18 December 2007

Out of Town on a Eurail

The Far Outliers will be on the road again for the next month, traveling by air, shank's mare, and Eurail pass. Today we fly to Boston to visit our daughter for a week, then fly on to Frankfurt on Christmas Day on our way to Strasbourg to visit my historian brother who's supervising a study-abroad program there. We plan to visit friends in Brittany the weekend of 4 January and make a return trip to Bucharest the weekend of 11 January, with a stop in Miklósvár in Székelyland, Transylvania, on the way there.

My brother speaks pretty good Central African French, and I've been working on reviving and expanding my high school French—il y a quarante ans! (I also passed a graduate reading exam in French.) Mrs. O and I can get around a bit in our high school German, and we will make a pilgrimage to the Black Forest town of Pfalzgrafenweiler from which her paternal ancestors emigrated to Ukraine during the Napoleonic era, only to emigrate to the Dakotas during the third Tsar-Alexandrine era and first or second President-Clevelandic era. I haven't been working on my Ceauşescu-era Romanian, but I'm pretty sure it'll come back enough to get around. We had hoped to branch out in more northerly and southerly directions from Strasbourg, but our long east–west jaunts won't leave us much time.

While we're away, you can get some interesting perspectives about where we'll be by exploring Europe Endless (formerly Rhine River), Notes from a Tunnel, and the always entertaining travels of Dumneazu. If you can't ignore Asia for that long, the latest Asian History Carnival at Frog in a Well should provide you with a lot of good reading.

Auf Wiedersehen, au revoir, şi la revedere.

Uganda's Abayudaya

Nathanael of Europe Endless recently posted a few fascinating excerpts from a long interview on Afropop about the Jews of Uganda. Here are a few excerpts of his excerpts.
Now, in contrast to [other Jewish] communities [in Africa], the Abayudaya, which means “Jewish people of Uganda,” proudly reference their conversion to Judaism in the 1920s, stating that they were drawn to Jewish practice by the truth of the Torah, the five books of Moses. Their founder, Semei Kakungulu, was a powerful Ganda leader, and he considered Christianity and Islam, and then according to community elders, said, “Why should I follow the shoots when I could have the root.”

Presently, the Abayudaya number of approximately 750 people, and live in villages surrounding Mbale in eastern Uganda. Many members scrupulously follow Jewish ritual, observe the laws of the Sabbath, celebrate Jewish holidays, keep kosher, and pray in Hebrew. Since the community’s original self conversion, and through the difficult period of Idi Amin’s rule in the 1970s, the Abayudaya have been distinguished by their commitment to following mainstream Jewish practice, an approach that’s been amplified since their increased contact with Jews from North America and Israel since the mid-1990s.…

I’ll tell one story. I was with the community in 2002, right before their official conversion, and the discussions in the community were really interesting at that point, because here were people who had practiced as Jews, many for four generations. I was sitting in a meeting of the Abayudaya Leadership Council, and one member said, “I have a question. We are talking about conversion here, but I’m Jewish, my father was Jewish, my grandfather was Jewish. Can you tell me exactly what I am converting to?” And the leadership, Gershom Sizomu and J.J. Keki, were very thoughtful here. They said, “We understand. We are not saying that we’re not Jewish. But there are formalities that need to be practiced in order for us to be recognized by world Jewry.” So the community decided not to call this a “conversion.” Internally, they called it a “confirmation” of their Judaism. They were confirming their Jewish identity, but they felt that they had been Jewish since the initial conversion by Semei Kakungulu in the early 1920s....

In many ways, Kakungulu’s self conversion to Judaism was an act of rejection of the British. A rejection of the British. A rejection of colonialism. It was Kakungulu and his followers saying, “No longer will we followed your directions here. We are going to follow our own spiritual path.” The British didn’t know what to make of Kakungulu’s Judaism. The book to read on this is Michael Twaddle’s book, “Kakungulu and the Creation of Uganda—1868 to 1928.” But basically, Kakungulu’s adoption of Judaism was very much him going off on his own path, not only religiously but politically, asserting his separation from the British, who were totally identified with the Anglican Church.

17 December 2007

To Ceausescu and Back: Notes from a Tunnel

I recently discovered a new autobiographical blog called Notes from a Tunnel by someone who "was born as a member of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, a child during Ceausescu’s dark 1970s, a teenager during the surreal Romanian ’80s, a student during the radical ’90s and a visiting émigré in recent years." Here are some of the blogger's earliest recollections about life in Romania during those years.

The First Glance Back
The following recollections though, from the Romanian pre- and post-Revolutionary years, are street-level snapshots with often surprising similarities between the old and the new country. They come together not as a grand portal into the past and quasi-present, but a small window for just one head at a time to peer through it....Having left that country eleven years ago, returning there regularly to this day, I can still meet and converse with many ghosts, ghosts cosily nesting in the altered, recently became ultra-material(istic) world of the Carpathian mountains.

