THE MAHOGANY MASQUERADE: The Politics of Fashion in Steamfunk
“No matter where you get the fashion from, how it’s produced, who is in charge of distributing it are all political choices. That’s why I think Steampunk fashion is a highly charged fashion aesthetic. It deals with history and history is always political.” – Diana Pho / Ay-leen The Peacemaker
When we decide what to wear when we leave our homes to present ourselves to others may seem like an innocent and meaningless decision, but, in reality it is a decision that is conditioned by social conventions.
Try shopping for fruit, beer and P&J at your local supermarket wearing an elaborate, formal gown, or wear a pink wetsuit to a wedding, or ‘daisy dukes’ in Saudi Arabia and you will suffer disapproval, ridicule and maybe even violence and imprisonment.
We live in a political world. Politics happens every time we wake up and get dressed. We abide by power conventions and conform to certain expectations and if we defy these norms, we face numerous – and sometimes life-threatening – consequences.
The potential, political implications of the way we dress – violence, prejudice, marginalization – means that we can – and always have – used our clothes as a means of protest and resistance.
We have always used fashion to express and fight injustice, voice our disapproval with government, or as a way to highlight government intimidation and repressive regimes.
Resistance can occur through breaking the norm or through adopting a certain ‘forbidden’ item of dress. Recently, police in Sudan arrested thirteen women in a café and later flogged ten of them in public.
Why? What heinous crime did they commit?
They wore trousers and thereby violated Sudan’s Islamic Law. In response to the law and it’s seemingly selective enforcement, many women have taken to wearing trousers in public to register their dissatisfaction with the current government, using dress as a symbol of protest and resistance. These women have used their situation to create a public platform to further highlight and draw international attention to their plight.
Steampunk fashion is reflective of the Victorian era (1837 – 1901). It can reflect Victorian Era England, France, the Wild West and the various fashions of the African and Asian continents.
Much of this fashion – for people of African descent and other People of Color – represents oppression, suppression, theft, rape, murder and enslavement. However, this fashion can be used to remember and represent those who made it…those who survived and thrived despite all we endured – Harriet Tubman; George Washington Carver; a Mino (“Dahomey Amazon”) warrior; the Haitian Vodun spirit of death and fertility; Baron Samedi; Frederick Douglass…
Fashion is a powerful medium in which to make our voices heard.
On October 26, 2012 at The Mahogany Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk and Film, let’s make a tremendous noise and bring the funk to Steampunk!
Presented by the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture & History and the State of Black Science Fiction as part of Alien Encounters III, the four-day convention on Black Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy!
Friday, October 26, 2012
Auburn Avenue Research Library
101 Auburn Avenue NE Atlanta, GA 30303
6:30pm – 9:00pm.
Four excellent Black science fiction short films will be screened.
Wear your Steampunk / Steamfunk Clothing, Costumes, Gadgets and Gear and receive a Blacknificent Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror novel free!
This event is FREE and open to the public!
I was tagged by Derrick Ferguson, author of the amazing Dillon series of pulp novels, for the Next Big Thing Blog Hop and I decided to join in. Thanks, Derrick!
“The Rules” are: Answer these ten questions about your current Work In Progress on your blog. Tag five writers / bloggers and add links to their pages so we can hop along to them next.
So, here goes:
Now, on to the questions…
What is the working title of your book?
Redeemer. It is a Science Fantasy gangster saga.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea came from my love of gangster films, such as The Godfather, Goodfellas and Hoodlum and my lifelong love for Science Fiction and Fantasy movies and literature. I figured I would combine all that I love into a thrilling story. It was fun to write and turned out to be a great yarn, too.
What genre does your book fall under?
Science Fiction and Hip Hop Fiction, I suppose. Some folks say it is the bridge between Science Fiction and Street Lit. While it is certainly well-written, well-edited science fantasy, it has a gritty edge to it that readers of street lit love. I guess the readers will decide what Redeemer is to them.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Michael Jai White would be the perfect person to play the hit man, Ezekiel; Clifton Powell would make a great Sweet Danny Sweet, the crime boss and record company CEO; for the role of Z (teen Ezekiel), I would choose Jaden Smith. I believe he has the acting and the martial arts chops (no pun intended) to pull it off; finally, for the role of crazed killer, Lala – I would choose Rosario Dawson. The cast of Redeemer would be huge, but those are some of the main characters. The funny thing is, I wrote Redeemer as a screenplay first, so I have already given a lot of thought to who would play the characters in a perfect world.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Science Fiction meets the Gangster Saga when a professional assassin finds himself trapped in the past and faced with saving himself from the path that led him to a lifetime of murder.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Redeemer will be published by Mocha Memoirs Press and is scheduled to release November, 2012.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took me approximately three months, as I developed it from a screenplay I wrote a couple of years ago.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I would not compare it to anything else out there. I just worked hard to make it a great work of fiction that appeals to the diehard fan of science fiction and fantasy as well as the person whose reading has thus far been limited to street lit or not much at all.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by black films, such as Hoodlum, A Rage in Harlem, Attack the Block (an incredible science fiction film from the UK), American Gangster and Ghost Dog, as well as the movie Blade Runner and a plethora of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Although Redeemer is packed with action and elements of science fiction and fantasy it is also a powerful story about love and how far a person will go for what he or she loves. If you like martial arts, time travel, futuristic gadgets, dark humor, action, intrigue and a bit of romance, you’ll love Redeemer.
THE MAHOGANY MASQUERADE: The Origin…And Beginning of Steamfunk Cosplay!
Carnival is a festive event that typically involves a public celebration or parade, combining elements of a circus, masking and public street party. People commonly dress up in costumes and/or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning and renewal of daily life.
