In the period 1870-1890 José Augusto da Cunha Moraes photographed European trading posts along the coastline of Congo and Angola. The Dutch National Museum of World Cultures holds several of these images in its collection.
Companies like the Nieuwe Afrikaansche Handels Vennootschap (NAHV) built premises, so-called ‘factories’, on plots of land that belonged to local rulers. In return, the companies were obliged to pay for the use of the land. Furthermore, local rulers provided each factory with a representative, or ‘mafuka’. The mafuka, called ‘linguisters’ by the Europeans, were men of distinct families with in-depth knowledge of local law, politics, and the network of African traders. They negotiated prices between the trading companies and the African traders who brought agricultural produce; thus they were crucial for the profitability of European trade.
All trading companies depended on African labour for an array of tasks, these workers were managed by the linguister. 1 Men and women from the coastal region Cabinda in particular were recruited as canoe men, cooks, carpenters, and domestic servants. Appreciated by European trading agents, the Dutch NAHV-employee Onno Zwier van Sandick described the men and women from this region as ‘relatively developed’ and ‘with potential to be civilized’, claiming they learned their skills of British and Portuguese ships who patrolled the Congolese coast to prevent illegal transatlantic slave shipments.2.
Photographs of José Augusto da Cunha Moraes (1855-1933, in several Dutch museum collections, provide visual information about a Dutch trading firm with settlements along the coastline of Angola and Congo, in the second half of the nineteenth century. Kerdijk & Pincoffs, and its successor ‘Afrikaansche Handelsvereeniging’ (African Trade Association) would come to dominate trade in a region that struggled with the troubled transition from the slave trade to forms of indentured labour.
In 1849 Henry Kerdijk and Lodewijk Pincoffs founded a firm that traded in indigo and madder. Located in the port Rotterdam, shipping was another branch of the company, which gained in importance following the stagnation of the dye trade in the 1850s. 1 In 1857 Kerdijk & Pincoffs bought the British trading company Horsfall & Co. in the village Ambriz, northern Angola. Together with the firms Tobin & Co. and Hatton & Cookson, Horsfall was one of the three firms from Liverpool in Ambriz. Historians assume these company premises functioned as barracoons for enslaved Africans up to 1807 – when the United Kingdom prohibited the transatlantic slave trade. 2 After 1807 the nature of their business changed to so-called ‘legitimate commerce’ or ‘legitimate trade’: European manufactures, predominantly cotton pieces, weapons and spirits, were traded against African raw materials, notably palm oil, gum copal and ivory. 3
In 1836 Portugal outlawed the transatlantic slave trade. Nevertheless, the number of illegal shipments of African captives sharply increased between 1830-1865. Whereas Luanda had been the most important port of embarcation in Central Africa during the slave trade, Portuguese-Brazilian merchants and slave smugglers from Spain and Cuba relocated further north to the port Ambriz.4 Slave trading firms from Rio de Janeiro organized shipments of enslaved Africans to Brazil, when these were abolished in 1850 they concentrated on Cuba.5
The illegal slave trade and the legitimate trading companies were connected. In theory, the trading companies strictly limited their activities to lawful barter trade. In reality, the clientele of Cuban and Brazilian middlemen provided the trading companies with cash payments. These slave smugglers bartered the purchased European goods for enslaved men, women and children from the African interior. 6 In the first year in Angola, Kerdijk & Pincoffs started trade with Portuguese slave dealers in Ponta da Lenha. 7
Advertisements found in the database Delpher show the first shipment of Kerdijk & Pincoffs arrived in May 1858 in Rotterdam from Luanda, the administrative center of the Portuguese.8 Within a year of opening a factory in Ambriz, Kerdijk & Pincoffs followed British traders to nearby Kisembo, in order to avoid the high Portuguese custom dues in Ambriz.9
In 1860 Kerdijk & Pincoffs opened a factory in Banana, along the Loango coast of Congo. The factory was adjacent to the trading company of Victor and Louis Régis, from Marseille. In the early 1830s, Régis began trading in Senegal, and expanded southwards to Sierra Leone and Angola. In 1841 the French state granted the company permission to open a trading post in Dahomey at Whyda, in the ruins of a fort that had functioned as a depot for enslaved Africans. 10 Régis became pivotal in a scheme of the French government to procure human labour for the colonies in the Caribbean. In 1831 France ended the slave trade and signed a convention with the British against human trafficking. This convention expired in 1856, which opened the way for France to contract Régis to recruit and transport African labourers for Guadeloupe and Martinique. 11
Between 1857-1863 Régis purchased enslaved people from African authorities, declared them free and signed them to indentured labour contracts. The French ‘redeemed’ enslaved Africans mostly in Boma, one of the former centers of the Atlantic slave trade, but housed the so-called ‘free emigrants’ (émigrés libres) in newly built factories in Banana and Loango. In each factory up to fourteen hundred people could be housed.12 The French considered the redemptions as ‘an act of humanity’, yet the mortality on the early voyages was high. At the end of the scheme, Regís had carried around seventeen thousand people to the Caribbean colonies, their properties in Banana were sold to neighbouring Kerdijk & Pincoffs. 13
With the settlement in Banana as the centre of the commercial activities, Kerdijk & Pincoffs expanded further in the Angolan region Cabinda. In 1868 Kerdijk & Pincofss became a limited company under the name of Afrikaansche Handelsvereeniging (African Trading Association – AHV). By 1871 the company had opened thirty-three factories in Angola and Congo, in 1877 this had risen to forty-four. 14 In 1879, after a financial scandal, the company continued as ‘Nieuwe Afrikaansche Handels Vennootschap’ and traded in Africa until 1982.
