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How Captain Cook became a contested national symbol


Tracy Ireland, University of Canberra

Captain Cook has loomed large in the federal government’s 2018 budget. The government allocated $48.7 million over four years to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Cook’s voyages to the South Pacific and Australia in 1770. The funding has been widely debated on social media as another fray in Australia’s culture wars, particularly in the context of $84 million in cuts to the ABC.

Closer scrutiny suggests that this latest celebration of Cook may serve as a headline for financial resources already committed to a range of cultural programs, at least some of which could be seen as business as usual. These include the development of digital heritage resources and exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum, National Library, AIATSIS and the National Museum of Australia, as well as support for training “Indigenous cultural heritage professionals in regional areas”.

However, the budget package also includes unspecified support for the “voyaging of the replica HMB Endeavour” and a $25 million contribution towards redevelopment of Kamay Botany Bay National Park, including a proposed new monument to the great man.

So while the entire $48.7 million won’t simply go towards a monument, it’s clear that celebrating the 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing at Botany Bay is a high priority for this federal government.

In 1770 Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook, on a scientific mission for the British Navy, anchored in a harbour he first called Stingray Bay. He later changed it to Botany Bay, commemorating the trove of specimens collected by the ship’s botanists, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.

Cook made contact with Aboriginal people, mapped the eastern coast of the continent, claimed it for the British Crown and named it New South Wales, allowing for the future dispossession of Australia’s First Nations. He would later return to the Pacific on two more voyages before his death in Hawaii in 1779.

Scholars agree that Cook had a major influence on the world during his lifetime. His actions, writings and voyages continue to resonate through modern colonial and postcolonial history.

Cook continues to be a potent national symbol. Partly this is due to the rich historical written and physical records we have of Cook’s journeys, which continue to reward further study and analysis.

But the other side to the hero story is the dispossession of Australia’s Indigenous peoples from their land. As a symbol of the nation, Cook is, and has always been, contested, political and emotional.

Too many Cooks

There are other European contenders for the title of “discoverer of the continent”, such as Dirk Hartog in 1616 and William Dampier in 1699. However, both inconveniently landed on the west coast. Although Englishman Dampier wrote a book about his discoveries, he never became a major figure like Cook.

Cook’s legend began immediately after his death, when he became one of the great humble heroes of the European Enlightenment. Historian Chris Healy has suggested that Cook was suited to the title of founder of Australia because his journey along the entire east coast made him more acceptable in other Australian states. Importantly, unlike that other great contender for founding father, the First Fleet’s Governor Arthur Phillip, Cook was not associated with the “stain of convictism”.

Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, by Emanuel Phillips Fox, 1902.
Wikimedia

Australians celebrated the bicentenary of Cook’s arrival in 1970, and the bicentenary of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1988. Throughout this period it was widely accepted that Cook was the single most important actor in the British possession of Australia, despite the fact that many other political figures played significant roles.

This perhaps partly explains why Cook has featured so prominently in Aboriginal narratives of dispossession, and why the celebrations in 1970 and 1988 triggered debate around Aboriginal land rights.

Other scholars have examined the Aboriginal perspective on Cook’s landing. In the 1970s archaeologist Vincent Megaw found British artefacts in a midden at Botany Bay. He cautiously suggested that these items might have been part of the gifts given by Cook to the Aboriginal people he encountered.

Historian Maria Nugent has assessed the narratives recounted by Percy Mumbulla and Hobbles Danaiyarri. Both were senior Aboriginal lawmen and knowledge holders who, in the 1970s and ’80s, shared their sagas of the coming of Cook to their lands with anthropologists.

Too pale, stale and male?

Controversy over the celebration of Cook as founding father is not a new thing. It dates back to the 19th century when his first statues were raised.

This latest Captain Cook fanfare comes hot on the heels of broader global debates about the contemporary values and meaning of civic statues of (“pale, stale, male”) heroes associated with colonialism and slavery.

