Category Archives: U.K.

Mountbatten’s Best Matchmaking

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 156-158, 162:

Since he had returned from Southeast Asia Mountbatten had engaged himself almost full time in a project worthy of the Order of the Red Rose. In one of the most daring bloodless coups ever attempted, he would install the House of Mountbatten on the British throne—the same throne which, only thirty years before, had ordered his father’s ruin. Mountbatten’s involvement in the marriage between his nephew, Philippos Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, and the king’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, can hardly be overstated. He introduced the couple, engineered meetings between them and went to great lengths in grooming Philip to become a consort.

Philip’s credentials for marrying the world’s most eligible woman were tenuous. His father was a playboy who had disappeared into the champagne bars of the Cote d’Azur; his mother, abandoned, had gone mad and become a nun; his sisters had all married Nazis; he himself was only a naval lieutenant, and a penniless one at that. He had been a prince of Greece before a coup ousted his family, but the revolution had left him poor and nameless. He met Princess Elizabeth for the first time on 22 July 1939, when the royal family visited the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth under the proud supervision of Dickie Mountbatten. Philip was eighteen years old; Elizabeth was thirteen and playing with a clockwork train. Their eyes met over lemonade and ginger biscuits, and Philip was among the cadets invited to lunch on the royal yacht. There he impressed the princesses by being able to jump high and eat an abnormal quantity of shrimp, though not simultaneously. When the time came for the yacht to sail, the cadets followed in rowboats and motorboats for a while; Elizabeth watched the tall, blond, strikingly handsome Philip row his little boat farther than anyone else.

Less than eighteen months after the smitten Princess Elizabeth had watched her handsome quasi prince rowing after the royal yacht, the Conservative MP Chips Channon spent a few days in Athens. He met Philip at a cocktail party and, during the course of extensive gossiping, established that “he is to be our Prince Consort, and that is why he is serving in our Navy.” At this stage the prospect seemed improbable. The Greek royals were impoverished, shabby and foreign. It was Dickie who organized a campaign to fashion young Philip into an eligible naval hero. The most important factor in this transformation would be to secure for him British nationality. For some reason, no one—not even the genealogically preoccupied Mountbatten—remembered the 1705 Act of Naturalization of the Most Excellent Princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover, and the Issue of Her Body. As a descendant of Sophia, Philip had been British since birth. Unaware of this, Mountbatten embarked upon a frenetic two-and-a-half-year campaign. On 23 August 1944, he flew from Southeast Asia Command to Cairo, near Philip’s station at Alexandria, to “sound out” Philip and the king of Greece about whether the former could assume British nationality. He told the British high commissioner, incredibly, that the British king had ordered his secret mission, on the grounds that Philip could “be an additional asset to the British Royal Family and a great help to them in carrying out their royal functions.” In fact, the king had already warned Mountbatten off: “I have been thinking the matter over since our talk and I have come to the conclusion that we are going too fast,” he had written to him two weeks before. Soundings were taken; they were, apparently, satisfactory; Mountbatten was on the plane back to Karachi that same afternoon.

In October 1945, the matter of Philip’s naturalization came before the cabinet. Attlee postponed any further discussion owing to the undesirability of aligning the British government with the Greek royalist cause. But by then the teenage Princess Elizabeth was playing “People Will Say We’re in Love” from the musical Oklahoma! nonstop on her gramophone; and Philip had been seen helping her with a fur wrap at the wedding of Mountbatten’s daughter Patricia. Mountbatten moved quickly, making personal appointments with the king, the prime minister and the foreign secretary, while expending considerable effort in enlightening his media contacts about Philip’s gallantry. “Please, I beg of you, not too much advice in an affair of the heart,” Philip wrote to his uncle, “or I shall be forced to do the wooing by proxy.”…

On the evening of 18 March 1947, Dickie and Edwina [Mountbatten] held a farewell reception at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall. It was a double celebration for them. That very morning, Mountbatten had secured a great victory, signaled by an announcement of the superfluous naturalization of Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, RN, in the London Gazette. He had planned to call his nephew “HRH Prince Philip.” Philip preferred to start again as a commoner, but it is hard to imagine that Dickie had nothing to do with his choice of surname. “Most people think that Dickie’s my father anyway,” Philip later acknowledged. With Philip’s engagement to the heiress presumptive soon to be announced, the House of Mountbatten was now right at the front of the line for the British throne.

