19 May 2017

Aboard a Zeppelin to Africa, 1917

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 6233-6255, 6268-6280, 6300-6317, 6404-6408:
L59, pushed by a tailwind from the direction of the German Reich, rumbled south from Jamboli in the freezing dawn of November 21, 1917, at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour. The great lumbering airship cast her shadow over Adrianople in Turkey at nine forty-five a.m., and over the Sea of Marmara’s chop a short time later. At Pandena, on the southern shore, she picked up the railroad tracks to Smyrna, a steel ribbon barely visible after sunset. At seven forty p.m., L59 pulled free of the Turkish coast at the Lipsas Straits. Now the Greek Dodecanese Islands—Kos, Patmos, Rhodes—passed below, nestled like dark jewels in the black Mediterranean waters, notoriously stormy this time of year. But tonight, the Zeppelin surged forward beneath a clear sky and brilliant stars. [Lieutenant Commander Ludwig] Bockholt, who had made his life in the navy, had long ago learned to steer by them when necessary.

L59’s crew of twenty—excluding Bockholt and [medical doctor Max] Zupitza—included twelve mechanics to service the five Maybach 240-horsepower engines (one in the forward control car, two opposed on the belly one-third of the way back, and two aft, each driving a single, massive twenty-foot propeller); two “elevator operators” (the elevators, movable flaps at the tail, controlled the upward or downward incline of the nose cone); a radio operator; and a sailmaker, whose job it was to sew up tears in the muslin envelopes affixed within the belly filled with the flammable hydrogen/oxygen mixture that kept the massive airship afloat.

As in the seaborne navy, watches divided the day into four-hour increments. As L59 approached the island of Crete at eight thirty p.m., a quarter of the crew just gone off watch opened their dinnertime cans of Kaloritkon, a bizarre sort of self-heating MRE. These undigestible, oversalted tubes of potted meat literally cooked themselves via a chemical reaction when exposed to air—heating food over open flame and smoking being strictly verboten aboard the flammable airship. The Kaloritkons, which everyone hated, took much water to wash down, and water was scarce, with barely 14 liters allotted per man for the duration of the voyage. At ten fifteen p.m., L59 passed above Cape Sidero at Crete’s eastern extremity at 3,000 feet. Then the stars by which Bockholt had been guiding the Zeppelin to Africa suddenly disappeared, blotted out by a solid mass of black, churning clouds, shot through with bright veins of lightning. The Zeppelin headed into this cloud bank and, buffeted by thunderclaps and driving rain, was also suddenly consumed by a strange, vivid flame, cool to the touch, that seemed to dance across every surface of the doped canvas envelope.

“The ship’s burning!” called the top lookout—alarming, but no cause for alarm: This was St. Elmo’s fire, named after Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. Technically a luminous plasma generated by coronal discharge in an atmospheric electrical field, it burned a vivid violet-blue and, in nontechnical terms, was entirely beautiful....

At five fifteen a.m., the sun cracked the rim of earth and the huge airship passed over the African continent at Ras Bulair on the Libyan coast. Miles of desert lay ahead; no Zeppelin had flown across such a landscape before. Now the level wastes of sand and rock stretched monotonously below L59’s keel, from horizon to horizon. Soon, the sun, blazing down, began to dry her canvas skin, still drenched and heavy from the storm. The airship grew lighter as the watery sheen evaporated; lighter still as fuel consumption continued apace. Then the gas in her envelopes, expanding with the heat, blew out the automatic valves into the atmosphere and soon, L59 became dangerously light and increasingly difficult to handle. To compensate, Bockholt flew her “nose down” throughout the day, shifting 1,650 pounds of ballast aft as a counterbalance.

In the late morning, hot desert air rose in bubbles of buoyancy, alternating with heavy downdrafts of cooler air. This caused a roller-coaster effect that made most of the crew violently airsick. Even the hardened navy veterans among them, used to storms at sea, were not immune to the stomach-churning sensation of weightlessness as L59 plunged into the downdrafts and precipitously rose again. Despite all this, L59 plowed ahead and made the Farafra Oasis around noon. This incandescent patch of green slid by below, its date palms rustling in the hot wind....

Flying a Zeppelin is a difficult undertaking under the best conditions: Gas expands and contracts according to changing temperatures; lift and buoyancy fluctuate; all must be counterbalanced ceaselessly by the release of ballast water, the measured shifting of cargo, the canting of nose or tail via clumsy elevator flaps—and all this becomes doubly difficult over the desert. Bockholt had lightened his airship by 4,400 pounds of ballast in the last full heat of day and had even tossed some boxes of supplies overboard. He knew the rapidly cooling temperatures of the desert at night would contract the gas, causing the Zeppelin to sink. To counterbalance this sinking effect, he had planned to fly the ship at four degrees “nose up” on her four remaining engines.

But he had not counted on the humid, dense air of the Nile Valley. Even at 3,000 feet, ambient temperatures had reached sixty-eight degrees by ten p.m.; they rose steadily after midnight and still L59’s lift capacity gradually diminished. Finally, at three a.m., L59 began to lose altitude precipitously. The engines stalled. Forward thrust gone, the Zeppelin sank through the atmosphere from 3,100 feet to just under 1,300, not high enough to clear a looming desert escarpment; a minute later, her main radio antennae sheared off upon contact with an outcropping of red rock.

Now Bockholt ordered his crew to lighten the ship even further. With all engines stopped, 6,200 pounds of ballast and ammunition went overboard. The crew watched cases of ammunition, much needed by the Schutztruppe, shatter and explode on the ragged slopes below. But this sacrifice had its desired effect: Gradually, the sinking super Zeppelin stabilized; slowly, she rose into safer atmospheres:

“To fly steadily at 4 degrees heavy at night can easily be catastrophic, especially with sudden temperature changes in the Sudan, as at Jebel Ain,” Bockholt later confided to L59’s war diary, “particularly if the engines fail from overheating with warm outside temperatures. . . . Ship should have 3000 kg of 4 percent of her lift for each night to take care of cooling effect.”

Clearly, it was a complicated business.

L59, now less than 125 miles west of Khartoum, had two-thirds of the perilous journey behind her. But presently, to the dismay of all aboard, Bockholt turned the great airship around and pointed her nose cone due north ....

At last, at seven thirty a.m. on November 25, 1917, L59 made her docking station at Jamboli. Her mooring ropes dropped, the ground crew drew her down and walked her into the long shed. China Show had ended in failure. The twenty-two aeronauts, wobbly-legged, nearly deafened by the droning Maybachs at close quarters, stumbled down the ladders to the ground in the gray Balkan morning. They had been in the air for almost four days and had covered 4,200 air miles—the longest distance in the shortest time of any airship to date.

15 May 2017

German East Africa Import Substitutions

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 3843-3870:
The British blockade of German East Africa—challenged briefly by Königsberg before she hightailed it up the Rufiji—was nearly a complete success. Shortages of basic necessities made themselves painfully felt everywhere. The colonists soon lacked adequate supplies of soap, toothpaste, candles, fuel, beer, booze, rubber, cloth, chocolate, castor oil, and, most important, quinine, without which life in the tropics became impossible for Europeans. One or two blockade runners reached the Swahili Coast after many ha[r]dships—notably the Krönborg-Rubens and the Marie von Stettin—but these were heroic exceptions. The aim of any blockade—complete starvation of the enemy—seemed within reach of the British Royal Navy for the first few months of 1915.

Then, with the begrudging help of Governor Schnee, still stewing away at Morogoro, von Lettow organized the colony to produce some of the most needed items. German East Africa, rich in natural resources, mostly lacked the necessary infrastructure—factories, refineries, laboratories, warehouses—to turn these resources into commercial goods. But presently, the colonists took it upon themselves to manufacture a variety of products for both civilians and Schutztruppe—now reaching its peak popularity as patriotic enthusiasm, fueled by the victory at Tanga, swept the colony.

Planters’ wives revived the neglected art of spinning using native cotton; African women, given scratch-built looms, wove bolts of cloth. Between them, they more than made up for the lack of imported fabric. Leather torn from the backs of native buffalo herds and tanned using chemicals extracted from the colony’s plentiful mangrove trees got cobbled into the boots so critical for the Schutztruppe—soon to march unimaginable distances over rough landscapes, much of which could not be traversed barefoot. Candles materialized from tallow; rubber from tapped trees: carefully dripped along rope, the raw, milky stuff was then hand-kneaded into tires for GEA’s few automobiles, including von Lettow’s staff car. A kind of primitive, homemade gasoline called trebol powered these vehicles—it was a by-product of distillates of copra, which also yielded benzene and paraffin. Soap came from a combination of animal fat and coconut oil. Planters and small businessmen eventually produced 10,000 pounds of chocolate and cocoa and 3,000 bottles of castor oil. Meanwhile, new factories sprang up in Dar es Salaam to make nails and other metal goods, including some ammunition. Rope woven from pineapple fiber proved both durable and less susceptible to rot than hempen rope from Germany; cigars and cigarettes rolled from native-grown tobacco made their way into every soldier’s kit. At Morogoro and elsewhere, home brewers distilled schnapps and moonshine. The latter, at 98 proof and optimistically labeled “whiskey,” was issued to the troops as part of their basic rations.

All this ingenuity, however, would be rendered useless without quinine. Before the war, the colony had gotten its supply from distributors in the Dutch East Indies, now cut off by the blockade. Dwindling supplies meant European populations of the colony would have no defense against their greatest enemy—not the British or rebellious natives but the malaria-bearing anopheles mosquito. At von Lettow’s urging, the famous biological research center at Amani turned its chemists to developing a quinine substitute in their laboratories. The chemists researched furiously, tried formulations of this and that, and at last came up with an effective type of liquid quinine distilled from cinchona bark. Called “von Lettow schnapps” by his men, this foul-tasting, much-reviled elixir nevertheless met most of the army’s needs for the next year or so.