Widely thought to have originated in 12th Century Rome – with its purpose being to play and eat meat before Ash Wednesday, thus marking the beginning of Catholic Lent – Carnival – also known as Jankunu, particularly in the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States – actually has West African roots much older than its Roman influences.
Spreading from Italy into Spain, Portugal, England, Germany and France, Carnival – by the 15th and 16th centuries – had become a rowdy tradition, featuring boisterous games and masquerades adopted from a variety of late winter and early spring festive practices. It was a time for ritual and play and by engaging in irony, disguise, laughter, and revelry, people sought renewal and growth for themselves and their communities.
The political and industrial revolutions of the 19th century had a significant effect on Carnival celebrations. With newly formed governments perceiving the festivities as civic events, urban street parades became more structured. Groups from different neighborhoods and workers’ guilds competed with one another for the best performances.
In the Caribbean and Southeastern United States, it is an undisputed African engine that propels this form of cultural expression and the African Carnival, or Jankunu has nothing to do with Lent or Christmas.
Every society, however inhibited or repressed, finds occasion for celebration, feasts, festivals, merry-making and the like – it is an aspect of humanity in which we all share. Most societies also have the idea of the masquerade or the costume in one or another form, whether in social or religious ritual, dramatic theater or the stage, or the street parade.
Where Africa and Europe appear to diverge in this respect is in the setting of costumed celebrations.
French, Portuguese English and Spanish colonialists held costumed balls. Individuals wore costumes and the merry-making was largely indoors, though spill-over onto the streets could be expected. It is the same today with the European Carnivals of Quebec, Venice and elsewhere and is also present also in the celebration of Halloween.
By contrast, the African style of celebration called for costumed bands, and for the merry-making focus to be outdoors, rather than indoors, similar to what we see with today’s Caribbean and American Carnivals.
One of the clearest examples of the masquerade in Africa is the Yoruba Egungun Festival. During this festival, every family honors its collective ancestors, and all the members of an extended family lineage wear the same colors, thus constituting a “band”.
From the Egungun celebration also comes a feature that we find prominent in various Caribbean carnivals: throwing talcum powder on fellow masqueraders, from which comes the Trinidadian expression – “you can’t play mas’ and ‘fraid powder!”.
During the Egungun festival people wear masks to show outwardly that they are no longer themselves, that their body has been possessed by an ancestral spirit.
The ancestral spirits of the Yoruba are much more than just dead relatives, they play an active role in the daily life of the living. Believed to provide protection and guidance, there are numerous ways the ancestors communicate with the living, one of the most unique is their manifestation on earth in the form of masked spirits known as Egungun.
Ancient Khemet (Egypt)
The Greek scholar, Herodotus describes – during the 5th Century – one of the ceremonial processions in Egypt: “… they come in barges, men and women together, a great number in each boat; on the way, some of the women keep up a continual clatter with castanets and some of the men play flutes, while the rest, both men and women, sing and clap their hands. Whenever they pass a town on the river-bank, they bring the barge close in-shore, some of the women continuing to act as I have said, while others shout abuse at the women of the place, or start dancing, or stand up and pull up their skirts. When they reach Bubastis, they celebrate the festival with elaborate sacrifices, and more wine is consumed than during all the rest of the year. The numbers that meet there are, according to native report, as many as seven hundred thousand men and women…”
Sounds like what today we would call a Carnival. Even in regard to Herodotus’ description of women pulling up their skirts, thousands of years later, at Carnival, they do the same thing.
Northern Edo Masquerades
Masking traditions are a major part of the Edo groups of Nigeria, who trace their beginnings to the kingdom of Benin, their neighbors to the south. Basic political units are formed from ritual ties. A council of elders within a number of Masquerade societies forms each small village’s government. Men and women of the Edo people belong to masquerade societies, whose primary responsibilities are to control anti-social forces and help to bring about a better, safer, and well-adjusted community or village.
The best-known of the Edo groups, the Okpella, use a widely varying range of mask types, which, according to some African artists, may take up to a year to complete. The masks that are created by the artist convey many different types of rituals and ceremonies. One example of this is a brilliant, white-faced mask representing “dead mothers”, appearing during the annual Olimi festival, which is held at the end of the dry season, and is worn by dancing kinsmen. This festival, as others do, signifies social control and ancestral reverence, celebrating the transitions of age-grades.
The Otsa festival embraces women dancers in addition to the male masquerade dancers. During the festival, the women come to the dance area with their masquerade celebration to sprinkle white chalk and water, which symbolizes peace and good luck. This festival annually celebrates the feast of Otsa to purify the land and reinforce community solidarity.
In addition to the masks and costumes worn during the masquerades, another vital component is the music and dance used to create the atmosphere that is conducive to capturing the essence of the spirit. The highly sophisticated dance helps expand more of the character being portrayed. Throughout the ceremony, the actions of the dancer may be something entirely different than the person beneath would normally portray. Atmospheric circumstances are another essential element to the success of the masquerade. The right mood and setting add to and enhance the integrity of the performance, inviting the spirits to join. The audience’s participation from the sidelines only adds to the intensity of the masquerade – clapping, singing, and dancing, allowing themselves to feel the spirit’s presence. This strong relationship between human and spirits is the grand hallmark of the Northern Edo Masquerades.
Caribbean Carnival is the term used for a number of events that take place in many of the Caribbean islands annually.
