Manage episode 281286051 series 2659594
This week, we journey to the Sahara for a tale of railways, misadventure and betrayal in Colonial Algeria.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Asher, M. (2007). Sands of Death. London: Phoenix.
- Bernard, F. (1882). Deuxième Mission Flatters: historique et rapport rédigés au service central des affaires indigènes. Algiers: Adolphe Jourdan. Available at: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k503875m/f1.item
- Garric, A. (n.d.). Paul Flatters. Available at: https://gw.geneanet.org/garric?lang=fr&n=flatters&p=paul
- Heffernan, M. (1989). ‘The Limits of Utopia: Henri Duveyrier and the Exploration of the Sahara in the Nineteenth Century’, Geographical Journal, 155(3), pp. 342-352. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/635209
- Jodra, S. (2004). Flatters. Available at: http://www.cosmovisions.com/Flatters.htm
- Strachan, J. (2011). ‘Murder in the Desert: Soldiers, Settlers and the Flatters Expedition in the Politics and Historical Memory of European Colonial Algeria, 1830-1881’, H-France Review, 4, pp. 210-222. Available at: https://h-france.net/rude/vol4/strachan4/
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Welcome to Episode Five, the story of the Flatters Expedition.
[Intro music continues]
C: Alix, would you like to hear about Flatters?
A: Flatters? Are we going full flat Earth theory?
C: Flatters is a man! Major Paul Francis Xavier Flatters.
A: Sorry, can I have that with an accent please?
C: [In a French accent:] Major Paul Francis Xavier Flatters. Flatt-ey? It’s a German name, and he’s French, and I’m English, so I don’t know how to say it. Let’s go with Flatters.
A: Mr Flatters.
C: Mr Flatters – Paul – was born in Paris in 1832. He was orphaned at 17 and went into the military, where he was posted to Algeria. Which, of course, at the time was being delightfully colonised by the French.
A: That’s a theme of this season; this season has a lot of colonisation.
C: Colonialism causes cannibalism.
C: In Algeria, he joined the Arab Bureaux, which was a service of the French military ‘concerned with administration, justice and security’ in occupied areas.
A: ‘Concerned with’.
C: ‘Concerned with’. Yeah, all of that was in scare quotes. I know you can’t hear them in an audio medium, but…
A: They were there.
C: In 1877, Flatters met a chap called Adolphe Duponchel, an engineer. And Duponchel told Flatters of his dream to build a Trans-Saharan railway line between Algiers and Timbuctoo. For context, this is less than a decade after the completion of the Suez Canal and the American Pacific railroad – which both happened in 1869 – so cross-continental travel is very ‘in’ at the moment.
A: It’s very fashionable.
C: Yeah, we all love.
A: Everyone’s got to have a hobby.
C: Since the French conquest, caravans had stopped coming across the Sahara to Algiers, meaning the trade was now going to the Ottomans instead.
A: Those dastardly Ottomans.
C: The new line would open up trade between France and sub-Saharan Africa again, making it possible to travel from Paris to Timbuctoo in just six days!
A: That’s not actually that bad. I did think you were gonna say either ‘weeks’ or ‘months’.
C: No, so it’s gonna be super high-speed. It’s like the 19th century equivalent of HS2.
A: And it’s probably going to go as badly as that as well.
C: Well, our friend Flatters is completely sold on the idea; he loves it. Still, the idea takes a while to get off the ground in France. There are worries about hostility from the inhabitants of the proposed route – especially the Tuareg Ahaggar, who live in the Hoggar mountain range, which the proposed line would pass through.
A: How ungrateful, they don’t want a railway to go straight through their homes.
C: Yeah, weird. The Tuareg Ahaggar are understandably not keen on French colonial presence, and there have been multiple instances over the past decade or so of French military personnel, explorers and missionaries being turned back or killed upon entering Tuareg land. Which kind of makes sense, because they are there to colonise and take over.
A: That’s valid.
C: One would do that.
A: Don’t do colonialism, kids.
C: Part of the resistance was because they don’t want to be colonised, and part of it is because opening a corridor through their land would mean that they lose out on their income from tolls that they exact for safe passage.
A: Again, fair.
C: But in 1879, Flatters was finally appointed to the High Commission for the Trans-Saharan railway, and in 1880 he set off on a mission to survey the proposed route.
