Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Sugar Bolero,The Prince of Orange and Ethanol

Or, qua patet orbis(as far as the Earth goes)
-the motto by which the Prince Mauritz van Nassau-Siegen was known.The first Dutch ships arrived in Brazil in 1624,three years after the Dutch government founded the West Indies Company as a means to conquer territories in West Africa and America.In 1630,after the unsuccessful attempt to invade Bahia,the country's political center,the Dutch returned to occupy Pernambuco,which they called "zuickerland"- sugar land.The Dutch presence in Pernambuco lasted 24 years,as they were definitively expelled in 1654.Prince Mauritz van Nassau - Siegen did not arrive in Brazil until January 1637,having been apointed General Governor.

(Marco Maciel- DUTCH BRAZIL- Documents in the Leiden University Library- Editora Index -Rio de Janeiro 1997)

In 1644,quarrels with the West Indies Company culminated in Mauritz of Nassau's return to Holland after seven years' residence in Brazil.Outstanding amongst the treasures taken with him to Europe on that occasion were a great number of pictures,odd paintings,studies and sketches relating to Natural History,carried out by the artists who had accompanied the Prince to the New World.In 1652,a substantial parcel of this collection was granted to Friedrich-Wilhem,Elector of Brandenburg,in exchange for certain aristocratic titles and lands in the environs of Cleeves.Incorporated into the Elector's private library in Berlin,this component contained watercolors and sketches already bound in two volumes,known as "Libri Principis" or "Manuals",besides numerous paintings and odd crayon drawings.The names of the animals and plants of the New World recorded by the artists in the Dutch Brazil documents, under Nassau's command,to facilitate the reading,had the letters "j" and "u" invariably replaced by "i" and "v".The books containing the sketches done during Nassau's stay in Brazil are now kept in Krakow.In general terms,the Dutch occupation of north-eastern Brazil was one of the chapters in colonial expansion and the consequent strengthening of the merchant bourgeoisie whose rise to power had such an impact on seventeenth century Europe, sealing the fate of the massive Portuguese and Spanish overseas empires.

In 1623,Holland was able to take the strategic strait of Hormuz,expelling both the Portuguese and the English,having the greatest navy of that age,the Low Countries inflicted defeat upon defeat on the declining Spanish navy.1624, the Dutch moved against the New World, seizing control of a few islands in the Caribbean,Surinam and north=eastern Brazil,one of the main sugar - producing area.Despite concentrating their efforts on the Orient,the Dutch did not neglect the Atlantic,imposing strict control over trade in the river Hudson after 1610 and starting the colony of New Amsterdam,now New York.

The world we live in is only a circle .

Ethanol produced from sugar..

Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 -
Dubai and the Strait of Hormuz

By Mike Whitney
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Napoleon Bonaparte said,
“If you want to understand the policy of a country, look at the map.”Geography is fate.