This is about both the past when those ghosts still possessed powerful bodies in my weathered homeland, making Europe seem just some distant mirage, and the present when that world, still silently and slowly being kneaded by these ghosts, has gone through hasty re-decorating for its welcome party into a suddenly so reachable and tangible Europe...

It is also about the surprising and worrying parallels that one sees between that, thought to be defunct, world and the present day experiences in a historical democracy, the latter paradoxically resorting to exponentially increasing amounts of control in an attempt to safeguard its values...
My home town, Marosvasarhely... A medieval city in Transylvania, comfortably resting in the valley of river Maros, in just one of the many valleys which spread themselves on the map like half-open protecting hands... Valleys that so often were not protective enough, but at least were able to soften the sounds of thunderstorms and too numerous battles into a gentle rumble that used to reverberate along the many rivers of that bruised land... A town that in peacetime used to gaze down on lively markets unfolding their tents on the plains outside its old walls... hence its name, ‘marketplace on river Maros’ ....

All this sits pretty much right in the middle of Transylvania where eminently non-fictional creatures have been spilling and consuming blood for too many centuries. They did this in broad daylight, totally immune to garlic, casting onto those hills and plains of ever-changing colour very long and dense shadows which persist to this day in political life, in the ethnic tensions arising from the echoes of annexing the former Hungarian territory to Romania... These shadows are also present in the collective psyche that only in the last few years was freed from the most recent non-fictional, demented, but so calculated Evil.

I grew up there, during Ceausescu’s ‘Golden Era’... and can’t recall whether there was a certain moment when I realised that everything surrounding me was a tragicomic absurd play, set in a theatre made to seem considerably smaller than the world entire.

I still find it difficult to reconcile those two sides of me... One, the small kid opening his eyes and ears tentatively and initially very fearfully, a happy kid enjoying to the max a very minimalist childhood, accepting the food rationing and powercuts, propaganda and fake celebrations as the normal and, above all, the only possible reality. Then there is the other person, the grown-up looking back and finding that weird reality filled with funny and sad absurdities, contradictions still tying the mind into a confusing identity-warping knot.
My school days and years came after I learnt the fundamental physics of light and heat. Not the complex laws defining and governing them, but how ideological darkness and cold calculation can alter them when it came to what I then perceived as normal everyday existence. The joyous and by all means luminous play of the mind that took over for brief hours my early school days was quite opposite to what came after school, when due to shortages of class rooms we started doing 'afternoon shifts' alternating with our normal weeks of 8AM daily start...

I was finding my way on streets rendered pitch black by power saving measures, with constellations of warm orange and yellow and reddish dots, daubs and flecks of lights coming through the windows, coming from kerosene lamps and candles and the occasional battery-powered torches, projecting shadows of tired bodies animated by tired souls inhabiting the houses and block flats.

The economics of these cuts didn't make any sense, as the consumption of the population was infinitesimal compared to what was engorged by old-fashioned, hopelessly obsolete industrial monsters. For example, the aluminium plant at Slatina was making deplorable quality aluminium with old electrolysis methods, soaking up every electron that the also inefficient power plants around it could squeeze out of low-grade coal or methane.

16 December 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu: Postwar Delusions

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 202, 204-205:
A memorial service for the war dead was sponsored by the Buddhist federation and held at the theater on the night of September 14 [1945]. Rev. Joei Oi began the evening by saying that the service would honor the war dead of both sides, which was commendable. However, in his sermon, Rev. Enryo Shigefuji of Fresno expressed opinions that clearly showed he did not understand the current situation. I was surprised at his ignorance. First he attacked the United States for its unlawful and unjust use of atomic weapons. This was admirable. Then he reported, "Japan was so incensed at the inhumanity of this act that it wiped out the entire American expeditionary force in the Far East in three days and forced the United States to surrender." Rev. Shigefuji was said to be a highly learned priest, so I wondered what had happened. Outside after the meeting, Mr. Komai, Rafu Shimpo president, and I were so dumbfounded that all we could do was exchange stunned looks. We were so amazed by his remarks that we were practically speechless.

Two days later, I heard a sermon by Rev. Shuntaro Ikezawa of the Christian church in the east classroom. The weather was very bad—rain, hail, even thunder. There were only a few priests and about a dozen people present. As I expected, Rev. Ikezawa had grasped what was happening. In his sermon, "Truth and Love," he talked about the atomic bomb: "What was wrong was not the invention of atomic energy, but the thinking that led to its use in war. If we use our inventions for good, all human beings benefit. His Highness the Prime Minister said to General MacArthur, 'You must forget Pearl Harbor and we must forget the atomic bomb.' These were wise words." The Reverend then prayed for the birth of a new Japan. I felt what he had to say was well worth listening to. Over the next few days the internees could not stop talking about Rev. Shigefuji's sermon while Rev. Ikezawa's was never mentioned. Rev. Shigefuji was praised for expressing his opinions without fear and was regarded as a hero....

