The Koh-i-Noor Diamond

The Koh-i-Noor, a diamond of Indian origin and currently set in a crown that belonged to the Queen Mother (d. 2002), is a touchy subject between India and the United Kingdom. Like the Elgin Marbles, it came to the UK during the glory days of the British Empire – quite illegitimately, according to the Indians, who have begun a renewed push to get it back:

Koh-i-Noor: India sues the Queen for return of ‘stolen’ £100m diamond

The diamond can only be worn by a woman or a god, according to legend

It was once the world’s largest known diamond, is worth a reported £100m and is currently part of Britain’s crown jewels.

But India wants it back.

Bollywood stars and businessmen have united to instruct lawyers to begin legal proceedings in London’s High Court to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

The diamond was in the crown worn by the Queen Mother at the coronation of her husband King George VI in 1937 and again at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.

The group, which has called itself the “Mountain of Light” after the translation of the stone’s name, say that the 105-carat diamond was stolen from its true home in India and are demanding that the UK Government returns it.

The stone is “one of the many artefacts taken from India under dubious circumstances”, according to David de Souza from the Indian leisure group Tito’s.

Souza claims the British colonisation of India had stolen wealthand “destroyed the country’s psyche”.

The jewel was given to the reigning Queen of the time by the last ruler of the Sikhs, Duleep Singh, after the British annexe of the Punjab.

Bollywood star Bhumicka Singh, also part of the group, said: “The Koh-i-noor is not just a 105-carat stone, but part of our history and culture and should undoubtedly be returned.”

British Lawyers instructed by the “Mountain of Light” group to seek the stone’s return, said they would base their case on the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act, which gives national institutions in the UK the power to return stolen art.

Satish Jakhu, of Birmingham-based law firm Rubric Lois King, said they would make their claim under the common law doctrine of “trespass to goods”, arguing that the government had stolen the diamond. He added that they would be taking their case to the International Court of Justice.

Historian Andrew Roberts told the Mail on Sunday: “Those involved in this ludicrous case should recognise that the British Crown Jewels is precisely the right place for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to reside, in grateful recognition for over three centuries of British involvement in India, which led to the modernisation, development, protection, agrarian advance, linguistic unification and ultimately the democratisation of the sub-continent.”

To say nothing of the destruction of the Indian iron industry, the Sepoy Mutiny, numerous famines, and the Amritsar Massacre!

I think that spreading the Parthenon around acts as insurance against the loss of the whole thing in some disaster, which is why I think that Britain should keep the Elgin Marbles. This dynamic does not apply to the Koh-i-Noor, which I think should go back. Colossal gems are kind of naff anyway.

New Zealand

The World Cup of Rugby is going on as I write this, and defending champions New Zealand look like they just might win it again. This is within the natural order of things: the New Zealand “All Blacks” (from the color of their strip) are one of the consistently best teams in the world, the only one with a winning record against every other national team. So far, in this tournament, they have defeated Argentina 26-16 and Namibia 58-14, and will likely make short work of Georgia and Tonga, their two next opponents.

One honored tradition of the All Blacks is that of the haka, a Maori war-dance that the team performs before every game as a challenge to the other team. I confess that I was taken aback when I first heard about this: I attended a college that dropped its Indian mascot in 1974 for the familiar reasons, but here are a bunch of white people performing an actual native ritual?! (Although the All Blacks usually do include numerous players of Maori descent.) And yet, every New Zealander I’ve ever met says that it is not controversial at all, that it’s something that all New Zealanders, Maori or otherwise, take great pride in (this includes a Maori dance troupe that performed at Reinhardt back in 2004). The custom provides a very interesting contrast to North American anxiety about cultural appropriation.

One national symbol that many New Zealanders would like to change, however, is their flag, a relic of the glory days of the British Empire. From Wikipedia, here it is:

1200px-Flag_of_New_Zealand.svg

Not only is this flag not reflective of New Zealand Today, it is famously quite close to the flag of Australia, the only differences being the number, color, and shape of the stars:

1280px-Flag_of_Australia.svg

A shortlist of four alternatives to the current NZ flag has been announced (there were originally forty). New Zealanders will vote on which of these they like, and the winner will go head-to-head in a referendum against the current flag next year.

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Clockwise from top left: Silver Fern (Black and White), Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue), Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue), Koru. Photo: EPA/NZ Flag Consideration Panel, via the Telegraph.

The silver fern is a classic New Zealand symbol (the All Blacks bear it on their jerseys), and the koru is a Maori design element reminiscent of a fiddlehead. Two of the designs retain the Southern Cross, although this is too common in Southern Hemisphere heraldry in my opinion – and I’ve always thought that the red stars outlined (“fimbriated”) in white don’t contrast enough with the blue background. Furthermore, black might make for an intimidating sports uniform, but you’d think that for a flag a country would want something a little more colorful.

But I’m not a New Zealander and this is not my decision to make. (Although I am sympathetic with the impulse, given that my own country changed its flag fifty years ago, for many of the same reasons.)