Tula: The Revolt (Curacao)

Curacao mapby Jeroen Leinders
courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

(Curacao = CURE A SOW)

Like its neighboring island of Aruba, Curacao officially “belongs” to the Dutch. Like Aruba, it has Papiamento speakers, because it used to have slaves.

Papiamento. Is it an authentic language? Objections have been made. I suspect objections by white linguists…er? But surely the people who speak it feel differently. Objections are commonly made to “pidgeons” because they are “made up” between people with no common language. But I feel Papiamento IS absolutely a proper language. Look at Esperanto. Look at Carthage: Historically, sailors and traders around the world spoke some form of pigeon. Hell, even Klingon has become a real language. Just saying. Some linguists object to pigeon because they “pervert” the grammar of the languages they are based on, or corrupt the pronunciation. (Although the Hawaiian language has existed for thousands of years, you can see this pronunciation difference in the way they say “missionary”–mikinele.

book coverGrammar corruption: As Winston Churchill said, “that is a situation up with which I will not put.” Churchill was objecting to the people who object to the dangling participle, people who would faint if he had said “put up with…”, but that’s based on Latin grammar. English is not Latin, and Papiamento is not Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, or English.

Slaves. Could there be any more egregious insult to the human spirit than to take another human being against their will, remove their free will, and force them to obey the whims of some random person? I think I’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in the modern world to disagree (except narco-traffickers and other baddies)…but my argument isn’t with them. It’s with the arrogant, entitled, and tough-to-stomach Dutch planters and politicians in this novel. UGH, UGH, UGH. People who lack the imagination to feel empathy for others of different skin color, or class. Or gender. Priests who try to convince the slaves that God wants things this way. That they’ll get a reward in heaven if they just co-operate in their own victimization. “Men of God” who never tell the plantation owners that they’re going to hell; that Satan is making them do what they’re doing. Priests who make slavery a victimless crime. OK, rant over. I know I’m preaching to the choir.

Where in the World is Curacao?

Curacao the liquor

Blue Curacao is made from the Lahara fruit, grown on the island. It isn’t blue. They just add the coloring.

Two stars to the right of Aruba, and straight on until morning. In other words, just off the coast of Venezuela. Islands like these were once the main ports of entry for slaves being sold on to South America to work the coffee, sugar, and cotton plantations.

My first experience with Curacao, and the reason I can pronounce the word, came at a high school birthday party when I was an exchange student in Germany. There was this big table of drinks, and I had never had alcohol before. The cute boy behind the bar, the big brother of the birthday boy, asked what he could make me to drink. Well, I didn’t know. Nothing looked familiar, but there was some blue liquor in a pretty bottle that looked like my Mom’s drain cleaner, so I asked for that. “Oh, you must want a Green Widow,” he said in English, nodding wisely, assuming I was unfamiliar with German rather than intimidated by alcohol and also by boys. Blue Curacao is sweet and pretty, and when you mix it with orange juice it turns green. That’s all I can tell you, besides the fact that while the boys in my Idaho high school were racing their four-wheelers in the back country and having keggers out at North Beach, the boys in Ludwigsberg were learning the Fox Trot, the Tango, and the Cha Cha Cha.

The Leader of the Pack

Tula was a real man who lived on Curacao, on Kenepa Plantation in the late 1700s. His knowledge of the Bible (despite its white proponents) gave him the understanding that slavery was wrong and that blacks and whites were equal in the sight of God. When the slaves successfully revolted on a Caribbean island north of Curacao (Haiti), Tula began to get dangerous ideas in his head. The French, who were in possession of Haiti, declared that the slaves had won their independence and were thus free. Since in Europe, France had recently defeated Curacao’s Dutch masters in a war, Tula decided that meant the French were in charge of Curacao, and the Dutch should have to do what the French told them to do: ie, to free their slaves.

His line of reasoning really reminded me of a child. And why not? Tula wasn’t allowed an education, or exposure to cynical or more sophisticated thought. How could he have known the evil that lurks in the hearts of men? Well, he had experienced it, in the person of his slaveowner Willem van Uytretch, a man his own age that he grew up with. This man, when still a boy, had abused Tula’s brother Quako for being mentally disabled, and also because he, the Dutch kid, was a bully.  The fact that Tula still held out hope for the goodness of white men speaks to his character. Go, Tula.