Even those who should have known better were misinformed or deluded themselves. Around this time I met an uneducated but admirable young man... One morning in early October, the two of us were taking a walk. I asked if he wished to return to Japan. He answered that, because he was poor, he could not go back and wanted instead to remain in the United States, where many jobs would be available in restaurants. He continued: "Actually, one of my friends advised me to return to Japan with him. I said I would if I had the kind of money he had. He said looks were deceiving; in fact he was penniless and that was why he was returning to Japan. Since Japan had won the war, internees could expect reparations from the United States. Internees who went back now could receive as much as fifty thou- sand dollars. If they returned later, the money might no longer be available. My friend repeated that I should go back with him. I did not know what to say. There are so many such fellows who think Japan has won the war." And so many of them were greedily waiting to return to Japan.

On October 1 all residents of the sixty-sixth barracks boycotted the Santa Fe Times and suspended their subscriptions.

After Spain withdrew its offer to represent Japanese interests, Switzerland took over the responsibility. The Swiss representatives visited the camp with State Department officials on September 27. Mr. Fischer was among them. They met with General Manager Koba and other camp officers. A report of what had transpired, written in question-and-answer form, was mimeographed both in English and Japanese and circulated to all barracks on October 2. U.S.-Japan relations, the surrender of Japan, and the changed conditions in Japan were outlined in detail. I quietly noted the internees' responses to the report. Many said that talks between representatives of a small country like Switzerland and State Department officials could only be propaganda. They showed no further interest in the matter. The prevailing attitude toward the report was indifference.

On October 2, the camp population was 2,027, of which 106 were in the hospital and 3 were in the temporary holding cell. Those of us in the "traitors group" estimated that the number of internees who had any real understanding of the war and its aftermath was less than a hundred. Even Nisei who visited their parents in the camp around this time advised them not to worry, because Japan was winning the war. The purpose may have been to bolster the spirits of the internees, but it also seemed to provide fuel for the diehards who refused to accept Japan's defeat. In the end this sort of thing did more harm than good.

Hijab vs. Koteka: West Papua Culture Clash

From Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds—On the Track of Unknown Mammals in Wildest New Guinea, by Tim Flannery (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998), pp. 224-225:
From the air, my first view of Wamena was a broad, grassy valley dotted with traditional Dani hamlets surrounded by incredibly neat and extensive sweet potato and vegetable gardens. Then came the town itself: an untidy, rusting conglomeration of tin-roofed buildings whose streets were laid out in a grid pattern. The silver minaret on the mosque gave it a distinctively Javanese appearance, even from above.

In the streets of Wamena, you see an extraordinary mixture of humanity. Proud Dani men, still holding fiercely to their traditional dress of koteka (penis gourd) tied at its base to a protruding testicle, stalk down the street, beards thrust forward and hands clasped behind their backs. Nervous-looking Muslim women, the oval of their face the only flesh visible in a sea of cotton, whisk gracefully by, while military men in immaculate and tight-fitting uniforms swagger confidently down the middle of the road.

Surely it is a perverse twist of fate that has put a nation of mostly Muslim, mostly Javanese, people in control of a place like Irian Jaya. You could not imagine, even if you tried, two more antipathetic cultures. Muslims abhor pigs, while to highland Irianese they are the most highly esteemed of possessions. Javanese have a highly developed sense of modesty. They dress to cover most of their body and are affronted by overt sexuality. For most Irianese, near-nudity is the universally respectable state. Moreover, men from the mountain cultures of western New Guinea wear their sexuality proudly. The long penis gourd often has the erectile crest of the cockatoo attached to its tip, just in case the significance of the upright orange sheath is missed.

Javanese fear the forest and are happiest in towns. They attach much importance to bodily cleanliness, yet pollute their waterways horribly. Irianese treat the forest as their home. Many are indifferent to dirt on the skin, yet, through custom, protect the ecological health of their forests and rivers. Javanese respect of authority is typically Asian in its obsequiousness. Irianese are fiercely intolerant of attempts at domination. No Dani man would ever let another lord it over him as a tuan (prince) does a Javanese petani (peasant).

15 December 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu: Tule Lake Thuggery

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 168, 170-171:
A right-wing youth group called Shichisho-kai (literally "Club of Seven Lives") held its first meeting in the east classroom on the night of December 12 [1944]. I decided to attend. At the meeting, young people seated themselves in groups and roll was taken. Then they all stood up and chanted in unison: "We are the loyal subjects of the Emperor. We are determined to be reborn seven times and serve our country." After that Rev. Dojun Ochi talked about the great history of Japan, beginning with the Meiji era and going back in time. It was very interesting. The leader of Shichisho-kai was apparently a man from Tule Lake....