In Australia, there has also been debate about how the events of the first world war have been commemorated so expansively by Australia. A further $500 million was recently allocated for the extension of the Australian War Memorial, at a time when other cultural institutions in Canberra are being forced to shed jobs and tighten their belts.

The view from Captain Cook’s landing in Botany Bay, Kamay National Park.
Wikimedia/Maksym Kozlenko, CC BY-SA

The funding cycle for our contemporary cultural institutions and activities in Australia has been closely linked to anniversaries and their commemoration since at least the 1970 bicentenary. The 2018 budget lists support for programs at a number of cultural institutions and for training Indigenous cultural heritage professionals. It would be interesting to know whether these funds have been diverted away from existing operational budgets and core activities in these institutions to support the Cook celebrations.

The master plan for Kamay Botany Bay National Park has also been in development for some time. While centred on the historical event of Cook’s landing, the plan itself is more about the rehabilitation and activation of this somewhat neglected landscape. Plans have been drawn up in consultation with the La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council.

Should we be devoting scarce financial resources to yet another celebration of Cook? Focal events such as these can divert funds into cultural activities and may allow researchers and creative practitioners to unearth new evidence and develop fresh interpretations. Some of these funds may also go to support initiatives driven by First Nations communities.

The ConversationThere is no escaping the fact that Captain Cook is a polarising national symbol, representing possession and dispossession. Another anniversary of Cook’s landing may give us much to reflect upon, but it also the highlights the need for investment in new symbols that grapple with colonial legacies and shared futures.

Tracy Ireland, Associate Professor Cultural Heritage, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Fifteen years after looting, thousands of artefacts are still missing from Iraq’s national museum


Craig Barker, University of Sydney

On April 10 2003, the first looters broke into the National Museum of Iraq. Staff had vacated two days earlier, ahead of the advance of US forces on Baghdad. The museum was effectively ransacked for the next 36 hours until employees returned.

The National Museum of Iraq in the wake of looting in 2003.
Jamal Saidi

While the staff – showing enormous bravery and foresight – had removed and safely stored 8,366 artefacts before the looting, some 15,000 objects were taken during that 36 hours. While 7,000 items have been recovered, more than 8,000 remain unaccounted for, including artefacts thousands of years old from some of the earliest sites in the Middle East.

The looting is regarded as one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism in modern times, but much more of Iraq’s rich cultural history has been destroyed, damaged or stolen in the years since. Indeed the illegal trade in looted antiquities is growing.

Gold and lapis bowl from Ur, Iraq Museum IM8272. Current statue is unknown.
Oriental Institute Lost Treasures from Iraq database

One of the museum objects that remains lost is a black stone weight shaped like a duck made around 2070 BC and excavated from the ancient city of Ur. Another is a fluted gold and lapis bowl from a royal cemetery in the same city.

The museum’s collection of cylinder seals (used to print images, usually into clay) was hit especially hard as they were easy to conceal and transport and had a ready market overseas. Of the 5144 taken, just over half have been returned. The museum reopened in 2014, somewhat a shadow of its former self.

Duck-shaped weight from Ur, Iraq Museum IM3580. Current status unknown.
Oriental Institute Lost Treasures from Iraq database

Some high value items looted from the museum were so recognisable that they could not possibly appear on the open market, suggesting they were taken with buyers already lined up. In contrast to this was the opportunistic looting undertaken by locals: in some galleries copies were stolen but genuine pieces ignored.

Global outrage at the looting did lead to immediate action. One of the most successful programs was an amnesty granted by authorities that saw almost 2,000 items returned by January 2004, and a further thousand items seized by Iraqi and US investigators.

Iraqi Col. Ali Sabah, displays ancient artefacts Iraqi Security Forces discovered in 2008, during two raids in northern Basra.
Wikimedia commons

Initial returns were largely local. One early success was the famous Lady of Warka, dated to around 3100 BC; she was recovered by investigators at a nearby farm following a tip off.