Heart of Darkeness

In any story of gross injustice and man’s inhumanity to man, there are always collaborators. I’m thinking of the Jewish kapos in the ghettos (some trying to protect the people, others exploiting the situation); the Hawaiian high chiefs who made decisions that impoverished their people as they enriched themselves; the Africans who sold other Africans into the white man’s slavery. I’m thinking of women in occupied Europe who slept with Nazi soldiers and Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals who were recruited to “out” others for capture. On Curacao, there were mini-overseers called “bombas” who helped the white overseer run the plantations. There were mulatto soldiers who fought against Tula and his men, who shot women and children for nothing more than trying to assert their God-given right to freedom.

townBut as Fred Roger’s (of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood) once told him, in any disaster, in any time of great human suffering, look for the helpers. They will always be there, and it will give you hope.

In Tula’s story, hundreds of years before Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the man convinces 50 or 60 of his fellows slaves to practice passive resistance. They just refuse to work. Then, they march on the capital to see the Governor. They want to peacefully convince him that they have a legal right to freedom under the French. Not surprisingly (to modern readers) the Governor sees his profits going down the tubes, as well as unhappy voters. You know this is not going to end well.

statues on Curacao bronze workersAs the slaves march to the capitol, they stop for a rest on plantation Porto Marie, where a Frenchwoman is ahead of her time (or at least ahead of her fellow islanders). She speaks to Tula as an equal, invites him and the other leaders to rest and eat at her table, wishes them well, and retires. Later, she tries to convince the priest to get the army to stand down, as the slaves are peaceable. He however sees his duty as being to convince the slaves to submit, for their own good of course.

This book was utterly  heart-breaking.

Foreword and After: SPOILER ALERT

I much appreciated having these two historical, non-fiction additions to the novel. They placed Tula’s world in context for me, in terms of world history (the upheaval and sense of hope cause by both the American Revolution of 1776 and the subsequent French Revolution), The Dutch West India Company, responsible for so much suffering in the name of commerce. The Great Slave Revolt on Curacao, influenced by the success of the Haitians.

Even though you knew Tula’s story probably ended in tragedy, it is inspirational that it took place at all. I just wish he could have seen the world today, and could have rejoiced in a Hawaiian-born President Obama in one of the world’s remaining superpowers.

Even though he lost, it is important that he fought. After the gruesome execution of himself and his followers, the plantation owners restored the slaves’ Sunday day of rest, and stopped requiring them to purchase food and clothes from the company store instead of having them given to them (meaning they could save their meager wages to purchase their freedom). Tula was proclaimed a National Hero of Curacao in 2010.

Justice, at long, long last.

Rating: Five barracudas!

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July 20 Stats 2017

blog reader stats by countryThank you, blog readers! Here are some stats from July 20, the day that Auntie’s Bookstore gave a shout out to my blog on their Facebook page. I got 50 visits that day. Now usually, the U.S. tops the list of my visitors, but on this day, a lot of people from Taiwan stopped by.

Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry (Status Update)

Dear blog fans and readers, I do apologize–I got sick and have been in the hospital and I see that the last time I posted on here was September. I don’t know what happened to October but November was Nanowrimo, of course I work retail so December flew by and then in January, ice and ICU. Awful.

Not to worry, I am back buying books and reading so will post another country soon, probably the island nation of Naru.

When you have diabetes, sometimes you get sick of taking care of it. Your control lapses. The daily irritations get to be too much. And y0u let it go…and let it go…and you wake up throwing up blood.

Never mind, I am better now. It has been 5 years since I was last in the hospital. Hopefully, I won’t get this sick for another 5. Never would be better.

Peoples of Southern Africa (Part 2)

Read Part 1

Ndebele housesNdebele and Matabele

It is thought that these people arrived in Southern Africa around 200 years after the death of Christ. They are descended from the Nguni, a Bantu-speaking people. Ndebele women have become famous for their mural art, which is traditionally applied to the walls of their houses in geometric patterns. Initially the paint was made from clay, ahs, and dung plus natural pigments, but today, brightly-colored commercially-produced paints are used.

Ovambo

The Ovambo are a matriarchal society. Interestingly, they have a proverb that states: “the family does not come from the penis.” Hmmm!