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India’s Diverse Diasporas

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 233-235:

The cultivation of sugar-cane in colonies such as Mauritius and the Natal province of South Africa, in Trinidad, Guyana and Surinam in the Caribbean and Fiji in the Pacific Ocean created settlements of Indian labourers as many stayed on as free labourers after their contracts had expired. In some of these places the Indians emerged as the majority of the population, but with few exceptions they did not rise above the position of labourers. Therefore the diaspora in the ex-sugar colonies is not much of an economic asset to India. Mauritius is an exception to this rule. It has shown encouraging signs of economic growth and its Indian majority dominates the politics of the island but has maintained equitable relations with the other ethnic groups. Mauritius has become a major offshore banking centre for investors who channel their investments in India through the island. This has led to the strange phenomenon whereby tiny Mauritius ranks high among the nations investing in India. Being well aware of the benefits of good relations with Mauritius, India is even prepared to protect the maritime economic zone of the island with the help of its navy….

The era of decolonization did not provide much scope for re-migration from the diaspora to India. Nor did the erstwhile colonial powers invite people of Indian origin to settle in their home countries. There were only two striking exceptions to this rule. The Netherlands became the target of a mass exodus of Indians from Surinam after that colony gained independence in 1975. This was due to the fact that the Dutch had granted citizenship to the people of Surinam and since the Indians did not get along with the Afro-American majority, they left for the Netherlands before their right of citizenship could be revoked. A similar exodus of Indians from Uganda to Great Britain had taken place after Idi Amin had established his tyrannical rule in 1971. The Indians of Uganda were not the offspring of indentured servants but had followed the Uganda railroad. The workers who built that railroad had also come from India, but almost all of them had returned to their homes in the Punjab. The subsequent immigrants from India were for the most part literate Gujaratis who manned the administrative posts of the railway or set up shops in the hinterland which had been opened up by the railway. When these people were persecuted by Idi Amin and shifted to Great Britain they did very well there as a result of their business acumen. This group of the Indian diaspora is of considerable importance for India. But, of course, the Indians who came from East Africa are only part of the Indian diaspora in Great Britain, which also consists of Indian professionals and businessmen who migrated from India to the ex-imperial country in search of greener pastures.

Another post-colonial migration which had some similarity to the export of Indian manpower in colonial times was the recruitment of Indian labour by the countries along the Persian Gulf when those countries earned millions of petro-dollars. This recruitment benefited all South Asian countries. Most of them sent unskilled labourers to the Gulf; India had the lion’s share of skilled administrative jobs. For quite some time the ample remittances of these skilled personnel filled the gap in India’s balance of payments which was usually affected by a negative balance of trade. When the first Gulf War of 1991 disrupted this profitable connection, India was hit very hard, the more so as the disaster was sudden and unexpected. When Indira Gandhi was asked in 1981 whether she could envision an Indian exodus from the Gulf similar to that from East Africa precipitated by Idi Amin, she jauntily replied: ‘The Arabs need US.’ Her successors also took this for granted and were rudely awakened by the Gulf War.

The Indian diaspora in the countries along the Persian Gulf was very different from that everywhere else. First of all it was of very recent origin. This diaspora had no second or third generation members born in the country of residence. Moreover, the Indians who came to the Gulf did not intend to settle there for any length of time. There were many educated people from Kerala among them who simply wanted to earn enough money to build a house back home. Busy construction work in the villages of Kerala provided striking evidence of this trend in the 1980s. Under such conditions there was hardly any incentive to establish Indian community centres in the Gulf countries. The Indian diaspora was not concentrated in anyone place and its members fluctuated. Nevertheless, this was the diaspora which was most important for India, due to the economic effect of its remittances. Other Indian diasporas would be less inclined to send money to India as they would rather invest it where they lived. The occasional support of poor relatives in India did not give rise to substantial remittances.

Today’s Wall Street Journal weighs in on one of the barriers to the expansion of India’s diaspora in the U.S., where “the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin which was founded in 1984 has 42,000 members” (Rothermund, p. 235):

The Chandrayaan-I blasted off about dawn from the Satish Dhawan Space Center. It is expected to reach lunar orbit by November 8. The probe, whose principal goal is to “conduct mineralogical and chemical mapping of the lunar service,” carries five scientific payloads from India and others from NASA and the European Space Agency. With this achievement, India joins the U.S., Japan, Europe, Russia and China in the lunar club.