Further reading & listening
Roquinaldo Ferreira, ‘Writing the history of abolitionism in the Portuguese South Atlantic’, Brown Univerity (March 20, 2014) https://youtu.be/pSwe8zhdvIk.
Niek Joosse, Afrikaanse Droom. De handel van Henry P. Kerdijk en Lodewijk Pincoffs in Afrika, 1857-1879. (Master Thesis Geschiedenis, Erasmus Universteit Rotterdam 2016) https://thesis.eur.nl/pub/34933.
A studio portrait by José Augusto da Cunha Moraes in the collection of the Nederlands Fotomuseum (Dutch Photomuseum) shows two Angolese men carrying a European man in a hammock, locally known as a maxilla. Pictured in Angola at the end of the nineteenth century, the two men were in all probability unfree labourers, or so-called ‘servants’ (serviçais).
Drawing on an extensive range of sources, social historian Roquinaldo Ferreira showed that in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Luanda, the economy was entirely dependent on the enslaved population. They performed a wide array of activities, ranging from menial labour to specialized tasks as carpenter, sailor, blacksmith, and brickmaker. In Luanda, enslaved women and men could be rented out by their owners, or temporarily perform paid jobs. On the streets of Luanda, it was a common sight to see European settles being carried around in a hammock by a myriad of enslaved men.1
Throughout the nineteenth century, consecutive legislative measures led to the Portuguese prohibition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1836 and culminated, in 1869, in the abolition of slavery in the Portuguese African territories. In the words of Angolan historian Maria da Conceição Neto, abolition in Angola was belated and ‘neither immediate nor complete’.2 The decree of 1869 determined that those with the legal status of ‘slaves’ (escravos) were to gain their freedom and become ‘libertos’ before April 1878. However, in 1875 Portuguese legislators annulled the status of libertos and supplanted this with the legal category of ‘servants’ (serviçais).3
Clarence-Smith explained the economic foundations of slavery remained unaltered in Angola until the second decade of the twentieth century. Firstly, every ‘servant’ (serviçal) had to sign a five-year contract with the slaveholder who ‘freed’ him. Although cash wage payments to serviçais were mandatory, the salaries were continuously reduced. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for slaveholders to solely pay in paper bonds, which could only be used in the stores they owned. A second mechanism was formally illegal. At the end of the initial five-year contract, it was prolonged for another five years, mostly by means of intimidation and corruption. The colonial administration was heavily involved in the third mechanism: the ‘subcontracting’ of serviçais for financial compensation. This led to a continuation of the buying and selling of human beings as if they were commodities.4
Clarence-Smith insists slavery continued in an economic sense, whereas in a legal sense the status of ‘serviçal’ ensured fundamental rights to life and property.5 In the same vein, Conceição Neto acknowledges the effects of the era slave trade were prolonged through colonial policies, yet she insists historians should carefully distinguish between the different types of unfree labour.6
The Rijksmuseum and The National Museum of World Cultures (Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen – NMvW) in The Netherlands together hold over more than two hundred photographs by José Augusto da Cunha Moraes (1855-1933) in their collection. His father opened a photography studio in São Paolo de Loanda (now: Luanda) in 1863, and J.A. da Cunha Moraes became a professional photographer in the 1870s. By the 1880s he had produced over four hundred photographs. According to historian Jill Dias (1944-2008), his individual portraits were exceptional, for they captured the social contrasts in the capital of colonial Angola.1
In the second half of the nineteenth century, inhabitants of the coastal town Loanda were divided into two categories: civilized and uncivilized.2 White Europeans constituted the elite of society, among them were landlords, traders and slave owners. 3 A minority were free Portuguese settlers, the majority came to Angola as convicts (degredados). Since early modern times Portugal had practiced degredo: the limiting or degrading of the legal status of convicts by means of forced exile.4 The exiles served a practical purpose: 97% of Portuguese migrants choose Brazil as their new home. The African colonieswere no less important in the Portuguese self-perception as an imperial nation. Forced colonization provided the necessary manpower to make the overseas territories profitable. 5
Since Portuguese settlers and degredados were almost exclusively male, they formed families with local women. Their mixed race descendants were included in the Loandan elite of ‘civilized peope’. 6 These Euro-Africans acquired positions in education, in the army, clergy and public offices of the colonial administration – although their main economic occupation remained trade, including slave trade. 7
Dias stated Da Cunha Moraes preserved the image of this elite, 8 but didn’t include any examples. Hitherto I haven’t been able to find other secondary literature on this subject that provides photographs from the end of the nineteenth century. Unfortunately somewhat speculative, I wonder whether some of the photographs in the collection of the NMvW are portraits of women belonging to the Luso-African elite. In some of the captions of the NMvW it is explicitly mentioned the women are of mixed descent. One description (RV-A45-52) contains the family name of the sitter: Gamboa.