09 May 2017

Monitor-class Gunboats in WWI

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 4586-4635:
In 1913, the Brazilian Navy, eager to dominate the upper reaches of the Amazon, had ordered three curious, old-fashioned gunboats from the Scottish shipyards at Barrow-in-Furness. These vessels, called monitors because of their resemblance to the original ironclad warship (that “cheesebox on a raft,” the USS Monitor of the American Civil War), were little more than floating gun platforms. An unusually shallow draft of about six feet allowed the monitors to work close inshore and navigate rivers impassible to deeper-hulled warships. Their heavy armaments—two 6-inch and two 4.7-inch guns—made them formidable opponents. Indeed, these guns were as large as anything carried aboard German battle cruisers like Königsberg.

The monitors, 256 feet long and 1,256 tons unloaded, sported a single prominent funnel and an 80-foot central mainmast. Projected top speed of a painfully slow twelve knots proved much slower in practice. Each carried a minimal coal supply and so could not manage long voyages, which was just as well: Waves crashed over their narrow freeboard at stem and stern; with a direct wind from either port or starboard they wallowed and threatened to swamp—all obvious liabilities for any oceangoing vessel. But for river wars, they were just the thing.

Brazilian Navy officials eagerly awaited delivery of their new warships. They had already been christened Solomos, Madeira, and Javery and were undergoing acceptance trials when war broke out in August 1914. An ocean voyage being impossible under their own steam, the monitors would soon be towed across the Atlantic to the Amazon by oceangoing tugs. Suddenly, the Admiralty stepped in and confiscated the three ungainly vessels; their use was immediately required for Great Britain’s war against Germany and the Central Powers. The Brazilians’ reaction to this seizure must have been utter dismay: They had spent freely on lavish interior fittings and other cosmetic niceties. Indeed, the Brazilian monitors were perhaps the most luxurious naval vessels anywhere in the world.

When British officials came aboard for an inspection tour, they looked around aghast: Behind the monitors’ steel bulkheads, painted a jaunty Coast Guard white, the interiors resembled a posh gentleman’s club—or a high-class bordello: Captain’s cabin and officers’ quarters, ready room and gun room were done up in glossy oak paneling agleam with brass touches. Persian carpets decorated the decks. Blue linen tablecloths flecked with white embroidered anchors, monogrammed china, and chairs with interchangeable seats (wicker for hot weather, velvet for cold) had been specially made for the officers’ mess. Chandeliers hung from the ceilings. The British Navy inspectors allowed themselves a moment of envious awe, then took to the interior with crowbars and sledgehammers. The monitors’ gleaming white hulls—calculated to dazzle any Amazonian Indian approaching in a canoe—were immediately covered in wartime gray; any remaining brass fittings ended up a tarry black. All the luxurious accoutrements—carpets, tablecloths, interchangeable chairs—ripped out and discarded, ended up in a heap on the docks. Renamed Humber, Severn, and Mersey, the squat little ships were made ready for war.

Now dubbed the “Inshore Flotilla and Squadron,” they engaged in early action along the Belgian coast in 1914 and 1915 and played an appreciable part in the “Race to the Sea” campaign of the first weeks of the war: As trenches were dug in a frantic burst all the way across Flanders to the English Channel, the monitors lying just offshore supported the action on land with their big guns. Coming under fire from German field artillery, they sustained damage and casualties, but played their role well. Churchill credited them with preventing the fall of Calais, Dunkirk, and Boulogne and saving what was left of the Belgian Army....

Flotilla officers, an odd mix of merchant marine and naval reservists, suited their curious ships. Most, getting on in years, had already pursued a variety of nonmilitary careers—including the stage and the teaching of German to high school students —before being recalled to service in August. Captain E. J. A. Fullerton, first of Mersey, then Severn, the flotilla’s commander, had been a gym instructor at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, and had served aboard King Edward VII’s yacht, HMY Victoria and Albert, in the last days of the Belle Epoque. When promoted to captain in January 1915, he provided a pint of beer to every sailor in the flotilla for a toast to his health.

Following action in Belgian waters, the Admiralty ordered the monitors to the Dardanelles to take part in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign. There, along with several of the most obsolete vessels in the British Navy, they were to help force the straits—the goal of the campaign being the capture of Constantinople from the Turks by naval action alone. Made as seaworthy as possible, with topmast stowed and hatches battened, the monitors wallowed down the European coasts and through the Straits of Gibraltar in heavy seas, towed by their tugs at the punishingly slow speed of six knots. They arrived at Malta in March, next stop Turkey. All officers and men of the Inshore Flotilla and Squadron had been sent ahead as passengers aboard the HMS Trent.

But by this time, the Turks under the famous Mustapha Kemal—later Ataturk—with German help had sunk three British battleships off the Dardanelles and disabled three more. British Admiral John de Robeck, in charge of naval operations, abruptly called off his battered fleet, in favor of an amphibious invasion force. Now, suddenly, the monitors had become redundant. They languished in the fortified harbor at Valetta for weeks—until Admiral King-Hall, from his watch on the far-off Rufiji Station, got wind of their presence in the Mediterranean. These clumsy, powerfully armed, shallow-draft vessels might have been made expressly for his ongoing battle against Königsberg.

After some wrangling with the Admiralty, King-Hall secured the use of Mersey and Severn and their officers and crews, though not Humber. The pair of monitors, again fixed to their oceangoing tugs via steel cables, began another long journey—this time 5,000 miles across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and to the clotted, crocodile-infested channels of the Rufiji Delta.

07 May 2017

Fall of German South West Africa

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 334-359:
German South West Africa—modern-day Namibia—while not Germany’s largest African colony and arguably its least beautiful, was nonetheless the most populous, prized, and dearly won. GSWA’s flat brown, wide-open spaces were well suited to cattle ranching. About 12,000 German colonizers lived a kind of Texas life on isolated ranches, in cow towns and small cities with names like Swakopmund, Grootfontein, and Windhoek, the colonial capital, which boasted substantial half-timbered German-style buildings, beer halls, modern sanitation, electric lights. Windhoek’s powerful Telefunken wireless transmitter facility, which enabled High Command in Berlin to communicate with their commerce raiders and U-boats at sea, was the main British strategic objective in the war in GSWA.

“Coming out of the desert, Windhoek was a revelation, and a great tribute to German colonization,” commented Major Trew, when Windhoek was taken. “The government buildings are most ornate and would have done credit to any city in the world.” The town itself was dominated by an absurd replica of a traditional German castle.

Victorious British Imperial troops also found comfort in the arms of the lonely German women of Windhoek—after the manner of conquering armies from time immemorial. A charming, susslich Viennese beauty known only as Regina ran a private club for officers of the German General Staff that now, suddenly, catered to their British counterparts: Regina remained a German patriot, she insisted—never mind the fortunes of war that at the moment dictated otherwise. And she invited a bevy of similarly patriotic friends for evening dances with British officers to the music of a gramophone. They tangoed, they waltzed. Whatever else they did remains unmentioned. In exchange, Regina and her friends enjoyed the dubious benefits of British military rations and polished off their regimental champagne reserves.

After the fall of Windhoek, the rest of German South West Africa quickly succumbed to a fast-moving campaign described by the Cambridge Military History of World War One as “one of the neatest and most successful . . . of the Great War.” The Germans experienced GSWA’s loss as a painful diminishment of national pride: First because, as historian Edward Paice puts it in his monumental study, World War I: The African Front, “Africa mattered to the European powers at the beginning of the twentieth century.” And second, the British victory rendered worthless the colony’s vicious and hard-won pacification by German forces less than a decade earlier. The high cost of that pacification had been spiritual as well as physical: General Lothar von Trotha’s merciless suppression of the native Hereros would be labeled genocide by later generations—the first such charge laid at the feet of the German people in the bloody century just dawning.

Abandoned German settlements, half buried in sand, their thick plaster and brick walls pockmarked with bullet holes, can be seen in Namibia to this day, bizarrely preserved by the super-arid climate. At Riet and Pforte, Jakkalswater and Trekhopf, rust-free relics of the battles of more than 100 years ago still lie strewn across the brittle surface of the desert.

The German defeat in GSWA in 1915 had followed hard on the heels of lesser but equally painful disasters in German Togoland and the Cameroons.

06 May 2017

Rapid Fall of Germany's Overseas Empire

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 365-394:
Today, a bronze historical marker in Belgium memorializes the first British shot of World War One and the first death in battle involving British troops. According to this marker, the opening round of uncountable millions was fired by Corporal Ernest Thomas of C Squadron, 4th Royal Irish Dragoons on August 22, 1914, in a cavalry action near the town of Casteau, Belgium. The first combatant killed, a German uhlan (mounted infantryman), is credited to Captain Charles B. Hornby in that same action. Captain Hornby pierced the unfortunate uhlan’s heart by saber thrust—an ironically old-fashioned death (on horseback, with a sword) in what was to become a decidedly modern war (mechanized, faceless), its human toll exceeding 14,000,000. But the markers’ assertions do not stand historical scrutiny; their authors disregard earlier campaigns in far-off Africa.

The first British shot of the war actually occurred on August 5, fired off by Regimental Sergeant Major Alhaji Grunshi, a black African soldier serving with British Imperial forces a few miles north of Lomé, in German Togoland. The first recorded British death in battle, one Lieutenant G. M. Thompson of the Gold Coast Regiment, took place sometime over the night of August 21–22, also in Togoland: Lieutenant Thompson, given command of a company of Senegalese Tirailleurs, fought it out with German askaris in a confused action in the thick bush on the banks of the river Chra. His comrades found him in the morning, lying dead and covered with insects in the midst of his slaughtered command. They buried them that way; the Senegalese arranged around Lieutenant Thompson’s grave like a loyal pack of hounds around the tomb of a Paleolithic chief.

