THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

16 January 2018

Doctoral Research into the Migration and Settlement of Liberated Africans

Each year, the British Library organises Doctoral Open Days, with the aim of helping students explore the Library’s collections. Two years ago, I met Jake Richards at an Asia and Africa focused Open Day. I am absolutely thrilled to share this blog post, the first to be written by a PhD student using EAP material as part of their research.

In April 1839, J. B. Hazely, an official in the Liberated African Department in Freetown, Sierra Leone, requested that his colleague, S. Thorpe, ‘with all possible speed, send up to this Department six able Boys, capable of speaking English, & fitting to be placed on board Her Majesty’s Brig of War Harlequin’. The Harlequin was one of several Royal Navy ships that patrolled the Atlantic to suppress the slave trade. Naval ships intercepted hundreds of slave ships in the nineteenth century, and transferred the embarked slaves to particular ports where they would be declared free from slavery, and then apprenticed for up to fourteen years – a process which labelled them ‘liberated Africans’. The Liberated African Department Letter Books, digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme, contain correspondence between departmental officials, Royal Navy officers, and missionaries who were involved in different stages of this process of ‘liberation’. As Hazely’s letter reveals, the six boys would work to suppress the slave trade from which they or their relatives had recently been rescued.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1837_1842_216EAP443/1/18/6 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [22 Aug 1837-15 Feb 1843]

Sierra Leone handled around half of the approximately 200,000 slaves rescued after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 – more than any other location in the nineteenth century. Britain’s colony in Sierra Leone had begun twenty years previously as a site not much larger than Freetown, established as a home for black soldiers and sailors who had fought for Britain during the American War of Independence, plus Maroons from Jamaica and freed slaves from Nova Scotia. After 1807, colonial governors and the Church Missionary Society founded a series of villages outside Freetown to manage the influx of liberated Africans, and appointed managers, such as Thorpe, to run them as part of the Liberated African Department. Many of these villages still bear their English-sounding names: Hastings, Kent, and York.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1842_1847_050EAP443/1/18/7 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [1842-1847]

The Letter Books suggest that the managers combined jobs as administrative heads, magistrates, and experimenters in labour patterns – a local social engineer before ‘decentralisation’ became a buzzword. One of the most noticeable patterns of experimentation was a division of work and opportunities according to whether the Department identified a liberated African as male or female. Managers distributed male apprentices to naval ships, to the West India Regiments, and to settle Tombo (or Tumbu) on the southern fringe of the colony. Although girls went to school, some women were married off soon after arrival, including several ‘Eboe’ women who were presented with husbands soon after disembarking from their slave ship at Freetown’s Liberated African Yard in 1838. Sometimes women worked for ‘respectable married women’ to learn domestic skills until they were eligible for marriage, as a letter from April 1842 attests. The Letter Books give only glimpses of the other work women did beyond the oversight of village managers, such as food hawking or market selling. The lack of choice in deciding labour and domestic relationships may seem surprising, but many contemporary workers in Britain had similar constraints on their choices. The Letter Books continually remind their reader that there were many gradations between enslavement and free labour, and that the processes of moving between them were unpredictable and halting.

The EAP is a cherished window into documentation at the frontier of historical research, and I am grateful to the archivists and researchers whose EAP grants made these sources accessible, to Jody Butterworth for telling me about them at the BL’s Doctoral Open Day for the Africa and Asia collections in 2016, and to the staff who ran a wonderfully helpful open day.

Jake Christopher Richards (University of Cambridge) is conducting doctoral research into the migration and settlement of liberated Africans around the South Atlantic, c. 1839 – 1871.

If you are interested in attending this year's Open Day, it is on Monday 22 January 2018.

19 December 2017

Bulgarian Christmas and kissing of the ritual bread

Our last blog of the year has been written by Rossitza Atanassova, Digital Curator at the British Library. I can’t think of a lovelier way to finish the year than have a colleague and friend reminisce about her childhood using images from EAP103 held at The Ethnographic Institute and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Science, Sofia.

Christmas Eve (Badni vecher) is central to the Bulgarian Christmas celebrations and is associated with many customs and rituals. On Christmas Eve families prepare a traditional festive dinner of vegan dishes, including the ritual bread (pita or pogacha), cabbage leaves stuffed with rice (sarmi), white butter bean stew, dried fruit compote (oshav), pickled vegetable salad and pumpkin pastries. Other produce – onion, garlic, honey, wheat, fruit and walnuts – are also laid on the table, to ensure rich crops in the New Year. Historically rural households would sprinkle dung, sand, wheat grains, hay and coins on or around the dinner table. This was due to their symbolism for the well-being of the household, fertility and abundance of crops, orchards, vineyards, livestock and domestic fowl. (Slaveykov p.13)