A: I sort of feel someone should have had a look at the area before they decided to put a railway there.
C: Well, that’s what he’s doing now. They’ve decided to put a railway there, and now he’s having a look at the area.
A: It still seems a little bit backwards.
C: This first attempt gets derailed–
C: No pun intended!
A: Get out.
C: After an encounter with the Kel Ajjer, who are a different Tuareg confederation, based – rather than in the Hoggar mountains – in Ghat, which is in what is now Libya.
A: People live in places.
C: The encounter is non-violent, but Flatters perceives it as potentially worrying, so he turns back. Flatters then wrote to the leader of the Tuareg Ahaggar – so the other Tuareg confederation in the area–
A: So he writes not to the guys that he just met?
C: There are two potential routes to survey. On goes through Ghat, one goes through the Hoggar mountains. So he first attempted the Ghat route, then changed his mind, and now he’s thinking: Hoggar mountains. So he writes to the leader of the people of that area, who is a man named Aitarel.
A: Again, it seems like he’s going about this quite backwards. Write to the people whose land you want to steal and turn into a railway first, and then go and visit them. I mean, don’t make railways where you don’t belong first – but, you know, if you have to, maybe use your words.
C: It could, you know, be negotiated instead of told. So he writes to Aitarel, requesting safe passage through the Hoggar mountains, and he receives three letters – one after the other – in response.
A: It’s the ultimate double-texting, isn’t it?
C: Yes, and they really give some mixed messages. First there’s a rejection; then a change of heart, suggesting that he could pay for safe passage; and then another letter saying ‘actually, it’s probably best if you don’t come’.
A: And a fourth letter that’s just ‘dot dot dot, left on read’.
C: [Laughs] Actually, you say that; wait until later. However, the Kel Ajjer chief, who previously turned Flatters back, now also offers safe passage through their territory, e.g. via Ghat. But Flatters has decided that he doesn’t want to go that way any more. He wants to go through the mountains. He chooses to believe the information which is most convenient to him, e.g. the second letter, and to embark on a second expedition through Kel Ahaggar territory.
A: So he’s twice been told not to come, he’s once been told ‘oh maybe you can come if you give us some money, oh if you have to’. It’s an optimistic reading of the text.
C: Well, the third letter isn’t a hard ‘no’, it’s, like, ‘look, probably best if you don’t come’. It’s more of a warning, I would say.
A: It’s the equivalent of the ‘yeah we should totally meet up for drinks’.
C: [Laughs] Yeah exactly.
A: ‘I’d love to.’
C: Very lukewarm. Well, Flatters is pressing ahead. On the 4 December 1880, the Trans-Saharan expedition sets out from Ouargla. It contains seven Frenchmen – some of them are military and some are scientists. There are 47 tirailleurs, which are a type of light infantry in the French army, and these are all taken from Algerian regiments and they’re disguised in native dress so they won’t look like the military invasion that they totally are. Some civilian experts were sure that sending in large military forces would only end in disaster, so to compensate for that, they’ve decided to dress up.
A: [Muffled] I know putting my head in my hands isn’t a very useful response. Who were they going to fool?
C: It’s not as bad as it sounds – they are from the Algerian regiment, so they are native inhabitants of the area. It’s not just a load of white French guys dressed up!
A: Okay, that’s a little bit better.
C: But the disguises aren’t very convincing, because they’ve got these massive state-of-the-art new special guns with them.
A: [Snorts] They’re the sort of Halloween costumes that you get from bargain basement.
C: They also have 31 camel-drivers, seven native Chaamba and Iforas guides, and one muqaddam – which is a religious leader.
A: How many camels?
C: They’ve got 280 camels!
A: [Laughs] That is so many camels!
C: It’s a lot of camels. They also have horses, mules, and four saluki dogs.
A: I’m still caught on 200 or so camels.
C: They have four months’ worth of food and 8-10 days’ worth of water.
A: That’s a dissonance there.
C: The idea is that they will restock on water as they go. There are various known wells along the route they’re taking. So, even though they’re going through the Sahara, there are places where they know there will be water and they plan their route to go past these places.
A: Oh my gosh, is this a sensible plan in a Casting Lots episode?