India deserves congratulations for the Chandrayaan-I, which attests further to that nation’s remarkable strides as an economic and scientific power. That said, we cannot fail to draw attention to how this event bears on the continuing lunacy of Congress in limiting visa quotas for highly skilled immigrants.

American universities are filled with foreign students, not least from India, getting degrees in engineering and science. Many dearly wish to stay and work in the U.S. Instead, we basically kick them out after training them, owing to the Congressional limit of 65,000 H-1B visas, which are used up the day they are released in March.

Would calling this the “pre-emptive export of jobs overseas” make it any less attractive to economic protectionists?

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Judt on the British Quagmire in Ulster

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 466-469:

The Provisional IRA was much like [Basque] ETA in its methods, and in some of its proclaimed objectives. Just as ETA sought to make the Basque provinces ungovernable and thereby secure their exit from Spain, so the Irish Republican Army aimed at making Northern Ireland ungovernable, expelling the British, and uniting the six northern provinces with the rest of Ireland. But there were significant differences. Since an independent Ireland already existed, there was—at least in principle—a practicable national goal for the rebels to hold out to their supporters. On the other hand, there was more than one Northern Irish community, and the distinctions between them went back a very long way.

Like French Algeria, Northern Ireland—Ulster—was both a colonial remnant and an integral part of the metropolitan nation itself. When London finally relinquished Ireland to the Irish, in 1922, the UK retained the six northern counties of the island on the reasonable enough grounds that the overwhelmingly Protestant majority there was intensely loyal to Britain and had no desire to be governed from Dublin—and incorporated into a semi-theocratic republic dominated by the Catholic episcopate. Whatever they said in public, the political leaders of the new Republic were themselves not altogether unhappy to forgo the presence of a compact and sizeable community of angrily recalcitrant Protestants. But for a minority of Irish nationalists this abandonment constituted a betrayal, and under the banner of the IRA they continued to demand the unification—by force if need be—of the entire island.

This situation remained largely unchanged for four decades. By the 1960s the official stance in Dublin somewhat resembled that of Bonn: acknowledging the desirability of national re-unification but quietly content to see the matter postponed sine die. Successive British governments, meanwhile, had long chosen to ignore so far as possible the uneasy situation they had inherited in Ulster, where the Protestant majority dominated local Catholics through gerrymandered constituencies, political clientelism, sectarian pressure on employers, and a monopoly of jobs in crucial occupations: civil service, judiciary and above all the police.

If politicians on the British mainland preferred not to know about these matters, it was because the Conservative Party depended on its ‘Unionist’ wing (dating from the nineteenth-century campaign to maintain Ireland united with Britain) for a crucial block of parliamentary seats; it was thus committed to the status quo, with Ulster maintained as an integral part of the United Kingdom. The Labour Party was no less closely identified with the powerful labour unions in Belfast’s shipbuilding and allied industries, where Protestant workers had long received preferential treatment.

As this last observation suggests, the divisions in Northern Ireland were unusually complicated. The religious divide between Protestants and Catholics was real and corresponded to a communal divide replicated at every stage of life: from birth to death, through education, housing, marriage, employment and recreation. And it was ancient—references to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century quarrels and victories might appear to outsiders absurdly ritualistic, but the history behind them was real. But the Catholic/Protestant divide was never a class distinction in the conventional sense, despite the IRA’s efforts to import Marxist categories into its rhetoric. There were workers and priests—and to a lesser extent landowners, businessmen and professionals—on both sides.

Moreover, many Ulster Catholics felt no urgent desire to be ruled from Dublin. In the 1960s Ireland was still a poor and backward country and the standard of living in the North, while below that of most of the rest of the UK, was still considerably above the Irish average. Even for Catholics, Ulster was a better economic bet. Protestants, meanwhile, identified very strongly with the UK. This sentiment was by no means reciprocated by the rest of Britain, which thought little of Northern Ireland (when it thought of it at all) .The old industries of Ulster, like those of the rest of the UK, were in decline by the end of the 1960s, and it was already clear to planners in London that the overwhelmingly Protestant blue-collar workforce there had an uncertain future. But beyond this, it is fair to say that the British authorities had not given Ulster serious thought for many decades.