Gathering the whole family at Christmas Eve to share this simple symbolic meal is one of the most intimate and honoured Bulgarian traditions. At the start of the meal the eldest member of the family would light incense and pass it round the room and over the meal as a sign of protection from misfortune for the household. It falls on the eldest man in the family to bless and break the ritual bread, saving the first piece for the Virgin Mary and distributing a piece each to all members of the family. The early 20th century photograph (below) of a family from the village of Petrich near Sofia captures the moment of kissing the ritual bread as it is held out by the elder in the family. The symbolism of the bread in this ceremony is captured so well by the photographer, as it occupies a central place in the image with all three generations of the family showing such reverence and hopefulness as they huddle around it. There is so much intimacy and spontaneity in the photograph, with the grandfather staring solemnly at the camera, his son or son-in-law enjoying a glass of home-produced rakija and the younger children looking furtively around.

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4783_LEAP103/1/3/18/209

I have such fond childhood memories of the Christmas Eve preparations at home when I helped my mother and grandmother to knead the ritual bread and decorate it with the Nativity scene and the sign of the Cross. It is a tradition I have passed on to my children and year on year they are excited about making together the ritual Christmas bread. There is a great regional variety in the shapes and decorations, many of which reference agricultural activities such as ploughing, shepherding and winemaking, as well as Christian symbolism. Some examples of ritual breads can be seen in the EAP103 archive, and the Ethnographic Museum has an important collection of stamps used for decorating ritual breads, such as this Nativity Scene stamp. It is traditional to hide a coin in the Christmas bread and whoever finds it is said to have all the happiness and success in the New Year.

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4769_LEAP103/1/3/18/195

On Christmas Eve, groups of boys and young men (koledari) visit the houses in their neighbourhoods and villages, singing auspicious verses about prosperity and well-being. These welcome guests exchange traditional greetings with the families and give their blessings to every member of the household. In return the Koledari receive gifts of food and ritual ring-shaped breads, often made by the young women in the family, which they string on the wooden sticks they carry.

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4776_LEAP103/1/3/18/202

On New Year’s Day it is customary for children in Bulgaria to carry tree branches (survachka), traditionally decorated with dried fruit, popcorn, breads and wool, and to recite blessings for family and friends in exchange for a coin or other gifts. As a child I loved the festive atmosphere in Sofia with stalls selling survachki decorated in red and white paper. This custom continues the joyful and hopeful Bulgarian Christmas celebrations and tradition which the photographic archive gives us such wonderful glimpses of.

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4772_LEAP103/1/3/18/198 and EAP103/1/3/18/200 (market for survachki, decorated sticks for Christmas or New Year’s Day, Sofia, early 20th century)

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4774_L

 The EAP team would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the very best for 2018.

 

Bibliography:

Slaveykov, Racho, Bulgarian Folk Traditions and Beliefs, Sofia, Asenevtsi Trade Ltd, 2014

Vasileva, Margarita, Koleda i Surva: Bulgarski praznitzi I obichai, Sofia, Darzhavno Izdatelstvo Septemvri, 1988

14 December 2017

A project from Bhutan

On 17 December 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk, the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King), was crowned and the Kingdom of Bhutan has marked this day ever since as its National Day.

The British Library has some photographs of Ugyen Wangchuk when he was crown prince dating from 1905, which were taken by John Claude White, the Political Officer of neighbouring Sikkim. The image of him wearing the traditional Raven Crown and the order of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire is perhaps the most reproduced photograph of the ruler, but it is the one in more relaxed dress and surrounded by his family, that has, for me, more appeal.

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Photo 20/(1)

019PHO000000020U00025000[SVC2]Photo 20/(25)

To mark this anniversary, I thought I would highlight EAP039. This project was awarded in 2005, the very first round of grants  and took place at Gangtey Gonpa. The monastery was founded in 1613 by Gyalse Pema Thinley, the grandson of the saint Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) who was the most important Buddhist born in Bhutan and who discovered the hidden texts concealed by the 8th century Indian monk Padmasambhava.

The monastery underwent major renovation, beginning in 2000 and lasting for eight years. The Endangered Archives Programme project was independent to the refurbishment of the building but ensured the safety of the important Nyingma tradition manuscripts housed at the monastery. Below are some photographs of the village, the manuscripts beautifully wrapped and stored and the monks concentrating on the digitisation project. As the location lacked a reliable electricity supply, the team worked outside when photographing these precious texts, which were a funerary tribute to the founder of Gangtey.

We wish everyone in Bhutan a very happy National Day.

EAP039_Pub001On the road to Gantey.

EAP039_Pub011An example of one of the manuscripts.

EAP039_Pub006Monks at work.

GangteystudioBundles of manuscripts waiting to be digitised.

 

Further Reading:

Aris, M (1994) The Raven Crown Chicago: Serindia Publications