C: They do have local guides, and they’re listening to them in terms of planning the route initially.
A: I am shocked. I mean, they are also planning on going where they’re explicitly not welcome, but at least they thought about water. The bar is so low.
C: [Laughs] Poor Flatters isn’t doing so well.
A: [Snorts] Paul!
C: Paul. Poor Paul Flatters isn’t doing so well. He’s suffering from a flare-up of his long-standing sciatica, which is treated by the mission doctor, who administers a cauterising iron every day, and also four shots of morphine. He’s also – Flatters, that is – according to some contemporary sources, depressed. Which seems rude to bring up. But there’s a lot of sources going ‘Flatters is no good to lead this expedition, he has depression.’
A: I mean, I’d be depressed if someone was ramming a hot iron into my leg every day.
C: The four shots of morphine would probably help make up for that.
A: That’s fair, that’s fair.
C: Classic Victorian medicine.
C: They set out on their route, however as they cross this semi-charted territory, they are plagued by water shortages. Some of the wells that they were expecting to be there are dry or have caved in, and they keep having to stop and dig extra ones out.
A: Which then uses more energy, which then uses more water and more food than was anticipated.
C: Yep. Their route takes them near to the town on In Salah, but they don’t intend to enter it as it’s been made very clear that Christians aren’t welcome there.
A: It’s been made very clear they’re not welcome where they’re going. Now they start reading the signals.
C: The caravan are passed by a party of Chaamba on their way to In Salah, who agree to take Flatters’ mail with them. And Flatters very arrogantly sends a very threatening note with them to the leaders in In Salah, saying that [in a French accent]: “If I am not well-received there… the good natives may some day see before their houses an armed column coming to settle accounts”. So he alerts everyone in the area to his presence, and the fact that he’s accompanied by soldiers, which they were trying to hide.
C: And he doesn’t actually even want to go to this city, so why is he sending a threatening note to them? He just wants to flex, basically. Then they pass another group who are riding from In Salah, who warn Flatters that the leaders there are completely opposed to his passing through, and they suspect that the leader of the Kel Ahaggar, Aitarel, feels the same. Flatters is told, “Don’t go to the Hoggar. Go to Ghat instead.” Flatters ignores that advice, saying [in a French accent], “those who want to oppose my plans by attacking me will find they have met their match.”
A: I don’t they have somehow. You’ve just told everyone where you’re going, what you’re doing. How about not announcing your intentions to everyone and then ignoring everyone else’s advice?
C: This will be a common theme in this story.
A: Let us continue…
C: As they push on, they continue to face too little water and no pasture for the camels. The poor camels begin to waste away, and only 250 are remaining by the 27 of December. So that’s 30 camels dead.
A: That’s still quite a good innings.
C: [Laughing] Still a lot of camels.
A: Still many, many camels.
C: The camels are eaten if they fall, although it has to be timed carefully because, for the meat to be halal, they have to be slaughtered just before they completely die of natural causes.
A: I hadn’t thought about that.
C: They will be less concerned about whether or not meat is halal later in the story.
C: Flatters sends a messenger, Bu Jamaa, to In Salah in order to find Aitarel.
A: I’m assuming this message is basically ‘we’re coming, suck it up’?
C: No, no.
C: He is requesting some Ahaggar guides to take them through the mountains.
A: He’s asking? Nicely?
C: And he’s sending gifts! But there is no reply. He’s left on read.
C: On the 31 December, they find a well and some decent pasture and make camp for several days, hoping that the messenger will eventually come back with an answer. They encounter a caravan of eight Arab men who, when consulted, reassure Flatters that Aitarel will have no reason not to greet him in friendship.
A: I can think of a few.
C: Still no reply comes, but a lone camel rider is spotted scouting around their camp.
C: Having a little looksy.
C: On the 6 January, Flatters decides to move on again and not continue waiting for a reply.
A: So he’s living up to his time-honoured tradition of just assuming everything’s gonna go great for him.
C: Yeah, he does seem to be a real optimist. He just takes everything as a ‘yes, we love you Flatters, please do this.’
A: Is that an optimist? Or is that a white man in the 19th century?
C: A couple of weeks later, they again meet a traveller coming from In Salah, and this guy is a mosque caretaker, whom Flatters had actually already met during their first mission. So, you know him, you’re mates – or at least acquaintances.
