Grandfather Africa

Tatamkulu Afrika translates from Xhosa as Grandfather Africa.  It is the nom de plume of Mogamed Fu’ad Nasif who was born in Egypt on this day in 1920.  His initial publications were under what he called his Methodist name; John Carlton.  This was the name given to him by his Foster parents in South Africa after his Egyptian father and Turkish mother died of the flu.

That would have been the global pandemic Spanish flu which took people in the prime of their lives and left behind the aged and infirm and the small children.

He went back to the land of his birth in WW2 and fought in the North African campaign, was captured in Tobruk.

After the war he moved to South West Africa, now modern Namibia, and became Jozua Joubert when fostered by an Afrikaans family.

In 1964 he converted to Islam and became Ismail Joubert.

He moved to Cape Town and was active in protests against the whitewashing of District 6 under the apartheid regime.  His Egyptian/Turkish heritage permitted Joubert to classify as a white.  He refused.

Grandfather Africa was given to him as an honorific, as the Indians named Mohandas Gandhi “Bapu” and “Mahatma”.  But he was not the pacifist the Indian was.  He was imprisoned along side Prisoner 46664 for 11 years for terrorism, so maybe we should say that his was a Chimurenga name?

Egypt, Libya, Namibia and South Africa, the name fits.

afrika1

 

Nothing’s Changed; by Tatamkulu Afrika

Small round hard stones click
under my heels,
seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds
into trouser cuffs, cans,
trodden on, crunch
in tall, purple-flowering,
amiable weeds.

of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.

Brash with glass,
name flaring like a flag,
it squats
in the grass and weeds,
incipient Port Jackson trees:
new, up-market, haute cuisine,
guard at the gatepost,
whites only inn.

No sign says it is:
but we know where we belong.

I press my nose
to the clear panes, know,
before I see them, there will be
crushed ice white glass,
linen falls,
the single rose.

Down the road,
working man’s cafe sells
bunny chows.
Take it with you, eat
it at a plastic table top,
wipe your fingers on your jeans,
spit a little on the floor:
it’s in the bone.

I back from the glass,
boy again,
leaving small, mean O
of small, mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing’s changed.

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Montgisard

Schlacht_von_Montgisard_2

The Battle of Montgisard, 1177, by Charles Philippe Larivière

In the film “Kingdom of Heaven” the masked Baldwin IV, dying of leprosy, reminisces on a great victory in battle when he was only 16 years old.  That victory was genuine.  It was the battle of Montgisard, on this day in the year 1177.

Saladin led his Mameluke army from Egypt to attack a Crusader Castle, possibly Blanchegarde on Tell es-Safi near Ramla.

Baldwin IV, king of Jerusalem,  Raynald of Châtillon, Bailan of Ibelin and the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Odo de St Amand all featured and you will hear these names bandied about in the movie, but beware the poetic licence taken by Ridley Scott with the characters.

The truth is that an outnumbered army of Christian knights prevailed and drove Saladin out of the Holy Land.  Saladin returned to Egypt with only one tenth of his force.  It was a disastrous defeat for him.

It took ten years for Saladin to get his revenge at the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187.

Unpicking the details it seems that Saladin sent a detachment of his forces to bottle Baldwin up in Ashkelon and mistakenly thought he had neutralised that threat.  Believing himself in control Saladin permitted his forces to break up to pillage the country and forage for supplies.  Recent rains caused a stream to flood and his baggage train became enmired in the crossing.

When the Christian knights appeared the Mameluke army was in disarray.  Many of them charged back to the baggage train to retrieve weapons.  The Christian army brought out the relic of the true cross.  Baldwin IV dismounted and prayed before it for strength from God.  He rose to the accolade of his troops, his leprosy bandaged, and charged the Muslim army.  Saladin, it is said, escaped only because he had a racing camel at his disposal.

The Crusaders; by Edward George Dyson

What price yer humble, Dicko Smith,
in gaudy putties girt,
with sand-blight in his optics, and much
leaner than he started,
round the ‘Oly Land cavorting in three-
quarters of a shirt,
and imposin’ on the natives ez one Dick
the Lion ‘Earted?

We are drivin’ out the infidel, we’re hittin’
up the Turk,
same ez Richard slung his right across the
Saracen invader
in old days of which I’m readin’. Now
we’re gettin’ in our work,
‘n’ what price me nibs, I ask yeh, ez a
qualified Crusader!

‘Ere I am, a thirsty Templar in the fields of
Palestine,
where that hefty little fighter, Bobby
Sable, smit the heathen,
and where Richard Coor de Lion trimmed
the Moslem good ‘n’ fine,
‘n’ he took the belt from Saladin, the
slickest Dago breathin’.

