1. I’m reading Eric Hobsbawm’s book, Bandits, an in-depth look at the importance not only of the facts but also the fictionalization of banditry. The bandits he focuses on are what he calls ‘social bandits,’ that is, bandits that have a place in society as a sort of safety valve — when the disparity between the rich and the poor becomes too obvious, when the peasantry cannot even count on the most basic restraints on the greed of landowners, when injustice rules the land, popular myth calls forth a time honored defender — a character that is free to act outside the law, a character who is of the people and dedicated to helping the poor by redistributing the wealth of the rich, a robber who represents a sort of basic wish-fulfillment of vigilante vengeance.

    The tension between reality and fantasy is an important aspect in studying these bandits. The following are Hobsbawm’s nine elements that define the ‘noble robber,’ the champion of the weak and poor. First, this Robin Hood-type gets his start on the wrong side of the law because he is singled out by corrupt authority or unjust laws. Secondly, he is out to reverse any and all instances of injustice, plus, thirdly, he is out to redistribute wealth gained by unjust men. Fourth, he only ever kills people in self-defense or as an example of justice served. Points five and six are important to consider together, as they both serve to assert that the noble robber never ceases to be a part of his community; Hobsbawm’s fifth point states that the robber will return to live with his people if he is allowed to survive his exploits, the sixth point is that ‘he is admired, helped and supported by his people.’ The seventh element is that the ‘noble robber’ is only killed through betrayal, and the eighth states that he is ‘invisible and invulnerable’ — taken together these points illustrate that his powers are such that his enemies would never be able to capture or kill him except through the collusion of a close associate. And the ninth point states that the noble robber never breaks faith with the highest powers of law and order, only with ‘local gentry, clergy or other oppressors.’

    It seems unlikely that any outlaw ever lived up to all of these points in reality, but, in the case of bandits from a long time ago it hardly matters — fact gave way long ago to fiction, and so who cares what the ‘real’ Robin Hood was like. In the modern day, it becomes almost impossible to ignore the ugly fact that an outlaw is an outlaw because he does unpleasant things and really has to be out for number one if he’s going to survive — regardless of what his ideals might be. Here I am looking to understand once again, when do we accept a rebel as a hero rather than perceive him merely as a criminal? Eric Hobsbawm writes about a number of outlaws that were formative, sometimes directly, sometimes merely as fictional ideals, to struggles for social change in societies where wrongs needed righting and the weak needed protection. But he also keeps in his focus criminals who really didn’t do much for anyone but themselves and yet still were important in the minds of the downtrodden — a bandit who was a selfish monster is still accomplishing something if he is demonstrating to the high-and-mighty that they aren’t anything special — that they aren’t the only men capable of being selfish monsters. A ruthless villain is still a symbol of defiance and strength if he is your home-town villain and not some villain imposed from outside the community.

    On July 25th, 1853, law enforcement killed Joaquin Murieta, a notorious outlaw living in the mountains of central California. It is worth remembering that California had only been governed loosely by the United States for less than a decade at this point — having only been won from Mexico in 1847 as part of the spoils of the Mexican-American War. The story of Murieta revolves around another important event that occurred around this time — gold was discovered in California and over 300,000 people came to California during the Gold Rush to make their fortunes. To the best of our ability to separate truth from fiction, Murieta and his family arrived in California from Hermosillo in the Mexican state of Sonora in 1849. He set up to work panning for gold but something led him instead to become a robber and horse thief and eventually at least 40 murders were attributed to his gang. The State of California assembled a team of California marshals to put an end to Murieta’s career; after they had killed him the marshals went around for a while with Murieta’s head preserved in a jar full of alcohol, ostensibly to prove the identity of their catch so they could collect the governor’s reward, but also so they could exhibit Murieta’s head among the mining camps — you had to pay a dollar to see the famous outlaw’s head.

    The legend of Murieta was built up as the story of a resistance fighter — the Anglo takeover of Mexican lands, plus the overwhelming influx of strangers during the Gold Rush, made California a rather frightening instance of society breaking down along ethnic lines. Although no official records tell the story, Murieta seems to have been driven to brigandage after being mistreated by Anglo miners jealous of his gold claim. A dime novel, “The Life And Adventures of Joaquin Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit,” published only a year after his death, reports that he was beaten, forced to watch as his wife was raped and that he was later horsewhipped and his half-brother hung by a second mob of Anglo-Americans. This novel seems to have been highly influential in fixing the ‘facts’ of Murieta’s exploits in peoples’ minds; both historians and observers who had been on hand during Murieta’s life have absorbed some of the novel’s disproven points, but, again, the social bandit is a figure that society desires and fabricates requiring only the barest framework of facts.

