Tree tunnels have always felt like a path into a different dimension. As a kid I believed that another world was waiting at the narrow end.
Revisiting one of my favourite books this Africa Day
Jim Naughten’s wonderful book Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Namibia, tells the tale of the surviving descendants of the Herero whose 1904-1908 genocide at the hands of German colonialist is considered the first of the 20th century.
Each image, a portrait of Herero tribe members of Namibia, reveals a material culture that harkens the region’s tumultuous past: residents wear Victorian era dresses and paramilitary costume as a direct result and documentation of its early 20th century German colonization. Namibia’s borders encompass the world’s oldest desert. Bleak lunar landscapes, diamond mines, German ghost towns, rolling sea fogs, nomadic tribes and a hostile coastline littered with shipwrecks and whale skeletons comprise the region’s striking and haunting natural features. Namibia’s geography has witnessed a turbulent and little documented history of human settlement, upheaval and war within a particularly brutal period of European colonization.
The history of Herero clothing is extraordinary. Rhenish missionaries first introduced Victorian dress, which the tribe gradually accessorized by adding, for example, cow horn headdresses. Later, during the 1904 war with Namibia’s German colonisers, Herero tribe members claimed the military uniform of dead German soldiers.
Dressed in the costumes that have been appropriated from their colonial past, the men, women and children are taking part in a modern re-enactment of their peoples’ bloody history. The tribe’s now traditional costumes are seen by anthropologists as a fascinating subversion of their former rulers’ fashion, showing how the tribe survived a concerted effort by German colonialists to wipe them from the face of the earth.
All photos: Jim Naughten
Introduction by Lutz Marten
Published by Merrell Publishers (February 19, 2013)
I was born in the Southern Hemisphere and live in Southern Europe although my current city is geographically “up North” and people here tend to passionately identify themselves as “northerners “.
For a while I lived in Brighton, also the South in the North and then moved to London and to a more northern lifestyle. I did identify with England mainly because of the music that nurtured me through my teenage angst and bouts of dramatic isolation from the rest of the world. I miss my English life often, I miss the politeness and the freedom of being foreigner but accepted, or at least tolerated. I even miss the pebble beaches and the custard and the days spent in libraries and trying to find a proper espresso. I miss wandering around with nowhere to go. I miss feeling lonely in London and still quietly happy. I miss the quirkiness and people not staring at you because you look different. I miss talking to street performers and photographing them. I miss spending a fortune at Joe’s Basement in Soho to get contacts printed.
I could have stayed. I left and felt that I really belonged there. Up North. I don’t. My landscape is now far from the green grass, blue eyes, grey sky and the gothic lines that I only revisit when travelling Northbound. Now I marvel at the marble collonades, the porches and patios and baroque pearls of the south. Red soil, black eyes, blue sky.
son dos pozos de estrellas tus ojos negros
Geographies aside, I’m intellectually from the North and culturally and emotionally from the South. Not the place. The set of values. The feeling. That different dimension where one floats and feels whole and at home in all “souths”. The olive tree souths, the palm tree souths and the fern souths. The Atlantic souths and the Indic souths, the Mediterranean and the Gulf souths. The carnation souths, the azahar souths, the magnolia-scented souths and the lavender souths. The jacaranda south. The iced tea souths and the wine and manzanilla souths. The beignet souths and the cannoli souths. The pistachio colored souths, the turquoise souths and the ochre souths. The south of Tango and the south of Blues. The rhythmic south. The south of Duende.
Llevo el Sur,
como un destino del corazon,
soy del Sur,
como los aires del bandoneon.
The Belles souths and the Amazons souths. The Maria souths and the Carmen souths and the Tallulah souths. The polite souths and the loud-mouthed souths. The south of dark hair and lustrous eyes and cadenced walks and throbbing charm. The south of apparent frailty and unbreakable strength.
The orange souths, the mango souths and the strange fruit souths.
The lazy, laughing South
With blood on its mouth.
The cruel south. Not a geography. A metaphor of all the pain in humanity. A testimony of decadence. The fatalist souths and the combative souths.
The emotional souths and the passionate souths. The souths of private virtues and public vices. The south of sin. The south of absolution.
The souths of Homer. The south of Faulkner. The souths of disquiet. The lazy Apollonian souths, the dancing, graceful, spontaneous, impulsive souths. The eternal midday, clear, still and in the moment South. The nostalgic, embracing South.
And still, the yearning for the lost South. “And there were other ways to live…”
Se você tem uma idéia incrível. É melhor fazer uma canção. Está provado que só é possível. Filosofar em alemão.
References (in a very random order)
Astor Piazolla, Caetano Veloso, Camaron de la Isla, Jorge Luis Borges, Eugene Walter, Langston Hughes, Agustina Bessa-Luís, Fernando Pessoa, Susan Sontag, William Faulkner, Billie Holiday, Oswald Spengler, Nietzsche
I’m standing at the entrance of the room checking Caetano Veloso get on stage for the technical rehearsal of this evening’s show. And this is actually happening. Tropicália, one of the founding songs of the movement, echoes in the empty room and Caetano’s voice seems to hold me in a hug.
