Monthly Archives: January 2007

Ibn Battuta’s Impressions of Mali, 1352

This desert is bright, luminous. Traversing it, one breathes deeply; one is in good spirits, and safe from robbers. The desert here contains many wild cattle. A flock of them might come so near to a caravan that people can hunt them with dogs and arrows. However, eating their meat creates thirst and, as such, many people avoid it as a consequence. If killed, water is found in their stomachs and I have seen the Massûfa squeezing the stomach and drinking the water. There are also many snakes.

A merchant of Tilimsan known as al-Hajj Zaiyân was in our caravan. He had the habit of catching these snakes and playing with them. I had asked him not to do this but he would not desist. He put his hand into a lizard’s hole one day and found a snake there instead. He grasped it and was about to mount his horse. But the snake bit the finger of his right hand, inflicting severe pain on him. The wound was cauterized, but in the evening the pain worsened. He cut the throat of a camel and kept his hand in its stomach all night. The flesh of his finger loosened and then he sliced off his finger at the base. The Massûfa told me that the snake must have drunk water before biting him, or the bite would have killed him.

When the people coming to meet us with water had reached us, our mounts were given water. We entered an extremely hot desert. It was not like the one we had just experienced. We would leave after the afternoon prayer, travel all night and stop in the morning. Men from the Massûfa and Badama and other tribes brought us loads of water for sale. We reached the city of Iwalatan at the beginning of the month of rabi’i [17 April 1352] after a journey of two months from Sijilmasa. It is the first district in the country of the Blacks. The Sultan’s deputy here is Farba Husain; farba means ‘deputy’.

On arriving, the merchants deposited their goods in a clearing and the Blacks assumed responsibility for them. The merchants went to the Farba who was sitting on a mat in a shelter. His officials were standing in front of him holding spears and bows, and the Massûfa notables were behind him. The merchants stood in front of him, and he spoke to them through an interpreter as a sign of his contempt for them even though they were close to him. On observing their bad manners and contempt for white people, I was sorry I had come to their land. I retired to the house of ibn Badda’, a kind man of Sala from whom I had let a house by request.

The inspector of Iwalatan, named Mansha Ju [lit. Royal Slave], invited those who had come in the caravan to a reception. I refused to attend. My companions urged me very strongly to accept, and finally I accompanied the rest. At the reception coarsely ground anli was served mixed with honey and curdled milk. This was put in a half gourd shaped like a large bowl. Those present drank and then left. I asked them: ‘Is it for this that the Blacks invited us?’ They replied: ‘Yes. For them it is the greatest hospitality.’ I became convinced that no good could be expected from these people, and I wished to join the pilgrims travelling out of Iwalatan. But I decided to go and see the capital of their king before leaving. I stayed in Iwalatan for about fifty days in all. Its people treated me with respect and were hospitable… The town of Iwalatan is very hot. There were some small palms and they had sowed melons in their shade. Water came from underground sources. Mutton was plentiful. Their clothes were of fine quality and of Egyptian origin. Most of the inhabitants belong to the Massûfa. The women are of exceptional beauty and are more highly respected than the men.

SOURCE: “Ibn Battuta, World Traveller (b. 1304),” in Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 294-296

Also see Ibn Battuta and His Saharan Travels and Ibn Battuta on the Web.

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Montessori Schools Turn 100, Find New Fans

The Montessori approach to education is now 100 years old, reports today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Its teaching methods once revolutionary are now used in traditional classrooms, with many public schools, including a few in Seattle, making a home for Montessori programs. Still, the trend toward standardized tests — and the need to prepare students for those exams — is making Montessori a little less popular in public school districts.

At the same time, the unpopularity of standardized tests is driving some parents to Montessori schools….

“It’s a lot more free-form,” said Troy Basel as he finished his lunch. “It’s a lot easier to get to the teachers.”

Montessori does have structure. But classrooms are based on creating natural connections to reading, writing and arithmetic. Children study algebra, U.S. history, Shakespeare, physics, biology and chemistry, yet are also “free to be who you want to be,” added 14-year-old Kate Rzegocki.