    The man who wrote “The Life And Adventures of Joaquin Murieta” is another fascinating character, a Cherokee writer known as Cheesquatalawny (Yellow Bird) or by his Anglo name, John Rollin Ridge; he was born just as the Cherokee people were being officially driven off their lands by the US government. His father and grandfather had both signed the Treaty of New Echota that put the stamp of law on the Trail of Tears; at the age of 12, Cheesquatalawny was forced to witness his father’s murder at the hands of 25 Cherokee men angry about the New Echota treaty; a decade later Ridge murdered one of the men he believed to have been involved with his father’s killing. Ridge was less than successful as a gold miner in California, and, although he is credited as the first Native American novelist, his book never made a profit during his lifetime. He became a journalist but died at the age of 40 from encephalitis. His portrayal of Joaquin Murieta demonstrates some of his somewhat difficult and twisted attitudes towards race in America — in his novel Murieta is steadfast and true, a worthy Mexican who leaves his native land in pursuit of the lofty ideals represented by the policies of an enlightened United States, and as a bandit in California he remains dedicated to a vision of American life that Anglo Americans deny him. However, Ridge maintains an ugly hierarchy in representing race in his novel, his Anglo Americans and Mexican Americans are not blameless but they are depicted as reaching towards higher goals of civilization, whereas he portrays the California Indians as greedy, cowardly and lazy — truly savages in comparison to his own Cherokee people; as well, Ridge presents his Chinese-American characters in a less than flattering light. Murieta too appears not to have let the downtrodden status of Chinese immigrants influence his treatment of them — his gang seems to have victimized Chinese communities just as much if not more often than Anglo settlers.

    The song I present this week is a traditional ranchera song, “Cruz De Madera” — I picture it being sung by Joaquin Murieta’s head, preserved in a jar, on display for curious goldminers. My translation is probably a bit clumsy, but here goes:

    When to the graveyard you take me,
    There’d better not be crying from nobody —
    All of you’d better be singing,
    some song that once made me happy —
    bring me to the funeral
    in the best of spirits!

    This world is so small,
    and I’ve walked it round and around —
    so when they take me away,
    I hope there will be a band playing —
    Sing, don’t cry my comrades,
    you’d best be enjoying yourselves!

    So what, if, as the years pass along,
    my grave should become abandoned,
    And that rough wooden cross
    become weathered and broken;
    You can go and scratch out my name,
    and bury that cross in the dirt,
    But, truly, you must remember —
    to die, it really is nothing.

    So, farewell, to all my true friends,
    and blessings upon my dear old mother —
    Farewell all you beautiful women,
    and goodbye to all the beautiful places —
    Farewell and drink up, gentlemen,
    here ends the tale of my sorrows.

     
  2. July 19th is Burmese Martyr’s Day. At 10:37 AM, traditionally, the air siren will sound in Burmese cities marking the moment Aung San and his cabinet were gunned down at a meeting in Rangoon, back in 1947. The current military dictatorship in Burma generally tries to keep Martyr’s Day observations low key — mostly because public displays of interest in politics might get sloppy; Burma has been in a state of civil war, more or less, since 1948, and it has been ruled by the military as an overtly totalitarian state since the 1980’s.

    I’ve been trying to get a handle on what Burma is — it’s quite difficult really. It brings into question how to define any country really; we call our country America, ignoring the fact that we are not the only nation in the Americas. We call ourselves Americans, while the indigenous peoples of the Americas never chose ‘America’ as a name or chose the way of life embodied in our mostly European derived governance. Burma has a problem with its name, and with the governance that the name represents; beginning in 1824, Britain fought three bloody and expensive wars shaping a territory known as Burma and absorbing it into its Indian Empire.

    The strongest political force in the Irrawaddy River valley region during the early 1800’s was the Kongbaung dynasty, which had fought at different times with China and Siam (Thailand) to create pretty much the borders as they stand today to the South and West. To the East they had to contend with British India which eventually would swallow them up. A quick look at the layout of the country is informative, especially with an eye out towards language. The Irrawaddy River is obviously the most important dynamic in a discussion of Burma, it begins up in the glaciers of the Himalayas, up in the North. Midway down out of the mountains the river has been joined by most of its major tributaries; here, the main city is Mandalay and from this region the Irrawady flows down to the lowland delta around the capitol city Rangoon. This stretch from Mandalay to Rangoon, or in the modern parlance — Yangon, is the area populated by the Bamar people, who speak the language we refer to as Burmese and dominate the politics of the country once called Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989.

    Renaming their country Myanmar was a move on the part of the military junta to make a split with the British colonial past, but as well, it was an attempt to try and be more inclusive of the non-Bamar ethnicities who have been resisting Burmese rule for half a century: ‘Myanmar’ is derived from a literary name for the region that dates back to long before the British Empire, back around 1200 AD. Many refuse to use the term Myanmar because they feel it gives legitimacy to the current military rule, plus many others point out that Myanmar is still a Bamar term and does nothing to resolve the problems of the many ethnic minorities who feel cheated of any chance at self-determination within the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. While the Irrawaddy midlands and delta are controlled by the mainly Bamar military government, control becomes a thorny issue with the many minority peoples vying for self-determination in the hills all along the river valley and uplands. Historically, many of these peoples have struggled against Bamar domination even before the British colonial era, and continue to do so today.

