From Trump’s strange new order of economic nationalism to the in-between world of the African Goans, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Globe & Mail
America’s turn to economic nationalism has rocked the world. U.S. President Donald Trump promised “America first.” He has delivered. Within days of taking office he cancelled the laboriously negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership and put trade talks with the European Union on ice. He then shook up NAFTA. He bullied the South Koreans into revising the trade treaty they had agreed to with the Obama administration. He slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum, triggering retaliation from the EU and announced an investigation into the import of motor vehicles under Section 301 authority. And to cap it all, the United States launched a trade war with China. Faced with this rampage, global markets are swinging up and down as fears of a global trade war ebb and flow. Every deal, it seems, is merely the prelude to another provocation.
Facing a situation of new and profound insecurity it is natural to seek orientation from the past. If we look back over the history, it can easily seem as though periods of globalization are followed by periods of backlash. We saw something similar in the early 20th century, when the free movement of people, goods and capital that knitted the world together in the Victorian age, was replaced in the 1920s and 1930s by protectionism and nativism. [continue reading]
The diary of an African attendant on the Scottish explorer David Livingstone’s final journey into the continent has been published online, containing the only handwritten witness account of the the Victorian missionary’s death in 1873. The manuscript was written by Jacob Wainwright, a member of the Yao ethnic group from east Africa and the only African pallbearer at the explorer’s funeral in Westminster Abbey in 1874.
The diary contains a rare insight into the role of Africans involved in British colonial exploration and Livingstone’s death aged 60 in the village of Chitambo, present-day Chipundu, Zambia, after suffering from fever and excruciating back pain that prevented him from walking. Livingstone was one of the most famous 19th-century European explorers of Africa. In 1855, he became the first European to see Victoria Falls – and gave the landmark its European name. In 1871 Henry Morton Stanley, another explorer, famously greeted him with the phrase: “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” [continue reading]
Age of Revolutions
In 2016, the History Channel’s competitive weapon manufacturing reality show “Forged in Fire” included a final segment that instructed contestants to construct a “Zulu iklwa,” or short stabbing-spear made famous by the Zulu king Shaka kaSenzangakhona, known popularly as “Shaka Zulu.” Beyond questionable visual representations, including an illustration that was described as Shaka but was actually of his nephew Utilmuni, the short stabbing spear of the Zulu was offered as part of the military genius of Shaka, highlighting an often repeated, entrenched narrative in our understanding of the history of the Zulu people.
This narrative, facilitated by European and African sources since the death of the Zulu king in 1828, claims that Shaka, through ruthlessness, treachery, and military innovations, forged with his iklwa a kingdom that became the source of Zulu nationalism and ethnic identity for the next two centuries. One cannot help but read a similar dramatic narrative in the recent Black Panther film, which also features a weapon similar to the iklwa prominently. Shaka remains a figure of myth, legend, and misinterpretation, with numerous books and films depicting the rise of the “Black Napoleon.” However, “Shaka’s spear” offers an example of how one object can come to represent not only the individual but also the sweeping changes that he ushered in during a period of revolution. [continue reading]
Doctor, tutor, diplomat — Dona Juliana Dias da Costa, a Portuguese woman in the Mughal court in the late 17th-early 18th Century, played several roles in the 89 years she lived. Her most visible remnant in the city, however, is a signboard that reads ‘Sarai Julena Gaon’ in Okhla.
“Oh, she was an extraordinary woman, there was no one quite like her. Dona Juliana fell in love with emperor Aurangzeb’s son and successor Shah Alam, whom she tutored. She was a 17-year-old widow and he was 18 years old. Juliana was made the jagirdar of four villages and was gifted Dara Shikoh’s house in Delhi too,” said Raghuraj Singh Chauhan (68), former director of the National Museum, who co-authored a book called Juliana Nama (2017), along with archivist Madhukar Tewari. Chauhan and Tewari spent over 30 years researching for their book, and pored through manuscripts and documents in French, Portuguese, Persian and Urdu to trace the story of Juliana, who was the link between the Portuguese and the Mughals back then. [continue reading]
At the cusp of the 1990s, while pursuing graduate studies in London, my attentions swivelled to an alluring young woman who had been born in Kampala a quarter-century earlier, and our subsequent courtship drew me into the in-between world of the African Goans. It was my first extended encounter with these Indians twice removed, the first time voluntarily from our collective palm-shaded Konkan homeland, but then with haunting consequences from “good old days” in the British and Portuguese colonies in Africa. Double exile was the bedrock of their identity. I found myself surrounded by men and women utterly riven by melancholy, whose eyes brimmed with tears whenever the Swahili love song Malaika played (which was often). Home was liminal, the heart was elsewhere. Only loss was omnipresent.
It took some time to realize these collective doldrums were triggered by an exceptional history ground from geopolitical tectonics of three continents, and there really is nothing quite like the case of the “Afrikanders” in the annals of globalization. They had poured out from Goa in response to an urgent economic and social opportunity—which seems inconceivable from our 21st century vantage—to remake their lives, social standing and Africa itself in the grand colonial exercise that Sir Harry Johnston (special commissioner in Uganda from 1899-1901) enthusiastically referred to as “an America of the Hindu”. [continue reading]