After less than a year of war, the German Overseas Empire—one of the main catalysts for the war in the first place—seemed nearly at an end.

In China, on the other side of the globe, the small German garrison holding the Kiao-Chow Concession found itself besieged by a Japanese Army 23,000 strong, supported by a small contingent of the 2nd Battalion of South Wales Borderers. The Concession—a 400-square-mile territory centered in the fortified port city of Tsingtao on the Yellow Sea—had been ceded to Germany in 1897 as compensation for the murder of two German Catholic priests by anti-Christian Chinese mobs. Tsingtao’s commandant, Kapitän zur See Meyer-Waldeck, held out against the siege behind the city’s thick walls for two months, under continual bombardment from land and sea as Japanese Infantry assault trenches pushed relentlessly forward. Realizing the pointlessness of further struggle against the combined might of the Japanese Army and Navy, Meyer-Waldeck surrendered his garrison of 3,000 German marines and sundry volunteers at last on November 16, 1914. It came as a surprise to him that the Japanese and the British were fighting together against Germany—they had signed a secret mutual defense treaty in 1902, only now bearing fruit.

Meanwhile, Australian, New Zealand, and Japanese forces easily captured German possessions in the South Pacific. These included the Bismarck Archipelago, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, Palau, New Caledonia, and Samoa—where the Kaiser’s barefoot native soldiers sported fetching red sarongs beneath their formal German military tunics—and Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, now the northeastern part of Papua New Guinea. Here one intrepid German officer, a certain Hauptmann Herman Detzner, who had been off exploring the unknown interior with a contingent of native police, refused to surrender and remained on the loose in the wilderness for the duration of the war. He turned himself in to the occupying Australians on January 5, 1919, wearing his carefully preserved and outdated Imperial German uniform—a kind of German Rip van Winkle who had been asleep in the jungle while the world changed irrevocably around him. By July 1915, of Germany’s prewar colonial possessions, only German East Africa remained.

01 May 2017

Decembrists as European Celebrities

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1667-1683:
Nicholas and his ministers had sought, if not the physical, then the political annihilation of the Decembrists as representatives of constitutional reform within the Russian elite. But in these terms they failed, for the story of the Decembrists’ exile to Siberia is the story of a victory snatched from defeat. Lionized by their supporters, their moral authority only grew over the course of Nicholas I’s reign and would inspire a subsequent generation of radicals after his death. In exile in London, Herzen became the leading draughtsman of the inspiring legend of the Decembrists and their wives. His journal, The Polar Star, took its name from an almanac published by the executed Decembrist poet Ryleyev, and boasted a masthead adorned with the faces of the five hanged ringleaders of the rebellion. Herzen established himself as the most influential radical intellectual of the first half of the nineteenth century and was one of the leading architects of the Russian revolutionary movement in the 1860s and 1870s. The tale he crafted of the revolutionary martyrs of 1825 went on to inspire a later generation of the autocracy’s enemies.

The Decembrists’ uprising and their exile also resonated far beyond Russia itself. In the Italian peninsula, Giuseppe Mazzini and his republican movement, Young Italy, saluted the memory of the men “who gave their lives for the liberation of the Slavic peoples, thus becoming citizens and brothers of all who struggle for the cause of Justice and Truth on earth.” The Decembrists had also blazed a trail for Polish patriots. By the end of the 1820s, republicanism in Poland, buoyed by developments elsewhere in Europe, was very much in the ascendancy. Polish rebels would look to the Decembrists’ attempt to restore “ancient Russian freedom” as a source of inspiration. The next armed challenge to Nicholas I would come not in the streets of the imperial capital, but on the westernmost periphery of his empire, in Warsaw. Siberia would beckon for the Polish rebels as it had for the Decembrists.

Russian Elites Ride into Exile, 1820s

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1518-1547:
The Decembrists’ spirits began ... to lift after they left the Urals behind. They discovered not the frozen wasteland of the Russian imagination but a beautiful and varied landscape, one in which the peasants were not oppressed by the slavery of serfdom. Basargin noted that “the further we travelled into Siberia, the more fetching it seemed in my eyes. The common people seemed freer, more lively and more educated than our Russian peasants, especially the serfs.” Such observations would feed into a growing Romantic perception among reform-minded Russians of Siberia as a democratic alternative to the rigid and suffocating hierarchies of European Russia.

Nevertheless, for all their moral torments and physical discomfort, the manner in which most Decembrists were deported to Siberia marked them out as men of exceptional status. First, they rode in wagons, rather than walked, something quite unimaginable for the thousands of exiles who made the arduous journey over the Urals every year in the 1820s. Officials and convoy soldiers were also unsure of how to treat their eminent charges. Even if they had been “deprived of all rights and privileges,” the Decembrists were still identical in language, bearing and manners to their superiors. As Zavalishin observed, “everywhere we went, we were called princes and generals … many, wishing to satisfy both the rules of our current status and their desire to show us respect, addressed themselves to us as ‘Your former Highness, Your former Excellency.’” The guards’ hesitant enforcement of the strict rules meticulously laid out by government ministers was rendered all the more confused by favours the Decembrists themselves purchased through bribes. Alexander Benckendorff, the head of Nicholas I’s Third Section, which had been established to combat sedition in the wake of the Decembrist Revolt, learned that the initial two groups of exiles “were wining and dining” en route and plying their convoy soldiers and gendarmes with food and drink. Obolensky was permitted to write to his wife and Davydov was allowed to shave. The Decembrists were expressly forbidden from riding in their own carriages but, armed with 1,000 roubles from his wife, Fonvizin did just that and managed to obtain warm blankets for himself and his travelling companions into the bargain. During the course of their journey, he and his comrades were “waited on” by their gendarmes.

As they rode into exile, the Decembrists encountered not the baying mob of which Rozen, the Baltic German, had been warned, but curiosity, sympathy and generosity from both officials and the wider Siberian population. Fonvizin wrote to his wife from the route that the governor of Tobolsk, Dmitry Bantysh-Kamensky, and his family “received me warmly and generously—I am obliged to them that our convoy officer treated us very well and even agreed to forward you this letter.” Basargin recalled how the elderly governor of the small town of Kainsk, a certain Stepanov, approached them “accompanied by two men dragging an enormous basket with wine and foods of every kind. He made us eat as much as we could and then take the leftovers with us. He also offered us money with words that surprised us: ‘I acquired this money’—he said pulling out a large packet of notes—‘not entirely cleanly, in bribes. Take it with you; my conscience will rest easier.’” In Krasnoyarsk, the inhabitants argued over who should have the honour of accommodating the exiles as they took a day’s rest in the town. Merchants entertained the Decembrists in the best rooms of their houses, sparing no expense on the food and drink they lavished upon their guests.

Origins of Elite Russian Patriotism

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1165-1188:
The uprising on Senate Square had intellectual roots that stretched back into the European Enlightenment and Romanticism, but the Decembrist movement had taken shape a decade earlier in the Imperial Army. The future Decembrists had discovered the Russian nation while fighting Napoleon and the invading French in 1812. The conflict had forged new bonds of fraternity and loyalty between the officers and their men. Russian peasants, many of whom were serfs, had shown themselves capable of loyalty, dependability and devotion to the motherland. Upon their return to Russia at the end of the conflict, the young noblemen struggled to reconcile their inspiring experiences of fighting alongside men who remained their legal property as serfs. The institution of serfdom became for them a shameful reminder of the empire’s backwardness and of the yawning gulf between the educated and wealthy elite and the desperately impoverished peasantry. Forged in the crucible of 1812, the officers’ patriotic loyalties to the Russian people began to eclipse their dynastic loyalty to the tsar.

Many Russian officers also returned from the Napoleonic Wars with their heads full of new political ideas. One officer observed that “if we took France by force of arms, she conquered us with her customs.” Many leaders of the Decembrist movement, such as Sergei Volkonsky, Ivan Yakushkin and Mikhail Fonvizin, had returned triumphantly in 1815 only to chafe at the strict hierarchies and stifling parade-ground discipline of military life. Having fought against “Napoleonic despotism” in Europe, they struggled to reconcile themselves to a Russia that was essentially the personal fiefdom of the tsar. Nikolai Bestuzhev attempted to explain his participation in the rebellion in a letter to Nicholas after his arrest:
We delivered our homeland from tyranny but we are tyrannised once again by our own sovereign…Why did we free Europe, only to be placed in chains ourselves? Did we grant a constitution to France only to not dare to speak of one for ourselves? Did we pay with our blood for primacy among nations only to be oppressed at home?
Others, such as Mikhail Bestuzhev-Ryumin and Dmitry Zavalishin, too young to have fought Napoleon, were nevertheless driven by the ideas of Voltaire, Adam Smith, Concordet [sic] and Rousseau. In the wake of Russia’s victory over Napoleon, they found inspiration in the rebellions led by liberal officers in other countries demanding constitutionalism and independence.

From 1816 onwards, these young patriotic idealists began to gather in informal groups and “secret societies” to discuss reform.
But they spoke mostly French among themselves, and Russian with their servants.

29 April 2017

Okinawan language souvenir

The following bits and pieces of Okinawan language are on a souvenir banner my brother picked up there in 1975. I’ve romanized the katakana used to write the Okinawan pronunciations and included the Japanese glosses on the banner in parentheses, while adding Japanese pronunciations for the numbers in square brackets.

