Dr Ian Player

Memorial Service and Celebration of Dr Ian Player’s Life – 14 January 2015

Dr Ian Player and Jungian Psychology

By Sheila Berry
We are all gathered here because Ian Player was an extra-ordinary human being – ordinary with human frailties but with an enormous amount of “extra” that elevated him to greatness – and drew thousands of people to him, many as personal friends with a deep sense they mattered and were significant. He definitely dispels the stereotype that conservationists are invariably individuals who prefer animals and the natural environment to human beings!
Ian’s ability to connect with people is all the more striking at a time, when – in marked contrast to global warming and swarming – our modern world has entered into an emotional ice age, characterised by lack of warmth and caring between people with little sense of being part of a reassuring protective community.

When I met Ian Player in 1983, I met a man deeply interested in people, regardless of their status, language, culture, religion, race, political persuasion. Five years earlier, in 1978, when Ian was 51 years old, he was exhausted and close to burnout after the 1st World Wilderness Congress in Johannesburg and from dealing with too many demands. He was desperately in need of a life-line that provided a perspective that nourished him rather than wearing him down.

Ian was about to board a long flight from Heathrow to San Francisco on yet another gruelling trip. On impulse he bought a paperback copy of Jung and the Story of our Time written by his good friend, Sir Laurens van der Post – a book about the work of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung. Ian half expected, half hoped the book would put him to sleep but instead he found the content riveting. It revealed that the search for meaning and wholeness demanded a journey into the interior, a place Ian referred to as “the inner wilderness”.

Reading Jung brought the realisation that the human psyche (Greek for soul) is every bit as awesome and diverse as the outer wilderness Ian knew and loved so well. The more he read about the world within, the more convinced Ian became of the critical need to develop a healthy relationship with the inner wilderness as the only way to ensure the outer wilderness survived.

Saving the White Rhinos and Dreams from Extinction

It is interesting to note striking parallels between Ian’s achievements in the outer wilderness and the inner wilderness.

Ian’s most notable achievement is surely saving the White Rhino from near extinction. He never forgot his first encounter with White Rhino – a family group that mysteriously emerged from the early morning mist on their way to the iMfolozi river to drink. As he watched their prehistoric forms solidify and sharpen into focus, he had a strong sense his life would be inextricably linked with these powerful yet docile animals.

So, what was it in the Inner Wilderness that resonated deeply for Ian and was in danger of becoming extinct? What was it that formed out of the mists of sleep and sharpened into focus in the early morning light bringing meaning and direction to the new day? The long neglected dream, of course.
When Ian was a seventeen-year-old soldier in Helwan Camp outside Cairo, he dreamt of his much-loved mother speaking to him about her impending death. She comforted and reassured him that all would be well with her and with him. Like the appearance of the group of rhinos, this was a dream Ian would never forget.

Dream work is challenging but Ian was no stranger to struggle and, over the years, he put in the necessary effort to learn the foreign language of dreams – God’s forgotten language. In an article Ian was asked to write for the prestigious Jungian journal Psychological Perspectives, he reminisces: ‘As I plodded on my path to Jung, recording my dreams and reading every book on Jungian psychology I could lay my hands on, I frequently thought back to my early days as a sampler on the Robinson Deep gold mine where I had to descend to great depths and chip away at the gold reef to bring back samples of the ore for analysis. So it was with dream exploration, where I descended into the unconscious at night and then, in the morning, I chipped away looking for the gold to be interpreted in the dream.’

Ian’s main teacher was Dr Gloria Gearing, who, is still active at the grand age of 89 years. She was his much-respected regular analyst for 18 years and a dear, if somewhat irreverent friend to the end. She was certainly not in awe of Ian’s international reputation and enjoyed pointing out to him that she could not be a very competent therapist given that he was a long-standing client of hers!

