This week we are focusing on the rich and varied weaving traditions of west Africa. There are numerous weaving traditions that have been developed and used throughout the African continent. The weaving technique that we will cover in this unit is the broad upright loom weaving technique used in southern Nigeria, Benin Republic and Cameroon. This technique was used to create numerous ritual, prestige and domestic textiles, that were used locally and exported throughout west and central Africa. Primarily ( often exclusively) women used this loom as opposed to the narrow strip loom that was exclusively used by men until the mid-late twentieth century. The prestigious Aso-Olona cloths used by the ogboni society of the Yoruba people are part of this tradition as are the blue and white textiles from the former Benin empire that were exported to european traders in vast quantities. I studied weaving in Ogidi Ijumu at the the Nike center for art and culture under my teacher, master weaver Mrs Agnes Umeche ,who was born in the neighboring town of Okene a historic center for weaving arts.
Below: Mrs Agnes Umeche and her work
It is an honor to be able to teach this art to students here in the United States. For now we are practicing using a modified handheld version of the loom made from sanded canvas stretchers. Apprentices would use a similar practice loom made from an upturned stool or calabash when they first started out.
Below : A Yoruba woman setting an upright loom, Ihaka and Jordan setting their practice looms.
I am excited to see how the work they are doing translates to their larger pieces on a full sized loom. These traditions were once very widespread in Nigeria. In fact in the igbo village of Akwete all women were expected to weave. The Yoruba towns of Owo,Ilorin and Ijebu Ode and the Ebira town of Okene were also renowned for their textiles. Although this art is still practiced in Nigeria this particular type of weaving is becoming rarer as time progresses. It is my hope that places like the Nike center for art and culture continue to revive these arts in Nigeria. As an African American who most likely has roots in southern Nigeria learning this art form was a healing experience, one that felt like the reclamation of an ancestral skill that had been taken away by force. I hope to share that experience with my students. Be sure to stay tuned as we continue our journey through the work of african textiles.
Below: More examples of students weaving on their practice looms
The struggle between those who possess social power and those who do not, between freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed is a war fought with many and varied weapons. Of highest importance are ideas, weapons in an ideological warfare by which every class struggling to maintain its grip on the world tries to justify its position morally and rationally, while those fighting to overturn the social order produce their own self-justificatory ideology as a counter-weapon.
If the revolution succeeds, that revolutionary ideology becomes transformed into a weapon of consolidation and conservation whereby yet further revolutionary challenges to the new dominant class can be resisted. Nothing better illustrates the historical progression of such ideological weapons than the revolution that created the twentieth century market-industrial society.
The society of Europe before the seventeenth century (with the exception of certain mercantile Italian republics) was characterized by a static, aristocratic scheme of relations in which both peasants and landowners were bound to each other and to the land and in which changes in the social positions of individuals were exceedingly rare. Persons were said to owe their position in the world to the grace of God or to the grace of earthly lords. Even kings ruled Deo gratia, and changes in position could only occur by exceptional conferrals or withdrawals of divine or royal grace. But this rigid hierarchy directly obstructed the expansion of both mercantile and manufacturing interests who required access to political and economic power based on their entrepreneurial activities rather than on noble birth.
Moreover, the inalienability of land and the traditional guarantee of access to common land inhibited the rapid expansion of primary production and also maintained a scarcity of labor for manufactories. In Britain, the Acts of Enclosure of the eighteenth century broke this rigid system by allowing landlords to enclose land for wool production and simultaneously displacing tenants, who then became the landless industrial workforce of the cities.
At the same time in France, the old ‘nobility of the sword’ was being challenged by the administrative and legal hierarchy who became the'nobility of the robe’ and by the rich commoners of banking and finance. The bourgeois revolution was brewing, a revolution that was to break assunder the static feudal-aristocratic bonds and create instead an entrepreneurial society in which labor and money could more freely adapt to the demands of a rising commercial and industrial middle class.
But the bourgeois revolution required an ideology justifying the assault on the old order and providing the moral and intellectual underpinnings of the new. This was the ideology of freedom, of individuality, of works as opposed to grace, and of equality and the inalienable rights to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Paine, Jefferson, Diderot, and the Encyclopedists were the ideologues of the revolution, and one theme comes through in their writings: the old order was characterized by artificial hierarchies and artificial barriers to human desire and ambitions and those artificial barriers must be destroyed so that each person can take his or her natural place in society, according to his or her desire and ability.