Experts emphasize that the Loandan elite of the nineteenth century was culturally and racially mixed.9 The category of the ‘civilized’ included Africans of different ethnic groups, who were educated, Christian, cosmopolitan, possessed assets, capital and dressed in a European manner. It might not be impossible that Da Cunha Moraes portrayed African families of the Europeanized elite of his city, who designated themselves as ‘filhos da terra‘, ‘filhos do país‘, (sons of the country) or ‘Angolenses‘.
Around the turn of the century, social relations in Angola transformed, leading to the subordination of the ‘filhos da terra’. Portuguese planters and administrators who failed to achieve economic and social development ascribed this to the ‘inherent barbarism’ of Africans. In their perspective, modernizing Angola equaled increasing the white population. As a consequence, the white population of Angola tripled between 1900-1930. Furthermore, a new, racially differentiated wage system was established, along with a limit for the number of Africans that could be employed in the civil service. Hence, being white became a prerequisite for positions of authority in the colonial administration. 10. By 1920 the Euro-African elite had been excluded from the administration of the colony and public life. 11
De collectie van het Rijksmuseum omvat een drietal foto’s van Samuel Bourne waarop een rivieroever en een gedenkteken centraal lijken te staan. Bourne maakte de foto’s in 1865 om plaatsen van herinnering in Cawnpore (nu: Kanupur) vast te leggen. Hier werden in de beginfase van Indiase Opstand (1857-1858) gewelddadig Britse mannen, vrouwen en kinderen gedood.
De Indiase Opstand (1857-1858)was gericht tegen het gezag van de Britse East India Company (EIC). Tegen 1850 opereerde de EIC niet langer als een handelscompagnie, maar richtte het zich volledig op het civiel en militair bestuur van India.1 De opstand begon in mei 1857 in het kantonnement Meerut (in Noord-India) en werd bijna een jaar later neergeslagen; na de overkomst van 35,000 manschappen uit Groot-Brittannië. 2 In de geschiedschrijving is de Opstand tot in de twintigste eeuw aangeduid als de ‘sepoy muiterij’. Het leger van de EIC leunde vanaf de achttiende eeuw sterk op Indiase sipahi (soldaten) in hun oorlogsvoering tegen de Fransen en Indiase vorsten.3 De muiterij in Meerut zou zij voortgekomen uit de weerzin van zowel Hindoeïstische als Islamitische soldaten in het Bengaals leger van de EIC tegen het gebruik van dierlijk vet voor de kogels van de nieuw ingevoerde Enfield geweren. 4
Historicus Biswamoy Pati (1956-2017) kenschetste in zijn inleiding op een bundel over de Indiase Opstand, het centraal stellen van de muiterij van de sepoys, als een ‘typisch koloniaal perspectief.’ 5 De voorstelling dat één groep in opstand kwam en dit beperkt bleef tot Noord-India, was immers gunstig voor de koloniale machthebber. Roy haalde in zijn introductie studies aan waaruit bleek dat brede lagen van de bevolking in 1857 in verzet kwamen; van grootgrondbezitters die zich keerden tegen belastinghervormingen tot landbouwers en adivasi (inheemse gemeenschappen). Daarbij strekten opstanden van uiteenlopende groepen zich uit over geheel India, tot in het uiterste zuiden. Bovendien was de uitbarsting in 1857 een voortzetting van hevig verzet sinds de eerste helft van de negentiende eeuw tegen de toenemende macht van de East India Company.6 Pati noemde als element van het koloniaal perspectief de nadruk op de ‘barbaarse aard’ van de opstandelingen. 7 Dit aspect trad op de voorgrond in de herinneringspolitiek rondom de gebeurtenissen in Cawnpore.
Een van de noordelijke steden waar de bevolking en soldaten in opstand kwamen was Cawnpore. Indiase handelaren en geldschieters die gefortuneerd waren door zaken te doen met de Britten, werden tot doelwit. Britse burgers en militairen zochten in juni 1857 hun toevlucht in versterkte barakken aan de zuidelijke rand van de stand. Na drie weken van beschietingen garandeerde de lokale leider van de Opstand, Nana Sahib, de groep een veilige overtocht met vier boten over de rivier Ganges. Echter, op het moment dat de Britten bij de rivieroever Satti Chaura Ghat aan boord gingen, werden zij door de opstandelingen onder vuur genomen. Mannen die dit overleefden werden alsnog in de rivier, of later aan land, ter door gebracht. De vrouwen en kinderen werden naar een afgelegen villa in Cawnpore gebracht. Rebellerende soldaten weigerden hen te doden. Deze daad werd verricht door ingehuurde slagers, die de meer dan tweehonderd lichamen achterlieten in een waterput.8 In zijn beschrijving van de gebeurtenissen merkt Mukherjee op dat geweld een ‘essentieel component was van de Britse aanwezigheid in India.’ De Opstand doorbrak het geweldsmonopolie van de Britten, met gewelddadigheden van Indiërs die tot dan toe ongekend waren. 9