There’s no plume upon me helmet, ‘n’ no red
cross on me chest,
‘n’ so fur they haven’t dressed me in a
swanking load of metal;
We’ve no ‘Oly Grail I know of, but we do
our little best
with a jamtin, ‘n’ a billy, ‘n’ a battered
ole mess kettle.

Quite a lot of guyver missin’ from our brand
of chivalry;
We don’t make a pert procession when
we’re movin’ up the forces;
We’ve no pretty, pawin’ stallion, ‘n’ no
pennants flowin’ free,
‘n’ no giddy, gaudy bedquilts make a
circus of the ‘orses.

We ‘most always slip the cattle ‘n’ we cut out
all the dog
when it fairly comes to buttin’ into battle’s
hectic fever,
goin’ forward on our wishbones, with our
noses in the bog,
‘n’ we ‘eave a pot iv blazes at the cursed
unbeliever.

Fancy-dress them old Crusaders wore,
and alwiz kep’ a band.
What we wear’s so near to nothin’ that it’s
often ‘ardly proper,
and we swings a tank iv iron scrap across
the ‘Oly Land
from a dinkie gun we nipped ashore the
other side of Jopper.

We ain’t ever very natty, for the climate here
is hot;
When it isn’t liquid mud the dust is thicker
than the vermin.
Ten to one our bold Noureddin is some wad-
dlin’ Turkish pot,
‘n’ the Saladin we’re on to is a snortin’
red-eyed German.

But be’old the eighth Crusade, ‘n’ Dicko
Smith is in the van,
Dicko Coor de Lion from Carlton what
could teach King Dick a trifle,
for he’d bomb his Royal Jills from out his
baked-pertater can,
or he’d pink him full of leakage with a
quaint repeatin’ rif1e.

We have sunk our claws in Mizpah, and
Siloam is in view.
By my ‘alidom from Agra we will send the
Faithful reelin’!
Those old-timers botched the contract, but we
mean to put it through.
Knights Templars from Balmain, the Port,
Monaro, Nhill, andl Ealin’.

We ‘are wipin’ up Jerus’lem; we were ready
with a hose
spoutin’ lead, a dandy cleaner that you bet
you can rely on;
And Moss Isaacs, Cohn, and Cohen, Moses,
Offelbloom ‘n’ those
can all pack their bettin’ bags, and come
right home again to Zion.

 

Cavafy Birthday

Cavafy

Born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek parents on this day in 1863 Constantine Peter Cavafy is 100 and a half years older than me.  Below is a poem inspired by the Odyssey an enduringly favourite theme of mine.  It reads a little clunky because of course it is a translation from the Greek.

The theme is important and a lesson in a philosophy for life.  All life is a journey to a destination, the ultimate destination.  Make sure you stop and listen to the birds, smell the roses along the way.  Don’t rush headlong into your coffin and then complain that you missed out.

Ithaca; by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaca
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raises them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy –
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithacas mean.

Ship of Death

Schooner

Here is a verse composed by Henry Van Dyke Jr “For Katrina’s Sundial”

Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not

There is a huge bank of sundial poetry and mottoes.  Many of the epigrams are in latin.  Most are about time, how we use it, how short it is, how our lives are fleeting things.  I also like this poem from Van Dyke where he uses the ship as a metaphor for the life of a person.   Ships as symbols for death are not uncommon.  Perhaps the clearest examples we have are from Pharaonic and Viking burials.  I attach a couple of good examples at the bottom.

Van Dyke was born on November 10th, so I am belatedly wishing him a happy birthday.

 

 

Gone from my sight: by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone’

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me – not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, ‘There, she is gone,’
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying…

Death comes in its own time, in its own way.
Death is as unique as the individual experiencing it.

 

Khufu

Model of the Khufu Solar Barge found in his tomb.

 

Viking ship, Oseberg, a 9th century burial ship, Vikingskiphuset (Viking Ship Museum), Bygdoy peninsula, Oslo, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe

The Oseberg Burial Longboat

Air crash investigation

Today an Egypt Air flight went missing on its journey from Paris to Cairo.  We now presume it is in the sea.  “Experts” suspect a terrorist act.  It is unlikely to be a story with a happy ending.  I could go on a rant about terrorism, the pointlessness of causing random death, the theft of lives.  I could, but it would be just as pointless.  It amounts to nothing more than slactivism.

