Friday, March 30, 2007

Congo's Tin Soldiers: How you and I may be supporting modern-day slavery in central Africa

This is a ‘heads up’ post about a special CNN report on modern-day slavery and the misery that it causes for men and boys in the eastern DRC. Congo’s Tin Soldiers will be airing tonight, March 30th, on the new CNN weekly documentary series the World’s Untold Stories. In a preview about tonight’s show CNN writes,

It doesn't glitter like a diamond or burn like oil but cassiterite is another natural resource that is causing more pain than profit for the majority of Africans that try to extract it from their soil. Demand for cassiterite - a tin ore used in computer circuitry -- is on the rise. So too is illegal mining of the ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo where militias are forcing laborers to work in atrocious conditions with little or no pay. Reporter Jonathan Miller treks deep into the jungle to see how it works.

The CNN report is based upon an award-winning TV investigative news report by the same name, Congo’s Tin Soldiers, produced by Channel 4 News (U.K.) and Global Witness and reported by Channel 4 News foreign correspondents Jonathan Miller and Elizabeth Jones on June 30, 2005. Below I have included links to detailed reports and articles at the Global Witness website about illegal mining and child & slave labor in Congo’s mining industry so that you may learn more about how natural resources and armed conflicts in Africa have brought nothing but death and misery to people there.

Cassiterite (a tin oxide mineral) is the primary source of Tin, a metal which among other things is used to produce electrical and electronic products. As of lately tin has been in huge demand for the production of integrated circuit boards as a replacement for lead oxides, a substance that has been banned by national and international environmental laws in the manufacture of electronic products and parts. Tin is at present the highest traded metal on the London Metal Exchange and prices have more than tripled since the year 2000.

Some of my readers may remember my post about illegal resource exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo titled Diamonds are NOT a Girl’s Best Friend (Sep 2005), and the work that several journalists and online authors and bloggers have done to draw attention to this serious crisis in central Africa and other regions of the world i.e. Asia and South America. More than18 months have passed since I wrote and published that brief “heads up” post, and even more time has passed since the publication of several detailed reports and news articles from a variety of international organizations and news networks that have been attempting to bring this horrendous problem to the attention of the world audience for years. Over the past few months I have noticed the buzz around the December 2006 release of the Hollywood blockbuster film Blood Diamond, about the disaster that befell the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia during West Africa’s bloody civil wars period of the 1980’s, 1990’s, and right up to the present day (Cote d’Ivoire).

The documentary filmmaker icon Sorious Samura, a native of Sierra Leone who had witnessed the violence and killing in his home country firsthand, released his shocking documentary film Cry Freetown and a second documentary Return to Freetown years before producer/director Ed Zwick addressed the subject in Blood Diamond. CNN International aired a series of specials last month about conflict diamonds and the misery and suffering they have caused in West Africa. One program hosted by CNN Insight’s Jonathan Mann included interviews with Sorious Samura together with the lead actors Leonardo DiCapprio and Djimon Honsou. Insight News TV’s Sorious Samura and CNN aired on March 3rd, 2007 Samura’s latest work “Blood on the Stone”, a film that shows how illegally mined diamonds and the exploitation of children and young people continues in Sierra Leone and other West African countries to this very day.

I’ve also noticed that the film Blood Diamond has captured the attention of the “Bling-bling” crowd and other groups of young people worldwide. Hopefully the film and Sorious Samura’s documentaries and the follow-up efforts in the blogosphere and in the media (i.e. VH1’s bling’d: blood, diamonds, and hip-hop) will help to raise awareness, anger and downright revulsion toward supporting the trade in conflict diamonds and illegally obtained resources and slave labor in Africa and elsewhere around the globe.

The CNN/Channel 4 News special “Tin Soldiers” should do the same for the “Click-click” global crowd, those millions upon millions of people worldwide who purchase and use computers and cell phones (mobile phones) and a host of other electronic gadgets that may contain components made from the near slave labor used to mine cassiterite or coltan or gold or other minerals and metals in Central and West Africa. Just as governments, organizations, and activists worldwide are demanding that the mining and jewelry industries come clean in their sourcing of diamonds and gold, the same should apply to the electronics and engineering industries and their related businesses in the sourcing of metals and minerals used to manufacture their products. Let’s spread the pain here, let everybody feel what it is like to be a “Tin Soldier” in Katanga or in North and South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The fine independent journalist and author Mvemba Phezo Dizolele of the Eye on Africa blog has written articles and produced video reports (“Congo’s Bloody Coltan”) about the miserable conditions that men and boys work under in mining cassiterite and other minerals in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mvemba is a research fellow at the renowned Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and he has written articles and appeared in interviews on several press and media networks including the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, National Public Radio (NPR), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria, BBC World, Voice of America, and other noted media outfits. In other words, Mvemba is one of the hardest working guys in online news and he knows what he is talking about when it comes to the Congo and its neighboring countries in Central Africa.

So, since I am working on the subject of SLAVERY this month and next, let’s not forget about the people around the world who are still entrapped and suffering from 21st Century Slavery, like Congo’s Tin Soldiers. Enjoy the program and don’t miss it!

Update March 31st:

I watched the CNN program last night at 2000 CET and realized after the first 5 minutes that it was a verbatim re-broadcast of the original 2005 Channel 4 News report "Congo's Tin Soldiers". The CNN host for the World's Untold Stories program, Colleen McEdwards, should have pointed out this important information to CNN's international viewers but she didn't.

Nonetheless, it was both interesting and disturbing for me to watch this excellent documentary report again, so if you missed it last night, check the CNN program schedule (see link below) for repeat broadcast times this weekend in your region of the world.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Robert Mugabe, arguably one of the most disgusting and corrupt heads of state on the African continent, has left many in the international community in shock after he emerged victorious from an emergency session of the Southern African Development Committee conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania this week.