Magqubu Ntombela and the internalised Shadow

A vitally important part of Ian’s life was his deep friendship with Magqubu Ntombela. Their relationship was put firmly on an equal footing one hot day in the iMfolozi. Ian was in charge of the iMfolozi Game Reserve and Magqubu, a deeply traditional Zulu game guard, was very much his subordinate in the rank and file of the Natal Parks Board. Ian walked past an isiVivani, a sacred cairn of stones in Zulu tradition, without showing the required respect or “Hlonipa”. Magqubu called after him, querying his oversight and asking him to come back. Ian irritably and resolutely refused: “Magqubu, that’s your tradition, not mine.” Then, to Ian’s astonishment and momentary outrage, he heard Magqubu instruct him to return and pay his respects to the amaDlozi – to the spirits of the ancestors. Had the two men been different their characters, it is certain Magqubu would have been fired on the spot for insubordination. Instead, Ian turned abruptly on his heel, limped back to the cairn, picked up a stone, spat on it, threw it on the pile and strode off again.

A couple of hundred metres down the path they met a black mamba that suddenly rose from the tall grass and threatened them aggressively three times before it eventually sank down and quickly moved off, hardly causing the grass to ripple. Magqubu turned to Ian and said: “You see, if you had not respected the amaDlozi we would have been dead!” Magqubu, the seemingly uneducated, inferior man, was proved right, and Ian, the man in charge, had to acknowledge the wisdom of someone living close to the earth.

What form does Magqubu take in this inner world?

Jung called the dark, rejected, unacknowledged part within each of us, the Shadow. To become integrated and whole, it is essential to establish a relationship with the Shadow. As one works with what the Shadow brings to the surface, one is able to find nuggets of pure gold buried there.
Initially, when Ian started working with his dreams, he was mortified to learn that the negative qualities he saw in difficult colleagues were in fact his own. He says: ‘It was without question the most shocking realisation to know that my accusations of others were in fact my own failings. The stronger my dislike of colleagues and the more outraged I was with their actions, the more like them I was!’

Though it is no easy task to take back one’s projected shadow, Ian’s dreams showed he was on improving terms with his difficult colleagues – confirmation that he was working constructively to own and integrate his negative qualities mirrored in these shadow figures.

The important role of women/the feminine in conservation

In those early days of conservation in the Natal Parks Board, women were considered even more inferior than Zulu men. Conservation was the prerogative of men, and wives of game rangers were considered fit, only, for unpaid secretarial work – a task that Ann Player, Ian’s wife, took on for many thankless years.

Jung, however, emphasizes the importance of establishing a balance between the masculine and the feminine. The rampant unbalanced power of the masculine in our modern patriarchal society results in many on-going injustices, including irreversible injuries to Mother Earth. As a result of understanding the important role of the feminine, Ian realised that women were essential in bringing balance to conservation and consequently, over the years, he gave his full support, often gleefully, to women holding their own in conservation while their male counterparts bristled.

Manifestation of the Spirit in the Outer and Inner Wilderness.

In the outer wilderness, Ian’s most powerful encounter with God was during his pioneering canoe trip in the 1950s down the Umgeni river, the birth of the now famous Dusi Canoe Marathon. At the height of a terrifying electric storm in Mamba Gorge with lightning striking the ironstone cliffs, Ian heard a voice saying “Be still and know that I am God”.
How does the voice of God manifest itself in the internal wilderness? For Ian, it is through Jung’s idea of synchronicity, which he referred to as “God winking”. This refers to two disconnected events coming together at a moment in time to create meaning.
I would like to share a synchronistic event that happened shortly after Ian’s death that has brought me immeasurable comfort and a conviction that Ian’s spirit is ever present.

I decided to save the last smses Ian and I exchanged. Most of the messages were from me to him. His messages were few and very short. On 10 November, he wrote: “Say a prayer for Tim” – Tim Condon had passed away, a fierce champion of conservation in Zululand despite his “retirement” to Canada. On 19 November, the day before his stroke Ian wrote: “Back home but very exhausted.” Then, to my utter astonishment, the last sms from Ian was dated 2nd December – when he had died on 30th November 2014. It read: “Thank you Sheila”. You can imagine how astounded I was. How was it possible to receive an sms from Ian two days after he had passed away? Then I checked the year. It was 2nd December 2011!!
How and why did this message turn up on my phone three years and two mobile phones later? Why specifically 2nd December when Ian and I had probably exchanged more than 200 smses in 2011. Why this particular message “Thank you Sheila” and not a message to check if I had arrived home safely after visiting the farm? This sms, a seemingly disconnected event from another time, appears on my phone as the last message from Ian. “Thank you Sheila.” This surely is synchronicity at work.

