Showing posts with label africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label africa. Show all posts

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Goodbye Swaziland, Hello Eswatini!

If you're still struggling with the idea of a South Sudan, and the lack of a Yugoslavia, you may wish to brace yourself, because on April 19, 2018 the Kingdom of Swaziland no longer existed, and was replaced by the Kingdom of Eswatini.

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Eswatini flag
The country formerly known as Swaziland is located in the southern region of Africa, bordering South Africa and Mozambique . It is the last remaining absolute monarchy in Africa, which certainly helped make the name changing process go smoother. King Mswati III started officially using the name 'Eswatini' in an address to the United Nations in 2017. He announced the official name change at his birthday celebration which, non-coincidentally, was the same day as the 50th anniversary of Eswatini's independence from the United Kingdom.

Many critics complain that this name change is just a way of distracting from Eswatini's deeper problems, and lack of democratic freedom. The great expense of changing all official and unofficial documentation and signage when the majority of Emaswati live below the poverty line is a major sticking point for the King's political opponents.

However, many people, the King included, argue that the name change is a way of finally throwing off their colonial past, and facing the future as a fully independent nation.

Either way, pull out a sharpie, or get ready to buy new maps. Swaziland is gone, Eswatini has arrived.

Sources
Swaziland Name Change to Eswatini is Now Official
Swaziland Gets a Name Change: Call it Eswatini Now
Swaziland Has a New Name-Eswatini-But Will Anything Change?
Swaziland: What Happens When a Country Changes Its Name?


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Punt, the Mythical Land of Where?

Though there is archaeological evidence that people have been to Punt, there is no actual archaeological evidence of Punt itself. No structures, tombs, or definitively 'Puntite' artifacts have been found. Everything we know about the Land of Punt comes from the Ancient Egyptians who traded with them.

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A Puntite chieftain and his wife.
Most of what we know about the land of Punt comes from the mortuary temple of the Egyptian pharaoh, Hatsheput. Hatsheput, who is noted for having led Egypt into an era of wealth and prosperity, launched the largest recorded expedition into Punt. She was so proud of this expedition that she had it recorded on the walls of the temple dedicated to her. The brightly colored carvings depict a lush land, with beehive shaped houses set on stilts. It depicts Egyptians bringing back live trees, as well as animal skins and gold. The roots of the depicted trees can been seen around her temple.

Punt was very important to the Egyptians economically, and the two countries were close trade partners. As opposed to the deserts of Egypt, Punt was lush and brimming with life. They provided Egypt with incense trees, wood, and animal skins, while the Egyptians brought them jewelry, metal, and tools.

While Punt was certainly a wealthy land, trade wasn't the only reason the Egyptians were so intrigued about it. For the Egyptians, Punt was the land of their gods. Hathor, the goddess Hatsheput claimed as a mother, lived there, as did Ra. Many of the symbolic objects used in Egyptian religious practices came from Punt, and the Ancient Egyptians viewed Punt as their ancestral homeland.

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Egyptian soldiers on the expedition to Punt
The civilizations of Punt and Egypt flourished alongside each other for centuries, yet to this day the location of Punt has been 'lost'. While archaeologists have, and still are, plundering the sands of Egypt for answers about the past, archaeologists and scholars alike are still scratching their heads about Punt. As mentioned above, no structures or artifacts that are distinctively 'Puntite' in nature have been found, so no exact location can be pinned down, but thanks to Egyptian records, artwork, and writing, there are several working theories as to where Punt is.

The oldest (and least credible) theory is that Punt was located on the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula to the Northeast of Egypt. Put forward in 1850, this theory was based purely on the aromatic trees and gums that the Egyptians brought back from the land of Punt. Frankincense, one of the most recognizable trees brought from Punt, grows almost exclusively in the Southern Arabian Peninsula (modern Oman and Yemen), and around the Horn of Africa (modern Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, into Ethiopia).

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Puntite house surrounded by trees.
However, further reexamination of the reliefs on Hatsheput's temple disproved this theory. The reliefs depicted elephants, rhinoceroses, and giraffes--none of which are indigenous to Arabia. They are, however, indigenous to the Horn of Africa.

Coincidentally (or not!), Frankincense and myrrh trees are also indigenous to the horn. Additionally, the methods of transportation described by the Egyptians make sense for traveling to the Horn of Africa. The reliefs on Hatsheput's temple depict the Egyptians sailing in boats. The fish depicted below the boats can be positively identified as species which still live in the Red Sea. The Egyptians most likely sailed down the Red Sea, hugging the coast until they reached Punt. Additionally, they could have sailed down the Nile, dissembled their ships, and walked over land to Punt, returning the way they came or via the Red Sea.

From the Horn of Africa there are two major contenders for the location of the Land of Punt--the state of Puntland in Somalia, and a region in East Sudan/North Ethiopia.

Related image
Egyptian soldiers loading the boat for the expedition to
Punt. Note the fish under the boat.
The largest evidence in favor of Somalia is the linguistic and cultural similarities between current Somali society and Ancient Egyptian society. Somali shares several words with the same language spoken by the Ancient Egyptians, and historically they Somalis called their region 'Bunn', which the Egyptians could easily have translated as 'Pwenet', which has been translated to Punt. In addition, traditional Somali dances are very similar to the dances depicted in Ancient Egyptian reliefs.

In the favor of Sudan/Ethiopia is descriptions from the Greek traders who made it there as well. Greek writing about expeditions to Punt include descriptions of what is most likely today's Lake Tana, as well as Lake Awsa and the Island of Dak. There are several other descriptions that match geographical features in Ethiopia and Sudan. Add in the fact that there are large regions of incense tree (frankincense and myrrh) producing lands in these regions, it seems just as likely that Punt could be in the region that is now East Sudan and North Ethiopia.