    The overarching discussion I find myself harping on over and over again in these articles is: how can I root for the underdog if I can’t decide who has a right to that title? The events remembered on Burmese Martyr’s Day highlight that most crippling ambiguity inherent in studying history, politics and human behavior in general: terrorists are freedom fighters, every tyrant is a hero to someone, and vice versa — one man’s underdog is a despicable bully to someone else. Diving right into the matter, let’s play Good Guy/ Bad Guy…

    Aung San, leader of the Burmese Independence Army as well as the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League was born in 1915. By this time the British had ruled Burma outright for 20 years, after six decades before that of wars fought to gain control of the country. So the British were the Bad Guys. During the first few decades of Aung Sun’s life, resistance to British rule became more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than just easily-suppressed bursts of violence in the backwaters. A generation of Burmese scholars educated abroad began to organize and educate. In the thirties, a group of students began to call themselves ‘thakin’ — a Burmese term that essentially means ‘master,’ a term the British had come to expect to be addressed as. Aung San joined these upstart ‘thakins’ and the 1930’s were a tumultuous time of protests and politicking — Aung San became a founding member and the first secretary general of the Communist Party of Burma. The British decided to separate the governance of Burma from that of British India, giving Burma a constitution and also allowing for an elected administrative body of Burmese. Among the first prime ministers of this nominally democratic British Burma was a man named U Saw.

    Meanwhile, an undisputed Bad Guy of Bad Guys appears on the horizon — over hills and mountains, and Hitler is his name. The mid-thirties also began a war between China and Japan, Japan being the aggressor and all around Bad Guy. Well, what is Britain to do? It doesn’t take too long for Britain to suddenly take on the aspect of plucky little underdog as the Axis powers roll all over continental Europe. The colonized peoples of Asia however are not so sure about this turn of events. The Bad Guy of my Bad Guy is my Good Guy, right? In 1941, U Saw, the Burmese prime minister, was arrested and carted off to Uganda by the Brits for making overtures to the Japanese. Aung San and a good number of his thakin compatriots fled Burma as the British were particularly twitchy about any rebellious activity during wartime; they were on route to seek help from China when they were intercepted by Japanese agents who whisked them away to Hainan island for special insurgency training. Thus was born the Burmese Independence Army, supplied and abetted by the Japanese.

    The Japanese attacked British-held Burma on the same day as their attack on Pearl Harbor, December 11, 1941. To many South East Asians the ease with which Japan swept aside the European colonial powers was thrilling; that the Japanese, fellow Asians, were able to demonstrate such strength and power was at first a vindication of the long-abused spirit of Asian peoples. Unfortunately the nationalist fervor that had propelled the Japanese to such feats of self-empowerment were not particularly inclusive — Imperial Japan was at heart deeply racist, and the atrocities they committed across Asia eventually galvanized numerous resistance movements; to a large extent the massive support for the Communist Party in China can be seen as an extension of a grassroots upsurge of resistance to the Japanese invasion. In Burma, a Burmese resistance fighter was quoted as saying ‘if the British sucked our blood, the Japanese ground our bones.’ By 1945 Aung San had turned coat and thrown his lot in with the British — the Burmese Independence Army began a revolt against the Japanese.

    World War II pretty much bankrupted Britain completely. The USA and the USSR had come out as the new world superpowers and had essentially carved up a good deal of the world into dependencies. The Labour Party came to power in England promoting plans to disengage with the majority of Britain’s colonial empire; other than Conservative Party stalwarts — among them Winston Churchill — most Britons did not see the point in expending more money and manpower bringing their colonial possessions to heel. None of the transitions to independence in South Asia were particularly graceful, Indonesia and Indochina declared independence from their Dutch and French overlords and the struggles that ensued were miserable messy disasters that bloodied the hands of many, including eventually the USA.

    Over and over, throughout the former colonies, power struggles came to the surface that demonstrated how artificial and arbitrary the borders of the colonies had been. British rule in India had often played different ethnicities off of each other in order to maintain control from the top, in 1947 the decision was made, attendant on Indian independence to partition the region into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The results were horrendous — thousands were killed in the rioting that ensued as Hindus and Muslims raced to their new homelands. Next door in Burma a situation was brewing that in that same year would leave Aung San ripped apart by machine gunfire and Burma caught with almost no chance for democratic reconciliation between the various ethnicities living in an independent Burma.

    Winston Churchill referred to Aung San as a “traitor rebel leader of a quisling army,” and the former Governor of Burma Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith was ready to arrest him for war crimes committed during his stint as a Japanese collaborator. Indeed, Governor Dorman-Smith, who returned during the short period of British rule after the Japanese were expelled, brought back his friend, former Prime Minister U Saw, grooming him to be Prime Minister a complicit not-quite-so independent Burma. Dorman-Smith was also a supporter of a ‘two Burma’ solution that would have essentially created a partition between Upper Burma and Lower Burma; Aung San however had helped organize a modestly diverse coalition from amongst the minority communities in preparation for a full and inclusive independent Burmese Government. And many feel that when gunmen loyal to U Saw, using weapons provided by provocateurs within the British military, murdered Aung San and his prospective cabinet that that had been the last and only chance Burma was going to get in building a peaceful democratic future. Almost immediately, civil unrest began in earnest, a ‘kaleidescope of insurgencies’ that resulted in 60,000 dead just in the first two years after independence.