Others have come home following international investigations (a large number of objects seem to have travelled through London and New York in the aftermath), such as a statue of Assyrian king Argon II seized in New York in 2008 and returned to the museum in 2015.

Likewise the heaviest item stolen, a headless statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash was recovered in New York in 2006 with the help of an art dealer. Interpol and the University of Chicago have fastidiously maintained databases for objects looted from museum.

Demand increasing

While destruction and looting of cultural heritage has been a by-product of war for thousands of years, the scale of the looting of the Iraq Museum was staggering. Particularly frustrating were the neglected warnings that such an incident could happen, and the immediate response from the Bush administration that “stuff happens”.

The museum looting should have been a clarion call for the need for better protection of antiquities in conflict zones, both from combatants and local populations. Sadly, this has not been the case. There has been subsequent destruction of archaeological sites and museums in Syria and Libya, ISIS selling antiquities to finance weapons, and increases in thefts from both private and public collections and from archaeological sites.

Part of the problem with halting the illegal global trade of stolen antiquities is the scale of the market. In late 2017, an investigation by the Wall Street Journal presented the sobering assessment that over 100,000 antiquities are offered for sale online daily, of which up to 80% are likely to be faked or looted.

National Museum of Iraq in 2018.
MohammadHuzam/Wikimedia commons

The industry is estimated by Neil Brodie of the University of Oxford to have a turnover of US$10 million a day. Today’s antiquities black market is using social media platforms and messenger apps to reach buyers in a way that would have been inconceivable to looters in 2003. There has been a surge in antiquities originating in Syria available online since the outbreak of the civil war.

In order to halt looting, it is essential that private collectors and institutions only purchase antiquities with a legal provenance to dry up the demand.

Ironically, centuries after many of the remains of these ancient cultural entities were looted by European colonial forces in order to fill grand national museums, we are seeing a 21st century version of cultural colonialism. Private collectors are enabling an entire economy of illegal activities.

The ConversationThe loss of these sites and artefacts is disastrous for humanity. The Baghdad looting has shown that in times of conflict, not even a museum can necessarily provide a sanctuary, without meaningful policies of protection. Sadly, it appears we have not learnt the lessons of April 2003.

Craig Barker, Education Manager, Sydney University Museums, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Minority histories of the Indian national flag



File 20170815 28964 1w057go
India’s tricolour (which actually has four colours) hides a complex subaltern history that originates with Mahatma Gandhi.
Adam Jones/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Sadan Jha, Centre for Social Studies

This week, India celebrates 70 years of independence. The tricolour flag, perhaps the most tangible and potent symbol of freedom from colonial servitude, is on particularly full display.

Few weeks ago, a rally was organised in Delhi under a 2,200-foot-long tricolour. At Attari, on the border of India and Pakistan, the tallest Indian flag in the country was recently mounted atop a 360-foot-high pole. Last year, Purnia, a town in northern State of Bihar, had a 7.1-kilometre-long tricolour. Size, it turns out, does matter.

Flag-waving also occupies a wide range of terrains, from banal street corners and sports matches to movie screens, in a display of both fervour and pride. The song “Maula Mere Le Le Meri Jaan” from the Hindi movie Chak De India (2007) is one such moment:

Teeja tera rang thaa main to teeja tere dhang se main to”, it intones, reflecting on the flag’s green shade: “I was your third colour, the one as fashioned by you”.

Chak De India, 2007, starring the well-known Shah Rukh Khan.

Such spectacles generally come wrapped in the visual vocabulary of majoritarian politics, wherein the voices and concerns of the largest community dominate. Loyalty to the flag is never sui generis; its citizens must be inculcated to display and demonstrate patriotism in this specific way.

The vivid shades of the Indian tricolour actually have a secret subaltern history, a genealogy that has been largely forgotten. As India celebrates its independence from Britain, it’s a story worth remembering.