In 1858, de opstand was nog in volle gang, werd het beeld van de ‘Engel der wederopstanding’ geplaatst, in 1863 werd het ommuurd door een achthoekig bouwwerk in gotische stijl. Vrijwel direct na de opening van het park werd het een vast onderdeel in de rondreis van hoogwaardigheidsbekleders én Britse toeristen. In 1875, toen de Prins van Wales Cawnpore het monument aandeed, trok het monument dagelijks bezoekers; tot het begin van de twintigse eeuw meer dan de Taj Mahal. Auteur Heathorn schrijft dat de Indiase Opstand de symbolische afstand tussen de Britten en de Indiërs vergrootte: de moorden in Cawnpore zouden hun gedegeneerde, wilde en barbaarse aard tonen. De ‘Engel der opstanding’ fungeerde niet louter als gedenkplaats voor de onschuldige vrouwen en kinderen die het leven lieten; het was evenzeer een waarschuwing voor het alomtegenwoordige gevaar van een nieuwe rebellie. Aanvankelijk diende dit ter rechtvaardiging van represailles gedurende de opstand 10 , zoals het in brand steken van dorpen in de nabije omgeving van Cawnpore waarbij de bewoners omkwamen. In juni 1857 werd krijgswetgeving aangenomen waardoor het leger burgers kon berechten. In de praktijk leidde dit tot ophanging op grote schaal van mannen die verdacht werden van muiterij. 11 Ideeën over het niet aflatend Indiase gevaar werden gereproduceerd door de toeristische ‘pelgrimage’ langs alle steden waar de Britten grote verliezen leden in de Opstand, de reisverslagen en historische werken én foto’s van commerciële fotografen als Bourne. Circulerende beelden van het park in Cawnpore vervulden zodoende een belangrijke rol in de Britse herinneringspolitiek. 12
De aanleg van het park en de gedenkplaats met de engel werden bekostigd met de opbrengsten van een speciale belasting (circa 30,000 pond) die de gehele bevolking van Cawnpore was opgelegd, als collectieve straf voor het uitblijven van verzet tegen de opstandelingen. Indiërs dienden een speciale vergunning aan te vragen om het park te mogen betreden. Deze werd hoogst zelden verleend en ook dan bleef het voor hen verboden om het bouwwerk met de engel te betreden. 13
Gezien het toegangsverbod voor Indiërs mag het opmerkelijk heten dat Bourne op bovenstaande foto drie Indiase mannen in het park liet poseren. Wilcock vermoedt dat Bourne drie dagers voor de camera plaatste, op gepaste afstand van het monument. In zijn analyse van de foto stelt Wilcock dat de drie mannen niet vastgelegd zijn als individuen, maar als belichaming van de native ofwel ‘inlander’. Wilcock ziet een ambivalentie in de foto: van de mannen gaat niet de geringste dreiging uit. Hij hanteert de term stoffage, afkomstig uit de schilderkunst, om de positie van de Indiërs te omschrijven. De drie mannen geven een indruk van de schaal van het monument en verlevendigen het geheel. De staande houding van de man in het midden harmonieert met de slanke bomen die ordelijk in het park geplant zijn, de zittende mannen weerspiegelen elkaars houding. Het beeld van ‘potentiële rebellen’ werd hier verdrongen door Britse opvattingen over de passieve, ‘indolente Indiërs.’ 14
The May edition of the Dutch professional magazine for the perfoming arts ‘Theatermaker’, features my article ‘Gevangen in de beeldtaal. Afrikaanse mensvertoningen in Nederland’ (‘Locked up in the imagery. Human exhibitions of Africans in The Netherlands’). Kindly I would like to thank Floortje Bakkeren for initiating this opportunity, Simon van den Berg for his patience and constructive feedback and editor Katharina Veraart.
Scramble for Africa
In 2009, Bert Sliggers, at the time curator of the Teylers Museum Haarlem, was the first to compose an overview of human exhibitions in The Netherlands. Using posters in city archives and reports in print media, he counted 34 human displays in 46 cities during the years 1825-1913. More than a decade after Sliggers’ publication, online databases allow for an expansion of Sliggers initial overview. Thus far I traced 68 human exhibitions in 366 Dutch cities in the period 1809-1951, mainly through advertisements and reports in the database Delpher. Almost half of the exhibited groups involved Africans, which is consistent with findings for human exhibitions worldwide. The peak of the human displays coincided exactly with the ‘Scramble for Africa’: between 1880 and 1914, the continent was colonized and divided among European powers.
In Dutch newspapers the human exhibitions were announced as African villages and ‘ethnographic exhibitions’, implying a truthful representation and educative experience. However, these human exhibitions were first and foremost a construction based on European notions of Africa and therefore staged in minute detail. Stemming from social Darwinism was the persistent conviction that Africans were the most primitive humans on the evolutionary scale. They were perceived to be closer to the animal kingdom and, by extension, very far removed from the apex of human evolution: the Occidental ‘white race’. Consequently, zoological gardens were regarded as a most suitable environment for the exhibitions of Africans.
The zoological garden of The Hague was the location for human exhibitions. In 1889 Dutch journalists described the Angolese women and men that were exhibited by Louis Joseph Goddefroy as “charcoal black creatures with their ape- like movements”, the face of one of the women was compared to that of a gorilla, her baby son to an orangutan.
Some of the people that were exhibited by Goddefroy were serviçais : the property of Portuguese slaveholders. In his memoirs, Goddefroy recounted he bought one of the men after he was imprisoned after he tried to escape. The Angolese exemplify one end of the spectrum: people who were forced, sometimes after kidnapping, to be displayed.