    There were so many guns, and so many men used to fighting by the time the British left. The Communists were the first to rebel, splitting away from the mainstream Burmese administration and setting up camp in rural areas. They still had the weapons they had used as part of the Japanese led freedom-fighting days, and soon gained support from Communist China up in the hills near the border. The British, as far back as the Anglo-Burmese Wars of the 1800’s, had developed a policy of arming various ethnic minorities to act as colonial troops and police, pitting them against the Bamar majority. This had intensified during World War II, Britain armed the ethnic Karens with the idea that they would fight both the Japanese and the BIA in order to defend a promised Karen State. After the Communists broke with the new Burmese government the Karens were next to rebel. And since independence, the civil war just keeps on and on: multiple insurgencies in support of, at the very least, 22 distinct ethnic minorities have arisen, supplied with money and guns from all sorts of shifting political entities. The drug trade continues to be a major force in these conflicts, the CIA having gotten into the opium business to fund its anti-communist operations during the Vietnam era; back in 1948 yearly opium production in Burma was about 30 tons, by the end of the twentieth century that figure was more like 2500 tons and the Burmese military is now quite complicit, profiting in the production and trafficking of not only opium but now methamphetamine as well.

     
  3. On July 10th, 2000, at least 300 Nigerians were killed in an oil pipeline explosion. The pipeline had apparently been leaking for at least a week before the oil caught fire. Villagers had gathered to collect oil at the rupture site and a large proportion of the dead were apparently school-age children. Scavenged oil is used for cooking fuel and is sold on the black market. Generally when a leaking pipeline explodes, Nigerian officials blame local villagers; in this instance the Lagos Health Commisioner was quoted as saying: “anywhere you have a pipeline in this country, you have this problem because people are greedy and they want quick money.” Of course, one might try that statement out on the government officials and oil barons who are raking in quite a bit of quick money while the majority of Nigerians remain poor enough to want to go scooping incredibly flammable petrol out of the river.

    Critics on the left settle the blame solidly on the corrupt government officials and the businessmen who can’t be bothered shelling out a portion of their huge profits to keep the pipelines in good condition. Observers siding with the state say the poor people living near the pipelines are vandals, scavengers and criminals. Foreign petroleum industry workers are routinely kidnapped in Nigeria, and apparently the government and oil companies do pay out extortion money to protect their assets from sabotage. The inequality is what we have to look at here, the vast gulf between what it means to be well-off in Nigeria and what it means to be poor.

    And that disparity is exaggerated even more when we look at the petroleum economy on a global scale. I know that plenty of folks are hungry in the United States right now, but at nowhere near the rate that people are hungry in Nigeria. Nigeria has the largest population of any African country, and because of its oil wealth, those who can afford to can import food from Nigeria’s neighbors, often generating hunger in the countries around Nigeria as governments sell off their crops for petrodollars. In a ranking of 102 countries worldwide — a ‘global food security index’ that rates access and availability of food, nutritional standards as well as government investment and involvement in these areas — Nigeria ranked 87th, lower than many of its smaller neighbors. Feeding the most vulnerable of its people seems to take a backseat to exploiting its oil wealth as far as the Nigerian government goes, and this brings me now to a rather sudden shift in focus.

    I saw the new Transformers movie a couple days ago, Transformers: Age of Extinction. Why? Because I’m an American, and being as we Americans just ate a bunch of food and blew off a bunch of fireworks celebrating our independence, it seemed appropriate. I won’t try to convince you that I went thinking the movie would be any good. I went specifically to stare in awe and horror as America displayed its utter disinterest in making anyone’s lives better with our staggering wealth and technology. Wealth, technology and leisure time all based on the subordination of people all around the world — hey Nigeria!, give us petroleum so we can watch giant robots that turn into cars blow up things in surround sound. I wonder what it sounds like when a rusty old oil pipeline explodes on the outskirts of your town. I wonder if anyone would come see a movie about the massive environmental degradation and misery caused in the Niger Delta region by the oil industry.

    I grew up watching Transformers cartoons, playing with the toys, back in the 1980’s. The early 80’s marked the rollback of legislation that resisted product placement in TV aimed at children, resulting in a frenzy of kid’s shows that were in essence toy commercials. It’s odd to have television writers, directors, artists employed in essentially telling kids how to play with toys — no need for imagination when your toys come with readymade voices, backstory and plots. How do kids in Nigeria know how to play, without a television-toy industry giving them that vital guidance? Or is there time for playing when you’re so busy collecting leaked gasoline to sell for food?

