After my last posting on Anti-Fascist dieselpunk and the Spanish Civil War, which owed much to Steampunk Emma Goldman’s original blog, I began thinking about the other great anti-fascist struggle also lost in the shadow of WWII. In 1935, before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia–one of the few African territories at the time not under European colonial control. The brutal attack on Ethiopia (then also called Abyssinia), which employed poison gas and flame throwers on civilian populations, was partly strategic, and also revenge–for an Italy still smarting from their humiliating defeat by Ethiopian forces at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. While the near impotent League of Nations remained shamefully complicit in their refusal to denounce Mussolini or allow arms to a beleaguered Ethiopia, outrage was heard from throughout the black diaspora. Ethiopia had long functioned as a symbolic political and cultural historical site in black popular culture, politics and thought; and the invasion by Italy was seen by many as an attack on the entire ”black world.”
Tag Archives: africa
#101 “Afro-Celtic Post-Roman, Icepunk Regency Novel”: A Review of Kate Elliot’s COLD MAGIC — Guest Blog by Maeve Alpin
You may be familiar with Kate Elliot’s previous books, the Crossroads Trilogy, The Crown of Stars septology, the Novels of the Jaran, and The Golden Key, her collaboration with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson. Cold Magic, an adventurous multicultural steampunk novel is just as marvelous.
Note: This essay is cross-posted with permission from Eccentric Yoruba.
Madam Efunroye Tinubu was among the most prominent and powerful Yoruba women in pre-colonial Nigeria (early to mid 19th century). Other renowned Yoruba women from that period were Iyalode Efunsetan Aniwura and Madam Omosa, both of whom deserve posts of their own.
So, if you’re here then you probably like steampunk, but you’re also probably just a little tired of seeing the same old English professor or American cowboy riding his clockwork horse to save western civilization. Me too. And after following the Racefail discussions back in 2009, I set out to create a steampunk series that would be different in every way I could imagine.
I started with research. Lots of it. I learned everything I could about the history and cultures of North Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean to create a time and place for my series that was original and fantastical, and yet thoroughly grounded in reality. Instead of drawing new maps, I looked at ancient maps. Instead of inventing emperors and wars and nations, I discovered the real ones from history (although none of them had appeared in my high school classes, disappointingly). And I carefully knitted them all together as the backdrop for my stories.
Here’s what I came up with.
A Parisian Sultana, written by Adolphe Belot, is set in 1872 and 1873, is about Laura de Guéran, a wealthy young widow living in Paris. She is 25 years old, of average height, “admirably proportioned…fair, decidedly fair” with a “well turned neck,” a “full, though not too full bust;” her “whole countenance is a strange mixture of good nature and firmness, of amiability and resolution, of gaiety and sadness.” De Guéran is the daughter of a member of the Royal Geographical Society and as a child and teenager she knew “most of the celebrated travelers of our age,” including Overweg, Speke, Richardson, Vogel, and Schweinfurth. When she turned 22 she fell in love with and married the wealthy French explorer the Baron de Guéran, and moved with him to Paris. Although English by birth she quickly fell in love with Paris and the French and became a French patriot. With her husband she enjoyed two years of married bliss.
Then he disappeared, somewhere in Egypt, and she was notified that he was dead. After a year’s mourning she summons three men to her apartment; the three are in love with her and have all proposed marriage to her. She tells them that she is going to Africa to find her husband’s remains and to see where he fell and why and to “publish his works,” and that the three should come with her. One of the men, a doctor, declines on the grounds that his mother is dying and he must stay with her. This is hard for him, because he clearly loves her, and she is genuinely sorry that he is not accompanying her. The other two agree, and together with an older doctor and a reliable female Cockney maid/companion they go to Africa.
It is day 15 of our arduous journey through the veldts of Nigeria (or are we in Cameroon yet?). Our tracker Adeola has discovered new tracks and scraps of fibers from obviously foreign cloths. She can find a single iguana track amongst a bevy of crocodiles, this one can. We listen intently that these “men” are probably several hours, if not a day away. We find evidence of them through their encampments, their excrement and their litter. Yes, litter. Can you imagine- these foreigners, these soldiers, these baby snatching, people annihilating, genocidal rapists also throw their unwanted refuse upon our beautiful, sacred ground. Well if you can march hordes of innocent groups of human beings to ships waiting to whisk them away to be enslaved, massacred and destroyed in a whole different place on this globe, throwing down unwanted garbage must not mean much. I guess it truly lies in one’s perspective, does it not?
I think to myself, “Did I travel back in time for this?”