Overview of Ian Player’s contributions to well-being & Jungian Psychology

Professor Graham Saaymans credits Ian with playing a crucial role in the establishment and development of The Southern African Association of Jungian Analysts in Cape Town in the 1980s. Ian also formed the Magqubu Ntombela Memorial Trust to honour Magqubu, a much-needed icon and role model for Zulu youth disconnected from their environment and what is good and important in their language and culture. Ian’s commitment to the importance of dreams resulted in ongoing monthly Phuzamoya Dream Centre events that have now been running for six years. Ann and Ian’s children, Kenneth, Jessica and Amyas, are committed to continuing Ian’s vision for Phuzamoya, the family farm, and developing it into a healing centre.
These are but a few of Ian’s immense contributions to creating a healthy, caring society, and to Jungian Psychology in South Africa.
In final tribute to Ian I wish to say: Hamba Kahle dear friend to so many. Thank you for your courage in embracing the unknown throughout your adventurous and challenging life and inviting us to join you. Thank you for your journey into the inner wilderness, which you so generously shared with us, and that led to your final trail. May your Soul rest in peace and your Spirit continue to soar!



Ian McCallum

14 – 01 – 2015

By Dr Ian McCallum

“I tell you that which you yourselves do know … You all did love him once, not without cause … My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.”

Relevant to this memorial, these are lines from one of the greatest eulogies in English literature … Marc Antony’s, Shakespearian tribute to Julius Caesar.
It is with a deep sense of humility, responsibility and gratitude that I stand here to honour the life of Ian Cedric Player. I am very aware that there are many in this audience who are more than qualified to do so and who would have willingly taken my place on this podium. I trust what I have to say will echo with what is in your own hearts, for to speak about and to remember him is to speak at the same time about those whom he loved and influenced as well as those who loved and influenced him. No man is an island said the poet, John Donne and it is true. The identity for which we all strive and for which we are ultimately known is impossible to define outside of our relationships not only with others, but with the animals and with the landscapes in which we live. They shape us in much the same way as we shape them. It is in this regard that I am mindful and appreciative of you, Ann, and not least, the influence of those many outstanding and passionate wilderness characters who, in their own way, played significant roles in the shaping of Ian’s life. The list of these men and women including those who wholeheartedly supported his work and vision, is too long to include in this address, but what they all had in common, in his own words was courage, discipline, loyalty and commitment. For those who belong on that list and who are here today, you know who you are and I salute you.

Ian passed away peacefully on Sunday 30 November 2014. He was 87 years of age ( the birthdays of Winston Churchill and Mark Twain … and the death of Oscar Wilde. These coincidences in life would not have gone unnoticed by him.) His final peaceful surrender at his home in the Karkloof Valley not far from here, contrasted sharply with the way he lived his life, with the way he dealt with his ailing body and ultimately, his own mortality. The Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas would have been proud of him. He raged against the dying of the light, not simply his own dying, but against the toxic darkness of human indifference to the damage it is inflicting on Nature. He did not go gentle into that good night.

Ian was the founder of the Wilderness Leadership School (1957), the Wilderness Foundation (1974) and the internationally acclaimed Wilderness Congress (1977) – a 4-yearly event that over the years, through his efforts and later, that of Vance Martin and Andrew Muir has brought together many of the world’s most prominent environmental campaigners, photographers, conservation scientists, artists and journalists – think of Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, Wangari Muthaai … but back to his history. He was the founder of the Natal Canoe Club and in 1950 he initiated the world-famous ‘Duzi canoe marathon, winning the epic 110-mile event on three occasions. As a game ranger for the Natal Parks in the early 1950’s, inspired by previous park wardens, Vaughan Kirby and H.B. Potter’s efforts to protect the remaining white rhino in the Umfolozi, he and pilot Hendrik van Schoor, conducted the first aerial count of the sole surviving group. The unforgettable number was 437… four hundred and thirty seven!