In the wake of the Blood Diamonds and Conflict Diamonds buzz over the past few months Mugabe & Co. (formerly the Republic of Zimbabwe) has come up with a new and lucrative twist on human and natural resource exploitation in Africa: Starvation Diamonds!
Here is the latest about Zimbabwe's Starvation Diamonds from an AP report of March 09, 2007:

Police move to curb diamond rush in eastern Zimbabwe by Angus Shaw, AP

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Police said they had tightened a cordon sealing off diamond diggings in eastern Zimbabwe to "restore sanity" and stop profiteers, including politicians and powerful officials, buying the stones cheaply from peasants and smuggling them out of the country, state radio reported Friday.

Checkpoints sealed off the diggings at Marange, 220 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Harare, and all visitors needed official police clearance documents to enter the area, it said. The measure was to "restore sanity" to the remote district where seams of industrial diamonds and gemstones were found close to the surface last year, provincial police chief Obert Benge told the radio.

Only genuine relatives of villagers living in the area qualify for clearance documents, he said.

"Senior officials who might intend to bulldoze their way into the fields will prosecuted," he said.

Last week, a top official in President Robert Mugabe's office, William Nhara, the principal director in Mugabe's Ministry without Portfolio, was arrested with a woman, identified as Lebanese national Carole El Martni, allegedly in possession of a bag of diamonds estimated at about 10,700 carats at the main Harare airport. Nhara was also accused of offering a US$700 (€ 530) bribe to airport security men who found the diamonds in baggage....

...The Marange diamond find led to a frantic Klondike-like rush to the district last year. In the past six months police arrested more than 30,000 illegal prospectors in a countrywide operation against unlicensed gold and diamond mining and smuggling. Most were fined and released.

Earlier this month, Gideon Gono, governor of the state central bank, estimated the nation lost up to US$50 million (€37 million) a week in mining revenues through illegal smuggling of precious metals and stones.

Nhara was the first government leader arrested, but witnesses repeatedly reported others and foreign nationals, traveling to the area in luxury cars and off-road vehicles, buying diamonds well below their real value from impoverished and illiterate villagers. The diamonds were smuggled to neighboring South Africa for massive profits....

Now you have to ask yourself, is this an example of good governance and looking out for the interests of the people of Zimbabwe or what? No wonder leaders like Robert Mugabe and Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) are such good friends and all smiles.

Also checkout the excellent March 27th Hot Seat Debate on Zimbabwe hosted by SW Radio Africa correspondent Violet Gonda. The debate and interview program includes prominent figures such as the renowned economist and African scholar Dr. George Ayittey , Dr. Sehlare Makgelaneng (head of the Southern Africa and SADC program at South Africa's Africa Institute - Pretoria), and Ralph Black, the U.S. deputy representative for Zimbabwe's MDC opposition party. You can read the transcript from the debate courtesy of the Association of Zimbabwean Journalists in the U.K. website Why is Africa turning its back on Zimbabwe?.

CNN, Channel 4 News (U.K.) and Global Witness resources:

CNN World’s Untold Stories official blog
CNN World’s Untold Stories schedule for March 30 thru April 1st

Anderson Cooper 360° blog
(the official blog of the popular CNN investigative news program)

Gang raped and mutilated but still praising God, 05/26/06

Congo’s Tin Soldiers: a report by Jonathan Miller and Elizabeth Jones
Channel 4 (U.K.), 06/30/05 News article and video report

Global Witness Media Library

Global Witness welcomes television award for Congo news report, 02/23/06

DRC elections delayed as demand for tin continues to fuel conflict in the east of the country, 06/30/05

Under-mining peace: Tin – the explosive trade in cassiterite in the eastern DRC
A Global Witness special report, 06/30/05

Complaint against Afrimex Ltd. (U.K.) plus other Global Witness reports on the illegal exploitation of resources (cassiterite) in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Widespread fraud and abuse in Katanga’s copper and cobalt mines, 07/05/06

Millions of dollars vanish in Congo’s cobalt rush, 09/29/04

Rush and Ruin: the devastating mineral trade in Southern Katanga, DRC
Global Witness report, September 2004

Other related articles and resources:

National Geographic magazine
21st Century Slaves – a special edition issue September 2003 (Fortune magazine)
Congo’s Tin Men, 04/27/06

Business and Human Rights (in partnership with Amnesty International)
Congo’s Tin Soldiers, 06/30/05

Global Policy Forum
War, Murder, and Rape… all for your cell phones, 09/15/06

Radio Open Source
Coltan in the Congo podcast, 10/24/06

NPR Expeditions (National Public Radio)
Coltan Mining and Eastern Congo’s Gorillas. 12/20/01

Insight News TV (U.K.)
Films by Sorious Samura and other INTV filmmakers


Blood Diamond (the film)

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Slavery Essays - Part I: U.K.'s 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807

The Slave Market by Gustave Boulanger ca. 1888

The Introduction

I always find it difficult to talk or write about slavery in the New World and the Atlantic World as it has such a powerful legacy in my own country, the United States of America, as well as the whole of the Americas (North and South), and of course my own family. There have been so many myths and lies and half-truths regarding the enslavement of black Africans in the former European colonies of the Americas that it is no wonder that many Americans (North and South) and Europeans and the rest of the world spend their whole lives in ignorance and denial about the grim legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and the impact it has had on all of our respective societies.

I welcome the effort being made by the U.K. to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act (1807) as it helps to bring out into the open a public discussion and recognition of the role that various people and entities played in this most despicable of human endeavors AND the commemoration helps to remind us all that the legacy of slavery is still with us in so many ways today, especially when you stop to think that there are more people enslaved today in 2007 than has ever been in human history. In other words, we all have a burden of great shame to bear in regards to the subject of slavery, one of the most ancient and enduring atrocities in the human experience and world history.

So, hats off to U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and many others in the U.K. who have put such a great effort into making this 200 anniversary commemoration a memorable event for many of us and to use it as a Call to Action for people everywhere to become more engaged in helping to end modern-day slavery.

One thing that our team project on the history of blacks and Africans in Europe has helped me to understand is that one cannot go through life using tragic events caused by the acts of contemptible personalities in history like a blunt weapon to bludgeon one’s so-called enemies into submission or death. People are going to believe what is comfortable for them to believe and ignore and deny everything else, no matter how much truth another opinion or indisputable factual evidence you present, everything else will be rejected___ oft times violently rejected as we clearly see everyday on our televisions and read about in the press. History, religion, literature, and the media (news, entertainment) has been so abused and misused by people seeking power over others down through the ages to grossly mislead people and pit one idiot group against another that it is absolutely awful.