A: The first mission where he gets turned back?
C: Yeah. The caretaker confirms that everyone in In Salah hates Flatters.
A: [Laughs] Everyone! The children spit on his image.
C: [Laughs] Flatters sends some scouts to see if they can find Bu Jamaa – the missing messenger – or any Kel Ahaggar guides on the way to meet them, because of course Aitarel’s totally sent some guides, right? Because he loves Flatters.
A: Everyone loves Flatters.
C: The scouts return unsuccessful.
A: I’m impressed they returned at all, to be honest.
C: They are already, by this point, in Kel Ahaggar country. And Flatters begins to hesitate. If neither his messenger nor his guides turn up soon, he decides that he’ll call things off and turn towards Kel Ajjer lands and go to Ghat, as advised.
A: It takes a while for things to sink in for Flatters, doesn’t it?
C: It takes until he’s already trespassing. But then, in the stroke of time, Bu Jamaa does turn up with a letter from Aitarel.
A: [Laughs] This letter just says ‘fuck off’.
C: No! It gives him permission to cross Kel Ahaggar territory to the Sudan. And a group of guides are going to come along and lead the way.
A: That’s convenient.
C: The caravan are told they may pass through the western edge of the Hoggar mountains, but they can’t go directly into them and they can’t come near any of the settlements there.
A: He’s gonna go directly into them, isn’t he?
C: No, no, he’s gonna have guides, who are going to take him on the right route.
A: But he’s an idiot.
C: [Laughs] He is an idiot. So he now dismisses his other guides – the ones who have been able to lead him up to this point but who don’t know the Hoggar mountains very well. He doesn’t actually do this in person; he does it by message. And he doesn’t offer any parting gifts or bonus pay, which is all a bit rude and will come back to bite him in the butt later.
A: This man loves a message. I’m just imagining him in his little tent, and like everything is done by letter. Like, a letter to the cook, ‘what’s for the meal today?’ A letter to the doctor, ‘can you come to stab me in the leg again?’
C: Yeah, he’s just a lover of letters I guess. On the 29 of January, Flatters then sends the last Chaambi guide back with the first part of his journal de route – his diary of what’s gone on so far.
A: Bet that’s a fun read.
C: And there’s also a letter to his wife back in Paris, declaring [in a French accent]: “I expect to be at In Azawa in twenty-five days without incident”.
A: Course it’s another bloody letter.
C: In Azawa is on the other side of the mountains, so that means in less than a month he expects to be through and done.
A: Hmm. Hmmm.
C: The new guides, e.g. the Kel Ahaggar guides, are difficult for Flatters to get along with, and after four days they claim to be lost in their own territory.
A: Everyone’s difficult for Flatters to get along with.
C: Yes. Sorry, I maybe should have phrased that as, ‘Flatters is difficult for them to get along with as well’.
A: It does seem that Flatters is the common factor in all of this dissatisfaction.
C: But now they’re claiming that they’re lost in their own country, which seems a bit off to Flatters, because they’ve come as guides and therefore in theory know the way.
A: They’re the people who are meant to know where they’re going.
C: Consulting his compass, Flatters realises that they’re trying to lead him around the Tisemt salt mines, which he specifically requested to visit as part of his survey. He confronts them on this, and they admit that maybe that was kinda what they were trying to do, and they all adjust the course so that he can go past this area. The expedition discover camel tracks that appear to be from a raiding party in that area, which puts everyone on edge. They then cross a plain towards the mountains, seeing no water for five days. More camels collapse and have to be abandoned, and all the men are suffering from severe dehydration. We’re talking cracked lips, bloated tongues, kidney pain.
A: Ooh, and I’m imagining with the sun and–
A: It’s not gonna be pleasant.
C: The camel-drivers suggest slaughtering the camels to drink the fluid from their stomachs, which is a well-established trick in the Sahara desert, I’m told. But Flatters refuses. Finally, they do find water and some sedge for the camels to graze on, but still, I’m gonna imagine the camel-drivers are probably a bit annoyed that Flatters played with their lives like that. That’s me completely inserting into the narrative; I don’t have any evidence of that. But it seems fair, right?
A: If they’re suggesting ‘shall we kill our own camels to survive?’ and they’re camel-drivers, I assume they probably know what’s best.