The United Arab Emirates is situated at the center of an oil-dependent world. This tiny state forms the promontory that juts out into the famed Strait of Hormuz through which 40 percent of the world’s oil passes every day. Across the narrow straight sits Iran, the next victim on the list of “axis of evil” nations. Any attack on Iran will require that military forces quickly deploy to Dubai to forestall the closing of the strait and the subsequent devastation that would cost to world oil supplies and financial markets.This is the critical point that is being intentionally concealed by America’s diversionary media. This is the reason that President Bush continues to force the Dubai port-plan even though 70 percent of the American people and Congress resoundingly oppose it.The importance of UAE as a staging area for future hostilities cannot be overstated. No military strategy can hope to succeed without first establishing a beachhead across the strait in Iran, so that the danger of blowing up oil tankers and blocking passage is removed. This tells us that plans for an attack may be on track for late March as originally threatened by Israel.For its part, Iran has been trying to work out an agreement for enriching uranium with Russia, although Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still insists that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) provides an “inalienable right” for the peaceful development of nuclear fuel.Ahmadinejad is right, of course, but it makes little difference. The United States has already brushed aside the Iran-Russia plan and is pushing to have the Security Council censure Iran at its next meeting. So too, talks have broken off between Iran and the EU-3 without producing any positive results. The Euro-leaders are clearly abetting Washington’s gambit; paving the way for another war.Why?Ahmadinejad has done nothing to help his cause by blurting out absurd statements that have made him look foolish and irrational. (Israel should be “wiped off the map”) Still, it’s doubtful that anyone could withstand the withering “swift-boating” of the western media once they commence their campaign of character-assassination, the likes of which we have seen many times before.Ahmadinejad recently said, “We want peace, security, and progress for all the countries of the region, especially our neighbors. History has shown that Iran is a good neighbor. We are just working on nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes.” His comments, of course, were not covered in the western media since they conveyed the message of a responsible leader with benign motives, rather than the ridiculous blather of a madman.As far as we know, however, Ahmadinejad has been straightforward in his claims. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has consistently found that Iran has fully complied with the terms of the NPT and that there “is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program.”That hasn’t stopped Washington, though. The die was cast for war with Iran nearly a decade ago in policy papers drawn up by far-right political ideologues who now control all the levers of foreign policy in the Bush White House.The situation with Iran is bound to reach crisis-level this week as the IAEA’s board off governors is expected to issue a statement expressing its fears that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.Al Jazeera reported, “Diplomats in Washington and Vienna said the Security Council could adopt a 'presidential declaration' calling on Tehran to heed IAEA calls to suspend uranium enrichment and cooperate with inspections.”A “presidential declaration?”This is a clear admission that the IAEA has NOT found Iran in violation of its treaty obligations, but is looking for some way to accommodate the United States’ insistence that Iran should be publicly scolded by the international body.Will this public humiliation be used as a pretext for war?A Western diplomat told AFP the European countries had “decided against a resolution” at this week’s board meeting, after hearing from Russia and China that there was no support for one. (Al Jazeera)Again, this suggests that there is no proof of foul play.Nevertheless, European leaders and the United States want to issue a “statement” that would call on Iran to voluntarily suspend all enrichment activities and submit to more extensive investigations.” In other words, Iran is being asked to voluntarily give up all of its rights under the terms of the NPT.But why would Iran willingly accept being treated like a pariah when there is “no evidence” that it has done anything wrong?The hypocrisy of this Bush-backed plan is breathtaking. Bush just finished a trip to India and Pakistan, where he effectively declared himself the final arbiter of who will get nuclear technology and fuel and who won’t. His actions were a clear affront to the IAEA, the UN, the NPT, and the United States Congress, which is supposed to determine such matters as treaties.Bush has apparently elected himself the god of all-things nuclear.He has successfully destroyed the already feeble credibility of the NPT by capriciously handing out nuclear technology to friends and withholding it from enemies. He turned the notion of evenhandedness and international law into a private fiefdom where science and technology are distributed according to the whims of Washington mandarins.The NPT is dead.Will this final assault on international agreements clear the path for war with Iran?It is hard to say, but the Financial Times reported, “Iranian activists involved in a classified research project for the marines told the FT the Pentagon was examining the depth and nature of grievances against the Islamic government (Iran) and appeared to be studying whether Iran would be prone to violent fragmentation along the same kind of fault-lines that are splitting Iraq.”So, along with the $85 million Congress just voted to provide for “pro-democracy” movements in Iran, Marine Intelligence is looking for ways to exacerbate ethnic tensions to foment revolution to topple the Tehran government. The plan for “regime change” in Iran is still being aggressively pursued, even though neighboring Iraq is in utter chaos.The UAE port deal is just more indication that an attack on Iran is forthcoming. Its location is crucial to the success of any American invasion.For Pentagon warlords Dubai has become the strategic-epicenter of the global resource war. As peace-activist and author Uri Avnery said,

“Regimes come and go, rulers rise and fall, ideologies flourish and wither, but geography stands forever. It’s geography that decides the basic interest of every state.”All eyes should be focused on Dubai and the tenuous future of the Strait of Hormuz.