    Nigeria now has the second largest movie industry in the world. Hollywood may rake in more money than anybody else, but India makes the most movies per year. Centered in Bombay, we call India’s movie making industry ‘Bollywood,’ and thus Nigeria’s movie industry gets called ‘Nollywood.’ Nigerian directors are out there using digital video for a primarily home entertainment market, making more than 500 feature films a year (possibly more like twice that many). Hollywood lately seems to be trying to capture a little bit of that ‘indie’ clout — how odd to see expensive films trying to use a hand-held camera aesthetic — but in general what we see a lot of are these expensive rehashes of old 80’s shows.

    I’d love to point to a graph at this point that somehow demonstrated the foundering of the American imagination in an inverse proportion to the level of leisure time and comfort enabled by our control of world petroleum resources, with a side chart mapping the strength and vibrancy of the imaginations of people raised in the shadow of our dominance. Of course imagination is not a measurable quantity. I don’t feel like the quality of my imagination was dulled any, despite the time I spent watching crappy 80’s cartoon shows. I’m sure a gigantic proportion of Nollywood films are just as vapid and thoughtless as any current US products. But I will always respect the underdog, and I’d much rather watch a movie based on events affecting the lives of real people than a series of expensive explosions brought on by robots disguised as cars.

    This week I made music for a pretend Nollywood movie, where cars that turn into robots come from outer space to burn and consume and generally foul up the Niger Delta region and are repulsed by the ancestral gods of the Yoruba people. I’m ready with the music anytime anyone wants to make that movie.

     
  4. Pretty Green Things — Beacon Heights, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, right across from Grandfather Mountain.

     
  5. Thanks to the town of Marion, for having a parade, & thus blocking streets to traffic so I could stumble backwards out into the road to take pictures — on the 4th o’ July.  And yes, there are no photos of the parade, just of the marvelous downtown.

     
  6. Well, as we settle down from blowing up things in honor of our forefathers, who threw off the yoke of European domination on July 4th, 1776, may I offer a short summary of events surrounding July 5th, 1594, a somewhat lesser-known date in the struggle against European domination. This story surrounds the Kingdom of Kandy, and of course it is tempting to go on and on about how Kandy was a tasty prize that whetted the appetites of many European colonial powers… but no, I should resist that temptation. I will however point out that Kandy is the current resting place of an important sacred relic, a tooth of the Buddha.

    Kandy is in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, the large, teardrop-shaped (some say mango-shaped) island off to the East of the Southern tip of India. Sri Lanka was known to the Arabs of antiquity as Serendib, and it is from a Persian fairytale about the Princes of Serendib and their happy accidents that we get the term ‘serendipity.’ The Portuguese called the island Ceilao, from whence the British adopted the name Ceylon. Sri Lanka is a rich, tropical spice island, known for its cinnamon, as well as cardamom and ginger, it was also renowned for rubies and pearls as well as trained elephants. And of equal importance it had fine harbors and was situated perfectly as a crossroads in the South Asian silk routes.

    The Arabs had had long-standing trade relations with Sri Lanka, and when the Christian monarchs of Spain and Portugal succeeded in defeating and driving out their Muslim overlords, the Portuguese especially went out of their way to snatch up Muslim trading centers. Initially, the Portuguese were not so much interested in ruling a far-flung empire, mostly they just wanted to control ports and coastlines, but again and again they found themselves getting in over their heads trying to control the local politics of lands they had interests in. Generally, this involved propping up rulers who were strong enough to keep order amongst their people but weak enough to give in to whatever the Portuguese had in mind.

    Sri Lanka was primarily ruled by dynasties of Sinhalese princes, Buddhist for the most part, and almost legendary for infighting and messy intrigue. The Portuguese were just the newest interested foreigners looking out to gain advantage in this internal ‘game of thrones,’ Arabs, South Indians, even the Chinese had worked to influence and control the machinations of competing Sri Lankan kingdoms. However, the Portuguese marked the beginning of the remarkably ruthless and increasingly efficient era of European colonial power. From their port city of Colombo, the Portuguese controlled Sri Lanka’s coastlines pretty well, but they were constantly having to work to keep things tidy amongst the local rulership; by the 1500’s the most powerful Sinhalese kingdoms had all set up their capitols in the central highlands where they could protect themselves from foreign incursions.

    One of the most powerful players in the mid 1500’s was the Kingdom of Sitawaka, which in 1581 invaded the Kingdom of Kandy. The young heirs to the Kandyan throne escaped to lands held by the Portuguese where they were raised as Christians. The Sitawakan king appointed a viceroy to rule in Kandy, but soon the viceroy was plotting against his Sitawakan rulers and had to be deposed. The viceroy’s son, Konnappu Bandara escaped to Portuguese lands, and soon was being backed by the Portuguese in a push against Sitawaka.  Konnappu succeeded gloriously, defeated Sitawaka and then proceeded to retake Kandy, completely disregarding his Portuguese mandate and crowning himself as Vimaladharmasuriya I of Kandy.