Numerals
1 teichi [= hitotsu]
2 taachi [= futatsu]
3 miichi [= mitsu]
4 yuuchi [= yotsu]
5 ichichi [= itsutsu]
6 muuchi [= mutsu]
7 nanachi [= nanatsu]
8 yaachi [= yatsu]
9 kukunuchi [= kokonotsu]
10 tou [= tou]

Polite expressions
chuuganabira (= konnichi wa) ‘good day’
chiyaabira (= gomen kudasai) ‘sorry to bother’
imisoore (= ohairi kudasai) ‘please come in’
niheedeebiru(= arigatou gozaimasu) ‘thank you’
usagaimisoore (= omeshi agarinasai) ‘please eat’
ii tenchi (= ii otenki) ‘nice weather’
yukuimisoore (= oyasuminasai) ‘good night’
uyuee (= oiwai) ‘congratulations’

Qualities
ichuunasan (= isogashii) ‘busy’
achisan (= atsui) ‘hot’
hiisan (= samui) ‘cold’
inchiyasan (= mijikai) ‘short’
magii (= ookii) ‘big’
gumaa (= chiisai) ‘little’
funtou (= honto) ‘true, truth’
yugushi (= uso) ‘false, lie’

Verbs
warain (= warau) ‘laugh’
nachiyun (= naku) ‘cry’
kamuin (= taberu) ‘eat’
kachiyun (= katsu) ‘win’
kooyun (= kau) ‘buy’
chichiyun (= kiku) ‘hear’

People
taarii (= otousan) ‘father’
anmaa (= okaasan) ‘mother’
utuu (= otto) ‘husband’
tuji (= tsuma) ‘wife’
chiurakagii (= bijin) ‘beauty’
sato (= kare) ‘him’
nzo (= kanojo) ‘her’
ikiganguwa (= otokonoko) ‘son’
inagunguwa (= onnanoko) ‘daughter’
mooya (= maiko, buki) ‘apprentice geisha’
miiyumi (= hanayome) ‘bride’
umuyaaguwa (= koibito) ‘lover’

Joys
niibichi (= kekkon) ‘wedding’
ashibi (= omatsuri) ‘festival’
saki (= sake) ‘liquor’

22 April 2017

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Kaiwo Maru

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
Ken doesn’t even bother to roll back the sleeves on his brown woolen sweater, or to unband his waterweak wristwatch before doing the dishes. I sauntered into the kitchen to stir my noodles a swirl or two and saw him plunging his paws into the washpool and then pulling them out again, never wet past the hightide line but an inch from his Timex timepiece. What’s more, he had passed the pots and pans and was dredging the dregs for silverware which, by now were coated in grime & grease.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you that there is a certain order in which you do the dishes?” I began my attack. “And don’t you have any inclination to bare your forearms for action?” I continued to needle him. “I just would not start washing without pulling up my sleeves and taking off my watch. It just wouldn’t feel right. But you just stand there and drop your hands time and time again into the murky mess and never get your wrists wet. It’s disgusting.”

Ken continued complacently. Then he explained, “In the first place, I have utterly no intention of committing my hands in there deep enough to get my arms wet. All sorts of danger await them. When Paul washes dishes, he likes to find the broken glasses, ’cause then he doesn’t have to wash them. Notice we only have three small and two large glasses left.”

He was right. I was just pulling a bottle of Golden Cream Sherry out of the frig where I had left it as a surprise to myself next time I came home, and after an inspection of the glass cabinet, I mixed this ambrosia with ice in a cream pitcher.

“And yes, I do them in an order,” he continued emphatically, “from top to bottom.”

By now I was halfway into the living room, grumbling back over my shoulder something about how Ken had certainly found his station in life. Sitting down to consult the Japanese dictionary on the word chabouzu [茶坊主], I was disappointed with the definition, ‘tea server, palace attendant, flatterer’. Earlier today when I had dropped by the imushitsu [医務室] ‘medical treatment room’, which is next to our Pavilion, the doctor there was telling me how his father and grandfather before him were doctors, but that his hiojiisan [曽おじいさん] ‘great-grandfather’ was a chabouzu, many of whom became men of medical affairs when Edo jidai [江戸時代] ended and Meiji jidai [明治時代] began with the first official recognition of Western medicine. He went on to explain that many of these chabouzu (< cha ‘tea’, and bouzu ‘priest’, but here it means the shaved head of/like a priest) were skilled druggists, some having dealt with the legendary ninja [忍者], or espionage-skilled samurai. I vowed to find out more about this later. The doc gave me a ride home and while he was chatting with the nurse who had introduced him to me, I picked up the words gengochuusuu [言語中枢] ‘speech center (of the brain)’, nenza [捻挫] ‘sprain or wrench’, zensoku [喘息] ‘asthma’, and bettara-zuke [べったら漬け] ‘fresh radish pickles’.

Now it just so happened that in Expo Port today was a very nice daihansen [大帆船] ‘large sailing ship’, by the name of T.S. Kaiwo Maru [海王丸], and that the imu ‘medical officer’ had come to the Expo imushitsu, where my friend was nurse, to check out his appendix. This resulted in us getting a very good tour of the T(raining) S(hip) that is the world’s second largest, the largest sailing ship being in Europe.

This vessel was built in Showa 5 (1930) by Kawasaki Zousensho [川崎造船所] ‘shipbuilding yard’ for about hyakuman [百万] ‘one million’ yen. The same boat as it is today would cost nearly rokujuu oku en [六十億] ‘sixty hundred million’ or ‘six billion’ ¥. The mainmast is 45 meters high, and the deck is made of chiiku-zai [チイク材] ‘teakwood’. A box near the bow had houki [箒] ‘brooms made of bamboo’, and coconut husks for scrubbing the deck. Houki [蜂起] also means ‘revolt’ or ‘uprising’, which made me think of Mutiny on the Bounty, and a houki-boshi [箒星] is a ‘broom/sweep star’ (= ‘comet’).

The name T.S. Kaiwo Maru itself includes some elements of both English and Japanese, and this was also the case on board, with the deck chief’s cabin having “boatswain” written plainly above the door, and the hundreds of ropes going every which-a-way were called by English names having undergone Japanification, but still ending recognizably in the specialized seaman’ brace, block, sheet, halyard, garnet, yard, shroud, stay, and sometimes lead and tack. I’m going to try and visit once more on Thanksgiving Day to find out what these terms mean a bit more. [See Wordcatcher Tales: Japanese nautical terms.]

This imu ‘medical officer’ had enough equipment on board to perform surgery on quintuplets simultaneously, but most of the paraphernalia was packed unused in king-sized silverware cases of a sort that I had never seen the likes of. The medicine cabinet was comparable to the Expo inventory, this ship having 102 cadets and 40-some odd crew (norikumi [乗組]) members, while Expo had 58,000 visitors today, which was a holiday. When I asked about the doc’s license to prescribe drugs and do certain kinds of surgery, he passed it off lightly by saying that the law recognized “special” circumstances on shipboard out at sea. The nurse later told me, when the doc went to borrow a book, not to pursue that topic any further. I obliged her, and not too willingly, because I had seen equipment for “women’s medicine” which I wanted to ask him about, altho with no intention to play the reporter, or investigator.

There was even a rentogen-shitsu [レントゲン室], which did not make sense to me until I had seen the old-time Roentgen, or X-ray apparatus. Leaving that room, we went past an ofuro [お風呂], of which there were seven altogether on board I was told.

After deboarding I dropped by the Korean restaurant to catch a meal before coming home to Kadena airbase tonight. I know the headwaiter there, and he was putting on the old Korean favorite Arirang (instrumental) at the request of a customer. But before long the music reverted back to the tunes of yesteryear in U.S. of A., and Kingston Town was on. I jotted down the name and the line “won’t be back for many a day” to remind myself to play it on harmonica when I got back to the privacy of my room. Meanwhile a very cute girl was smiling openly at me, and after a while she came over and surprised me by initiating what turned out to be a very abrupt conversation. She: “Are you from American pavilion?” Me: “Yes, but I love Korean food.” She: “Do you have an Am. Pavilion badge?” Me: “No, we don’t have any. I know everyone wants one, but us guides were given only five apiece, and they were already promised out long before we got them.” She: “Oh. None at all?” Me, breaking down: “I don’t have any but I’ll see if anyone else has one.” She: “Thank-you,” and Exit Right. That’s all she had to say. Talk about abrupt.

21 April 2017

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Atrocities

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
Mr. Higa got the job as U.S. pavilion bartender, or “lounge captain” thru an employment agency and a friend he had in it who thought this might be a possible part-time job until the organic chemistry prof. began teaching at RYUUKYUU University next year. Mixology was more than likely the foundation stone of the chemical sciences anyway, and goes back a long, long way in history. Having studied abroad at Ohio State and the University of Hawaii for some eight dedicated years, he is now in his mid-thirties, and so has rather vivid childhood memories of the dreadful, bloody, blitzkrieg invasion of Okinawa that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, a majority of which were Okinawan civilians, over a few short months.

When his house was burned by the U.S. troops in their clean-up operation of Japanese troop hideouts, his family went in afterwards and ate all of the cooked, garlic that had been stored on the shelves for seeding the next crop. The mountains were a refuge in those days, and most of the people of his village, KATSUYAMA [勝山], spent the daylight hours hidden in their cover, slipping down to their homes at nights to dig out SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes from the fields. Sometimes they would find rice and hard crackers in the quickly deserted camps of Japanese troops who had long since fled those posts. Everyone was desperate for grub, and he can remember dirty army deserters who came to their house fully armed and demanded food at the point of a gun. Not every Japanese soldier committed suicide in the face of defeat.

One day, before the clean-up burnings, a few U.S soldiers came to the HIGA home and sat on the front porch. The family was home and they all raised their hands in surrender and waited. The soldiers offered the children candy, but the parents told the youngsters in their tongue that they were not to eat it. Seeing the fear, the squad took the candy and bit off bits of it to show the locals that it was safe. Mr. Higa and his brothers then ate the goods quickly, altho Higa-san claims that he can’t remember if “it was good or not.” The youngest brother, still quite unaware of the whole situation, tried to play with the rifle of one soldier. The man took out the ammunition cartridge and gave the child the weapon to fiddle with.

