Thursday, January 23, 2014

the brightest coloured

Anne has an Aborigine servant or friend or follower or just general sidekick if you prefer, who is called, for some reason, Kombo. "Anne ... had known Kombo since her tenth year." Kombo: what a name. And yet the author gives the other Aboriginal people or spirits or clans more authenticish and dignified names like Moongar, Karraji-Wiràwi, Mununduala and Multuggerah. The only other character with a name that comes close to Kombo's is a wife of his who appears for a chapter or two; her name is Unda. Her name may only be Unda because his name is Kombo, the names of partners needing to have a roughly similar sound, after a Papageno/Papagena kind of logic.

Why is his name Kombo? My guess, which is based on his subordinate status in the book and the fact that Praed associates him with words like "humourous" and "ridiculous" is that it's meant to be a free-floating familiar diminutive and remind you, on a more or less subliminal level, of circus names like Jacko the clown or Jumbo the elephant. The os and the b might also (this is a long shot) owe something to the presence of the name Job in Rider Haggard's She, because Fugitive Anne (1902) is riffing off She (serialised 1886-1887), and Kombo's role in one book is Job's role in the other book, a useful companion but still the comic relief.

I think Kombo is playing a replacement Cockney.

"And in truth Kombo was made of heroic stuff, and would not have been undeserving of honour in the ancient days of chivalry," writes Praed, but she qualifies his heroism in ways that sabotage it, oh, heroic, "the brave boy," but also ludicrous, he's lecherous, he's ignorant, he's superstitious, he's greedy, he wants to wear clowny clothes, "the brightest coloured of the tunics," "Kombo's interest in the rock-city, the booths and braziers, and above all, the Aca women, was uncontrollable and farcical in its expression," and yet he's also "intelligent," "clever," "Kombo's agile wits had already jumped to the situation," "Kombo's quick intelligence had grasped all points of the situation," "Kombo's comprehensive plan was the best in the circumstances," he has a sense of humour, "In their keen sense of humour, she and Kombo were at one," he knows how to survive in the bush and still the author won't stop undermining his heroism and his intelligence, deciding that he is somehow clever and ridiculous in patches, however she needs him to be at any particular moment, this motley presentation eliminating any chance he might have had of competing for dignity with the Danish explorer, Eric Hansen, who is presented so steadily that even Anne-the-heroine retreats when the Dane re-enters the story firmly at the end of Volume One determined not to exit again; we saw him last at the end of chapter two or three, I think, and now it's umpteen chapters later. "This man was a big Dane, tall, muscular, and determined-looking, with a short fair beard and moustache, high cheek-bones, and extremely clear, brilliant, blue eyes."

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