    The Portuguese, furious at being cut out of what had been shaping up as a nice deal for them, mounted an expedition. Figuring that the people of Kandy would rise against the upstart Konnappu — after all his only true legitamacy as ruler of Kandy came from being son of a Sitawakan deputy — the Portuguese packed up Dona Caterina (her new Christian name, her name had been Kusumasana Devi), the previous King of Kandy’s at-most twelve-year-old daughter, who was to be crowned Empress and then married off to the Portuguese commander upon the subjugation of Kandy.

    The Portuguese throughout their colonial holdings were dependent on mercenaries and conscripts from among native peoples, in South Asia these troops were called lascarin. In this campaign, the total number of Portuguese troops numbered 1000, but there were over 15,000 native troops under the command of up-and-coming lascarin soldier Jayavira Bandara Mudali.  On July 5th the fighting began as the Portuguese forces ascended the Balana pass into the mountain stronghold of the interior kingdoms. Resistance was fierce but fell away quickly. From the pass on into the interior and even into the city of Kandy there were little guerilla skirmishes but no out-and-out resistance. The Portuguese took the city of Kandy and sent out armed parties to find and apprehend Konnappu. The Portuguese commander, Conquistador General Pedro Lopes de Souza, assumed that Konnappu had never gained wide support from the Kandyan people and had fled before the Portuguese; de Souza began preparations for his bride-to-be’s coronation.

    And now comes one of those moments in history where events are so overtly theatrical one has to wonder when the made for HBO series will begin. The Portuguese crown Dona Catarina Empress of Kandy. They begin really lording it over the populace, raping women, burning villages. They capture Konnappu’s uncle and execute him publicly. And then they capture an enemy courier with a message, a message from Jayavira, the lascarin commander, detailing plans for a treacherous suprise attack, instructing the Kandyan king to attack the Portuguese on the upcoming night while Jayavira’s mercenaries would attack the Portuguese from within. History indicates that this message was a fabrication, that Konnappu had it made and sent his messenger with instructions that the forged letter should fall into the Portuguese commander’s hands — and if so, it was a brilliant ploy. De Souza, confronted Jayavira and during the heated arguing de Souza’s captains stabbed Jayavira and fell upon his closest lascarin mercenaries. The effect was immediate — the majority of Jayavira’s men fled, many defecting to bolster the Kandyan ranks.

    With food running out, and even the most neutral of the Kandyans turning against them, the Portuguese packed up their little Empress and began a long slog back to the coast. Ambushes along the way continued to diminish their numbers while more and more Lascarins and Kandyans joined in the attack. By the time they surrendered only 93 Portuguese were left alive; they were still only about two thirds of the way back to the Balana Pass. De Souza died of his wounds as a captive, while most of the surviving Portuguese were put to work building fortifications to protect Kandy from further Portuguese incursions. Dona Catarina was married with great ceremony to Konnappu which pretty much finished the job as far as legitimizing his rule. The Kingdom of Kandy remained the Sinhala stronghold against European aggression for more than 200 years to come.

     
  7. Someone sudsed the fountain in Downtown Sylva. Truly a fun hang.

    (Source: youtube.com)

     
  8. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I’m working up musical ideas for a ballet based on Shakespere’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, so here is a little threesome — an Alman by Robert Johnson, a Sarabande I composed over a crazy quilt of digital samples, and a traditional Irish slip jig called Silvermore. I’m thinking of the stately Alman as a dance for the courtly nobles, the Sarabande as a bit menacing like the fairy woods at night, and then the slip jig is a dance for the ‘rude mechanicals,’ the lower-class townsmen.

    I’ll have plenty more to say about Shakespere’s play as I work on this project, but for right now I’d like to root around on the subject of Midsummer itself: once again — I know I’ve mentioned this concept before — we in the current reckoning think of the summer solstice as the beginning of summer whereas earlier European reckoning considered the solstice to be the dead center of summer. This makes for a neat division of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) into a ‘light half,’ the warmer half of the year where the sun rises and begins to fall, and a ‘dark half’ where the sun descends to its lowest point in the elliptic and then begins to rise again. This sets the solstices — regarded as Midsummer and Midwinter — as the highest and lowest points the sun will reach, making these events rather important on a ritual level. Whether you think of religion as magic or magic as religion the concept is the same: humans need to feel like they can have some effect on the dizzyingly grand actions of time and chance and so invent little stories and games with which they hope to influence the choices of the universe.

    Thus, in the very depths of the darkest day of the year, a new hope is born, and thus we get to have Christmas. I’m not sure I have yet found a satisfying reason why Christmas is several days after the actual winter Solstice. I imagine it was to give all the raging drunk pagans time to sober up from their more ancient and strenuous rituals, time to put on a clean shirt and make it down to the church house. The same holds true for the antipodal celebration — Midsummer is celebrated traditionally on the 24th of June rather than on the Summer Solstice itself. June 24th is St John the Baptist’s Day, and interestingly it is the day of John the Baptist’s birth rather than the day of his martyrdom. Most saint’s days celebrate a saint’s disemboweling or their flaying, beheading or immolation or what have you, but St. John the Baptist gets to have a birthday. Just like his cousin Jesus, about whom he is reported to have said (John 3:30) “He must increase. but I must decrease” — wherein we might see some astrological significance as far as the length of nights vs. days.