Since Mr. Higa’s father was the KUCHOU [区長] ‘village head’, their house had been chosen as the temporary living quarters of WATANABE, the commander of a camp of Japanese soldiers who were setting up tents and settling in caves in the area before the invasion. This was an honor of a sort for the HIGA family, and when the commander’s private servant didn’t cook for him, the HIGA family included him in their humble meals. The village was expected to give provisions to the small Japanese post there in the foothills, most of whose men were from the Japanese mainland.

Altho the Okinawan people had been under Japanese gov’t for long enough to feel part of “the nation,” the mainlanders treated them like inferiors at times, even in the midst of a “united” war effort.

When Mr. Higa saw the negative press coverage that Japanese news media gave the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, he said that the big headlines seem to indicate they had “forgotten their own” atrocities. He mentioned the “massacres” at KUMEJIMA [久米島], and KERAMA [慶良間] of Okinawan civilians who were shot because they tried to surrender, or were given hand grenades to carry into the enemy lines and to blow up their families with. One supposedly responsible Japanese commander by the name of AKAMATSU is reputed to be living in Kobe, Japan, today and is a businessman. Some years ago, he came back to Okinawa and the papers got wind of it and the whole devilish drama was unburied though he denied guilt or responsibility.

One thing that surprised many of the mountain refugees was how little they came in contact with the poisonous HABU [波布] viper which loves the rocky mountains. Only two cases are recalled by Mr. Higa, one being a lovely young girl who was bitten in the arm, the other being a boy a few years younger than young HIGA, who was bitten in the face. The girl’s arm festered and swole up, and was later amputated by the American medical team who treated her area. She is now living in Brazil, one of the many Japanese immigrants. The boy still has an ugly scar on his face, but survived.

When the war finally finished, and families came out of the hills, the U.S. troops relocated them in camps, the villagers of KATSUYAMA [勝山] being assigned to HANEJI [羽地] in the flatlands south of there. Some food was supplied by the Occupation forces but many of the families dug up all the SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes that they could find in their fields, and carried them on their backs to the shoreline shacks. It was there that young HIGA started school, in April, one year after the invasion began.

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Telephones

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
Okinawa suffers a form of communications schizophrenia which it is only recently recovering from. The two worlds of this small island, on-base and off-base, each have their own ding-a-ling system, and if one of us who resides on-base were to call our home from off-base, we would have to dial a 10-digit number just to get the base commercial operator, to whom we must then give another 5-digit number to get our party on the line: 098 (area code)-938 (exchange number)-1111 (base operator), then ask for 35332, for instance. But even the local off-base population has to dial a 10-digit number including the Okinawan area code, just to call their neighbor. Worst of all, I can’t call an off-base number from on-base, or at least not officially. This is frustrating.

However, I had not been here a week when I was told by a very friendly local that not only dialing off-base is possible, but dialing anywhere in Japan for free was common practice from base phones. One only has to have plenty of patience and a little “know how.” The speed and rhythm of dialing is important, but only consists of an initial 9 for off-base, then any area code and number in the country. An operator never interrupts to ask, “what the hell you think you’re doing?” And the worst that happens is that you sometimes get cut off by a busy signal. Unbelievably risk-free.

I suppose that people everywhere know and pursue ways to “beat” the telephone establishment, just as IT&T has gotten fat “beating” the public. Still on many telephones today one can click the receiver button down rapidly for as many times as the number, say 6, that he is dialing, then pause, then click it down again however many times for the next number and so on until you have gotten the other party by simply using the sound that the phone makes when it is hung up in place of the signal that the dial sends out when it is correctly turned. The simple computer that “understands” your dial of 6, let’s say, by the six emitted sound pulses that the fingerhole sets off while returning to its original position next to 6 after you’ve dialed it, also “understands” 6 timely pulses from the click of your receiver button in the same undifferentiating way. Knowing this gimmick was especially handy when you didn’t have a dime for a telephone booth call, and had to make do with the receiver button instead of the dial, which took a dime to get going.

As I mentioned, timing is important, because there are gross differences between phones. Some, when you’ve dialed them, fly back around to their position before you’re ready to stick the ol’ finger in the next choice hole. Others are so slow in setting up for the next number that many a user has forgotten the whole number sequence in the menacing pause. Tokyo’s phones are fast and your party is on the line in no time. Osaka’s dials crawl back like the prodigal son. U.S. phones are usually between these two. When you cheat by using the receiver button tapping method, you must know the dialing interval of the phone you are tampering with. Especially hard are dials of 9 on Tokyo-like blitz phones, where you have to click the button down 9 separate and distinct evenly-spaced times in an interval that doesn’t seem divisible by even two. Osaka phones, on the contrary, aren’t much of a challenge to the phoney phoner (practiced). But alas, the phones being installed now are more finely fangled, so this is a dying art.

I hadn’t been at Expo long when I got a call one dreamy morning from a girl near Tokyo who was an operator for her company. and who took advantage of this calling to talk long and distant whenever she had the notion, which came to be everyday. She claimed that the phone bills were never questioned.

20 April 2017

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Birds

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
Today was Thanksgiving and so the paper was full of bird stories. One Mr. Stovall opened his freezer to get ice for a drink and out flew a drake that he had shot the day before in the neck and wing before wrapping it in tinfoil and sealing it with tape to put it in the icebox. A Houdini trick if I’ve ever heard of one. The Stovalls took the bird to a man who raises ducks, impressed by his “will to live.”

Billy, a friend of mine here, was talking about the kinds of pigeons here in Okinawa. There are JUNPAKU [純白] ‘pure white’, KUROTEN [黒点] ‘black-specked (only the wings), CEMEN [セメン] ‘cement-colored’ (an interesting long-term foreign loanword), CHAIRO [茶色] ‘tea-colored’ (brown), and ZANPAN [残飯] ‘leftovers’ (from a meal, also ‘pig feed’ or ‘mixed slosh’). What Billy really said was janpan(g) or chanpan(g), which is the local Okinawan word following the rule that Z often goes to CH or J. This ZAN morpheme is a nice and handy one used in combinations like ZANZOO [残像] ‘after-image’, ZANSHOU [残照] ‘after-glow’, ZANGYOU [残業] ‘overtime (extra) work’, and ZANNEN [残念] ‘after-sense (regret)’. But his ZANPAN pigeon is the most expensive, being a mix, or cross-bred species, ‘pigfeed’ being similar in that it is a cross-breed of supper slop but different in that it is cheap.

So what did Billy have to do with pigeons, or HATO [鳩], which in Japanese take the place of ‘cuckoo’ in ‘pigeon clock’, HATODOKEI [鳩時計]. He had a HATOKOYA [鳩小屋] ‘pigeon hut (dovecote)’. At first pulling their feathers off starting at the wing-tip, he would do so until he got down toward the wing-pit area that had more blood and was pulpier. When he began to draw blood defeathering his doves then he stopped, any further being harmful. Letting them out of the cage at a time that they were hungry and unable to fly, he taught them stay close to home, to become homing pigeons. At first he would shove them one by one back into the cage thru a BATAN [バタン] as he called it, which is one of those doors used on fish and animal traps a lot that opens as you push your way in but shuts after you, never to let you leave by the same way. No one else that I asked knew what this BATAN was, but it’s interesting that BATAN is the ‘bang’ with which a door shuts in such expressions as BATAN TO DOA O SHIMERU [バタンとドアを閉める], or backwards literally, ‘shut the door with a bang’. I can well imagine that the spring-held door to the HATOKOYA does just that as the pigeons push thru it to get to their food, as they have been taught they could by Billy.

Billy is also a birdcatcher and birdcaller. He does a one-man turkey-shoot demonstration complete with horrified turkey-talk. One bird he likes to catch is the Zosterops japonica, Japanese white eye, which he says is a lot like a little yellow parakeet. You have to have one for bait to start with, putting it in a cage on a tree in the mountains where it will sing-a-ling until another comes down to land on the end-shaven bamboo branch which has got TORIMOCHI [鳥黐] ‘birdlime’ on it. Just like the tar-baby, he lands and is yours for the trouble of caging him. The only thing to watch for is those good-for-nothing birds that go down to the ground, or the bottom of the cage. Billy says they are worthless, stupid, and to throw them away. A MEJIRO [目白] ‘white eye’, doesn’t scavenge like a sparrow.

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Robatayaki

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
About a quarter of an hour before the pavilion closed the other day, I suddenly decided to join Mike and his date, Lily “Lips” Liao, for supper, and I invited a friend myself. The restaurant is a ROBATAYAKI [炉端焼き], which Mike insists on calling the “RUBBER DUCKY,” as it is his habit to corrupt the Japanese tongue to his own irreverent idiolect. So we caught a cab from South Gate and began to order before we got there. I wanted frog legs, which were severed at the waist and served in an immodest pornographic posture, but my date would have none of that. She agreed with me on squid, bean-curd, and soup, always dished with rice and tea. As the orders grilled above the open fire, a light aperitif smoke drifted this way and that in the draft-ridden room. A man came in and sat by the door, then having ordered and received a cold bottled beer, he suddenly took off his watch, left it as collateral, and ran out the entrance as my date, Carol, laughed and said that the old fellow must have forgotten something. It was funny, because she and I had just been admiring the psychedelic face of the watch which we felt would make it hard to tell the time. Meanwhile our grub got well cooked, and was handed to us on large wooden paddles straight from the barbecue pit onto specially suited pottery plates and bowls which were then stacked neatly in front of your place as you finished off the individually priced items, the accumulation of assorted price-significant clay dishes being your final tab. Even the sake wine that I ordered was served in pottery flasks that were counted by the waitresses in tallying your bill. When Lily Liao lent me her plate so that I could try some of her delicious barbecued fish, she was careful to retrieve the glazed clay fish dish from me and stack it with her other 400¥ orders which came on the same kind.