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal


West African Woman and Child

( also known as "Negro Woman") Oil on canvas 265 x 178cm
Ethnographic Department of National Museet, Copenhagen

"Not less than their men, the Moorish women are also of comely straightness with beautifully proportioned bodies, but they are not indulged because of this, rather they must, along with their men and children, do the backbreaking labor in the mills and the sugar fields. Many of them are familiar with Spanish and Dutch money, and they receive from their masters fowl, birds, fish, and many different kind of fruit (to sell) - everything counted out precisely. If the Moor woman does not pay attention carefully or takes money incorrectly even if it is only a "stübers"-worth- and afterwards cannot account for every penny of her wares to her signor, she is bound immediately and must suffer many hard blows, so that many women choose rather to stay with the backbreaking work than risk such dangerous commercial enterprise. Our people, as well as the Portuguese, have found it at present expedient to give their slaves, whether man, woman, or child, an identifying mark with a hot iron on the breast or neck, firstly because there are many black freeman, but also because when they run away from their masters (as they often do) and fall into the hands of those placed over them, called mestros del campas, they can be recognised immediately. These overseers bind their hands behind their backs and return them to their former masters for a fixed reward, where the runaways are received and made welcome with good hard blows."

(Zacharias Wagener, c.1640)

Albert Eckhout's enigmatic portrait West African Woman and Child (Oil on canvas 265 x 178cm)[note 1] was painted in 1641 during a seven-year sojourn to Dutch occupied Brazil to record the land and inhabitants of that region.[note 2] This painting is an icon of colonial oppression and exploitation - damning pictorial evidence of the practices of former colonial powers and their aggressive expansionist past. Eckhout's painting is examined within a historical context, illuminating the ideologies of the Dutch regime and the painting's broader iconographic position in Western pictorial discourse. [note 3]

The Dutch rapidly became the world's dominant maritime power during the 17th Century, challenging both Portuguese and Spanish naval supremacy.[note 4] Dutch expeditionary voyages at this time were voyages of conquest aimed at driving the Portuguese out of South America and Africa largely motivated by military, political and economic reasons, particularly to control the lucrative slave market and gain access to plantation crops, timber and mineral supplies. [note 5]

The Dutch West Indian Company briefly held a section of North-Eastern Brazil between 1630 and 1654 which they named New Holland. This region had been colonised earlier by the Portuguese for growing sugar and by all accounts was almost as prosperous as Portugal itself. [note 6]The Portuguese economic elite enjoyed relative self sufficiency on large agricultural estates organised on a patriarchal/feudal basis run by plantation barons' with labour provided by Brazilian Indian servants and African slaves. [note 7]

Most successful at securing the Brazilian coast line was Johan Maurits van Nassau Siegen who became governor of the new Dutch colony for 8 years. Maurits has been described as a humanist visionary, had wealth and connections with Dutch aristocracy and was well versed in the arts and sciences. Maurits brought with him an entourage of scientists, cartographers and artists to record and document the landscape, plants, animals and peoples of the area. This skilled team included such men as George Marcgraf - a cartographer, astronomer and naturalist; the physician Willem Pies (or Piso); the landscape painter Frans Post and the inimitable Albert Eckhout - a portrait and still life painter. This visual survey of Brazil during Dutch occupation was unequalled for 200 years until the expeditions of the 19th Century. [note 8]

Eckhout painted in the Dutch descriptive documentary manner of that time. [note 9]His paintings were very formal in structure and were imbued with a flat stage like quality with no direct light source - all attention is drawn to the centrally positioned figure and carefully arranged accessories. Eckhout's primary concern was to record and describe. His life-sized portraits were unusual in colonial art at the time as they were painted from Brazilian subjects in Brazil itself, - the earliest surviving portraits of the inhabitants of the New World. [note 10]

These ethnographic' portraits and plantation crop still lifes of Eckhout and bucolic landscapes of Post however, served more as advertisements for Dutch colonial possessions rather than as scientific records and the Dutch trading companies and Government officials who ran these colonies revealed their exotic possessions selectively via these paintings. Prosperous and successful aspects of the Brazilian colony were revealed. Contented slaves were depicted in tropical pastorals carrying bowls of bountiful produce or happily working in plantations. Monasteries, sugar mills and neatly laid out cash crop plantations with large comfortable residences were often positioned in the background, reinforcing Hollands' perceived position as an economically prosperous and socially stable colonial power even though its position in Brazil was tenuous. [note 11]