Slavery and abolition played a pivotal role in the history of my home, Saint Louis, Missouri and the surrounding tri-State region (Kansas, Illinois, Iowa: see Bleeding Kansas era before the American Civil War). Slavery not only affected black Africans but also the indigenous tribes of the region (also see Mississippian culture and Cahokia) and the European settlers who entered this frontier around 1699 in search of land and gold and animal furs; escaping the misery that they had left behind in Europe. If my African-American ancestors who had arrived at the confluence of the great Mississippi and Missouri rivers in 1790 had decided to crossover to the Missouri side and settle in the bustling frontier outposts of what would later become Saint Louis, they probably would have lost their hard won freedom. I presume that they were freed from bondage shortly before or after the American Revolutionary War with England, 1775-1783.

Note: Although the early history of European presence in the area starts with the expeditions of Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette (1673), the first settlement at what is today Saint Louis, MO. didn’t begin until almost 100 years later with the arrival of Pierre Laclède and his 13-year old stepson René Auguste Chouteau and a group of 30 men in 1763. These territories were actually controlled by the Spanish royal court (a particularly brutal and murderous government for black African slaves in the colonies) but after the end of the French - Indian War (1754-1763) and the 1763 Treaty of Paris that gave all lands east of the Mississippi river to England the small settlement of Saint Louis began to grow rapidly. By the time my early American ancestors showed up in the area the settlement of St. Louis had grown to the enormous size of approximately 1000 people. Massive!

Napoléan Bonaparte, who worked out a deal with President Thomas Jefferson and the U.S. government administration of 1801 to purchase the vast Louisiana Territory had re-introduced black slavery into the French colonies and territories in 1803. For more on the history of St. Louis click here and here ( also see: history and heritage of Missouri including St. Louis).

As a young man growing up in St. Louis, Missouri I had the privilege to know and be close friends with an old southern couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wofford, who hailed from the great State of Mississippi. Mr. Wofford had worked as a black sharecropper (a farmer without land) in rural Mississippi if I remember correctly, and he and his wife would spend hours talking with their lovely grand daughter and me about life in the early 20th Century rural South. We affectionately addressed them as “Big Mama” and “Big Papa”, an expression used by many people of the southern United States of that time to describe a grandparent. Big Mama was a very pretty petite woman and Big Papa was a strapping, strong man of about six feet (1.85 meters) in height.

I can clearly picture Big Mama rocking back and forth in her favorite chair on their front porch (veranda) during a warm summer evening while enjoying a chew of tobacco or pinch of snuff discreetly lodged in her cheek explaining to us “citified youngsters” what slavery and post-Civil War America was like for black folks and white folks alike. She recalled stories that had been handed down to them from their own grandparents and relatives and older friends, many who had labored the great majority of their lives as slaves in America’s Deep South. I learned everything I needed to know about “slavery and forgiveness” from these two beautiful people who helped to shape my own life in such a powerful way. Of course I have learned even more about the horrible institution of human slavery since my youth, and although I have been able to improve and expand my knowledge on Big Mama’s lessons about slavery, I struggle to this very day with the “forgiveness” part. Can’t do it, forgive whom? They all dead, those who dunnit, aren’t they? Non?

So, I’ve come up with a few brief essays for the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in the U.K. and I am dedicating this humble effort to the memory of Mr. and Mrs. Wofford, who have both passed away from us. Big Mama would be tinkled pink that the British are struggling to come to terms with this terrible legacy in their history, and I can imagine that she would be mighty proud that her “adopted grandson” would speak out with a message from the Colonies. Big Mama’s own message for the citizens of the United Kingdom and the world would be quite simple and to the point:

Look into the mirror of your history and face up to the Truth, then get on with your lives and make sure you don’t behave as bad as those lost souls who came before you.”

The “Jewels in the Jungle” Essay on Slavery – Part I

It has not escaped my attention while researching information necessary to compose the articles and posts for our Black History in Europe project that slavery has played a key role in the lives of Africans and Europeans alike for hundreds of years. Dr. Kate Lowe, co-editor with T.F. Earle of Black Africans in Renaissance Europe (Cambridge, 2005) has eloquently written about the complexity of problems surrounding this sad legacy of European history in the introduction to her book. There were many, many people involved from several nations, races and religions. Attempting to place blame on any one race of people or nation would be a terrible mistake in my opinion and an injustice to all the people who have suffered under the misery of human enslavement down through the ages. This scourge of human suffering has been with us for several millennia and practically all human beings have been affected by slavery in some way or another. Slavery is not a black & white thing and it never was…
it has affected humans on the Earth from the time that our first ancestors raided neighboring villages in war and conflict and enslaved the survivors who were probably women and children. We are talking about 10’s of thousands of years ago (see National Geographic magazine’s special feature The Human Journey, Human Origins March 2006 issue). Slavery has been around for a very long time!

The glorious empires of the Antiquity, those of the Eastern world and the Middle East, of Africa (Nubia and Kush, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Land of Punt, Mali and the kingdoms of the Sahel, the Kingdom of Kongo, Great Zimbabwe), the Western world with the Greek and Roman empires and the ancient peoples of the Americas, all of these great periods in human history were overshadowed by the brutal and inhuman practice of slavery.

That’s why it was so strange for me to see in a BBC News article a photo of U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair apologizing to the President of Ghana, John Kufuor, for Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. That’s why it was so confusing to hear the newly elected Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, himself an African by birth, demanding that the U.K. Government make a clear and formal apology for slavery. Should it not be that the governments of Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Mali, Congo, Tanzania, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and many other African nations also be making an apology to the descendents of the transatlantic and the trans-Sahara and trans-Sahel and Indian Ocean and Arab slave trades? I mean let’s make this an equal opportunity deal here and not leave any nation out that was deeply, deeply involved.