The man with the remarkable watch came back and begin to make up for lost time, or drink his brew before it got lukewarm. I was playing the part of a Japanese husband who was having his wife or geisha pour him body-warm SAKE as he gulped it down from tiny thumb cups, making it necessary for Carol to interrupt her meal abruptly to refill my clay, white-glazed cuppet as fast as I emptied it with quick, short swallows. She modestly accepted one fill herself, but ended up not drinking half of even that little portion.

Then, quite to our surprise, the wristwatch man eased up and slipped out the door from his convenient position. The girls were busy, and no one seemed to notice but Carol, who seemed to be paying this sly fox more attention than her own dashing date. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and poured out the last of the rice-wine. In the silence that ensued, I noticed the optically illusive BASF type blue inwardly spiraling curl in the bottom of my SAKE cup. I began to daydream.

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Scientists

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
When I was just about to pull the well padded but light futon over me and return to my dreams, I realized that I had a pretty blue and white ribbon in my book as a marker, and it was really a ribbon for entry into the Aquapolis Ocean Seminar which was to be held this morning. This realization had an effect on me like Spinach has on Popeye and I was in a whirlwind of activity to catch the 9:30 bus.

Since all the bigwigs were there from all over the world there was a tiresome ribbon-breaking ceremony but was over before I got tired of looking at all the scientists who were gathered informally before the ribbon to make the crossing into the lecture hall once the Japanese reps sent their best three forward to scissor the tape in three spots. Lorenz, the Nobel prize winner from Germany, clapped one free hand over the back of the other coat-holding hand every time applause was fitting, and glanced about with very playful eyes during the whole affair. When the blue ribbon was finally sliced, he was the first to lunge forward and cross the sacred ground, but then retreated quickly to herd in with the others slowly.

We all took our seats in the small lecture section which was separated off with a curtain that went across the one side of the seats and, circled in back of the speakers’ podium, only enclosing two sides of the rectangular seminar area.

Lorenz made a comment about Japanese, being natural born gardeners and then made it clear he was interested in aquarium “gardening,” putting in a plug for his friend at the Enoshima aquarium. A little later he generalized again by stating that “most of you are fishermen … I have yet to meet a Japanese that didn’t enjoy a little fishing,” at which time he asked someone from the Japanese audience to volunteer forward and read the name of certain fish that he had in his book. There was an embarrassing moment when no one seemed to realize what he was asking for, and he finally had to ask one of the runabout electricians to read it.

He wanted everyone to start an aquarium, which he claimed is what got him on his road to becoming a scientist, but he wanted people to realize that they had better start an aquarium without fish, and then add fish as nature’s balance could handle it. He talked of eutrophication in English but with a German accent. The water gets stinky and it’s like the Red Tide. Fish suffocate. Lorenz wanted us all to realize the “vulnerability of the sea.” Then he showed films and excused himself.

Later on in the pavilion I noticed one of the scientists that had been at the Seminar and hadn't spoken. I got to talking with him and found out that his job was to “deliver nerve membranes to Munich,” which is rather specialized, to say the least. His special concern was in the transport of squid from A to B. Difficulties mainly stem from the nasty habit of the squid to squirt ink that is even fatal to itself, but from which it usually escapes in ample water. I suggested stunning the squid, but he said that that only loosened the ink-releasing muscle while stunning the “push off” mechanism which is the usual source of ridding the salt water pocket of ink that will harm the intestines. I suggested pumping water thru to dilute the ink, but he said that the squid still panicked in enclosed areas and would ink himself to death because he would tire out, and again be unable to use the muscles that usually clear his inner pouch of this poison as he propels himself away. Sad state of affair, I admitted. Then we talked about the difference between jumping on the moon and jumping in an aquarium. Ho-hum.

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Taketomi Island

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
TAKETOMI [竹富] island has a population of three hundred and a half, but still claims over twenty MINSHUKU [民宿] guest houses in service. These are mostly “private houses that provide lodging for transient guests,” as MINSHUKU are defined, but if this island thrives on tourism, it also suffers from KASO [過疎] or depopulation, with many of the young people finding their call elsewhere. But one old priest on that little isle has not left that beloved pile of dirt in the sea but once in his life, and that to go to KYUUSHUU [九州] to make a special presentation of 25 of his 2700 display items in his TAKETOMI museum. In his early sixties now & with a moist cough (TANSEKI [痰咳]) and small frail body that betray the poor condition of his health, he explained any and all exhibits that we dared to glance at, and many that we didn’t eye at all.

I had for some, time been wondering about the symbolism of tattoos (IREZUMI [入れ墨]) in the RYUUKYUU [琉球] islands, and he was the first to initiate me into the mysteries they hold. On the fingers are YA [矢] or arrows, it being the nature of an arrow to go towards its destination and never return, and therefore meant that the woman on whose hand the IREZUMI [入れ墨] was put, once married, was to stay that way. EIKYUU NI TOMARE [永久に泊まれる] ‘stay forever’ was the audio version of this visual reminder. Then on the knuckles are MASU [升], or ‘rice-measuring square-shaped wooden box’, which were meant to guard against hunger, the skin mutilation being like an offering to the gods in hope of plenty to eat.

On that part that everyone knows so well, the back of the hand, an ENMAN [円満], or ‘completeness, perfection, harmony’ is etched in a tattooed full-orb ink moon, signifying a peaceful and harmonious household. What more could one want? Still yet there is another symbol on the TEKUBI [手首], or ‘wrist’, which is an ITOGURUMA [糸車] or ITOMAKI [糸巻] in preference, which means a ‘spool, reel, or bobbin’. It was important for a wife to be able to handle threads. Actually, the expression ITOSABAKI GA UMAI [糸捌きが上手い], or ‘is good at handling threads’, means to ‘be skilled at playing a stringed instrument’. This goes further in the saying ITOTAKE [糸竹], or literally, ‘threads-bamboo’ but means strings and winds, or music. More of this later.

This priest had been collecting items for over half a century, beginning even in his early teens to sort and store his childhood playthings. Among these were OSHOUGATSU NO MARI [お正月の毬], or ‘New Year’s balls’ usually made by the mother and given to the children at that festive time of year. They are very colorful, and the priest was proud to tell us that all the colors were homemade dyes right from that island. The ball itself was of tightly wound SOTETSU NO KE KARA DEKITA [蘇鉄の毛から出来た], or ‘made of the leaves of the SOTETSU cycad palm’, which is all over the RYUUKYUU islands. The SO [蘇] part means YOMIGAERU, or ‘be resuscitated’ while the TETSU [鉄] is familiar ‘steel’. This interests me because the first time I heard of this thick stumpy looking palm was when an old cleaning woman told me they used to extract the starch (C6H10O5x), or DENPUN [澱粉] out of SOTETSU and eat it during the war.

18 April 2017

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Sailing & Tattoos

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
Everyone knows that the turtle beat the hare and the lesson that is to be learned by it. But when the American ship Sorcery (mahou [魔法] or majutsu [魔術] in Japanese) came across the finish line here at Expo the other day, it had to wait almost a week to see if it won the Hawai‘i–Expo Okinawa race. The likely winner will be the last to cross the tape, the Japanese entry, Musou. I asked how to say ‘finish line’ in Japanese and got the answer, gooru [ゴオル], from our English goal. To ‘breast the tape, or reach the winning post’ is, interestingly enough, gooru-in suru. Another use of this phrase is when one says, medetaku gooru-in suru, or more completely, medetaku kekkon ni gooru-in suru [めでたく結婚にゴオルインする], meaning to ‘be happily married’. Actually, the word kesshouten [決勝点] ‘decide-win-point’, is the trueblood Japanese word.

The good ship Musou ([夢想] ‘daydream, vision’) will win, if it does, because of a healthy handicap: in Japanese furi na tachiba ni aru ([不利な立場にある] ‘be at a disadvantage’) allowing it to come five days later than Majutsu and still win.

One of the small one-manned racing yachts is missing, the captain being famous Kenichi Horie, who, I am told, first crossed the Pacific alone in a yacht such as this. “Hajimete oudan shita” my friend said, the oudan [横断] meaning ‘crossing’ and being used in such delightful expressions as ‘jaywalking’, which the Japanese render quite longwindedly as douro o naname ni oudan suru [道路を斜めに横断する], literally, ‘road+ diagonally+ traverse’. An oudan hodou [横断歩道] is a ‘crosswalk’. And like all good Boy Scouts should know, ‘to help an old lady across the street’ is roofujin o annai shite douro o oudan saseru [老婦人を案内して道路を横断する].

Anyway, one of the members of the U.S. crew aboard the Majutsu wanted to know if there was a place to get a tattoo ([入れ墨] irezumi). The last two syllables sumi (z=s) mean ‘India ink, ink stick, ink (of a squid)’. Sumie [墨絵] is ‘black and white drawing, or India ink drawing’, and sumizome no koromo [墨染の衣] means ‘black robe of a priest’, literally, ‘ink-dyed clothes’. She was told that only the dregs of society get tattoos and that there was no place in Okinawa to get one. Yet on further inquiry, I found that several of the older women of two generations or more past had tattoos, and these very often conspicuously on their fingers or back of hands. Mr. Pogue, who runs the U.S. concession here, then said that about 70 years or so ago, when the mainland Japanese came down to raid and rule the island people here, they often took off many of the young girls to the cities in Japan, as maids, prostitutes, or whatever. But some of the Okinawans quickly made use of the mainlanders’ aesthetic aversion to visible (or any) tattooing, and colored up the hands of their beloved daughters with sumi.