Tropical plants and animals embellished Eckhout's rich Brazilian portraits magnifying the exotic and unusual curiosities of this far off colony, while at the same time signifying a particular trait of the human subject they were positioned with. [note 12] Most importantly, Eckhout's portraits delineate socio-economic, caste and racial hierarchies under this Dutch Atlantic empire with the sugar plantation and port, clear and unambiguous renderings of a successful slave based plantation economy. [note 13]

Eckhout's depictions of the docile black slave woman in West African Woman and Child' and domesticated Brazilian Tupi Indians set in a tranquil Arcadia were anything but the truth. Although white plantation owners and free settlers lived in prosperity - for African slaves, living conditions were an oppressive hell on earth. Between the years 1636-1645, 23, 163, Africans were imported into the Brazilian towns of Recife alone by the Dutch. The importation of two million African slaves into Brazil between the 17th and 18th Centuries (mainly by the Portuguese) represented one of the largest forced migrations in human history. [note 14]

West Africans - particularly Angolans, were most favoured by the Dutch and Portuguese trading companies because of their supposedly more tractable nature and ability to work in tropical climates - conditions generally unsuitable for European indentured farm labourers who would have succumbed to the heat and would have to have been paid. [note 15] African slaves were often referred to as "black ivory" and were bought and sold as commodities like sugar, silver, timber, coffee or tobacco. [note 16]Each slave then being branded and registered once purchased. Without black slaves European tropical American colonies could not have existed for almost all physical labour was performed by them. [note 17]

Eckhout's paintings fail to show this darker side of Dutch Brazil. The brutality, disease, drunkenness, corruption and violence inflicted by the Dutch and poor living conditions of slaves were conveniently overlooked. The deliberately projected image was of a stable and prosperous exotic land. A picture the Dutch wanted the rest of the world the see.

Just as the Dutch plantations could not have functioned without black slave labour equally they could not have existed without an exploitable native population. [note 18] The coastal Tupi Indians who had already been domesticated with alcohol by the Portuguese were depicted in a similar manner to black slaves by Eckhout, although perhaps with a little more respect as these people officially were never enslaved, however as their land had been forcibly taken from them by the Portuguese and Dutch they had no alternative but to work for their colonial masters for to resist and rebel meant bloodshed. [note 19] On the other hand the Tarairus or Tapuya Indians, occasional allies of the Dutch when it suited them, lived outside the boundaries of European settlement. They were free ranging cannibals and were depicted by Eckhout in uncultivated settings without any hint of European presence. As the historian Ernst van den Boogaart put it. "The message behind Eckhout's series of pictures would then be: these are our Tupi, blacks, mulattos and mestizos, recruits to civility who show some promise: and those are our Tapuyas, our irredeemable, infernal allies". [note 20] From a semiotic viewpoint Eckhout's painting West African Woman and Child is rich in signifiers and therefore intentions. The powerful Oedipal inference running through the image may point to Eckhout having had a classical education with its emphasis on Greek tragedy and Sophocles in particular as well as the obvious Freudian reference to Eckhout's own subconscious.

In the background black fishermen are grouped around a coastal watch tower at an artificial harbour entrance. This observation tower could be a lookout for Portuguese insurgents or to spot Dutch vessels arriving with slaves and supplies, three of which wait offshore on the horizon. The watchtower has become a recurring metaphor for surveillance in Western pictorial discourse. From Sigmar Polke's Berlin Wall watchtower motif to television news video clips which focus on prison or border guards in watchtowers. In Eckhout's painting, Dutch colonial sovereignty including its slaves, must be protected. Power, order and control must be maintained through constant surveillance.
Eckhout used a classical schema for depicting his subjects - the men as noble or masculine types usually positioned carrying spears, clubs, guns or swords. While women were depicted with bowls of fruit, gourds of water or woven baskets - vessels or receptacles which allude to feminine form. The formal pose of the domesticated anonymous woman and child is accentuated by the way she holds the bowl of plantation produce in the same manner as statues of black women holding lamps, adorned the foyers of later nineteenth century Victorian mansions and hotels.
She is surrounded by an exotic, sinister and sexualised Brazilian flora[note 21] which counter and mock the formality of the woman's stance. These accessories and the type of clothing worn by Eckhout's subjects indicated social position, ethnicity, sexual desirability and degree of worth'. [note 22] Reorganisation of farm produce along capitalist lines emphasising cash crops was growing throughout Europe and its colonies. Bountiful still lifes depicting cash crop produce were common themes in Dutch art during the 17th Century. This is implicitly stated in Eckhout's painting.[note 23]