The Ashanti kings of the Gold Coast of West Africa and kings and rulers of several African countries (Saharan and sub-Saharan) did not stop the wicked trade of human beings for sale to Europeans and Arabs until the beginning of the 20th Century. Hell, the trade in slaves from Africa has never stopped and continues right up to this very day! So let’s lighten up on demands for apologies because the way I see it, everybody is guilty in some way or another. If you need an apology from someone, go look into the mirror and pray, “Lord, I sure am sorry for (conciously or unconsciously) supporting and/or ignoring modern-day slavery”.

I know that some folks reading this will feel insulted and that’s fine. Be insulted. You should be insulted especially if you can’t accept that the few facts listed below are just the “tip of the iceberg” in regards to Africa’s own involvement in the peculiar institution of human slavery

Source: The Story of AfricaSlavery - BBC World Service website and radio program. A history of the continent from an African perspective (authored by African writers and historians).

Growing Rich with Slavery


In the early 18th century, Kings of Dahomey (known today as Benin) became big players in the slave trade, waging a bitter war on their neighbours, resulting in the capture of 10,000 [slaves], including another important slave trader, the King of Whydah. King Tegbesu made £250,000 a year selling people into slavery in 1750. King Gezo said in the 1840's he would do anything the British wanted him to do apart from giving up slave trade:

"The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth…the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery…"

Some of the descendants of African traders are alive today. Mohammed Ibrahim Babatu is the great great grandson of Baba-ato (also known as Babatu), the famous Muslim slave trader, who was born in Niger and conducted his slave raids in Northern Ghana in the 1880's. Mohammed Ibrahim Babatu, the deputy head teacher of a Junior secondary school in Yendi, lives in Ghana.

"In our curriculum, we teach a little part of the history of our land. Because some of the children ask questions about the past history of our grandfather Babatu.

Babatu, and others, didn't see anything wrong with slavery. They didn't have any knowledge of what the people were used for. They were only aware that some of the slaves would serve others of the royal families within the sub-region.

He has done a great deal of harm to the people of Africa. I have studied history and I know the effect of slavery.

I have seen that the slave raids did harm to Africa, but some members of our family feel he was ignorant…we feel that what he did was fine, because it has given the family a great fame within the Dagomba society.

He gave some of the slaves to the Dagombas and then he sent the rest of the slaves to the Salaga market. He didn't know they were going to plantations…he was ignorant…"

The young Moroccan traveler and commentator, Leo Africanus, was amazed at the wealth and quantity of slaves to be found in Gao, the capital of Songhay [Songhay empire], which he visited in 1510 and 1513 when the empire was at the height of its power under Askiya Mohammed.

" there is a certain place where slaves are sold, especially on those days when the merchants are assembled. And a young slave of fifteen years of age is sold for six ducats, and children are also sold. The king of this region has a certain private palace where he maintains a great number of concubines and slaves."

The ruling class of coastal Swahili society - Sultans, government officials and wealthy merchants - used non-Muslim slaves as domestic servants and to work on farms and estates. The craftsmen, artisans and clerks tended to be Muslim and freed men. But the divisions between the different classes were often very flexible. The powerful slave and ivory trader Tippu Tip was the grandson of a slave.

The Omani Sultan, Seyyid Said, became immensely rich when he started up cloves plantations in 1820 with slave labour - so successful was he that he moved the Omani capital to Zanzibar in 1840.
Note: see additional information about the Omani African slave trade on Zanzibar below

The Asanti (the capital, Kumasi, is in modern Ghana) had a long tradition of domestic slavery. But gold was the main commodity for selling. With the arrival of Europeans the slaves displaced gold as the main commodity for trade. As late as 1895 the British Colonial Office was not concerned by this.

"It would be a mistake to frighten the King of Kumasi and the Ashantis generally on the question of slavery. We cannot sweep away their customs and institutions all at once. Domestic slavery should not be troubled at present."

British attitudes changed when the King of the Asanti (the Asantehene) resisted British colonial authority. The suppression of the slave trade became a justification for the extension of European power. With the humiliation and exile of King Prempeh I in 1896, the Asanti were placed under the authority of the Governor of the Gold Coast and forced therefore to conform to British law and abolish the slave trade.

In 1807, Britain declared all slave trading illegal. The king of Bonny (in what is now the Nigerian delta) was dismayed at the conclusion of the practice.

"We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself."

End of BBC World Service Story of Africa excerpt

Source: HMS Surprise – documents and diary of the 19th Century British Royal Navy surgeon William Loney by Peter Davies

Excerpts from the Frere Mission to Zanzibar (1872)

Early history of Zanzibar

Round 1500 Portugal gained control of Zanzibar and most of the East African coast. In 1698 Arabs from Oman ousted the Portuguese. In 1792 Britain signed a treaty with the Sultan of Muscat providing British protection for Zanzibar in exchange for Omani support against any French thrust via Oman towards India. So started a gradual British involvement in Zanzibar affairs.

The Omani arabs only started to take a serious interest in Zanzibar, when Sayyid ("Lord") Said, Sultan of Muscat since 1804 (family tree), encouraged merchants to trade with, or move to, the island, and to expand into mainland Africa. In 1840 he moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar, where he presided over a flourishing trading empire….

The Zanzibar slave trade

The slave trade from Zanzibar had started soon after the Arab conquest, initially for the date plantations in Arabia. Although slaves were also supplied to Persian and India, it was the establishment of sugar and clove plantations in Mauritius and Reunion in the 18th century which led to the greatest development of the trade.

In 1811, just four years after Britain had abolished slavery, Said opened the Great Slave Market in Zanzibar; a year later he introduced cloves to the island, generating a significant need for slaves on the island itself. In 1822, the Sultan's dependence on British naval strength allowed Governor Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar of Mauritius (which under French rule had been a primary destination of slavers from Zanzibar) to send Captain Fairfax Moresby, senior officer at that island, in the Menai to conclude a treaty limiting the slave traffic to the Sultans own (East African and Arabic) dominions, and forbidding any trade of slaves to Christians. A later treaty, effective from 1847, and negotiated in 1845 by Colonel Atkins Hammerton (appointed as the first British Consul at Zanzibar in 1841) further limited - in theory - the traffic from Zanzibar to the Sultan's African dominions between Lamu in the north and Kilwa in the south.

