Tag Archives: Eccentric Yoruba

#71 “African Fabrics”: The History of Dutch Wax Prints–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Vlisco model. Click for source.

“A picture of a pipe isn’t necessarily a pipe, an image of “African fabric” isn’t necessarily authentically [and wholly] African”.

These above words are quoted by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian-British contemporary artist known for his amazing artwork using African print fabrics in his scrutiny of colonialism and post-colonialism. What is commonly known as “African fabric” goes by a multitude of names: Dutch wax print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Dutch Hollandais. I grew up calling them ankara and although they’ve always been a huge symbol of my Nigerian and African identity, I had no idea of the complex and culturally diverse history behind the very familiar fabrics until I discovered Yinka Shonibare and his art.

I know I personally felt shocked upon learning that the “African” fabrics I grew up loving and admiring were not really “African” in their origins (or is it?). This put things in perspective, however, as it suddenly made sense that my mother’s friends regularly travelled to European countries, including Switzerland and England, to purchase these fabrics and expensive laces to sell them again in Nigeria. In an attempt to join this lucrative business, my mother once dragged me with her to a fabric store while on holiday in London. I was not 13 years old then and I recall being surprised to find such familiar fabrics on sale outside Nigeria. Regardless, I never imagined that the history of this African fabric, henceforth referred to as Dutch wax print, spanned over centuries, across three continents and bridging various power structures.

Vlisco model. Click for source.

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Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle in Ghana: A Personal Essay–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Note from Ay-leen: This essay is cross-posted from Eccentric Yoruba’s Dreamwidth journal and describes the story of the international slave trade from a unique vantage point: where historical hardship becomes a tourist commodity at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.

The canopy walkways of Kakum National Park

There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. “Are you scared?” one of the men– presumably a safety guide–asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.

“Yes, I am absolutely frightened,” I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, “You’re lying.” In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: “We’ll soon reach the end.” I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I’d heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn’t ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.

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Africans in Ancient China & Vice Versa, Part 4: A Final Word about Zheng He–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Note: This is the final segment in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba about Ancient Africa & China, cross-posted with her permission. Also, check out parts 1, 2, and 3.


Zheng He’s 7th expedition was his last and after years of moving back and forth between the East African coast and China, all contact ceased. Some people may look at this and say that the Chinese turned their backs on Africa, but if you look at the situation within China in that time, it sheds more light on this situation.

In 1424, the Yongle Emperor died. His successor, the Hongxi Emperor (reigned 1424–1425), decided to curb the influence at court. Zheng He made one more voyage under the Xuande Emperor (reigned 1426–1435), but after that Chinese treasure ship fleets ended. Zheng He died during the treasure fleet’s last voyage.

…Chinese merchants continued to trade in Japan and southeast Asia, but Imperial officials gave up any plans to maintain a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and even destroyed most of the nautical charts that Zheng He had carefully prepared. The decommissioned treasure ships sat in harbors until they rotted away, and Chinese craftsmen forgot the technology of building such large vessels. (Source.)

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Africans in Ancient China & Vice Versa, Part 3: Zheng He’s Star Fleet–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Note: This is the third in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Here are parts 1 and 2. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.

The Ming Dynasty’s fleet of giant ships predates the Columbus expedition across the Atlantic. Photograph of the display in the China Court of the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Click for more info.

In 1414 a Chinese fleet heralded by the Muslim Grand Eunuch of the Three Treasures, Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) sailed into the western Indian Ocean for the fourth time since his journey to the East began in 1405. In previously, that is between 1405 and 1414, Zheng He and his ships had reached the ports of Indonesia, south-west India and Ceylon. However, the trip in 1414 was special because the fleet was advancing into more distant regions beyond South Asia and the Arabian Gulf and in the process, covering a larger total of water than any seafaring people had before.

Zheng He is frequently referred to as the Chinese Columbus and today he has become the personification of maritime endeavour for China. I am personally not fond of this comparison between Zheng He and Columbus; Zheng He was much cooler they shouldn’t even be compared. They are not on the same level in terms of their maritime adventures. Really to me calling Zheng He the Chinese Columbus actually dims his shine.

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Africans in Ancient China & Vice Versa, Part 2: The Kunlun Servants & African Merchants–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Note: This is the second in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Part 1 is here. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.

“Tao Xian purchasing Mo He.” Ink sketch by Chen Xu.

Kundun Servants as Magical Knight-Errants & Slaves

In my previous post I mentioned that I had read somewhere that two slaves given as gifts to the a Chinese Emperor by an Arab delegation were the first Africans to enter ancient China. This may have been wrong really because dark-skinned people were talked in China as early as the 4th century. They were referred to as kunlun, a term which had many previous meanings but by the 4th century was at attached to the people with dark skin.

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Africans in Ancient China & Vice Versa, Part 1: Chinese Explorations–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Note: This is the first in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.

“Comprehensive map of the Four Seas (Si Hai Zong Tu)”. A copy of an ancient Chinese explorer map that had survived to the 17th century and found in the 1730 book “Records of Sights and Sounds of Overseas States” (Haiguo Jianwen Lu) authored by Chen Lunjiong

Last year while I was researching for my dissertation, I came across a footnote that mentioned that the first Africans who reached ancient China (the particular period was not specified) were two slaves given as gifts to the Emperor by an envoy of Arab traders. I found myself wondering what happened to them, were the slaves male or female, were they killed immediately or did they go on to serve the Emperor, did they have children (it was possible!) etc.

It keeps on popping up, one or two sentences or a footnote that quickly says something about Africans in ancient China, whether in Peking or Canton but there is never enough information. To be honest I’d like to know more. If I could, I’d travel back in time just to see the daily lives of those Africans in ancient China. I’ve read that most of them were slaves of Arab traders and lived among the Arab settlements in Canton…things will become clearer from here on, I promise.

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#48 Les Sapeurs: Gentlemen of the Congo–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Modern day dandies–Gentlemen of Bakongo, Brazzaville. Image courtesy of Daniele Tamagni. Click for link.

Dandyism and the Black Man

A dandy is a man who places extreme importance on physical appearance and refined language. It is very possible that dandies have existed for as long as time itself. According to Charles Baudelaire, 19th century French poet and dandy himself, a dandy can also be described as someone who elevates aesthetics to a religion.

In the late 18th and early 19th century Britain, being a dandy was not only about looking good but also about men from the middle class being self-made and striving to emulate an aristocratic lifestyle.  The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of literature’s greatest dandies; famous historical dandies include Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron.

These days the practice of dandyism also includes a nostalgic longing for ideals such as that of the perfect gentleman. The dandy almost always required an audience and was admired for his style and impeccable manners by the general public.

The special relationship between black men and dandyism arose with slavery in Europe particularly during England’s Enlightenment period. In early 18th century, masters who wanted their slaves to reflect their social stature imposed dandified costumes on black servants, effectively turning them into ‘luxury slaves’. As black slaves gained more liberty, they took control of the image by customising their dandy uniforms and thereby creating a unique style. They transformed from black men in dandy clothing to dandies who were black.

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