Returning African Literature to Africa.

I posted fourteen years ago about Ngugi wa Thiong’o (so long ago I’ve just now had to replace a couple of dead links with Wikipedia links; amazingly, the Kitabkhana link still works); now Francis Wade writes for NYRDaily about his thoughts on what he called in a 1986 book Decolonising the Mind. There’s a lot of interesting material on cultural assimilation and “the enduring effects of linguistic imperialism”; I wanted to single out this paragraph for the specific efforts at remedying the situation it links to:

Movements across Africa and elsewhere have advocated a revival of local languages in their countries’ literary output, while translation projects have sought to both expand the non-English audience for African writers, and to “return” African literature to its native soil. Jalada Africa offers a publishing platform for pan-African authors, often translating their work into a variety of languages, both English and vernacular African. A Senegalese project, Céytu, uses translation to counter the dominance of French-language books in a country where the majority tongue, Wolof, has a rich oral, but not written, culture. Some prominent writers, notably Salman Rushdie, have argued however that the advantages of writing for a billions-strong English-language audience outweigh the symbolic benefits of returning to native languages whose readership is comparatively smaller. Only a small proportion of African writers who have won international acclaim for works in English have followed Ngũgĩ’s lead and returned to writing in their mother tongues.

Rushdie’s argument is, of course, incontrovertible in its own terms, but I’m glad some stubborn authors are bucking the tide.

Comments

  1. > Some prominent writers, notably Salman Rushdie, have argued however that the advantages of writing for a billions-strong English-language audience outweigh the symbolic benefits of returning to native languages whose readership is comparatively smaller.

    I would be surprised if even one billion English speakers have ever read a book by an African writer. A large potential audience may translate into a larger actual audience, but on the other hand, so might an untapped market.

    (And isn’t Rushdie a more-or-less monolingual English speaker? If he’s arguing that his only option was also the right decision for everyone, I have to wonder if this is wishful thinking / sour grapes. But I don’t know anything about the context in which he made the argument, so I can’t judge.)

  2. The problem with writing for “a billions-strong English-language audience” is that it means writing for what is in practice an overwhelmingly Western audience largely unfamiliar with Africa. It means steering clear of allusions that only fellow Kikuyu or fellow Kenyans will get, and sticking with “universal” reference points – ie Western ones plus a few tokens. Individually, the financial advantages of doing so are incontrovertible. Collectively, though, it amounts to signing off on one’s own marginality. Of course you can write a book in English addressed to your fellow citizens; but if you do so, the existence of “billions” of English speakers elsewhere is irrelevant, and you might as well pick a smaller language.

    In the specific case of North Africa, the much greater size of the book market in France has created a continual temptation for local Francophone writers to play up to Orientalist stereotypes and give French readers what they’re looking for…

  3. The problem is, Kenyan author needs to write in English in order to be read by readers just in Kenya itself (forget about billions of English-speakers elsewhere).

    Perhaps, he could write in Swahili and get slightly better readership. But certainly nobody will read what he writes in his native Luo or Maasai.

  4. J.W. Brewer says:

    I feel like I may have posted this link in some prior comment thread where it seemed relevant in context but can’t recall which that might have been. But in any event, here’s an appreciation by a contrarian young reviewer of Ngugi’s memoir of his Westernizing/Anglifying schooldays. https://herandrews.com/2013/05/01/ngugis-education/

  5. That’s a nice little essay, but why “contrarian”?

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    More a description of Helen’s overall body of work and aggregate set of vigorous opinions – it may not manifest clearly in that particular piece on its own.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Lameen: In the specific case of North Africa, the much greater size of the book market in France has created a continual temptation for local Francophone writers to play up to Orientalist stereotypes and give French readers what they’re looking for…

    I am sorry to hear that. Giving readers “what they’re looking for” rarely produces works worth reading.

  8. Well, all works combine conventional and novel elements: neither extreme of the continuum is very interesting. When it’s all novel, we get last nights chaotic dream; when it’s all conventional, we get a fish story. But a fish story with enough novel elements can become The Old Man and the Sea, or (equivocating on fish somewhat) Moby-Dick.

  9. Hat: If you click on the “Previous post” link from the review of the Ngugi memoir linked above, you will find a review of a book called Against Fairness, which is a screed in favor of favoritism, which means in favor of injustice. The book is contrarian enough, but the review in its last paragraphs actually attacks it from the (feudal) right for failing to be sufficiently opposed to justice. It’s the sort of thing that made bien-pensants believe that Ann Coulter was just a satirist, before it became abundantly clear that she believes every word of what she writes.

  10. Huh. Yeah, that’s definitely contrarian, among other things.

  11. Even if you write in English, you are writing about people who live lives different than an average English speaker. You will write about local customs, problems, people are going to have weird names etc. I’m not sure a billion people are going to read you.

    If this were true, no books would be written in Norwegian, Slovene or Estonian…

  12. David Marjanović says:
  13. Lameen: The problem with writing for “a billions-strong English-language audience” is that it means writing for what is in practice an overwhelmingly Western audience largely unfamiliar with Africa. It means steering clear of allusions that only fellow Kikuyu or fellow Kenyans will get, and sticking with “universal” reference points – ie Western ones plus a few tokens.

    Amos Tutuola, preceding a more Westernised generation of Nigerian writers in English, is an early exception to that rule. Unfortunately much of his appeal to the billions-strong English-language audience was as a quaint incarnation of the uneducated, “primitive” stereotype, even if Tutuola himself wasn’t interested in the billions-strong audience. I don’t know where his reputation currently stands in the post-colonial minefield.

    A writer might have region-specific motives for choosing an imperial language that have little or nothing to do with the size of the market audience. R K Narayan set his novels in a generalised South India that was intentionally outside any one language zone: even if he could have written them in Tamil or Kannada, he was writing in a space of the imagination that wasn’t restricted to the Tamil or Kannada worlds. Hindi of course wouldn’t have been an option, so English was the obvious non-restrictive choice. Maybe there are African equivalents.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    Maybe there are African equivalents.

    Well, yes: English and French, for sure. And for similar reasons to the use of English in India. Nigeria has something like two hundred more-or-less thriving languages, and even Ghana has somewhere around forty. In both countries there are large African languages which are commonly used as second languages by smaller groups, but there is none which covers the whole country.

    Part of all this is that The Novel is actually in itself a genre, and indeed one that only achieved literary respectability in the West really quite recently; serious non-fiction had always previously been poetry. It’s a pretty distinctive sort of literary artefact, so it’s not all that surprising that it has shallow roots in Africa, and correspondingly no tradition of being composed in particular African languages. Quite a number of languages, on the other hand, have long-established poetic traditions, especially those like Hausa and Swahili which have long been vehicles of Islamic culture.

    African pop music is usually in African languages, of course. And there is a thriving market for Hausa novels. of the entertaining rather than Deep sort.

  15. The book is contrarian enough, but the review in its last paragraphs actually attacks it from the (feudal) right for failing to be sufficiently opposed to justice. It’s the sort of thing that made bien-pensants believe that Ann Coulter was just a satirist, before it became abundantly clear that she believes every word of what she writes.

    Off topic, and it’s objectively a lackluster review of what doesn’t sound like a very appealing book, but…I’m having a hard time understanding this reading of Andrews’ text. I don’t think you have to be sympathetic to her implication that the benefits of informally institutionalized favoritism are underappreciated (to put it mildly I’m certainly not) to feel that “attack from the feudal right” is not the aptest way to characterize her argument. I mean, I suppose there’s some degree of zoom-out that brings her and someone like Coutler(!) into visual proximity, but I’m not sure about the utility of such a viewing distance.

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    I agree with Elessorn that lumping Mrs. Andrews together with Miss Coulter is not particularly helpful, but in an effort to move the discussion back to Mr. Ngugi’s rejection of English rather than the proper subtaxonomy of writers whose political opinions are not congruent with those of John Cowan, maybe the important takeaway is that Ngugi’s boarding school education treated fluency in English as part and parcel of an integrated and wide-ranging attempt to Westernize the students in a way that would predictably cause tension with any desire to stay rooted in their ancestral culture, which might quite naturally in turn lead to the sense that one could avoid that sort of deracination and loss of identity only by rejecting the use of English. I assume that the many millions of ambitious students currently seeking to acquire English fluency as a practically useful career tool and/or life skill in places like India and mainland China are mostly enrolled in schools that try to avoid portraying the acquisition of English fluency as part of a broader Westernization process that requires losing ones rootedness in local culture (part of this probably involves conceptualizing “modernization” as a different sort of thingie than “Westernization”). And maybe some schools in Africa have by now figured out how to do the same.