A symbol with a forgotten history

We begin this brief history with an official document called Specification for the National Flag of India (Cotton Khadi), in which the Bureau of Indian Standards prescribes that the Indian national flag shall be a tricolour consisting of three rectangular (sub)panels of equal widths.

The specified colours are “India saffron”, “white” and “India green”. At the centre is a design of the Ashoka Chakra, the “wheel of peaceful change” associated with a legendary ancient emperor Ashoka from the third century BCE. The wheel is in navy blue, the document says, before going into great technical detail on other aspects of the national flag.

Two obvious questions arise here. Firstly, why do we call it a three-colour flag? Why has blue been erased from our cognitive frame when we think about the colour scheme of India’s national flag?

And, second, this document does not tell us anything about meanings, social significance and popular perceptions pertaining to these four shades. We must go back in time to understand their origins.

Blue, the colour of revolt and dalit politics

In the popular memory of colonial period, blue is the colour of resistance. Commonly associated with indigo, the shade owes its political imagery from the “Indigo revolt” (Nil vidroha), a peasant uprising against the white Indigo planters in 1859-60 in Bengal.

Later, in 1917, the country witnessed another massive peasant mobilisation of indigo growers, this time in the northern state of Bihar. This event was transformative even for Mahatma Gandhi, who shifted his political attention from urban centres to rural landscapes of suffering and exploitation under the colonial regime.

Gandhi’s first interview, 1931.

It would be a fitting tribute to Gandhi and those rebellious peasants that the charka, or wheel, in the centre of the flag is in navy blue. But the wheel is bereft of Mahatma’s spindle.

Gandhi in jail, spinning his wheel.
Wikimedia

“India as a nation can live and die only for the spinning wheel”, he often claimed, and this symbol occupied a central position in the model of Swaraj, or self governance, laid out in his book Indian Home Rule.

In 1931, the Indian National Congress adopted it to don India’s pre-Independence flag as an emblem of the anti-colonial movement.

But in July 1947, just before independence, the charkha was replaced with the Ashokan wheel (chakra) in the design of India’s national flag. This irked Gandhi, who said he would “refuse to salute the flag” if it did not contain the charka.

Navy blue adorns t-shirts printed with B.R Ambedkar’s face.
JAIBHIM5/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

There’s also the eerie silence about navy blue, which compels us to confront the deep political prejudices of Indian politics. That’s because its roots trace back to the dalit, to lower-caste politics. India’s most famous dalit icon, a contemporary of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, is always portrayed wearing a blue coat. Blue is still the colour of dalit politics in modern India, too.

Is it a mere coincidence that the colour of the Ashokan wheel in the Indian national flag, navy blue, remains uncounted when we talk about the “tricolour flag”? Or does this gesture perhaps reveal a deep grudge against dalit politics and subaltern voices?

White for minorities

Another colour that deserves more attention in any story of the flag is white. In the aforementioned official document, while saffron and green are affixed with the word “Indian”, bestowing them a sense of rootedness and specific history, white has been denied similar cultural milieu.

Instead, it is perceived only in the universal vocabulary as representing peace and humanism. Why this erasure of particularities?

White is perhaps the most difficult shade when it comes to telling a tale. From the bridal trousseau of Christian tradition to the Himalayan snow capped Mount Kailasha, where, in poet Kalidasa’s Sanskrit classic Meghadutam, it represents the laugh of Hindu god Shiva, to the ubiquitous caging in the monochromatic uniform of Hindu widowhood, the colour white is a canvas spread wide.

For Gandhi in 1921, while the flag’s red and green symbolised Hindu and Muslim communities, respectively, white was to represent all the minority communities put together. In his scheme, they were to be protected by the other two.

Red and saffron

Soon, however, his own party, the Indian national Congress, officially distanced itself from this direct connection between colour and community. This was particularly important in the aftermath of violence between Muslims and Hindus communities that had gripped the country in the 1920s.