The IRA had declined to a marginal political sect, denouncing the Irish Republic as illegitimate because incomplete while reiterating its ‘revolutionary’ aspiration to forge a different Ireland, radical and united. The IRA’s wooly, anachronistic rhetoric had little appeal to a younger generation of recruits (including the seventeen-year-old, Belfast-born Gerry Adams, who joined in 1965) more interested in action than doctrine and who formed their own organization, the clandestine, ‘Provisional’ IRA. The ‘Provos’, recruited mainly from Derry and Belfast, emerged just in time to benefit from a wave of civil rights demonstrations across the North, demanding long overdue political and civil rights for Catholics from the Ulster government in Stormont Castle and encountering little but political intransigence and police batons for their efforts.

The ‘Troubles’ that were to take over Northern Irish—and to some extent British—public life for the next three decades were sparked by street battles in Derry following the traditional Apprentice Boys’ March in July 1969, aggressively commemorating the defeat of the Jacobite and Catholic cause 281 years before. Faced with growing public violence and demands from Catholic leaders for London to intervene, the UK government sent in the British Army and took over control of policing functions in the six counties. The army, recruited largely in mainland Britain, was decidedly less partisan and on the whole less brutal than the local police. It is thus ironic that its presence provided the newly formed Provisional IRA with its core demand: that the British authorities and their troops should leave Ulster, as a first stage towards re-uniting the island under Irish rule.

The British did not leave. It is not clear how they could have left. Various efforts through the 1970s to build inter-community confidence and allow the province to run its own affairs fell foul of suspicion and intransigence on both sides. Catholics, even if they had no liking for their own armed extremists, had good precedent for mistrusting promises of power-sharing and civic equality emanating from the Ulster Protestant leadership. The latter, always reluctant to make real concessions to the Catholic minority, were now seriously fearful of the intransigent gunmen of the Provisionals. Without the British military presence the province would have descended still further into open civil war.

The British government was thus trapped. At first London was sympathetic to Catholic pressure for reforms; but following the killing of a British soldier in February 1971 the government introduced internment without trial and the situation deteriorated rapidly. In January 1972, on ‘Bloody Sunday’, British paratroopers killed thirteen civilians in the streets of Derry. In that same year 146 members of the security forces and 321 civilians were killed in Ulster, and nearly five thousand people injured. Buoyed up by a new generation of martyrs and the obstinacy of its opponents, the Provisional IRA mounted what was to become a thirty-year campaign, in the course of which it bombed, shot and maimed soldiers and civilians in Ulster and across mainland Britain. It made at least one attempt to assassinate the British Prime Minister. Even if the British authorities had wanted to walk away

from Ulster (as many mainland voters might have wished), they could not. As a referendum of March 1973 showed and later polls confirmed, an overwhelming majority of the people of Ulster wished to maintain their ties to Britain.

The IRA campaign did not unite Ireland. It did not remove the British from Ulster. Nor did it destabilize British politics, though the assassination of politicians and public figures (notably Lord Mountbatten, former Viceroy of India and godfather of the Prince of Wales) genuinely shocked public opinion on both sides of the Irish Sea. But the Irish ‘Troubles’ further darkened an already gloomy decade in British public life and contributed to the ‘ungovernability’ thesis being touted at the time, as well as to the end of the carefree optimism of the 1960s. By the time the Provisional IRA—and the Protestant paramilitary groups that had emerged in its wake—finally came to the negotiating table, to secure constitutional arrangements that the British government might have been pleased to concede almost from the outset, 1,800 people had been killed and one Ulster resident in five had a family member killed or wounded in the fighting.

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Khanya on African Anglicans and Homosexuality

Through a pingback to my WordPress blog, which attracts a lot more readers interested in religion than my older mirror site on Blogspot thanks to WordPress’s tag aggregator, I discovered Khanya, a South African blogger who converted from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, and who remains hard to pigeonhole politically. (That last characteristic I find most refreshing.) Khanya notes a very telling piece of historical perspective on African Anglican attitudes toward homosexuality, a perspective that seems little understood by many Anglicans outside Africa (or anybody else):

I’ve been watching from the sidelines as the Anglican Communion is tearing itself apart over homosexuality. The debate seems to generate more heat than light, and both sides seem to be talking past each other.

It seems to be a war of polemical slogans. The African “intransigence” has provoked a storm of racist bigotry in the Western homosexual lobby, with some bloggers being quite free with racist insults. The West [in turn] is accused of immorality and decadence, but very few have looked at the deeper issues.