  17. Good point, and I hope the supposition in your last sentence is borne out.

  18. part of this probably involves conceptualizing “modernization” as a different sort of thingie than “Westernization”

    I know nothing of English teaching on the ground in Africa (though I’ve often wondered why with so many diverse starting-point languages we end up with accents that sound, so to speak, allophonically of-a-kind to the uninformed ear), but I agree that this is astutely the case for English education in East Asia at least. I wouldn’t go so far as to say deliberately the case, though a persistent if usually sublimated counterpoint of nativist critique keeps the idea of English-as-Westernization alive as an association at some level. Such an analysis also goes part of the way towards explaining why, for example, English education is less effective in Japan than in Korea, and in Korea than in China, to the extent that (the desired amount of) modernization is felt to have been achieved. The linguistically-inclined wants to attribute it to facts of language (grammar distance between English and Chinese, for example), and surely these have concrete effects on the individual L2 learner, but especially with something closer to a minimal pair like South Korea and Japan, the concept vector seems more promising. Though of course, confounding factors abound.

    Also a thought: even the West to which a student might be forced to ‘nize nowadays is culturally a good deal less mutually exclusivizing than it used to be. I think it would be naive to say that the political, religious, ideological commitments Westernization used to impose have been removed rather than simply replaced, but the commitment process being a lot less invasive than, well, actual conversion to explicit foreign worship habits, seems like a change of significance. (To say nothing of the somewhat Westernized local elites now in place in large part produced those more intrusive earlier waves of schooling.)

  19. J.W. Brewer says:

    To the extent the relevant difference between Japan and South Korea is that it is more obviously the case that someone growing up in the former can lead a prosperous adult life w/o ever acquiring much fluency in English, so the average student is less motivated to try to acquire that fluency, more power to them.

  20. I couldn’t agree more. A sadly true story: on a very rare occasion I once had to speak to someone of ranking position within a certain U.S.-based scholarship fund on his exploratory visit to Japan, I made a very similar argument to him about the oft-bemoaned “lack” of Japanese students studying abroad. “Surely a sign a success that fewer people feel the need to make such a consuming investment?”

    It was very, very clear that he had literally never even had such an argument put to him.

  21. So it’s like repairing bicycles then? (Repair imported bicycles > make bicycles for domestic consumption > make low-quality cheap gear for export > make high-quality expensive gear for export.) The end state is reached when people come to Japan to learn “Western” things taught in Japanese, particularly if they come from the West itself.

    My point about Andrews and Coulter is this: The last paragraph, paraphrased, says “You shouldn’t complain if the man who murdered your father gets off scot-free because his brother is the mayor, particularly if you yourself got a job from the mayor last year.” This is either snark or quite precisely feudalism, as nepotism is just feudalism by another name. The comparison to Coulter is not in detail, but in the “either snark or X” interpretation.

  22. I hadn’t thought of it that way, though maybe this is already happening–has long been happening?–however invisibly as modern telecommunications lessen the need for actually “going there” to complete the full cycle.

    (Thanks for the clarification re: Andrews. I guess there’s no need to prolong the derail by defending further against what feel like misreadings of a proposition I actually disagree with, but for the record at least that doesn’t quite strike me as an accurate paraphrase. It might be a local excess of charity on my part, but surely in the Year of Our Lord 2018 if anything we suffer more from a global excess of outgroup simplification bias than its opposite.)

  23. I would be surprised if even one billion English speakers have ever read a book by an African writer.

    Albert Camus, Naguib Mahfouz, Nelson Mandela, JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, and Wilbur Smith are all African and all very successful writers in English (some, obviously, in translation). Wilbur Smith alone has sold an estimated 100 million books. Mandela has surely sold millions of copies of “Long Walk to Freedom”. I’m not aware of a standard multiplier for estimating how many readers you get per copy on average, but (given the number of Wilbur Smith novels in every library in Britain) I’d think that it’s substantial at least in his case.

    But, of course, there is significant overlap. People who have read one Wilbur Smith novel have probably read several. People who have read Coetzee are much more likely to have read Gordimer as well.

    And there are only 1.1 billion English speakers in the world; gloomily, I think I might be surprised to learn that one billion English speakers have read a book, full stop.

  24. gloomily, I think I might be surprised to learn that one billion English speakers have read a book, full stop.

    I share your gloom.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    ajay: I don’t think that Albert Camus considered himself as “African” in any way. In French “Nord- Africain” refers to the Berber and Arab populations of the countries of the Maghreb, not to the colonists of European origin (French, Spanish, Italian), who considered themselves (and had the status of) full French citizens. In the novels I have read, the landscapes and the way of life in coastal cities with a warm climate could refer to the Northern or Eastern Mediterranean shores just as well as to the Southern ones, and the native inhabitants, if mentioned at all, are only part of the landscape, as it were (including the featureless, nameless Arab killed almost by chance in L’étranger).

    While Algeria was a French colony there arose a fairly considerable literature in French by local Muslim and Jewish writers educated in French schools but very aware of their own cultural traditions as well as their history under colonization. Those people could be included under “African literature in French”, not Camus.

  26. I don’t think that Albert Camus considered himself as “African” in any way.

    How he considered himself is irrelevant; he was in fact African, being from Africa. Attitudes about the northern bits of Africa not “really” being African are as racist as the assumption that ruins of great cities in Africa must have been built by people from elsewhere.

  27. So a French writer in Vietnam during the colonial period, writing in French, would be considered a Vietnamese author? (Such as the author of L’amant)

    What about a French writer in New Caledonia? Or a Czech writer living in France and writing in French?

  28. Was Jesus Christ Asian?

  29. Was Jesus Christ Asian?

    That’s an easy one: yes. (Assuming by “Asian” you mean “from what the Greeks originally called Asia.”) And all those images of a blond Jesus with European features are, of course, racist as fuck.

  30. So a French writer in Vietnam during the colonial period, writing in French, would be considered a Vietnamese author?

    There was no “Vietnam” during the colonial period, and a country is not a continent, so it’s a totally different matter.

  31. I suppose I am a Montclairien, then, since I was born in Montclair, N.J. The fact that I have no connections there, except that it so happened that my mother’s gynecologist practiced out of a hospital there, could be construed as relevant. But I think it would be an abuse of language to call the author of Catriona a Samoan, even though he wrote it in Samoa. (He does bear a Samoan name, Tusitala ‘storyteller’, which has been adopted by ethnic Samoans even if he did give it to himself.)

  32. J.W. Brewer says:

    Hat: how do you feel about traditional Ethiopian icons that depict Christ, His Mother, the apostles, etc. with typically Ethiopian skin color / hair / facial features? Just as bad as 15th century Flemish paintings that make the same subjects look typically Flemish?

    On the broader issue, I know this sounds crazy but maybe “Africa” is one of those words that have different scopes of meaning in different contexts. And ditto “African.”

    Consider the following pair of definitions used by the U.S. Census Bureau: “White – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.” Part of the issue is probably that “Sub-Saharan Africa” is a mouthful, which leads to it being clipped to “Africa” and thus potentially creating ambiguity.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    LH: About Camus:
    How he considered himself is irrelevant; he was in fact African, being from Africa.

    He was born in Africa in geographical terms, but not in cultural terms. Do you consider yourself as “indigenous American” just like the Dakotas or Sioux?

    Attitudes about the northern bits of Africa not “really” being African are as racist as the assumption that ruins of great cities in Africa must have been built by people from elsewhere.

    I never said the the northern bits of Africa are not really African. But there were two populations in Algeria, one traditional in languages and customs and the other one recently superimposed on it, not assimilated to it (and later expelled after a bitter war and reintegrated into the former colonial power). Camus definitely belonged to the second population. As I mentioned above, the traditional population came to include many writers in French whose work is culturally as well as geographically located in North Africa.

