Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS: New Zealand Film Locations map: A3 poster * Snowflake Christmas/seasonal card * Queen Galadriel holiday card * Middle Earth New Zealand 2013 photo calendar
TREAT YOURSELF TO SOME MUSIC:
Harp sheet music store * Travels in Middle Earth CD
Asni the Harper digital downloads: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes
Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography
- In this newsletter:
- *** Living on the Planet: Of Dragons, Dwarves, and Math to Make Yourself Feel Better
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Cool Things Friends Do: Nani Mahal
- *** Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers, pt. 6
Living on the Planet: Of Dragons, Dwarves, and Math to Make Yourself Feel Better
Only a few days left until the grand opening of my second solo exhibition, at the Carterton Events Centre from 5 December through to 13 January 2013. There will be a gallery opening with the usual drinks and nibbles, socializing, prints for sale, and perhaps a speech (but a short one), on Wednesday 5 December, from 5 pm to 6.30 pm. Come along if you are in the neighbourhood! If you can't make it to the opening, the exhibition space in the foyer will be open weekdays from 9.30 to 5 pm, weekends and statutory holidays from 10 am to 4 pm. I have been assured that the exhibition will be open over Christmas, but if you plan to pop in on Christmas day, you may want to make extra sure, especially if you're coming over the hill – contact the Events Centre. And bring the kids! Few people can resist a big yellow dragon. Fantastic Journeys exhibition in Carterton
My harping stint at the Hobbit premiere fan party was good fun, and brought back keen memories of olden times: I'd forgotten what it was like to see an Ent walking down the corridor, or have a chat to a family of genuine hobbits from San Diego (they bought my calendar and brand new New Zealand film locations map, one apiece. Bless hobbits!). I ran into a rather surprising number of old friends and fellow fans. In sharp contrast to so many wedding gigs, where often people seem to regard me rather as a nuisance when I ask questions such as "Where should I set myself up?", and then hand me envelopes which are a little short of the sum of cash agreed upon, this time I received the full VIP treatment. One young fellow fan was delegated to help carry my harp and amplifier, another, to look after my table of merchandize while I was playing. When I asked for things, they magically appeared, and when I asked for five minutes of quiet to get the harp tuned, people actually shut up! If it was always like this, I might still be doing it.
As to the party itself, for most people the main purpose of being there seemed to be meeting some of the actors and celebrities, and hunt as many signatures as they could. Peter Jackson himself came. People were ecstatic. I overheard one diehard fan phoning home to share the news that he had just shook hands with E-Li-Jah Wood. He repeated that several times, to let it really sink in. The room was full of dwarves. Since I have not been following the hype, or indeed watched any of the trailers, most of the time I was entirely unsure who was a celebrity and who wasn't (ok, I did recognize PJ and EW, Andy Serkis, and a couple of people from the Art Department. Everyone who'd been in the old movie.) – I believe at one point, I rudely interrupted a friend who was just chatting up a dwarf. I do apologize. I had not realized. They somehow look different in makeup.
Oh, and this happened: The young fellow who'd been delegated to carry my harp, afterwards came up to me with his signature book, and asked me to sign it. The other two signatures on the page? Peter Jackson. And Elijah Wood. Those two, and Asni the Harper. I hope he takes a scan and posts it on the internet. Who knows, perhaps I am after all on my way to real big time fame? It is certainly a lot more fun than *hunting* famous people's signatures. Though personally, I think this celebrity thing is getting a bit out of hand. But hey, if they want to think I'm famous, I say: LET THEM! :highfive:
Well, if this hasn't been the most entertaining US presidential election in the history of elections. I have to admit I was feeling really very nervous about it. Some of the rhetoric that dribbled down to me via my American friends on Facebook, was nothing short of nauseating: Binders full of women! Legitimate rape! Non-traditional America! Entitled to Things! And what was that about women who have a way to shut the whole thing down?
Granted, I don't live anywhere near the US – but what happens there tends to affect everyone on this planet, and it certainly affects the public opinion here in New Zealand, where far too many people look to America as their Big Buddy with the Deep Pockets, whom it is best to ape in everything. I remember only too well how all the hard fought for achievements of the '70s and '90s seemed to recede back into the Victorian age, during the past decade. Besides, I used to be a part time New Yorker for the best part of the 1990's. And I still have quite a few friends there.
Come Election Day, I was positively apprehensive. The pundits had been predicting for weeks and months that it would be a "tight race", indeed that it was likely that the Republican candidate (what was his name again?) would win the election. With a landslide majority, even! The day before the vote, Reuters – presumably one of the most neutral news providers imaginable – had posted an analysis predicting (as I remember it) a very late night, a tight race, and a win for the Republicans. The article is here. It does not appear to be the same article I remember reading three weeks ago. I should have copy-pasted it! – Apparently, in hindsight, it was too much of an embarrassment. Dear Reuters: Why don't you hire a few more women. Or black people. Or Latinos. Or whatever. Then you might have avoided this altogether, and would not need to tamper with your own news after the fact. Ok. So who still believes in the TV news?
I avoided Facebook for most of that day. Too nervous. When I finally checked up, about 5 pm, Obama was leading by something like 50 electoral college votes. Half an hour later, at approximately 5.30 pm on Wednesday NZDT, Ohio had finished counting, and the thing was a done deal. That seemed fast. Considering that it was supposed to be going to be such a tight race! Remember 2004? That took what, days? weeks? To be sure, Florida has been feeling very self important ever since, and was the last state to finish counting the votes this election, not until three days later. By that time, no one cared very much. It could only increase Obama's already very substantial lead.
As soon as the Ohio result was announced, there was a worldwide sigh of relief wafting through my Facebook. People from three continents didn't even need to mention what it was they were so relieved about. After eight years of Gee Double You, I've been worried about the state of democracy in the US. Would the big money win the day, again? Would politicians be put in charge of steering the most powerful country in the world, whose remarks betrayed so much disrespect and contempt towards women, economically disadvantaged people, recent immigrants, the gay community, in fact anyone who does not fit into their definition of "traditional America": well-to-do, Christian white straight males, and their brainwashed wives. People who moreover seem to have a rather tenuous grasp on basic scientific realities – such as some of the basic facts of female anatomy (one wonders what they do with their brainwashed wives)?