An exception to this is a piece by Rod Dreher, St Charles Langa and African homosexuality, which looks at some of the missiological underpinnings of the African attitudes at least. Rod Dreher in turn quotes an article [in TNR] by [noted scholar of religious history] Philip Jenkins, in which he says

The Muslim context helps explain the sensitivity of gay issues in one other key respect. In the region later known as Uganda, Christianity first arrived in the 1870s, when the area was already under Muslim influence and a hunting ground for Arab slave-raiders. The king of Buganda had adopted Arab customs of pederasty, and he expected the young men of his court to submit to his demands. But a growing number of Christian courtiers and pages refused to participate, despite his threats, and an enraged king launched a persecution that resulted in hundreds of martyrdoms: On a single day, some 30 Bugandans were burned alive. Yet the area’s churches flourished, and, eventually, the British expelled the Arab slavers. That foundation story remains well-known in the region, and it intertwines Christianity with resistance to tyranny and Muslim imperialism–both symbolized by sexual deviance. Reinforcing such memories are more recent experiences with Muslim tyrants, such as Idi Amin, whose victims included the head of his country’s Anglican Church. For many Africans, then, sexual unorthodoxy has implications that are at once un-Christian, anti-national, and oppressive….

South African Anglicans seem to have been fairly neutral in the battles being waged elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, and the account above gives a lot less information than that of Philip Jenkins. The protagonists in the Anglican battle, on the African side, seem to be Uganda and Nigeria, both countries on the border of Muslim and Christian Africa. South Africa is far removed from the tensions in those countries.

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New Madrid: Spanish Influence at the Confluence

The Mississippi at Trail of Tears State Park, MissouriThe name of New Madrid is but one indication that the Spanish once controlled the Mississippi River as far north as its confluence with the Ohio. A plaque erected by the Missouri Marquette Tercentenary Commission at Trail of Tears State Park on the river between Ste. Genevieve and Cape Girardeau reminds us of why Marquette and Joliet turned around near that point on the river.

In 1672, Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette were commissioned by King Louis XIV to discover the course of the Mississippi River. On June 17, 1673, the expedition entered the Mississippi via the Wisconsin river and began their descent by canoe.

On July 4, 1673, the seven-man expedition passed the mouth of the turbulent and later observed the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi. On reaching an Arkansas Indian village near present Helena, July 17, they were certain that the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. Fearful of the Spanish if they continued southward, at this point Father Marquette and Joliet turned back.

A dedicated and gentle priest, Father Marquette first brought the Word of God into the Mississippi Valley, gave the world an account of its lands and, with Joliet, laid the basis for France’s claims to the area.

Born in Laon, France, June 1, 1637, Father Marquette died April 18, 1675, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan from the hardships of his missionary life.

The Spanish were still influential at the time of the Meriwether Lewis and William Clark expedition in 1804–1806, as a State Historical Society of Missouri signboard at the Trail of Tears State Park notes.

Writing in 1803, Nicholas de Finiel, a French military engineer, described the Shawnee villages along Apple Creek that Lewis mentioned: “These villages were more systematically and solidly constructed than the usual Indian villages. Around their villages the Indians soon cleared the land, which was securely fenced around in the American style in order to protect the harvest from animals. The first of these villages is located five or six leagues from Cape Girardeau, along the road to Ste. Genevieve…”

Shawnee presence in the area was a matter of international politics. Shawnee and Delaware Indians from Ohio were invited to Cape Girardeau in the 1780s by Spain’s district commandant, Louis Lorimier, who had traded with those tribes in Ohio. Spain, which governed the Louisiana territory then, welcomed the “Absentee Shawnee” with ulterior motives. It believed they would be a buffer against the Osage and against American ambitions to expand their borders. Coincidentally, Gen. George Rogers Clark, William Clark’s older brother, had burned Lorimier’s Ohio post because Lorimier sided with the British during the American Revolution.

An historical marker on the levee at New Madrid calls it “The first American town in Missouri”:

Founded in 1789 by George Morgan, Princeton graduate and Indian trader, on the site of Francois and Joseph Le Sieur’s trading settlement, L’Anse a la Graise (Fr. Cove of Fat). Flood and caving banks have destroyed the first town site.

Named for Madrid, Spain, the town was to be an American colony. Morgan was promised 15 million acres by the Spanish ambassador, eager to check U.S. expansion with large land grants. Spain did not confirm his grant but gave land to colonists. Morgan left but he had started American immigration to Missouri.

French and American settlers contributed to town growth. Here were founded a Catholic church, 1789; a Methodist church, 1810; and here was the southern [northern?] extent of El Camino Real or King’s Highway, 1789. There are over 160 Indian mounds in the county, two near town.