  34. Hat: how do you feel about traditional Ethiopian icons that depict Christ, His Mother, the apostles, etc. with typically Ethiopian skin color / hair / facial features? Just as bad as 15th century Flemish paintings that make the same subjects look typically Flemish?

    Those are all perfectly normal; in those days nobody had any concept of historical difference, and it was natural to depict Christ (and the ancients and everyone else) as being just like the people around you. It became racist when Europeans lost their innocence in such matters and knew intellectually that Jesus, being a Middle Easterner, looked like a Middle Easterner. At that point, to continue depicting him as not just a European but a hyper-Aryan became pure racism.

    Consider the following pair of definitions used by the U.S. Census Bureau: “White – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.” Part of the issue is probably that “Sub-Saharan Africa” is a mouthful, which leads to it being clipped to “Africa” and thus potentially creating ambiguity.

    Are you seriously suggesting that “Africa” somehow really means “Sub-Saharan Africa”? The U.S. Census Bureau has historically been as racist as the rest of racist America, and the whole idea of the “Negroid race” as it used to be called — the “real” inhabitants of the “real” Africa, the backward place with the tigers and malaria and safaris — and the consequent desire to separate the whiter-looking peoples to the north from them is, to repeat myself, racist as fuck. I’m sorry if anyone thinks I’m being too “politically correct” by talking about racism, but it’s inescapable in this context.

  35. Jesus was Asian, but Moses was African.

    Makes sense

  36. He was born in Africa in geographical terms, but not in cultural terms. Do you consider yourself as “indigenous American” just like the Dakotas or Sioux?

    Like Bathrobe and JC (Montclair, forsooth!) you are creating inappropriate analogies. Of course I’m not an “indigenous American”; that term presumably refers to what are now generally called Native Americans. I am an American because I was born to American parents and grew up in American culture, even though I was born in Japan. The difference between me and Camus is that he identified with the land of his birth and claimed to be as Algerian as anyone else and thus as entitled to determine the fate of Algeria as anyone else, which is why his refusal to admit the possibility of an independent Algeria enraged non-pied-noir Algerians. It’s as if I were to say “I’m as Japanese as the emperor because I was born in Japan, therefore I should be able to decide about the fate of Japan.” It would be ludicrous.

    I never said the the northern bits of Africa are not really African.

    No, I was talking about the people who believe that, of whom there are many.

    But there were two populations in Algeria, one traditional in languages and customs and the other one recently superimposed on it, not assimilated to it

    Yes, it’s a messy situation, and there are many such in the post-Columbus world; each has to be evaluated on its own terms. My take on the North African situation is that North Africa is just as much part of Africa as any other, though of course its history and cultures are quite different; it’s fine to talk about those differences and make necessary distinctions, but I am very suspicious of any claim that North African isn’t “really” Africa because of what usually underlies it, just like I’m suspicious of attempts to “prove” that there are “really” racial differences (and yes, I know about recent developments in the field) because of the bad faith that usually lies behind such attempts (a la Bell Curve).

  37. marie-lucie says:

    LH: all those images of a blond Jesus with European features are, of course, racist as fuck.

    I don’t think I have ever seen a blond, blue-eyed Jesus. Various degrees of brownness of hair and eyes, yes. At a time when few people encountered others very different-looking from themselves, painters gave Jesus features corresponding to their own ideal. The best-known ones in Europe were made in Italy or Spain, where most people are not very fair, rather than in the very North of Europe where a large percentage of people are indeed blond and blue-eyed. In other countries, of course artists used their own interpretation of ideal features.

    “White – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa

    This was apparently a wider definition that those of Americans of the same period who did not include Italians or Greeks (and a few others) among “Whites”. Many present-day Americans would be surprised to see “Arabs” in the same category.

  38. J.W. Brewer says:

    Sometimes “European” means in context “Continental, rather than British/Irish.” Other times it might mean in context “Western-or-Central European, rather than Russian.” Language can be like that.

    Here’s a randomly-googled-up list from 2017 of “essential African novels” from Publishers Weekly, created by asking 5 “African” novelists to each name two “African” selections. All five of the choosers and all ten of the chosen are sub-Saharan, which seems unlikely to be pure coincidence. Feel free to complain to PW. (To be fair, one of the two the Nigerian fellow chose was by J.M. Coetzee, so there was not a hard racial screen in place.)

    I should also note that one of the 10 chosen, Ben Okri (born in Nigeria, raised partly there and partly in England), may well be the first African-born writer to win the extremely prestigious Bad Sex In Fiction award conferred annually by the Literary Review, which I take to be a hopeful indication of the diversification of the canon.

    https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/73445-10-essential-african-novels.html

  39. marie-lucie says:

    LH: I’m suspicious of attempts to “prove” that there are “really” racial differences

    In the US the genetic composition of the “Black” segment of the population (and of a portion of the “white” one) makes such attempts particularly worthless: the so-called “one drop” rule which caused a number of very European-looking people to be classified as Black. See for instance the recent bride of Prince Harry, who I was very surprised to read was described as having “African features”. Or the recent choice of a “black” woman to be the next James Bond! She is a woman, yes, but (at least to me) totally European-looking.

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    marie-lucie: Persons of Arab-immigrant ancestry are “white” for U.S. census purposes but not, these days, for Canadian census purposes, as I understand it. Go figure. (And whatever may have been the case with various sorts of popular or social prejudice, immigrants from Italy, Greece, Syria, etc. have always been “white” in a legal sense in the U.S., including back in the bad old days when being considered “white” in the legal sense could be of considerable importance to ones rights.)

  41. But I think it would be an abuse of language to call the author of Catriona a Samoan, even though he wrote it in Samoa.

    Not really parallel. RLS wasn’t born in Samoa, he just lived there. Camus was born in Africa. If countries like Algeria aren’t part of Africa, you’ll have to take that up with (among others) the African Union, which has no problem admitting them to membership or appointing their rulers as chairman.

    As for Publishers’ Weekly, note that Wikipedia lists Camus among “African writers” and this list http://whatsonafrica.org/50-books-by-african-women-that-everyone-should-read/ includes Egyptian and Moroccan writers – as indeed it should.
    If North African writers get neglected as Africans, I would speculate that’s because they tend to write in Arabic (rather than English or French) which reduces their profile, and also gets them lumped in with other Arabic writers from the Middle East.

  42. Or the recent choice of a “black” woman to be the next James Bond!

    The who what now? Have I missed something?

  43. See for instance the recent bride of Prince Harry, who I was very surprised to read was described as having “African features”.

    Prince Harry himself has some African features. His hair’s very like that of the pharaoh Rameses II – another pale-skinned, red-haired royal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramesses_II#Mummy

  44. It became racist when Europeans lost their innocence in such matters and knew intellectually that Jesus, being a Middle Easterner, looked like a Middle Easterner. At that point, to continue depicting him as not just a European but a hyper-Aryan became pure racism.

    I think you have to draw a distinction here between modern representations of ancient religious as opposed to historical figures, even in cases–like with an Aramaic-speaking Galilean–where we can ethnically locate the former as plausibly as the later. I refuse to believe that you truly believe Chinese, Ethiopian, Mexican, Irish, Italian, Indian, Samoan, and African-American Christians who prefer to venerate religious images after their own ethnic persuasion are “racist as fuck.”

    Think what this would entail, practically. I’m not sure what you intend by “Middle Eastern-looking,” but you’re well aware that many, say, Lebanese/Syrians/Jordanians–I dare say a plausible proxy for Galilee–are near completely indistinguishable from their overseas cousins in, well, Southern Italy or Greece. Now, the insistence that all portrayals of Jesus therefore look suitably Mediterranean would indeed have the benefit of eliminating the blond Jesuses that set you off, and yet…would “But his hair is dark and the skin-tone slightly different!” really placate the devout Christian in Botswana angry at the accusation that he be counted “racist as fuck” for not willingly replacing the black Jesus portrait over his bed with a picture of (what would undoubtedly seem to him as) a white person?

