Wednesday 21 December 2011

Men in Black 2: Blame it on the Bogie.

My first thoughts on looking for a folk festival which could explain Oookbarloo's testimony was to turn to the accounts of Arctic whalers. My reasoning being that, as many of the crew came from the Northern parts of Britain, at least some would have been familiar with whaling traditions. Sure enough there are several reports of May-day festivities on the ice, involving garlands of ribbons and a ceremony with King Neptune similar to the more familiar crossing-the-line rituals. Nothing about blacked up men though.

Next I turned to land-based festivals, and sure enough, the May-Day festival of the London chimney sweeps has blacked up men in abundence.

Here's an account from Charles Dickens dated 1836. He laments:

"This gradual decay and disuse of the practice of leading noble youths into captivity, and compelling them to ascend chimneys, was a severe blow, if we may so speak to the romance of chimney sweeping"

- and one from Fraser's magazine dated 1842

All the Year Round from 1893 reports:

"the Mayday celebration, with its barbaric music, and its mysterious Jack-in-the-green, when, with other strange figures, some grinning black fellow would represent the foul fiend and drive lads and lasses screaming before him, was a thing to move the stoutest heart.

The Children's magazine from 1893 informs: "They are not real black-a-moors, but they seem to be nearly as black in their skins as if they were Africans born"

A good proportion of the ships' crew came from the London region and so would have been perfectly familiar with these festivities.

The looks and behaviour of the "black men" in Oookbarloo's report seem to fit perfectly with the descriptions of the contempory May-day festivities of the sweeps. The date of May 1, 1847 (six weeks before Franklin's death) would allow for the dog-sledge driver's second visit to have been "when the sun was high, that is, it was well into spring or summer" .

So, I'd say that Charles Francis Hall was absolutely spot-on when he mused that the native had interrupted some kind of pantomime or entertainment.

Referring to the picture at the top of this page, Andrew Graham-Dixon's article begins:

"In anticipation of May 1 and its traditional festivities, this week’s picture is Thomas Sevestre’s watercolour of a curious but now-defunct ritual". 

He's not quite right there because the festvities dipicted were revived about thirty years ago and are now a major event in several places, including my home town. 

I have to say I'm completely amazed by this connection!


Original: 21/12/2011
Update: 15/04/2012
I no longer think that the above is a plausible explanation for the black-faced, black-clad men who frightened the inuit dog-sled driver. One reason is that, in contrast to other folk celebrations which are attested on Arctic expeditions, the sweeps' festival had a commercial motivation - the coins collected from the crowd. Another reason is that I've had a better idea.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Black men, Welsh wigs, and the Knights Templar

One of the most intriguing examples of iniut testimony published in David C. Woodman's "Unravelling the Franklin mystery: Inuit testimony" is Ook-bar-loo's tale of an unnamed dog-sled driver who made three visits to a ship beset in ice near a large island. The Captain was always very kindly but on the third occasion the visitor was apparently encircled by a group of men who had "black faces, black hands, black clothes on - were black all over" and terrified he vowed never to return.

It has been suggested that the story reflects a time after the 1848 abandonment, when the ships had been remanned, discipline had broken down, and rival factions of the expedition's company were eking out a squalid, savage, existence and possibly resorting to cannibalism.

In contrast, I suggest it may reflect a far happier state of the expedition between the besetment of 12 September 1846 and Franklin's death on 11 June 1847.

With the vaguries of the old lady's memory, Tookoolitoo's interpretation, and Hall's notebooks, we can not be certain that every nuance of meaning in the transcribed version was intended by the original witness.

For example the sentence:

"Before the Captain took him down into his cabin he told this Innuit to take a look over to the land, the Captain pointing out to him the exact spot where there was a big Tupik (tent)"  does not explicitly state that the Tupik was on the land, nor that the land was itself visible. Quite possibly the tent was in the direction of the land from the ship, but the land itself was many miles distant.

The first thought which ocurred to me was that the Tupik seen by the driver could have been canvas housing over the second ship. Another possibility is that it was a hospital tent, which would explain why the Captain didn't want the Innuit to go there.

Edward Belcher believed that the structure at Beechey Island identified as a washhouse was "more likely to have been an hospital". If the theory that the ships' water systems were a cause of lead poisoning is correct then a spell in such a hospital would likely be effective.

The weirdest part of the old lady's account is her graphic demonstration of the black men's "little black noses" - "not more than half the length & size of common ones".

Here's an image of a black-faced man with a tiny nose:

Quite frightening although not inappropriate for the frigid regions.  It's from the Wikipedia article "Balaclava (clothing)". I'd call it a ski-mask rather than a Balaclava, although there are really only a few stitches difference. Something similar was also apparently improvised by a member of Scott's 1910 Terra Nova Expedition.

There is, however, no evidence that anything resembling a balaclava was issued to the 1845 expedition.