The Caribbean’s Carnivals all have several common themes, many originating from Trinidad and Tobago Carnival which is based on folklore, culture, religion, and tradition. Carnival tradition is based on a number of disciplines including: “Playing Mas”/Masquerade; Calypso Music and crowning a Calypso King or Monarch; Panorama (Steel Band Competition); Jouvert morning; and a number of other traditions.
Jankunu (“Junkanoo”) is a street parade with music that occurs in many towns across The Bahamas every Boxing Day (December 26), New Year’s Day and, more recently, in the summer on the island of Grand Bahamas. The largest Jankunu parade happens in Nassau, the capital. In the USA, there are also Jankunu parades in Miami, in June, Key West, in October and Knoxville, Tennessee in June.
Similar masquerades / street performance traditions, are found on other islands in the Caribbean.
The Mahogany Masquerade
On October 26, 2012, we will continue the tradition of the masquerade – and make it even funkier – with The Mahogany Masquerade.
The Mahogany Masquerade features Steamfunk cosplay and an evening of Black science fiction and Fantasy short films.
In addition, participants will engage authors, filmmakers and artists in a panel discussion on the Steamfunk Movement; shop for books and movies in the Bazaar and meet and greet their fellow Steamfunks, Steampunks, and lovers of Science Fiction and Fantasy!
The event is presented by the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture & History and the State of Black Science Fiction as part of “Alien Encounters III”, the four-day convention on Black Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy!
The Mahogany Masquerade runs from 6:30pm – 9:00pm and is FREE and open to the public!
Wear your Steampunk / Steamfunk Clothing, Costumes, Gadgets and Gear and receive a free Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror novel!
Please view the video below for ideas and inspiration for your Steamfunk costume and persona.
See you there!
Do Black People Really Read This Stuff? II: Science Fiction, Steamfunk & More!
“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling
In our first installment of the Do Black People Really Read This Stuff Series, we explored Fantasy Fiction. This time, we examine Science Fiction and the Black contributors to it.
And yes, there are many Black readers – and writers – of great Science Fiction.
And just why do we read this oeuvre of weird and wonderous?
We read Science Fiction to enjoy a world that is not our own; to live someone’s life tangentially and vicariously. We read Science Fiction to be informed, to be entertained and to escape, for indeed, reading is an escapist hobby, but Science Fiction reading even more so – we escape out of our own worlds into places and times that do not exist, existed in a different way, or never will exist at all.
Reading Science Fiction is the ultimate interactive experience because when you read it, your brain begins to build a world from the ground up.
Science Fiction stories are set in worlds that are unknown and disparate to us, and we automatically reorder them. Readers of science fiction have the luxury of extrapolating a positive future or predicting – and hopefully avoiding – negative ones.
Science Fiction is called “the literature of ideas”, and it really is, but those ideas aren’t about fusion or nanotubules; they are the same ideas of racism, love, anger and the human heart in conflict with itself that drive all other stories, but foregrounded and made new.
Many of us read Science Fiction because it’s a genre full of ideas and optimism and inspiration.
Many Black people read Science Fiction.
Sub-Genres of Science Fiction
Other-worldly creatures from outer space or other planets. Possibly the first novel about aliens visiting Earth was “Micromegas”, by Voltaire (1750), in which two giants from other worlds come to Earth to humble our primitive mental capacities. However, it was in 1898, when H.G Wells published the wildly popular “War of the Worlds” that this sub-genre seriously came into its own.
The alien invasion is a common theme in science fiction stories and film, in which a technologically-superior extraterrestrial society invades Earth with the intent to replace human life, or to enslave it under a colonial system, or in some cases, to use humans as food.
Stories about a self-contained, separate reality that coexists with our own. This separate reality can range in size from a small geographic region to an entire new universe, or several universes forming a multiverse.
Under Alternate Reality, also falls Alternate History, which has grown into a sub-genre of its own, particularly in Fantasy.
Alternate History – or alternative history –is set in a world in which history has diverged from history as it is generally known. Most works in this genre are set in real historical contexts, yet feature social, geopolitical or industrial circumstances that developed differently or at a different pace from our own.
Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic
Apocalyptic Science Fiction is concerned with the end of civilization, through nuclear war, plague, or some other general disaster.
Post-apocalyptic Science Fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten or mythologized. Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in a future world in which technology has fallen to low-tech, or a world where only scattered elements of technology remain.
The creation of a nightmare world, designed to make the reader ask the bleak question “Is life worth living if this is where humanity is going?”. Many of these stories have an emphasis on brainwashing, censorship and destruction of the family unit, or of a future gone mad.
Hard Science Fiction
Characterized by an interest in scientific detail or accuracy, many hard SF stories focus on the natural sciences and technological developments. Hard Science Fiction must contain the inclusion of at least one of the “hard sciences”, such as Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry – sciences ruled by mathematics and stringent rules. If the plot cannot maintain its integrity without them, then the story is Hard Science Fiction.
Military Science Fiction
A subgenre of Science Fiction in which interstellar or interplanetary conflict and its armed solution (war) make up the main or partial backdrop of the story. Such war is usually shown from the point of view of a soldier. A detailed depiction of conflict forms the basis of most works of military science fiction. Everyone joins “the Corps” to fight to save us all from those nasty spike-spitting slug-like aliens with the chitinous hides. Yep, that’s Military Sci-Fi.
Soft Science Fiction
Based upon the softer sciences of Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Socialogy, Theology, Biology and Ethnology.
Usually set in outer space or on a distant planet. Planets usually have earthlike atmospheres and exotic life forms. The machinery of space opera often includes (in addition to spaceships) ray-guns, robots, and flying cars.