    Midsummer Night is, like Christmas Eve, the night before Midsummer Day, and a time for bonfires and torchlit processions. I spent the night working on music with my grumpy old grey cat and a praying mantis who’s taken up residence in the bedroom. However, here is a quick overview of fun stuff we ought to have been doing according to the collated folk wisdom of Europe as presented in James Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough.’ We were supposed to be going around the village all of yesterday collecting wood and straw for the bonfire. Everyone in the community is supposed to pitch in on this or else its bad luck for them and also everyone else. The fire apparently should be made by friction — so get your strong lusty youths working at it and rub those sticks together, or if you belong to the Brotherhood of the Green Wolf in Northern France you know that a young man and woman, garlanded with flowers must make the fire together to the accompaniment of handbells being rung. Dancing of course is important, but more important is leaping over the fire — the height to which the young people leap governs how high the flax will be at harvest time. Leaping through the fire also burns away bad luck and/or sin and/or fleas, take your pick. Noxious things — bones, mushrooms, dirty old rags — are often thrown into the flames by obliging young boys in order to ward away witches, trolls and dragons, dragons being especially prevalent at this time — in medieval times they were known to have gotten “excited by the summer heat, copulated in the air and poisoned the wells and rivers by dropping their seed into them.”

    Effigies of straw are often burnt in the fire — one always has to wonder about this impulse, human sacrifice is a long understood tradition even if nowadays the faithful just count on Jesus to have gotten the job done for us once and for all. A particularly spectacular bit of pyromancy that had wide acceptance at Midsummer revels was rubbing a cartwheel down with pitch and straw, setting it alight and rolling the flaming wheel down the mountainside, preferably into a nearby river or lake. Flaming wooden discs were also launched into the air with flexible wooden rods in some places, in one village a tar-barrel would be set on fire and slung around, chained to the top of a high pole. All these burning wheels and discs all look like a sort of magic made to gain influence with that firey roundel in the sky: it’s worth remembering that in some of the most northerly parts of Europe the sun would be in the sky all night on Midsummer’s Eve. The magic of these night-long fires would last long afterwards, charred sticks from the fires would be placed on the roofs of houses to protect them from bad luck, lightning and especially from fire. Charcoal from the bonfires would also be sprinkled or sown into the fields as the magic was also good for the crops. It was also important to let your home fires burn out and then rekindle them with coals from the Midsummer bonfires.

     
  9. So here we all are, pressing our faces against the perfectly transparent plateglass window that separates spring from summer. Look at all those goodies, just waiting for us… And at this time of year it’s all about the length of days, evenings suffused with pastel, succulent with light, photons dripping off of everything as they shower down from the sun.

    The piece of music I’m unveiling this morning is a Scott Joplin rag, Heliotrope Bouquet, it seemed fitting for several reasons, but most of all because I’m feeling truly Heliotropic, I think all humanity is, our flower-heads and minds moving gently to track the transit of the Sun as the Solstice approcheth. It’s sort of ironic that the Vatican chose the day after the solstice, June 22, 1633, to force Galileo Galilei to sign a document in which he swore to never again to write or teach that the earth revolved around the sun, and indeed, to denounce any who held to this condemned doctrine, since of course it was considered an error and a heresy by the Church. Another historical event that, at least in my heliotropic mind, seems quirkily fitting for this time of the year: the first Ferris wheel, the one actually built by Mr Ferris, opened for business on June 21st, 1893. The image of that giant mass of turning metal jives neatly with the heliotropism of planets rolling endlessly through space around the sun. Can’t you see a little microcosm in that fluid circle of bridge-steel, smoothly defying the expectations of the many who had doubted it was even possible? I wish Galileo could have ridden it.

    I wonder if Scott Joplin rode it, he was there, in Chicago for the Great World’s fair. Ragtime, the music he pioneered, got its greatest exposure to the world at large in Chicago that year as thousands upon thousands flocked to the city for the Fair. The U.S.A. was trying its level best to show itself forth as a major player on the global stage, and had requested the honor of hosting the World’s Fair that year to commemorate the 400 years since Columbus landed in the Americas. The Ferris Wheel was a marvelous engineering feat, designed to meet the challenge of showing off American ingenuity in the face of the last World’s Fair’s engineering marvel: Paris’ Eiffel Tower.

    The task of demonstrating America’s musical acumen at the Fair was assigned to Theodore Thomas the conductor of the Chicago Orchestra. All manner of concerts of Western classical music were given, but the audiences in the great concert hall just got smaller and smaller. Visitors to the fair seemed to prefer less refined, less heady presentations, out on the Midway Plaisance, where you could hear all manner of popular and folk music. Perhaps some amongst the fair’s visitors might have been asking what is America’s music? Certainly Theodore Thomas and his ilk were able practioners of European style musics, but what about this American melting pot, what is American music?