A rumor spread that more of these "shaven heads" would be arriving from Tule Lake.... Among the internees at Tule Lake, two groups that were constantly at odds with one another were the pro-Japan or "disloyal" faction and the pro-American or "loyal" faction. Such a division in thinking could be found at any relocation center or camp, but it was especially serious at Tule Lake. The pro-Japan group set up a spy ring to gather information on those who were sympathetic to the United States. They infiltrated various groups, placing certain individuals under surveillance and using gatherings to collect information about their enemies. They selected faction members who were to take direct action against the enemy through extraordinary measures. If this proved unsuccessful, they planned to report the enemy to the Japanese government after the war. Once a person was identified as pro-American, they intimidated him by throwing human feces at his house or even boiled feces at the windows. Families were afraid of what others might think and quickly and quietly cleaned up the mess. In July 1944, after a certain Mr. Hitomi had been murdered, fear among the pro-American internees reached a panic stage. Thirteen families fled to a separate enclosed barracks, leaving everything behind. Some of the soldiers who were asked to retrieve their possessions were said to be in sympathy with the pro-Japan group, because when they went to collect one person's belongings, they asked, "Where's the dog's luggage?"

The internee population of Tule Lake Camp was eighteen thousand in October 1944. There were many families, so the camp resembled a town in Japan. Because there were many young girls at the camp, romances blossomed. This, fanned by an uncertain future, led to rash and impulsive behavior. Forty to fifty babies were born every month. Japanese-language schools were not allowed at relocation centers, but there were seven at Tule Lake, two of which were specifically named First National School and Second National School.

Father Pat's Old-time Syncretic Religion

From Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds—On the Track of Unknown Mammals in Wildest New Guinea, by Tim Flannery (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998), pp. 186-187:
Father Pat is an Irishman for whom Gaelic is a first language. He is one of the new style of Roman Catholic missionaries and is a vital force in the lives of the people of the Torricelli Mountains. As we got to know each other, I began to see what motivated Pat. He told me that his own language and culture had been banned and belittled at the hands of the invading English and that he was certainly not going to see that happen to his Papua New Guinea parishioners. They had, unfortunately, been converted in the 1930s by Catholic missionaries of German extraction who had suppressed the local culture. Pat was determined to redress that.

Under Father Pat, the region had experienced a dramatic cultural revival. The Mass was now said in Olo (the local language) by this Irish priest dressed to a turn in Melanesian finery. His cuscus-fur head-dress and bird-of-paradise plume armlets shook gloriously as he sang. Indeed, hearing Mass said by Father Pat dressed in his full regalia was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in a church.

It was with some pride that Pat told me that the revival of old traditions had gone so far that, as a special favour to the visiting Bishop of Vanimo, parish women had danced bare-breasted in procession through the church while singing hymns.

But the revival had gone much deeper than ceremonial formalities. Pat had questioned the old men closely concerning their pre-Christian customs and had incorporated traditional elements, where appropriate, into the celebration of the sacraments. Thus, traditional words from birth and initiation ceremonies, many long forgotten by the community, were now said at baptisms and confirmations. Pat also bought ochre for decorative purposes and sponsored festivals on these occasions.

For the first time in decades a haus tambaran (ancestral spirit house) had been built in Wilbeitei village and in it were stored the spirit masks, all newly made, for which the area was formerly famous. But the house now had a double purpose. Though great spirit masks, some five metres tall, were hung around its walls, at its centre was parked the new community truck, the result of an investment and savings scheme instituted by Father Pat.

Pat's revival of the village traditions had come at a critical moment. The Olo had been influenced by Christianity for the best part of sixty years. They were a lot further down the road to westernisation than even the Telefol. It was dismaying to find that Pidgin was commonly used, even in conversations between the Olo themselves, and that only the very oldest members of the community remembered what traditional clothing looked like. Had Father Pat arrived just a decade later, he may have found precious little to preserve.

10 December 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu, 7 November 1944

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), p. 164:
The U.S. presidential election held on November 7, 1944, attracted worldwide attention. On the eighth, it was confirmed that President Roosevelt had been reelected. It would be his fourth term, an unprecedented feat in American history. We now felt that the United States would take it upon itself to end the war. On the afternoon of November 7, the Buddhist and Shinto federations sponsored a memorial service for soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army and for internees who had died in this camp. It was held at the open-air theater, with the Reverend Kogan Yoshizumi officiating. Rev. Enryo Shigefuji of the Fresno Hongwanji Betsuin Mission suggested in his sermon that internees who had pledged loyalty to the United States and had been paroled were disloyal Japanese. Later he found himself in the same difficult position of being condemned when, ironically, he and his wife secretly applied for parole. Christians wanted to join the service, where they intended to pray for all of the war dead, but Buddhists and Shintoists insisted that only Japanese casualties be recognized, so there was no joint service. Even within our little barbed-wire world there were rigid divisions, strong divisive elements, and opposing views.