Prevention of incursion by other European powers was the initial reason for a British naval presence on the East African coast. To this were later added protection of British traders, and suppression of the slave trade. This last factor only became prominent round 1860, when the Foreign Office requesting a ship permanently on the station for that purpose. Lack of knowledge about the trade, and a desire not to offend Britain's ally, the Sultan, were responsible for the later development of the anti-slavery issue on the East coast than on the West coast. The explorations of David Livingstone, Richard Burton and John Speke increased the interest of the British public in the area.

The small number of British cruisers on the station, and the fact that large numbers of comparatively small dhows were involved in the slave trade, meant that much of the navy's patrol work had to be done in ships boats, often working independently for days on end.

Poor communications with home, and lack of explicit instructions from the Admiralty, meant that the ship's commanders had to decide how to proceed in individual cases; destruction of captured dhows on the spot was often considered to be the only viable alternative. Protest against this procedure led in 1869 to the giving of full powers of adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court at Zanzibar (established in 1866, then only for slavers captured within the Sultans dominions), to which all captures had then to be taken, and to "clarification" of the general instructions to the commanders on the station (often irrelevant, being based on those for the West African station), which in fact only made them more unclear. These aspects, together with the small number of ships on the station (generally not more than two; see for example Cumming's report for 1872) meant that the navy's impact on the slave trade was minimal.

End excerpts from the HMS Surprise – Frere Mission to Zanzibar

My good friend Reza, an Iranian exile who has lived here in Germany for almost 30 years and I have been discussing this Black History in Europe project for weeks now with great fervor and interest and excitement. Reza often reminds me as he describes the ancient history of his own beloved country Iran that it was the famous Persian king Cyrus II (ca. 576-530 BC) of the Achaemenid Empire (559– 330 BC) that first forbid slavery in his empire, making him one of the first slavery abolitionists in history.

I can hear my friend Reza now as I write this article, “Kurush (Cyrus), my King, said to all of the people of ancient Persia:
“In my land there will be no slavery, slavery is verboten! All people are welcome in my kingdom. All religions are welcome in my kingdom, for I am Kurush the Great, the king of kings

An excerpt from Wikipedia about Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great):

During his reign, Cyrus maintained control over a vast region of conquered kingdoms, achieved partly through retaining and expanding Median satrapies. Further organization of newly conquered territories into provinces ruled by vassal kings called satraps, was continued by Cyrus' successor Darius the Great. Cyrus' empire demanded only tribute and conscripts from many parts of the realm.

Cyrus' conquests began a new era in the age of empire building, where a vast superstate, comprising many dozens of countries, races, religions, and languages, were ruled under a single administration headed by a central government. This system lasted for centuries, and was retained both by the invading Seleucid dynasty during their control of Persia, and later Iranian dynasties including the Persian Parthians and Sassanids.

In 1992, he was ranked #87 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history. On December 10, 2003, in her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi evoked Cyrus, saying:

I am an Iranian, a descendant of Cyrus the Great. This emperor proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2,500 years ago that he 'would not reign over the people if they did not wish it.' He promised not to force any person to change his religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all. The Charter of Cyrus the Great should be studied in the history of human rights.

End excerpts from Wikipedia on Cyrus the Great

The Slavery Essays - Part II coming soon

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

African History in Europe: Blacks in the Renaissance - Part II

Portrait of an African Man by Jan Mostaert (ca. 1520-1530)

The web analytics software used to monitor traffic on Jewels in the Jungle helps me to understand that our (introductory) series on the history of Africans and blacks in Europe has attracted a lot of attention in the blogosphere and in the traditional Worldwide Web. Again our project team is very pleased with your interest and we welcome any new visitors.

At the moment I am working (my rear end off) on a new post for the project submitted by Patricia (auf Deutsch-in German) as well as preparing a post for the commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in the U.K., which many of you may have been reading about in the news online or watching on television. The main events commemorating the abolition of slavery in Britain start on March 25th so I am under a tight self-imposed deadline to be ready on time.

Therefore I shall break with the tradition of “embellishing” the work of writers and contributors of content that we have highlighted so far in our Black History in Europe series and publish á la carte the writing of Dr. Kate Lowe of Queens College London as she introduces the reader to the wonderful book Black Africans in Renaissance Europe. Note that you can use Google Book Search to explore several chapters of this book online or better yet, cough up the $110.00 bucks to purchase this treasure. That’s what I intend to do as soon as I can save that much money. “Hey brother, can you spare a dime so that I can buy a good book? Non? Schade.”

Please do read the other articles in this series starting with the February 1st article “Black History in Europe? An Introduction to the Invisible Ones” and then work your way forward to the previous post “African History in Europe: Blacks in the Renaissance - Part I”. Use links provided in the Previous Posts section of this blog to find all posts (articles) listed in chronological order for this special group project. Don't miss the articles at our project partner blog the Atlantic Review including Jörg Wolf's latest update post Black History Month in Europe continues.

T. F. Earle and K. J. P. Lowe, eds. Black Africans in Renaissance Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 434 pp. Index. $110.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-81582-6.

