consulate in Batavia
Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Officially known as the Special Capital Territory of Jakarta, it is located on the northwest coast of Java, has an area of , and a population of 9,580,000. Jakarta is the country's economic, cultural and political centre...

. By 1947, after he had returned to England, the Indonesian Revolution
Indonesian National Revolution
The Indonesian National Revolution or Indonesian War of Independence was an armed conflict and diplomatic struggle between Indonesia and the Dutch Empire, and an internal social revolution...

 had begun. The events of these post-war years in Java are examined in his memoir The Admiral's Baby (1996).

That same year, Van der Post retired from the army and was made a CBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...


Rise to fame

With the war over and his business with the army concluded, van der Post returned to South Africa in late 1947 to work at the Natal Daily News, but with the election victory of the National Party
National Party (South Africa)
The National Party is a former political party in South Africa. Founded in 1914, it was the governing party of the country from 4 June 1948 until 9 May 1994. Members of the National Party were sometimes known as Nationalists or Nats. Its policies included apartheid, the establishment of a...

 and the onset of apartheid he came back to London. He was later to publish a critique of apartheid (The Dark Eye in Africa, 1955), basing many of his insights on his developing interest in psychology. In May 1949 he was commissioned by the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC) to "assess the livestock capacities of the uninhabited Nyika
Nyika is a Swahili word meaning "bush" or "hinterland" . More specifically, it can refer to:* a collective term for nine ethnic groups in coastal Kenya, see Mijikenda* a desert in Kenya, see Nyiri Desert...

 and Mulanje
Mulanje Massif
The Mulanje Massif, also known as Mount Mulanje, is a large monadnock in southern Malawi near the city of Blantyre, rising sharply from the surrounding plains of Chiradzulu, and the tea-growing Mulanje district...

 plateaux of Nyasaland
Nyasaland or the Nyasaland Protectorate, was a British protectorate located in Africa, which was established in 1907 when the former British Central Africa Protectorate changed its name. Since 1964, it has been known as Malawi....


Around this time he divorced Marjorie, and on October 13, 1949, married Ingaret Giffard. Before he married Ingaret, he had become engaged to Fleur Kohler-Baker, the daughter of a prominent farmer and businessman, who was 17 years old; they had met on a ship and had had an intense but brief affair of love letters; she was shocked when he broke off the relationship. He went on a honeymoon with Ingaret to Switzerland, where his new wife introduced him to Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

. Jung was to have probably a greater influence upon him than anybody else, and he later said that he had never met anyone of Jung's stature. He continued to work on a travel book about his Nyasaland adventures called Venture to the Interior, which became an immediate best-seller in the US and Europe on its publication in 1952.

In 1950 Lord Reith
John Reith, 1st Baron Reith
John Charles Walsham Reith, 1st Baron Reith, KT, GCVO, GBE, CB, TD, PC was a Scottish broadcasting executive who established the tradition of independent public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom...

 (head of the CDC) asked van der Post to head an expedition to Bechuanaland, to see the potential of the remote Kalahari Desert for cattle ranching. There van der Post for the first time met the hunter-gatherer bush people known as San
The indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, are variously referred to as Bushmen, San, Sho, Barwa, Kung, or Khwe...

. He repeated the journey to the Kalahari in 1952. In 1953 he published his third book, The Face Beside the Fire, a semi-autobiographical novel about a psychologically "lost" artist in search of his soul and soul-mate, which clearly shows Jung's influence on his thinking and writing.

Flamingo Feather (1955) was an anti-communist novel in the guise of a Buchanesque adventure story, about a Soviet plot to take over South Africa. It sold very well. Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

 planned to film the book, but lost support from South African authorities and gave up the idea. Penguin Books
Penguin Books
Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane and V.K. Krishna Menon. Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. Penguin's success demonstrated that large...

 kept Flamingo Feather in print until the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

In 1955 the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 commissioned van der Post to return to the Kalahari in search of the bushmen, a journey that turned into a very popular six-part television documentary series in 1956. In 1958 his most famous book was released under the same title as the BBC series: The Lost World of the Kalahari, followed in 1961 by The Heart of the Hunter, derived from 19th-century Bushmen stories by Wilhelm Bleek
Wilhelm Bleek
Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek was a German linguist. His work included A Comparative Grammar of South African Languages and his great project jointly executed with Lucy Lloyd: The Bleek and Lloyd Archive of ǀxam and !kun texts.-Biography:Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek was born in Berlin on 8...