Telefomin, Barcelona, and Bulmer's Fruit Bat

From Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds—On the Track of Unknown Mammals in Wildest New Guinea, by Tim Flannery (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998), pp. 153-154 (NYT book review here):
Afektaman is a pretty little village overlooking the range which lies to the south of Telefomin. It is situated at the entrance to the Sepik Gorge, and is only about thirty kilometres in a straight line from Luplupwintem, which had been, until 1977, the sole roosting place of Bulmer's Fruit-bat.

On our arrival at Afektaman we immediately asked whether anyone called Woflayo lived there—and were led straight away, so easily, to a man of late middle-age who lived in a tiny collection of huts a kilometre or so from the village itself.

Woflayo invited us into his house, and offered us a cup of tea. As we talked, it became clear that Woflayo's Pidgin was rather limited. He was a conservative Telefol who clung fiercely to his traditions. He did not deign to learn the new lingua franca.

After we had explained the purpose of our visit, Woflayo commented that it was a good thing we had arrived that day, for later in the week he was leaving for Batalona. I was at first nonplussed as to where exactly Woflayo might be going. Batalona did not sound like any Telefol place name I had heard. After some more discussion it became apparent that Woflayo was off on a very long trip indeed. He was headed for Barcelona, where he would lead a Telefol dance troupe as part of the 1992 Olympic Games celebrations!

Woflayo's careful observance of tradition had clearly paid off. Of all Telefol, he was renowned as the one who knew the ancient dances best, and was thus the natural choice as leader of the troupe. What, I often wonder, did the good citizens of Barcelona make of Woflayo, bedecked in penis gourd, cane waistband and feathered head-dress, chanting and swaying to his Telefol rhythms?

After we drank our tea, Woflayo took us to a garden at the back of his hut. There, he showed us the stump of a small fig tree. It was in this tiup tree, he said, that he had shot the bat which he had sold to 'Masta Steve' [Van Dyke of the Queensland Museum] in 1984.

I was flattened. What an anticlimactic end to a journey which had begun with such excitement months ago and thousands of kilometres away!

A bat which Woflayo had shot in his back yard and thought nothing of had brought strangers to his door from another continent... And in a few days, he would dance to a crowd of tens of thousands on a continent as foreign to him as the far side of the moon.

08 December 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu, 7 December 1943

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 144-145:
December 7, 1943, was the second anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A ceremony honoring the memory of fallen soldiers was held in the square in the morning. We bowed in the direction of the Imperial Palace, sang the national anthem twice, and observed a moment of silence. A speech was given by General Manager Kondo. After the ceremony, a packet of fragrant green tea, donated by the Japanese Red Cross, was distributed to each internee by the barracks chiefs. A large flag of the Rising Sun made with used paper was displayed in the Upper Town mess hall. This would have been a problem in the outside world, but here it did not seem to matter.

On December 9 it snowed heavily all day. The roads were slippery and dangerous. It was the forty-ninth day after the death in Italy of Mr. Akira Morihara, the third son of Mr. Usaku Morihara, a shopowner from Kona. A memorial service was held at the Lower Town mess hall in the afternoon, and many internees attended. This was the first service in the camp for a fallen Japanese American soldier. On the night of the tenth, the sight of the Rocky Mountains covered in snow and illuminated by the moon was bewitching and beautiful beyond description. On the night of the thirteenth, internees from Maui held a memorial service for eight Japanese American soldiers from Maui (including Mr. Yoshinobu Takei) who had been killed in Italy. The Reverends Ryugen Matsuda and Tamasaku Watanabe delivered sermons and Mr. Tokiji Takei said a few words on behalf of the families. It was later reported that, of Japanese American soldiers from Maui, 8 had been killed and 180 injured.

To Save or Not Save a Wife

From Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds—On the Track of Unknown Mammals in Wildest New Guinea, by Tim Flannery (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998), pp. 96-97 (NYT book review here):
On our last evening in Yominbip we were working restlessly in our hut, packing and repacking the equipment, when Maria, Oblankep's wife, paid an unexpected visit. As she spoke her voice was low and desperate, and hatred and fear mingled as she told her story in Pidgin.

She had grown up in a small village just outside of Madang; although her family was poor, she was used to the city life and loved it. She met Oblankep in the market at Madang while he was living there. She thought him handsome and took him home to meet her family. He told stories about Yominbip—describing it as a large village not far from a great town and the coast.

Maria' s parents accepted the marriage offer. Knowing that she was unlikely to see her parents again, she bade them a tearful farewell.