And before I can answer, images of the next few centuries spring forth as vividly as the greens and browns presently ahead of me: slavery, men and boys hanging from trees, Emmett Til in his coffin, the Civil War, ghettos, heroin, crack, Rodney King, Ronald Regan, Flava Flav, the riots in Newark, Chicago and LA, apartheid and AIDS. Internally, the answer is clear. The rest of the women notice my hesitation and far-off look in my eyes and immediately they know where my mind has gone. They wait patiently as I gather my wits about me. It’s all so overwhelming at times. From one existence to another in mere minutes, then from that existence to here-it is all staggering to think I am recreating my past as my future remains uncertain now- the whole butterfly/chaos theory thing. Try to explain that to a group of Amazonian warriors attempting to rid their land of oppressors and see where it takes you.
It took weeks and weeks to convince my group of fighting women I was actually a woman from their future who has returned to the past to go back in an attempt to right the wrongs done to one group of my ancestors by another. Perhaps the laser light pen (bought at a flea market to amuse my cats) and Nintendo DS (note to self: energizers do NOT time travel well) helped to tip the scale of doubt to my side a bit. It took several days for me to even convince them that a person bearing my skin tone could have even come from their same mothers. My complexion, hair texture, shape of my lips and nose were all odd but strangely reminiscent of theirs–albeit, a highly watered down version; or as sister Iruwya said, a highly “whitened” down version of them all. She has a biting wit about her- she is not ever afraid to speak her mind, heart and especially her soul. Once she was convinced of the atrocities to come, she, the non-believer became my staunchest advocate and friend. At night, I think back to the times this whole adventure began. I bounded in the matter of what seemed to be minutes from 21st century woman, to 19th century “lady” and then to here and now, the Africa of my not-so ancient past.
But, now I stand, clothed in a strange compilation of Victorian European garb mixed with the bits and pieces of textiles I have found on the dead and dying of White men and African brothers alike-the strangest mosaic of African-American-European aesthetics this time period has probably ever seen; my hair in tight ringlets surround my face, mane-like; no matter what–I am home.
But now is not night and there is no time to reminisce. It is dusk and the heat, still shimmering in waves from the ground below, attacks us. The cross bow (yes, with laser light pen attachment-sold separately) strung across my back grows heavier with each step that I take. Not even the adrenaline brought about by the sight of the fires ahead, the smell of the cooking meat and the unquestionable shouts and laughter of the White men ahead can alleviate the ache in my mid-back. I look around me and see the familiar smiles of my new sisters: once warrior women of their king in Dahomey, they fight alongside of me now to try and thwart the death of our culture, our names, heritage, land and lives. “Come” says Tayari in Yoruba (a language I never knew while living in New York in 2011, but one I can easily understand and speak now). The rest of us nod. Our evening activities have just begun.
The above excerpt taken from “The Strange and Accurate Depiction of the Life and Times of Luisa Fuentes as Miss Dorothy Winterman, Lady of Leisure and Haberdasheress Extraordinaire In Her Journeys Through Time and Oppression: A Memoir”.
Okay, so the above memoir does not exist in either fiction or reality. It is a part of an explanation of the newest and most original Steampunk outfit that debuted at the Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey the weekend of May 20th, 2011. My name, however, really is Luisa Ana Fuentes and I really am of numerous mixed heritages. I’m a steampunk and my character’s name is (you guessed it) Dorothy Winterman, Lady of Leisure and Haberdasheress Extraordinaire.
Earlier this year, my attention was drawn to a discussion on ‘India’s Elite Africans’ held at the University of London:
“The dispersion of Africans is generally associated with slavery and the slave trade. Most Afro-Asians have been written out of history. Within this scenario, how was it possible for Africans to rule parts of Asia, not just for a few years but for three and a half centuries? Three scholars will address this issue and consider the current status of Elite Africans in India today.”
Due to my interest in Afro-Asian history, I know of relations between India and Eastern African states and kingdoms in history; however, I remained largely ignorant of elite Africans in Indian history. Malik Ambar is perhaps one of the most well-known Elite Africans due in part to his important role in Ahmadnagar history and to standing up to the Mughals.
Salammbô was created by Gustave Flaubert and appeared in Salammbô (1862). Flaubert (1821-1880) is one of the major writers of the 19th century. Although he is best known for Madame Bovary he has a respectable body of work, from short stories to dramas. His work is generally placed in the realist genre, but his skill as a stylist and technician is far above most of the other realists. Salammbô is one of the two or three greatest historical romances of the 19th century.
Salammbô is the story of Carthage in 237 B.C.E, during the mercenary rebellion described by the Greek historian Polybius in his History. The novel is not really about Salammbô, who is the priestess of Tanit, the moon, and is the daughter of the mighty general Hamilcar Barca. Salammbô is about the mercenary rebellion itself. Salammbô only appears as a subplot, albeit a compelling one and one which Flaubert himself saw as important to the novel.
“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.