The woman appears strong and healthy - good for labouring in plantations and for bearing children, almost like a prized farm animal would be painted, as was common in English art in the following century. [note24] The Dutch clay pipe tucked into her red waist sash may have been given to her by the plantation owner or by a sailor, likewise the string of beads, earrings and peacock feather hat she wears are probably European gifts as these accessories are not African. Eckhout may have added these items simply to make the woman more exotic, alluring and desirable. [note25]

The woman's son (implied as her hand is placed upon his head) holds an African Peach-faced lovebird toward her, signifying her African origin and the plantation baron's ownership of her as one owns an exotic cage bird. In his other hand the boy provocatively holds a corn cob pointed toward her lower abdomen. The sexual intention of this act is clear. The corn cob as a plantation crop and symbol of fertility signifies the presence of the white plantation owner, while the product of his sexual liaison with her (almost certainly without her consent) is the child who has lighter coloured skin. Eckhout's depiction of the boy as mixed race or "mulatto" implies the black "savage" can be bred out of African slaves making them more civilised and therefore more acceptable to joining white society - in other words more human. The significance of the mulatto boy in this painting is fully revealed in another of Eckhout's works entitled Mestizo Man (265 x 163cm, oil on canvas, undated,Plate 2) where a man of mixed race (in this case Portuguese/African) positioned in front of sugar cane and paw paws, holds a gun, a weapon black slaves could never have owned. His still not quiet civilised' nature is indicated by his shoeless feet and peculiar local garb which includes a jaguar skin shoulder strap and cotton tunic. Here Eckhout shows the new man' of Brazil and most importantly through the dilution of his black blood, he has become empowered. [note26] In West African Woman and Child the boy's mixed race could be read as his ticket to freedom and salvation however Eckhout has emphasised the black coloration of the boy's penis - although this is a normal condition in people of colour, Eckhout's ulterior motive may have been to indicate that despite being partly Europeanised his black sexual potency has been retained. [note27] These pictorial signifiers sexualise both the woman and child as subservient objects - they simply exist for the ownership, service and pleasure of European colonisers - there are no discreet or subtle references in Eckhout's painting - they are blatantly obvious. Eckhout's portraits were made at a critical watershed in human history - the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment - a time of major re-organisation of agricultural, economic, scientific and social systems toward common structural hierarchies.

Michel Foucault pointed out that "the great tables of knowledge at this time developed according to the forms of identity, of difference and of order. Thought no longer consisted of drawing things together - the quest to find kinship/attraction/shared nature - sameness, but to one concerned with discriminating, establishing identities, connections of distinct elements in series - primary and fundamental elements of difference". [note28]

This is critical to understanding the change in attitudes toward perceiving races, castes and types' in humanity. In the seventeenth century there developed a new consciousness in Europeans of their position in the great order' of humankind. This was the direct result of increasing European colonial expansion into tropical countries inhabited by other races and their subsequent enslavement and subjugation for economic and political purposes. Eckhout's portraits establish in pictorial form a classification system based on difference and order, fundamental to developing later racial hierarchies and power structures - primarily Apartheid. Significantly there is an absence of Dutch and Portuguese as subjects in the Copenhagen series of Brazilian "ethnographic" portraits by Eckhout. This absence of Europeans enhances their authority - by not showing those in power with the "others". [note29]

One of the central functions of the black servant in Western Art from the 17th to the 19th Centuries was a maker of the sexualization of the society in which he or she was found. The presence of black servants indicated the presence of illicit and immoral sexual activity, disease, corruption and other vices either directly or implied. Black servants stand for the dichotomy of repulsiveness and attractiveness of an exotic humanity. [note 30] These concerns emerge in works such as William Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress (Plate 2) of 1731 where the young black servant is associated with the perversities of human sexuality in a corrupt society. Likewise in Manet's Olympia of 1865 where the black servant woman's shadow-like form denotes her presence as a harbinger of sexually transmitted disease. [note 31]