Van der Post described the Bushmen as the original natives of southern Africa, outcast and persecuted by all other races and nationalities. He said they represented the "lost soul" of all mankind, a type of noble savage
Noble savage
The term noble savage , expresses the concept an idealized indigene, outsider , and refers to the literary stock character of the same...

 myth. This mythos of the Bushmen inspired the colonial government to create the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an extensive national park in the Kalahari desert of Botswana. Established in 1961 it covers an area of 52,800 km² making it the second largest game reserve in the world.The park contains wildlife such as giraffe, brown hyena, warthog, cheetah, wild dog,...

 in 1961 to guarantee their survival, and the reserve became a part of settled law when Botswana
Botswana, officially the Republic of Botswana , is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa. The citizens are referred to as "Batswana" . Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name after becoming independent within the Commonwealth on 30 September 1966...

 was created in 1966.

Later years

Van der Post's fame and success were now assured. He had become a respected television personality, had introduced the world to the Kalahari Bushmen, and was considered an authority on Bushman folklore and culture. "I was compelled towards the Bushmen," he said, "like someone who walks in his sleep, obedient to a dream of finding in the dark what the day has denied him." Over the next fifteen years he had a steady stream of publications, including the two books drawn from his war experiences (see above), a travel book called A Journey into Russia (1964) describing a long trip through the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, and two novels of adventure set on the fringes of the Kalarahi desert, A Story Like the Wind (1972) and its sequel A Far-Off Place (1974). The latter volumes, about four young people, two of them San, caught up in violent events on the borders of 1970s Rhodesia, became popular as class readers in secondary schools. In 1972 there was another BBC television series of his 16-year friendship with Jung, who died in 1961, which was followed by the book Jung and the Story of our Time (1976).

Ingaret and he moved to Aldeburgh
Aldeburgh is a coastal town in Suffolk, East Anglia, England. Located on the River Alde, the town is notable for its Blue Flag shingle beach and fisherman huts where freshly caught fish are sold daily, and the Aldeburgh Yacht Club...

, Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

, where they became involved with a circle of friends that included an introduction to Prince Charles, whom he then took on a safari
A safari is an overland journey, usually a trip by tourists to Africa. Traditionally, the term is used for a big-game hunt, but today the term often refers to a trip taken not for the purposes of hunting, but to observe and photograph animals and other wildlife.-Etymology:Entering the English...

 to Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

 in 1977 and with whom he had a close and influential friendship for the rest of his life. Also in 1977, together with Ian Player
Ian Player
Dr. Ian Player DMS , is an international conservationist.-Biography:Player was educated at St. John’s College, Johannesburg, South Africa and served in the 6th South African Armoured Division attached to the American 5th Army in Italy 1944–46.His conservation career started with the Natal Parks...

, a South African conservationist, he created the first World Wilderness Congress
World Wilderness Congress
The World Wilderness Congress is the longest-running, public international environmental forum and is the flagship project of .The 1st WWC was held in South Africa in 1977 and has had a total of 8 meetings. It was founded by South African conservationist Dr Ian Player and Laurens van der Post...

 in Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

. In 1979 his Chelsea
Chelsea, London
Chelsea is an area of West London, England, bounded to the south by the River Thames, where its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridge along the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk, Lots Road and Chelsea Harbour. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above...

 neighbor Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 became Prime Minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

 and she called on his advice with matters dealing with southern Africa, notably the Rhodesia
Rhodesia , officially the Republic of Rhodesia from 1970, was an unrecognised state located in southern Africa that existed between 1965 and 1979 following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965...

 settlement of 1979–80. In 1981 he was given a Knighthood
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...


In 1982 he fell and injured his back and used the downtime from tennis and skiing to write an autobiography called Yet Being Someone Other (1982), which discussed his love of the sea and his journey to Japan with Plomer in 1926. (His affection for that country and its people, despite his wartime experiences, had first been explored in 1968 in his Portrait of Japan.) By now Ingaret was slipping into senility, and he spent much time with Frances Baruch, an old friend. In 1984 his son John (who had gone on to be an engineer in London) died, and van der Post spent time with his youngest daughter Lucia and her family.

Even in old age Sir Laurens van der Post was involved with many projects, from the worldwide conservationist movement, to setting up a centre of Jungian studies in Cape Town. He remained a captivating speaker and storyteller both in public and in private. A Walk with a White Bushman (1986), the transcript of a series of interviews, gives a taste of his appeal as a conversationalist. In 1996 he tried to prevent the eviction of the Bushmen from their homeland in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an extensive national park in the Kalahari desert of Botswana. Established in 1961 it covers an area of 52,800 km² making it the second largest game reserve in the world.The park contains wildlife such as giraffe, brown hyena, warthog, cheetah, wild dog,...