There are many euphemisms for prostitution in Japanese, it being an old profession there as elsewhere. Especially prevalent are compounds with ‘sell’ in the first position, e.g., ‘sell-spring’ ([売春] baishun), ‘sell-color’ ([売色] baishoku), ‘sell-laughter’ ([売笑] baishou), ‘sell-lewdness’ ([売淫] baiin), and so on.

The last baiin is usually followed the suffix for ‘woman’, fu [婦], and all the others can be followed by fu as well.

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Pretending

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
The other day I walked casually up to the femme fatale guide in our module # two and began to make like I was going to change into my bathing suit right there in her presence. The upper part of the aquarium is in that spot, so swimming was a real possibility. She naturally went thru the gestures of shock playfully, and then I scolded her for even thinking that I would do such an etchi thing (dirty ol’ manish thing), in front of all the guests and herself. But, “omowaseburi o shita ja nai ka,” she retorted. This means loosely, ‘but you made me think so didn’t you?’, or ‘you put on as if you were, didn’t you?’. The key element of interest to me is this -buri, or -buru [振る furu] in the verb form. This -buru means ‘set up for, pose as’. Actually, in this case, the omowase means to ‘make or let a person think’, and omowaseburi is a noun meaning ‘mystification, or coquetry’. So let’s look at some more examples.

Gakushaburu [学者ぶる] means to ‘act like a scholar’, or to ‘put on like you’re quite learned’. Senseiburu [先生ぶる] means to ‘act like a teacher’. Otonaburu [大人ぶる] is to ‘carry on like an adult (when in fact you aren’t one)’. Mottaiburu [勿体ぶる] means to ‘put on airs, assume an air of importance’, the mottai part alone meaning ‘(undo) importance’, usually used in the phrase ‘to attach undo importance’, in Japanese, mottai o tsukeru. Digressing a bit, I should mention that this mottai is used in another glued form, mottai-nai [勿体ない], to mean most often ‘waste’ or as an exclamation: ‘What a waste!’ I hear this all the time.

Kyoosaikaburu [恐妻家ぶる] means to ‘make like you’re a henpecked husband’, for instance, in case you want to cut out of a party and you act like you better get home early or your wife will let you have it. Kyoo ‘fearsome’ + sai ‘wife’ + ka ‘household’ itself implies ‘henpecked hubbie’. Akusaiburu [悪妻ぶる] means to ‘act like a bad wife’.

Shittakaburi [知ったかぶり] o suru means to ‘act as if you do know something’. It is often found in the phrase shittakaburi o shita ikan yo! or ‘you better not act like you know!’

A friend of mine here is fairly fluent in both languages, but who went thru a U.S. base school, and therefore has a lot of English words jammed into his Japanese. When he went up to Tokyo and goofed around down in what is called the Shitamachi area, the fast-talking, slick, street-living young crowd larfed at my friend and accused him of acting like a gaijin ‘foreigner’. “Gaijinbutteru,” they teased. It wasn’t hip to use so much of the English loanword vocabulary that has found itself so much more soluable in the Japanese mother tongue lately.

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Knives

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.
On the way home I asked the driver to drop me off at a KANAMONOYA [金物屋], or hardware store, to let me see if they had some switchblade knives in stock. My sister’s husband is a collector of knives and had specifically requested a Japanese switchblade, if possible. The KANAMONOYA did not carry them seeing as how the police do not encourage their sale, and only ruffians and gangsters have or make any use for them. But I did notice some unusual knives and bought a few which I thought he would not have even in his extensive collection.

One was a KAWAHAGI [皮剥ぎ], or skinning knife: KAWA = skin, and the verb HAGU meaning ‘tear off, peel off, rip off, strip off, skin, flay and disrobe’, definitely a transitive verb. It is the intransitive form HAGERU ‘come off, fade, discolor’ that has been used so unmercifully on me to describe my deeply receding hairline and thinned bush on top. The KANJI for this deprived concept is also read SUKI in the popular Japanese beef meal, SUKIYAKI, and in the case of a ‘meat or fish slicer’ SUKIMI [剝き身], which brings us back to blades. The KAWAHAGI has a curved blade like a Persian dagger that fans out a bit toward the end before coming to a gradual point.

A KAWAMUKI [皮剥き] is ‘paring-knife, a barker, or a (potato) peeler’. The MUKI of this knife and the HAGI of the above are the same KANJI.

Another knife I bought was a YASAIGIRI [野菜切り], or vegetable cutter. It has an almost rectangular blade with only the hint of a point at one corner and a slow-rounding curve at the bottom forward blade-edge that is always rocking back and forth on the cutting board when this HOOCHOO is in action. HOOCHOO [包丁] means a ‘kitchen knife or cleaver’, and. is extended in usage to mean the cooking or cuisine of a restaurant. ANO RYOORIYA WA HOOCHOO GA YOI, or literally, ‘That restaurant (+topic marking particle) carving knife is good’.

A digression on the suffix CHOO of HOOCHOO might be fun. CHOO [丁] is one of the many Japanese counters of seemingly unrelated objects: in this case, ‘guns, tools, leaves, or cakes of something’ and is also a symbol for ‘even number’. I suppose a knife is a kitchen (HOO) tool (CHOO), tending toward a weapon at times, and shaped like a leaf often enough. As for the meaning of ‘even number’, it comes up in ‘dice game’, ‘gambling’, i.e. CHOOHAN [丁半] (‘even-odd’).

Lastly, it should be mentioned that this CHOO is the second KANJI in Nelson’s dictionary, being only of two simple strokes, like a T with a curl at the bottom. So we have TEIJI [丁字] ‘the letter T’, TEIJIKEI [丁字形] ‘T-shaped’, TEIKEI JOOGI [丁形定規] ‘the T-square’, all of which use the TEI reading of this KANJI, which is, after all, closer to our own Tee.

09 April 2017

Devolving the Power to Exile

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 615-643:
Peasant and merchant communities were granted more than simply the right to reject returning convicts. A decree from 1763 empowered them to administratively exile their own members to Siberia, even if their guilt had not been proven but they simply fell under suspicion. In the absence of an effective rural police force, the tsarist state relied on these devolved punitive practices to maintain law and order in European Russia. In 1857 in the central Russian province of Yaroslavl, a territory that stretched across 36,000 square kilometres with a population of 950,000, the Ministry of the Interior could rely on just 244 policemen to keep the peace. Across the whole empire by 1900, the government employed a total of only 1,600 constables and 6,900 sergeants to police a widely dispersed rural population approaching 90 million. Unable to entrust its own agencies with upholding the law, the tsarist state effectively farmed out legal responsibility for investigating crimes, apprehending malefactors and determining guilt to a host of communes, guilds and institutions. Hapless individuals would find themselves summarily pronounced guilty and turned over to the authorities for deportation to Siberia. Exile was never simply a tool of repressive government but also a punishment wielded by peasant and merchant communities against their own members.

For serf owners, factory owners, village assemblies and merchant guilds, administrative exile thus provided a useful tool for both policing and removing troublemakers and the unproductive. The scope for abuse was almost limitless. Everyone from thieves, murderers and rapists to the victims of slander, superstition and the noxious cauldron of village politics could find themselves fettered in convoys marching eastwards. The use and abuse of administrative exile fed a surge in exile numbers in the first half of the nineteenth century. From the 1830s onwards, more than half the exiles who set off for Siberia had never seen the inside of a courtroom or heard the rulings of a judge. Many of those sentenced by Georgian England to deportation to the colonies might have been guilty of shockingly petty crimes, but they had at least been convicted by a magistrate or a jury of their peers. The exclusion of the overwhelming majority of the empire’s population of peasants and merchants from any meaningful legal protections supplied a steady stream of recruits for Siberia’s exile settlements and penal colonies.

By the late eighteenth century, Catherine the Great’s absolutist regime had expanded exile into a full-blown state-led project to colonize the Siberian landmass. The first two decades of Catherine’s reign alone saw the deportation to Siberia of around 60,000 insurrectionists, religious dissenters and political prisoners, together with the usual colourful collection of criminals, prostitutes, administrative exiles and their families. The empress’s concern with the productivity of her involuntary colonists led her to attempt to reform the exile system. The corporal punishments often meted out to Siberia’s exiles were thus prohibited from being so brutal as to incapacitate them because they had to remain capable of work. For the same reason, Catherine attempted to block the deportation of the elderly and the infirm but, in a reflection of the limited power the autocrat wielded in territories thousands of kilometres distant from St. Petersburg, her instructions had little apparent effect. The powers of exile granted to serf owners, peasants and merchants still ensured the selection of Siberian recruits not for their potential productivity, but precisely for their lack of it.

08 April 2017

Logistics of Penal Migration

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 715-748:
The European empires all struggled with the formidable logistical problems of penal migration. Britain’s transports to its Australian penal colonies in the late eighteenth century were dreadful ordeals for the convict passengers. Prisoners languished in the ships’ holds, “chilled to the bone on soaked bedding, unexercised, crusted with salt, shit and vomit, festering with scurvy and boils.” Of the 1,006 convicts who sailed on the Second Fleet in 1790, 267 died at sea and at least another 150 after landing. The British government took swift and decisive action to curb the lethal excesses in transportation because the organized and efficient transfer of healthy convicts was understood to be necessary to the wider project of penal colonization. It bombarded the private contractors responsible for transportation with demands for improvements in conditions, and deferred payment for each convict until he or she disembarked in decent health. A naval surgeon was placed on board each vessel and was answerable to the government, not to the contractors. Negligence and abuse still continued on some ships but, by 1815, the death rate in the transports had fallen to one in eighty-five. By the end of transportation in 1868, it was only one in 180.