C: The next day, they see four camel riders approaching in the distances.
A: [Gasps] The raiding party.
C: You need more than four to make a raiding party. [Laughs].
A: The small raiding party!
C: Flatters is surprised to see that one of them is one of the Chaamba guides that he sent back earlier; a man called Sghir, who now claims that actually he does know his way through the Hoggar mountains, he just forgot to mention it earlier. And he’s here to save the day and help them through. Unbeknownst to Flatters, Sghir was offended by the way he was previously dismissed, and by Flatters’ constant refusal to listen to any advice not to go through the Hoggar mountains. So he’s joined up with some Kel Ahaggar to plot an ambush. This is dramatic irony now, because you know what’s coming and Flatters doesn’t.
C: The party finally enter the Hoggar mountains and are soon visited by large numbers of Kel Ahaggar, who are looking for gifts and trade. And two of the caravan’s camels are stolen in the process.
A: These poor camels.
C: The stolen camels are retrieved; they’re okay.
A: They’re not going to be okay for long, are they?
C: Nooo. And also, tracks of that raiding party are again spotted in the nearby area.
A: Ooh, they’re getting closer.
C: Sghir is behaving oddly. He keeps trying to convince some of the cameleers – that’s the camelmen–
A: I love that word!
C: He’s trying to convince them to abandon the mission. Allegedly, he tells them, “If you don’t go back now, you’re lost.” He himself asks for Flatters’ permission to leave. He says that the reason is because he has a blood feud with the Tuareg of the Sudan, which makes him afraid to enter their territory on the other side of the mountains.
A: See, this is quite canny. He has planned this.
C: Yeah. Flatters, however, insists that he should stay with the mission until they reach In Azawah, and then he can leave. So that’s just before they get properly in the Sudan.
A: Flatters is so inflexible.
C: Yeah, he does not like negotiation.
A: And I assume he says this via letter.
C: [Laughs] On the 15 February, their camp is visited by two Kel Ahaggar who offer to sell them sheep. The men tour the camp, they ask a lot of questions, and then they completely disappear in the morning with no sign of the sheep.
A: No sign that they’d ever been there.
C: To me, all of this is looking really suspicious and like maybe I would turn back? But, uh, no. [Laughs].
A: Flatters knows what’s best. Well, Flatters knows what Flatters is going to do.
C: They’ve been without water for a little while again – or at least the camels have – and on 16 February, they’re supposed to pass a well. However, in the mid-morning the guides halt and announce that they’ve accidentally passed the well already.
C: Yeah, these guides who just don’t know their way around.
A: See, this is reading as so intentionally malicious. But I am quite enjoying it.
C: We have the dramatic irony. Flatters has no way of knowing what’s coming. It’s not like it’s been sign-posted at every moment!
A: Quite literally ‘Go Back All Ye Who Enter Here’.
C: To save redirecting everyone with their heavy loads, the guides propose splitting the party.
C: Always a bad idea. They say most people can stop, make a camp, and then a contingent can take the unladen camels, water them at the well, and refill the water skeins. Flatters agrees.
A: I really want to know how they divide up these teams.
C: Flatters leaves along with the camels for the well.
A: Knew it!
C: He’s accompanied by one other French man, and a number of cameleers and tirailleurs.
A: I love the word cameleers.
C: Lieutenant de Dianous–
A: I love that name!
C: –Is left in charge of the camp. He’s another of the French guys, in case you couldn’t tell.
A: Can I have that name again please?
C: Lieutenant de Dianous. Dianous? I don’t know how to say it. D. I. A. N. O. U. S.
C: It’s definitely not that!
C: De Dianoo?
A: Deann… Deannyo?
C: You’re definitely not right.
A: [Laughs] I’m just doing to the French what the French did to Algeria.
C: [Laughs] Very true! Some accounts say that Bu Jamaa – the messenger from earlier – who’s been off hunting with the salukis that morning, when he returns to camp, realises that something’s not right and rides after Flatters to try to warn him. But it’s not certain that that definitely happened. He was definitely away from the camp, but it’s not certain if he warned Flatters.
A: Or was definitely on #TeamFlatters.
C: Oh yeah, sorry, I phrased that badly. It’s not that he realised that something was up: he was in on the plan. He’s realised it’s now up.
