10. Exploring past and present lives—Tutankhamen

A team of Egyptian researchers remove the three-thousand-year-old mummy from its sarcophagus for CT-scanning in 2005. The mummy was returned to its original resting place inside Tutankhamen’s tomb in 2007. The tomb, known as KV62, has been closed to the public for conservation since 2010. A replica is due to open in 2014. Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, courtesy of National Geographic.

Is the mummy in Tutankhamen’s tomb that of the young pharaoh or was his body substituted by a look-alike during burial? Was the Boy-King brutally murdered and his dismembered body switched to confound his assassinsas if to say ‘Osiris himself hath returned’? According to Dr Laurence Oliver, the body found in tomb KV62 is not that of Tutankhamen but of a close cousin. Moreover, King Tut had been killed and his severed limbs offered to the Nile crocodile.

A clothe maker’s mannikin of the young Tutankhamen. 
Note how the painted features halt around his neckline.

“Some mysteries ever remain so, even to the end of time.” El Eros

Historical overview
Tutankhamen’s death marked the end of a royal bloodline and a return to the gods of the old kingdom. In the backlash against his father, Akhnaton, the so-called Heretic Pharaoh, almost all public records of Tutankhamen disappeared as the memory of his family was erased by the usurper Horemheb. Within decades the tomb of Tutankhamen had also vanished under the sand where, for over three thousand years, it remained undisturbed. All that changed on 4 November 1922.

Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankamen’s tomb in 1922 was an international sensation. It not only proved to be the best preserved and most intact pharaonic tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but sparked renewed interest in ancient Egyptian culture and history. Ever since, each and every disclosure concerning the life and death of Tutankamen has resulted in a worldwide media spectacle.

Carter’s observation when unwrapping the mummy was more correct than he could ever have realised: the king was indeed being shown as Osiris.

There are no surviving records of Tutankhamen’s death. As a result, his untimely demise became the subject of widespread suspicion and debate, leading to speculation that he was either killed by his vizier Ai, who then succeeded him, or that he died from a blow to the back of his head. While the forensic evidence is scarce and inconclusive, and likely to remain so, we do know with some certainty that Tutankhamen’s tomb was hurriedly prepared; being intended for a private individual and still incomplete. Furthermore, the scale and decoration of his tomb are modest when compared to other burial chambers in the Valley of the Kings. Nevertheless, Tutankhamen’s spectacular funerary treasures bear testimony to his importance and include the gold death mask that now symbolises the magnificence of ancient Egypt.

Prevailing views
Rigorous X-ray and DNA tests were conducted in 1968, 1978 and 2005. Recent results, released in 2010, confirm that Tutankhamen was the son of Akhnaton. While speculation of an assassination remain, the overall consensus is still that of accidental death. According to Egypt’s head archeologist, Zahi Hawass, Tutankhamen died from infection following a thigh bone fracture. (National Geographic, September 2010). Damage to the head, he adds, merely occurred during the mummification process.

British scholars, on the other hand, propose that Tutankhamen’s death was caused by a chariot crash, severely crushing his chest and pelvis (BBC 4, 4 November 2013), while Egyptologist Salima Ikrambut claims that the mummy’s “erect penis” symbolized King Tut’s god-like power, “emphasizing the divinity of the king and his identification with Osiris.” (The Independent, 3 January 2014) None of this really matters, of course, if the body is not that of Tutankhamen. Today, amid claims of homosexuality, incest, disease and genetic defects, an independent view emerges that could help set the record straight.

Portrait of the youthful Boy-King (left) as found in his tomb; and the alleged mummy of Tutankhamen (right). 

“Unbeknown to official history, I had a son by a beloved mistress Hareth, who was also my court singer. The child was called Tutankhaton, and destined to rule as Tutankhamen.” Akhnaton, KoS p.420

Independent view
As shown in an earlier post on Akhnaton and Moremheb, Dr Laurence Oliver provides a unique overview of Eighteenth Dynasty rulers and their links across history. Their karmic biographies were dictated to him in 1996 and are cited in Knot of Stone, Chapter 94. What follows below serves as an addendum to that chapter, confirming old suspicions while adding new insights to the mysterious circumstances of Tutankhamen’s death. The cited passage was received clairaudiently in 2002—eight years before Zahi Hawass announced Tutankhamen’s DNA results—and is published here for the first time.

Beloved brother, six years ago I gave you an account of my life as Akhnaton. Now I come to tell you more about  Tutankhamen. I need not reiterate what I have already said, except to emphasise that Tutankhamen was the son of Akhnaton. His mother was Hareth, Akhnaton’s beloved mistress. 

There are depictions of Akhnaton together with a boy whom he adores. Some Egyptologists take this boy to be Smenkhare and see these images as homoerotic. They conclude that Akhnaton was therefore homosexual. How so? Modern scholars err in these assumptions since Akhnaton was not “the homosexual” pharaoh of ancient Egypt

The young child depicted with Akhnaton was indeed his own beloved son Tutankhaton, who became his co-regent after the banishment of Nefertiti—before his name was changed to that of Tutankhamen—and not any lover. Smenkhare was, as I have told you, Akhnaton’s younger brother and made his co-regent after Tutankhamen’s abduction by the priests of Thebes. Smenkhare reigned briefly at Akhetaton [today Amarna] after Akhnaton’s death.