In 1960, as a senior warden, alarmed by what he described as “the horrific poaching” of these animals, he initiated and directed the famous ‘Operation Rhino’ relocation programme. The result was the successful placement of many of the survivors to other national parks throughout the country as well as to sanctuaries in the USA and Europe. Without this initiative, it is almost certain that these creatures would have been classified as extinct, today. Instead, his name is now synonymous with the present lively, yet threatened status of this species. Sadly, it would appear, history is repeating itself.

A fierce campaigner for the conservation and protection of wild areas, not only in South Africa – think of St Lucia – but worldwide, his long list of honours is testimony to his credibility. They include two honorary doctorates, and the Decoration for Meritorious Service from the Office of the President of the Republic of South Africa. A recipient of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Statesman of the Year Award, he was also a Paul Harris Fellow – The Rotary Foundation International’s highest award for “furthering a better understanding of the friendly relations among people’s of the world”. In 1981 he was honoured by the Prince of the Netherlands and admitted to the Order of Knight of the Golden Ark.

His legacy, like many of the pioneering poets, writers and campaigners for the wild will no doubt be his commitment and dedication to the conservation and protection of wild areas. To this cause, he was both driven and tireless, reminding me of the lines of a poem by Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely
Dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep …

He was a voice and fighter for the natural inhabitants of the wild, for “the grazers and browsers, for the herds and the hunted … and the small” (Finuela Dowling), not only for their sake, but for the sake of the human species as well. Who and what would we be without wild areas and animals in our lives? Deeply interested in the psychological significance of wilderness, this is what set him apart from many conservationists. It is an aspect of this deep and determined man that not too many people knew of. Influenced by the writings and psychological perspectives of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung as well as that of Laurens van der Post and for whom he was a great advocate, he warmed to the living significance of the symbolic life. It was van der Post’s book – Venture to the Interior that significantly shaped his attitude to wilderness as a young ranger. In his own words: “After reading this book I trod the Earth differently.” He saw the wilderness differently. He began to see wild animals and wild places not only for what they are but for what they represent in the human psyche. If for instance, a wild animal becomes extinct, then the human psyche suffers. If a wild species dies, then something in the psyche dies as well. Put differently, he understood the deep reciprocity of Nature. The fight for the natural environment could be understood as the fight for human sanity. Deep down, he knew it. And so do we.

Soldier, adventurer, game ranger, conservationist, activist, author, leader, visionary, speaker, dreamer, there is so much to admire about him and deservedly so. Like many who knew him, I will remember him most of all for his enduring spirit of respect for the wilderness. But I will remember him also, for other reasons. We first met in 1981 – another story – and within a month I was on trail in the Umfolozi with him and the wonderful Magqubu Ntombela. It did not take long for me to realize that I had found my spiritual home. I will never forget that.

I will remember him as a loyal friend and as a man who was very human. Sometimes he was like a dog with a bone … he wouldn’t let go. We did not always agree with each other … we didn’t have to and it is precisely this that protected me from the paralysis of hero worship. He was generous with his time for anyone involved or interested in wilderness. Even those with the most obscure approaches to solving wild life issues found an ally in him, provided he believed that they shared a common concern.

I will not forget the many hours spent with him and Ann around the kitchen table in their home at Phuzamoya … what a name … the Zulu word which means … “to feast on the wind” … or, if you prefer, “to drink the breath of life … to be inspired.” Such was the alchemy of that kitchen and the tangible atmosphere of torment, laughter and the intellect it generated. I will always savour the warmth of the wood burning, Falkirk stove, the slow, simple meals and on the table, the newly arrived books … the ones “You just have to read” he would say. He feasted on books and for those who have been to his home, you will agree with me – it is like a library, a museum of South African history, psychological theories, natural history, wilderness philosophy and biographies – he loved T.E. Lawrence of Arabian fame . Where did this appetite for books come from? Vance Martin as reported in Graham Linscott’s biography of Ian, summed it up. “In keeping with his hunger for intellectual content and personal understanding”, he said, “Ian devoured everything he could about the wilderness concept. He learned all the arguments and how to answer them”.