No, they wouldn't. Because evidently, democracy in the USA still works: because the people got up and voted, and they gave that narrow-minded concept of "traditional America" a great big massive kick in the behind. This election wasn't just about who gets to be president. It was about a society standing up and saying, loud and clear: "WE DON'T WANT THAT". We want public health insurance. Gay marriage. A woman's right to decide what she does with her body. And we don't want a government that consists almost exclusively of white men over 50. Because it is not at all representative of the society we live in.
Soon after, the real fun started. As the saying goes, "those who suffer the damage, won't have to worry about getting the laughs". I suppose the single most re-broadcast item of election tv coverage was the infamous segment on Fox News, when poor Karl Rove – the man who had spent millions of dollars to buy the election for the Republicans, or so I am told – had to face the fact that money can't buy a working democracy. He couldn't believe it. I mean he refused, publicly, on air, in front of a national audience, to accept what the figures were telling him. You can practically see his lower lip trembling as he is trying to talk himself into believing that someone hasn't taken away his favourite toy. And then Megyn Kelly, that blonde Fox anchor woman, cool as a cucumber, turns to him and matter-of-factly utters the IMMORTAL line: "Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?"
I call it the Revenge of the Token Woman. What a waste, to hire her so she can show off her legs when the audience needs to be distracted from an awkward moment in the news room. I hope someone offers her a decent job, after that. What on earth is this girl doing on Fox News. Stick it, butt pinchers.
She says it much better than I can: Rachel Maddow summarizes the election result
A selection of the best post-election satire, as it floated through my Facebook account: Jon Stewart on the election coverage (the Fox News segment is in the second video) ** Arizona bans pre-marital menstruation (The Daily Currant) ** Binders full of women (The Daily Beast) ** Not For Sale (I Love It When I Wake Up In The Morning And Barack Obama Is President) ** Big Bird (Occupy Sesame Street) ** Bible interpretation (Jesus McChrist)
New artwork: Fantastic Journeys: Wizards and goats
News & Current Projects
This month has been a busy, and a sleepless one. I still had to finish the last of the 14 paintings for my upcoming exhibition, at the Carterton Events Centre from 5 December through to 13 January. The exhibition space in the foyer will be open weekdays from 9.30 to 5 pm, weekends and statutory holidays from 10 am to 4 pm. The gallery opening will take place on Wednesday 5 December, from 5 pm to 6.30 pm. Come along, share some finger food and wine, some magic and some conversation! I will have my limited edition giclee prints of the Fantastic Journeys series for sale on the night.
The last painting in the series to be completed, is the first in the series in terms of the chronology of the story. I realized belatedly that the original series of 12 paintings did not include a single scene from Ged's home island, Gont – and I did feel that I should include such an important character as Ogion. This painting depicts him and young Ged arriving at Re Albi, Ogion's home, on a winter's day, after Ogion has taken Ged along on his annual wanderings across the island all summer. Wizards, and goats – that is what the island of Gont is famous for.
New artwork: Map: Film locations in New Zealand – A3 poster
Another long procrastinated-upon project has finally been completed: The New Zealand Film Locations map I've announced a couple of months ago, has now been adapted to fit – and be readable – on an A3 size poster. I fetched a stack of 30 from the printer's last week, and have already sold a fair few. You can order them through my website, or my Etsy store.
This year I have done it, and designed a proper Christmas/holiday card! A snowflake. Well, it is appropriately seasonal for those of you who live in the northern hemisphere, at least! Perhaps next year I will create a Downunder version. You can buy them singly or as a pack of five, in my online store or on Etsy.
In other Christmas goodies, there are still quite a few Middle Earth New Zealand 2013 calendars up for grabs, though I am now about halfway through this year's edition. And I have just broken even, with a couple of orders from Moscow! Maybe it's because I am a Cold War child, but I always get a special kick out of sending things off to Russia.
Or you could treat yourself to some brand new harp sheet music for the holidays! I've had to postpone the completion of the outstanding volume of Huete: Compendio numeroso until next year – there just has been too much work – but I will get on to it after Christmas. Meanwhile, there are the first three volumes, plus the always popular Luz y Norte Musical by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz, the Medieval Tunebook, and my collection of Baroque Delights suitable for the harp. You can also listen to me play the stuff, of course! Check out my CDs, or download yourself some music from iTunes. Or Amazon. Or CD Baby.
New artwork: Snowflake – Christmas/seasonal card now available in the shop
Erica Challis, co-founder of TheOneRing.net and Red Carpet tours, who has been organizing the Hobbit fan party and invited me to play there, suggested that I should bring along some of my Tolkien themed artwork, to display for the fans! That was really very kind of her to suggest it. Most of my Tolkien themed artwork is a few years – if not a few decades – old, and really not representative any more of my current level of skill. So I decided to whip up a new digital illustration especially for the party ... it's been a bit of a squeeze to fit it all in, and it has cost me some healthy sleep, but apparently I work well under pressure: I am really pleased with how Galadriels' Farewell Song has turned out, and people have been admiring it quite a bit. Plus, it skyrocketed on DeviantArt! I don't think I have ever collected so many faves in such a short time. Not even on the Earthsea images. Watch out for Asni the Illustrator – here I come!
In amongst all this, I haven't had much time for the garden, but the veggies are growing quite satisfactorily, though I am a little behind with the weeding. There are as yet no particularly tragic deaths to report, and I have been munching the most gorgeous fresh lettuce and spinach all month. When I am done with this newsletter, I will reward myself with a bowl of the first of the strawberries with cream. It looks like there will be green peas for Christmas, and with luck, some broccoli – and red currants and blueberries for dessert! I will probably have eaten up all the cherries by then – if the pesky birds don't beat me to it! And I am already gearing up for another massive apple and walnut harvest this autumn.
New artwork: Galadriel's Farewell Song – greeting card now available
Artwork © Nani Mahal
Cool Things Friends Do: Nani Mahal
I met Nani a couple of years ago at the Wellington Science Fiction convention – I've featured her here before, but in the meanwhile she has started up her own comic and games art studio in Wellington. Last week, she had her first solo exhibition at Thistle Hall. So I thought it was time to catch up! Her new comic, Primal Theory, now graces my collection, and is very recommended indeed: You can buy it here. Go for it! I bet in ten or twenty years, it will be a highly prized collector's item. :)
Q: How did you get into doing what you are doing?