Most space operas are a futuristic version of the old Western Horse Opera and commonly violate the known laws of physics by positing some form of faster-than-light travel. Many space operas diverge further from known physical reality by invoking paranormal forces, or vast powers capable of destroying whole planets, stars, or galaxies.
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that refers to works set in an era where steam power is still widely used – usually the 19th century – but along with steam engines, you have futuristic technological inventions, such as dirigibles, mechanical computers, multi-function goggles, giant robots and ray guns.
Works of Steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as people who lived during that time might have envisioned them.
Steamfunk is narrowly defined as “a person, style of dress or subgenre of fiction that seeks to bring together elements of blaxploitation films and merge it with that of Steampunk fiction”.
A broader definition is “a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or Steampunk fiction”.
Several Black authors – yours truly included – write Science Fiction. We write Science Fiction with Black protagonists – heroes who look like us – however, the stories are universal. It is important that all people, Black people in particular, read Science Fiction and we are giving everyone Blacknificent stories to dive into!
A few of these authors, with links to their novels and stories, include:
- The Wizard of Ez
- Sugar Daddy
- The Metro Force Series
- Steamfunk! Anthology (contributing editor; releases in early 2013)
- Four in the Morning Anthology (contributed)
- Fading Light, an Anthology of the Monstrous (contributed)
- Gear and Lever I: A Steampunk Anthology (contributed)
- Steamfunk! Anthology (contributed)
- The Switch II: Clockwork
- Steamfunk! Anthology (contributed)
- To Wrestle With Darkness
- Chronicle of the Liberator
- Warriors of the Four Worlds
- Steamfunk! Anthology (contributed)
- Breaking Free
CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL BRASSIERES:
Sexism in Fantasy Fiction
I love reading and writing Fantasy. I really do. But I am growing increasingly disgusted by the racism and sexism within it. I can no longer read books in which people of color and women are constantly oppressed and seen as lesser beings in a world based on fantasy.
Lately – as the father of seven daughters who are all avid readers of Fantasy – I have become particularly disgusted with the continuing sexism in Fantasy fiction and visual art.
Writers, you can create a world with any rules you choose. In your world, you don’t have to continue to perpetuate the sexist tropes so prevalent in Fantasy since its inception.
Are you that lacking in creativity that you cannot write something better? Are you that apathetic to the plight of our Sisters? Or have you convinced yourself you have to maintain some sexist status quo to sell?
Shame on you.
Certain tropes have been formed and propagated. Given the overwhelming number of Fantasy novels set in a sort of idealized, white, medieval Europe…given the grossly oversimplified and homogenized concept of medieval gender roles, stereotypes and sexist archetypes have arisen in Fantasy. Some examples are:
- The Spirited Woman Married Off Against Her Will To A Man She Doesn’t Love
- The Lone And Exceptional Woman Warrior In A Culture Of Male Warriors
- The Widowed Queen Fighting To Keep Her Throne Against An All-Male Cast Of Contenders
- The Woman Who Runs Away Rather Than Be Married Off Against Her Will But Who Then Needs Rescuing From Worldly Perils
- The Woman Whose Love Of Books And Scholarship Is Exceptional And Odd And Therefore Deemed Socially Awkward
- The Unmarried Woman Who Is Happy Being Unmarried And Therefore Considered An Oddity
- The Unmarried Woman Who Was Forbidden To Marry The Man She Loved And Is Therefore Sad And Unfulfilled
- The Woman Who Ran Away To Marry The Man Forbidden To Her And Who Is Now A Social Pariah
- The Penniless Woman Who Needs To Be Rescued From Penury As Her Gender Prevents Her From Working
- The Girl Forced To Dress As A Boy In Order To Live Out Her Socially Unacceptable Dreams
- The Adventurous Daughter Whose Parents Let Her Run Free But Threaten Her With Marriage Should She Fail
- The Female Scholar/Magician Trying To Make It In A Largely Male World
- The Lone Female Soldier/Technician/Magician/Scholar Whose Male Colleagues Don’t Take Her Seriously.
Come now. That’s all you got?
Shame on you.
Regarding the existence of sexism in the real world both historically and currently, I’m not trying to suggest that any of the above tropes are unrealistic; nor am I suggesting they should be avoided at all costs, or that they are inherently bad. What I am saying is that as writers, we are not bound by these tropes and have chosen to portray worlds that involve societies in which sexism plays a part. We can choose otherwise.
Or we can choose to take our exploration of sexism further.
In most Fantasy, we are left with sexism as a background detail; a tool used to justify the plight or origins of particular female characters, but never actually addressed.
You, dear writer, can follow sexism to some of its natural conclusions rather than focus exclusively on those few exceptional women who have avoided it, forcing characters – and, by extension, the readers – to view sexism as more than an inevitable background detail.
Or, you can avoid writing default sexism in the first place by actually considering how gender roles work in your story, building a cultural, social and historical setting that usurps the expectations of the reader. You can create an equal society, or one whose inequalities are unusual; you could write a typically sexist society, but make sexism a major narrative focus. Lots of different ways to explore the topic…if you are willing.
Shame on you.
As writers, we should not perpetuate sexism by training readers to take its presence for granted: to refrain from so much as questioning or calling it out, let alone showing its worst consequences.
Most Fantasy authors write sexist stories without any conscious thought, simply because it never occurs to them to do otherwise. The freedom to ignore the relevance of women is just another form of privilege; one more malignant than benign. And remember: if your equality looks homogeneous, then it’s probably not equality.
Modern sexism has become cunning; sly; codified. In the same way a closet racist would never dream of openly saying “nigger” but might refer to killing “zombies”, or make a pointed reference to someone Black having a natural rhythm, or liking fried chicken, a closet misogynist has a vast array of words, comments, phrases and attitudes they can employ to subtly put a woman down, or disconcert her, but without it being immediately apparent that that is what they are actually doing.