Oblankep's manner changed when they arrived at Telefomin. He assaulted her and forced her to walk, pregnant, to Yominbip. The journey almost killed her. Since then, alone among strangers, she had borne him a child. She worked daily in the remote gardens. She had grown to hate Yominbip. Those stories about this place—he had told her lies.

She whispered hoarsely, 'Please take me with you. When the helicopter comes, please take me with you.'

'But what about your child?'

'Leave it,' she said savagely.

When she slipped away I felt a great sense of unease. Should we steal Maria from Yominbip (for that is how Oblankep would doubtless see it), or should we refuse her request? I dared not mention her visit, for she might be severely beaten for what she had done thus far. A failed escape attempt might even result in death.

Most murders in Papua New Guinea result from the theft of women, pigs or land. We would be compromising our own safety were we to attempt to help her escape. And there were other more complex issues to consider. Virtually the entire community of Yominbip had come together as a result of kidnappings. Oblankep had kidnapped his wife, but he himself had been taken by force from his original family. In such a situation it would be useless to try to explain the rights and wrongs of Maria's case. Morality as I knew it would simply not be understood.

I worried at the problem all morning until a faint mechanical sound announced the imminent arrival of the helicopter. I ran to Oblankep's hut, and found Maria seated firmly in a corner, her father-in-law standing near her. I could not see her face. With forced jocularity I asked if there were any messages I could take out for anyone. No response. I filled the awkward silence by asking Oblankep to come to my hut so that I could give him some gifts. Everything I was leaving behind I then put in his and his father's care, to be used by the entire community.

The chopper drew nearer. When it had almost touched down on the new pad I saw Maria crying at the door of Oblankep's hut. In the din of the rotor blades Lester began loading our specimens and equipment into the cargo hold, unaware of what was going on. I turned back to Maria, her face contorted with tears.

Behind her Oblankep watched, his eyes hard and angry.
The strange title of this book is an anglicized rendition of the Tok Pisin phrase otherwise spelled toromoi lek or tromwe lek, meaning 'to shake a leg, to get going'.

06 December 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu: Bad Language

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 139-140:
No place had more "Do not" signs than Santa Fe Camp. "Do not pick flowers," scolded the sign in front of the Japanese office. They were especially numerous in the toilets. One admonished, "Do not wash your feet in the basin," which of course meant that someone must have already done so. I once saw a man washing a dog under the tap in the laundry room and felt that he and I would never be able to get along. At the entrance to the woodshop, a notice read, "Carpenter room not for use." Someone added a comma, changing it to "Carpenter, room not for use." One of the carpenters altered the sign further: "Except for carpenter, room not for use." In the camp, there were many good trees for hanging oneself. They should have put up a sign on each one saying "Do not hang yourself on this tree."

I was quite annoyed at the Japanese of the [camp radio] announcers. Small mistakes are inevitable, but here is a list of some things that I felt were extremely irritating:
  • muyo no nagamono for muyo no chobutsu (useless things) [無用の長物]

  • yosai for shosai (details) [詳細]

  • sonshu for junshu (observance) [遵守]

  • obo for oho (visit) [往訪]

  • shuppon for shuppan (sailing out) [出帆]

  • kakusho for oboegaki (memo) [覚書]

  • yuzetsu for yuzei (canvassing) [遊説]

  • kagawa for kasen (river) [河川]

  • usuho for kyuho (mortar) [臼砲]

  • kodai for kakudai (expansion) [拡大]

  • teryudan for shuryudan (hand grenade) [手榴弾]

  • hitokeri shite for isshuu shite (giving a kick) [一蹴]

  • issetsu for issai (all) [一切]

  • zenhabateki for zenpukuteki (to the full) [全幅的]

  • yotaku for yokai (meddling) [溶解]

  • keiniku for geiniku (whale meat) [鯨肉]
One man's pronunciation of not only Japanese but also English was muddled. He claimed to have graduated from the University of Southern California. He repeatedly pronounced Pearl Harbor as "Pole Harbo," Eisenhower as "Aizen-no-hawah," and Iowa as "Aioh." All of the announcers were newspapermen, teachers, or interpreters from the Mainland. I noticed only one Hawaii man who pronounced konrinzai (by no means) as kinrinzai. I have no intention of faulting them for an occasional slip of the tongue, but what I have recorded here is what I heard on several occasions.

Whatever the pronunciation, the broadcasts on current affairs were very popular. Since the outbreak of the war, news was censored and there was too much propaganda. On top of this, people tended to lean toward wishful thinking, so that in the end it was difficult to determine what was true and what was not. Most of the internees were simpleminded. When Japanese victories were announced, they greeted the news with applause and instantly became cheerful. If they heard that the British or the Americans were making progress, they criticized the broadcast. Some announcers tried to flatter their audiences and were guilty of "selling out." Those who knew better thought this was foolish and stopped listening. The cooks in the mess hall were thoughtful. When good news about Japan was broadcast, they always placed a bun with the flag of the Rising Sun on each of our trays. Sometimes they served us sekihan (rice and red beans) to celebrate. I thought this was very amusing.
All of the mispronunciations that irritated Soga so much are reading pronunciations, where the Sino-Japanese reading is substituted for the native Japanese reading (kakusho for oboegaki), one Sino-Japanese reading is substituted for another (keiniku for geiniku), or Sino-Japanese and native Japanese readings are mixed (kagawa for kasen).