A: Oh, okay.
A: I’m getting the feeling that no one’s on #TeamFlatters. Apart from Flatters.
C: Six French guys. Presumably.
A: Considering how badly he treats everyone else…
C: While watering the camels, Flatters’ group – surprise surprise – walk into the planned ambush. There are a large number of Kel Ahaggar warriors there, who greatly outnumber Flatters’ party. Most people in Flatters’ party are killed, including Flatters.
A: R.I.P. Paul.
C: All of the camels are lost.
A: The true tragedy.
C: A small number of tirailleurs escape and are able to get back to camp to warn de Dianous what is coming.
A: All of the camels are lost? They’re down to zero camels?
C: The camels aren’t dead, but they are scattered or stolen.
A: They’re wild.
C: They are not currently with the remaining Flatters party, which no longer has Flatters. And the cameleers actually do valiantly try to save the camels; they know that their survival depends on having camels in the desert.
A: I still just love the word cameleers. It’s all I’m taking away from this episode.
C: Around 40 men remained back at the camp, and with the men who managed to return from the ambush, they number 56 people in total. So 19 tirailleurs and 11 cameleers are dead, and all the guides have vanished mysteriously because they’ve plotted the whole thing.
A: So are there any other plotters left at camp?
C: Not that I know of. Unless there are plotters that have not been revealed to the historical record.
A: ‘Cause everyone hates Flatters. It’s like, is everyone out to kill him? Is it Murder on the Orient Express?
C: Well no, because they haven’t put together the express yet!
C: Now in charge of the mission, de Dianous looks at his options: fight and certainly die, or attempt to walk all the way back to Ouargla with no camels and probably die.
A: Certain death versus probable death. I mean, that’s quite optimistic that it’s only probable death.
C: Well, that’s the one he goes with. He decides they’ll attempt the trek. Over the next few days, seven more cameleers catch up with them, who had survived the initial ambush and have been hiding from the Kel Ahaggar.
A: But are still sans camel.
C: Still sans camel. Three men die as they continue their march. On 22 February, the four salukis are butchered and eaten. And like I said, dog meat isn’t halal, but by this point they’ve given up caring. Understandably. Rations have nearly completely run out. A hunting party is sent out, and they return with four Tuareg camels that they’ve found. Yay! Camels again.
C: The decision is made not to eat them, because they’re more useful for carrying water. Dehydration is a more immediate threat than starvation.
A: As we know.
C: That’s sensible. The water is rationed personally by de Dianous.
A: Of course it is.
C: As they travel, they find some things to eat: insects, lizards, fennec foxes, rats and hares.
A: That’s a surprisingly good list of food to find in the desert.
C: I think it takes a lot of effort to find this, but it is relatively abundant. On the 26 February, they meet six Kel Ahaggar, who have come to claim back their stolen camels.
A: [Snorts] They’re not having a good time.
C: These men also bring a message, allegedly from Aitarel – their leader – claiming that the Kel Ahaggar totes weren’t the ones responsible for the ambush.
A: ‘Sorry to hear about your loss’.
C: It’s a blatant lie. But they do allow the group to keep the camels.
A: So they come to collect their stolen camels, but then they actually have a letter saying ‘totes wasn’t us, by the way, you can keep the camels, soz’. It’s a double bluff, just messing with their minds.
C: Yeah, there’s a bit of psychological play going on here. My interpretation – because it seems wild that people would just mess with people in this way – is it’s probably more likely that during the ambush, despite being completely decimated, Flatters’ party did manage to get a few licks in, and did kill numbers of the Kel Ahaggar – which we know to be true.
A: Even if that number is, like, three, it’s still a number.
C: Yep, so the Kel Ahaggar are now proceeding with caution in order to kill off the rest of them, basically.
A: Kill off or just make sure that they fuck off?
C: I mean, they’re trying to trek back through the Sahara with no camels: I think just watch them and check that they die.
A: That’s fair.
C: It doesn’t take much active involvement. In line with this, the Ahaggar men continue to follow the party for several days, and any stragglers that fall behind… don’t come back.
A: [Laughs] I’m so into this, I don’t know why. They just disappear in the night.
