Eighteenth-Century Slavery

As readers may be aware, a number of activists at Harvard Law School have organized themselves into a group called “Royall Must Fall,” inspired by the successful “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign at the University of Cape Town, which was directed against a statue of that particular arch-imperialist. “Royall Must Fall” is not animated by any statues, but by the HLS coat of arms, which looks like this:

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Via Wikipedia

What is wrong with this, you ask? The three sheaves of wheat are the coat of arms of Isaac Royall, Jr. (1719-81), whose bequest of land in 1779 served as the original endowment for HLS – and whose family wealth derived from the slave trade in Antigua, where his father had taken part in the brutal repression of a slave revolt in 1736. The offensiveness of these facts to our current sensibilities do not need to be spelled out. To underline their point, RMF members adopted their own coat of arms featuring black slaves carrying the sheaves of wheat:

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From the Royall Must Fall Facebook page.

The HLS coat of arms, like those of most subunits of Harvard, dates from the university’s tercentennial in 1936. In that year, Pierre La Rose designed a heraldic system for the university: each school (medicine, law, public health, dentistry, etc.) got a coat of arms featuring the arms of its founder, differenced by the so-called “chief of Harvard” – a crimson horizontal band across the top, featuring three open books collectively bearing the Harvard motto “Veritas.”

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Via Wikipedia, the arms of Harvard Divinity School, Kennedy School of Government, and Harvard Business School. For the meanings of these and other Harvard shields, see Mason Hammond’s multipart article “A Harvard Armory”, which appeared the Harvard Library Bulletin in the early 1980s.

It is important to note that Royall himself was not an agent of the slave trade (although he was a slave owner); furthermore, many historical figures have done great things in spite of their moral crimes, and we have no problem honoring them, while being cognizant of their shortcomings. But if Royall’s sins are judged to be too much, and to outweigh any good he did otherwise, it would be easy enough to find the coat of arms of someone else associated with the founding of HLS and change the HLS arms to be that, differenced by the chief of Harvard. (After all, the grant occurred in 1779, and HLS was only founded in 1817! Did Nathan Dane have a coat of arms? Joseph Story? John Ashmun? If so, it would be easy to substitute one of these shields for that of Royall. If not, it would also be easy to invent a coat of arms for HLS not referencing a person, but the law itself: a pair of crossed gavels, a gryphon, a balance, a book, etc.)

It’s not just the Ivy League that is sensitive to these issues. I discovered an article on Rantsports ranking all the helmets in the National Football League. This ranking was not done simply from a design perspective, but from a political one too. Thus, as you can probably imagine, the lowest-ranked helmet was that of the Washington Redskins. As the article says:

Whether you believe it should or should not, the Washington Redskins’ helmet sadly offends a portion of our country’s Native American population. Therefore, it lands at No. 32.

But then number 31 is the New Orleans Saints, for similar reasons.

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From Amazon.com

What could possibly be wrong with this clean, simple design of a fleur-de-lis, referencing New Orleans’s French heritage? The article claims that:

many feel it is racist in nature due to its history (which you can look up and decide for yourself). It seems like a rebrand is needed at this point. Washington and New Orleans are tied for the worst in my humble opinion.

As a Canadian I am used to seeing the fleur-de-lis used by the government of Quebec, and as a medievalist I am used to seeing it associated with the medieval French monarchy. I had never heard that it is racist. And yet, a quick Google search brought up an article by one Ashley Rae Goldenberg from July, 2015:

Slave historian Ibrahima Seck explained to WWLTV the fleur-de-lis is part of slave history.

According to Seck, the fleur-de-lis was implemented as part of the Louisiana “black code,” which were the rules for the French slave populations throughout the world.

Seck stated, as a punishment for a slave running away, slaves “would be taken before a court and the sentence would be being branded on one shoulder and with the fleur de lis, and then they would crop their ears.”

“As an African I find it painful, and I think people whose ancestors were enslaved here may feel it even harder than I do as an African,” Seck continued.

I thought this sounded suspiciously like an urban legend, but Article 38 of the French Code Noir really did order the branding of a fleur-de-lis on the shoulders of runaway slaves, among other indignities.

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But I confess I am not sympathetic to getting rid of the fleur-de-lis. Slavery was a cruel system, and the racism used to justify it is still with us in more than a few ways. This one historic use of the fleur-de-lis, however, is surely not enough to ruin its long and distinguished heraldic history. One cannot help but think that in this case, things really have Gone Too Far.

Hawaiian Fur Traders

At a lunchtime conversation today a colleague brought up a tidbit that he had learned: that “Canuck,” as a slang term for Canadian, came from the Hawaiian word for “person.” How on earth could such a word come into North American usage? It’s (currently) not on the Wikipedia page for “Canuck”, but one does find it on the Talk page:

Many moons ago, in Canada’s formative years when fur trading was all the rage, the fur trading companies searched for anybody they could hire who could wield a beaver trap. In the far west of Canada at that time, there weren’t a lot of crowds. There were several Hawaiian islanders who came to the western shores of North America… They worked out just fine. The Hawaiian word for “Hawaiian person” (or just a “person”) is “KANAKA”… [this eventually] became “Canuck.”

This etymology is derided by the next contributor as unreliable, and the main entry asserts that the word’s origins are uncertain. And yet, in the Wikipedia entry on “Hawaii,” we read that:

James Cook named the archipelago as the Sandwich Islands in honor of his sponsor. Cook published the islands’ location and rendered the native name as Owyhee. This spelling lives on in Owyhee County, Idaho. It was named after three native Hawaiian members of a trapping party who went missing in that area.

Furthermore, in the Northwest Hawai’i Times, we read about the City of Kalama, Washington, named after John Kalama from Maui. It also claims that:

Hawaiians had a big impact in the early history of the Pacific Northwest. Have you heard of the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon, or the Owyhee Lake and the town of Owyhee in Nevada, or the river and town of Kalama and even the town of Friday Harbor? These were named after “Kanakas,” otherwise known as Sandwich Islanders, or Hawaiians.

In the voyages of discovery in the late 1700s and early 1800s, ship captains found the Sandwich (named by James Cook for his benefactor, the Earl of Sandwich) or Hawaiian Islands a great port of call and quickly found the value of the “Owyhees.” This is why many Hawaiians became regularly employed on both merchant and whaling ships.

The first Hawaiians were recruited in 1811 by the North West Company, twelve for ship deckhands and twelve to work in the fur trade brigades. Part of their value was in their canoeing and swimming skills. The French Voygeurs had great canoe handling skills but could not swim. When a canoe flipped, everything would be lost, often even the men. But with Owyhees along, there would be excellent swimmers to save men and recover goods from the bottom of rivers. The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) which merged with the rival North West Company, decided, as a “safety device,” to put an Owyhee in every canoe with the French Voyageurs.

During the fur trapping era, Hawaiians made many trips into the interior, to Fort Spokane and beyond to the Grand Tetons. This is how Owyhee and other Hawaiian names were attached to a number of interior geographic features such as rivers, lakes and even mountain ranges.

Interesting – I had no idea!

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:

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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.)