“Boot Heel” counties, including a strip of New Madrid, are said to be part of Missouri through efforts of J. H. Walker (1794-1860), planter at Little Prairie (Caruthersville), Pemiscot Co. In nearby Mississippi Co. is Big Oak Tree State Park, a notable hardwood forest.

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Rhodesia, 1940: War, Copper, and Race

There had been strikes by white workers in two of the mines in March over pay and conditions, resulting in pay rises which inflamed already tense relations with African mineworkers, who earned in a month about the same as the whites received in a day and got none of their benefits. The public beating of the wife of a black miner after an argument about rations sparked further discontent, culminating in ugly riots in which police opened fire, killing thirteen Africans and injuring many more. Copper was vital to the war effort and Northern Rhodesia was the Empire’s main producer, so the mines had to be kept operating seven days a week, and Gore-Browne had been called in urgently by the Governor to mediate. Summoning up all his courage, with faithful Henry by his side as bodyguard and interpreter, he had braved thousands of angry black miners brandishing spears and broken bottles, all backed by the menacing thump of tribal drums, to enter the compound of the ringleaders on the third day of rioting. Many were Bemba, and seeing ‘Chipembele‘ they had agreed to speak, but it had taken all his persuasive powers to get them to down arms and return to work, having wrangled them a few concessions and got the Governor’s blessing to promise an official British government inquiry into conditions. I thank the Lord for my gift of getting on with people, he wrote to [his aunt] Ethel.

Now the Commission was under way, and, along with Sir John Forster who had come out from England to head it, and Thomas Sandford, the Secretary for Native Interests, he had been meeting managers and workers, trying to get them to work together, and going underground to see conditions in the mines. Visiting native compounds, known as the ‘locations’, he was shocked by the squalid shacks, describing them in his diary as so different to the neat bungalows with the square green lawns of the white workers. European employees had their own club with swimming-pool, tennis courts and golf course, and during the rainy season their residential area was full of purple bougainvillaea, red flame trees, hibiscus and white frangipani.

Gore-Browne hated the Copperbelt, finding it a queer uneasy place, perhaps because of its mixed population dominated by South Africans. Ndola, which he remembered from before the copper boom as a one street place consisting of six corrugated iron huts, was a pleasant enough town with its neat white bungalows and avenues of mahogany trees, trunks painted white to prevent them being eaten by the white ants which devoured everything in the area, though it was hardly the ‘new Johannesburg’ everyone had predicted when the extent of the copper mines had first been realized. The road to Nkana, following an old Arab slave trail, was lined with beautiful thick teak forest. Mine shafts and derricks dominated the skyline, and there was something about the place that created mutual mistrust and suspicion between all the people—black and white, workers and officials, management and government. Gore-Browne was convinced that the situation would never be properly resolved until African workers were put on an equal footing with their white colleagues, a heretical suggestion for the times, and told Ethel, the whole experience has left me feeling rather Bolshevik—the pettiness and narrow-mindedness of the managers (who deal in millions of pounds) is quite unbelievable. The General Manager of Roan and Mufulira mines for example refused to allow the Trade Unions a phone merely out of spite.

SOURCE: The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream (HarperCollins, 2004), by Christina Lamb, pp. 221-223

This is as opportune a time as any to inflict upon my dear readers the following old chestnut I first encountered in a footnote in African Language Structures, by William E. Welmers, which I read during an introduction to African linguistics course one summer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Chibemba, like Kiswahili and most Bantu languages, marks noun classes with prefixes that also mark singular and plural for that class. Thus, bantu is ‘people’, muntu is ‘person’ (for some speakers, this only refers to black people, like kanaka in the Pacific). Similarly, in Setswana, ‘people’ are batswana and ‘a person’ is motswana. The same principle applies to loanwords, so the singular of batenda ‘bartender’ is mutenda, while the plurals of kitabu ‘book’ and kipilefti ’roundabout, traffic circle’ are vitabu and vipilefti, respectively.

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Rhodesia, 1927: Keeping Up Appearances

She found her way along the dark corridors to the library, where a lively fire was burning. Her husband was nowhere to be seen. Instead a servant whose name she had forgotten appeared as if from nowhere and led her wordlessly downstairs to the dining-room, where the long table had been set for dinner with one place setting at either end. [Stewart] Gore-Browne was standing at the window with his back to her, one arm folded behind his back and one hand in his pocket, but turned and came forward to take her hand as she entered. He was dressed stiffly in black lounge suit and white tie and looked as if he was fighting off an urge to look at his watch.