This is the origin of the idea of the 'equal opportunity society’ in which we now supposedly live.
Yet the bourgeois revolution that destroyed those artificial barriers seems not to have dispensed with inequality of station. There are still rich and poor, powerful and weak, both within and between nations.
How is this to be explained? We might suppose that the inequalities are structural, that the society created by the revolution has inequality built into it and even depends upon that inequality for its operation. But that supposition, if taken seriously, would engender yet another revolution. The alternative is to claim that inequalities reside in properties of individuals rather than in the structure of social relations. This is the claim that our society has produced about as much equality as is humanly possible and that the remaining differences in status and wealth and power are the inevitable manifestations of natural inequalities in individual abilities.
It is this latter claim that has been incorporated from an early stage into the ideology of the bourgeois revolution and that remains the dominant ideology of market industrial societies today. Such a view does not threaten the status quo but, on the contrary, supports it by telling those who are without power that their position is the inevitable outcome of their own innate deficiencies and that, therefore, nothing can be done about it.
In the early twentieth century, the vision of a future society unbelievably rich, leisured, orderly and efficient—a glittering antiseptic world of glass and steel and snow-white concrete—was part of the consciousness of nearly every literate person. Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirical habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society…Nevertheless the dangers inherent in the machine are still there. From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy, and disease could be eliminated within a few generations.
If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that human beings would be lowered into acid baths; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that ramrods heated over primus stoves would be thrust up their anal canals (the “secret brand”); that a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of Chekhov’s plays would have gotten to its end, because all the heroes would have gone off to insane asylums.
And not only Chekhov’s heroes — what normal Russian at the beginning of the century, including any member of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, would have believed, would have tolerated, such a slander against the bright future? What had been acceptable under Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich in the seventeenth century, what had already been regarded as barbarism under Peter the Great, what might have been used against ten or twenty people in all during the time of Biron in the mid-eighteenth century, what had already become totally impossible under Catherine the Great, was all being practiced during the flowering of the glorious twentieth century — in a society based on socialist principles, and at a time when airplanes were flying and the radio and talking films had already appeared — not by one scoundrel alone in one secret place only, but by tens of thousands of specially trained human beasts standing over millions of defenseless victims.
Was it only that explosion of atavism now evasively called “the cult of personality” that was so horrible? Or was it even more horrible that during those same years, in 1937 itself, we celebrated Pushkin’s centennial? And that we shamelessly continued to stage those selfsame Chekhov plays, even though the answers to them had already come in? Is it not still more dreadful that we are now being told, thirty years later, “Don’t talk about it!”? If we start to recall the sufferings of millions, we are told, it will distort the historical perspective! If we doggedly seek out the essence of our morality, we are told it will darken our material progress! Let’s think rather about the blast furnaces, the rolling mills that were built, the canals that were dug. We can talk about anything, so long as we do it adroitly, so long as we glorify it.
It is really hard to see why we condemn the Inquisition. Wasn’t it true that beside the autos-da-fé, magnificent services were offered by the Almighty? It is hard to see why we are so down on serfdom. After all, no one forbade the peasants to work every day. And they could sing carols at Christmas, too. And for Trinity Day the girls wove wreaths …
In S1E8 Away with the Fairies, Miss Fisher’s house guest Camellia (aka Lin’s fiancée) brings with her a trunk full of Chinese dresses, or cheongsam. The embroideries are so beautiful that impress even the master seamstress Dot. Miss Fisher, however, is more interested in the Chinese book hidden among the dresses. Since she likes to know exactly what she is dealing with in a house guest, naturally she has to examine it thoroughly without the guest’s consent.
Although she could speak some Mandarin, I don’t think that Miss Fisher can actually read Chinese, but she does recognize the communist symbolism on the book cover. I tried to study the snapshot of the book hoping to help identify the title but didn’t succeed as the text got too blurry when I blew up the photo.
No matter, there are plenty of books about communism to read anyway, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a substitute, right? Well, not necessarily. I narrowed my search on Amazon to “Chinese communism 1920”, which returned only about 15 titles, and the prices are shockingly high for most of them (link here). I am not politically-minded to begin with, so this finding nailed the coffin for me – they won’t go on my reading list.