Introduction: The Black African Presence in Renaissance Europe
by Dr. Kate J.P. Lowe

The origins of this volume lie in my previous edited volume on Cultural Links between Portugal and Italy in the Renaissance (Oxford, 2000). While writing the introduction to that book, I thought I should include a few sentences on black Africans in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Lisbon, and in the course of preliminary reading (some of which was kindly suggested by Annemarie Jordan), I realised that Lisbon was the tip of the iceberg as far as Europe as a whole was concerned, and that little work had been done on the subject anywhere (one notable exception in English is A. C. de C. M. Saunders, A Social History of Black Slaves and Freedmen in Portugal, 1441–1555 (Cambridge, 1982), which was presciently ahead of its time). It was with this in mind that I conceived of the idea of a conference that tried to look at the subject from the vantage points of several European countries, and from differing interdisciplinary perspectives, and invited Tom Earle to join me as co-organiser, in order to have complementary specialisms on Renaissance Italian history and Renaissance Portuguese literature. The conference took place at St Peter’s College, Oxford in September 2001, with 18 speakers, 5 each from the UK and the US, and 8 from mainland Europe. The range of disciplines centred on history, with 3 ‘ordinary’ historians, 1 economic historian, 1 church historian and 2 cultural historians, but also included 3 art historians, 1 museum curator, 2 social anthropologists and 3 literature specialists. It is worth noting that although we were all Renaissance scholars, only some of the participants, notably Jorge Fonseca, Paul Kaplan, Aurelia Martín Casares, Didier Lahon and Baltasar Fra-Molinero, had been working and publishing on various aspects of the European history of black Africans for years, whereas others (including me) were relative newcomers to the field. The conference proved eye-opening in terms of the cross-country connections that could be made as well as in terms of recurrent interdisciplinary themes. We planned an edited volume from the beginning, and in the intervening period the participants have reworked and expanded their papers into chapters.

The present volume therefore concentrates on the greatly overlooked subject of the consequences (mainly for the Africans themselves but also for Europeans) of the introduction of considerable numbers of enslaved sub-Saharan Africans into Europe in the hundred and fifty years succeeding the so-called voyages of discovery, that is in a period very roughly co-terminous with the Renaissance. It is of course absurd to treat black Africans as a homogeneous group in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, just as it is absurd to talk of Europeans in the Renaissance period. These concepts only have value as oppositional or contrasting terms, which is how they are being used here. No such place as a generic ‘black Africa’ existed or exists; Africa was/is a vast continent, full of cultural, social, religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity, and of regional difference. But the process of removing Africans to Europe in the Renaissance period served to rob them of these distinguishing features, taking away their old, nuanced identities and providing them instead with new, one-dimensional European ones by labelling them all as ‘black Africans’. Arrival in Europe as slaves meant the systematic erasure of all the more significant aspects of their past, starting with their names, their languages, their religions, their families and communities, and their cultural practices, but it did not erase their appearance. Hence the use of the term ‘black Africans’ and, in order to maintain parity of terminology, the use of the similarly non-existent construct ‘Renaissance Europeans’.

Although the vast majority of black Africans in Renaissance Europe were slaves, it was perfectly possible for sub-Saharan Africans not to be slaves in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe, and significant exceptions to the rule were African ambassadors and Ethiopian pilgrims (who benefited from Ethiopian churches and communities at Nicosia and Rome).(1) The possibility of manumission also always existed, and within a few years, the first of these Africans were freed, and communities of freed (but usually poverty-stricken) black Africans lived cheek-by-jowl with the constantly renewed larger numbers of black African slaves. Yet the words Renaissance and sub-Saharan African appear to have no obvious connection; indeed, it could be argued that they stand in almost complete opposition to each other. But the reality may be more complex. For example, while it may be true that (although the Renaissance was a period in which great store was set on literacy) most non-literate, enslaved West Africans transported to Europe received no education and therefore remained non-literate, this volume highlights several sub-Saharan Africans in Renaissance Europe with varying degrees of literacy and literary ability. The chapter by Jordan adverts to a black African who could sign his name, that by Fonseca mentions black Africans who were taught Latin, and those by Fra-Molinero and Earle signal black African writers. It is our intention in this volume to consider this seemingly troubled juxtaposition by examining how the variety and complexity of black African life in Europe between 1440 and 1600 was affected by Renaissance ideas (including firmly held classical and medieval preconceptions relating to the African continent and its inhabitants) and Renaissance conditions. In other words, we want to understand why the reception of black Africans was as it was in Renaissance Europe.

At first glance, it might seem astonishing that the black African presence has been so completely ignored. The reasons for this are manifold, but an absence of material is not one of them. Far from being genuinely invisible, the traces of these fifteenth- and sixteenth-century black Africans can be found in almost every type of record: documentary, textual and visual; secular and ecclesiastical; Northern and Southern European; factual and fictional. The reasons for their perceived invisibility lie elsewhere, in the realities of national politics, in the still-evolving effects of European colonisation and in the straightjacket of fashionable or acceptable historical scholarship. The long history of black African settlement in many parts of Europe was denied for political and racial reasons, and the topic was successfully buried until the end of the twentieth century. So in general and with a few high profile exceptions, although copious material existed, each archival reference or image relating to black Africans in Europe brought into the public domain was treated as an isolated case. The fiction that not much material existed on this topic was aided by the nationalistic practices of European historians. European countries have tended to write their own history or the history of their major cities or areas, and it is very rare for problems to be studied in any depth on a European basis. In any case, non-nationals (or those viewed as outsiders) would not have been included even in national studies. Occasional historical studies that include sections on black Africans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have emerged from Portugal (2) and the discrete parts of Spain,(3) the two areas with the largest black populations, but usually in the context of examining slavery in these countries. However, these studies have been against the grain, and indeed until very recently most received little attention, because while the institution of slavery was considered worthy of investigation and analysis – as were slaves as objects – slaves as people were not thought to have enough agency to be suitably valuable research subjects during much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Certainly in this respect cultural power – the power to define others – was indubitably linked to the political power to dominate, and the continuation and expansion of the European colonisation of Africa in the twentieth century was obviously detrimental to an interest in the study of enslaved sub-Saharan Africans in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe.

Each discipline has its own internal rules and rhythms, and much more research on black Africans in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe has focused on their representation in art and literature than on their historical realities, with Othello and the dramatic representation of Africans,(4) images of the black Magus(5) and Golden Age Spanish literature(6) receiving particular attention. The series of books on The Image of the Black in Western Art, sponsored by the Menil Foundation in Paris,(7) was very influential in flagging avenues that could profitably be explored (and Kaplan and Seelig have written on symbolic representations of black Africans). It is always pleasanter to dwell on those in positions of power than to confront slavery, which is precisely why the phenomenon of European slavery is often played down or obliterated. Politics have intruded here too, because the Fascist pasts of many European countries in the twentieth century (and their concomitant racist views) have precluded or impeded ‘objective’ scholarship for long periods of time. But the connections between these often slightly glamorous representations and real Africans have not been explored at any level. It has not helped that most black Africans who were not slaves were poor, and the poor until relatively recently were also not considered a topic that would respond well to scholarly investigation.