Unfortunately, despite strong evidence for many of these places, there is no definitive archaeological proof of any of them, and it seems likely that the same scholarly argument started in the 1800s will continue for a while more. Personally, I'm dying of curiosity, so if you're an archaeologist, please move finding Punt to the top of your 'to-do' list.

Sources
Punt
Somalia: the Ancient Lost Kingdom of Punt is Finally Found
Will We Ever Discover the Elusive Land of Punt?
Where is Punt?
Punt, Historical Region, Africa




Thursday, July 20, 2017

Damn, Girl(s)-Dahomey Amazons, the Fiercest Women This Side of the Mississippi

The African kingdom of Dahomey (today's Benin) is sometimes referred to as 'Black Sparta'. This is honestly a little insulting to the Dahomey, because the Spartans were Boy Scouts with peashooters in comparison to the fearsome armies of the Dahomey, especially the ferocious all-female units known as the Dahomey Amazons.


Modern Benin highlighted in red.
These Amazons were formed originally sometime during the late 1600s. They didn't start out as warriors, their initial purpose was to hunt elephants, but in the early 1700s the Dahomey King was so impressed by their fighting, that he enlisted the Amazons as his palace guard, from there they were assimilated into the regular army.

There was nothing 'regular' about the Amazons however. These ladies trained more strenuously than the men, and were required to undergo huge tests of strength and endurance. Part of their training required climbing thorn covered walls without showing pain, and fighting off masses of prisoners of war. They were fierce women, and they never ran away from a fight. Of course, a large part of this is due to the fact that Amazons who did try to run away were executed on the spot, but harsh desertion penalties aside, these women had a huge 'death before defeat' mentality. Their motto was literally 'Conquer or Die'.

One of the more grim parts of the training that all Dahomey solders underwent was 'desensitizing training'. This training was designed to help untested warriors get over their fear of killing people. Once a year prisoners of war were placed into baskets, and taken atop a high platform. Green recruits would then toss these prisoners off the edge of the platform. At the base of the platform was a group of angry Dahomeians ready to tear the prisoners apart.

Image result for dahomey amazonsAdditionally, the Amazons were committed to a life of celibacy. They were all, nominally, married to the King (much in the way that Catholic nuns are married to Jesus), but they were forbidden from having sex. This was because pregnancy prevented a woman from fighting, and the Dahomey Amazons were all about fighting. To further insure that these women refrained from pregnancy inducing activities, it meant instant death for any man to lay a hand on an Amazon. In fact, when an Amazon went out, she generally had a slave girl walking ahead of her with a bell. Whenever they heard the bell, men would draw off to the side of the road, and look the other way, just in case.

The Amazons came from all walks of life. Some of them were third tier wives of the King whom the king did not wish to sleep with. Some were women trying to escape a life of drudgery, and some were girls who's parents had deemed them 'difficult' and 'unsuitable for marriage'.

Like the mythical Greek Amazons, the Dahomey Amazons were known for their incredible fighting skills. And, as with all such amazing warriors, it's difficult to tell fact from fiction sometimes. However, the sheer number of 'myths' suggest that, whatever the truth, these women were pretty badass. Here is an incomplete list of some of the more incredible feats that have been attributed to them:

  • Tearing out a men's larynx's with their teeth
  • Literally ripping stockades apart
  • Wearing belts made of thorns
  • Defeating entire African nations.
  • Took on a group of 40 elephants. Not only did they survive, but they killed 3 of said elephants. 
One of my favorite, if a bit gruesome, stories about these ladies is how they would decapitate their dead enemies, then boil the flesh off the skull. After the skull had been defaced (literally), it would then be added to the massive pile of skulls that supported the king and queen's thrones. This may sound like a crazy story, but you can view these thrones in the historic Abomey Palace (HYPERLINK) today.

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Throne of King Ghez. There are a lot fewer skulls. Also a Getty
Images watermark, because who can afford $175 for a picture?
(If you can afford that, and want to donate to this blog, feel
free to contact me any time.)
During the times that the Amazons fought, Dahomey underwent some massive expansion. They conquered all of Benin, and most of modern Nigeria. The Dahomey were fearless and a little cocky. They regularly took down nations much larger than themselves, but they took on too much when they messed with the French. 

See, in 1890 the French hadn't conquered the Dahomey, but they had made 'protectorates' of the Dahomey's neighbors, and so when the Dahomey Amazons when a-raiding, they stepped on the toes of the French. And by 'stepped on the toes' I mean that one Dahomey Amazon decapitated the governor of the city, and wrapped it in the French tricolor.

While the French admired the Dahomey as fighters, that sort of insult obviously couldn't stand, so the French hit the Dahomey with everything they had. Thought they fought bravely (and visciously. aforementioned larynx tearing happened in the engagements against the French), the French defeated the Dahomey, and most of the Amazons were killed.

Image result for dahomey amazonsThere were 50 Amazons who survived, and most of them are said to have joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Most of them died in the early 1940s, but one woman, Nawi, lived until 1979. She lived well over a century, and was, probably, the last of the Amazons to die.

These women were vicious and ferocious. Their fighting tactics could make even the most desensitized of people squirm (which is why I haven't gone too in-depth), and if they lived today they'd almost certainly be categorized as war criminals. However, they are particularly notable because they were the first all female fighting regiment in all of documented history. They put the fear of God into the French (metaphorically) to the point that there was a specific addendum in the peace treaty that said that no Dahomey woman could ever pick up a weapon again. 

Sources