However, there is a book I would like to read again. It’s called “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” (2003) by Jung Chang, which I studied for a seminar class in graduate school. It’s not a communism booklet or textbook but a biography/autobiography. The author described the family history of her grandmother (a warlord’s concubine in the 1920’s), her mother (an idealistic Communist in the 1940’s), and her own experience in the Red Guard Army during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It’s an excellent read for anyone who is interested in learning more about early to mid-twentieth century Chinese cultures, society, and politics from a female’s point of view. (Link to Wikipedia here)
Hence, while prestigious aesthetic concepts like the beautiful, sublime, and ugly have generated multiple theories and philosophies of art, comparatively novel ones such as cute, glamorous, whimsical, luscious, cozy, or wacky seem far from doing anything of the sort, though ironically, in the close link between their emergence and the rise of consumer aesthetics, they seem all the more suited for the analysis of art’s increasingly complex relation to market society in the twentieth century. Examined directly as a class of language surprisingly late in the history of philosophical discourse on aesthetics (by Frank Sibley in “Aesthetic Concepts”), these taste terms would multiply and become increasingly specialized in postwar America and Europe, as corporate advocates of the industrialization of modernist aesthetics sought to develop a new commodity aesthetic in the rapidly expanding fields of design and advertising, one which would triumphantly show, as Benjamin Buchloh notes, “that mass culture and high art could be reconciled in a radically commercialized Bauhaus venture.”
Leopard Society cloth, ukara Igbo. Southeastern Nigeria. Twentieth century Imported cotton locally stitched and dyed with indigo 274cm x 185cm (108″x 73″) Collection of Toby and Barry Hecht
Ukara is a primary indicator of Leopard Society membership and may be worn only by society initiates (see Fig. 4). The iconography of this cloth is rich in nsibidi, motifs For example, the standing figures represent the group’s masquerades; the U-shaped forms—manillas— reference its wealth and status; and the repeating triangles more abstractly recall the claws of the leopard, the group’s powerful namesake.
— Christopher Slogar (2007). Early Ceramics from Calabar, Nigeria: Towards a History of Nsibidi.
Gabriel Combeferre had been alive for nearly two centuries. He was nineteen perpetually, and didn’t even know the person who turned him. He wanted to see change in the world, but in his two hundred years had yet to see the changes he so desired. He always looked young for his age so he posed as a high school student once the late twentieth century rolled along. Through the years he started political societies and clubs in high schools and colleges across the whole globe. And he’d just entered a new school to start over yet again.
In this article, you will learn how you yourself can use pendulums for divination.
Pendulum Divination, also known as radiesthesia, dowsing, rhabdomancy, or water witching, is divination by utilizing human sensitivity to the subtle energies emitted by any source living or inert. Some folks believe that their spirit guides act as the source of energy in revealing secret information. The history of this pendulum divination can be traced back over 5,000 years to the ancient Orient. The pendulum is the main instrument used for this area of divination, although wooden rods are also used. This practice became very popular in the Middle Ages and was a favored practice of divination through to the early nineteenth century. The practice lost favor after that but then there was a great renewal of interest in the twentieth century. In 1933, the British Society of Dowsers was formed.
The pendulum is a simple tool. The basic design is a weight of some sort suspended on a fine chain or a length of chain. A dowser is a person who is sensitive to hidden information and uses an indicator, like a pendulum or a rod, to intensify that sensitivity. There are a few different ways to hold your pendulum while working with it. Most dowser’s will hold the end of the chain directly between their fingers.
Just about any small weight can be used for your pendulum. Some people use a pendant necklace, or a ring on the end of a length of string. Coins, crystals, roots, or keys can also be used, as long as it is heavy enough to act as a pendulum. Quartz crystal is said to make a powerfully accurate pendulum. Some commercially produced pendulums are hollow and unscrew to give access to an inside cavity. You can place in here what is known as a “witness”- this would be a sample of what is being sought. For instance, if you were looking for water, you would put a couple of drops of water inside it. The recommended length of chain or string is approximately 20 to 30 cm.
It has been said that consistent use of your pendulum helps to forge a connection to your personal energy. It does take a bit of practice.
Because this series took place (so to speak) against the
backdrop of around 150 years of German History, I put together a list
of books for people who want to learn more about that backdrop. There
are a lot of books on the list, so I’ll be posting them over the next