– I have always been a manga artist. Hawaii has a very strong Japanese presence, and I was raised on a certain generation of anime. I fell in love with it then and my faith has not faltered. Since my earliest days I knew I wanted to be a manga artist, so I copied and I studied and trained myself. There was never really a point where I wasn't trying to achieve what I am doing now.
Q: What fascinates you about manga?
– It has to be the energy. Manga, particularly of the generation which I am most fond, have a boundless energy and positivity to them. They inspire and uplift, leaving you with a greater sense of purpose. The other side which fascinates me on a technical level is the economy of the style. Both as comics and animations, the Japanese style is a mastery of elegant minimalism. I suppose when you see something so graceful you can't help but think 'I want to be like that too.'
Q: Can you tell us a little about the history of manga?
– It's hard to limit myself to just a little, but Manga in it's modern form was born in the post war depression when Japan's morale was very low and jobs were very scarce. In what turned out to be an amazing decision, ta privately owned publishing company decided to pay small salaries to young people to make funny comics to sell and distribute to the masses. The Japanese government supported them, when they came under fire for certain content in their publications. Recycling the comics each day like a newspaper and keeping the costs very low created a remarkable industry which grew and grew in popularity and strength. Legendary artist Osamu Tesuka turned his back on a career in medicine to pursue comics as an artform, and is widely credited with being the first to use the medium to tell deep, heartfelt and meaningful stories based on his reaction to living in post-war Japan. This inspired many others to do the same and manga evolved into something much more than the Sunday funnies.
Q: How did you set up your business?
– After high-school I looked for a place where I could study manga as an artform at a professional level, but there simply was nothing like that then, or in NZ. So I took it upon myself to upskill, using all the resources I could lay my hands on, studying from my heroes in the manga industry. Three years later I began to embark on cohesive projects such as full comic books and looking at ways I could monetize my skills. I hired a small studio, and then acquired an assistant as the workload became too heavy for me. After about a year, not exactly yet in business, I found an opportunity to do some design work for a local company. I called in my partner to leave his day-job and become studio manager, and he brought with him a friend to manage the IT. Suddenly we were a real studio full of people and working on a paid project. With that leverage we moved from project to project, experimenting with different monetization models and doing as much market research as we could. The business changed shape many times as we tried to find the best use for our skills.
Q: What are you working on now?
– Right now, we're making videogames. We raised funds by auctioning out the roles in a pick-a-path adventure game to fans of my art on the internet. It's been rough to make a whole fully-playable game inside of a month and a bit, but we've managed so far!
Q: What are the jobs of the studio members?
– There are currently five people working in KO studio. Firstly myself as lead artist. My partner Auberon is the general manager and lead designer. Felice and Tamsyn are art assistants, specializing in the digital end of things, whereas I focus on the traditional aspect of the process. And finally Thomas manages the IT needs of the studio, creating and maintaining websites, doing the programming for the games and such.
Q: Can you give us a few words about your recent exhibition?
– The exhibition I held at Thistle hall recently was my first public exhibition, a celebration of my graduation to professional artist. It showcased some of the works I am most proud of, my comic works to date, and also a huge installation of my draft pages to represent the time and thought I have invested in reaching the level of skill I now possess. It was a great opportunity to learn more about how the people of Wellington feel about the manga style and to meet other professional artists.
Studies and line art © Nani Mahal
Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers – Part 6
*** spoiler warning: plot details of M. M. Kaye: Trade Wind will be discussed in the following article ***
I promised to be done with this mammoth essay by Christmas, and so yes, this will be the last installment. What a fascinating trip down memory lane it has been, to rediscover a favourite romance novel from my teens, and find that on closer inspection, it reveals a depth and complexity of meaning which I have never fully understood before: M. M. Kaye's historical romance Trade Wind is set in mid-19th century Zanzibar, which was at the time one of the last bastions of the African slave trade. It is the story of Hero Hollis, a rich Boston heiress who travels out to fight slavery and maybe marry her cousin Clayton Mayo, and Rory Frost, a ship's captain of questionable repute who is known to be a slave trader, and who fishes her out of the water when she goes overboard in a storm.
"I like to write books that are like beautiful cakes with files inside – the get-out-of-jail kind of file" – that's a quote from Rebecca Wells, the author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. But it could equally well apply to M. M. Kaye. The lurid cover illustrations, the synopses which make it out to be a tale of exotic adventure involving dashing pirates, palace intrigues, Arab princesses, ripped petticoats, stacks of cursed gold, ships sailing off into glorious sunsets, and a feisty damsel who sets out to fight slavery but winds up having to "choose her love and unravel her destiny", try to sell us this book as "just another bodice ripper". But it touches on themes as wide ranging and deep as anything we have been taught to regard as "serious literature". And the fact that it comes along not as a respectable literary work of weighty meaning, but a lighthearted, even "trashy" romance novel, would begin to seem like deliberate camouflage – much like certain types of fantasy and science fiction are deliberate camouflage, to express ideas which are often far more radical than anything one finds in more "respectable" genres of literature – for those who know how to read between the lines.
For while the author expertly juggles the character and plot elements she has inherited from a couple of centuries of romance novel writing, she also questions them at every turn. She twists them around and then laughs at us, defying expectations we didn't even realize we had, daring us to look behind the conventional phrasing and the surface glitter, to take another look at the all too familiar scenes and situations, and telling a story that is so radically different from the usual plot that it took me, who considers herself an experienced reader with a fairly solid level of reading-between-the-lines skills, a couple of months of chewing it over, to even begin to figure out what story it is that this book *really* tells.
The story it tells is one about prejudice and double standards, cultural blindfolds, guilt and what we construe as guilt, forgiveness and what we can or cannot forgive. About freedom, and the price we have to pay for freedom. About getting out of jail – all the jails we make for ourselves, and the doors we could walk out of, if we only realized they were open. It's about the baffling complexity of the relationships between East and West, owners and owned, men and women. It does not come along preaching and pointing. It does not hand opinions or solutions to the reader on a silver plate. It challenges us to come face to face with our own preconceptions, prejudices and cultural blindfolds, in the very way it is written.