C: Into March, food and water continue to be a constant worry. Two of the camels are eaten – so that’s two left, by my maths. They continue to be approached occasionally by Kel Ahaggar, who sell them supplies; in fact, their own supplies at an inflated price, the ones that they had to abandon when they left camp.
A: I love it. It’s so bad. I love it.
C: The party are later gifted some dates, again by the Kel Ahaggar, which turn out to be poisoned, and they suffer pain and hallucinations.
A: [Laughs] Sorry. I mean, I do feel sorry– especially now Flatters is out of the way.
C: They are being stalked through the desert by people who killed all their friends. It’s pretty scary.
A: But it’s also… it’s making me laugh.
C: Finally, the expedition decide to attack the Kel Ahaggar head on.
A: Oh, that’s not gonna work.
C: No, they’re very weakened and they have fewer people. It’s a bloody fight, a number of men are killed on both sides – but not all of the men are killed on both sides.
A: Well, I doubt this small band of bedraggled, starving Frenchmen can kill all of the Kel Ahaggar.
C: The mission is now down to 34 survivors, which is pretty good going.
A: I was imagining about seven.
C: Only one French man remains: a Sergeant named Pobeguin. Now, Pobeguin knows that when they dismissed the Chaamba guides way back, one of the guides was gonna stay in the area and set up a semi-permanent encampment near to In Salah. So they’re thinking, they’re gonna try and aim for here, because they know it’s there and that they have friends there.
A: Friends who Flatters dismissed without any grace and just told ‘we don’t need to any more, bye’ – that one of them was so offended by, he plotted to murder everyone.
C: Well, this guy clearly didn’t come along to do the murder. So it’s probably find.
A: With friends like these, who needs enemies?
C: Pobeguin sends one of the tirailleurs ahead to this encampment, a man called Bin ‘Abd al-Qadir, to send word of the expedition’s fate. Against Pobeguin’s orders, three other men also go with him, because I guess they’re like ‘get me out of here!’ Another camel is killed and eaten, but again the men are at severe risk of dehydration. So Pobeguin and three tirailleurs decide to take the final camel ahead to find water, then one of the tirailleurs is gonna bring it back with water skeins loaded up to the remaining party.
A: That sounds like a sensible idea. It’s not gonna work, is it?
C: Instead, the guy who’s been trusted with the camel full of water, rides it off with one of his mates and never comes back.
A: Of course he does.
C: Some of the men left behind manage to catch up with Pobeguin at the well, but without any remaining camels, they’re sure that they’re going to die.
A: I think that they’re probably right.
C: After three days, one of the tirailleurs suggests that he’s going to walk to that encampment alone to fetch help.
A: In addition to the other people who’ve been sent ahead to get to the encampment to fetch help?
C: Yeah. I think he’s just fed up with waiting. Shortly after he’s left, several other men decide to go hunting. They bring back cooked meat.
A: Do they now?
C: Pobeguin refuses to eat this meat, because he recognises it as his friend, the tirailleur who got sent ahead.
A: Ooh, I don’t like that he recognises it!
C: Reinforced with meat, the next day 14 men are persuaded to walk with Pobeguin to just try and strike out for the encampment all together.
A: So he refuses to eat it, but he’s still like, ‘yeah, this is totally safe, let’s all go together, guys’.
C: Well, when they sent one guy off, he got picked off and eaten. But if you’re in a group… Right? There are still some men who aren’t strong enough to go with this walking group, and they remain at the well. Two of the tirailleurs remaining at the well do pass away of natural causes, and a fight breaks out over whether or not to eat them. Two of the men from their regiment want to give them a proper military burial. Everyone else wants to eat them.
A: I’m on team ‘eat them’ at this point. Natural causes; you are the band of sick and injured who can’t go on. So by definition, you can’t go hunting, because you’d have to walk to go hunting. Let your food come to you.
C: The two men on pro-military burial get shot, so now there are four people to eat!
C: What we’re seeing is just a complete breakdown in any kind of discipline or comradeship; I think it’s every man for himself at this point. Which makes sense – they have been really psychologically tortured and starved and poisoned etcetera.
A: I’m sorry for laughing at your suffering.
C: Hearing the shots, Pobeguin sends two men back to see what’s happened.