UPDATE: Thanks to Matt of No-sword for supplying the kanji for oho (= ouhou).

Wordcatcher Tales: Shaba, Tekipaki, Baribari

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), p. 102:
Internees called the world beyond the barbed wire shaba. Although I did not like this word and did not use it, nearly everyone else did because it was convenient. Another word, chokuchi, often used by Mainlanders, was new at first to those of us from Hawaii, but it means to cheat. It probably comes from a Chinese word. Instead of tekipaki (quickly), internees said baribari, which I think is vernacular from somewhere in Japan. Farmers from the Mainland who grew vegetables at the camp said kyukanpo for "cucumber." Japanese often confuse the p sound with b because there is no p sound in the original Japanese language. My friends from Hawaii often say "blantation" for "plantation" and "Poston" for "Boston." I thought this strange at first. As the influence of Hawaii internees grew in the camps, the use of Hawaiian words began to spread among the Mainlanders. Soon everyone was using kaukau [‘food’], aikane [‘friend’], and moimoi [moemoe ‘sleep’].
This is a strange passage. It sounds as if the author was interned with Koreans rather than Japanese, since mixing up p and b, t and d, and k and g is one of the markers of Korean-accented Japanese. There was also some new vocabulary for me. I haven't been able to find chokuchi 'to cheat', but the others are worth noting.

娑婆 shaba is 'the world' or 'the world outside', as in shaba ni deru 'to go out into the world = to get out of prison'. (I wonder if it also means 'to leave the priesthood'.) But it also appears in 娑婆気 lit. 'world feeling', as in shabaki o suteru 'to give up worldly ambitions or desires'. The author of the passage cited above was a news reporter interned with a lot of Buddhist priests.

てきぱき tekipaki seems to indicate not just quick, but also brisk, decisive, precise, and prompt, quickness with a military snap to it. All these qualities are presumably implied in the name of a Japanese web-hosting service, tekipaki.jp.

ばりばり baribari, by contrast, stresses not just speed, but energy and even fury, as in ばりばり働く baribari hataraku 'work like a demon'.

03 December 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu: An Embarrassment of Clerics

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 90-93
At Lordsburg there were close to a hundred Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian ministers, pastors, and lecturers—quite an amazing number. Fifty-four Buddhists represented various sects. The twenty-five in the second battalion organized a Buddhist association, and the twenty-nine in the third battalion established a Buddhist ministers' organization. Each organization held study sessions and a service every Sunday. Among the special events were the Bon Festival, equinoctial service, and Buddhahood attainment service. Twenty-three ministers were from Hawaii, thirty-one from the Mainland. Other Buddhist groups included the Jodoshu Mission, the second battalion's Sodoshu Mission, the second and third battalion's Buddhist hymn group, and a Kannon sutra reading group....

Shinto associations in the camp included Daijingu and Konko-kyo. Twelve Shinto ministers hailed from the Mainland, two from Hawaii.... Mr. Miryo Fukuda of the Konko-kyo San Francisco Mission was said to be a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University, but he was an ultranationalist and a troublemaker....

Christians from the Mainland and Hawaii organized the United Church of Christian Sects here. Of the eleven pastors, four were from Hawaii. They held Sunday morning and evening services, Wednesday prayer meetings, bible lectures, special meetings, and hymn study meetings. Rev. Kiyoshi Ishikawa, a graduate of Doshisha University, and Rev. Takashi Kamae, a graduate of Aoyama Gakuin University, were devoted scholars. They were both from California....

Whenever a funeral was held in the camp, if the deceased happened to be a Buddhist, dozens of clerics would line up at the service in colorful, beautifully decorated surplices. In the outside world one could never expect to see such an assemblage of ministers in such finery. Upon seeing this spectacle, someone joked, "If you have to die, now is the time." I had to agree, and I mean no disrespect, but I question the character of some of these religious leaders. Frankly, many of them disappointed me in that they did not know the way of Buddha or God. Most important of all, they did not know the way of Man, since they knew too little about the world. They could not understand the ever-changing international situation. They secluded themselves in their sect or religion and did not know or care to know anything beyond it. It seems perfectly clear to me why they failed to enlighten or inspire others....