The deportation of convicts to Siberia presented logistical difficulties not less (and possibly even more) daunting than those of the roiling waters of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. The annual deportation of thousands of unruly and sometimes violent convicts several thousands of kilometres across the most inhospitable territory would have taxed the resources of any contemporary European state. The Siberian continent boasted only the sketchiest network of roads, and rivers that flowed unhelpfully south to north and north to south, rather than west to east, and turned each winter into a hazardous ocean of snow.

When compared with its European rivals, the tsarist empire’s state machinery was primitive and already creaking under the weight of its administrative burdens. St. Petersburg’s remit did not run as deep as that of London or Paris. Even within European Russia, the state had little direct contact with its own population. It devolved governance onto the landed nobility, the Church, merchant guilds and village assemblies. The Imperial Army was the only direct and sustained confrontation with state power that most Russian subjects—the peasantry—ever experienced. The enormous distances separating Siberia’s administrators from their masters in the capital amplified the effects of this bureaucratic weakness. Under-resourced and virtually unaccountable, officials manoeuvred within the deportation system for private gain, neglecting, exploiting and robbing the convicts in their charge.

After several months, sometimes years on the road, convicts who had departed hale and hearty from European Russia finally reached their destinations in Eastern Siberia as ragged, sickly, half-starving mockeries of the robust penal colonists envisioned by officials in St. Petersburg. The deportation process itself thus frustrated the state’s wider strategic ambitions for the penal colonization of Siberia. The downcast and desperate figures trudging eastwards in marching convoys were indictments of the imperial state’s weakness and incompetence. The boundary post was not so much a symbol of the sovereign’s power as a marker of its limitations.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, exiles almost all made the journey to Siberia on foot. They would set out from one of five cities in the empire: St. Petersburg, Białystok in the Kingdom of Poland, Kamenets-Podolsk and Kherson in Ukraine, and Tiflis in Georgia. Most were funnelled through the Central Forwarding Prison in Moscow, from where they and their families would march eastwards through the town of Vladimir that gave its name to the road that wound its way eastwards. Synonymous with Siberian exile, the Vladimirka gained such notoriety over the nineteenth century that Isaak Levitan’s eponymous landscape painting from 1892, which today hangs in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, seemed to echo to the clumping steps of exiles marching eastwards.

02 April 2017

Ghana's Breadfruit Revolution

I only recently heard about this story of a drought-resistant food revolution in Ghana. Modern Ghana reported on 2 August 2012 that "The African Breadfruit Revolution has begun! And it began in Ghana!" Here are a few excerpts.
The Ghana Alliance against Hunger and Malnutrition (HAG) announced to Samoan and Fijian news agencies October, 2011 that 870 Samoan variety breadfruit trees, each about 250 mm tall, had arrived to Ghana from a mass propagation facility outside of Frankfurt, Germany.

Not since the decades after the mutiny on the Bounty has such a large shipment of the Pacific Islands breadfruit arrived to Africa.

HAG made no announcement in Ghana about the project or to where the little trees went for nursery care - the Bunso Agricultural Research Station near Kade - as it was meant to be a bit of a secret until the little trees grew up to field planting size....

The trees are of the Ma'afala and Ulu Fiti varieties of Samoa in the Pacific Islands which produce up to 500 kg of fruit per tree per year and, in Samoa, have complementary fruiting seasons resulting in shorter hungry months. The present Ghanaian breadfruit produces perhaps 250 or 300 kg per year....

You can have your ecoforest and eat it, too!

No other tree holds the promise of carbohydrate security that breadfruit does....

The Bunso shipment is believed to be the first large, new variety breadfruit shipment reaching West Africa's shores since the 1840s when missionaries brought at least one Tahitian variety from the Caribbean to Ghana and beyond. This was just a few decades after the legendary voyages involving the mutiny on the Bounty when other such breadfruit-dedicated voyages brought Tahitian and other Pacific Island breadfruit varieties to the Caribbean.

31 March 2017

Imperial Russia's Penal Colonies

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 239-264:
The Tobolsk Central Penal Labour Prison continued to serve as a penal institution until 1989, when the authorities finally shut it down. Like many of the tsarist-era prisons, it had been refurbished after 1917 and eventually become part of what Alexander Solzhenitsyn would call the “archipelago” of penal facilities that formed the Stalinist Gulag. Both in Russia and abroad, the Gulag has overlaid memories of the tsars’ use of Siberia as a place of punishment. Long before the Soviet state erected its camps, however, Siberia was already a vast open prison with a history spanning more than three centuries.

Siberia—the Russian name Сибирь is pronounced Seebeer—dwarfs European Russia. At 15,500,000 square kilometres, it is one and a half times larger than the continent of Europe. Siberia has never had an independent political existence; it has no clear borders and no binding ethnic identity. Its modern history is inseparable from Russia’s. The easily surmountable Ural Mountains have acted less as a physical boundary than as the imaginative and political frontier of a European Russia beyond which lay a giant Asiatic colony and a sprawling penal realm. Siberia was both Russia’s heart of darkness and a world of opportunity and prosperity. The continent’s bleak and unforgiving present was to give way to a brighter future, and Siberia’s exiles were intended to play a key role in this vaunted transition.

For the imperial state sought to do more than cage social and political disorder within its continental prison. By purging the old world of its undesirables, it would also populate the new. The exile system promised to harness a growing army of exiles in the service of a wider project to colonize Siberia. In theory, Russia’s criminals would toil to harvest Siberia’s natural riches and settle its remote territories and, in so doing, they would discover the virtues of self-reliance, abstinence and hard work. In practice, however, the exile system dispatched into the Siberian hinterland an army not of enterprising settlers but of destitute and desperate vagabonds. They survived not by their own industry but by stealing and begging from the real colonists, the Siberian peasantry. The tensions embedded in this dual status of “prison colony” were never reconciled over the more than three centuries separating the banishment of the Uglichan insurgents and the implosion of the tsarist empire in 1917. Contrary to the ambitions of Russia’s rulers, penal colonization never became a driving force behind Siberia’s development. Rather, as the numbers of exiles grew, it became an ever greater obstacle to it.

Over the nineteenth century, the scale and intensity of Siberian exile increased so significantly that it easily surpassed the exile systems of the British and French empires. The British transported around 160,000 convicts to Australia in the eight decades between 1787 and 1868; the French state meanwhile had a penal population of about 5,500 in its overseas colonies between 1860 and 1900. By contrast, between 1801 and 1917, more than 1 million tsarist subjects were banished to Siberia.

23 March 2017

Wild Young Geronimo

From The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West, by Peter Cozzens (Knopf, 2016), Kindle Loc. 7351-7381:
MANY YEARS after the Apache Wars were over, Chatto, who was a rising Chokonen leader in the early 1880s, would declare, “I have known Geronimo all my life up to his death and have never known anything good about him.” The daughter of the Chokonen chief Naiche agreed. “Geronimo was not a great man at all. I never heard any good of him. People never say he [did] good.” A reliable interpreter and licensed trader who lived on good terms with the Chiricahuas for two decades said they distrusted and feared Geronimo, especially when he was inebriated. Once while hopelessly drunk, he berated a nephew, “for no reason at all,” so severely that the young man committed suicide. After sobering up, a shamed Geronimo packed up his family and bolted from the reservation for several months.

Army officers otherwise sympathetic to the Apaches detested Geronimo. Lieutenant Bourke found him “a depraved rascal whose neck I should like to stretch.” He was a “thoroughly vicious, intractable, and treacherous man,” agreed Lieutenant Britton Davis, who would come to know him all too well. “His only redeeming traits were courage and determination.”

And “power,” Davis might have added, had he understood the concept. What the whites dismissed as superstition was quite real to the Chiricahuas. That Geronimo possessed mystic attributes uniquely valuable in raids and war, few Apaches doubted. Rifles were said to jam or misfire when aimed at him. Some warriors thought the mere act of riding with Geronimo would render them impervious to bullets, a belief this consummate troublemaker heartily encouraged. Many Chiricahuas also attributed to him the gift of divination. Others thought him able to make it rain or to prevent the sun from rising. Geronimo also enjoyed a reputation as a master herbalist and surgeon. Despite his supposed powers, he was too strongly disliked to ever become a chief. His baleful countenance, locked in a perpetual scowl, probably didn’t help. All told, Geronimo’s personal following never exceeded thirty warriors.

The minatory shaman of the Bedonkohe band was born Goyahkla, meaning “He Who Yawns,” in 1829. Because he was saddled with such a singularly uninspiring name, it is little wonder he assumed the name Geronimo, which the Mexicans had bestowed on him. The Spanish equivalent of Jerome, it lacked the verve of Victorio but certainly was a better name than Goyahkla. Unlike Victorio, Geronimo felt no compelling ties to the place of his birth. He fought not to defend a homeland but to avenge the murder of his mother, first wife, and children by Mexican soldiers and because he enjoyed taking lives. “I have killed many Mexicans; I do not know how many. Some of them were not worth counting,” he said shortly before his death. If he were young again, Geronimo added, “and followed the warpath, it would lead into Old Mexico.”

Geronimo’s forays into Mexico often led him to the Sierra Madre, home to the Nednhi Chiricahua band of Chief Juh, one of his few real friends. Although a better war leader than Geronimo, Juh lacked the shaman’s gift for oratory. When excited, particularly in battle, Juh stuttered so badly that he had to use hand signals to communicate or rely on Geronimo to make his intentions known. Both men were wary of Americans. Juh had had little contact with them; he was naturally suspicious of everyone. Geronimo’s distrust derived from personal experience—first the murderous betrayal of Mangas Coloradas in 1863, and then his own humiliating arrest at Ojo Caliente and lockup at San Carlos by Agent John Clum in 1877.