    It is a clear and indisputable fact that some Caucasian Christians have wanted, and do want, their Jesuses “Aryan” because of racism. This is bad and offensive. But I don’t think we can get to virtue by simply reversing this in such a straightforward way. Letting people of all ethnic groups venerate images they like–even if this will involve letting off the racist fraction of one of those groups!–is clearly a far, far superior settlement to insisting that the great majority of the world’s non-Caucasian worshipers are racist if they don’t swap out their images for pictures of a non-blond Caucasian? I appreciate the contemporary, American cultural significance of confronting, say, your stereotype of a bigoted white nativist Christian with the fact that Jesus looked like the sort of people he wants to shut out under a travel ban. But doesn’t it strike you as sort of weird in the world-level big picture to insist that the recognition of Jesus as phenotypically belonging to a slightly different Caucasian subgroup is really all that important?

  45. marie-lucie says:

    LH: The difference between me and Camus is that he identified with the land of his birth and claimed to be as Algerian as anyone else and thus as entitled to determine the fate of Algeria as anyone else, which is why his refusal to admit the possibility of an independent Algeria enraged non-pied-noir Algerians.

    Camus identified with the “pied-noir” culture in which he was raised and with “l’Algérie française”, the continuation of the colonial status.

  46. J.W. Brewer says:

    I believe the maximalist Algérie-française faction had a slogan that would come out in English something like “the Mediterranean flows through the middle of France like the Seine flows through the middle of Paris,” thus rhetorically attempting to make Algerian independence seem as conceptually silly as Left-Bank independence. Europe-v-Africa (at least Africa-including-North-Africa) is not a primary subdivision of humanity in that worldview.

  47. I really don’t like the designation “Aryan” used to denote light-skinned, European-appearing Caucasians. This bit of erroneous nomenclature is only well known because the Nazis useful it. And the Nazis, by the way, murdered hundreds of thousands of Romani in the name of Aryan racial purity, in spite if the fact that the Romani were the most authentically Aryan population in Europe.

  48. About half of Syrians I know personally are actually blond.

    I was told that this is not how majority of Syrians look, but not that rare either.

  49. I don’t think I have ever seen a blond, blue-eyed Jesus.

    Lucky you! Believe me, it’s a thing in American Christian circles. Although, to be fair, it is more common to show him with wavy brown hair. As long as he looks white.

    I refuse to believe that you truly believe Chinese, Ethiopian, Mexican, Irish, Italian, Indian, Samoan, and African-American Christians who prefer to venerate religious images after their own ethnic persuasion are “racist as fuck.”

    No, of course not; I’m talking about white people who can’t deal with a non-white Savior. As you know, it doesn’t work to treat other situations as equivalent to white racism, which is a unique historical phenomenon as far as I know.

  50. In general, I hope people will assume the best intentions on my part; it’s hard to talk about this stuff, and (as an American who has spent his adult life learning more and more about the less savory aspects of the background of his country — I’m currently reading Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America, and boy, were they barbarous) I easily slip from rational discussion into rant mode. That’s one of the reasons I focus the blog on language and literature!

  51. a country is not a continent, so it’s a totally different matter

    The question is, which continents, if any, make sense to generalize over? Perhaps we can speak of African writers (including North African ones) and make some sort of sense. I very much doubt that it makes sense to talk of Asian writers, as if it were all one whether the writer is from South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, West Asia, or North Asia.

  52. Sure, and the various continents are variously fraught: Africa most, Asia next, Europe increasingly so these days but mainly intra-continental freighting; I don’t think anybody cares what or who gets tagged “Antarctic.”

  53. J.W. Brewer says:

    There appears to be an actual human being out there with a website who has written an apparently unironic sentence beginning “As a contemporary Antarctic novelist …” I guess there’s no Purity-of-Antarctic-Literature enforcement agency out there to check her bona fides and shut her down if she’s faking it.

  54. But Hat, while again I do understand your target here, I submit that it just won’t work to simply react–with however good intentions–from *within* what I think you would agree is the cratered and twisted thoughtscape centuries of racism has left us.

    Take what you said about people not being able to accept a non-white savior. Now, it would be absolutely obtuse of me to pretend I’m not aware of the very real, very lamentable referent of such a statement. I know that what you mean is something like “(the subgroup of thus racially self-defining) white people who can’t accept that Jesus was (from a region whose people they consider to be, with prejudice) non-white.” I accept that this referent is a serious problem.

    But the real world beyond the American culture war makes me hesitate at your framing even if I understand it. If we observe that throughout the world many local Christian communities gravitate toward ethnically localized religious images, why would that trend be completely absent in the West? Should it nevertheless be suppressed only in the West because of the history? That just doesn’t seem workable to me.

    But there’s a bigger problem: phenotypically, (as far as I understand?) genetically, and even for significant stretches historically, from a non-Caucasian point of view surely most Levantines and the “white” that Europeans fall into in the US are not even that distinct. Outside the bizarro context of American racism, the statement “Jesus wasn’t white, he was ethnically like a modern Syrian” borders on nonsensical. Should we ignore this point?

    “Joke’s on you, bigot, your savior was non-white!” To me this feels weirdly close to accepting the bigot’s own claims about racial distinctions, no?

  55. Should it nevertheless be suppressed only in the West because of the history? That just doesn’t seem workable to me.

    Workable or not, that’s what we have to aim for. The history of most of the world has been poisoned by the racism and violence of the West, and the West has to work on that. I take your point, of course, and everything is complicated as always, but it seems to me we can’t simply say “oh well, that’s human nature” and let it go at that. Mind you, I don’t expect anything to actually happen (except perhaps for things to get even worse: see your daily newspaper), but I can’t help venting about it. The Western Christian’s desire for a blue-eyed Christ is very different in impact, even if not in psychological origin, from the Nubian’s desire for a Nubian-looking Christ. And “the bizarro context of American racism,” sadly, can no longer be dismissed as a receding tide that could be ignored because it would go away any day now.

  56. Also, thank you for your thoughtful responses, which cause me to reexamine my own postulates and conclusions.

  57. Well, I don’t disagree with you that it’s a tide unlikely to wash out soon, that’s for sure. Or that the valence is different because history has been.

    Probably this is something like the lumper/splitter debate. Work with human nature as given because it’s not going to change anyway, or demand that things change because it’s important and sometimes it seems that’s actually worked? I’m sure there’s a more concise way to frame such debates but it’s not occurring to me now.

  58. Work with human nature as given because it’s not going to change anyway, or demand that things change because it’s important and sometimes it seems that’s actually worked?

    Oh, I’m all about working with human nature as given because it’s not going to change anyway — attempts to create New Humans have always been disastrous. I think in order for things to change we have to work within the framework of human nature as given and provide the necessary incentives, positive and negative, to make the desired changes happen.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    See for instance the recent bride of Prince Harry, who I was very surprised to read was described as having “African features”. Or the recent choice of a “black” woman to be the next James Bond! She is a woman, yes, but (at least to me) totally European-looking.

    I remember Colin “Paleface” Powell being on TV for days, perhaps a few weeks, before the TV told me he was supposed to be black. I hadn’t noticed on my own.

    Prince Harry himself has some African features. His hair’s very like that of the pharaoh Rameses II – another pale-skinned, red-haired royal.

    Those aren’t African features, they’re dead features. Most mammoths had dark brown fur in life, some were blond, but red fur occurs exclusively as a decay product.

  60. Splitting the world up is, of course, arbitrary. As a hunk of dirt Africa works better than Europe, but North Africa and the Middle East has traditionally been treated as a unit, hiving off one part of Africa. This may be racist (“our familiar world vs darkest Africa” “Christendom vs the Muslims), but if it is a lot of it goes back a very long way, maybe Roman times or even earlier when talking about Africa. Rather than worrying why sub-Saharan Africa isn’t usually included within areas of classical civilisation to the current day, we perhaps need to build up a sturdier history of Africa that does address this. And if you want to talk about racism, anything that splits off Europe from Eurasia is equally racist. We need Eurasian literary prizes, Eurasiavision, etc. The paradigms and traditions are equally hoary and equally culpable. (The use of terms like Old World for Europe are similarly Eurocentric. The whole language is steeped in this kind of thing.)

