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Story Excerpt:


Dorothy Winterman's "African Amazon" outfit

It is day 15 of our arduous journey through the veldts of Nigeria (or are we in Cameroon yet?). Our tracker Adeola has discovered new tracks and scraps of fibers from obviously foreign cloths. She can find a single iguana track amongst a bevy of crocodiles, this one can. We listen intently that these “men” are probably several hours, if not a day away. We find evidence of them through their encampments, their excrement and their litter. Yes, litter. Can you imagine- these foreigners, these soldiers, these baby snatching, people annihilating, genocidal rapists also throw their unwanted refuse upon our beautiful, sacred ground. Well if you can march hordes of innocent groups of human beings to ships waiting to whisk them away to be enslaved, massacred and destroyed in a whole different place on this globe, throwing down unwanted garbage must not mean much. I guess it truly lies in one’s perspective, does it not?

I think to myself, “Did I travel back in time for this?”

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A portrait of Malik Ambar signed by Hashem (C 1624-25); photo courtesy V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; A painting showing Jehangir shooting arrows into the severed head of Malik Ambar signed by Abul-Hasan (C 1616), © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (www.cbl.ie)

Earlier this year, my attention was drawn to a discussion on ‘India’s Elite Africans' held at the University of London:
“The dispersion of Africans is generally associated with slavery and the slave trade. Most Afro-Asians have been written out of history. Within this scenario, how was it possible for Africans to rule parts of Asia, not just for a few years but for three and a half centuries? Three scholars will address this issue and consider the current status of Elite Africans in India today.”

Due to my interest in Afro-Asian history, I know of relations between India and Eastern African states and kingdoms in history; however, I remained largely ignorant of elite Africans in Indian history. Malik Ambar is perhaps one of the most well-known Elite Africans due in part to his important role in Ahmadnagar history and to standing up to the Mughals.

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Alfons Mucha's Salammbo (1896). Click for source.

Salammbô was created by Gustave Flaubert and appeared in Salammbô (1862). Flaubert (1821-1880) is one of the major writers of the 19th century. Although he is best known for Madame Bovary he has a respectable body of work, from short stories to dramas. His work is generally placed in the realist genre, but his skill as a stylist and technician is far above most of the other realists. Salammbô is one of the two or three greatest historical romances of the 19th century.

Salammbô is the story of Carthage in 237 B.C.E, during the mercenary rebellion described by the Greek historian Polybius in his History. The novel is not really about Salammbô, who is the priestess of Tanit, the moon, and is the daughter of the mighty general Hamilcar Barca.Salammbô is about the mercenary rebellion itself. Salammbô only appears as a subplot, albeit a compelling one and one which Flaubert himself saw as important to the novel.

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Vlisco model. Click for source.

“A picture of a pipe isn't necessarily a pipe, an image of “African fabric” isn't necessarily authentically [and wholly] African”.

These above words are quoted by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian-British contemporary artist known for his amazing artwork using African print fabrics in his scrutiny of colonialism and post-colonialism. What is commonly known as “African fabric” goes by a multitude of names: Dutch wax print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Dutch Hollandais. I grew up calling them ankara and although they've always been a huge symbol of my Nigerian and African identity, I had no idea of the complex and culturally diverse history behind the very familiar fabrics until I discovered Yinka Shonibare and his art.

I know I personally felt shocked upon learning that the “African” fabrics I grew up loving and admiring were not really “African” in their origins (or is it?). This put things in perspective, however, as it suddenly made sense that my mother's friends regularly travelled to European countries, including Switzerland and England, to purchase these fabrics and expensive laces to sell them again in Nigeria. In an attempt to join this lucrative business, my mother once dragged me with her to a fabric store while on holiday in London. I was not 13 years old then and I recall being surprised to find such familiar fabrics on sale outside Nigeria. Regardless, I never imagined that the history of this African fabric, henceforth referred to as Dutch wax print, spanned over centuries, across three continents and bridging various power structures.

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Cahina was created by Leo Charles Dessar and appears in A Royal Enchantress (1900). Dessar (1847-1924) was a New York judge who was a part of the corrupt Tammany Hall political system.

There was a real Cahina (alternatively, “Kahena” or “Kahina”), a Queen of the Berbers in the 7th and 8th Century C.E. who fought against the Muslim invasion. Gibbons wrote about her in Volume 2, Chapter 514 of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
The Greeks were expelled, but the Arabians were not yet masters of the country. In the interior provinces the Moors or Berbers, so feeble under the first Caesars, so formidable to the Byzantine princes, maintained a disorderly resistance to the religion and power of the successors of Mohammed. Under the standard of their queen Cahina the independent tribes acquired some degree of union and discipline; and as the Moors respected in their females the character of a prophetess, they attacked the invaders with an enthusiasm similar to their own. The veteran bands of Hassan were inadequate to the defence of Africa: the conquests of an age were lost in a single day; and the Arabian chief overwhelmed by the torrent, retired to the confines of Egypt, and expected, five years, the promised succours of the caliph. After the retreat of the Saracens, the victorious prophetess assembled the Moorish chiefs, and recommended a measure of strange and savage policy.