Eckhout's West African Woman and Child clearly belongs to this Western pictorial tradition. Africans (as well as Australian Aborigines and Pacific Islanders) because of their perceived more primitive' nature were associated with an unbridled, lascivious animal-like sexual appetite. These stereotypes further developed during the 18th and 19th centuries through the various theories of Buffon, Cuvier and Darwin. [note 32]

The white colonial mentality saw Africans as needing to be controlled by white Europeans, that those retained under slavery with its strong discipline and "healthy" physical labour, kept in good health, became more intelligent and were less likely to fall into vice and corruption as they were gainfully employed, (even though the average life of a plantation or mine worker may have been only seven to ten years). [note 33] While those freed from slavery were perceived to be lazy, listless, more prone to disease, poverty, vice and most significantly, diseases of the mind. The perceived link between race (ie Black African) and a predisposition of madness is a recurring theme in Western Art. [note 34] The feathered hat worn by the woman in Eckhout's painting could be a reference to this. The pathological and moral arguments put forward for the retention of slavery and for social segregation based on race and caste were of course put forward for economic and political reasons rather than for the genuine welfare of Africans.

Similarly Eckhout's deliberate failure to depict the woman's characteristic brandmark of ownership carried by all slaves, shows his awareness of the disastrous economic consequences which could have resulted for the Brazilian colony (and Holland itself) if an offended and outraged Dutch audience were to register their disapproval to that brutal and inhuman practice of branding and ultimately to slavery itself. [note 35]

Eckhout's West African Woman and Child then, despite its apparent realism is not about this particular nameless woman and her son, the painting says nothing about their identity, character and personality or the suffering and brutality they would have been subjected to. [note 36] It is instead a construct of Western European male colonial vision with its selective and deliberate censorship and dissemination of information.
Eckhout in his paintings of the people of Dutch Brazil, has delineated a hierarchy or order based on race, caste and ethnicity which determines social status, rights and freedom. Each race, caste or ethnic group has been assigned a particular place, this hierarchy was common to all European tropical colonies, for without this clearly defined order, colonial agricultural economies and power structures simply could not have worked.

This enigmatic painting bluntly and clearly presents that race of humanity at the very bottom of that colonial order - the African slave. It has been constructed through a series of coded images or signifies similar to modern advertisements offering a prosperous and successful Dutch colonial outpost with the promise of exotic women and sex. Eckhout's West African Woman and Child is a colonial trophy of conquest and subjugation promising what a potential colonizer could own. [note 37] It attests to perhaps one of the greatest atrocities in human history - the wholesale enslavement of humanity purely for the economic benefit of a white Western European consumer society. [note 38]

Some 356 years have passed since Albert Eckhout painted West African Woman and Child and 109 years since slavery was abolished in Brazil (the last former European colony to do so) yet Eckhout's image is still relevant today. Blacks are still the great excluded, marginalised people of Brazil even though the Brazilian constitution officially bans discrimination. African Brazilians, until recently, have rarely challenged their lot at the bottom of society because of their slave heritage (some 40% of the population are of slave descent).

Brazilian Indians won worldwide support for their struggle to preserve their way of life, yet for urban blacks, poverty, widespread unemployment and poor education are a fact of life, with few opportunities of escape. Power, wealth and government still lie in white (Portuguese) hands as they have done for centuries. Control and dissemination of information through the mass media by the White establishment ensure constantly depicted images of a Portuguese Brazilian white ideal.[note 39]Conversely Eckhout's images delineate a hierarchy of a "lesser" humanity as seen through the eyes of the white colonial Dutch from the pinnacle of their racial order.

"Officially" in Brazil there is no apartheid yet everyone "understands" the unwritten law. Just as each subject's place was "understood" in Eckhout's Brazilian portraits. Yet in West African Woman and Child, Eckhout's very image of racial inequality, there lies hope for black Brazilians for as Foucault reminded us - the act of dominance and control is never complete nor entirely successful. Power structures are merely illusory, and within that illusion always exists the possibility of their demise.

Posted by Marg at 10:14 PM

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