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  1. OLDE AG BOOK  1937: The Soul of the White Ant (OLDE AG BOOKS)
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  2. OLDE AG BOOK 1937: The Soul of the White Ant (OLDE AG BOOKS)

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THE name of Eugène N. Marais is known to all Afrikaans-speaking South Africans as a writer of shortstories and verse. He himself, however, would wish to be remembered for his lifelong study of termitesand apes. He began life after leaving college as a journalist, then studied medicine for four years, buteventually took up law and was called to the bar by the Inner Temple. A scholar and a man of culture, hechose nevertheless to live for a period extending over many years in a 'rondhavel' or hut in the lonelyWaterberg mountains, learning to know and make friends with a troop of wild baboons, whose behaviourhe wished to study. He tamed them to such a degree that he could move among them and handle themwith impunity. At the same time he busied himself with the other end of the chain and studied termite life,a study which often meant tremendous drudgery and needed endless patience.
Eugène Marais was born in a farming community near Pretoria in 1872. Journalism was his first career,but he later studied law in London, and by 1910 was in Johannesburg trying to establish himself as anadvocate. Increasing depression drove him to retreat to Waterberg, a mountain fastness in northernTransvaal. Settling near a large group of chacma baboons, he became the first man to conduct a prolonged
study of primates in the wild. It was this period that produced My Friends the Baboons and provided themajor inspiration for The Soul of the Ape. He returned to Pretoria to practise law, to resume his career as ajournalist, to continue his animal studies and to write poetry in Afrikaans. In 1926, the year after he hadpublished a definitive article on his original research and conclusions about the white ant, a world-famousEuropean author took half Marais's life-work and published it as his own. This plagiarizing may well havebeen a major factor in Marais's final collapse. Plagued for many years by ill-health and an addiction tomorphine, he took his own life in March 1936.


Eugène N. Marais
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