Intelligent writers are particularly adept at this.
In my research for the novel – and in my life as an African traditionalist, which requires an in-depth study of African history and sociology, I discovered some amazing facts about the women-warriors of Africa and the Diaspora that many of you may find useful in your writing:
The “Dahomey Amazons”
The “Dahomey Amazons”, referred to as Mino, meaning “Our Mothers” in the Fon language, were an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey which lasted until the end of the 19th century. They were so named by Western observers and historians due to their similarity to the semi-mythical Amazons of ancient Anatolia and the Black Sea.
For The Mino were recruited from among the ahosi the king’s wives – of which there were often hundreds.
The Mino trained with intense physical exercise, with an emphasis on discipline. Units were under female command.
Considered exceptional and brutal warriors by all unlucky enough to encounter them, those who fell into the hands of the Mino were often decapitated.
The Aje of Yorubaland
A story, that teaches the tenets of African wrestling, is as follows:
There was a boy named Omobe (“rascal”, “troublesome child”) that had great physical ability and was trained to be a wrestler. As he grew older his wrestling abilities grew stronger and before long he was considered the greatest wrestler in the world. At his birth the local priest/diviner warned his parents to not allow Omobe to climb palm trees. But one day while his parents were away he decided to climb a palm tree any way. From high up he could peer into the spirit world and he noticed that several divinities had gathered for a fantastic wrestling match!
Omobe immediately climbed down and made his way to the spirit world to test his own luck amongst a variety of spirits. He beat every opponent: Egungun (ancestors), Orisa (Forces of Nature) and all others lost at his hands. Finally he prepared to wrestle Olokun. While he summoned all of his physical strength, Olokun drew on her spiritual powers.
During the match Omobe attempted to throw Olokun to the ground, but instead Olokun ended up firmly attached to Omobe’s head. All attempts at removing Olokun from his head failed and Olokun declared Omobe’s head her permanent abode as a sign of Omobe’s arrogance and disrespect towards the other spirits.
When Omobe returned home the local priest/diviner advised him to appease Olokun or die. So for seven days Omobe made sacrifice. On the last day Omobe was initiated as the first Olokun priest. After Omobe’s initiation into the priesthood, Olokun loosened her grip on Omobe’s life.
Amongst African traditionalists, the palm tree represents the ancestors and the elders. Omobe climbed a palm tree even though he was not supposed to, which means he learned the higher levels of wrestling technique – and gained the ase (power) of the wrestler – through crafty means and then abandoned his teachers (he climbed down from the tree) and used what he had learned to fight those who taught him.
This act of arrogance and disrespect led him to fight against the Forces of Nature, themselves. Finally, Olokun, the spirit of unfathomable wisdom and matron spirit of the descendants of Africans who were taken captive during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, defeated Omobe. This means, though Omobe had mastered the physical aspect of wrestling, his disrespect of – and disconnection from – the community and its spiritual support prevented him from learning the deeper wisdom found within the study and training of the martial arts.
It was not until Omobe devoted himself to the attaining of deep wisdom and respect for the African traditions as an Olokun priest, that he was able to save himself from an early death.
This story teaches us that in order to learn the depths of wisdom found in the African martial arts, reverence of one’s ancestors, respect for one’s elders and adherence to tradition is paramount.
Furthermore, the “deep wisdom” Omobe had to learn in order to redeem himself and to save his life was the wisdom rooted in respect for, and understanding of, the “Aje” – referred to as Awon Iyawa, also meaning “Our Mothers” – which is primal, female power.
It was Olokun, a female Force of Nature, who defeated Omobe and threatened to take his life until Omobe became her priest. Omobe was socialized by Olokun, which is in accord with Aje’s function as a biological, physical and spiritual force of creativity and social and political enforcement.
War, defense and anything associated with Ogun, the Warrior Spirit of the Yoruba, is also associated with Aje.
It is recognition of – and respect for – the power women and girls that gives the African warrior the authority to defend and to take life.
Nupe Women-Warriors, called Isadshi-Koseshi, fought as fiercely as the men, opposing invasions of the Fulbe conquerers who raided the Nupe for cattles and slaves.
Ibo Women and the Aba Rebellion
In protest, Ibo women bound their heads with ferns, painted their faces with ash, put on loincloths and carried sacred sticks with palm frond wreaths. Thousands marched on the District Office, dancing, singing protests, and demanding the cap of office of the colonial chief Okugo.
This protest spread into a vast regional insurrection. The Ibo women’s councils mobilized demonstrations in three provinces, turning out over 2,000,000 protesters.
The British District Officer at Bende wrote, “The trouble spread in the 2nd week of December to Aba, an important trading center on the railway. Here there converged some 10,000 women, scantily clothed, girdled with green leaves, carrying sticks. Singing angry songs against the chiefs and the court messengers, the women proceeded to attack and loot the European trading shops, stores, and Barclay’s Bank, and to break into the prison and release the prisoners.”
Elsewhere women protestors burned down the hated British “Native Courts” and cut telegraph wires, throwing officials into panic. The colonials fired on the female protesters, killing more than fifty and wounding more. Marches continued sporadically into 1930. These mass actions became known as the Aba Rebellion of 1929, or The War of the Women. It was one of the most significant anti-colonial revolts in Africa of that day.