At the outbreak of the war between the United States and Japan, a disagreement divided the Hongwanji Mission on the Mainland into two opposing groups: those ministers who sided with the United States and those who sided with Japan. The Reverend Ryotai Matsukage of the Honpa Hongwanji North America Mission issued a statement early on, saying that Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was cowardly and dishonorable. He encouraged other ministers on the Mainland to break off their relations with the head temple in Japan and support the United States. His views were published in English-language newspapers and endorsed by the Reverend Okayama, his successor. Whether or not because of this statement, Rev. Matsukage and his supporters were not interned.

Many Japanese accused Rev. Matsukage's group of speaking against Japan and the head temple to save themselves. In mid-March 1943, the minister sent thirty dollars to the Hongwanji ministers interned at Lordsburg. After a heated discussion involving diehards and moderates that nearly led to an exchange of blows, the ministers decided to return the money.

There is no one more despicable or troublesome than a hypocrite. I was surprised to discover so many of them among the religious men and teachers in the camp. A man from the Mainland told me the story of a high-ranking monk who supposedly lived according to Buddha's teachings and was arrested by the FBI. When agents searched him, they found more than a thousand dollars in cash in his coat pockets. Interrogation followed, and when his residence was searched agents discovered a bundle of love letters from a married woman. His followers were shocked by the deception. Here was a man who had gained their sympathy and respect by appearing to embrace poverty and a strict moral code of behavior. He is not an exception among those of his profession.

Like many ministers, a surprising number of teachers fail to comprehend anything beyond their own limited experience. They lack even the simplest and most basic knowledge of international affairs. They hardly have the will to study. Because they have spent so much of their lives teaching, they feel they can educate anyone—even adults—when they have taught only children. They want to help others to learn, which is admirable, but many of them have lost the humility necessary to learn from others and fail to realize that they are behind the times.
Thus wrote a Japan-raised journalist during the 1940s.

02 December 2007

A Tale of Two Blogs

I started the Far Outliers blog four years ago this month, mostly as an experiment to see how easy it would be to create my own blog after reading so many others. Blogger.com made it fairly easy to start, despite periodic episodes of chaos during upgrades. During the last major upgrade, I moved my blog to the new servers, but did not upgrade the layout. I plan to do that this month, unless I hear too many horror stories from readers who regret doing the same thing.

In April this year, after helping someone else start a new blog on WordPress.com, I created a WP version of Far Outliers and imported all my old posts from Blogger.com. It was very easy, and I much prefer the design of my WP blog, especially the typography and the banner image that I can replace at will. I cannot really compare how easy it is to tweak the designs of my two blogs until I upgrade to Blogger's widget-driven layout mode in place of my old syntax-driven template.

I now have over 1,600 blogposts on each blog, over 400 per year. Sitemeter reports over 200,000 visits and 300,000 pageviews at my blogspot site. I am quite satisfied with being a Crawly Amphibian in the TTLB Ecosystem, and generally keeping some distance (often centuries in time) from all the swirling controversies of every new battle in the blogosphere. I prefer to post backgrounders that add historical or extraregional perspectives on current issues and events. Several online reference works link to some of my posts on Blogger, making me reluctant to abandon the older blog.

Most of my blogspot traffic arrives via images.google.com, because I often link out to maps and images to aid readers (and myself) when delving into unfamiliar territory. My top entry page on blogger is the archive page for August 2007, primarily because the main blogpost on 25 August contains a link to a CIA political map of Southeast Asia available on a server in Middlebury, VT. The same entry, Outburst of Piracy in Southeast Asia, 1754-1838, is also the top post on my WP blog, for the same reason. Only this week has images.google.com begun directing traffic to the WP version, overwhelming the referrals from WP's tag aggregator system.

For a long time, my top post on Blogger was The German Pacific "Gutpela Taim Bipo"—not because of much interest in Germany's former colonies in the Pacific, but simply because the post had discussed floggings and executions, and had linked out to an image at a German academic site to illustrate Field Punishment No. 1 (the pillory, which replaced flogging). The German site later removed the image and I removed the link, thereby considerably reducing traffic to that post. Judging from the search terms that brought people there, a lot of people seem to be interested in flogging, public execution, the pillory, and the like, many if not most of them coming from European IP addresses, it seemed. (By the way, the Australians, not the Germans, were responsible for dramatic increases in public corporal punishments during the 1920s and 1930s in their newly acquired colony of New Guinea.)

WP's built-in blog stats keyed to individual blogposts rather than to monthly archives have yielded some surprising results, showing me that my posts about religion often attract as much interest as my posts on language. WP's tag aggregator gurus have also been kind enough to feature several of my recent posts on religion (and even war!), perhaps because I have remained relatively nonpartisan on those topics. For the record, I am a secularist who believes religion often serves a vital purpose, and also a Vietnam-era draftee who believes warfare is sometimes necessary. In short, I am neither a religion-bashing secularist nor a military-bashing pacifist.