Category Archives: Pacific

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Wordcatcher Tales: 活伊勢海老

2016-12-31-12-00-55The local branch of Nijiya (‘rainbow shop’) Japanese supermarket in my neighborhood advertised live lobsters from Christmas Island on New Year’s Eve. I’m not sure which Christmas Island they were from (probably the one spelled Kiritimati in Kiribati, where /ti/ is pronounced [si]). The kanji string 活伊勢海老 on the poster gave me some trouble. The character 活 katsu means ‘living’, and the lobsters were indeed still alive. The characters 伊勢 ise presumably refer to Ise Bay off Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture south of Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture). And the last characters 海老 (which look like they could be read kairou ‘sea-old’) spell ebi (usually spelled in katakana エビ) ‘shrimp, prawn, lobster’, a general name for members of the order Decapoda. The more common name for 伊勢海老 Ise ebi is ロブスター robusutaa ‘lobster’.

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Reassessing Admiral Yamamoto

From Japanese Destroyer Captain, by Tameichi Hara (Naval Institute Press, 2013), Kindle Loc. 2317-2344:

The great Han Dynasty of China was founded by General Liu Pang in 202 B.C. after he had emerged victorious from a series of many battles in a great civil war. One day, after gaining the throne, Generalissimo Liu was chatting with his chief of staff, General Han Tsin:

Liu: “How do you rate me as a general?”

Han: “I think Your Majesty can command, at most, an army of a few divisions.”

Liu: “And what is your own ability?”

Han: “The more armies of as many possible divisions I command the better I work.”

Liu: “How does it happen that I am an emperor while you remain a general?”

Han: “You are a born leader of leaders.”

Liu was one of the greatest emperors and Han one of the greatest generals in history. Few admirals have enjoyed such high reputation as did Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in World War II. He had great ability, but I feel that his reputation as a naval leader was greater than he deserved. I do not mean to compare Yamamoto categorically with Liu, but in respect of their actual abilities, they are comparable.

Despite Japan’s miserable defeat in the Pacific War, the nation is still inclined to regard Yamamoto as a hero. Postwar writings have criticized other military and naval leaders, but not Yamamoto. If my remarks on Yamamoto seem severe it is not that I have any personal feelings against him; this is just the first writing by a Japanese military man to be at all critical of him.

To me Admiral Yamamoto was a born leader of leaders and for that he deserved the almost religious respect accorded him. But he was not qualified to command a million tons of ships and their crews. It was tragic that he was chosen to head the Combined Fleet.

Many of my colleagues believe that Yamamoto would have been an ideal Navy Minister, and there was a movement under way among certain Naval officers to have him named to this post. Their idea was that Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai should command the Combined Fleet. That move collapsed when Yonai, who strongly opposed war, refused, saying, “I am not a fighting admiral, and would only make things worse with the Army. Furthermore, if such a stiff-necked man as Yamamoto becomes Navy Minister he will surely be assassinated by Army hotheads.”

The real trouble was the Army. When the war began the cabinet was headed by General Hideki Tojo. Admiral Shigetaro Shimada, the Navy Minister, was known to be a Tojo stooge. The Navy chief of staff, Admiral Osami Nagano, was not strong enough to oppose Army plans. In criticizing Yamamoto, his actions and inaction, consideration must be given to all these factors which served to hamstring him.

Throughout his career Yamamoto was known to be a superb gambler. He was skilled in all games of chance, especially poker. His decision to attack Pearl Harbor was a gamble which paid tremendous odds. It is strange, therefore, that Yamamoto never again played his cards for all they were worth, as a gambler should. The lessons of the Coral Sea battle were not applied to Midway, where Yamamoto split his forces—to his detriment—between his prime objective and the Aleutians. Yamamoto was undoubtedly preoccupied with preserving his forces.

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Alexander Selkirk’s Rescue, 1709

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, by Colin Woodard (Mariner Books, 2008), Kindle Loc. 1058-1081:

Selkirk had been stranded on Juan Fernández Island for four years and four months, indeed ever since William Dampier’s ill-fated privateering mission had passed through these parts in the latter part of 1704. Selkirk, a Scotsman, had been the mate aboard Dampier’s consort, the Cinque Ports, whose captain and officers had lost faith in their commodore’s leadership and sailed off on their own. Unfortunately, the Cinque Ports’ hull was already infested by shipworm, so much so that when the galley stopped at Juan Fernández for water and fresh provisions, young Selkirk decided to stay—to take his chances on the island rather than try to cross the Pacific in a deteriorating vessel. According to the extended account he gave Rogers, Selkirk spent the better part of a year in deep despair, scanning the horizon for friendly vessels that never appeared. Slowly he adapted to his solitary world. The island was home to hundreds of goats, descendents of those left behind when the Spanish abandoned a half-hearted colonization attempt. He eventually learned to chase them down and catch them with his bare hands. He built two huts with goatskin walls and grass roofs, one serving as a kitchen, the other as his living quarters, where he read the Bible, sang psalms, and fought off the armies of rats that came to nibble his toes as he slept. He defeated the rodents by feeding and befriending many of the island’s feral cats, which lay about his hut by the hundreds. As insurance against starvation in case of accident or illness, Selkirk had managed to domesticate a number of goats, which he raised by hand and, on occasion, would dance with in his lonely hut. When his clothes wore out, he stitched together new goatskin ones, using a knife and an old nail, and grew calluses on his feet as a substitute for shoes. He was rarely sick and ate a healthful diet of turnips, goats, crayfish, and wild cabbage. He’d barely evaded a Spanish landing party by hiding at the top of a tree, against which some of his pursuers pissed, unaware of his presence.

Although Selkirk greeted Rogers’s men with enthusiasm, he was reluctant to join them after learning that his old commodore, William Dampier, was serving with them. Cooke wrote that Selkirk distrusted Dampier so much that he “would rather have chosen to remain in his solitude than come away with [Dampier] ’till informed that he did not command” the expedition. Dr. Dover and his landing party were only able to rescue the castaway by promising they would return him to the island were he not satisfied with the situation. Selkirk, in turn, helped them catch crayfish, piling them into the ship’s boat before they rowed him out to the Duke. On seeing Selkirk for the first time, Rogers said he looked wilder than the original owners of his goatskin coverings. “At his first coming on board us, he had so much forgot his language for want of use that we could scarce understand him, for he seemed to speak by halves,” Rogers wrote in his journal. “We offer’d him a Dram, but he would not touch it, having drank nothing but water since his being there, and ’twas some time before he could relish our victuals.” Selkirk was remarkably healthy and alert at first, but Rogers noted that “this man, when he came to our ordinary method of diet and life, though he was sober enough, lost much of his strength and agility.”

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