When British traders landed on Madagascar in 1630 they found the people uninterested in cloth, but willing to exchange an entire cow for between 7 and 12 carnelian red beads. The East India Company had recently acquired a stock of 216,550 of them, but the trade in carnelians was already very old, the gem being rated second only to lapis lazuli in Mesopotamia 6000 years ago. The Madagascans clearly understood precisely what it was they were being offered. You only had to wait a year to have a new cow, but these red beads were something else.
Up until the 19th century beads were often the prime trading medium. At the start of his hilarious and extraordinary Congo Journey (1996), Redmond O'Hanlon consults a Congolese fortune-teller and watches her use cowrie shells to see his future. These, he remarks, originated in the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, were possibly brought to Africa by Arab traders in the 13th century, then carried across the Sahara in a saddle-bag slung on a camel. They were then, in the form of a necklace, used both as a charm to ensure female fertility (and to help clairvoyants), and as currency.
Everyone has heard of the Europeans obtaining valuable commodities in Africa in exchange for handfuls of cheap, brightly-colored, industrially produced beads. The assumption has been that the recipients were child-like and didn't understand the true value of things. But beads had been traded across continents long before the Europeans arrived on the scene, and what they were entering, probably unwittingly, was a trade with a long history. O'Hanlon, who's a scholar as well as a humorist, recalls that the price of a slave in 1520 was 6,370 cowries.
Some people collect stamps, others coins, and some beads -- glass, stone or "organic" (such as shells). Peter Francis Jr has been obsessed with all of them for most of his life, at least since his interest was first aroused when teaching English in Iran. Today he heads the Center for Bead Research, runs a web site (www.thebeadsite.com), and is the author of Beads of the World, a standard book on the subject which he says he circled the globe 12 times to research.
You have only to visit the Web site to see how popular bead-collecting is, and the extent to which Francis is the high priest of the cult. There are trade beads, seed beads, Czech, Venetian and Japanese beads, and there will even be a Bead Expo in Miami in May 2003.
Of course the subject is not without its disputes. Is it true the Chinese weren't interested in glass beads? (Francis says they were, and also made them). What does "Roman" mean in ancient Oriental texts? (Francis says Greeks and Egyptians were both often called Romans because their lands were part of the Roman Empire). Did Roman merchants really live in Arikamedu in western India? (Francis says certainly, because we have their narrow-necked olive oil jars). And so on.
This new book is a detailed look at the movement of beads across Asia, from 300 BC to the present. The geographical range and the time-scale are thus equally extensive. And it was a continually active business. Ships carrying consignments of bulkier goods would also carry beads, and the trade flourished, with people buying them for personal adornment, for status, for their perceived magical powers, or as tokens with a set value, and then handing them down as heirlooms.
The book confines itself to Asia, but even so there's a huge amount of ground to cover. The author opts for the maritime trade rather than the better studied Silk Road, possibly just because it is less well researched.
These sea routes are anyway fascinating in themselves. In the days of sailing, the round-trip from Europe to China would take three years, running the gauntlet of the Malacca Straits, where winds were weak and pirates plentiful. The Arabs, however, had worked out how to squeeze the trip into 12 months, taking full advantage of the seasonal monsoons by departing on one specific day of the year.
Taiwan makes an appearance via the Chinese-made bead heirlooms of the Paiwan aborigines. The author acknowledges help from Taipei's Taiwan Museum (currently closed following earthquake damage in March), and samples of these necklaces are apparently held there.
Francis is quite astonishingly learned, and his footnotes are a marvel in themselves. It's always an honor to listen in to the talk of experts, and reading this book gives you precisely that feeling. If you want to know whether beads made in Egypt had short production runs (and so can be readily dated) or were made unchanged in design of 1,500 years, then Francis is your man.
Striped beads, mosaic beads, tubular beads, folded beads, pierced beads, stratified beads, gold-glass beads, segmented beads, translucent beads, combed polychrome beads, polished and drilled beads, leadless glass beads, opaque white beads -- the profusion is extraordinary considering that a bead is simply a nugget of material with a hole through it. "Simply?" you can hear Francis exclaim incredulously. "There's nothing simple about them! They're the most varied things imaginable!"
Nevertheless, this is probably not the book for would-be collectors. If you see someone sitting on a Taipei street offering a few strings of beads among the jade and polished Buddhas, the volume to aid identification would be the 2nd edition of Beads of the World (1999). This book, by contrast, is a scholarly survey of an entire system, of manufacture and distribution, the ebb and flow of stylistic and technical influences, covering half the world.
The final impression on finishing it is of the vastness and variety of Asia, the antiquity of its civilizations, and the interconnectedness of its traditions. This is probably not what the author aimed to convey, though he undoubtedly has a very strong feeling for it. But it is nevertheless what a non-expert gleans from this magisterial and meticulous, and to professionals undoubtedly near-definitive, overview -- that, and a sense of wonder.
Otto von Bismarck once famously remarked that the “great European war will come out of some damn foolish thing in the Balkans.” We may have inched closer to that damn foolish thing in recent weeks. On Feb. 1, a new law came into effect in China, which codified Beijing’s claim that its well-armed Coast Guard could remove vessels in its waters “illegally” and use force against them if necessary. This is no more or less a “law” than any other law administrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), since Beijing could use its Coast Guard to attack vessels from other
March 01 to March 07 There was only one Taiwanese department head in Taiwan’s first post-World War II provincial government: Sung Fei-ju (宋斐如), who served as deputy director of the department of education. Sung, who lived in China for over two decades, had close ties with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and was also allowed to start his own newspaper, the People’s News-Leader (人民導報). Aside from Sung, only a handful of Taiwanese held significant positions in the government, almost all of them banshan (半山, half mountain) like him. The term refers to those who moved
Taimali Township (太麻里) is about 15km south of Jhihben Township (知本) in Taitung County, a glorious ride along the electric blue Pacific coastline. Having spent several days scouting out the upper reaches of the Jhihben River gorge for possible camera trap locations for Formosan clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa), a friend and I decided to explore the next river drainage to the south. The Taimali River gorge is yet another remote and relatively unknown wilderness area of Taitung County that has likely never been properly surveyed for wildlife, and this is certainly the second place that I plan to search for
In the introduction to his new manual on how to live a meaningful life, Jordan Peterson sets the tone by recounting the hellish sequence of health crises that afflicted his family during 2019 and last year. They included his wife’s diagnosis with a rare and usually lethal form of kidney cancer, and his own downward spiral from severe anxiety and dangerously low blood pressure into benzodiazepine dependency and an acute withdrawal response, near total insomnia, pneumonia in both lungs, and “overwhelming thoughts of self-destruction,” culminating in his waking from a medically induced coma in a Russian intensive care unit with