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    I lived in West Africa during the period when Colin Powell was often in the news. It never crossed my mind that he was “black” until I noticed Americans making a fuss about this supposed attribute.

  62. Splitting the world up is, of course, arbitrary.

    Agreed.

    we perhaps need to build up a sturdier history of Africa that does address this.

    Enthusiastically agreed, although that upbuilding has been going on for quite a while now — it’s more a matter of getting it into the general consciousness.

  63. J.W. Brewer says:

    My high-school Latin classroom had a map on the wall of the ancient Mediterranean world, in the good old days when it was all ruled from Rome. Sub-Saharan Africa was irrelevant to the map, as was Scandinavia to the north and India to the east. That particular combination of bits of Europe/Asia/Africa subsequently got Christianized (my Latin teacher didn’t focus on that part) and then the οἰκουμένη got split in half by the rise of Islam. The ways in which the histories of other parts of the world became entwined with that of the still-Christian fragment of the old οἰκουμένη (now d/b/a “Europe” as northward and northeastward expansion of the οἰκουμένη partially offset the losses of Asian and African territory) varied considerably both in nature and in timing. Obviously there are other ways to tell the story of history in Africa than focusing on how its history gets tangled up with that of the οἰκουμένη-and-successors, but I don’t know if any of those alternative approaches would end up treating the continent as a whole as a sensible scope of discussion in the way that the Roman-ruled shores of the Mediterranean plus their hinterlands form a sensible scope of discussion. The massive expansion of Bantu-speakers from a fairly small part of the continent to cover most of it starting circa three millenia ago could be a very interesting organizing narrative, although we of course suffer from the lack of written records, but the fact that it ended up covering most, but not all, of the continent is part of what would need to be accounted for.

    And other societies can approach world history in a way centered around their own experiences and perspectives. If a Japanese textbook’s approach is “and then in 1854 the Americans turned up,” followed by a brief backstory summarizing high points of what happened in between the settlement of Jamestown and the election of Franklin Pierce, that may suit their needs just fine.

  64. During apartheid days I read South African narratives which made much of the fact that the Bantus arrived there after the whites. There are histories and there are histories.

  65. Obviously there are other ways to tell the story of history in Africa than focusing on how its history gets tangled up with that of the οἰκουμένη-and-successors, but I don’t know if any of those alternative approaches would end up treating the continent as a whole as a sensible scope of discussion in the way that the Roman-ruled shores of the Mediterranean plus their hinterlands form a sensible scope of discussion.

    But it doesn’t make sense to treat Asia as a whole either; the whole idea of treating a continent as a whole is kind of silly. Even “the Roman-ruled shores of the Mediterranean plus their hinterlands” doesn’t cover all of Europe (whatever that is). The histories of North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and Southern Africa can be taught separately, just as are the histories of the corresponding chunks of Asia, with remarks on interrelations as needed. I recently read a book on the part of Africa that’s now the two Congos plus bits of Cameroon and Angola (plus bits of the Lake District), and it was a fascinating look at a sensible chunk of territory (historically speaking).

  66. Mind you, I don’t expect anything to actually happen (except perhaps for things to get even worse: see your daily newspaper)

    The newspaper isn’t a good source on this. As Marshall McLuhan said, bad news always outsells good news, which is why Hell is so much more salient a concept in the world’s religions than Heaven. Quite a few things have been improving for the last millennium, at increasing rates at that, and the number of such things is also increasing over the centuries. The past doesn’t of course predict the future, and things may well collapse as Etienne supposes, though I’m not sure even he seriously foresees a worldwide return to human sacrifice. However, what is clear is that we are not on the downward slope today.

  67. @LH: The difference between me and Camus is that he identified with the land of his birth and claimed to be as Algerian as anyone else and thus as entitled to determine the fate of Algeria as anyone else…

    How many generations of local-born ancestors does it take for a person to claim the right to be as native as anyone else?

  68. It would be interesting to have a “World Cup of Literature”, dividing the world into different zones, with a final worldwide playoff. A rival to the Nobel Prize, I guess. The big problem would be the division into zones 🙂

  69. This discussion has gone in some interesting directions; thanks everybody!

    I’m happy to count all the authors mentioned as Africans – but, among them, only Nelson Mandela ever really faced the choice between writing in a colonial language and “returning to native languages whose readership is comparatively smaller”, and his fame as a writer cannot be separated from his much greater fame as a liberator. (Coetzee was an Afrikaner, but according to Wikipedia he grew up speaking English at home; Mahfouz was educated in Arabic all the way from primary school to university, and could hardly have seriously considered writing his own novels in English.) For people like Camus or Gordimer or Smith, English/French wasn’t a language of schooling and administration, foreign to their parents’ daily life; it was their own language in every possible sense of the word. And, as descendants of European settlers or immigrants, they grew up with the key cultural reference points of metropolitan English/French speakers at home as well as at school, and considered that culture their own. That makes it a lot easier for them to appeal to a “worldwide” audience still very much centred on the West.

  70. There appears to be an actual human being out there with a website who has written an apparently unironic sentence beginning “As a contemporary Antarctic novelist …

    Well, that works by analogy with, say, “detective novelist”. She (presumably) writes novels about the Antarctic, she doesn’t live there. Just as Dorothy Sayers was not an actual policewoman.

    Those aren’t African features, they’re dead features. Most mammoths had dark brown fur in life, some were blond, but red fur occurs exclusively as a decay product.

    That’s interesting, but Prince Harry is (despite his red hair) actually still alive. Trust me on this, I’ve seen him moving around and everything. And when Rameses II was alive, he, like Prince Harry, apparently had red hair.

  71. What else could you have in place of “detective”? Cowboy novelist? Could one talk about an ancient historian? (A Roman historian, definitely.)

  72. How many generations of local-born ancestors does it take for a person to claim the right to be as native as anyone else?

    A good question to which there can be no definitive answer.

  73. I had to wonder if the Antarctic novelist was from Antarctic France, i.e. Brazil.

  74. “Antarctic novelist” could be a great movie line – like “unemployed in Greenland”

  75. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re “how many generations,” I think a brief survey of the 20th century’s many episodes of ethnic cleansing will show that there is no fixed rule. The pieds-noirs driven out of Algeria c. 1960 might have been from families that had lived there for let’s say 75 years on average (I don’t know about Camus’ own family tree), with the complication that the Sephardim whose families had been there for more like 450 years eventually tended to get lumped in with the descendants of the late-19th-century incomers. The Greeks driven out of Asia Minor c. 1923 were in many cases from families that had lived there since something-or-other B.C., and the Jewish community of Egypt driven out after 1948 was of nearly comparable antiquity. The Volksdeutsch driven out of many parts of Eastern Europe in and after 1945 were in between — typically from families that had been there for centuries but not millenia. It’s all about who has superior-in-context military capability and the willingness to use it.

  76. To quote my namesake, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

  77. While my “World Cup of Literature” suggestion was made partly in jest, upon second thoughts it might hold certain benefits.

    It has the potential to galvanise publishers in the countries of each zone, spurring cross-border cooperation and competition, and possibly boosting translation into English and other languages (in order to make literature accessible to judges and wider audiences).

    It has the potential to attract attention to and provide publicity for literature in hitherto neglected areas. (Potential dust jacket blurbs such as “World Cup Literary Prize for Central America 2019”).

    Of course, given the current lack of interest in translated literature, it might have no impact at all…

  78. marie-lucie says:

    Lameen: For people like Camus or Gordimer or Smith, English/French wasn’t a language of schooling and administration, foreign to their parents’ daily life; it was their own language in every possible sense of the word. And, as descendants of European settlers or immigrants, they grew up with the key cultural reference points of metropolitan English/French speakers at home as well as at school, and considered that culture their own.

    Absolutely!

    Alex: How many generations of local-born ancestors does it take for a person to claim the right to be as native as anyone else?