The other end of the spectrum comprises Africans who willingly chose to take part in the exhibitions. A case in point is Sam Emanuels from Sierra Leone. Since 1902 he was a member of the group ‘Mandigo Warriors’, Amsterdam was part of their tour in 1909. Anne Dreesbach mentions in her dissertation that Emanuel became an organizer of human exhibitions himself. He defined himself as a professional actor and impresario for ‘ethnic villages’ and seemed to have created agency and opportunities for himself and the men, women, and children in his group. Nevertheless, I argue this agency was limited since Emanuel remained chained to deeply rooted European perceptions of Africans as inferior.
As can be seen on the poster for Emanuels’ show. the women wear costumes with uncovered arms and open neck; markers of unrestrained sexuality. The woman in the foreground smiles seductively at the viewer. Moreover, she carelessly holds a spear in her hands, while young children learn to handle the weapons. The combat scenes, ‘martial exercises’ and ‘sacrificial dances’ in the human exhibitions arose from ideas about the innate compulsion to brutality of Africans.
The overview of Sliggers ended with the First World War, but in the 1920s elements of human exhibitions remained ingrained in popular culture. A poster from the Theatre Collection of the Allard Pierson Museum shows Hans Stosch-Sarrasani, a legend in the circus world. He is portrayed in the costume in which he, seated on an elephant, made a grand entrance into the arena. The turban, glittering jewellery and the decorations adorning his chest seem to be expressions of the exuberant imagination that made a visit to his circus such a colourful experience. German historians offer a different perspective. They interpret the inclusion of elements of human exhibitions in circus acts as a ‘colonial fantasy’.
Cultural historian Marline Otte (1999) states that Sarrasani dressed as a maharaja because he considered himself the enlightened ruler of a circus empire of native Americans, Arabs and Bedouins, Ethiopians, Indians, Chinese and Japanese. The cultural stereotypes from the human exhibitions thus became interwoven with an ideology based on racial superiority.
Dutch collections contain photographs of the 1930 Dutch tour of ‘Capitain’ Alfred Scheider and ‘Dawudu’s’, a prelude to the interweaving of the core ideas of human exhibitions with national socialism.
Schneider is still renowned for his lion acts, but since 1921 he was organizing human exhibitions, known in Germany as Völkerschauen. In 1930, the so-called ‘Dawudu’s’ were men who had served in the German military in the former African colonies, African-American Clarence Walton, and women of mixed Afro-German descent. His experience with Völkerschauen made Schneider, an early member of the NSDAP, eligible to briefly become the leader of the Deutsche Afrika-Schau in late 1936. The Deutsche Afrika-Schau was founded around 1934 by Afro-Germans to protect themselves against overt hostilities and racism after the NSDAP came to power.
According to historian Susann Lewerenz (2006), some of the Afro-Germans had worked in theatres and the variety circuit. Initially, they performed cabaret, acrobatics, and vocals in the Afrika-Schau from their own repertoire. Schneider removed their own artistic repertoire and situated the Schau in the familiar setting of an African village: on the one hand to portray perceptions of inferiority, and on the other as propaganda for German colonialism. The photographs in Dutch collections have not yet been included in publications about the Deutsche Afrika -Schau and are thus a visual source of the history of this specific human exhibition.
Dreesbach, Anne, Gezähmte Wilde: die Zurschaustellung ‘exotischer’ Menschen in Duitschland, 1870 – 1940 (Frankfurt 2005).
Lewerenz, Susann , Die Deutsche Afrika-Schau (1935–1940). Rassismus, Kolonialrevisionismus und postkoloniale Auseinandersetzungen im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland, (Frankfurt am Main 2006).
Otte, Marline, ‘Sarrasani’s Theatre of the World: Monumental Circus Entertainment in Dresden, from Kaiserreich to Third Reich’, German History 17/ 4 (1999), 527 – 542.
Thode-Arora, Hilke, ‘From Samoa with love? Colonial power displays, commodities and state presents – contextualizing and exhibiting the Samoa collection in the Fünf Kontinente Museum, Munich’, in: Deutschen Museumsbund (ed.) Museumskunde band 81 1/16 (2016) 28-34.
Winkler, Dietmar, “Kapitän” Alfred Schneider : ein Sachse unter 100 Löwen : eine dokumentarische Biografie (Gransee 2014).
This blog post is inspired by the Menaka Archive. Launched in November 2019, the archive presents the findings of four years of research into the European tour of the Indian ‘Menaka Ballet’ from 1936-1938. The Menaka Archive has a very rich database, including primary sources and a meticulous list of tour dates. Whilst the website is aimed at dancers and musicians in Germany and India, I attempt to make a small contribution by using Delpher – the Dutch database for digitized books, newspapers, and magazines. I will focus on Menaka’s first Dutch performances in 1931.
In the French database ‘Retronews’ the first European performance I could find was on November 7, 1930 in the Salle Pleyel, Paris. Menaka was accompanied by her dance partner Nilkanta and singer Bina Addy. 1 In March several Dutch newspaper reported that Menaka was ‘persuaded’ to perform in The Netherlands after successful shows in Paris and Berlin. 2
18 March 1931
23 March 1931
24 March 1931
8 April 1931
5 & 6 June 1932
Dutch Indies Exhibition
1931-1932 Menaka in The Netherlands, based on announcements in Delpher.