Hero systematically survives everything women are taught to be afraid of – rape, unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, walking the streets of Zanzibar town on her own, hanging out with social outcasts and dark skinned people, and loving the "wrong man" – as well as a few things which most women never put themselves in the way of: such as going overboard in a storm, or being beaten up by a hostile mob. She is a Fallen Woman who finds that her Fall – the loss of innocence, the gaining of experience and self-knowledge, the discovery that she has a body as well as a mind – not only makes her a fuller, more likeable, and ultimately happier person, it also enables her to act more efficiently in the world. It gains her the profound respect of those people in her social circle who do not barricade themselves behind conventional morality. And rather than being driven out of the Garden, with Rory she quite literally finds it.
So how does all of this tie in with the historical background of the African slave trade, against which the novel is set?
The history of slavery is about as old as the history of social stratification in human societies. While slavery seldom exists in hunter-gatherer communities, the institution has been an integral part of most agrarian "higher civilizations", likely since the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic age. It is historically documented since Sumerian times – i.e. since there is such a thing as historical documentation. It existed in various forms – including peasant serfdom, and labour indenture – throughout antiquity, the Middle Ages and early modern age in Europe, and it was an accepted part of Muslim and African societies well into modern times.
Traditionally, prisoners of war, people captured in pirate raids, debtors, or criminals could all become slaves. Some of these forms of slavery were hereditary, others were not. While there have been frequent cases of slaves being treated brutally throughout history, many societies had moral rules in place which required slaves to be treated with humanity. In these cases, slaves were usually well cared for and sometimes treated, in most respects, like members of their owner's family. Some societies forbade the enslavement of their own people, but it was not necessarily the case that slaves were always of a different race or ethnicity than their owners.
During the 15th century, as a result of the Portuguese explorations of the African coast, African slaves began to be imported into Europe. By mid-16th century, black Africans constituted about 10% of the population of Lisbon. At that time, the trade in slaves went both ways: Islamic pirates from the Barbary Coast were wont to capture European ships and raid coastal towns. It has been claimed that over one million Europeans were sold into slavery in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire, between the 16th and 19th centuries.
The transatlantic slave trade dates back to the early 16th century. When the Spaniards arrived in the Caribbean, at first they tried to force the native population to work their newly established plantations, but they soon found that the locals had little resilience to the stresses of the hard work, and were moreover being decimated by imported European diseases. The Spanish Dominican friar Bartholomé de Las Casas, in an effort to protect the local people, suggested to import African slaves directly to America. The first African slaves arrived on Hispaniola (today, the Dominican Republic and Haiti) as early as 1501 o 1502, less than a decade after Columbus first landed there.
It was the beginning of one of the most brutal mass displacements in human history. According to current estimates, more than 12 million Africans were displaced between the 16th and 19th centuries, of which between 1.2 to 2.4 million died in the infamous Middle Passage – the crossing of the Atlantic – when they were often crammed, as many as would fit, into the cargo area of the trading vessels without adequate food, water or sanitation. Portuguese traders led the way, and the first wave of African slaves mainly ended up in Brazil. After the 16th century, Dutch, British, French, and later North American traders took over, while the Spaniards generally licensed traders from other nations to supply the needs of their American colonies.
Spain was the first country to issue laws limiting slavery in their colonies: The Leyes Nuevas were proclaimed in 1542, on the instigation of Frey Bartholomé de Las Casas. However, they only applied to the native populations in the Spanish colonies in America and the Philippines, and were subsequently weakened again. In the 17th century, English and American Quakers condemned slavery as inhuman, but without much practical consequence. By the early 18th century, evangelical preachers in America made abolition of slavery a part of their agenda, while Enlightenment thinkers in Europe condemned it as contrary to the Rights of Man. In 1772, an English court ruled that slavery was unsupported by the laws of England in Britain itself – however, this did not apply to the British overseas colonies. Still, it meant that slaves acquired elsewhere would be automatically considered free men once they arrived on British soil.
The Abolitionist movement gained momentum in the late 18th century, first with the American Revolution, and subsequent abolition of slavery in the northern states. Slavery remained legal in the southern states until the end of the Civil War in 1865. Secondly, in the course of the French Revolution, slavery was abolished in France's colonies in 1794 (it had been illegal in France itself since 1315), but Napoleon reinstated it in 1802, giving way to economic pressures. It was officially abolished again in 1848, but systems of forced labour that amounted to a condition of slavery remained in place, under different names, for decades after. In 2001, France officially acknowledged slavery, and the Atlantic slave trade, as a crime against humanity. It is, so far, the only Western nation formerly involved in the trade, to have done so.*
England declared the slave trade (but not slave ownership, outside of Britain) illegal throughout the British Empire in 1807, after a parliamentary campaign led by William Wilberforce, which took approximately 20 years to fight. Wilberforce continued to campaign for the abolition of slave ownership throughout the Empire, and just barely lived to see the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. Britain then took it upon itself to actively repress the trade, which continued to flourish despite the new law. To this end, the Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron, which had the thankless task of patrolling the waters off the African Coast and intercepting ships which were suspected of carrying slaves. Between 1808 and 1860 the squadron seized approximately 1600 slave ships. Britain also took action against African leaders who refused to agree with the British decision to outlaw the trade, and signed anti-slavery treaties with more than 50 African rulers. In 1827, participation in the slave trade by British subjects was equated with piracy, punishable by death.
This is the law that Rory Frost is breaking – though the British authorities on Zanzibar fail to succeed in obtaining proof of his involvement in the slave trade. In 1859 – the year in which Trade Wind is set – the slave trade would have been illegal for British subjects for about half a century. It was, however, still legal for non-British subjects in the territories of the Sultan of Zanzibar. Legally speaking, Rory Frost is thus breaking the law only because he happens to be a British subject – even though he himself has chosen to live according to Arab rules. Moreover, even though the United States had also outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, at the time the novel is set, slave ownership was still legal in the American south. There are, in fact, slave owners among Hero's own relatives. There continued to be a demand, both in the United States, and in the French dependencies where slavery was being practised under more euphemistic names.