Black Women in Ohio
In the summer of 1848, ten African-Americans, fleeing their enslavement, made it across the Ohio River into Cincinnati. The slave catchers tracked them down, but the bounty they were after proved to be quite difficult to acquire:
Cincinnati’s North Star newspaper’s August 11, 1848 issue reported the event thusly: “The women began to gather from adjoining houses until the Amazons were about equal to the [slave-hunters] – the former with shovels, tongs, washboards and rolling pins; the latter with revolvers, sword-canes and bowie-knives. Finally the beseigers decamped, leaving the Amazons in possession of the field, amid the jeers and loud huzzahs of the crowd.”
Let us all strive harder for awareness of – and sensitivity to – sexism in our writings and our readings. Let us be more critical of it, for to do – and say – nothing about sexism is to help propagate it. Are you helping to propagate oppression?
If so, shame on you.
As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.
STEAMFUNK ADVENTURERS & EXPLORERS: Black Pathfinders in the Age of Steam!
This month, I feature the Adventurers / Explorers.
As always, your feedback is welcomed and encouraged.
William Sheppard is a man who fended off crocodile attacks and shot hippos to feed starving villagers; negotiated his way into the forbidden kingdom of the aristocratic Kuba people; and documented the aftermath of a village massacre instigated by the Belgian colonial regime to punish native Congolese who refused to harvest rubber.
Sheppard – a black man, born at the end of the Civil War – somehow managed to leapfrog over the racial barriers of the American South to explore a place all but closed to the rest of the world…Africa.
As a child in Waynesboro, Virginia, William Sheppard heard about Africa and declared: “When I grow up I shall go there.”
In 1889, his big break came. Sheppard shipped out in the company of Samuel Lapsley, a white man in his early twenties who was comfortable with blacks after years of preaching to ex-slaves who filed into the church on his family’s 400-acre farm in Alabama.
Upon reaching the Congo, Lapsley and Sheppard set off on an arduous trailblazing journey to establish a Christian mission among the Kuba tribe.
Sheppard was impressed by most of the native Congolese they met. He, in turn, quickly won their admiration and trust for his courage, good humor, and genuine interest in their lives.
After cleverly finding his way into the secret kingdom of the Kuba – a tribe whose culture he documented extensively – Sheppard so charmed the king and his advisers that they abandoned the idea of executing him for his intrusion and instead declared him “Bope Mekabe,” a royal ancestor who has risen from the dead and returned as a spirit.
Less than two years after arriving in the Congo, Samuel Lapsley died of blackwater fever.
After Lapsley’s death, Sheppard summoned his wife from America to join him in his crusading efforts. She arrived in the company of other U.S. missionaries, and together they built a thriving mission at Luebo staffed by all Blacks.
In 1899 the terror sanctioned by the Belgian-controlled government of the Congo Free State edged closer to the mission station at Luebo. A feared tribe known as the Zappo-Zaps, who practiced slave trading and were armed with European rifles, were sent to punish people in the Pianga region for failing to cooperate with the state-sponsored rubber companies.
Sheppard knew Kuba people in Pianga, so he traveled to the region to compile a report.
The scene that lay before him was grisly. Zappo-Zap warriors had herded the villagers into a stockade and demanded extortionist levels of rubber, slaves, and food—a payment the Kuba could not meet. Sheppard arrived to find corpses crumpled in the yard, the bodies dismembered and putrid in the steamy heat.
His notebooks painstakingly document the gory details, including the pile of 81 severed black hands, which Sheppard counted one by one, used as proof to colonial officials that the brutal and bloody deed had been done.
On the lecture circuit back in the United States Sheppard’s report of the aforementioned atrocities began circulating. The international press picked up the story, catapulting Sheppard into the spotlight as a human rights crusader.
In an attempt to escape the demands of fame, Sheppard retired, enjoying a quiet life with his wife, raising their family and eventually ministering to Black people in the slums of Louisville, Kentucky.
Nat (pronounced ‘Nate’) Love
The most famous black cowboy of all, Nat Love – also known as Deadwood Dick (1854–1921) – was born a slave on the plantation of Robert Love in Davidson County, Tennessee, in June, 1854. Despite slavery era statutes that outlawed black literacy, he learned to read and write as a child with the help of his father, Sampson Love.
Sampson died shortly after the end of slavery forcing young Nat to work two jobs on a local farm to help make ends meet.
After a few years of working odd jobs, Love won a horse in a raffle. He sold the horse for one hundred dollars and gave half to his mother, and he used the other half to leave town. He went west to Dodge City, Kansas, to find work as a cowboy.
In Dodge City, he met the cowboys from the Duval Ranch in Texas. After sharing breakfast with the crew, Love asked the trail boss for a job. The boss agreed to employ Love if he could break a horse named Good Eye, the wildest beast on the ranch. After receiving a few pointers from Bronco Jim, another black cowboy, Love successfully broke and rode Good Eye. The cowboys gave Love the nickname “Red River Dick” because of his excellent horse riding skills.
Nat Love had many adventures fighting against cattle rustlers and inclement weather. His many years of experience made him an expert marksman and cowboy.
After a few years, Love left the Texas Panhandle, and rode into Arizona, where he got a job working for a ranch on the Gila River. While in Arizona working with Mexican vaqueros, he learned to speak Spanish like a native and he became very good at reading brands.
In the spring of 1876, Love received orders to deliver three thousand steer to Deadwood City in the Dakota Territory. He arrived on the 3rd of July.
Deadwood City was preparing for their 4th of July celebration. The mining men and gamblers had gotten together and organized a rodeo with a $200 prize. Love entered the rodeo, winning the rope, throw, tie, bridle, saddle and bronco riding contests. Displaying incredible skill and athleticism, Love roped, threw, tied bridles, saddled, and mounted his mustang in exactly nine minutes. The next closest competitor took twelve minutes and thirty seconds. In the rifle and Colt events, shooting at 100 and 250 yards with 14 shots, Love placed all of his shots in the bulls-eye and 10 of the 12 pistol shots in the bulls-eye.