Returning to the kitchen and to our conversational feasts, we argued about methodologies for dealing with wild life crime. We dissected sport, politics and dreams, but we always came back to the fight for wilderness. And how can anyone forget his laughter? Tears would roll down his cheeks as he put his head back and roared his delight. No one else could laugh like him and I loved to make him laugh. And then there was his voice. When he spoke, it was like listening to a firm, but subdued roar … a kind of territorial call. Ann heard it as a grumble. “As long he is grumbling”, she would tell me when I would phone to ask after him, “then I know he’s okay.” He grumbled until the last week of his life, but there is no escaping, he was territorial. In a wild analogy, he was an alpha male. He knew his turf – the wilderness – and he was prepared to protect and die for it. I once asked him to imagine a world without rhino and his response was immediate … “Over my dead body …” he said. And he knew about rank. His very first job with the Natal Parks was that of relief ranger at St. Lucia. He was told to get on with it – no hat, no badge, no uniform, only a piece of paper authorizing his position as a ranger. How on earth was he supposed to establish authority armed only with a paper document? In his own words “to add a bit of clout to my authority, I pinned my three service medals onto my shirt. And it worked!”

He was a leader. He took charge. He fought for what he believed in, determined to have his way at times, but he also knew the cost. There is a certain loneliness that all leaders have to endure and more … it is the knowledge of ever-present adversaries, individuals who would show their respect but at the same time wouldn’t mind him out of the way. He often spoke about the inevitability of adversaries if you were involved in conservation. Sometimes accused of self- promotion, he learned to ignore this. I believe he was aware of that strange human truth … that you will often be disliked by those who see you as different from them, not because you are different, but because you are doing what they cannot do. He has been quoted as saying that the measure of one’s success in conservation is reflected by the number of enemies you have made. I think otherwise. Yes, there will always be adversaries. Sometimes we need them to keep a check on our own blind spots but to me, the measure of Ian’s success is surely, the number of people he inspired.

To highlight the essence of a man who stirred the imagination of so many and who certainly stirred mine, I would like to read from a letter he wrote to me in September, 1995. He was on a safari with two American friends in the Savuti Channel of northern Botswana. I was preparing to travel to that same country to meet with the late John Hardbattle, an eloquent and handsome half Bushman campaigner and director of the First People’s Trust in Botswana.
“ … a short note to welcome you to the last remaining piece of God’s country. Ian Michler told me that you may be seeing John Hardbattle. It appears he is having a struggle to ensure settlement rights for the poor remaining Bushmen. I will be in London next month (if I survive the anopheles and the glossinia morsitans who have fed grandly upon me).” I will be staying with Laurens van der Post so will mention it to him too, but Hardbattle should write to him and ask him to take the matter up with the Botswana ambassador in the UK.” He continued “It is grotesque that in 1995 the poor bloody Bushmen should have no rights at all. I feel for them as I do for St Lucia too, our species seems hell bent on destroying everything that is wild.” He signed off … “yours, Madolo.”

Let us have a closer look at that letter for within it, I believe are the essential ingredients of the man. It begins … welcome to the last remaining piece of God’s country. Stay with the words “the last remaining piece …” Significantly influenced by the writings of the American naturalists Henry Thoreau , John Muir and particularly, Aldo Leopold, he too was gripped by a chronic nostalgia for the vanishing wild areas of the world … he took it personally. It was Jim Feely who introduced Ian to the writings of Leopold and a quote from the latter follows:
“One of the penalties of a sound environmental education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on Nature is quite invisible to laypersons. We must either harden our shells and make believe that we can do nothing with what we know, or we must be doctors who see the marks of death in a society that believes well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