It wasn't until the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948, that slavery was explicitly banned in international law, and various declarations followed throughout the 1950's and 1960's, to further outlaw slavery internationally. Conditions of slavery continue to exist, in the form of sweat shops, debt bondage, forced marriage, sex slavery, as well as remnants of traditional systems of slavery which continue to be practised "under the radar" in various parts of the world. Often this affects children, and women, rather than adult men. According to Wikipedia, there are currently more people living in a condition of slavery, than at any other time in history.
* It should be pointed out that the phrase "crime against humanity", though not in its current formal meaning, was included in 1860 by the American National Republican Convention in their electoral platform, on which Abraham Lincoln stood for President, with the following statement: "... We brand the recent re-opening of the African slave trade, under the cover of our national flag, aided by perversions of judicial power, as a crime against humanity".
"Why, specifically, do you abhor slave traders? Because they make money from it?" is a question Rory asks Hero at one point in the book. It is a valid question. Rory simply serves the system. He is not the one whose wealth is founded on the exploitation of slave labour. Neither is he the one who makes money from capturing and selling his fellow human beings. He just makes sure that the "goods in demand" get from point A to point B with minimal damage, and he is paid for this service. His ship is not a "hell ship". He claims that he has never lost a slave in transport "where he could avoid it" (whatever precisely that means!) – and, knowing what we come to know of Rory Frost, we believe him. He sets himself limits: he will, for instance, not ship or trade in children. At the end of the book, we find out that he has used his inside information, which he could only gain because of the trust he has built within the local trading community through his own participation in the trade, to tip off Dan Larrimore anonymously, so he can capture some of the real bad "hell ships".
Rory does not approve of slavery. But he accepts its existence, and does not see why he should not profit from it. Trading in slaves does not seem to be something he particularly relishes – indeed, he even feels compelled to lend Dan Larrimore a hand in his efforts to suppress the trade, a rather dangerous double game with no practical benefit to himself (although in the end it does help save him from the gallows!) – but he has not done what Hero challenges him with: to refuse to participate in it altogether. To accept that – regardless of how many other people are also involved in the business of slavery – through his own participation, he does make himself "personally responsible for the death and agony and degradation of thousands of people". That it comes down to a question not of legality, but of morality. And while Rory has a cavalier attitude towards the law, precisely because he perceives the laws around the slave trade to be hypocritical, in his own idiosyncratic way his moral standards for himself are just about as high as Hero's.
The self-righteous way in which the rest of the Western community on Zanzibar condemns Rory for his open involvement in the slave trade, amounts to making him into a scapegoat for something that is so ingrained in their own societies – nations which have legalized and supported, and reaped the huge wealth generated by slave labour and the slave trade for centuries, and continue to reap it – that not a single one of them can completely absolve themselves from their own share in the blame. Not to mention that several members of that community – Clayton Mayo, Thérèse Tissot and her husband – clandestinely support or participate in the trade.
Think about it. How many times do you jump on Facebook and find that a friend has been posting about a "cause", requiring you to get all wound up about something which, more often than not, does neither personally affect the person posting, nor requires any immediate action except perhaps click the "share" button. But it seems to make people feel that they are "speaking up", that they are doing something about the evils of this world.
These last two weeks, I've seen people tie themselves in a knot about the teenage girl in Afghanistan who got shot in the face because she wanted to go to school, and the muezzins in Mali who have passed a law against music. No, I don't think either of these things are great, and I heartily sympathize with the teenage girls in Afghanistan who wish to go to school, and with the people in Mali who have one of the most ancient and vibrant music traditions in the world, which now seems threatened. Is there anything I can do about either of these things? Not really. I trust there are grown up people in both Afghanistan and Mali who *are* in a position to influence matters. And hey, spot the common denominator? Yeah. Evil Muslim old men.
Those are fashionable causes – you hardly run the risk of offending anyone on Facebook if you post about the plight of girls in Afghanistan, or musicians in Mali. Everyone would nod their head and agree. Perhaps this is why I don't seem to see a lot of people post about the pay rates and working conditions at their local McDonald's, or the way their own Walmart shopping habits keep the sweat shops in South Asia and elsewhere in good pay, or how the immigrant colleague who works at their office always gets the blame for anything that goes wrong, is patronized by the boss and excluded from staff socializing. Calculations how much fuel they could save by taking public transport, walk or bike to work, instead of driving their car. Musings on how it would reduce global warming if they could manage to live without strawberries in winter. That would be too dangerous. People might then be challenged to follow through and actually change their comfortable habits. And that would be so dreadfully inconvenient!
Mind you, I drive a car too – and not a particularly clean and green one. I shop at the Warehouse, even though I know that the working conditions of the person who puts together my $10 jeans are likely not at all acceptable. I do precisely what Rory Frost does. I set myself limits. But I still participate. Because right now at the moment, I feel I cannot handle the complication and cost and time investment of doing otherwise. And I write these newsletter rants, to make myself feel better. Because truth is, we are all so tied up in the "system", that to try to live a life without contributing in some way to social injustice and the destruction of the environment, becomes an impossibly difficult task. To light a candle, is to cast a shadow. To live and act in the world, one incurs guilt. To live an entirely "innocent" life, would be to be either completely passive, or completely inactive. But one can try. And the fact that one cannot do everything, does not mean that one should not do something.
Similarly, in the world of our novel, Hero and her fellow abolitionists have identified the slave trade, and those who participate in it, as the "cause" of the evil which they need to fight. To Hero, the slave trader is the devil – much like to some of my Facebook pals, the fundamentalist Muslim old man is the devil. Or the rapist, for that matter. Like for the last half century or more, Germans have been the devil, or Communists, or British Indians – depending on where you stood.
Hero is prepared to accept all the reasons her own cousin, who is married to a plantation owner in the south states, enumerates to justify why they "can't afford to free their slaves". It would cost them too much. They would loose their wealth, their living standard, and their influence in society. But after all, they are her own family, so they can't be the devil, right? But Hero has a very hard time coming to accept that Rory, the man who saved her life and treated her with kindness, who tries to assist and protect her by passing her information which she, however, chooses to disbelieve, and who turns out to love her, is not the devil.