While they are not at all invisible, it cannot be denied that carrying out research on black African individuals in Renaissance Europe does present certain difficulties, mainly related to the combined ‘drawbacks’ of enforced Christianisation, legalised inferiority, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century European inability to appreciate cultural difference, and a preoccupation with differences in skin colour. The most obvious difficulties stem from naming practices. The vast majority of black Africans were renamed at the start of their new lives in Europe, although a small minority managed not to be.(8) When they were baptised, they were given Christian names (usually from a small pool of the commoner saints’ names) (see Jordan, chapter 7, and Tognetti, chapter 9). Many slaves or freed black Africans never graduated to possessing surnames, which also hampers secure identification. Most black Africans were slaves, and consequently were recorded as the possessions of other people. One of the most basic ‘rights’ enjoyed by slave owners was that of naming their slaves, and their naming practices often obfuscate the historical record, for a further tranch of slaves were given exactly the same names, both first names and surnames, as their owners, presumably so that their ownership was in no doubt. When sold to a new owner, they took the new owner’s surname. This practice may have been a precursor to that whereby servants were known by the family surname. The effect was to make it very difficult to distinguish between master and slave in a document except through context. Precisely the same mindset and process were responsible for the naming of the Congolese ‘royal family’ and nobility: when the Manicongo (the Congolese ‘king’) Nzinga Nkuwu and his ‘queen’ were converted to Christianity and baptised in 1491, they took the names of the king and queen of Portugal, D. João and D. Leonor, their children were given other Portuguese royal names, and their relations and chiefs took the names of members of the Portuguese nobility.(9) As well as signalling a hierarchical relationship in Europe, taking or being given an identical name to a patron or owner was obviously construed as a sign of respect to the socially superior party.

Another huge problem in terms of identifying and tracing black Africans arises because most Europeans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were completely incapable of distinguishing between different parts and traditions of the African continent. European ignorance of Africa was almost complete, and very few Europeans at this date had ever been to sub-Saharan Africa. To the majority of Europeans, the defining feature of Africans was their skin colour, and nothing else – whether area of origin,(10) religion or previous occupation – mattered, and consequently nothing else was recorded. Without clearly differentiated names and without other identifying markers, descriptions of skin colour take on a paramount importance. However, as stated in the Notes on the text (pp. xv–xvii), the terminology of both outsider status and skin pigmentation was fluid and imprecise, and most of the time it is impossible to find out if the moro discussed (as it were) in a letter in February 1486 is the same person as the nero recorded in a will of 1494. These difficulties are a further reason why research into representations of black Africans (where these difficulties do not exist) is more advanced than studies of their lives.

An informed understanding of the black African presence in Renaissance Europe is vitally important to many cultural and historical narratives for a number of reasons. It is important for Africans and Europeans because it focuses on the moment when significant numbers of black Africans were first transported into Europe, and it is therefore legitimate to search here for the beginnings of individual and institutional prejudice and discrimination, as well as for the beginnings of acceptance of difference, successful assimilation and the first attempts at formulating black perspectives and creating black identities among communities in Europe. It is important for Americans searching for the antecedents of the inhumanity of American and Caribbean plantation slavery. And it is important to everybody, because it is such a crucial, early episode of black African diasporic history.

The four sections of the book correspond to four distinct areas worthy of investigation, but there are many others. It seems more worthwhile to comment on a few themes raised across these sections rather than reiterate individual contributors’ findings. The first question to be addressed (and the most frequently asked question by those outside the field) is whether ‘racism’ in any generally accepted contemporary sense existed in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe, a period in which the modern concept of ‘race’ is not generally believed to have been formulated.(11) As the reader will see, forms of ‘racism’ are discussed by several contributors (notably Lowe, Lawrance, Korhonen, Fonseca, Lahon, Brackett and Earle) and alluded to by several others, and various answers are posited. It is of course not really the right question, because scientific racism (which is the starting point for most modern discussions of racism) was not articulated fully until the nineteenth century, and therefore technically the answer is clearly no. It seems preferable to adopt an approach that does not read the present onto an historical situation but also that does not ignore the fact that there is something very familiar about the scenarios under discussion.

It does however seem clear that African ancestry and possession of a black skin led directly to all sorts of differentiation, prejudice and discrimination, and most of the contributors have signalled their interest in these historical forms of differentiation (evinced for whatever reason and with whatever attempt at justification) between Africans and Europeans. It should be stated immediately that differentiation of various sorts was also commonplace with regard to various other minority groups, often on the basis of religion (e.g. Muslims and Jews) and ethnicity (marginal Europeans such as peoples from around the Black Sea, and other non-Europeans, such as Amerindians and Japanese). There are two points to be made here about differentiation relating to black Africans. The first concerns processes of differentiation, and the second moments of differentiation.

There were two major, defining processes of differentiation for black Africans in Europe at this time. The first was a legal differentiation that had meaning for all new captives transported from sub-Saharan Africa – slave status was enshrined in law across Europe. In most areas, Roman law definitions and restrictions on slave rights and behaviour were already in operation, and were not modified when the changeover from a mostly white slave class to a majority black slave class occurred. However in some countries, for example, in Portugal under King Manuel, new legal codes were introduced aimed specifically at legislating for circumstances arising from the new influx and population of slaves. The royal legislation on slavery enacted between 1481 and 1514 was collected and included in the Ordenações Manuelinas, first published in 1514, with a definitive edition of 1521.(12) Legalised inferiority was therefore a very basic and very potent process of differentiation for black African slaves. A second defining process of differentiation was cultural (it could apply to either enslaved or free Africans), and took place because of European late medieval and (particularly) Renaissance notions of civilisation and barbarism. The European definition of civilisation depended upon an Aristotelian typology for assessing alien people, and dividing them into the civilised and the barbarian. Civilised people could be distinguished from barbarian people on the basis of a number of factors concerning hierarchical structure, social organisation and collective memory, made manifest by the construction of civil society in the guise of the foundation of cities, the establishment and implementation of written laws, the existence of written histories, adherence to rules governing inheritance and the institution of marriage, correct commercial relations and the use of clothes as differing status indicators.(13) In general, this exclusive Aristotelian taxonomy allowed Europe to categorise itself (and its inhabitants) as civilised and Africa (and its inhabitants) as uncivilised, but even when evidence was found in (for example) the Congo of many of these Aristotelian prerequisites, the taxonomy could be ignored and Europeans could still define the Congloese as barbarians. A very immediate and obvious difference that allowed the process of cultural differentiation to be set in train was the difference in skin colour between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans.