    The key is not where a person or their ancestors were born, it is whether they have assimilated into the local culture or not. In the US millions of immigrants from Europe have totally assimilated to (white) American culture in a couple of generations at the most and only a few minor or symbolic details, such as family recipes or some cherished proverbs, differentiate their way of life from that of their neighbours. Witness the Trump family! Persons of French or English or other European origins settling in colonies in Africa (and earlier in the Americas) did not at all try to assimilate to the existing local cultures but joined groups of similar origin whose goal was to recreate as much as possible of their original culture under new, hopefully more desirable conditions (for themselves, often regardless of the effect on the locals). The Spanish and Italian settlers coming to Algeria after the French conquest blended with the French population there, not with the local Muslim culture.

    I am not “white-bashing” here: the Japanese settling in Hokkaido just about wiped out the Ainu culture there, for similar reasons.

  79. Kim Stanley Robinson is an Antarctic novelist (the relevant novel being, of course, Antarctica), and actually lived in Antarctica for a while under the auspices of the (U.S.) National Science Foundation, which runs a program for artists and writers who wish to work in Antarctica. Other Antarctic novelists in this sense are Sarah Andrews, Elizabeth Arthur, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, and Kathleen Keeley. As for Robin Mundy, the person quoted above, has actually worked as a field assistant (grunt/dogsbody) and tour guide in Antarctica, including both summering and wintering there. I’d say she has the best claim to the title.

    I suppose Le Guin could be called an Antarctic short-story writer, though she never got there: her 1982 short story “Sur” is the journal of a member of the first all-female expedition to the South Pole, although it arrives in 1909 rather than 1993. While I’m at it, her last word from Earthsea.

  80. The key is not where a person or their ancestors were born, it is whether they have assimilated into the local culture or not. In the US millions of immigrants from Europe have totally assimilated to (white) American culture in a couple of generations at the most and only a few minor or symbolic details, such as family recipes or some cherished proverbs, differentiate their way of life from that of their neighbours. Witness the Trump family! Persons of French or English or other European origins settling in colonies in Africa (and earlier in the Americas) did not at all try to assimilate to the existing local cultures but joined groups of similar origin whose goal was to recreate as much as possible of their original culture under new, hopefully more desirable conditions

    You’re contradicting yourself there, I think, because the Trump family has certainly not assimilated into the local culture of North America; they have “joined groups of similar origin whose goal was to recreate as much as possible of their original culture under new, hopefully more desirable conditions” specifically groups of European origin whose goal was to recreate European, specifically British, culture under new and more desirable conditions. If they’d assimilated into the local culture, they’d be wearing beads and moccasins.

  81. Buzz Aldrin – Lunar writer…

  82. Not really contradictory because m-l’s scenario involves a two-stage process:

    1. Europeans ignored local culture and made themselves the norm
    2. Later newcomers fitted in with this new norm.

    The same thing happened with Italians and Spaniards in Algeria, assimilating to the new French norm rather than the original indigenous norms.

  83. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks Bathrobe! That is exactly what I meant, and it corresponds to historical reality whether we like it or not.

    ajay, You must have read my comment very fast or very casually. I wrote that European immigrants assimilated to (white) American culture, in order to make it clear that I did not mean the descendants of the pre-Columbian inhabitants.

  84. One thing to add to Marie-Lucie’s excellent summation is that it is or at least used to be the norm to have ethnically stratified societies in many places. Sometimes there was town/country split as well with rural population predominantly of one ethnicity and townsfolk of another one or a mixture. Endless discussions who came where first and has a right to dictate to the others what to do is one of those European things that better would remain unexported, but alas.

  85. @SFReader: One of the things that always impressed my about Goldman’s script for The Princess Bride was how well he pared down some of the extended jokes to just a single line, like “… unemployed, in Greenland!” In the book, there is a lot more about how Fezzik ended up stranded in Greenland, but the movie line manages to be even funnier, probably because there is never any context to explain it.

  86. J.W. Brewer says:

    The European settlers in North Africa did not do as well as the European settlers of North America in overwhelming/displacing/marginalizing the previously-dominant local culture, although a large part of that may simply have been a matter of numbers. Of course, the dominant culture of Algeria just prior to the imposition of French rule c. 1830 was neither original nor indigenous, since the “indigenes” who eventually expelled the pieds-noirs mostly spoke a language and practiced a religion that had both been imported by a prior set of conquerors within historical times.

  87. David Marjanović says:

    And when Rameses II was alive, he, like Prince Harry, apparently had red hair.

    Any evidence for this would basically have to be genetic. Is there any?

    the current lack of interest in translated literature

    That’s “translated into English” as opposed to “translated into German”…

  88. That’s “translated into English” as opposed to “translated into German”…

    Yes, alas, us anglophones are an insular lot.

  89. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: the dominant culture of Algeria just prior to the imposition of French rule c. 1830 was neither original nor indigenous, since the “indigenes” who eventually expelled the pieds-noirs mostly spoke a language and practiced a religion that had both been imported by a prior set of conquerors within historical times.

    With this definition it would be extremely difficult to find “indigenes” in most populations. The Irish are supposed to descend from an invasive people too, long before they adopted Christianity and before they were more recently taken over by the English. In any case one can make a difference between people occupying a territory for centuries, having established a local culture and traditions, and a recent conqueror uninterested in assimilating to that local culture and instead preserving their own in the newly conquered territory with little regard to the occupants they found there..

    I think that while most “indigenous” city dwellers spoke Arabic and were ethnically Arabs, the majority of the rural population was Berber (“Kabyle”) and spoke Berber rather than Arabic. Adopting Islam did not totally change that original culture and population.

    Algeria is a huge country, not limited to the area close to the Mediterranean but extending quite far South into the Sahara desert, where the “indigenous” population is the Tuareg even though ancient artworks in some areas bear witness to a time when the region was fertile and supported at least one ethnic group apparently distinct from the current inhabitants.

  90. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: Persons of Arab-immigrant ancestry are “white” for U.S. census purposes but not, these days, for Canadian census purposes,

    And neither are Europeans nor many others who would fit the American definition..

    According to reports I read fairly recently, there used to be a “white” category in Canada, and probably other “colours” too, but as people outside of the officially white group were increasingly identified by national origin for census purposes, the “white” category was the only one that did not differentiate, for instance, Ukrainians from Scots. This has now been changed, so nobody is officially “white” or another colour. Of course, people whose parents or grandparents were of different national origins may wonder how to fill relevant forms, but there are probably regulations about this (perhaps go by father’s origin?).

  91. US and Canadian situations are incomparable. White/black distinction in the US is the result of slavery. This is the root of “race” line on various demographic forms including census. All the rest of the system grew basically out of b/w distinction and doesn’t make any sense apart from insistence that every part of the world should belong to some race. Attempts by other countries, which do not have the same baggage as the US (and, of course, have some of their own), to emulate American system would be stupid.

  92. OK, if we’re discussing the “indigeneity” of Algerians then I really do have to weigh in…

    First of all, if adopting a new language and religion makes you cease to be indigenous, then hardly any Native American or Aboriginal groups could claim to be indigenous today. Algerians, by and large, are descended from the same people who lived there before the Arabs arrived, whether they speak Arabic today or not, and whether they consider themselves Arab or not (that goes even for the ones with unbroken patrilineal Arab descent – monolinear contributions to one’s ancestry decline exponentially as you go back in time).

    But, more importantly, “indigenous” had an official legal meaning in colonial Algeria, one that did not cover European settlers. The concept was used specifically to exclude the locals, Arab or Berber or whatever, from full citizenship, and to define them as subject to a special set of laws, the Code de l’Indigénat. Local Jews were initially defined as indigenous, then granted full citizenship in the 1870s and thus deemed no longer indigenous for legal purposes. The struggle for independence in Algeria was essentially a struggle for indigenous rights, and as such primarily involved those on whom the status of “indigenous” had been imposed.

  93. “Any evidence for this would basically have to be genetic. Is there any?”

    No; yes.

  94. Google “Rameses II mummy”.

  95. @marie-lucie: The key is not where a person or their ancestors were born, it is whether they have assimilated into the local culture or not. In the US millions of immigrants from Europe have totally assimilated to (white) American culture in a couple of generations at the most…

    If a country’s culture is a patchwork of the cultures of its constituent communities, one can only assimilate into the former through one of the latter. (It’s a bit like Switzerland’s citizenship: you can only acquire it by being accepted as a citizen of one of its cantons.)