"Our cities," said she, "and the gold and silver which they contain, perpetually attract the arms of the Arabs. These vile metals are not the objects of our ambition; we content ourselves with the simple productions of the earth. Let us destroy these cities; let us bury in their ruins those pernicious treasures; and when the avarice of our foes shall be destitute of temptation, perhaps they will cease to disturb the tranquility of a warlike people." The proposal was accepted with unanimous applause. From Tangier to Tripoli the buildings, or at least the fortifications, were demolished, the fruit trees were cut down, the means of subsistence were extirpated, fertile and populous garden was changed into desert, and the historians of a more recent period could discern the frequent traces of the prosperity and devastation of their ancestors. Such is the tale of the modern Arabians.


In the foreword to A Royal Enchantress Dessar wrote that he was struck by Gibbon’s passage: “the meager account of this beautiful Prophetess Queen of the Berbers was inspiring, yet irritating: it suggested so much, yet told so little.” From this Dessar spun an entertaining historical fantasy.

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Note from Ay-leen: This essay is cross-posted from Eccentric Yoruba's Dreamwidth journal and describes the story of the international slave trade from a unique vantage point: where historical hardship becomes a tourist commodity at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.


The canopy walkways of Kakum National Park

There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. "Are you scared?" one of the men-- presumably a safety guide--asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.

"Yes, I am absolutely frightened," I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, "You're lying." In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: "We'll soon reach the end." I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I'd heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn't ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia



Ayesha was created by H. Rider Haggard and appeared in She: A History of Adventure (in The Graphic, Oct. 1886 to January 1887, and then as a novel in 1887), Ayesha: The Return of She (1905), She and Allan (1921), and Wisdom’s Daughter(1923). Haggard (1856-1925) was a prolific, popular, and influential novelist whose works are still read for pleasure today.



She: A History of Adventure is about Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed, the Queen of the Amahagger people of Africa. Centuries ago Ayesha (pronounced “ASH-sha”), then the “mighty Queen of a savage people,” met and fell in love with Kallikrates, an Egyptian priest who had fled Egypt with his love, the Princess Amenartas. Kallikrates would not leave Amenartas, however, and the enraged Ayesha kills Kallikrates. The pregnant Amenartas flees, but the heartbroken Ayesha remains, mourning Kallikrates and waiting for him to return. Amenartas meanwhile charges her descendants with avenging Kallikrates’ death. She takes place in the modern day as Cambridge Don L. Horace Holly and his adopted son Leo Vincey discover that Leo is the descendant of Amenartas. Holly does not initially believe it, but Leo does, and the pair travel to Africa, accompanied by their servant Job, to find the truth behind the story.



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Note: This is the final segment in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba about Ancient Africa & China, cross-posted with her permission. Also, check out parts 1, 2, and 3.


Monument of Zheng He located in the Stadthuys, Melaka, Malaysia. Click for source.

Zheng He’s 7th expedition was his last and after years of moving back and forth between the East African coast and China, all contact ceased. Some people may look at this and say that the Chinese turned their backs on Africa, but if you look at the situation within China in that time, it sheds more light on this situation.
In 1424, the Yongle Emperor died. His successor, the Hongxi Emperor (reigned 1424–1425), decided to curb the influence at court. Zheng He made one more voyage under the Xuande Emperor (reigned 1426–1435), but after that Chinese treasure ship fleets ended. Zheng He died during the treasure fleet’s last voyage.

…Chinese merchants continued to trade in Japan and southeast Asia, but Imperial officials gave up any plans to maintain a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and even destroyed most of the nautical charts that Zheng He had carefully prepared. The decommissioned treasure ships sat in harbors until they rotted away, and Chinese craftsmen forgot the technology of building such large vessels. (Source)
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Note: This is the second in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Here are parts 1 and 2. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.

 




The Ming Dynasty's fleet of giant ships predates the Columbus expedition across the Atlantic. Photograph of the display in the China Court of the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Click for more info.

In 1414 a Chinese fleet heralded by the Muslim Grand Eunuch of the Three Treasures, Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) sailed into the western Indian Ocean for the fourth time since his journey to the East began in 1405. In previously, that is between 1405 and 1414, Zheng He and his ships had reached the ports of Indonesia, south-west India and Ceylon. However, the trip in 1414 was special because the fleet was advancing into more distant regions beyond South Asia and the Arabian Gulf and in the process, covering a larger total of water than any seafaring people had before.