It was at this rodeo that fans gave him the nickname “Deadwood Dick.”
In October, 1877, while rounding up stray cattle, he was captured by a band of Akimel O’odham (Pima) near the Gila River. Love reported that his life was spared because the Native Americans respected his fighting ability. A short while after his capture, Love stole a pony and managed to escape into West Texas.
Love spent the latter part of his life working as a Pullman porter on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. He died in Los Angeles at age 67 in 1921.
Also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary Fields, Fields was the first African-American woman employed as a mail carrier in the United States – driving her mail route by stagecoach from Cascade, Montana to St. Peter’s Mission, Montana – and she was the second American woman to work for the United States Postal Service.
This six foot tall; heavily built; tough; short-tempered; two-fisted; powerful Black woman, who packed a pair of six-shooters and an eight or ten-gauge shotgun, quickly became renown in the American Wild West.
In 1884, Fields, in search of improved sustenance and adventure, made her way to Cascade County in west central Montana.
She took a job with the Ursuline Nuns at the St. Peter Mission. The nuns’ simple frontier facility was relatively well funded and they had a thriving business, converting “heathen savages”, and other “disgusting” customers, to the true path of salvation.
Fields was hired to do the heavy work and to haul freight and supplies to keep the nuns’ operation functional and well fed. She chopped wood, did stone work and rough carpentry, dug certain necessary holes, and when reserves were low she did one of her customary supply runs to the train stop, or even to the distant cities of Great Falls, or Helena when special needs arose.
On one such night run, Fields’ wagon was attacked by wolves. The horses, terrified by the lupine assault, bolted uncontrollably and overturned the wagon, dumping Fields and all her supplies onto the harsh prairie earth. Fields kept the wolves at bay for the entire night with her revolvers and rifle. When dawn broke, she delivered the freight.
Of course, the nuns, displaying great kindness and appreciation, did not hesitate to dock Mary’s pay for the molasses that leaked from a keg that was cracked on a rock when her wagon overturned.
Since Fields did not pay particular attention to her fashion and failed to look and act the part of a proper Victorian woman, many ruffian men attempted to trample on her rights and hard won privileges. Woe to all of them.
According to the Great Falls Examiner, the only newspaper available in Cascade at the time, Fields broke more noses than any other person in central Montana.
Once, a hired hand at the mission confronted Fields, complaining that, at nine dollars a month, she was earning $2 a month more than he was, calling Fields an “uppity colored woman”. To make matters worse, the man, who was known as Yu Lum Duck, made this same in public at one of the local saloons where Mary was a regular customer and to Bishop Filbus N.E. Berwanger of the St. Peter Mission.
This was more than enough to boil Fields’ blood and the two of them were soon engaged in a shoot-out behind the nunnery, next to the sheep shed. Bullets flew in every direction until Fields’ and Duck’s six-guns were empty, and a bullet, shot by Fields had bounced off the stone wall of the nunnery and hit Duck in the left buttock. The other bullets Fields fired passed through the laundry of Bishop Berwanger, generously ventilating his drawers and the two white shirts he had shipped from Boston only the week before (what his laundry was doing at the nunnery is left to your imagination).
Bishop Berwanger fired Fields and gave the injured Duck a raise.
Out of work and needing money, Fields opened a restaurant business in Cascade.
Unfortunately, her cooking was not all that delicious, so nobody would eat it and the restaurant closed in short order.
In 1895, Fields landed a job carrying the United States Mail. Since she had always been independent and determined, this work was perfect for her and she quickly developed a reputation for delivering letters and parcels no matter what the weather, nor how rugged the terrain.
Fields and her mule, Moses, plunged through bitter, raw blizzards and wilting heat to reach remote miners’ cabins and other outposts with important mail.
Fields’ dedication helped accommodate the land claim process, as well as other matters needing expeditious communication and greatly advanced the development of central Montana, a contribution for which she is given little credit.
Fields, known by then as Stagecoach Mary for her ability to deliver mail on a regular schedule, continued in this capacity until she reached well into her sixties. She retired from the mail delivery business, and at the age of seventy, she opened a laundry service, also in Cascade.
Figuring that by now she deserved to relax just a bit, she didn’t do a lot of laundry, but rather spent a considerable portion of her time in the local saloon, drinking whiskey and smoking her foul cigars with the sundry assortment of dusty men who were attracted to the place.
One such lout failed to pay his laundry bill to her, however and, hearing him out in the street, she left the saloon and knocked him flat with one blow. She was 72 years old at the time. Fields told her drinking companions that the satisfaction she got from that act was worth more than the bill owed, so the score was settled.
In 1914 Fields died of a liver failure. Neighbors buried her in the Hillside Cemetery in Cascade, marking the spot with a simple wooden cross which still exists today.
Reeves was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, and was given the surname of his owner, George Reeves, a farmer and politician. During the American Civil War, Bass parted company with George Reeves after beating him up following a dispute in a card game. Reeves fled north into the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and lived with the Seminole and Creek Nations.
Reeves later moved to Arkansas and homesteaded near Van Buren, where he married Nellie Jennie from Texas. They had ten children – five boys and five girls.
Reeves and his family farmed until 1875, when the legendary Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge for the Indian Territory. Judge Parker appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. Marshal, and directed him to hire 200 deputy U.S. Marshals. Fagan heard about Bass Reeves, who knew the Indian Territory and could speak several Native languages, and recruited him as a deputy U.S. Marshal.