  96. marie-lucie says:

    Lameen, thank you for pointing this out. I grew up in France at the time of the Algerian war, which let’s say made a deep impression on me. I had never heard of the “code de l’indigénat” or even the word “indigénat” (as opposed to “indigène” which I never heard applied to Algerians, only to Sub-Saharans). As time went on the word must have become derogatory and therefore replaced. In my time there were two classes of inhabitants in Algeria: “Français” (people of European or Jewish origin), and “Français musulmans d’Algérie”, so the official classification was religious not “racial” (even if the practical implications were the same). I think that most people in France were not aware that members of the second group had fewer rights and were entitled to fewer social benefits than the first group.

  97. David Marjanović says:

    No; yes.

    One click away from Wikipedia, I found the paper from 1987. Page 122:

    Restaient les cheveux, d’un intérêt exceptionnel en raison de leur état de conservation : fins, souples, faiblement ondulés par place, d’un blond-roux tirant sur le jaunâtre.

    De section ovalaire, et recoupant toutes les autres observations anthropométriques, ils sont caractéristiques de cheveux d’un « leucoderme cymotriche », proche des méditerranéens de la Préhistoire, tel un berbère, de peau blanche — et non d’un nubien, de peau noire, contrairement à ce qui avait pu, un moment, être soutenu.

    Les examens microscopiques révèlent une morphologie pratiquement intacte et on y retrouve des pigments roux : c’était donc un vrai roux ; c’est seulement au niveau  macrofibrillaire qu’on décèle quelques perturbations, probablement dues à une désagrégation partielle des protéines non-kératiniques.

    Mammoth hair, and other hair in a similar state of preservation, is definitely not yellowish.

    Leucoderma, however, appears to be vitiligo; that’s where “Leucoderma” and “Leukoderma” redirect, and it’s not what Prince Harry or I have. I, for one, simply don’t make eumelanin – just phaeomelanin in, apparently, the expected amounts.

    Eumelanin and phaeomelanin form melanosomes of different sizes & shapes that can be distinguished in electron microscopy (even in Jurassic feathers sometimes). That’s not mentioned in the paper.

  98. Lameen, thank you for pointing this out.

    Seconded; I was not aware of that history.

  99. The extremely complicated history of French Algeria seems to very little known outside the French-speaking world. Some people know that it was a very unusual colonial situation, in part because it was so close to l’Hexagone, but not much more. I only got interested in the topic after I stumbled upon a documentary about de Gaulle’s post-war political career on television one night.

  100. Now that I read about Algeria, it sounds exactly like 19C Ireland, with legal restrictions based on religion, prejudice, rebellion, and all. The main difference is that you can’t tell Papist from Prod just by looking.

  101. JC: Good comparison, but you couldn’t reliably tell Beur from Colon just by looking either – except maybe by clothing. The range of phenotypical variation among both “indigenes” (green eyes and red hair are not that rare on the coast) and pied-noirs (many of them Spanish or Maltese immigrants) is large enough that there is substantial overlap between the two.

  102. David: The word “leucoderme” is not common now, but according to the CNRTL’s dictionary, it means “white person”:

    leucoderme (leuco* du gr. λ ε υ κ ο ́ ς « blanc » + derme), adj. et subst. masc.« (Homme) de race blanche ». Les Européens, la plupart des Asiatiques occidentaux et des Africains du nord, les Polynésiens sont leucodermes (Haddon, Races hum.,1930, p. 13)

    “Cymotriche” is too rare to be found even there…
    EDIT: But courtesy of Wikipedia, I learn that it means “Qui a les cheveux ondulés”, ie curly-haried.

  103. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve met Tunisians indistinguishable from nos ancêtres les Gaulois.

  104. marie-lucie says:

    In the city where I live I don’t have a car and therefore frequently take a taxi, calling a company that employs many immigrants from Africa and Asia, so I meet people from many countries even if briefly. At one time one of the drivers was a young man dressed in possibly African clothes and hat, with black wavy hair but very pale skin and light green eyes. It turned out he was from Libya (the only Libyan I have ever met). The former dictator (I don’t dare to write his name, the spelling always seems to be wrong) was also quite light-skinned (although somewhat greyish as he was older). If he had not been wearing non-European clothes (except for a military uniform) his appearance would have been unremarkable in most of Europe.

  105. marie-lucie says:

    Lameen: The range of phenotypical variation among both “indigenes” (green eyes and red hair are not that rare on the coast) and pied-noirs (many of them Spanish or Maltese immigrants) is large enough that there is substantial overlap between the two.

    Given the complex history of the Mediterranean coasts and the numerous population upheavals (wars, slavery, multiple conquests and reconquests, refugees, etc) attested by the historical record and probably much older, it is not surprising that there should be a huge range of “phenotypical variation” due to population mixing (the Visigoths once ruled Northwest Africa). But it is true that the blond, etc type found mostly in Northern Europe may not be due only to lack of sufficient exposure to the sun: the Guanches, the indigenes of the Canary Islands, apparently related (at least by language) to the Berbers, were described by the Spanish as blond. There are also rock paintings in the Tassili-n-Ajjer (a mountainous area in the Algerian Sahara) which give detailed pictures of large numbers of people with herds, and many of the people seem to have light-coloured, mostly straight hair.

  106. David Marjanović says:

    the Visigoths once ruled Northwest Africa

    You’re thinking of the Vandals, but of course that’s not likely to make a difference!

  107. marie-lucie says:

    David, Weren’t the Wandals in Wandalusia, and the Wisigoths on the other side of the Strait, in Africa?

  108. The Visigoths were ‘invited’ into Spain to deal with the Vandals, Alans and Suevi. The Vandals (and some Alans) crossed the straits to North Africa which lay seemingly unguarded. They were working their way to Hippo about the time St. Augustine died. I am curious about vaguely possible links between ‘Vandal’ and ‘Wend’, ‘Suevi,’ Swabian’ and ‘Swede,’ and for that matter ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Bornholm.’ I’ve seen claims linking the Rugians to Rogaland in Norway. As long as we’re appealing to experts, how many of these migratory connections are spurious?

  109. The “Vandal” etymology for Andalusia is problematic for that reason, among others. My favorite etymology for Andalus (not that I give it much credit) is Corriente’s attempt to trace it back to a Coptic word for “southwest”.

  110. marie-lucie says:

    Phil, Lameen, thanks for the correction. Wikipedia traces the migration of the Vandals and shows their kingdom including most of North Africa together with the islands of the Western Mediterranean (Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Baleares), so a lot bigger than I would have thought.

  111. Whence the Old English name for the western Mediterranean was Wendelsæ.

  112. David Marjanović says:

    My favorite etymology for Andalus (not that I give it much credit) is Corriente’s attempt to trace it back to a Coptic word for “southwest”.

    I like it, actually. It does require a large number of intermediate steps, but each one of those is easy enough.

    BTW, it’s at the very end of the paper, just before the references.

  113. The Mummer spelled his name “El-Gadhafi” in a letter he sent to some second-grade kids in Minnesota, so that’s the nearest thing available to his choice of romanized name.

  114. Here’s Corriente’s explanation:

    As for the Egyptians, they had devised a system from which they would never deviate an inch, as long as their language was spoken, not even as a consequence of Hellenisation, with the following designations: >iʔbt< “East”, >imnt< “West”, >mḥtj/.t< “North” and >rśj< “South” (Ermann & Grapow I 130, I 68, II 125 and II 453, respectively), which remains basically unaltered in Cp.: em(e)nt, eiebt, mhit and rēs (Crum 56, 76, 212 and 299, respectively). There were also some peculiar ways to combine them: thus Crum 399 informs us that “Southeast” was said p+eiebt erēs, literally, “the East by the South”, and this can only mean that “Soutwest” was said *p+ement e-rēs or, without the article, *ement e-rēs. In late Cp., we have seen that /t/ was often pronounced /d/, and all along the history of the Egyptian language the confusions between /l/ and /r/ have been pervasive, as can still be easily checked in the Cp. dictionary; consequently, in the epoch of the Islamic conquest of Egypt, the local population must have called the Southwest *emender/lēs, which the Arabs would hear as *am+andalīs and, most of them being of Yemenite extraction, they would metanalyze /am+/ as their own dialectal shape of the definite article, instead of /al+/, i.e., thus producing a standard /al+andalīs/. […]

    Why, then, they wound up saying Al-Andalus and not *Al-Andalīs, once the standard form of the article, /al+/, became generalized? Well, in fact, they did use that vocalization, which appears as Al-Andalīš, for instance in Al-Bakrī’s Al-masālik wal-mamālik, as the name of the Vandals, who were very notorious to the early historians of the Islamic West, mostly on account of the ravages they caused in North Africa. Quite obviously, on account of the tight phonetic likeness between these two foreign terms, the Al-Andalīs of Cp. origin, brought by the conquerors from Egypt as the name of that Southern region of the West, was mixed up with ġandaluš, a reflex of the Latin or Proto-Romance name of the Vandals.