Secular leaders (including the future prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru) championed saffron as a colour of valour, an ancient colour, and underplayed its popular association with right wing Hindu organisation, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and to the 17th-century Maratha warrior king Shivajji.

Yet to this day, the colour remains well associated with Hinduism and with Hindutva, an ideology that promotes an essentialist vision of Hinduism. We have forgotten that saffron also came to India through minority religious traditions, including Buddhism, and via other ascetic religious movements, like ancient Shramanic traditions.

Saffron flags today are associated with right-wing Hindu politics.
Al Jazeera/Flickr, CC BY-SA

It is rather ironic that in today’s aggressive nationalism, India has completely forgotten the minority histories of these colours.

Bypassing the green

The amnesia acquires a sinister property considering that the outgoing vice president, Hamid Ansari, recently voiced his anxiety pertaining to the vulnerability of minority communities in contemporary India.

In the song from the film Chak De India, this anxiety is palpable. Premised upon the popular equation of green with Islam, the lyrics refer to green as the third colour, using the past tense – “I was your third colour” – lamenting the Muslim’s community’s growing marginalisation in contemporary India.

This erasure from the present, green’s exile into the past, calls for deep introspection.

The ConversationSadan Jha is the author of Reverence, Resistance and Politics of Seeing the Indian National Flag (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Sadan Jha, Associate Professor, Centre for Social Studies

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Dinky-di Aussies: how slanguage helped form a new national identity


Diane de Saint Léger, University of Melbourne

They called it slanguage. A unique language developed by soldiers on the front during World War One. It was a creative fusion of Australian slang, blue words and bits of French and other foreign phrases.

Classic pieces of Australiana, such as “digger” and “dugout”, were coined in the trenches. Slanguage even gave us the term “Aussie” – a word originally seen by some as downmarket and lower-class.

This collection of new terms and phrases described the new realities of modern warfare, and it became a fleeting publishing phenomenon. When one of the most famous Australian troop publications was created in 1918, it was called Aussie.

Aussie was highly successful, at home as well as abroad. Ten thousand copies of the first edition were produced; there were 100,000 copies by the third and the whole 13 issues were republished in a bound edition in 1920. Aussie magazine, slanguage and other mementos of trench life are showcased in a recently opened University of Melbourne exhibition.

Aussie magazine, issue 12. CLICK TO ENLARGE.
Author provided

“Compree”, (from the French compris) meant “I understand” or “Do you understand?” “Merci bokoo”, obviously, meant thank you (from merci beaucoup). “Finee” meant done, finished (fini) and if you wanted something done right away, it’d be “toot suite” or “on the toot” (tout de suite).

Resorting to explicit language in print was of course inconceivable, so commentators on trench life wrote around it in Aussie:

Bert stopped laughing when Bill had used his extensive vocabulary sufficiently.

The editor of Aussie, Phillip Harris, argued in his first editorial:

Others don’t like our slanguage. But Aussie would remind these friendly critics that there is a lot of slang in the talk of our Army. And whatever defects our Aussie vernacular may have, it certainly has the virtue of being expressive. Aussie merely aims at being a dinkum Aussie […] And, after all, the slang to-day is the language of to-morrow.

“Dinkum” was not a preferred term of those friendly critics either, nor was “bonzer” or even “digger”. These slang words were associated with a lack of education and an embarrassment to the reputation of Australia, particularly in relation to the home country of many, Great Britain.

Here’s AUSSIE. He comes on strength of the A.I.F. […] His one object in life is to be bright and cheerful and interesting — to reflect that happy spirit and good humour so strongly evident thorough the Aussie Army. […] And that can only be given by you [the soldiers] in your own language and your own way. […] In short, make him a dinkum Aussie.