Ian chose the latter. He simply refused to believe that we can do nothing with what we know, or better still … that he could do nothing. Instead, he raged. He gave a damn! This is a leadership quality and unless we forget, rage is a hard-wired emotion in the brains of all vertebrates. He never apologised for what he was occasionally accused of – his emotional stand on environmental issues. “Dammit!” he would say, “Environmental issues are emotional issues!”
His reference to God’s country in that opening sentence of the letter was not a cliché and neither was it figurative. He meant it. God’s country in this instance, was not a reference confined to the wild expanses of Botswana, but to his conviction of the presence of God in Nature. It is in this regard that he echoes the persuasions of John Muir who said “the best place to discover the true attributes of deity was in Nature.” If Muir was committed to immersing in mountain baptism everyone he could, then Ian Player was a kindred spirit, committed to exposing as many as possible to the healing significance of wilderness. If the conservation of South Africa’s wild life was to make any sense to the general public, he was convinced that the best way to do it was to give individuals a direct experience of wilderness. Ahead of his time, he believed that environmental issues would inevitably become leadership issues. It was on this premise that he founded the Wilderness Leadership School. Fifty years on, more than 40,000 young men and women of all ages and cultures have been on a Wilderness Leadership School trail. For many, these trails were life-changing.

The wilderness, in effect, was a sacred place … a church without dogma, an inner and an outer journey, a space in which, if you were open to it, you could hear “that still, small voice” of God. However, it was not without structure. A certain discipline was required. The trail would be no less than four nights in the wild. This was the necessary time for participants to shed urban personas and routines. No watches or time keepers were permitted. Without them, you learned to pay attention to Nature’s timekeepers … sunrises, sunsets, the changing positions of the stars and not least the diurnal variations of animal activity and bird calls. The rituals were simple but profoundly meaningful … walking in silence … story telling around the fire and then, the unforgettable night watch, each trailist taking turns to be alone, to stay awake, to keep the fire burning, to keep watch over your companions and to be alert to potential nocturnal threats from curious or hungry animals.

Returning to the letter … I will be in London next month (if I survive the anopheles and the glossinia morsitans who have fed grandly upon me).”
Referring to the malaria mosquito and to the tsetse fly, it was a small reminder of his immense knowledge of the bush and of animal behaviour. It was part of his credibility as a conservationist. He knew the Latin names.

Urging John Hardbattle to contact Laurens van der Post in order to involve the Botswana ambassador was a reflection of how important political clout was in his own campaigns. And it didn’t matter who the politicians were. The wilderness took priority over political leanings. Like the rhino that he championed, Ian was politically thick skinned but not as short sighted. He was a strategist of note.

That he felt for the plight of the Bushmen in the same way as he felt for St Lucia … that our species seems hell bent on destroying everything that is wild says everything about his compassion and rage against the loss of the wild geographies of human identity … that the much vaunted economic model of political decision making can be trumped by the notion that there are some things that are simply not for sale.

Finally, he signed his name “Madolo”, the Nguni name for knee. As a young boy, a post -injury, septic arthritis resulted in a disfiguring adjustment to the shape and function of his right knee. It may have put an end to any dreams of success on rugby and cricket fields, but it did not dampen his determination to overcome his handicap. Instead, he turned to canoeing. One can only wonder how much his attitude to that injury fuelled his attitude to life in general and to the fight for wilderness in particular. Last week I asked my Xhosa–speaking domestic worker what it meant to be given the Nguni name for a knee. She did not hesitate in replying. “It means that the person is down to Earth”, she said … “that he knows how to kneel … that he knows what it means to pray.” I believe this says so much about him. The battle for the future of wilderness is in the balance. It is time to pray.

In 1999, I wrote this poem … it is dedicated to him:

Have we forgotten
that wilderness is not a place,
but a pattern of soul
where every tree, every bird and beast
is a soul maker?

Have we forgotten
that wilderness is not a place
but a moving feast of stars,
scales, footprints and beginnings?

Since when
did we become afraid of the night
and that only the bright stars count
or that our moon is not a moon
unless it is full?

By whose command
were the animals,
through groping fingers,
one for each hand
reduced to the big and the little five?

Have we forgotten
that every creature is within us,
carried by tides of earthly blood
and that we named them?

Have we forgotten
that wilderness is not a place
but a season
and that we are in its final hour?

Farewell Madolo. You were a man of courage, discipline, loyalty, commitment … and compassion. You will be missed. Your legacy is in good hands.