A: Ooh, I don’t like that, the fact they were close enough they could hear over – I’m obviously imagining a very cliched rolling waves of sand dunes. Okay, yeah, that’s a little bit– ugh.
C: These two men come back with a nasty tale – of four bodies being eaten.
A: I’m amazed they came back at all.
C: Four of the tirailleurs in Pobeguin’s party insist on turning back to avenge their murdered comrades.
A: But do they actually want to avenge them, or do they want to consume them?
C: They are tirailleurs, and, as it was suggested by the two who got killed trying to advocate for a military burial, it seems like there are still some ties between the tirailleurs and they don’t want to eat one another.
A: Okay, I respect that. It’s unwise, but I respect it.
C: The next day, the four men who had gone back to avenge their murdered friends, return to Pobeguin’s party, carrying the flesh of one of the men that they killed in revenge.
A: Oh, so it’s fine to eat them?
C: It’s fine to eat people who aren’t tirailleurs! Look, tirailleurs? No! Cameleers? Fair game! It’s the endo-cannibalism/exo-cannibalism thing, I guess. This time, Pobeguin does eat it.
A: There’s only so long that your dietary restrictions are really gonna hold you back. When I’m hungry enough, I’ll eat pineapple pizza.
C: At this point, it seems like everyone’s decided there’s no point holding back any more. A group of men go back to the well, and kill the remaining three men to eat them as well.
A: [Laughs] Oh, for fuck’s sake.
C: I think everything’s fair game now. The last guy has given in and eaten human flesh, and they’re like, ‘hey, what’s holding us back?’
A: ‘Let’s go and target the vulnerable.’
C: On the 29 March, the remaining men spot a sandstorm on the approach. Most of them are able to make it to the next well, where they can survive the dehydrating effects of the sand. However, Pobeguin does not make it.
A: Oh, poor Pobeguin.
C: The men find him near-dead in the morning and put him out of his misery.
A: And make him full dead.
C: And then eat him.
C: At long last, four men reach the encampment and safety. Seven more men are located by a rescue mission, but when they’re located, so are the remains of their cookfires, which reveal how they’ve stayed alive. Along with them, there were actually some other survivors. There were those original four men who had ridden off with the camel to tell the camp about the mission’s fate.
A: The group who probably didn’t do any cannibalism.
C: Yeah, they’re probably not cannibals. In all, the survivors number 21. None of them are French.
A: That’s not bad proportionally; that’s a 22% survival rate.
C: Good maths!
A; Thank you, my calculator did it for me. But seriously, 21 out of 93: we’ve had much higher death tolls.
C: We have! And considering that it did end in a bit of murder there.
A: We’ve got murder, we’ve got poisoning, we’ve got everyone wanting to kill them, we’ve got dehydration, we’ve got starvation, we’ve got getting lost in the desert, being raised and losing all their supplies – not bad!
C: Good on them.
A: I mean, not great. But I’ve heard worse.
C: In France, there were some initial calls for revenge, but the fury soon died down. It wasn’t like Flatters had been killed by the Germans or the English!
A: For fuck’s sake.
C: Popular opinion at the time was that if you go and explore outside of Europe, you might die. Like, it just happens. So no use getting angry about it.
A: You brought it on yourself. Which, technically…
C: He did.
C: Flatters was also not particularly celebrated or lionised.
A: Odd that.
C: The colonial authorities actually preferred not to talk about it too much, as it would have raised the subject of various problems and shortcomings of their activities in Algeria.
A: It didn’t look good for the ‘organisation’ of colonial oppression to fail at doing the oppression.
C: No Trans-Saharan railway was ever built. After all, Europe gets a little bit distracted with a few wars here and there, and then after that, air travel.
A: Is the more sensible option than building a railway directly through a desert. That was a wild ride!
C: It was a fun one, wasn’t it?
A: I think I found it funner than I should have done.
C: I think the idea is that obviously it’s not nice to be ambushed and murdered and psychologically tortured through the desert, and I don’t want to blame the victims here, but if you’re told literally at every point of your journey, ‘if you come here we will kill you’, and then you go there and get killed–
A: You can’t say you weren’t warned.
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Thank you for listening to today’s episode on Paul. I had far too much fun, but at least I know if this podcasting lark doesn’t work out, I have a future as a cameleer.
C: Join us next time for famine. Lots of famine.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]