In addition to distinguishing between various processes of differentiation, it is salutary to examine moments of differentiation between black Africans and white Europeans in the Renaissance. Some of the most crippling of these for black Africans were highlighted by formal and informal exclusionary practices. For example, certain formal exclusionary work practices had the force of law, such as guild regulations that sometimes, as in the charter of the goldsmiths of Lisbon, forbade the inclusion of slaves; the charter of the pie-makers of Lisbon, however, banned slaves and free Moriscos but allowed free and Christian black Africans and mulattos to be considered for inclusion.(14) Informal exclusionary practices appear to have been routinely practiced by the Catholic Church, both in relation to sub-Saharan Africans in Africa and to black Africans in Europe, so that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there is a dearth of black priests, monks or nuns (who were not lay brothers and sisters) (see Minnich, chapter thirteen), only one black African bishop, the Congolese D. Henrique (who was ordained as bishop of Utica on the understanding that he could not have a European diocese or flock, but ‘only’ an African one), and no black cardinal. The first black saint – known as San Benedetto il moro – lived in the sixteenth century but was not canonised until 1807.(15)

The detail that no marriage alliances were concluded between African and European rulers in this time period is also an indication of differential practices, as alliances were concluded between the ruling houses of virtually all European powers. As far as is known, the question of marriage was only raised on two occasions. A pair of marriage alliances (involving a reciprocal double marriage) was proposed between the ruler of Aragon, King Alfonso V, and the ruler of Ethiopia, the emperor Ishaq, in 1428: Ishaq was to marry Alfonso’s sister, Joana d’Urgell, and the Infante Don Pedro was to marry an unspecified Ethiopian princess. Whether these proposals were ever a concrete reality is unclear, but for unknown reasons nothing came of them.(16) A letter from Queen Eleni of Ethiopia to King Manuel, probably in the second decade of the sixteenth century, also suggested marriages between their sons and daughters, without being more specific.(17) Black African slaves (and in many cases freed black Africans) were also very often excluded from common welfare and a common humanity by being denied access to marriage, family and community. Other moments of differentiation can be observed when white Europeans and black Africans came into competition with each other, whether in terms of occupation, or as witnesses giving testimony, or as sexual partners. Finally, much can be learnt from moments when casual differentiation is turned on its head, such as in the offhand comment Olivares made to Philip Ⅱ of Spain when reporting an audience of Pope Sixtus V with the English cardinal William Allen in 1588: ‘he treated him like a black man’.(18) All these processes and moments of differentiation expose the fact that differential behaviour based upon perceived difference (of whatever sort) was the norm in Renaissance Europe. Both Elizabeth I’s letter and warrant of July 1596 and her proclamation of January 1601 ordering the expulsion of all black Africans (described as ‘Blackmoores’, ‘Blackamoores’ and ‘Negroes’) from England,(19) and the introduction of the concept of ‘purity of blood’ (limpieza de sangre) that took hold on the Iberian peninsula in the sixteenth century,(20) relied heavily upon already accepted antecedents.

The part skin colour played in this differentiation was crucial for sub-Saharan Africans.(21) In the intensely status-conscious and hierarchical societies of fifteenth-century Europe, powerful stereotypical representations of the ‘other’ (the Jew, the Moor, the African) were already elaborately crafted from classical and medieval sources (see Massing, chapter 2), and it is not difficult to locate the sub-Saharan African within this taxonomy. Later, Jews and black Africans may have clashed over their place in this pecking order (see Earle, chapter 16), as happened in other eras and situations when two ‘immigrant’ communities competed for resources and survival. However, what must have been truly remarkable was the unprecedented spectacle of ‘blackness’ (see Korhonen, chapter 4), presented first at Portuguese ports and later at Spanish ones when the first shipments of black Africans started to arrive in the 1440s (see Lahon, chapter 12). The reality of blackness swept away some previous notions about black skin and reinforced and transformed others. African blackness was at that moment presented in a peculiarly reductive and pre-emptive way. The Portuguese royal chronicler Gomes Eanes de Zurara, writing c. 1453–4, has left an eye-witness account (probably an amalgam of a lost narrative of Afonso Cerveira and his own memory of slave auctions)(22) of the landing of the first sizeable group of black Africans – about 250 – at Lagos in the Algarve on 8 August 1444.(23) Even allowing for the superlatives of rhetorical convention, the homecoming scene enacting the consequences of conquest was extraordinary. The local inhabitants were given a holiday from work and were encouraged to play their part in the spectacle by being the awed audience. The captive, conquered black Africans were virtually or completely naked, and in chains. The free, triumphant white Portuguese separated their human booty into five equal groups, in the process dividing family units, whereupon the Africans began to scream and cry, and some began an African chant. Zurara and the audience of the day supposedly were moved by the Africans’ suffering (although Zurara analysed it in terms of fate), but the behaviour of Lançarote da Ilha, the commander of the slave raid and royal tax-collector in Lagos, was reinforced when Prince Henrique spontaneously knighted him on the field where the scene had unfolded.(24) The message could not have been clearer: it was not only permissible but right for Europeans to capture and enslave black Africans, and to treat them in an inhuman way; it was also financially rewarding and led directly to royal favours. This textual representation of ‘blackness’ and rendition of the place of black Africans in European society forcefully articulated a link between Africa, black skin and slavery that was to take hundreds of years to uncouple.


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