    "Is it true that we must accept the music of another race as being that which is American? Have not the white Americans sufficient individuality to develop a characteristic style of composition?" Not if they keep up that sort of talk, Mr. E. R. Kroeger. Mr Kroeger was the music director for the next World’s Fair held in the U.S., in St Louis, in 1903, and, as one might expect, presided over the de rigeur Western classical concerts. Scott Joplin, by this time, was living in St. Louis and whereas at the Chicago fair he had been more of an anonymous figure championing a new rhythm, a new sound, in just a short decade Joplin and ragtime had become an internationally celebrated phenomenon.

    Mr Kroeger’s comment above was in response to a statement made by the famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorak who had accepted the directorship of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. The Conservatory was open to both men and women and also to African Americans — almost unheard of at this time. Dvorak, already adept at working with folk music in Europe, unequivocably stated that “In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”

    Today is June 20th the last day of spring, and, may I say it again? — I love the word Heliotrope. In the title of his ragtime offering, Joplin is singling out a specific showy purple flower, but heliotrope is a word that generally refers to anything that moves in relation to the sun… On a massively abstract level one might see all of life as a gradual slow movement towards the light, patiently flowing on around all obstacles and here I would like to mention that yesterday was Juneteenth — June 19th, 1965, the day that America finally suceeded in announcing the end of slavery in all of the United States, as per the Emancipation Proclamation. The final battle of the Civil War took place in Brownsville, Texas, and it took another month for the official end of slavery to reach the seat of Texan government. And of course Juneteenth was only the ‘official’ end of slavery, the practical business of making African Americans fully enfranchised citizens allowed to participate equally in all aspects of the American pursuits of life, liberty and happiness… that has been and still is a slow progression towards the light of the sun.

     
  10. image: Download

    In other words, true Christians are like the Keebler Elves, and never, never like those infidel Smurfs.I think what we are seeing here is a statement being made about the place of women in religious as well as earthly life: while the Smurfs may only have one woman amongst them she is (perhaps because of her singularity) a vitally important and active member of the community.  The Keebler Elves have no evident female member, we are forced to imagine the Keebler women cloistered away wearing burkhas and, we assume, working tirelessly and invisibly for the Keebler men.  This plays out in a further extension of the oak vs. mushroom motif.  The Greek god Zeus is the heavenly, thunderbolt wielding patriarch of the Olympians, associated strongly with worship in oak groves.  The scientific name of the Oak, Juglans, refers directly to Zeus and his manhood, Juglans is the ‘glans’ of ‘Ju’-piter or Father Jove, i.e., the acorn.  Although similarly phallic, mushrooms are associated with Dionysus and his worship - especially the worship of his female cultists, the Maenads, ecstatic wild-women frenziedly rushing through the forests, tripping madly after consuming toadstools.  To follow this to a further extent we might see the oak-tree Zeus-patriachal Keeblers as an expression of a particularly fundamentalist American style of Protestantism whereas the Smurfs with their One Female/ Mother of Us All/ Dionysiac Mariolatry represent a more earthy and miscegenist Catholicism, more like the Caribbean iterations of Santeria, Candomble and Voudoun.Are the Methodists planning jihad against local African American churches? Is the US planning to invade Cuba, Haiti or Brazil — It’s all in there in this simple church marquee…

(photo tooken by Mz. Tina Monaco, somewhere in the steaming jungles of Augusta, GA.)

    In other words, true Christians are like the Keebler Elves, and never, never like those infidel Smurfs.

    I think what we are seeing here is a statement being made about the place of women in religious as well as earthly life: while the Smurfs may only have one woman amongst them she is (perhaps because of her singularity) a vitally important and active member of the community.  The Keebler Elves have no evident female member, we are forced to imagine the Keebler women cloistered away wearing burkhas and, we assume, working tirelessly and invisibly for the Keebler men.  

    This plays out in a further extension of the oak vs. mushroom motif.  The Greek god Zeus is the heavenly, thunderbolt wielding patriarch of the Olympians, associated strongly with worship in oak groves.  The scientific name of the Oak, Juglans, refers directly to Zeus and his manhood, Juglans is the ‘glans’ of ‘Ju’-piter or Father Jove, i.e., the acorn.  Although similarly phallic, mushrooms are associated with Dionysus and his worship - especially the worship of his female cultists, the Maenads, ecstatic wild-women frenziedly rushing through the forests, tripping madly after consuming toadstools.  

    To follow this to a further extent we might see the oak-tree Zeus-patriachal Keeblers as an expression of a particularly fundamentalist American style of Protestantism whereas the Smurfs with their One Female/ Mother of Us All/ Dionysiac Mariolatry represent a more earthy and miscegenist Catholicism, more like the Caribbean iterations of Santeria, Candomble and Voudoun.

    Are the Methodists planning jihad against local African American churches? Is the US planning to invade Cuba, Haiti or Brazil — It’s all in there in this simple church marquee…

    (photo tooken by Mz. Tina Monaco, somewhere in the steaming jungles of Augusta, GA.)