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Scouting for Boys

Part III, Chapter V


Life in the Open


Outdoor Training


The native boys of the Zulu and Swazi tribes learn to be scouts before they are allowed to be considered men, and the do it in this way: when a boy is about fifteen or sixteen he is taken by the men of his village, stripped of all clothes and painted white from head to foot, and he is given a shield and one assegai or small spear, and he is turned out of the village and told that he will be killed if anyone catches him while he is still painted white.  So the boy has to go off into the jungle and mountains and hide himself from other men until the white paint wears off, and this generally takes about a month; so that all this time he has to look after himself and stalk game with his one assegai and kill it and cut it up; he has to light his fire by means of rubbing sticks together in order to cook his meat; he has to make the skin of the animal into a covering for himself; and he has to know what kind of wild root, berries, and leaves are good for food as vegetables.  If he is not able to do these things, he dies of starvation, or is killed by wild animals.  If he succeeds in keeping himself alive, and is able to find his way back to his village, he returns when the white paint has worn off and is then received with great rejoicings by his friends and relations, and is allowed to become a soldier of the tribe since he has shown that he is able to look after himself.


It is a pity that all British boys cannot have the same sort of training before they are allowed to consider themselves men – and the training which we are now doing as scouts is intended to fill that want as far as possible.  If every boy works hard at this course and really learns all that we try to teach him, he will, at the end of it, have some claim to call himself a scout and a man, and will find if ever he goes on service, or to a colon, that he will have no difficulty in looking after himself and in being really useful to his country.


There is an old Canadian scout and trapper, now over eighty years of age, still living, and, what is more, still working at his trade of trapping.  His name is Bill Hamilton.  In a book which he lately wrote, called ‘My Sixty Years in the Plains’, he describes the dangers of that adventurous line of life.  The chief danger was that of falling into the hands of the Red Indians.  ‘To be taken prisoner was to experience a death not at all to be desired.  A slow fire is merciful beside other cruelties practiced by the Indians.  I have often been asked why we exposed ourselves to such danger?  My answer has always been that there was a charm in the open-air life of a scout from which one cannot free himself after he has once come under its spell.  Give me the man who has been raised among the great things of Nature; he cultivates truth, independence, and self-reliance; he has generous impulses; he is true to his friends, and true to the flag of his country.’


I can fully endorse what this old scout has said, and, what is more, I find that those men who come from the furthest frontiers of the Empire, from what we should call a rude and savage life, are among the most generous and chivalrous of their race, especially towards women and weaker folk.  They become ‘gentle men’ by their contact with nature.


Mr. Roosevelt, the President of the United States of America, also is one who believes in outdoor life, and he indulges in it himself on every possible occasion when his duties allow.  He writes:

‘I believe in outdoor games, and I do not mind in the least that they are rough games, or that those who take part in them are occasionally injured.  I have no sympathy with the overwrought sentiment which would keep a young man in cotton wool.  The out-of-doors man must always prove the better in life’s contest.  When you play, play hard; and when you work, work hard.  But do not let your play and your sport interfere with your study.’


I knew an old Boer who after the war said that he could not live in the country with British, so he went off to take service with the German troops which were at that time fighting I nth neighboring district of South West Africa.  But after some months he came back and said that after all he preferred to be with the British.


He said that one of his reasons for disliking the British was that when they arrived in the country they were so ‘stom’ as he called it – i.e. so utterly stupid when living on the veldt that they did not know how to look after themselves, to make themselves comfortable in camp, to kill their food or to cook it, and they were always losing their way on the veldt; he allowed that after six months or so the English soldiers got to learn how to manage for themselves fairly well.  But when he went to the Germans he found that they were even more ‘stom’ than the British, with the great difference that they went on being ‘stom’, no matter how long they remained in the country.  He said they were ‘stom’ till they died, and they generally died through blundering about at the business end of a mule.


The truth is that, being brought up in a civilized country like England, soldiers and others have no training whatever in looking after themselves out on the veldt, or in the backwoods, and the consequence is that when they go out to a colony or on a campaign they are for a long time perfectly helpless and go through a lot of hardship and trouble which would not occur had they learnt, while boys, how to look after themselves both in camp and when on patrol.  They are just a lot of ‘Tenderfoots’.


They have never had to light a fire, or to cook their own food; that has always been done for them.  At home, if they wanted water they merely had to turn on the tap, and  had no idea of how to set about finding water in a desert place by looking at the grass, or bush, or by scratching at the sand till they began to find signs of dampness; and if they lost their way, of did not know the time, they merely had to ‘ask a policeman’.  They had always found houses to shelter them, and beds to lie in.  They had never to manufacture these for themselves, nor to make their own boots or clothing.  That is why a ‘tenderfoot’ talks of ‘roughing in camp’; but living in camp for a scout who knows the game is by no means ‘roughing it’.  He knows how to make himself comfortable in a thousand small ways, and then when he does come back to civilization, he enjoys it all the more for having seen a contrast; and even there he can do very much more for himself than the ordinary mortal who has never really learned to provide for his own wants.  The man who has had to turn his hand to many things, as the scout does in camp, finds that when he comes into civilization he is more easily able to obtain employment, because he is ready to turn his hand to whatever kind of work may turn up.


(Excerpt from ‘Scouting for Boys”, A Handbook For Instruction in Good Citizenship, Lieut.-General R. S. S. Baden-Powell, 1908)