Archive for July 2003
Something bucolic is happening in the centre of Manchester, and Ramage is not sure what. There are sheep, and not just any old sheep, but chocolate-brown Hebridean sheep with horns, and a cow, in Albert Square, offending the stalwart glare of William Ewart Gladstone and the snooty muttonchop sidewhiskers of HRH Prince Albert. There are sheds, and bales of straw, and curious allotments and polytunnels, affronting the Gothic Revival Town Hall.
What is going on? Ramage will find out….
These beautiful, precise images, painted in 1789, would have been the first glimpses people in Britain had of the amazing creatures of a ‘new’ southern continent. Ramage particularly likes the Anomalous Hornbill, and the Doubtful Lophius, the first of which is properly open-mouthed at being thought in any way abnormal, while the other is leeringly skeptical. Considering they were drawn from lifeless specimens sent back to London from Australia, they’re uncommonly vivid and enchanting, and must therefore represent an exceptional leap of the imagination on the part of the artist, Sarah Stone.
…being the operative word. Launched today, Moving Here is a searchable database covering 200 years of Irish, Jewish, Caribbean and South Asian emigration to England, bringing together material from institutions large (the Victoria & Albert Museum) and small (Oxfordshire Museums), with more to be added, no doubt. Documents open in PDF format, and copyright restrictions apply, but there’s all manner of fascinating things here.
…like somewhere out of a novel by Joan Aiken or E. Nesbit. Such is the atmosphere at Calke Abbey, in Derbyshire, where Ramage had a day out yesterday. Rooms full of stuffed birds, cases full of fossils, a crocodile’s skull, books in the library with titles like “Burke’s Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies”, and “A Trip To Siberia”. Strange, spooky tunnels built so that servants could get from house to kitchen garden unseen by the house’s owners. Best of all, a bright and vivid four-poster bed, hung with silk drapery embroidered with fantastic Chinese scenes – bright and vivid because it had never been unpacked from its 18th century box until the National Trust took over the property a few years ago. What dreams of far Cathay you could imagine yourself having, and be the first person to ever sleep in it, if only you could get through the glass display case…but then, of course, the whole house, lost in time, would vanish in a puff of smoke…
Since September 1996, a South African non-profit organisation called CyberTracker Conservation has been enabling traditional trackers, who are often illiterate, to record their knowledge, and aid wildlife conservation efforts, using handheld computers.
Louis Liebenberg, of CyberTracker, says: “Unless we can create jobs for traditional trackers in a modern context, then not only will traditional hunter-gatherers die off, but their traditional skills will also die off.”
(note: the humongous 281-character URL linking to The Chronicle of Philanthropy article was reduced to just 23 characters thanks to the tiny but perfectly-formed TinyURL.com – glad to be of service.)
More in connection with Robert Knox, via the Colombo Sunday Times:
“…talipot (1681). ‘[adoption of Sinhalese talapata, Malayalim talipat = Hindi talpat: – Sanskrit talapattra, leaf of the tala palmyra, or fan-palm, Borassus flabelliformis, transferred in Sri Lanka and Southern India to the leaf of Corphya umbraculifera.] A South Indian fan-palm, Corphya umbraculifera, native in Sri Lanka and Malabar, noted for its great height, and its enormous fan-shaped leaves which are much used as a material to write on.’
“It seems that Robert Knox, the first person to use the word in the English language, was responsible for misapplying the Sinhala name of the leaf of this palm – talapata – to the palm itself, which is known as talagaha. No doubt this was because talapata was applied to four common articles in the Kandyan Kingdom, all of which were made from the extraordinary leaf of the talagaha: namely strips for writing on, otherwise known as ollas, fans, umbrellas, and tents. Knox’s error is compounded by such attributives as talipot-leaf, talipot-palm, and talipot-tree, which are common in English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka and even included in the OED2 entry.
“Knox writes in An Historical Relation of Ceylon (1681):
“The first is the Tallipot; It is as big and tall as a Ships Mast, and very streight, bearing only Leaves: which are of great use and benefit to this People; one single Leaf being so broad and large, that it will cover some fifteen or twenty men, and keep them dry when it rains . . . It is wonderful light, they cut them into pieces, and carry them in their hands. The whole leaf spread is round almost like a circle, but being cut in pieces for use are near like unto a Triangle: They lay them upon their heads as they travel with the peaked end foremost, which is convenient to make their way thro the Boughs and Thickets. When the Sun is vehement hot they use them to shade themselves from the heat. Souldiers all carry them; for besides the benefit of keeping them dry in case it rain upon the march, these leaves make their Tents to ly under in the Night.” “
"The Dose of it is about as much as may fill a common Tobacco-Pipe, the Leaves and Seeds being dried first, and pretty finely powdered. This Powder being chewed and swallowed, or washed down, by a small Cup of Water, doth, in a short Time, quite take away the Memory and Understanding; so that the Patient understands not, nor remembereth any Thing that he seeth, heareth, or doth, in that Extasie, but becomes, as it were, a mere Natural, being unable to speak a Word of Sense; yet he is very merry, and laughs, and sings, and speaks Words without any Coherence, not knowing what he saith or doth; yet he is not giddy, or drunk, but walks and dances, and sheweth many odd Tricks; after a little Time he falls asleep, and sleepeth very soundly and quietly; and when he wakes, he finds himself mightily refresh’d, and exceeding hungry."
An extract from Robert Hooke’s paper on the use of cannabis, delivered to the Royal Society in London on the 18th December, 1689.
Hooke learned about cannabis from coffeehouse discussions with Captain Robert Knox, who had been held captive on the island of Ceylon for 20 years, and had written, probably with Hooke’s help, a book about his experiences, published in autumn 1681.
From Lisa Jardine’s fascinating forthcoming biography of Hooke, to be published by HarperCollins in September.
Read a Sri Lankan perspective on Knox here.