At various points in the book, Rory is described, by himself and others, as selfish. No doubt some of his actions are – as would be true for most humans. But then some of his actions strike me as remarkably selfless. His giving up his cabin for Hero's use, when she finds herself on board his ship, may be a small thing, and only what is expected of a gentleman when he meets a lady – but it is exactly what Consul Hollis and Clayton Mayo will later refuse to do, when Hero brings the starved orphan children to the consulate and expects that they will be looked after there. Rory's most conspicuous act of selflessness is when he gives himself up to imprisonment and a death sentence, in order to keep his crew and household safe from the cholera. It might appear to have been a futile gesture: he is too late, Amrah has fallen ill and cannot be moved, and the Virago never sails. But it gains him some grudging respect from the British consul, and it sets in motion the series of events which will lead to the establishment of the orphanage, and Rory's eventual rehabilitation.
Even his abduction and rape of Hero is, in a sense, a sacrifice. It is born out of a reason-blinding rage, and Rory's justifications – both acknowledged and unacknowledged – are, at best, questionable: but the fact remains that he has prevented Hero from walking into the trap of a marriage to Clayton, and that he knew full well that it would cost him his liberty – and that she was unlikely to return him any thanks!
Nothing that happens in this novel, is ever only one person's fault – or merit. There is always a set of circumstances which need to combine to make something happen: Clayton has to buy, and Rory has to smuggle, and Hero has to contrive a way to get a set of rifles into the palace, before they can become the final drop that propels the palace revolt, and cause the death of several hundred people. Had Rory not made Zorah his mistress, it is unlikely that Clayton would have kidnapped and abused her. Had Zorah not been dead, and had Rory not called the wrath of the British authorities upon himself by abducting Hero, and been forced to send the Virago away and go into hiding, and had he listened to Batty Potter and packed up his daughter and left, and had someone thought to call the doctor when they first heard that Amrah was ill, the child might have survived. Had Rory not been imprisoned in the fort after giving himself up to the authorities, and had Hero not stayed behind in Zanzibar to look after Amrah, and had she not gone down to the fort to see if Rory was still locked in there after the guards had abandoned it, she would not have found the starving babies in the street, and had Rory not offered her his house, she could not have saved them.
Neither is there a direct relationship between good intentions and positive outcomes, or of morally questionable motivations, with doing harm or hurt. Hero's well-intentioned desire to take an active part in fighting the slave trade, makes her open to Thérèse Tissot's manipulations, and causes her to distrust and disbelieve Rory, when he gives her the perfectly well meant, and justified, warning not to get involved with the palace revolt. Rory's moment of tenderness toward Zorah, when he brings her the necklace from Sultan Said's treasure, creates the opportunity for Clayton to abduct her. Hero's efforts to buy up and free some of the slaves coming through Zanzibar's market, only lead to them being exploited by the man she has entrusted with this task. Her fight for Amrah's life is in vain. Her desire to personally take responsibility for helping the abandoned children from Zanzibar's African town, nearly gets herself and her guide killed, and leads to the loss of her and Rory's baby.
Rory, for his part, is a master of the win-win situation: many of his morally questionable schemes, while undeniably advantageous or profitable to himself, also benefit other people in the process. He does not simply act out of shortsighted selfishness or greed: He thinks things through to their ultimate consequences with a thoroughness which most everyone else fails to see, and he makes an effort to minimize the damage he does. His most serious moral failing is arrogance: to think that he can put himself above the law, that the end justifies the means, and that he can gamble – that he can run huge risks, and will always be able to control or manipulate the course of events to arrive at the desired outcome. This goes dramatically wrong when Hero inadvertently throws a spanner in his best laid plans concerning the smuggled rifles.
Half the time, the characters in the novel aren't even sure of their own motivations. Hero convinces herself that her active efforts to get Rory driven off the island, are born out of an altruistic fervour to "set an example" and deal the pernicious slave trade a blow – while all the while, she has entirely more personal reasons to want to "put him away" from her. Rory, for his part, creates an elaborate web of self-deceit to hide from himself the attraction he feels towards Hero: She is barely more than a child – no, she is a grown woman. She is ugly – no, she is actually conspicuously beautiful. She is stuck-up and self-righteous – no, she is genuinely kind and generous and wow, is she good in bed! He will never see her again – what, she is still in Zanzibar? She will never forgive him, and how could she possibly love him? He really should not ask to marry her. Not to mention the several layers of reasons and excuses he construes for himself, to justify why he should want to abduct her and make love to her.
So how does one apportion guilt, or blame? The narrative certainly flies in the face of the easy assumption, so cherished by Western Idealism – and perpetuated in much of European literature – that good or bad intentions are what matters most. That innocence and purity of thought will be rewarded, while selfishness and scheming will lead to an evil end. The one character in Trade Wind whose deeds and thought processes really are unrelentingly selfish and brutal, and who directly causes the death of an innocent person, is Clayton Mayo – and he does not suffer any form of punishment. Neither do we particularly care. Perhaps because his brand of evil is not the least bit charismatic – it is so trite and commonplace that he simply doesn't seem interesting enough to make us want to see him suffer. Perhaps because each and every one of us likely has people in their lives just like Clayton Mayo.
Rory, on the other hand, is made to pay for his misdeeds, and dearly – but ultimately, this offers him an opportunity for personal growth, and for redemption. Clayton does not even seem to deserve the opportunity for redemption. In that sense, it seems appropriate that the author lets him get off scot-free.
I am by no means an expert in Eastern philosophy, but it seems to me that the underlying morality has more to do with the Indian concept of karma, than with Western ideas of crime and punishment, and receiving one's "just deserts". Punishment for crime is inflicted from the outside: by the agents of the law, or by God's will. The law can be dodged. God's will is unknowable. But karma is inescapable. It is like a natural law of moral cause and effect, and damaging one's karma is a punishment in itself. The deed becomes a part of the destiny of the doer – the evil deed just as much as the good deed. Or something like that. There is no outside agent necessary to make this moral system work – no Heaven and Hell, no God, and no police.
