Sunday, February 19, 2017

My 52-Book-Year #11: The Coming

In The Coming, Daniel Black recounts the horror surrounding the capture of hundreds of native Africans, the weeks-long sea journey to America, and the subsequent sale into slavery of those few hardy native men and women who survived the brutality meted out to them at every step along the way.

In his Dedication to the book, Black writes:
“This book is dedicated to the memory and celebration of African souls lost in the Atlantic Ocean. We have not forgotten you. You are our strength. We, your children, exalt you and sing of your glory forever. This is also for those who reached land but never made it home. Your struggle was not in vain. We remember you. We name our children after you. We travel to Mother Africa and take you with us. You are home again.”
This is not any easy book to read. There are no snappy one-liners, no jokes, and little to ameliorate the constant horror that unfolds across some 280 pages. The book's narrator, recalls in unrelenting detail the almost constant abuse (beatings, whippings, rapes, and murders), experienced by the hundreds of captives from the moment of their captivity, to the moment they either died during the voyage or were sold into a life of bondage and slavery.

Lest readers of The Coming think that the author is overstating the events he describes in his novel, let me quote in full from The Irish Penny Journal, dated Saturday, November 28, 1840 (#22, Vol.1):
HORRORS OF THE SLAVE TRADE.—Commander Castle, R.N., while on service with the preventive squadron in 1828, in command of H.M.S. Medina, captured the Spanish brig El Juan, with 407 slaves on board. It appeared that, owing to a press of sail during the chase, the El Juan had heeled so much as to alarm the negroes, who made a rush to the grating. The crew thought they were attempting to rise, and getting out their arms, they fired upon the wretched slaves through the grating, till all was quiet in the hold. When Captain Castle went on board, the negroes were brought up, one living and one dead shackled together; it was an awful scene of carnage and blood; one mass of human gore. Captain Castle said he never saw anything so horrible in his life.
In the year 1831, the Black Joke and Fair Rosamond fell in with the Rapido and Regulo, two slave vessels, off the Bonny river. On perceiving the cruisers they attempted to make their escape up the river; but finding it impracticable, they ran into a creek, and commenced pitching the negroes overboard. The Fair Rosamond came up in time to save 212 slaves out of the Regulo, but before she could secure the other, she had discharged her whole human cargo into the sea. Captain Huntley, who was then in command of the Rosamond, in a letter, remarks—“The scene occasioned by the horrid conduct of the Rapido I am unable to describe; but the dreadful extent to which the human mind is capable of falling was never shown in a more painfully humiliating manner than on this occasion, when, for the mere chance of averting condemnation of property amounting to perhaps 3000l., not less than 250 human beings were hurled into eternity with utter remorselessness.”
Note: A Google Maps search suggests that the Bonny River mentioned in the above quote is in the region of Port Harcourt/Bonny Island, Nigeria.

Despite the horrors he writes about, Daniel Black's writing is remarkable beautiful, even to the point of being poetic. The following excerpts will give readers a sense of the overall mood and feel of the book and Daniel’s writing.
We wailed to remind ourselves we still existed. We wailed the names of our women above, whose screeches and pleadings drove us mad. We wailed for those who’d be dead by morning. We wailed for sons without fathers. Fathers without families. Families without communities. Communities without elders. Elders without children.
Writing about the impending birth of a child conceived as a result of rape and abuse during the sea voyage from Africa to the New World, Black writes:
Crewmen had used her body as a plaything, and now she carried someone’s offspring. She wanted to love the child, at least the part that was hers, but how do you divide a living thing? How do you love one part and seek the destruction of the other? And which part belongs to you? This was a mystery with no answer.
In her book, Where The Twain Meet, published in 1922, the Australian author Mary Gaunt writes about her travels through the Caribbean and in particular Jamaica. In successive chapters, Gaunt traces some of the history of slavery and the introduction of slaves into the Caribbean and Jamaica.