Pacific Crest also is predominantly white — 10 percent of its students are members of minorities. Historically, people thought of Montessori schools as dominated by wealthier, and often white, families, even though Maria Montessori created the system to serve poor children, said Laura Holt, who is on the board of the Pacific North West Montessori Association.

The image is changing around the city. Today, the Islamic School of Seattle offers a Montessori program. On Capitol Hill, one quarter of the students at the Learning Tree Montessori preschool are members of minorities, and the same percentage receives tuition subsidies, said Holt, assistant director of the school.

After a very regimented year in a Chinese preschool when she was 2 (and passing for 3), our daughter attended Montessori schools from preschool through 6th grade, and still thinks fondly of those years. I still remember how excited her teachers were when she finally found the courage to cross the threshold into the room where slightly older kids were doing their activities.

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The Shah of Iran’s Travel Diary, 6 July 1873

I have noticed today a curious state of mind among the French: first of all they are still in mourning over this recent war with Germany and all of them, young and old, are sad and melancholy. The women of the people, ladies and gentlemen still wear mourning dress, with few ornaments and of a great simplicity. Some of them cried occasionally ‘Long live the Marshal! Long live the Shah of Persia!’ I heard one cry while I went for a promenade in the evening: ‘May his reign be firm and long-lasting!’

It seems that in France several parties want a return of the monarchy. Among them there are three tendencies: one wishes for the return of the son of Napoleon III; another that of a descendant of Louis-Philippe; another that of Henri V; who belongs to the Bourbon dynasty, and who is descended from the family of Louis-Philippe, but by another branch. The advocates of a republic are equally numerous, but they too are divided in opinion: some want a red republic, that is a radical one; others want a moderate republic which would have the institutions of a monarchy, but no king; others want something else again. At the moment, governing in the middle of all these parties is very difficult and this situation may have detrimental consequences, unless all these tendencies come to an agreement, and a real monarchy or a real republic is established. Once the French state was the strongest of all, and everybody had to take it into account. Now with all these numerous divergent opinions it is difficult to preserve order within the country …

The Palace in which we reside was previously that of the Parliament, that is, the assembly of deputies of the nation. After the fall of Napoleon III and the installation of a Republic, the deputies and all the figures of State have left for Versailles and have left the city of Paris completely deprived of government administration. The city of Paris, in fact, belongs to the plebeians and the peasants. They may do as they like, the government does not have the means to oppose them. The Palace of the Tuileries, which was the most beautiful palace in the world, is now totally destroyed: the Communards set fire to it. Only the walls remain. I was very sad about it. But thank God, the Palace of Louvre, which was next to that of the Tuileries, has been preserved and has not suffered damage. The City Hall, which was a beautiful monument, and the Palace of the Legion of Honour have both been burnt to the ground. The Communards have broken down and removed the column of Vendome, which Napoleon I had built from cannon conquered from the enemy, on top of which his statue had been erected and on which scenes from all his battles had been engraved. Now nothing remains except the plinth of the column.

Paris is a very beautiful city, pretty, pleasant, generally sunny; its climate is very similar to that of Iran.

SOURCE: Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 258-259

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WW2 Interservice Rivalry in the U.S. and Japan

Interservice rivalry existed in Tokyo, to be sure, but on the fighting front both services cooperated fully, as was evident in Malaya, where General Tomoyuki Yamashita and Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa displayed perfect teamwork. In the Guadalcanal operations, also, the Japanese Army and Navy cooperated.

The Americans at the front, however, did not yield to each other. One conspicuous example of this occurred when an emergency policy conference was held on 4 September 1942 at Noumea to discuss the Japanese counteroffensive, which was endangering the American forward lines. Present at the conference were Admiral Nimitz, CINCPAC; General Arnold, Air Force Chief of Staff; Admiral Ghormley, Commander in Chief, South Pacific; General Sutherland, Chief of Staff, Far Eastern Army; and General Turner, Commandant of Marine Corps. General MacArthur refused to come to the meeting. When Admiral Nimitz asked General MacArthur for 10,000 soldiers as reinforcements, MacArthur turned down the request, saying that he could not divert a single man from the New Guinea operations—even though he then had 55,000 men under his command. When MacArthur in turn asked Admiral Nimitz for a fleet with two carriers, one Marine division, and a squadron of large bombers for his northward operations, Nimitz refused and explained that operations at Guadalcanal would not permit such a diversion of his forces.