, which had been set up for that purpose, but ironically it was his work in the 1950s to promote the land for cattle ranching that led to their eventual removal. In October 1996 he published The Admiral's Baby, describing the events in Java at the end of the war. For his 90th birthday party he had a five-day celebration in Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

, with a "this is your life
This Is Your Life
This Is Your Life is an American television documentary series broadcast on NBC, originally hosted by its producer, Ralph Edwards from 1952 to 1961. In the show, the host surprises a guest, and proceeds to take them through their life in front of an audience including friends and family.Edwards...

" type event with friends from every period of his life. A few days later, on December 16, 1996, after whispering in Afrikaans "die sterre" (the stars), he died. The funeral took place December 20 in London, attended by Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi is a South African Zulu politician who founded the Inkatha Freedom Party in 1975 and continues to lead the party today.His praise name is Shenge.-Early life:...

, Prince Charles, Lady Thatcher, and many friends and family http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/03/books/master-storyteller-or-master-deceiver.html. His ashes were buried in a special memorial garden at Philippolis on April 4, 1998. Ingaret died five months after him on May 5, 1997.

Posthumous controversy

After his death a number of writers questioned the accuracy of van der Post's claims about his life. It was revealed that in 1952 he had fathered a child with a 14-year-old girl who had been under his care during a sea voyage to England from South Africa. His reputation as a "modern sage" and "guru
A guru is one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom, and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others . Other forms of manifestation of this principle can include parents, school teachers, non-human objects and even one's own intellectual discipline, if the...

" was questioned, and journalists opened a floodgate of examples of how van der Post had sometimes embellished the truth in his memoirs and travel books. These and other facts were brought together in J.D.F. Jones's Storyteller: The Many Lives of Laurens van der Post (2001), an authorised but for the most part hostile biography. A rebuttal was published by Christopher Booker
Christopher Booker
Christopher John Penrice Booker is an English journalist and author. In 1961, he was one of the founders of the magazine Private Eye, and has contributed to it for over four decades. He has been a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph since 1990...

 (van der Post's ODNB biographer and friend), followed by a counter-rebuttal by Jones. If such revelations damaged the reputation of van der Post's autobiographical books, which were sometimes seen as inspirational vindications of Jung's ideas on the meaning and "pattern" in our lives, but which had depended for their impact on a sense of the author's integrity, they nevertheless left untouched van der Post's years as a POW and the two powerful books based on that experience, as well as his conservation work.

Selected works

Works mentioned in the article. For an extensive complete list see External links.
  • In a Province; novel (1934).
  • Venture to the Interior; travel (1952).
  • The Face Beside the Fire; novel (1953).
  • A Bar of Shadow; novella (1954).
  • Flamingo Feather; novel (1955).
  • The Dark Eye in Africa; politics, psychology (1955).
  • The Lost World of the Kalahari; travel (1958) [BBC 6-part TV series, 1956].
  • The Heart of the Hunter; travel, folklore (1961).
  • The Seed and the Sower; three novellas (1963).
  • A Journey into Russia (US title: A View of All the Russias); travel (1964).
  • A Portrait of Japan; travel (1968).
  • The Night of the New Moon (US title: The Prisoner and the Bomb); wartime memoirs (1970).
  • A Story Like the Wind; novel (1972).
  • A Far-Off Place; novel, sequel to the above (1974).
  • Jung and the Story of Our Time; psychology, memoir (1975).
  • Yet Being Someone Other; memoir, travel (1982).
  • A Walk with A White Bushman; interview-transcripts (1986).
  • The Admiral's Baby; memoir (1996).


Film adaptations of his books.
  • Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
    Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
    Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a 1983 film directed by Nagisa Oshima, produced by Jeremy Thomas and starring Jack Thompson, David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yuya Uchida, and Takeshi Kitano.It was written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg and based on Laurens van der Post's experiences...

    (1983)—based on A Bar of Shadow (1954), The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970), about his experience as a prisoner of war. Directed by Nagisa Oshima
    Nagisa Oshima
    is a Japanese film director and screenwriter. After graduating from Kyoto University he was hired by Shochiku Ltd. and quickly progressed to directing his own movies, making his debut feature A Town of Love and Hope in 1959....

     and starring David Bowie
    David Bowie
    David Bowie is an English musician, actor, record producer and arranger. A major figure for over four decades in the world of popular music, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s...

  • A Far Off Place
    A Far Off Place
    A Far Off Place is a Walt Disney Pictures and Amblin Entertainment film from 1993, starring Reese Witherspoon, Ethan Randall, Jack Thompson and Maximilian Schell. The filming locations were in Namibia and Zimbabwe...

    (1993)—based on A Far-Off Place (1974) and A Story Like the Wind (1972).

External links