According to this system, Clayton Mayo will probably one day be reborn as a centipede. Rory, by the end of the book, and through Hero's influence, is halfway on his way toward something like sainthood. Some of the best Saints were sinners at first: St. Augustine, St. Paul, St. Mary of Magdala. And for that matter, some of the most outspoken opponents of the slave trade started out as slave owners or traders. Bartholomé de Las Casas was aware of the atrocities committed by the Spanish colonizers in the West Indies, because at first, he participated in them. William WIlberforce, while not directly involved in the slave trade, is said to have been given to gambling and late night drinking sessions (much like Rory Frost), before he turned into a steadfast parliamentary campaigner. John Newton was a slave trader, before he became a priest and abolitionist, joining forces with Wiliam Wilberforce in his campaign to make the slave trade illegal. He is the author of what has since become one of the best known abolitionist and Civil Rights hymns: "Amazing Grace".
Amazing Grace: that is precisely what happens to Rory Frost. He does not "deserve" Hero. But he is capable of rising to the occasion, and he, in Ursula Le Guin's words, "transcends the wrong he cannot repair". Hero, for her part, is able to recognize and acknowledge this: what she learns from Rory, is to grow past her own prejudices – and so she is able to forgive him.
Rory was never meant to be an entirely positive character: no knight in shining armour he. At different points in the book, I've wanted to kick him, or kiss him – which is probably precisely what makes him so real. But unlike vampire derived Christian Grey, and other such shady characters, whose very "badness" and dominance are supposed to be a turn-on for the heroine as well as the female reader, Rory's participation in the slave trade is not excused – and neither is his rape of Hero. And that is why this novel, emphatically, is anything *but* a "rape fantasy".
Rory is at his least attractive when he turns on the dominant male: when he thinks he can commandeer Hero around, or dispose of her according to his own whims, and most of all, when he forces her to keep him company and share his dinner, the night after he has raped her. But that particular scene is a case in point. It starts out really creepy and just plain wrong. In a way, it is worse than the actual rape – which, btw, is hinted at rather than explicitly described, and which ironically, shows Rory at his most vulnerable. The dinner scene is the one point in the book when I really don't like Rory, and there are no excuses. But then he observes Hero failing to eat and getting drunk instead, and there is genuine concern. And it ends on a note of tenderness, when he jumps out of his chair to prevent her from falling, lifts her up and carries her to her room. It's as if he is deliberately posing as the "tough guy", but then his softer side gets the better of him, and he can't keep it up. Just like Rory also always seems to make the greatest effort to appear worse in people's opinions, than he really is.
The Rory Frost we – and Hero – like, is not the sarcastic, arrogant pirate captain, who thinks he is entitled to take whatever he fancies to have. It is his empathy and compassion, his capability for warmth and tenderness, his humour, his wry civility, his loyalty to those who have won his trust, his dislike of pointless cruelty and injustice, and the matter-of-fact, commonsense fashion in which he does what is necessary, with little regard to what custom would dictate, which make Rory attractive* – and they are the parts of himself which he deliberately downplays and hides. His turns of harshness and dominance are not what turns Hero on, in any case – she generally reacts to them with a flare of temper, or with contempt.
Here is an excerpt from the scene when Rory, who has just got out of prison, finds Hero pleading with her uncle and Clayton to allow her to look after the starved orphan children she has picked up in the street, and when she decides to go with him to his house. It is the first time they meet again since Hero's abduction:
They had all forgotten that the front door had been left open and they did not hear any sound of footsteps. But suddenly someone else was there, standing in the doorway behind Clayton and looking across his shoulder at the bedraggled girl and the bewildered, skeleton children who still held to her wet skirts.
'Rory!' said Hero on a sob that contained neither surprise nor thankfulness, but was purely one of relief. 'Rory, do something!'
'Certainly', said Captain Emory Frost obligingly. 'What?'
Oh, very good. But wait, it gets better:
Clayton spun round with an oath, and Hero ran past him, tripping on her wet skirts and accompanied by her frightened protégés:
'They say I can't let the children stay here, but they have to go somewhere and if we send them away they'll die, because they haven't anyone and no one cares and they can't – I can't ––'
'Steady', said Rory, removing an infant from her convulsive grasp and regarding it with some disfavour.
Did you get this? Right!!! HE PICKS UP A BABY. (Hero was carrying three. I do not know if this is actually physically possible, but that's romantic fiction for you.) A dirty, smelly, squealing gutter baby possibly infected with the cholera, and who knows what else. THAT is what I call true heroism, in a man!
But Rory is not one of them baby-carrying softies. He is entirely capable of protecting his woman from slimeballs and future centipedes, in a more conventionally male fashion:
Hero paused and drew a shuddering breath, struggling for composure, and Clayton took a swift step towards her and found his way blocked by an arm that appeared to be made of steel and whipcord.
'Mind the baby!' admonished Captain Frost without heat.
Clayton said in the same stifled voice: 'If you've got anything to say to me, say it and get out!'
'You mean about Zorah? I haven't. I didn't come here to see you.'
'Then why ––?' began Clayton, and was interrupted by his step-father who said harshly: ' I guess we're none of us interested in why you're here or how you got here or who you want to see. But unless you get out of here fast I'm sending for the guard.'
'What guard?' enquired Rory blandly. 'I don't think there is one any more.'
'I wouldn't count on that! There's still enough white men in the city who'd be happy to form one, so I'd advise you to leave.'
'Certainly, sir. Are you coming with me, Hero?'
So, errr. Where do I sign up for a night with this man? You folks can keep your vampires, and your champagne bottles and luxury hotels and tailored suits and fast cars and expensive Eau de Cologne. I'll stick with the guy who is not afraid to pick up a baby, thank you very much.
*well, that, and those Arab clothes.