Reporters of two national newspapers, De Telegraaf3 and De Tijd, 4 interviewed Menaka and Nilkanta. Both journalists quoted Menaka when she shared her views on the state of dance in her home county. Her remarks can be examined in the wider context of fundamental shifts in Indian dance, during the 1920s-1930s.
Menaka: […] In India dance is at a very low level. The same dances are performed in the temple and general gatherings, but the performers are women of uncivilised demeanour. There is no difference between general dances and religious dances, the dances in the temple are not religious. […]5
Menaka , the stage name of Leila Sokhey (née Roy) hailed from Calcutta, where she belonged to a Brahmin family. As a child, she saw many performances of professional dancers 6, in the above quote she referred to them as ‘uncivilized’. Until the twentieth century, dancers in India belonged to specific, artistic communities. Women of these communities received extensive training in dance, literature, music, and singing from childhood onwards. In North India the professional artistes were attached to predominantly Muslim courts, with cities like Lucknow and Jaipur, among others, as reputable artistic centres.
The British Raj (1858-1949), or direct rule in India, disempowered local kingdoms. A significant number of dancers and musicians across North India left regional courts and migrated to the city Calcutta, the new administrative capital. Here the art of the hereditary dancers became reliant on the patronage of men from the wealthy, upper-classes. 7 Menaka’s negative appraisal of the dance artistes reflects the sentiment of the anti-nautch movement that spanned from the early 1890s to the 1930s. ‘Nautch’, is an Anglicized form of the Hindi word for dance, naach. There is a large body of literature that is concerned with the anti-nautch movement and the subsequent transformation of dance.8 Amrit Srinivasan was one of the first to discuss this campaign against hereditary dancers in the context of social reform movements of the late nineteenth century.
Pressure groups, associations and lobbies of educated Hindus served in that period as a platform to respond to critiques brought forward by British missionaries and legislators. In doing so, Hindu reformers defined the hereditary dancers in Victorian terms. 9 Compared to other women, dancers possessed a degree of agency: they were very well versed in the arts, literate, and had non-marital relationships with men: their patrons from the upper strata of society. Due to these non-conjugal, sexual relationships hereditary dancers were criminalized as morally inferior ‘prostitutes’. 10
As a result of complex changes in the moral, political and judicial realm, the hereditary artistes were removed from the dance and replaced by women from the upper castes, deemed worthy to perform the art. 11
Menaka broached this subject in the interviews: […] When Pavlova 12 saw me dance in my family circle, where I often danced, she said to me: “why don’t you dance and do something with your life. You can be of value for your people.” This entailed grave difficulties before I could even begin, I had to convince my husband, then my family and eventually all people from my caste. In 1927 I gave my first dance recital in Bombay, to a shocked and indignant audience. However, the second time I received much approval and I received many letters from girls of my class who wished to receive formal dance training.[…] 13
While recognizing the manifold factors that contributed to the displacement of hereditary dancers from the art, Natarajan mentions the personal interest of Brahmin women like Menaka who took to dancing. In their struggle to overcome caste barriers, their priority was legitimizing their own public appearances. The plight of the hereditary dancers, or seeking avenues where they could pursue their profession, was hardly a concern. 14
‘Priestess of dance’
[…] Meanwhile she chatters about famous Indians like Tagore and Gandhi. She tells us how she as well is bothered by the fact that India isn’t purely Eastern anymore. Despite her European orientation […] she wants to devote herself with all her might to save the pure Indian dance. […] “Menaka was the priestess of the all-knowing deity Indra, I want to be the priestess of Hindu dance”. […] 15
Leila Sokhey was born into the so-called bhadralok¸ the upper and middle classes of Bengal who articulated a sense of nationalism., with members of the Tagore family as preeminent intellectuals. Their nationalist construction of the Indian identity revolved around a distinct Hindu spirituality, which was embedded in ancient traditions and scriptures. While hereditary dancers were considered degraded, the art itself was conceived of as a sacred heritage, an embodiment of devotion, untouched by Islamic or European culture. 16
[…] What I mean with my movement for dance in India is a reconstruction of the ancient dance. For this I have found material with teachers who have taught dance from generation upon generation. However, they taught only in the technical sense; the spirit was completely lost. […]17
In this quote Menaka makes it clear her teachers were the men from the hereditary artist communities. Although masters of music and movement, they did not embody the ‘pure’ dance:. […] I had to start from scratch. […] One sees in statues and reliefs that ancient Hindus must have had an extraordinary technique. […] I do think Balinese dance embodies Hindu dance in its purest form. […]18
The performance in The Hague in March was tremendously successful, Menaka and Nilkanta were invited again to the theatre for one evening in April 1931. In 1932 they performed two days during the ‘Indische Tentoonstelling’, a colonial exhibition in The Hague. According to newspaper Het Vaderland the dance couple was preparing their journey to India, since Nilkanta had to return because of family circumstances. Despite the fact that the Dutch Indies were the focal point of the exhibition, Het Vaderland mentioned Menaka and Nilkanta agreed to end their European performance here because of the ‘Indian atmosphere.’ 19 In 1936 Menaka would return to The Netherlands for a far more extensive tour.
Dance on the shore of the river Jamuna
Dance of the goddess of dawn
Dance of spring
The wife of the warrior
Dance of devotion
Dance of the snake maiden
Birth of the goddess Lakshmi
The Buddhist sculptures of Amaravati
The well of the village
Dances performed in 1931, Source: Het Vaderland (16-03-1931 and 19-03-31).