Zheng He is frequently referred to as the Chinese Columbus and today he has become the personification of maritime endeavour for China. I am personally not fond of this comparison between Zheng He and Columbus; Zheng He was much cooler they shouldn’t even be compared. They are not on the same level in terms of their maritime adventures. Really to me calling Zheng He the Chinese Columbus actually dims his shine.

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Note: This is the second in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Part 1 is here. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.





Tao Xian purchasing Mo He." Ink sketch by Chen Xu





Kundun Servants as Magical Knight-Errants & Slaves




In my previous post I mentioned that I had read somewhere that two slaves given as gifts to the a Chinese Emperor by an Arab delegation were the first Africans to enter ancient China. This may have been wrong really because dark-skinned people were talked in China as early as the 4th century. They were referred to as kunlun, a term which had many previous meanings but by the 4th century was at attached to the people with dark skin.



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Note: This is the first in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.


"Comprehensive map of the Four Seas (Si Hai Zong Tu)". A copy of an ancient Chinese explorer map that had survived to the 17th century and found in the 1730 book “Records of Sights and Sounds of Overseas States” (Haiguo Jianwen Lu) authored by Chen Lunjiong"

Last year while I was researching for my dissertation, I came across a footnote that mentioned that the first Africans who reached ancient China (the particular period was not specified) were two slaves given as gifts to the Emperor by an envoy of Arab traders. I found myself wondering what happened to them, were the slaves male or female, were they killed immediately or did they go on to serve the Emperor, did they have children (it was possible!) etc.

It keeps on popping up, one or two sentences or a footnote that quickly says something about Africans in ancient China, whether in Peking or Canton but there is never enough information. To be honest I’d like to know more. If I could, I’d travel back in time just to see the daily lives of those Africans in ancient China. I’ve read that most of them were slaves of Arab traders and lived among the Arab settlements in Canton…things will become clearer from here on, I promise.

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For the last post of the year, I'm enjoying a post-holiday recoup and a some good steampunky links. Featuring some oldies but goodies, great vids, the launch of SteamCast in Brazil, and pretty steampunk art after the jump.

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Modern day dandies--Gentlemen of Bakongo, Brazzaville. Click for link.



Dandyism and the Black Man



A dandy is a man who places extreme importance on physical appearance and refined language. It is very possible that dandies have existed for as long as time itself. According to Charles Baudelaire, 19th century French poet and dandy himself, a dandy can also be described as someone who elevates aesthetics to a religion.



In the late 18th and early 19th century Britain, being a dandy was not only about looking good but also about men from the middle class being self-made and striving to emulate an aristocratic lifestyle. The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of literature's greatest dandies; famous historical dandies include Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron.



These days the practice of dandyism also includes a nostalgic longing for ideals such as that of the perfect gentleman. The dandy almost always required an audience and was admired for his style and impeccable manners by the general public.



The special relationship between black men and dandyism arose with slavery in Europe particularly during England's Enlightenment period. In early 18th century, masters who wanted their slaves to reflect their social stature imposed dandified costumes on black servants, effectively turning them into 'luxury slaves'. As black slaves gained more liberty, they took control of the image by customising their dandy uniforms and thereby creating a unique style. They transformed from black men in dandy clothing to dandies who were black.

Click to read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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Steampunk can be very much a “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” sort of thing, as The Doctor would say. History can be re-written, new paths explored, inventions changed or inverted or perhaps, never discovered at all. While exploring these possibilities of incorporating the non-West into steampunk, it can be more complex than making everything rusted over, but set in Zimbabwe, or building a steam energy plant in Thailand. A creator should also consider the effect of the environment and cultural social norms when also addressing how steampunk technologies evolve and impact that world.



Virtuoso is one fine example of a work that considers these questions when building a steampunk world. Set in a African-inspired, matriarchal society, this comic has already gotten loads of attention because of its wonderful Art Nouveau style; what is fascinating to me is how Virtuoso is very steampunk but also firmly rooted in a world independent of the West.



Jon Munger and Krista Brennan, the creative duo behind this comic, took some time to discuss the intricacies behind Virtuoso, plus much more.



Read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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This weekend, I'm rockin' it out at New York Comic Con. I'm there mostly doing the Day Job thing, unfortunately (though, if I can, I might wear my steampunk for Sunday.)

For anyone who manages to recognize me in my civvies, though, you'll probably end up being filmed or photographed, if you're looking fabulous and want to flaunt it.