I grew up listening to Brazilian music, not specifically to Caetano whose music I only discovered in my 20s, but to the amazing voices of Elis Regina, to the powerful words of Chico Buarque and the outrageous performances of Ney Matogrosso. That music, those words, have functioned as my citizenship, like a deeper connection to a language that even though it’s my native language, I have never managed to master in an elegant way but could, none the less, substitute my passport.
I was not born in 1967, my generation didn’t actually have to create a revolution, we were born in the aftermath of insurrection and before red carnations took to the streets.
Brazil, a country I traveled to for the first time when I was 9, meant as a cliché, samba, beach and a carefree existence. Caetano’s songs showed me something else. A country that can hold the entire world in both its glory and its misery. I started paying attention to the music that makes you want to get up and celebrate life through dancing and to the words that make you stand still and think. Last time I was in Brazil was in 2000 while the celebrations for its 500 years of postcolonial history were underway. Walking through the streets of Salvador all the way up to a candomblé house made me feel thankful for paying attention. That’s where the music materialized itself, in the Roma Negra.
From Porto Seguro and Salvador, the journey ended in Rio de Janeiro and I could still hear the words, who hasn’t felt the swing of Henri Salvador. We were staying in Copacabana and took the bus to the Flamengo neighborhood to see the Carmen Miranda Museum on an amazing journey through scandalous platform shoes and outrageous costumes and jewelry. A dream closet. In all her esthetic exaggeration, the adopted icon of tropicalism was a true precursor, taking it all in, who she was, who others thought she was, Europe, America and the tropics in one flamboyant persona.
Oswald’s anthropophagy, the solution to the problem of identity, the antidote to having your mind chained to labels and to grim values of behavior and morality. Thoroughly thought anarchy and cultural eclecticism, helas, flamboyance as a beautiful form of resistance.
Movements become dated and even our music heroes get old but this evening, the Coliseu sang Tieta to the ones that still shine brighter than a million suns and Gilberto Gil, all dressed in white, danced. And I have no films, photos or recordings and yet it will be registered forever.
Photo cover to Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis by Mário de Andrade
I am a terrible decision maker. I do not like planning or strategizing or even making pro/con lists.
I find decision making excruciatingly tedious and, on top of that, I can’t read maps and even manage to get lost using gps devices. That’s how I often take the roads less traveled. I am also not good at following instructions.
Not many, if any, of these new roads are left to be metaphorically or literally explored. I suppose we all would like to be pioneers and trailblaze our own road but that is lonely and difficult path we’re seldom ready to take.
In some ways, this blog is, for me, the road less traveled, the road of self-examination as a public exercise. And, as Dr. Peck would put it “life is difficult”, being honest with yourself is not an easy task. Being honest with yourself in public can oftentimes be soul crushing as is the realization that you can’t really always get what you want.
At least two people in my life have tried to make me understand (in very obvious ways) that life is seldom what you want it to be and often what it has to be. I haven’t learnt this lesson yet. I go on insisting that there has to be more. As a traveler, I always want to take both or all the roads in front of me and start walking even if sometimes never arriving and other times taking the easy, comfortable road and not getting where I wanted to be.
The roads left are the roads not taken and these might be the ones that would make all the difference.
Robert Frost (1920)
Morgan Scott Speck (1978)
Mick Jagger / Keith Richards (1969)
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees
This was beautifully handwritten inside a birthday card given to me by my summer course English teacher in Cheltenham the year I turned 18. These words (and the card) have stayed with me since then and I even had them embroidered on a dress. Who wouldn’t want to live like that? These words felt like the perfect “how to” to life at that time.
They were also responsible for the immense love I feel for a language which is not native to me but has always understood me better than my own.
Before these words, all the poetry in songs, from Morrison to Morrissey, the texts of disquiet, the Stranger’s paragraphs all seemed to work as companions to a growing existential hole, some sort of solace to an awkward confrontation with reality. And then these words, out of their natural context, as quotes are usually presented, showed a sunny alternative and I still tend to hold on to them as way of seeing a brighter tomorrow.
Other words, other poems, other texts have found their way to me because of their music when read aloud or because they are the words that I wished were mine and because, in a way, I still need words as a compass even when those same words make me feel overwhelmed and scared that in the midst of all the quotes living in my head I will not be able to find words that are mine. And again I borrow, from Beckett when I try and fail and vow to fail again better, from Jung while trying to take control of my own narrative, from Emerson while I try to go on being myself, from Camaron de la Isla when trying to come to terms with all the anger and honey that I too seem to carry with me.
And still none of those words have resonated as strongly as the realization that
Quote Me better late than never
From Skagway, Alaska to Apache Junction, Arizona, Los Angeles, New York, Londonderry in Northern Ireland, Arnatveit in Norway, New South Wales Australia and beyond. My stories and errors have travelled further than what I have in 2015.