There are far too many horrific examples of abuse to select from in Gaunt’s book, but these few quotes from just one chapter, The Castles On The Guinea Coast, should more than suffice to support the research that Daniel Black put into writing The Coming. Unfortunately, Mary Gaunt neglects to provide details for the books or reports she quotes from throughout Where The Twain Meet, which makes it impossible to know more about a man called Spear, who she quotes from often.
Spear, in his book on the American slave trade, tells how, in the days when the trade was being suppressed, the British warship Medina, on boarding a slaver off the Gallinas River, found no slaves on board. “The officers learned afterwards, however, that her captain really had had a mulatto girl in the cabin … but seeing that he was to be boarded, and knowing that the presence of one slave was enough to condemn the ship, he tied her to a kedge anchor and dropped her into the sea. And so, as is believed, he drowned his own unborn flesh and blood, as well as the slave girl.”
In another passage, Mary Gaunt quotes a man called, Phillips, who I assume is the captain of a slave ship.
“We had about twelve negroes did wilfully drown themselves, and others starved themselves to death, for ‘tis their belief that when they die they return home to their own country and friends again. I have been informed that some commanders have cut off the legs of the most wilful to terrify the rest, for they believe if they lose a member they cannot return home again. I was advised by some of my officers to do the same, but I could not be persuaded to entertain the least thoughts of it, much less to put in practice such barbarous cruelty to poor creatures who, excepting their want of Christianity, true religion (their misfortune, more than fault) are as much the works of God’s Hands and no doubt as dear to Him as ourselves.” Surprising words from a slaver!
Surprising words from a slaver, indeed! How Phillips, Spear and the many other captains of slave ships could rationalise the hypocrisy between their so-called Christianity and the truly awful brutality they inflicted on their captives is beyond comprehension.

In several extended passages, Black seems to be writing about the world and society as it is today, while at the same time offering a commentary about a life of excess and indulgence before capture:
The allure of things caught our eye and made many of us desire what none of us needed. We began to throw away food simply because we didn’t want it. We crafted so much garb we couldn’t wear it all. We made huts large enough for ten when there were only five. This was not everyone, but it was enough of us to plant the seeds of excess among a people who generally valued simplicity. We had invited this plague of materialism and it had come.
As much as I marvelled at Daniel Black’s skill as a writer, I became emotionally exhausted by the constant descriptions of physical, mental and sexual abuse that filled the pages of The Coming. Add to these the regular descriptions of degradation (men and women lying and living in their own excreta and urine, vomit, and menstrual blood, et cetera), and I found myself wishing the book would end so that I, and the narrator of this sorry tale could finally get some peace.

But then maybe that is Black's intention. There is no way to pretend that the history of slavery was anything but savage and barbaric. The capture and removal of millions of Africans to the so-called New World, deserves to be exposed in all its many abhorrent ways. Especially since the legacy of this hideous trade still resonates around the world today, especially in the United States.

Daniel Black has written numerous books including, Perfect Peace, They Tell Me of a Home, The Sacred Place, Listen To The Lambs, and Twelve Gates to The City.

Daniel Black's writing is eminently suitable for quoting, as the following two quotes pulled from the book illustrate:
Silence is the enemy of history, and history is all we have.
— Daniel Black, The Coming

Greed cares not who carries it. It simply longs to live. And it can live in the heart of any man.
— Daniel Black, The Coming

Despite the graphic nature of The Crossing, I commend Daniel Black for writing about this import subject, and highly recommend the book to my readers, who may wish to purchase the book from Amazon in either print or eBook format via the link below.

- o0o -
Since first publishing this review on February 19, I have read more about the slave trade and the awful abuses that took place during one of the worst periods of Western history. As a result I have updated the initial review with quotes from The Irish Penny Journal, dated Saturday, November 28, 1840 (#22, Vol.1), and from Mary Gaunt's 1922 book, Where The Twain Meet. Both of these publications can be found on Gutenberg.Org.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wifi On Flights Out Of Australia?

A recent article (Here’s when you will be able to access free Wi-Fi on planes), over at the New Daily site examined the introduction of WiFi on airlines servicing the Australian flying public.