In the meantime, enjoy the linkspam below. This edition features lots of interesting essays, some awesome postcards, and a video of my interview with Cherie Priest.

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My work also looks at the ideals of beauty and femininity represented by examples of privileged members of society, and the aspirations of the less fortunate women to be like them. - Mary Sibande (source)



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Sometimes They Fight Back:
A Book Review of Little Bighorn and Isandlwana: Kindred Fights, Kindred Follies



The reign of Queen Victoria, 1838-1900, was a time in which the world witnessed one of the most blatant phases of colonialism. Issues concerning empire were debated throughout British society, and the nations of Europe and North America instilled systems of vicious colonial rule over most of the third world. At the same time, in the United States, both civilians and armies were heading west and engaged in several wars with the Indian nations of the plains. This would be the final stage of almost three hundred years of armed conflict between the indigenous of North America, and the settlers who came to their land.

The view of stable colonial rule was interrupted every now and then with uprisings by “the natives”. These attacks were usually put down and “stable rule” re-imposed; however, there were a few moments when superior armies with all the training and knowledge of western civilization were beaten back by the “savages”. It is with these moments in mind that you should all read Paul William’s Little Bighorn and Isandlwana: Kindred Fights, Kindred Follies.

Read the rest on BeyondVictoriana.
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This weekend I'll be at ConnectiCon instigating havoc with my steampunk friends and helping out with several panels. On top of that, "Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana" is making a comeback! I'm wicked excited to be presenting this panel again. For all attendees, feel free to stop in--

Saturday, July 10th
7:30 - 8:30 PM
Room Location: Check your schedules


And for those of you in the area, I will also be at the Steampunk Bizarre on Sunday for the steampunk meet-up. There should be some nifty artists presenting their work, so I hope to see some of you there.

In the meantime, check out the collection of links for your viewing/reading pleasure.

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Soldier II



"What I try to get behind is why it is so difficult for people to change from their old ways. It hasn't worked out the way I imagined. People who thought they were superior before haven't really changed. I try to find out through studying history what gives people the right to think that way. I try to find a solution, not to be disappointed, to reach an understanding." - Willie Bester (source)


Junk art á la Mad Max takes steampunk one step away from Victoriana elegance and optimistic gaslamp cheer and one madcap dive bomb toward the realm of the dystopian. The gritty, industrial sense of steampunk isn't seen in much art other than the tastefully rusted flash drives or the gentleman hobos with their finger-less gloves and worn-edged bowler hats. But the ideas of using found materials, D.I.Y. and re-structuring trash into art fit easily within the maker and punk tenants that steampunk has acquired.

Read on beyondvictoriana.com
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

This weekend I'll be at Wicked Faire (where will YOU be?) and so here is another edition of Odds & Ends to keep you occupied in the meantime.

The Reads

I've gotten a lot of feedback from my Black Victoriana post, including these suggestions:

Black Science Fiction Society - a community dedicated to black sci-fi on Ning

Afrikan Steam/Afrosteam: an updated Tumblr link page maintained by HuemindFantastic

Also related is the self-published book Wonderdark (also available for purchase through Tumblr). It is self-described as an "Afro-Asiatic Steampunk/FaeryPunk/Afropunk meets plant-eating (and in some cases of Anansi-kind: bookeating) tradition of thought-craft and Higher-lense opting. Like just about any book kissed with Steam ethos, it's unconventional, and will not open a door for you to the usual, the 'norm'... the 'generally accepted', etc. Instead, it will open up a door in your mind to higher possibilities, the under-reported splendor of cruelty-free alts, and hope reinstilled for your inner-child that dreams emerge because they're seeking birth. It's not just your imagination... at least not in the way you might think."

Also, there is Cory Gross's presentation about Steampunk & Anime on Crunchyroll. On his blog Voyages Extraordinaire throughout the month of February, Cory is writing a series of posts about Japan during the Victorian era. Notable posts that are especially steampunky include an overview of Japanese Scientific Romances, a tour of the Studio Ghibli museum, and feature about Hayao Miyazaki's Daydream Note.

And not that we need permission from anyone to promote non-Eurocentric steampunk, but here is an observation writer Tim Ayers made about where steampunk is going that I thought was worthy of passing on.

The Buys

Now I don't want to get into the habit of promoting vendors on this blog, but I think is exception is made here for Tess Fowler, who I interviewed about her comic The Seven. Fact is, she has new shirts featuring art from the comic available for purchase on Zazzle. Go check them out!

The Pics

Here is an oldie but goodie, and a source of personal inspiration. The Coalition of Rather Unusual Denizens or C.R.U.D in California is a multiracial group of cosplayers and they all look amazing. A full album of their pictures is at photographer Ed Pingol's site.

Check them out under the cut )

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