For a historical novel which is set in the context of the African slave trade, there are conspicuously few slaves among the cast. The only character of any importance who is, or was, a slave, is Zorah: and she only appears in two or three scenes. The rest of her story is told indirectly, by other characters reporting what happens to her. We sympathize with Zorah, and we understand that what Clayton does to her is pretty horrible, but we don't get to know her well enough to truly empathize. We only catch the briefest glimpse of what might be going on in her mind: a reticence which the author also applies to her other Arabic or African characters, with the exception of Princess Salmé, an actual historical figure whose memoirs formed the basis for several chapters in the book. Personally, I would have liked to see some of the other non-European characters fleshed out a bit more: Zorah, and Hajji Ralub, Rory's close friend, in particular. But I understand and respect the author's decision: how would she have known what might be going on in the heads of an Arab man, or an Arab slave girl? It strikes me as a more honest attitude towards these characters, than pretending to know what their thought processes and motivations might have been – unlike some other authors, who simply, and unthinkingly, impose their own.
The topic of slavery is dealt with indirectly, in the wider context of questions about ownership, self-determination, and the meaning, and price, of freedom – in particular, the freedom and self-determination (or lack thereof) of women, both in Western and in Arabic society. And if the author chooses to make the rape of a woman a central plot point, perhaps it seemed to her an appropriate metaphor for the brutality and humiliation, and the denial of authority even over one's own body, which is also implied in slavery.
The association of women writers with the topics of slavery and racial discrimination goes back a long way. The first European author to write a fictional story whose main character is an African slave, was Aphra Behn – a literary celebrity in her time, the late 17th century, and one of the first women to earn her living as a professional writer in England. Nowadays, she is by and large only known to literary scholars.
Easily the most famous abolitionist text is Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in the United States in 1852. The book was a best-seller both in the US and in Britain, and greatly helped fuel the abolitionist cause. In the 20th century, when the fight was no longer for abolition of slavery, but for civil rights and equality for America's black people, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird became one of the most widely read books of the century, even though, just like Uncle Tom's Cabin, its literary merit was often being questioned by the (largely male) academic establishment. Accidentally or not, it is also a story which revolves around a – presumed – rape.
Just like M. M. Kaye does in Trade Wind, published only three years later, Harper Lee deals with the question of racial discrimination within the wider context of prejudice, and of the social pressures which create and maintain it. Both books feature a female main character who struggles with the expectations their society has for how they should behave. I suppose no female author writing on the topic of slavery and racial discrimination, could miss the obvious parallels with their own situation as women.
It astonishes me that Trade Wind was written as far back as 1963. Some of the central issues the novel touches upon, did not come into the intellectual mainstream until the 1970's (feminist analysis), or even the 1990's and beyond (post-colonialism, the slave trade – a proper acknowledgement of the negative impact of the latter on millions of lives, over a period of centuries, is still very much a work in progress!).
The novel was re-published, in a substantially revised version, in 1981. The revised edition contains an additional 150 or so pages, mainly fleshing out the various character's motivations. The most significant change is a whole chapter added at the beginning, with details of Hero's childhood and family background. The first edition plunged us straight into the action, with Dan Larrimore stalking a slaver which he takes to be Rory Frost's ship, but which later turns out to have been one of the "hell ships" Rory has tipped Dan off about. The focus has thus shifted ever so slightly from Rory's story to Hero's story – but the essence of the book, and its central message, remain unchanged. Most of the things which are elaborated upon in the revised edition, were already stated implicitly in the first edition. Many of the changes are minor details of dialogue and phrasing: in particular, the author seems to have carefully revised every scene in which Hero and Rory interact, adding an extra touch here and an extra highlight there – but again, changing nothing of essence to their relationship.
The only somewhat significant change to Rory's character is the deed that caused Sultan Said to gift him Kiwulimi: rather than accidentally preventing the Sultan from being shot by an assassin, in the reviewed edition, Rory has spirited a personal friend of the Sultan's off the island, who would otherwise have had to stand trial over the loss of virginity of the daughter of a local chief. Somewhat less glamorous, it instead emphasizes the theme of abduction and seduction, adding yet another instance of such a thing occurring.
Trade Wind would seem to be the most personal of the author's three historical novels. The two novels set in India are dedicated to members of the author's family who served in the Indian colonial administration, and to her husband's regiment, respectively. Trade Wind is dedicated to her husband and children. And while it would be unfair to say that in either of the three novels, the historical background is just a backdrop for the central romance, or vice versa, it seems to me that in the two Indian novels, the author was mainly motivated by wanting to tell a piece of history which was important to her, while in Trade Wind, the central relationship really is the most important aspect of the narrative. It is certainly the most psychologically complex of the three love stories: in the other two books, the lovers are kept apart largely by circumstances. Hero and Rory, on the other hand, have to go through a long-drawn and painful process of overcoming their inner obstacles, their prejudices and their fear, for there is little else that stands in the way of them marrying. Which makes for an altogether more interesting and involving love story!
Above all, M. M. Kaye is simply a rollicking storyteller. She has the gift to draw the reader in, and drag them along open-mouthed, needing to know what happens next. Perhaps she does owe some of that gift to the street storytellers she used to listen to as a child in India: the way she juggles and plays around with stock story elements, fairy tale motifs, and mythical archetypes, is in some ways reminiscent of an oral storytelling tradition. 20th century literary criticism, with its emphasis on the need for "originality", might have accused her of a lack thereof, but these days, we have games, and books or films with multiple alternative storylines or endings, and in that context, her approach to writing appears surprisingly modern.
I have meanwhile had the enormous pleasure to read myself through her set of whodunits, and it has been interesting to see how the author re-uses and permutates similar scenes and character traits throughout those books, and how some of them reappear, in yet another guise, in her historical novels. Trade Wind owes quite a few elements to what is easily the funniest and most lighthearted of those whodunits, Death in Cyprus. Cyprus is the home of an offbeat – if the novel wasn't written in 1956, I might have said hippiefied – expat artist community, and it is also the island of Aphrodite. The Goddess of Love appears in several incarnations – the most endearing of which is frail, eccentric elderly Miss Moon. Her house and garden share quite a number of features with Kiwulimi.
If what I have written here, inspires some of my readers to pick up and read some of M. M. Kaye's novels, I could not be more pleased. She was a wise old lady with oodles of life experience to share, and who was decades ahead of her time in terms of her topics and themes, as well as her writing technique. It seems to me that her books have become more, not less relevant, since she wrote them. They are well worth a discovery.
Arohanui, from Asni