Ovambo people used to make strings of Omakipa, or ivory buttons. A groom would give them to his bride on their wedding day, and add to her collection after that. Nowadays, hunting elephants for ivory is illegal.

Shona

the Great Zimbabwe ruins

the Great Zimbabwe ruins

The Shona people built the Great Zimbabwe, which European anthropologists refused to believe, due to a racist conviction that such primitive people could not possibly have constructed such a thing. The Great Zimbabwe is the largest collection of ruins in Southern Africa, and was built between the 11th and 15th centuries.

The Shona language is spoken by many other people in Southern Africa as a second language.

 Sotho

These Bantu-speaking ancestors of the Sotho originated in present-day eastern Nigeria. By about 10000 they had settled in Southern Africa and set about absorbing the indigenous population, the Khoisan. The Sotho are horse people. The Basotho pony is one of the world’s toughest breeds. It originated in the Cape horses brought to Lesotho by Chief Moshoeshoe in 1828.

book coverThe Sotho have professional alternative medical practitioners who employ a wide range of herbal medicines and rituals to cure disease, bring good luck and fertility and protect people from misfortune. In South Africa, since the fall of apartheid, the government has tried to incorporate these people into the official health system at the community level.

Easter Island (Easter Island)

Easter Islandby Jennifer Vanderbes

Parallel stories aren’t always equally compelling. (And don’t get me started on Game of Thrones.) But the women narrators in this novel are; Elsa who is young in 1913 and Greer, who is young in the mid-1970s. (No relation to each other, except perhaps in the scientific and artistic spirit.) I sighed each time the story left one to flip through time to the other, but within sentences I was enthralled again.

This author is just that good.

Get caught up in the all-consuming quest for the first angiosperm (flowering tree); the mystery of the Rapa Nui statues and their destruction, the storyboards with no Rosetta Stone. The mysterious destruction of an orphaned German fleet after the outbreak of WWI. The politics of the Chilean government toward the indigenous people of Easter Island.

There are betrayals–plenty. There is a simpleminded sister (what would you diagnose her with today that she wouldn’t have been medicated for in 1913?) There is an uneasy romance and an equally uneasy marriage of convenience.

People, living their lives as vicariously as they can, despite everything fate does to hurl its daggers at them.

In another book I read for this blog, a character who is supposed to be Austrian refers to her childhood Christmas tree as a “Weihnachtsbaum”. This made me choke on my coffee. Well yes, Weihnacht is the literal translation of Chirstmas, but a Christmas tree is always a “Tannenbaum,” as far as I know. Epic Babblefish fail. I thought for a paragraph or two this author had made the same sort of not-a-native-German-speaker-nor-do-I-know-any mistake…but she was actually revealing a particularly poignant plot twist which blew my mind. Do watch for that if you speak German. It’s just fun.

Five colossal moai statues!

The Fingersmith (Wales)

book cover The Fingersmithby Sarah Waters

What, you ask, is a fingersmith? The heroine in this novel is asking herself the same question. Who am I? What should I do with my life? Will I be hanged for a crime, like my mother? And the answers keep changing as her world gets dumped on its head.

I loved, loved, loved this book. It was like sipping a hot steaming Smoking Bishop while esconsed in a velvet Victorian armchair in my knitted slippers and my smoking jacket. It was fabulous!

Ye Old Curiosity Plot

The story opens in a den of thieves where Susan Trinder’s one constant is the love of Mrs. Sucksby, the orphan farmer. But now that she’s growing up, Susan must navigate increasingly murky waters. Author Waters (ha ha) is an expert at setting up expectations and then turning them on their heads. There are 3 or 4 plot twists that will blow your mind.

Waters tips her hat to Dickens as the story opens with young Sue being taking begging at a play (Oliver Twist). She is intensely frightened by the cruel Bill Sykes. Later Sue encounters her own Bill Skyes in the form of Richard Rivers, a seedy nobleman who plots to cheat one Lady Maud out of her fortune. When “Gentleman” cons Sue into helping him, the game is on!

Water’s use of period slang is masterful. It transported me to the world of the novel. It felt like magic.I do not know if Wales is as proud of Sarah Waters as it is of Dylan Thomas and other famous Welsh writers, but it should be.