Nodding to a waiter who held out a chair for her at one end of the long table, Gore-Browne took a bottle of Pol Roger from a silver bucket on a side cabinet to celebrate their first night. There was no ice in the bucket and he apologized for it not being chilled, though the cellar kept bottles fairly cool. He always opened champagne himself, as the house servants tended to get so carried away shaking the bottles that guests ended up having a shower. Popping the cork with the suavity of one who has done so many times, he wrapped a white cloth round the neck of the bottle and poured it into two crystal flutes. Taking his place at the opposite end of the table, he waited for Jackson the servant to serve them, then lifted his glass in a toast. ‘Chin, chin, my dear Lorna. To life at Shiwa.’

‘Chin, chin.’ She raised her glass and drank, the tiny bubbles tickling her nostrils.

Another servant entered, mincing uncomfortably in the black patent shoes which Gore-Browne insisted all waiting staff wore, and bearing a silver tray in his white gloves from which he served slices of chicken liver pate on to their gold-rimmed Meissen plates. It must have made an odd scene, the husband and wife so far apart, the large silver candelabra in the centre casting shadows on the white linen cloth, the room silent except for the grind of their cutlery on the plates and the loud tick of the grandfather clock in the hall. Various oil-painted ancestors looked down on them from the walls. In the centre was Gore-Browne’s grandfather, Sir Thomas Gore-Browne, Ethel’s late father, who had been Governor of St Helena, New Zealand, Tasmania and Bermuda, and whose prominent nose had clearly been inherited by his grandson. Next to him was a chubby-faced man in bishop’s robes, Gore-Browne’s uncle Wilfred Gore-Browne, the first Bishop of Kimberley. On the other side of Sir Thomas was his wife, the beautiful raven-haired Lady Harriet, Gore-Browne’s late grandmother from the Campbell family of Craigie in Ayrshire, whom he had always called Grammy.

Having cleared away the first course, Jackson and another servant entered with silver platters of wild duck in orange sauce, sweet potatoes and green peas. The servants were always forgetting to warm up the plates, to the irritation of Gore-Browne, who found cold plates a particular dislike, even noting the event in his diary. His rebuke unnerved Jackson, who was already having difficulty manipulating the serving fork and spoon with the tight-fitting gloves. Nervous herself, and not used to champagne, young Lorna must have found it hard not to giggle, but she had been warned to behave by her uncle Major Goldman, who had always complained that she was an unruly creature, and she was eager to impress her new husband and show him that she was a worthy mistress of this great house.

SOURCE: The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream (HarperCollins, 2004), by Christina Lamb, pp. 143-145

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Rhodesia, 1922: “A Very Desirable Kind of Socialism”

The whole village had turned out to make bricks, as well as some other Bemba who, to [Stewart] Gore-Browne‘s delight, had returned to the lake on hearing of the ‘mad English bwana‘ and the chance to earn a few shillings. Having never seen a building made from bricks before, they were all intrigued by the process and everyone wanted to join in. ‘We had seen Europeans before and knew they liked building houses,’ recalls Paramount Chief Chitimukulu, who as a young boy worked as a brick carrier at Shiwa, ‘but we had never seen anything like this and it was wonderful to see right in the middle of the bush.’ Already the biggest employer in the whole Chinsali District, Gore-Browne had 110 people on the work register; men at 5d a day, and women and children at 2d. Two men cut the clay out of anthills and the river bed, then others took it to a pit where it was mixed with water brought from the river by small boys. The women mixed the mud and carried it from the kneading pit to the brickmaker who cut and levelled it into a rectangular mould. Once the bricks were made, the women then carried them on their heads to the drying floor, making a jolly sight, Gore-Browne noted in his diary, walking with that classic grace which English women seem to have lost. Behind them follow the old chief and his wife, rounding them up, everyone singing all the while. By midmorning the whole place is resonant with harmony as different work-gangs go back and forth in various directions, all singing. Some came with bundles of grass for thatching, others with poles and blocks of wood which they took to Cowie and Austin who were in charge of the carpentry, building the wooden frame for the house as well as furniture. Gore-Browne smiled as he saw a group of children, none of whom looked older than five, carrying spears, returning from an expedition to search for lime. They had obviously been successful and had chalked their faces with it, causing the dogs to bark in fright.