[…] Aussie does not consider that it shows lack of education for a Digger to call a gentleman a Digger—and the Digger who objects to being called a Digger doesn’t deserve the compliment. […]

Bright, cheerful and interesting stories were the primary focus of this magazine created in France, in the field, under the patronage of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

For Harris, the Spirit of the AIF was to be found among the soldiery, not in the higher sphere of commandment. To capture that spirit, to get the tone “right”, Harris saw the vernacular as it was spoken in the trenches as central to conveying in print the otherwise predominantly oral culture of them.

Aussie magazine, issue 5. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Indeed, the slanguage of Australian soldiers was quite colourful to say the least, and soldiers took great pride in it.

Swearing was clearly a show of masculinity in this male-dominated environment and strong expletives were well suited to its harsh reality.

Long stretches of expletives were particularly welcome in extreme situations involving fear, anger, frustration, an unwillingness to cooperate and other strong negative emotions. They resulted in a form of reappropriation through the language of a situation that otherwise completely escaped them:

He [a grumpy Australian soldier with a temper to match that of the weather: cold, wet, miserable] vomited three mouthfuls of the great Australian slanguage over the figure on the road [that blocked his way back home with his cart] […] He emptied another collection of variegated slanguage over her, [..] He asked the atmosphere emphatically what the unprintable language it thought of the woman [which turned out to be a statue] […]For the first time on record his remarkable accumulation of high-power language had lost its impelling power!

An interesting counter-example may be found in a piece entitled: “Why we should have an instructor in politeness in Corps staff”. In this comic story, a caricature of “soft”, elaborated language is used amidst the harsh reality of the trenches.

There is also a clear comment on social class and on the old-fashioned values of the “old” world that the British Empire represents: dinkum Aussies have dinkum names and don’t talk that talk:

[…]First Digger: Cuthbert, I have reason to believe that the foe has succeeded in striking my shoulder with a projectile. May I beg of you to bind up the wound?

Second Digger: Dear! dear!—how unfortunate! It is almost enough to make one say a wicked word. I shall gladly bind up your wound, Clarence. […]

Of course it would be misleading to solely equate Aussie magazine with its preoccupation with foul language. In fact, detractors of the magazine were primarily bothered with words like “Aussie”.

Harris, who was not a linguist, responded in his second editorial with an incredibly modern statement, that foreshadowed the sociolinguistics (study of language in its social context of production) of the 1960s:

[…] Some say that Aussie is not a nice word. But Aussie is the name that has been practically universally adopted by the Australian soldier for himself. “Aussie” means “Australian soldier” and “Australia”. It’s short and friendly-like. One seldom hears the word Australia or Australian used over here in our general conversation. Therefore, it is not for Aussie to judge whether it is a good word or a bad one – whether it is a soul-stirring euphony or a lingual catastrophe. It is used by his cobbers and that’s good enough for Aussie.

If the impact of Aussie as a title is somewhat lost on 21st century Australian readers, it is clear that back then its claim for one’s own distinct identity from other colonial troops and dominions would not have gone unnoticed.

It was 1918, and Australia was slowly coming to terms with its identity, distinct from its British counterparts. Slanguage – celebrated by Aussie magazine – was a powerful tool to shape and claim a new collective identity. Irreverence, self-deprecating humour and (s)language worked hand in hand to sustain that fiercely independent and proud Aussie spirit.


Somewhere in France – Australians on the Western Front is a free exhibition held at the University of Melbourne, Baillieu Library, level 1, Noel Shaw Gallery until 27 June.

The Conversation

Diane de Saint Léger, Languages and Linguistics , University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Today in History – 21 May 1904


Football: FIFA is Formed

On this day in 1904 the International Federation of Association Football (Federation Internationale de Football Association), more commonly known as FIFA, was formed. Fifa is the international governing body for football (soccer). FIFA is made up of 208 national football associations and its president is currently Sepp Blatter.

FIFA seems to be more in the news these days for accusations of corruption than for its showpiece the FIFA World Cup of football.

For more on FIFA see:
http://www.fifa.com/

 


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