When the situation at Guadalcanal became critical for the United States, President Roosevelt finally took direct measures to dissolve the interservice rivalry. On 24 October 1942 he sent an emergency order, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, directing the immediate reinforcement of Guadalcanal….

Turning to Japan, we see a different kind of rivalry. The battle of the Solomons was fought mainly by the Naval Air Force. Plane losses ran to the staggering total of 7,000. The nation’s capacity for plane production should have been mobilized to replenish these losses. The Army, however, insisted on one half of all aircraft production for its own use. Since the Army Air Force had sustained no losses in the Solomons, it should have relinquished its quota to the Navy, but it did not. Two decades earlier, when the Navy under Admiral Tomosaburo Kato was feverishly trying to build its 8-8 Fleet, the Minister of War, General Giichi Tanaka, offered to divert part of his appropriations to assist the Navy’s expansion. Such understanding and cooperation, however, could not be expected from the Army leadership of General Tojo. The Navy’s antipathy toward Tojo was extreme, and men in the Navy Ministry were correspondingly disturbed by their weak leadership in Admiral Shigetaro Shimada. In the United States, harmony prevailed at the highest level of command, while discord erupted between field commanders. In Japan, on the other hand, there was harmony among field commanders of both various services, but disunity and friction at General Headquarters.

Meanwhile, the scheduled offensives were launched by Admiral Nimitz in the Gilberts and the Marshalls, and by General MacArthur in New Guinea. Japan had no way of knowing which was the main offensive line. She abandoned the Solomons operations, gave up her outer perimeters, and was forced to withdraw to an inner defensive line along the Marianas and the Philippines. This forced withdrawal left Japan with makeshift lines which were indefensible. If she had been content with these inner defensive lines in the first place, and had devoted her efforts to establishing strong positions along these lines, she would have given a much better account of herself.

SOURCE: The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, by Masanori Ito, trans. by Andrew Y. Kuroda and Roger Pineau (Jove Books, 1984), pp. 88-92

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Sending Cash Home to Eastern Europe, Central Asia

Many newly liberated/orphaned economies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are now depending more and more on remittances from their citizens working abroad, like so many Pacific Island countries whose economies are based on MIRAB (PDF): MIgration, Remittances, Aid, and Bureacracy.

The largest amount of remittances, as a share of GDP, was sent to Moldova.

The study, using data from 2004, indicated that money sent there by migrants was equivalent to 27% of GDP, an estimated 705 million US dollars. Bosnia and Herzegovina (21%; $1.83bn), Albania (16%; $1.16bn) and Armenia (9%; $336m) were among the larger recipients.

Russia attracted migrants from other parts of the former Soviet Union, while poorer Central Asian workers were drawn to countries such as resource-rich Kazakhstan….

About 80% of Bulgarians and 62% of Romanians said they were not sending cash back to their home countries while working abroad….

While the report focused on the ECA nations, the Bank said that Tonga was the nation which had the largest level of remittance income as a proportion of GDP.

In pure monetary value, the latest World Bank figures show that India was the largest recipient of remittances, with about 22 billion US dollars being sent home in 2005. China and Mexico were also at the top end of the table.

In that year, total remittances globally topped 230 billion US dollars of which developing countries received 167 billion, more than twice the level of development aid from all sources.

via Colby Cosh

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Dancing Destroyers and Submersible Freighters, 1942–43

In November [1942] there were on Guadalcanal nearly 15,000 Japanese officers and men, thousands of whom were incapacitated by sickness—malaria, stomach disorder, malnutrition. All day they had to fight against steadily growing enemy land forces. At night they were engaged in receiving such food, ammunition, stores, and medical supplies as might be brought in by fast destroyers or submarines. The “grocery runs” were made at full speed, under cover of darkness on moonless nights.