The 1875 Nares Expedition seems to have been the first polar expedition to have been supplied with anything like balaclavas although at the time they were called "Helmet Caps", "Eugenie Helmets" or "Eugenie Wigs", as they were presented to the expedition by the exiled Empress Eugenie of France. The name Balaclava dates from the early 1880's.

Prior to the 1875 expedition the "Welsh wig" was the approved head garment. Similiar to the medieval "coif" - a close fitting cap that covers the top, back, and sides of the head.

 Eugenie Helmet and "Welsh Woolen Wig" from the Nares Expedition of 1875

"Welsh wigs" were among the list of clothing "served out to the men, on the first of July" [1829] during John Ross's Victory Expedition. They were also included in the list of sledging equipment recommended by McClintock in 1851.

However in October 1843, Henry Powell of 102 New Bond St. registered a new design of night cap. Apparently identical to a Balaclava in form, it was widely advertised in 1844 as "Powell's Tempar Cap", so it is just possible that this garment was carried on the 1845 expedition, and is connected to the story.

Another possibility is that the men were masked with black crape cloth (crêpe de Chine). This had been recommended by Parry as a piece of equipment to avoid snow-blindness. (He also recommends a Lead-Acetate eyewash!)

It was also included in McClintock's list of recommendend equipment and it's effectiveness was praised on a searching expedition:

"As a preventive of this complaint a piece of black crape was given to each man to be worn as a kind of short veil attached to the hat which we found to be very serviceable."

At least a version of the fabric can be proven to have been taken on the 1845 expedition as among the relics brought back by McClintock are "a pair of leather goggles with crape instead of glass, a small green crape veil".

These are two possibilities which should be counted with other explanations.

My favoured explanation is that Franklin kept a happy ship and the black men were simply members of the ship's company indulging in high spirited horseplay. If this is the case then the unforseen consequence that contact with the inuit was curtailed may have been truly unfortunate.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Fitzjames' cabin

 This is my approximation of the cabin on HMS Erebus of Commander James Fitzjames. It's mostly based on the picture below which was published in the May 24, 1845 issue of the Illustrated London News.

I've flipped the ILN picture from the way it was printed to make it accord with the ship's plans. The most noticeable feature on my view compared with the ILN's is the wash stand which the 1839 plans show to the left of the doorway as you go in. The space is no bigger than a decent size closet - about half the size of the en-suite bathroom of the hotel room I stayed in last week.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Are you friendly? - we are!

These are my thoughts on Russell Potter's recent posts on the meanings of the expressions "Mannik toomee" and "Teyma".

My view is that a close look at these words does support the suggestion that Kok-lee-arng-nun's "Too-loo-ah" was actually Franklin and not John Ross.

The expressions in question are found in the following sources:

1819 Franklin - "Teyma"
1825 Franklin - "Teyma"
1829 Ross - "Tima tima", "Aya tima"
1833 Back - "Timā"
1833 King - "Tĭmā"

1859 McClintock - "Kammik toome"

1866 Hall via Kok-lee-arng-nun - "Man-nig-too-me", "Ma-my-too-mig-tey-ma" (= "Mannik toomee" + "Teyma")

1879 Schwatka - "Munnik toomee"
1879 Gilder - "Many-tu-me"
1995 Dorothy Eber via Lena Kingmiatook - "Maniktumiq"

The different versions of "Mannik toomee" reported by McClintock, Hall, Schwatka, and Gilder are consistently a declaration of friendship. Eber's reported usage by the shamen is little different if at all - an exhortation to the group to behave non-aggressively to the strangers.

Such an amicable meaning would be out of place in Back's confrontation with the shamen during his ascent of the river and no shamen is mentioned in connection with the earlier, friendly, encounter on the descent, so certainly the source for this suggestion needs to be re-examined.

It seems entirely plausible that a sledge party from Franklin's ships could encounter a band of Inuit and thus pick up the phrase "Mannik toomee" in exactly the same way that later sledgers would do.

It appears that Teyma was not a proper Inuktitut word at all but a pidgin word used to initiate commerce.

John Ross's definition "the word of salutation between meeting tribes" seems closest to that reported by modern linguists (hence the title of this post). Franklin is also not far off target when, in the account of his first overland expedition, he describes the expression Teyma as "used by the Esquimaux when they accost strangers in a friendly manner".

Ross reports a greeting ritual where the white men call "Tima tima" which is then echoed by the Inuit, then the white men throw down their arms with a cry of "Aya, Tima". To which the Inuit reply with "Aya" and throw down their weapons.

In contrast, Too-loo-ah's reported usage seems more consistent with Back and King's understanding of the word as meaning "peace". Tacking the word "peace" on to a greeting would not seem unreasonable for such a humane soul as Franklin but as Ross did not misinterpret the word that way and only reported it as part of a verbal formula then that would count against Ross as Kok-lee-arng-nun's "Too-loo-ah".

So I'd say that this analysis adds a little more weight to the theory that Hall's informant Kok-lee-arng-nun did indeed visit HMS Erebus while Franklin was alive.

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