I feel like a missionary but without the hymn singing, he wrote, watching the scene. He assured his aunt and uncle that he was not about to start urging the natives to copy white man’s ways, and give up their beer-drinking, drumming and polygamy, though he had no qualms about dressing them in European clothes. In fact he hoped that in years to come the skills he was imparting would be passed on, so that the children and grandchildren of his workers would be building their own red-brick houses rather than primitive mud huts. He told Ethel:

It seems a wonderfully right state of affairs and a very desirable kind of socialism. I am cleverer and better equipped than these people so they all work to provide me with what I want, a roof and a garden, but I get them meat and protect their crops from marauding eland and find them money for their tax and few luxuries they can’t get otherwise. Also if an enemy came and burnt their houses or carried off their women, they’d expect me to take up their cause. It’s a fair arrangement and we don’t pretend we’re all equal which we obviously aren’t and when I pass through the village, they fall down and clap their hands and shout my praises. But I know that if I renege on my side of the bargain and take their crops or rape their women, they would soon rise up. In the old days they would have killed me, now I suppose they would go to the magistrate. Or maybe not.

SOURCE: The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream (HarperCollins, 2004), by Christina Lamb, pp. 86-88

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Watching Veteran Actors in Midsummer

Over the weekend, the Far Outliers watched the 1968 production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (via Netflix). The production itself was not very impressive—with cheap sets, poor lighting, and primitive special effects—but the Bard’s script was outstanding and the troupe of actors was quite remarkable. It was eerie to watch so many now-famous veterans of stage and screen in the prime of their youth.

The leading female roles were played by:

  • Judi Dench as Titania the Fairy Queen, in blueface and barely clad;
  • Helen Mirren as Hermia, a lovestruck 1960s flower child and not at all queenly;
  • Diana Rigg as Helena, as dashing and self-possessed as ever.

The leading male roles were played by:

I must admit I have a soft spot for this play, since I once acted the role of Lysander in high school. But my favorite piece is not the love story, but the witty dialogue and audience commentary during the play within a play in the final act.

THESEUS I wonder if the lion be to speak.

DEMETRIUS No wonder, my lord: one lion may, when many asses do.

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Malabari’s Impressions of Englishwomen, 1893

What strikes you most about Englishwomen is their look of health, strength, elasticity, all proclaiming a freedom of mind, to begin with. How they walk, and talk, and carry themselves generally! How they rush in and out, saying good-bye with the right hand turned towards themselves, meaning what our women in India always say, “vehela aujo,” come back soon! How they kiss one another, and offer their children, even their cats and dogs to be kissed by the friends departing! Does this last ceremony show heart-hunger, or is it affectation? Here they are, half a dozen of them rushing into my omnibus (the Lord have mercy on an unprotected orphan!) squeezing themselves into their seats. I am between two of the prettiest and quietest, feeling a strange discomfort. As the bus hobbles along, I feel my fair neighbours knocking against me every moment. They do not seem to mind it at all; it is a matter of course. Why, then, should I cry out against the inevitable? Evil to him who evil thinks. We are all too busy here, reading the paper, chatting about the weather, minding our packages and our toes. Further, I find both my neighbours resting their parasols between them and me on either side. A straw shows how the breeze blows. The breeze that I have just discovered is very refreshing to my soul. I have also noted that respectable Englishwomen rather avoid entering a carriage occupied by men. It is mainly through such experience that I am learning to take a charitable view of ladies sitting on the knees of gentlemen, or gentlemen on the knees of ladies, when three of a family happen to be in one hansom, or more than ten in a railway carriage. These sights, queer as they are, do not offend me now. They would be an eyesore amongst our own people. I myself could hardly bear them at first; but that is no reason why I should judge others in such a matter, before I am well equipped to form a judgment.

I have said above that the average Englishwoman strikes me most by her healthy looks and active habits. But, as usual, there is another side to this picture. One often meets with the anaemic and the consumptive, victims of overwork, starvation, or dissipation, in themselves or their parents. How pathetic is the sight of one of these girls, moving softly like a ghost, with a frame so fragile as to be driven by the wind behind, with a transparent skin and glassy eyes, exhausted by the effort to creep on to the platform, and going directly to sleep in the carriage, with the delicate little mouth half open, as if to allow the breath of life to ebb out without a struggle! It fills me with grief to watch this fair slight being as if in the process of dissolution. And yet I sit there, fascinated by her presence, unmindful of time or distance.

SOURCE: “Malabari: A Love-Hate Affair with the British,” 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. 374-375

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