In hope of avoiding air attacks, Japanese destroyers stayed by day at Shortland Bay in Bougainville. Yet even there they were subjected to bombing attacks by the far-ranging American planes. These regular bombings were dubbed teikibin [定期便], meaning scheduled runs.

When the air-raid alarm sounded, all ships would get underway and maneuver violently, swinging their bows hard left or right to dodge the falling bombs. These attacks came so frequently and regularly that the destroyer skippers began to look forward to them as a chance for practicing evasive tactics. Admiral Tomiji Koyanagi, commander of the destroyer squadrons, nicknamed these evasive maneuvers the “Bon Dance” because of their left and right swinging movements, so reminiscent of the dancing in the annual Bon Festival of Lanterns. The dance of the destroyers was laughable, if one could ignore the deadly consequences of a misstep….

Deplorable as was this destroyer situation, the story of misused submarines is even sorrier.

When first-line submarines were employed almost exclusively in the demeaning task of supply operations, the war for Japan on a gloomy aspect despite many great naval victories.

Early in the effort of supplying Guadalcanal by surface ship, it was realized that nocturnal destroyer runs could not bring in enough material. Accordingly, submarines were detailed to the same task. As need for supplies increased, more submarines were assigned until, by January 1943, thirty-eight submarines were eventually involved. This “submerged freight service” cost Japan the loss of 20 submarines and their seasoned crews. During this period another four submarines were sunk in the Solomons area while on regular patrol. The loss of 24 submarines in a few short months was bad enough, but it was especially painful that 20 of these aggressive fighting machines should be lost in the course of nonaggressive operations for which they were never intended.

Submarines assigned to this duty were stripped of all torpedoes, shells, and guns to make room for supplies. Crews were dejected when informed of their mission, even though they realized the importance of bringing needed materials to Guadalcanal. It was a further blow to morale when the crews witnessed enemy submarines, on proper offensive missions in the same area, attacking our ships and disrupting our supply lines.

Quite naturally our submariners felt that their proper and primary task was to cut off the line of supply between the mainland of the United States and Guadalcanal, or to attack the line of communication between Guadalcanal and Australia. Disruption of the enemy’s line of communication to Guadalcanal—so much more extended than that of Japan—would have been far easier for Japanese submarines had they been allowed to pursue their proper function. And it would also have been far more profitable to the Japanese war effort.

With only three Japanese submarines engaged in offensive operations around Guadalcanal, it is to their great credit that they succeeded in sinking the enemy aircraft carrier Wasp. The poor showing of Japanese submarines in World War II, as compared with those of Germany and the United States, must be attributed in major part to their unwise employment in late 1942 and early 1943.

If the thirty-odd Japanese submarines available in the Solomons had been mobilized offensively to the east and south of Guadalcanal they could have seriously disrupted enemy convoys and been a great threat to the supply strategy of the United States. When Japanese submarines were finally released from logistic support operations and resumed regular offensive tasks, there was a marked increase in their effectiveness against enemy ships.

SOURCE: The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, by Masanori Ito, trans. by Andrew Y. Kuroda and Roger Pineau (Jove Books, 1984), pp. 79-83

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Wordcatcher Tales: Rengou Kantai, Ketteisen

The other old mass-market paperback that I recently bought for $1.39 was The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, by Masanori Ito (1956), translated by Andrew Y. Kuroda and Roger Pineau (1962). It offers an interesting critical retrospective on the Pacific War from the point of view of the Japanese Navy’s high command. It also offers a chance to combine book excerpts with Wordcatcher Tales.

聯合艦隊 rengou kantai – 聯合 rengou ‘combined, united’ has now been simplified to 連合. The first character also occurs in the abbreviated name of the old Soviet Union (ソ連 soren [so- is short for sobietto ‘Soviet’]) and in the translation of United Kingdom (連合王国 rengou oukoku). The second word, which can mean either ‘fleet’ (if large) or ‘squadron’ (if small) is composed of 艦 kan ‘warship’ and 隊 tai ‘squad, troop’. In Japanese, navy submarines are warships, not “boats”: 潜水艦 sensuikan ‘submerge-water-warship’. The 隊 tai can also translate ‘corps’, as in 挺身隊 teishintai ‘volunteer (lit. ‘offer-body’) corps’, which is the standard term for the military ‘comfort women‘ in Korean (chŏngshindae).

TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE “Rengo Kantai” is a familiar and honored term meaning “Combined Fleet.” When World War II began, the Japanese Navy—the third most powerful in the world—included some of the mightiest ships in naval history and was a force worthy of the pride and trust of the Japanese people. Then, in less than four years, this great war machine fell from glory to oblivion. Of ten battleships riding in Hiroshima Bay in December, 1941, nine were sunk. The lone survivor, Nagato, died at Bikini Island as a target in an atomic bomb test.

As early as the spring of 1946, Bungei Shunju magazine urged me to write of the last days of the Combined Fleet. I refused because I did not wish to disturb the dead bodies of my friends. Even if I had forced myself to write, I would not then have been able to assemble all the material now available to me. In the years since Japan’s defeat, the war-troubled mind of the people has been calmed, but I find that there is still nostalgia for the Combined Fleet in many hearts. It was at the request of Japanese readers that my newspaper articles were assembled into this book.

Movements to romanize our language may some day succeed [!!], but the ideographs for Rengo Kantai [聯合艦隊] will always stir Japanese hearts, just as do some of Admiral Heihachiro Togo‘s famous words. His dispatch as battle was about to be joined at Tsushima Strait: “The enemy has been sighted; the Combined Fleet is moving to annihilate him. The waves are high but the day is clear.” [pp. 1-2]

決定戦 ketteisen ‘decisive battle, showdown’ – The components are 決める kimeru ‘to decide’, as in the Sino-Japanese compound 解決 kaiketsu ‘solution, settlement’; 定める sadameru ‘to decide, fix’, as in the compound 定食 teishoku ‘set meal’; and 戦う tatakau ‘to fight’, as in the compound 戦争 sensou ‘war’. The term can refer to any kind of decisive showdown, whether between sumo wrestlers, gameshow contestants, or dinosaurs.

Army leaders in Japan believed that the United States could be easily defeated. But Admirals Yamamoto and Nagano knew the temper, traits, and character of the American people, as well as the military history of the country, and they had no illusions of an easy victory for Japan.

Their hope was that Japan might quickly achieve such overwhelming successes that the United States would accept a compromise peace. There was risk involved, but Yamamoto decided in favor of decisive battle. The question then remained as to where the battle should be fought. The Naval General Staff hoped that it could be in the Solomons.

The Solomon Islands, stretching southeasterly from Rabaul to Guadalcanal, could provide valuable bases for the Japanese fleet. The General Staff figured that seizure of these islands would constitute such a threat to Allied lines of communications that the United States Navy would oppose their occupation, and could then be annihilated. This concept depended heavily on the enemy’s rising to the bait. If the enemy shied from decisive battle in the Solomons, Japan would be faced with a long war.

Admiral Yamamoto, on the other hand, advocated Midway as the battleground. He reasoned that Japanese occupation of Midway and the Aleutians (all part of the same operation plan), would guarantee a challenge from the United States Navy. He felt that Americans could accept the fall of Guam and Wake, but that they would not tolerate Japan’s advance beyond the 180th meridian. He also felt that his Midway plan had a better chance of success than the Solomons strategy.

The Midway strategy, however, involved a greater risk. The distance from Japan’s Inland Sea to Midway is more than twice the distance from Pearl Harbor to Midway. Midway’s comparative proximity to Pearl Harbor would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Japan to support an island garrison. The chance was very great that the enemy could easily recapture the atoll.

But Admiral Yamamoto argued that the opportunity for a decisive battle must be expected to entail risk. Midway should be seized. If the enemy came out to regain the island, Japan’s long-sought opportunity would be provided. A fleet-opposed action of Japan’s choosing would lead the way to another “Pearl Harbor,” in which, this time, enemy aircraft carriers could be destroyed. With the U.S. Navy’s strength divided between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Yamamoto felt that the Pacific half would fall easy victim to the concentrated Combined Fleet of Imperial Japan. [pp. 52-53]

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