Several museums hold photographs in their collection that combine elements that figured prominently in the British colonial imagination of India: Kashmir and dancing women.
When Irish poet Thomas Moore published his ‘Oriental Romance’ Lalla Rookh in 1817, it became an instant bestseller. Moore’s main character was the fictional daughter of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1618-1707), her name translates as ‘tulip cheek’. She travels from the imperial court in Delhi to Kashmir, for her marriage to a young prince in the garden Shalimar (‘the abode of love’). Moore evoked an image of an idyllic Kashmir, with a scenery of otherworldly beauty.
The author never set foot in Kashmir. His ‘romance’ was based on an extensive library of travelogues, pictorial sources and scholarly treatises on India, Persia and Central-Asia. Nevertheless, Lalla Rookh moulded perceptions of later artists that visited India. In 1846 the East India Company (EIC) created the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and sold the territory to ruler Gulab Singh. 1 As a princely state the area became accessible for travellers like the watercolourist William Carpenter (1818-1899). He travelled through India from 1850-1857 and made a series of paintings in Kashmir in the years 1854-1855. Using Lalla Rookh as a travel guide, he visited the landmarks in the city of Srinagar that Moore had extolled four decades earlier.2
‘Two Natch girls’ of Carpenter contains elements that enabled the spectator to relate it to Kashmir. The two women are wearing white Kashmiri gowns, known as pheran. Usually, a lighter gown (poots), is worn underneath the pheran but Carpenter has omitted this, allowing to show more bare skin. One woman smokes a hookah, the other dreamily looks sideways. The flower in her hand could be a blooming tulip, as a reference to Lalla Rookh. Both women are framed within Mughal architecture: on one side the baluster column, on the other the stone window (jarokha), with a grand view of the mountainous landscape.
‘Natch’, which Carpenter used in the title, and ‘nautch’ were Anglicised forms of the Hindi word naach¸ a neutral word for dance. Today, nautch is considered a problematic term. Barlas showed that women with widely diverse occupations and skills were called ‘nautch girl’. This encompassed highly trained poets, singers, and dancers who were attached to courts and temples, as well as women who earned a living as entertainers or prostitutes. Thus nautch was a false or even illusory category. 3 Nonetheless, some photographs in different collections seem to contain traces of a distinct art form that was subsumed in the category of nautch.
Samuel Bourne (1834–1912) is considered one of the most important photographers of colonial India, working in the second half of the nineteenth century. The majority of his work consists of landscapes and architectural splendours, while his images of Indian people are less numerous. 4 In 1863 he established the firm Bourne & Shepherd, by 1866 the catalogue included 600 different photographs, about a third of Kashmir. 5
Bourne commented on his portrait of a group of ‘natch girls’: […]They were very shy at making their appearance in daylight, as, like the owl, they are birds of the night. […]They squatted themselves down on the carpet which had been provided for them, and absolutely refused to move an inch for any purpose of posing; so after trying in vain to get them into something like order, I was obliged to take them as they were, the picture, of course, being far from a good one. […] 6
Although Bourne complained about the women’s unwillingness to pose, another photograph in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum shows a lively image. A group of men is sitting on a carpet, in their midst musicians; the rectangular santoor, the Kashmiri zither, is clearly discernable. Some spectators have turned their faces to the photographer, but the focus is on the two standing women in the middle of the semi-circle. The woman on the left holds the hem of her transparent skirt in her hand, creating movement while standing still. The group is surrounded by lush trees, it seems very likely Bourne made the photograph in a pavilion (baradari) of Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, the garden of love where the fictional Lalla Rookh married.
One of the competitors of Bourne’s firm was Baker & Burke. Like Bourne, founder John Burke took more than a hundred photographs in and around Srinagar. 7 In Burke’s group portrait five musicians are playing their instruments. On the left, a player of the santoor is sitting in front, next to him a man holds a sehtâr, a Kashmiri lute. On the right, behind the musician on the santoor, two men hold a saaz-e-kashmir, a local version of the viol.
The combinations of these instruments strongly suggest this is an ensemble of Sufiana Kalam, considered by Kashmiris as their classical music. 8 Sufiana Kalam was performed in religious as well as secular gatherings (mehfil), where musicians sang the mystical poems of Persian Sufis. The music ensemble accompanied Hafiza Nagma, professional dancers who sang in Persian and Kashmiri and conveyed the meaning of the words through bodily movements, facial expressions, and hand gestures.9
Portraits by Bourne and Burke show that they were not concerned with the intricacies of a performing art. Instead, the commercial success of their works depended on exoticizing the ‘nautch girls’. Barlas argues this was achieved by the physical depiction of the women.10 In the painting as well as the photographs the white pheran, emphasize femininity (as perceived at that time). Carpenter paid much attention to the elaborate hair jewellery (matha patti), 11 and their nathni (nose ring) seems to glisten.
