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Cameraman tales: Rosario Casella – Libya


There once was a cameraman called Rosario Casella, an Italian, resident of Tripoli, Libya during the reign of old King Idris.

I never met him, but he freelanced for UPITN during the sixties until 1970 when, with all other Italians resident in Libya, he was expelled.

In the late 60s, he took off south into the great deserts of Libya; the Fezzan or maybe even as far as the border with Niger.

I am not sure if the main purpose of his visit was the story that arrived in London some time later or whether he went there for another purpose.

The story we received was concerning a cave dwelling family.

goat herd

goat herd (Photo credit: Malingering)

The family consisted of an old lady, her son and his wife, and their son aged around eleven. The family lived in the arid desert region with a herd of some forty goats.  The terrain was mainly rocky hills with sand covered valleys.  For most people, the daytime temperature would be quite unbearable.

They had little by way of modern conveniences.  They had basic kitchen equipment with some chipped enamel basins, some old knives and forks and a pair of rusty scissors.

From time to time, they would slaughter one of the goats to provide them with some meat.  They could not do this very often because, apparently, they had to maintain the size of the herd. The goats also provided hair from which a fabric was produced for some clothing.  In fact the family were dressed in shabby western clothing.

One assumes that they also made use of the goat skin for shoes and other accessories.

The goats would have had to forage for food, eating the rare grass and vegetation that grows in some desert regions.  They certainly would not have been overfed.

The young boy would create a personal mosque on the sandy ground, by collecting small stones of difference colour which he used to mark out the outline of the mosque.  When he had completed this ornate lay-out he would pray.

The family took Casella to where they spent their nights and some of their days. It was a huge cave in the rocks.  Once inside, Casella discovered that the walls were covered in ancient cave drawings.  He filmed them and, later, it was said that they were some 15,000 years old.  He was not able to film them well because he had insufficient light, but they could be seen well enough to know what they were.

This would not be an unusual discovery in that the presence of cave drawings, much older and much younger, are to be found throughout the region from Wadi el Kel, (About 300 miles south of Tripoli) to Tarart and right across the Fezzan..

It is something of a mystery as to how the family could have survived.  There must have been a continuous source of water, but what about foodstuffs other than their rare servings of goat meat.

In the deserts of Abu Dhabi, I witnessed, some time later, the lifestyle of the Bedouin who were allowed a ration of flour, sugar and rice.

English: King Idris I of Libya on the cover of...

King Idris of Libya on the cover of Al Iza’a Magazine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the Libyan cave people were sustained by passing tribesmen making their way from one place to another. All they would have had to trade would have been goat hair and the occasional goat skin.  In any case, they all looked well when Casella left them.

The story was issued by UPITN to its clients and it came as a surprise to many.

It seems that the Libyan Government of King Idris was not too pleased that the story had been shot and distributed.  They thought it was some kind of slur on their civilization to show people living in such conditions, however voluntary.

We never found out what prompted him to go to the deep south, in the first place, and we never knew how he got there.

Main photo by Roberto D’Angelo

© Terence Gallacher and, 2012.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For more articles in the Cameraman tales series click here.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. We are delighted to read about Rosario Casella, a wonderful man, who befriended us, when we travelled with our small son (15 month) in our VW combi all over Libya in order to write a Libya travel guide for a German publisher in June-August 1969. He helped us a lot and we have some of his postcards. He also made photos of our son Klaus at the beach of Tripoli. He also told us the story of the son of the Touareg family you mention, how he thought he was a ‘small man’ because he had never seen other children. Rosario had a good friend, Dr. Pesce, a geologist, who travelled over the sanddunes with a VW fixed with enormous wheels. Write to me and I’ll send you some of his photos:

    August 29, 2013
    • Many thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I never met Rosario Casella, but I did see the fine work that he produced. I have often wondered what happened to him and I can only assume that when Gadaffi ousted King Idris, Rosario went back to Italy either voluntarily or as the result of expulsion. I will write to you soon.

      August 30, 2013

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