So instead I’ll give you a poem about drowning which I find very funny in a black kind of way.  Life is too short for misery and moaning.  Laughing feels better.  Laugh in adversity.  Laugh at the absurdity of the small mindedness of those who believe that their murder death kill will make any difference to the flight of a swallow.

 

This is a photograph of me: by Margaret Atwood

It was taken some time ago
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.

but if you look long enough
eventually
you will see me.)

Human Sacrifice

Human-Sacrifice

Yesterday morning I came across an interesting study which shows that the practice of human sacrifice is more prevalent in highly stratified societies.  Study on Human Sacrifice

In equal societies people tend to work together for the good of the commune.  Where a society develops a ruling class the position of that class is maintained by the labour of the low status individuals.  In many societies the position of the ruling class is supported by organised religion.  One facet of this religion is the act of human sacrifice.

The victims of sacrifice tend to be those from the lowest strata of society, especially slaves or captives.

There is a positive counter argument to all of this.  A highly stratified society is one that can be planned.  Specialist workers can be supported by the labour of the peasant class.  As a result you can have architects, scribes, taxation etc and build a civilization.

The greatest monuments ever constructed by mankind were the products of civilizations that were highly stratified.  Mesopotamian ziggurats, pyramids in Egypt, central America and Cambodia, Harappan step wells etc.  In one sense the subjugation of a peasant class was a pre-requisite for the creation of civilization.  Human sacrifice as a religious act is simply one mechanism for protecting the position of the ruling class.

It is interesting to look at the modern workplace and observe the stratification that exists.  Serfs, peasants and slaves have been replaced with minimum wage workers on zero hours contracts, or unpaid interns.  Partners in law and accounting firms and senior medical consultants all earn large salaries by harnessing the work of their juniors.  What are the modern equivalents of human sacrifice?  Workplace references?

*Spoiler Alert:  Walking Dead Season 6 Finale*

Last night in the Walking Dead we were finally introduced to the character called Negan, leader of the Saviours.  In his speech to Rick Negan laid out all the elements of the new world order.  And it sounds very much like Bronze Age civilization.

The Saviours are a warrior class.  Like the Spartans of ancient Greece they specialize in fighting and killing.  Like the people of the “Iron Isles” from Game of Thrones their motto could be “we do not sow”.

The Saviours need food to survive, but farming is hard work.  So they are outsourcing the farming to a new peasant class.  The peasants need only sufficient weapons to protect themselves from the walkers.  Negan will round up all their projectile weapons and leave them with only knives and spears.

This further cements the position of the Saviours as the warrior elite, as they become the only ones with guns.

Finally, to cement his position of absolute control, Negan practices Human Sacrifice.  It is a raw and powerful demonstration of the mechanism that underlies the academic study into sacrifice in Pacific Island societies.  We see them engage in a manhunt with fatal consequences.  At the end of the episode Negan practices a highly ritualised form of sacrifice.  He has named his weapon, a common feature of bronze age warrior societies.  The demonstration of raw power is aimed not at Rick and his group, but rather at the Saviours themselves.

Of course the question everyone is asking……who did he choose?  Season 7 bait!

Seizing the advantage

Vespasian

Dec 20th 69 AD Vespasian entered Rome as Emperor.  When I look at his face I see a jocular and human person, not an emperor on an ivory tower.  A plain man, with a face engraved with the worries and cares of normal life.  The blunt face of a plain man, a soldier, a man of the people.

In truth he was a brilliant military commander.  He had a track record of military success in Britain under Claudius, followed by the subjugation of Judea.

After Emperor Nero committed suicide followed the “Year of the Four Emperors” as one candidate after the other vied for control of Rome.  Galba was defeated by Otho who was ousted by Vitellius.  Vitellius held Rome with the cream of the Roman legions from the Gallic and German frontiers.

This is when Vespasian demonstrated his keen mind for politics and economics.  Instead of marching on Rome he moved on Egypt.  This was the breadbasket of the Roman world, providing the grain supply that kept ordinary Romans fed and happy.

With the food supply in his control he was able to broker alliances with the former supporters of Otho.  He added the Syrian legions to those he controlled in Judea.  He then assembled favourable religious omens, prophesies and portents to support his claim before moving on Vitellius.

Vespasian was also a marketing genius.  He understood the power of branding, placing the name on the world famous “Flavian Amphitheater” which is today better known as the Colosseum.

The name “Colosseum” actually referred to a giant bronze statue which stood in front of the Amphitheater.  Originally a statue of Emperor Nero, and modeled on the “Colossus of Rhodes” one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  The Colossus of Rome was almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.  Over time it was re-purposed to represent other emperors, and to represent the Greek Sun God Helios.