Another trope of exoticization is the woman who is performing in a public or private space. 12 To communicate the ‘nautch girl’ was actually dancing, photographers Bourne and Burke used the pose of a woman holding the hem of her skirt in her hand. Burke chose the pose of one hand at the back of the head. Photographers of the successful commercial company of Francis Frith repeated this same pose more than ten years later. 13
Objects, probably available in the photo studio, enforced the meaning of women reclining or lounging. In Burke’s group portrait of the ensemble, two women are smoking a hookah and within reach are two samovars, a Kashmiri speciality to boil, brew and serve tea. In the photograph of Asisi the samovar stands on a tray with teacups, an echo of the painting of Carpenter. Asisi has freed her feet from her shoes (khussa), and leans against a bolster (gao takia).
In combination with the reclining pose, the photograph suggests spectators are offered a view in the private quarters of the women, in India known as zenana. This suggestion is even stronger when several women are in the picture.
Bourne, as well as Firth, made a composition with a woman seemingly alone in a room. She is reclining in a half-lying position, one side of the body supported by the bolster. She evokes sensuality and pleasure while transgressing Victorian morality. This perception would determine the fate of the dancers, singers and artists in the whole of India after 1890. Performing Hafiz Nagma was prohibited by the Kashmiri ruler in the early 1920s, the tradition is now all but lost.
Over deze groep is weinig informatie te vinden. Onderzoeker Rainer Lotz is gespecialiseerd in Afro-Amerikaanse artiesten die aan het begin van de twintigste eeuw in Europa optraden. Hij stelt dat de ‘Four Black Diamonds’ afkomstig waren uit San Fansisco en rond 1905 naar Europa kwamen – het is niet duidelijk of dan wel wanneer zij terugkeerden naar de Verenigde Staten. Evenmin is met zekerheid vast te stellen welke artiesten deel uitmaakten van de groep, van hun persoonlijke levensloop is dan ook niets bekend. Op basis van advertenties en recensies concludeerde Lotz dat de groep groot succes had met liederen die waren gebaseerd op folklore uit de Alpen, die zij ten gehore brachten in zogeheten ‘lederhosen’. Lotz wist te achterhalen dat de groep in 1909, 1912 optrad in het Scala theater in Den Haag en in 1919 Amsterdam aandeed. 1 Uit Delpher blijkt dat zij vaker in Nederland hebben opgetreden. Het volgende lijstje geeft data weer waarop in een advertentie de ‘4 Black diamonds’ werden aangekondigd.
Lotz schrijft dat de groep gedurende de Eerste Wereldoorlog de optredens voortzette in het Verenigd Koninkrijk en rond 1922 uit elkaar ging, een datum die overeenkomt met hun laatste optreden in Nederland.
Vanaf 1613 begonnen experimenten met de verbouw van tabak in Virginia, sinds 1607 de eerste Engelse kolonie in Noord-Amerika. Een luttele vijf jaar later werd er meer dan achttienduizend kilo tabak naar Engeland uitgevoerd.1 De teelt was uiterst bewerkelijk en vanaf 1618 werd dit bewerkstelligd door onvrije arbeid, aanvankelijk door mannen uit Engeland. Vanaf halverwege de zeventiende eeuw zagen landbouwers uit Wales en Engeland zich door het mislukken van oogsten genoodzaakt een contract aan te gaan dat hen verplichtte vier tot zeven jaar op de tabaksvelden te werken.2
Van groter belang was de slavenarbeid. Engelse kolonisten kwamen in het bezit van inheemse Amerikanen door hen te ruilen tegen wapens. Deze ruilhandel werd bedreven met inheemse bevolkingsgroepen die zich bewapenden, mede om te voorkomen dat zij zelf tot slaaf gemaakt werden. Zodoende bereikten de Richahecrian en de rivaliserende Occaneechi een dominante positie die hen in staat stelden andere inheemse groeperingen te onderwerpen en verhandelen.3 Hoewel de prijzen fluctueerden, bleef de productie van tabak toenemen – wat mogelijk was door de trans-Atlantische slavenhandel. In de periode 1698-1774 werden naar schatting 80.000 tot 100.000 mensen uit Centraal- en West Afrika naar Virginia verscheept. 4
Tegen deze achtergrond zou het houten beeld uit de collectie van de Ottema-Kingma Stichting kunnen worden bekeken. In 1605 opende de eerste tabakswinkel in Londen, herkenbaar aan de uithangborden. Molineux liet in een uitgebreide studie van Britse vignetten en advertenties zien dat een hybride figuur ontstond, de black virginian waarin Turkse, Afrikaanse en inheems Amerikaanse elementen werden samengebracht. 5
De eerste afbeelding van een black virginian is te zien in het boek ‘The smoaking age or the life and death of tobacco‘ (1617). Het frontispice is een weergave van het interieur van een tabakswinkel. Op de toonbank is een kleine, donkere figuur te zien; hij rookt een pijp, houdt een tabaksrol onder zijn linkerarm en aan zijn voeten liggen kleipijpen. In Engelse havensteden waren houtsnijders die zich specialiseerden in het vervaardigden van boegbeelden en sierlijk bewerkte achterstevens. De houten virginians in tabakswinkels, koffiehuizen en tavernes zijn mogelijk van hun hand afkomstig. 6 Gedurende de zeventiende eeuw verspreidde de figuur zich in het Engelse straatbeeld: eigenaren van tabakswinkels lieten visitekaartjes, kwitanties en verpakkingsmateriaal ontwerpen waarop de virginian te zien was 7 Vanaf de achttiende eeuw werd de figuur ook afgebeeld op tabakszakjes, vignetten en advertenties in Nederland. 8
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