Head Cook at Weddings And Funerals And Other Stories of Doukhobor Life (Canada)

book coverby Vi Plotnikoff

Normally, I don’t enjoy short story collections from the same, unknown-to-me author. But this linked collection of short stories was a treat. It felt like curling up on the green ceramic stove I saw in the Doukhobor Discovery Centre near Castlegar, B.C., (in Grand Forks) and smelling the home-baked bread and borscht, which they call borsh. The author is a Canadian woman of Doukhobor descent, and the stories are all set just north of the border near my Spokane home.

Language Note: I’m currently studying Russian with the Rosetta Stone, and I could recognize many of the foreign words in this book…barely. Obviously the Dukohobors spoke some kind of dialect. If I remember my geography correctly, they were from an area in the Ukraine so perhaps that is why.

Most of the stories are set in the 1950s and center around young Ana, just as the times are changing and tradition is being challenged. Rebellious Doukhobor girls  are starting to run off to Vancouver to sing in cafes rather than continue milking, plowing, and planting as their mothers and grandmothers did.

Some stories flash back to the youth of Ana’s mother and baba (grandmother). Ana’s babushka came to Canada when she was four years old, after the great persecution of the Doukhobors back in Russia.

The Peaceniks

I knew, of course, that the Doubkhobors broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1700s. I knew that they had a big bonfire and burned all their weapons and refused to fight for the Czar. I knew they were persecuted for it, and that the author Leo Tolstoy donated the profits from his last novel to help thousands of them resettle in Canada.

women in traditional costumeI did not know that in Canada, they refused to join the Canadian military or to take a loyalty oath to the Canadian government. But it makes sense. They felt their duty to God came before any duty to Queen or Country. That is why many of them moved from Saskatchewan, where they first settled, to B.C., where many remain today. I didn’t know that Doukhobors parents refused to allow their boys to march in parades or in gym class – “Doukhobors don’t march”, says the book. It’s too militant.

The stories deal with all the issues that Ana has growing up:

1) Being one of a majority sect in which the minority have become terrorists. (It must have felt a bit like being Muslim today.)

newspaperSons of Freedom

The Sons of Freedom is a Doukhobor sect which eschewed peace (in other words, everything that made them Doukhobor in the first place and brought them to Canada). They started bombing things and people and gave the rest of the Doukhobors a bad name. Ugh. In retaliation, the Canadian government sent Mounties into their villages, rounded up their under-age children, and took them away to be locked behind barbed wire in boarding schools where they were only allowed to see their families once every two weeks. They were forcibly taught to read and write, against the parents’ wishes.

2) Being a girl in a religious sect where men have all the power.

One heart-breaking story in the book involves Ana finding a long braid with pretty ribbons tucked away in a box. It is her baba’s.

“Why did you cut your hair, Bab?”
“Because I had to.”

We learn that the young Natasha was very proud of her beautiful hair. One day the newlywed hears her mother-in-law and young sisters-in-law crying. She’s terrified that her Dmitri, away working on the railway, has been in an accident. No. The religious leader of the Doukhobors far away has pronounced a new edict. Long hair, he says, is unsanitary. It’s too much trouble when the women have all this other work to do. All Doukhobor women are to chop their hair off short – immediately.

Talk about men controlling women’s bodies. Talk about abuse of power. UGH

Tolstoy StatueNatasha thinks about running and hiding, or going to her mother’s village. But all the women in her mother’s village are under the same edict. Soon there is a knock on the door and the village barber appears, clippers in hand.

Without her glorious head of hair, Natasha thinks her thin face looks like a rodent’s. Like any modern woman with a bad haircut, she wonders if the way she looks will make her husband stop loving her. She never truly feels beautiful again.

The Immigrant Story

3) Finally,  there is the tension that all immigrants and emigrants face: Being Canadian and Duokhobor at the same time, with the prejudices each has against the other. Being poor. Wanting to fit in. Each new generation gets closer to the new country’s customs and attitudes and further from the old. The grandparents and grandchildren no longer speak the same language. The old customs, the group memory starts to die.

I am fascinated by the immigrant story. It is my story too.  Four short generations ago, my mother’s people lived in Denmark and spoke Danish. Generations before that they lived in Ireland – as did my father’s people – and spoke Gaelic. Now we are Americans. For how long, I wonder? And what language will my descendants speak? Would they recognize the themes of my life? Will they face the same challenges?

Five pirogis for this book.