    He goes on to suggest possible explanations for the change of vocalization in the term Al-Andalus, but I will leave that for the interested reader to investigate.

  115. So wait – “Wendell” is actually cognate with “Vandal”? Awesome, but what’s with the vowel fronting?

  116. David Marjanović says:

    If Vandal- is misremembered from *wandil-, simple umlaut will suffice. That would even amount to a too-good-to-be-true etymology as “those who casually walk around”, a root cognate with Old Norse Aurvandill, Old English Ēarendel “morning star” and German wandeln “casually, literarily walk around”.

  117. By the way, which syllable is stressed in the normal Arabic pronunciation of Andalus? I’m never sure how to say it.

  118. The first: Ándalus.

    Sounds like a good name for such a footloose people…

  119. David Marjanović says:

    a too-good-to-be-true etymology

    …might of course be a folk etymology that happened within Old English. But if not, went and wind (the verb) might be further root cognates.

    The German Wikipedia article conforms that Vandali, Vandili and Vanduli are all attested, as well as Οὐανδαλοί, Βανδῆλοι and Βανδίλοι. Without mentioning these, the English one agrees on the “wander” root, reports speculations that there may have been an origin myth from the morning star (mistakenly, I’m pretty sure, called evening star in the article), and mentions Vendel in Sweden and Vendsyssel in Denmark as proposed original homelands.

    links between ‘Vandal’ and ‘Wend’

    Very popular in the 12th through 15th centuries, but no longer, says the German Wikipedia article on the former. Rather, the Wends are linked with the Venedae of early Roman sources.

    ‘Suevi,’ Swabian’ and ‘Swede,’

    The first two are exactly the same, with the Northwest Germanic shift from [ɛː] to [aː] and the High German shift from [β] to [b̥]. The third, well, Svea is a bit short, which makes it too easy to find matches; but the e should not match.

    and for that matter ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Bornholm.’

    Wikipedia: “In Old Norse the island was known as Borgundarholm, and in ancient Danish especially the island’s name was Borghand or Borghund; these names were related to Old Norse borg “height” and bjarg/berg “mountain, rock”, as it is an island that rises high from the sea.[7] Other names known for the island include Burgendaland (9th century), Hulmo / Holmus (Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum), Burgundehulm (1145), and Borghandæholm (14th century).[8] The Old English translation of Orosius uses the form Burgenda land.[9] Some scholars[10] believe that the Burgundians are named after Bornholm; the Burgundians were Germanic peoples who moved west when the Western Roman Empire collapsed and occupied and named Burgundy in France.” The very beginning of the article says the Old Norse name was Burgundaholmr instead.

    There’s another question, namely how all the Celtic Brigantes fit into this.

  120. If you keep going from central Europe in a generally western direction you will eventually end up in either northwestern or southwestern Spain, where you will run out of land. This is reflected in the name of the cape at the northwestern corner of Spain, “Finisterre” – the end of the earth – and in the name of the region in the southwest corner, “Andalus”, which is derived from “ándale”, meaning “come on, hurry up” because if you kept on encouraging each other to keep going, that’s where you would end up.

  121. The morning star, certainly. The famous line in Cynewulf’s Christ II which inspired Tolkien’s Earendil myth, éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended ‘hail Earendel brightest of angels / sent through Middle-earth to men” is enough to confirm that. Metaphorically, Earendel is John the Baptist, forerunner of the Christ, as the morning star is forerunner of the Sun.

    Indeed, Frodo says basically the same thing in Quenya, Aiya Eärendil, elenion ancalima!, except that it is ‘of stars’ rather than ‘of angels’, Earendil in his mythology being a Man translated to the heavens rather than one of the Valar. In context, Frodo uses the phrase to help him activate his ‘star-glass’, a magical light, in the depths of Shelob’s lair. James Branch Cabell also reuses the same figure under the name of Horvendile the wandering wizard, from an attested Latin form. In the Elder Edda, Aurvandill’s toe freezes and breaks off, and Thor hurls into the sky where it becomes the planet Venus.

  122. So I guess a fair few English personal names actually invoke late antique “barbarians”: there’s Wendell, Alan, Frank, and of course Barbara… You could almost rewrite the period’s history as a 1950s children’s book: Wendell and Alan Find A Hippo.

  123. The story also features Goth chick named Burgundy…

  124. marie-lucie says:

    Lameen: So I guess a fair few English personal names actually invoke late antique “barbarians”: there’s Wendell, Alan, Frank, and of course Barbara…

    With the convoluted history of England and its language, it is not surprising to find names from a great variety of languages. I guess Wendell, Alan and Frank were originally nicknames for strangers in one’s midst, the foreign origin of which was later forgotten.

    In French there is not as much variety, because until recently the majority of the population chose names from the Catholic calendar of saints (each day of the week is associated with several saints although only one per day is written in the semi-official calendars in common use), and most priests made sure that parents’ chosen names were appropriate when getting children baptized (there are many stories of priests interfering with parental choice – some even with my own grandparents). Still, there are some very common names which are not those of saints.

    You mention Alan among “barbarian” English names: in French this is Alain, a name traditionally very common in Brittany. I remember my surprise when I learned that les Alains were a people, one among the Eastern barbarian invaders. But the legend seems to be true: around the end of the Roman Empire (probably after the Bretons had already come down from Britain) a contingent of Alains (whether true invaders or former Roman mercenaries) ended up in Brittany (one of the other “Finisterres” at the Western end of Europe), put themselves at the service of the ruler there, and peacefully assimilated into the Breton population, their very name becoming a favourite for boys. And from there of course, crossing the sea to England in the wake of Guillaume le Conquérant.

  125. David Marjanović says:

    And from there of course, crossing the sea to England in the wake of Guillaume le Conquérant.

    …where Norman became another such name. Probably such names originated not so much as nicknames for strangers but as totemistic admiration.

    Frank was pretty popular in Germany a few decades ago. Part of the reason is probably its literal meaning, preserved in the fixed literary/obsolete phrase frank und frei.

    “I must be Frank.”
    – Emperor “Frank” Palpatine

  126. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Wendell” as an American given name (not sure if it’s ever had much currency in the U.K.) probably originally derives almost entirely from the celebrity of the Oliver Wendell Holmeses, Sr. (born 1809) and Jr. (born 1841). Oliver Sr. got it as a middle name because it was his mother’s maiden name (a conventional middle-naming practice in some U.S. ethnocultural groups), and she was a great-great-granddaughter of Evert Jansen Wendel (born c. 1615), who brought the surname with him across the ocean to the New Netherlands circa 1642. Some online sources link the etymology of the Dutch/German surname to “Wend,” but I don’t know how solid v. speculative that is. “Wendell” spent most of the 20th century in secular decline as a name for newborn boys, peaking at 110th most common in 1940 (the year of Wendell Willkie’s presidential campaign) but then dropping out of the top 1000 after 1995. 1995 also coincidentally saw the death of Wendell Gee (born 1926), proprietor of Wendell Gee’s Used Cars of Pendergrass, Georgia, which the guys in R.E.M. used to drive past and which accordingly inspired them to compose and record the song “Wendell Gee” c. 1985.

    In American college football, the engagingly-named Idaho Vandals (no weirder in the abstract than naming your team “Trojans” or “Spartans” or “Vikings”?) just lost their season opener to the Fresno State Bulldogs in a blowout.

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