07 December, 2009

Books on Soqotra

When, almost three years ago, I first wrote on Soqotra on this site - I did so very hesitantly. I very much wanted to write about this unique, fascinating island and to let people know about it; but, at the same time, I kept thinking that - the more people know about Soqotra, the more it might get attention and visitors. Visitors: ......tourists and businessmen. Tourists: to feast on the wonders of Socotra; businessmen: to make money from those wonders. Yet: both are good for the Island but at the same time - they can be destructive.

I finally decided to write that article; I felt that, at the same time - the more attention is brought on the Island, the more people might be concerned about it. What very much surprised me then, three years ago when I did an extensive search on 'Soqotra' or 'Socotra' on the Internet, was that - the Island had very little written about it in English. Very thankfully, last year - UNESCO recognized the island as a world natural heritage site and it now has world attention.

Ibn Battuta, the great Moroccan traveler, explorer and writer - never visited Soqotra. He should have. I would have very much loved to read what he would have said about the stunning Island. But another great traveler, explorer, adventurer and writer, did visit Soqotra: Marco Polo. He mentions the Island in his book: The Travels of Marco Polo.

There are a number of good books on Soqotra. Socotra: A Natural History of the Islands and Their People is most probably the best to read. It covers in much detail the full history of the fauna, flora and people of the Island. Richly illustrated, it's a very well, scholarly and comprehensively written book.

The book, written by the two marine ecologists, must have taken a lot of thorough research, with reference to many specialists and experts on the Island - to be so detailed. Even for one not interested in islands, or unique natural wonders, to read the 380 plus hardcover pages book - is worth the effort and time. Any one interested in knowing about the Island, must read the book. I do not know of any other book which is as detailed and magnificently presented and exhaustively researched on the Island, as this book. As scientific as the book is, it still is easy to read and to understand.

It is without doubt the definitive study of the unique natural history of this extraordinary island: whether at ground level, above ground, below ground, or in the depths of the surrounding sea. And the range of its illustrations – from close-ups of widow spiders and paper wasps to wide-angle panoramas of the ancient landscape and its oceanic setting, together with pictures of Socotrans past and present – is unsurpassed. But the book is not only the definitive study of the Socotra archipelago, it is a synthesis and treasure house of the combined knowledge of various researchers during the last decade, whose contribution Catherine Cheung and Lyndon DeVantier fully and warmly acknowledge. The book is also unsurpassed as a celebration of Socotra’s uniquely precious heritage, and as a rallying cry for its understanding and conservation. Al-Bab