Reeves worked a total of thirty-two years as a Federal peace officer in the Indian Territory. He was one of Judge Parker’s most valued deputies, arresting some of the most dangerous criminals of the time, even arresting his own son for murder.
Reeves was an expert with a rifle and a pistol and during his long career, he developed superior detective skills. When he retired from Federal service in 1907, Reeves had arrested over 3,000 felons and admitted having to shoot and kill fourteen outlaws in defending his life while making arrests.
When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department.
Reeves’ health failed in 1910, and he died of Bright’s disease on 12 January.
James Pierson Beckwourth
James Beckwourth was an African-American, born in Frederick County, Virginia in 1798, who played a major role in the early exploration and settlement of the American West. Beckwourth was the only African-American who recorded his life story, and his adventures took him from the everglades of Florida to the Pacific Ocean and from southern Canada to northern Mexico.
Filled with a powerful wanderlust, in the summer of 1824, Beckwourth signed on with General William Ashley for a trapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains, taking part in a series of trapping expeditions with the American Fur Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company for several years, where he learned the frontiersman skills he would use for the rest of his life.
Beckwourth also met and worked with such well-known mountain men as Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Jim Clyman and Edward Rose. He participated in the first Mountain Man Rendezvous at Henry’s Fork on the Green River in 1825, the best-known social and business institution of the American mountain men.
Beckwourth played a leading role in virtually every recorded event in the Rocky Mountains in the late 1820′s and it was always Beckwourth’s skill and bravery that saved the day.
In 1828, while on a trapping expedition with Jim Bridger, Beckwourth was captured by a party of Crow warriors. He was mistaken for the long lost son of Big Bowl, one of the tribal chieftans, and adopted into the tribe. Beckwourth spent the next eight years with the Crow, and gained considerable influence with them, rising within their ranks to the level of War Chief, and was named head Chief of the Crow Nation upon the death of Chief Arapooish, also known as Chief “Rotten Belly”.
Beckwourth had as many as ten Crow wives at one time, but was smitten by the young warrior woman, Pine Leaf.
According to Beckwourth, Pine Leaf was captured from the Gros Ventre (Big Belly) tribe when she was about ten years old and raised as a Crow. She had a twin brother who was killed by the Blackfeet, and she swore that she would take no man as her husband until she killed one hundred enemy warriors with her own hands. Beckwourth admired her greatly and wooed her relentlessly. His perseverance finally paid off, and when Beckwourth returned to the Crow after a misadventure in which they thought him killed, Pine Leaf renounced the War Path and agreed to marry him.
But Beckwourth was becoming restless. He wasn’t rich and famous enough, saying “I have encountered savage beasts and wild men…and what have I to show for so much wasted energy, and such a catalogue of ruthless deeds?”
In July of 1836, still hoping to renew his contract with the American Fur Company, Beckwourth left the Crow and retured to St. Louis He felt lost and out of place and St. Louis was no longer the wild and primitive place Beckwourth had known growing up.
In the spring of 1837, still hoping to renew his contract with the American Fur Company, Beckwourth made one last visit to the Crow, and in so doing laid himself open to a malicious charge – he was accused of deliberately bringing smallpox to the plains Indians.
Beckwourth made many friends among the mountain men, but he made his share of enemies, as well, and once this accusation came to light, those enemies quickly picked it up and made it part of the Beckwourth legend. In fact, there is nothing to support the story except the testimony of a few writers with a long history of maligning Beckwourth’s character.
The story just doesn’t fit what is known about Beckwourth, who had a tremendous respect for all the plains tribes – even those he considered his enemies. Beckwourth would not think twice about bashing in an enemy’s skull in hand-to-hand combat, which he considered an honorable death, but he would have considered the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children by disease as dastardly, cowardly and evil.
Most writers of the time attributed the plague of 1837 to other sources.
In 1838, The American Fur Company had successfully won a major share of the fur trade on the upper Missouri. Businessmen Andrew Sublette and Louis Vasquez were trying their luck with the Native Americans of the Southwest and they had need of men such as James Beckwourth.
Vasquez was an old friend of Beckwourth’s and was glad to have his services. Here at last was the chance for “excitement,” for Beckwourth would be dealing with Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux – all traditional enemies of the Crow.
Beckwourth was named “agent-in-charge” and he immediately set out to establish himself among the Cheyenne. Through a Crow interpreter, he put on a display of braggadocio for the astonished Cheyenne, playing on their pride and respect for the brave deeds of enemy warriors and to the surprise of all except Beckwourth, he developed a friendship with the powerful Cheyenne.
Thanks to Beckwourth’s skill, Sublette and Vasquez had a successful fall and winter trade, and made enough to pay off their debts and outfit the next season’s trade.
Beckwourth’s friendship with the Cheyenne was cemented and would last for many years. But he soon began to tire of the monotony of his life, and set out with a companion over the rugged passes and down into Taos, New Mexico, where he formed a partnership with a friend and set out once again to trade with the Cheyenne, this time on his own account.
Beckwourth’s venture was successful enough that he and his partner were able to return to Taos and set up as merchants, settling in for a bit to enjoy the fruits of their labor. At that time, Beckwourth married Luisa Sandoval.
In October, 1842, Beckwourth took his wife north to what is now Colorado, where he built a trading post. They were soon joined by twenty or thirty settler families, and a thriving community was born. They happily named their little settlement “Pueblo”.
I hope you enjoyed the latest in the League of Extraordinary Black People Series. Be sure to join us next month when we examine Dandies / Femme Fatales!