As someone who has made numerous international trips since 2008, I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you are cut off from the rest of the world while flying at 30,000 feet.

While it can be a positive experience to be able to ignore the constant demands of your smartphone or tablet device, and spend anywhere from two to 24 hours watching inflight movies, many travellers do need to be in contact, even if it is intermittent contact, with friends, family or their work colleagues.

Happily, things are starting to change, albeit slowly, and the complete disconnect from the online world during long-haul flights looks like it will soon be a thing of the past for Australian travellers, with the New Daily reporting that "...several local airlines [are] planning to roll out in-flight Wi-Fi."

This image shows the current state of WiFi availability with some of the major airlines servicing the Australian market. It would appear that Qantas is going to offer free WiFi to their passengers, although the article does not mention whether there will be restrictions on the amount of data that can be used by passengers.

If it is anything like the miniscule 10MB limit that Emirates are currently offering, you might as well leave your mobile devices turned off! On the other hand, if Qantas is going to offer free unlimited Wifi to all passengers, then I for one will be more than happy to make that airline my international carrier of choice.

According to the article, "Qantas plans to have the technology installed by late February, and Virgin Airlines is expected to follow suit later in the year."

I can't see the budget airlines, Jetstar and Tigerair, offering free Wifi anytime soon, let alone offering the service at all, but I live in hope.

So, what do you think, dear reader; can you live without a constant stream of tweets, Facebook updates, and Instagram uploads while flying to your next holiday destination, or are you, like me, so addicted to your mobile device that you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms two hours into your flight? Your comments await...

Site of The Day: 13.Org - Treasures of NYC

The New York City television station, THIRTEEN currently has 24 great programs ranging in length from around 28-minutes to 58-minutes.

As the series name suggests, each program examines an organisation or institution based in New York City, and of those I have watched to date about the Flatiron Building, St. Patrick's Cathedral, The Cooper Hewitt Museum and several more, I can attest they each offer great insight and information about the topic under examination.

I am sure that even resident New Yorkers will be rewarded with a new appreciation for many of the featured organisations when they watch the videos.

Unfortunately, not all of the films in the Treasures of New York collection seem to be viewable from Australia, which is where I live. When clicking links to some of the films I keep getting stopped by the message: We're sorry, but this video is not available in your region due to rights restrictions.

Visitors to Thirteen.Org from other parts of the world may have different results. Of course, if you live in the United States you should have no trouble viewing all the films on the site.

Here is a 57-minute video which serves as a great introduction to the Treasures of New York series. This examines the Landmarks Preservation Movement which is responsible for helping to save thousands of potentially endangered buildings across the five city boroughs. Without the Landmarks Commission, New York would not be the same wonderfully diverse and fascinating city it undoubtedly is today.

Note: For a time I was having trouble watching some online videos using Google Chrome. Happily it didn't take me long to fix the issue after I eventually asked 'Dr. Google' for the answer. This page, Fix Videos That Won’t Play in Chrome, provided the cure I was looking for. The problem is due to the fact that my Chrome browser settings had been set to HTTPS Everywhere. When I remove the 'S' (security) designation, videos played without a problem. Videos also played in a Google Chrome INCOGNITO window without issue. Given that the Safari browser on my system is not plagued with the same problem, I tend to use that as my default browser for watching online videos.

Note also that the HTTPS Everywhere setting even stops the embedded video on this page appearing on my iMac! Again, opening this page in a separate Incognito window solves the issue. To confuse matters even more, when I open this page on my PC laptop, my second generation iPad, and my Galaxy S7 smartphone it appears exactly as it should. Go figure!

UPDATE: Several hours after adding this blog post it occurred to me to check YouTube to see if the videos were available there, and lo and behold, most, though not all of them were. Sadly, the above video is not on the Thirteen.Org YouTube page. Still, if videos don't load on the organisation website, you can always try their YouTube page.

Sigh... After more than 25 years of using computers, I am amazed by how easy it is to still be confounded and frustrated by them.

Oh, and here is the link to the Thirteen.Org Treasures of New York section on YouTube. Enjoy...
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