Akhnaton’s tomb has never been found, being a secret chamber beneath the ruins of a temple at Thebes. His loyal followers had discreetly entombed his mummy together with the unembalmed body of Hareth in this secret shrine to Aton, to protect it from the wrath of the Amenite priests who would have desecrated it. They never suspected that his final resting-place was in their midst, within their own domain and where they themselves never dreamed to look. This will all yet be discovered in due time, as will the ancient Hall of Records in that vicinity.

The tomb of Tutankhamen, which has stirred up such excitement, never contained the mummy of Tutankhamen. Tutankhamen was murdered and his body dismembered. His remains were secretly conveyed to the Nile to be devoured by the crocodile.

To preserve Tutankhamen’s dignity after his distasteful dismemberment, a suitable substitute had to be found. It was the son of Smenkhare, a few years younger than Tutankhamen, who willingly forfeited his life so that he might be entombed in his cousin’s stead with the dignity befitting a pharaoh. Smenkhare’s son so closely resembled Tutankhamen that they could have been brothers. His name, unrecorded, was Maat-aton. 

Smenkhare died before these events, leaving Maat-aton and his family in hiding under the protection of the prominent and resourceful Ai. It was Ai who plotted to defy insult and confound Tutakhamen’s murderers by using an intact body for burial. To this end Maat-aton agreed to give his life, taking the poison prepared for him. So it was, my child, that the surrogate Tutankhamen was interred with all the riches of a royal funeral.

You are wondering why they did not set up Maat-aton as a living surrogate for Tutankhamen, and simply keep mum about the murder? Such a ruse would not have worked. News of the murder had quickly leaked out, and although Maat-aton sufficiently resembled Tutankhamen in age and appearance to have doubled for him at a funeral, he would not have been able to impersonate him in life for long before the plot was exposed. In the event, the conspirators were quite dumbfounded that the dismembered body had been reassembled. This invested Tutankhamen in the eyes of the people with a mystique akin to that of the god Osiris himself.

Egyptologists have little hope of reconstructing the subtle intrigues and intricacies of that ancient time from their scanty evidence. Too many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are lost, and even with the best will in the world, their exerted efforts will always be inconclusive at best and ludicrous at worst. We comment insofar as it matters, not to embarrass them as they so often ridicule our disclosures, but only that the record might be set straight. Some mysteries ever remain so, even to the end of time. Amen. I am El Eros.

Finally, let us compare the official and independent genealogies of Tutankhamen’s family. First, his royal relations according to Zahi Hawass:

Second, Tutankhamen’s royal relations as postulated by Laurence Oliver:

Smenkhare and Tutankhamen (Akhnaton’s brother and Akhnaton’s son) were married to two sisters, Meritaton and Ankhesenamen, eldest daughters of Akhnaton and Nefertiti. Note that Nefertiti’s marriage and her four younger daughters are not shown here.

Tutankhamen was murdered and his body dismembered. To preserve the dignity befitting that of a pharaoh, and to confound his assassins, an intact body had to be substituted for the royal burial ceremony. To this end Tutankhamen’s cousin Maat-aton agreed to sacrifice his life and took the poison prepared for him. The two boys closely resembled each other and may have been mistaken for brothers. The mummy is therefore not that of Tutankhamen, nor is the “erect penis” his. This is but one of many recent misconstruals. (KoS p.420) Egyptologist Salima Ikrambut does get it right, however, when she says the body was prepared to “emphasize the divinity of the king and his identification with Osiris”. Curiously, Carter’s observation when unwrapping the mummy was more correct than he could ever have realised: the king was indeed being shown as Osiris.

Posted in Blog | 13 Comments

10. Exploring past and present lives—Jacob Msimbiti

Formerly known as Shaka Day, 24 September became Heritage Day in the new South Africa of the mid-1990s. As a public holiday, it was meant to celebrate the country’s cultural diversity rather than its lack of unity. Today it is better known as National Braai Day. The date, however, still marks the murder of king Shaka Zulu by his half-brother Dingane.

Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler and Shaka Zulu all suffered miserable lonely deaths.” Credo Mutwa, KoS p.78

One of the most extraordinary revelations concerning the assassination of Shaka Zulu is the presence of Jacob (Jakoet) Msimbiti, a convicted amaXhosa cattle thief and escapee from Robben Island’s penal colony who arrived at kwaBulawayo royal kraal in 1824. On hearing of Jacob’s daring journey, including that he twice survived a capsized boat, Shaka had nicknamed him Hlambamanzi, the “Swimmer”, and retained him as his personal aide, adviser and interpreter. Jacob would go on to betray both Shaka and Dingane. The karmic history of Jacob Msimbiti (including that of Jacob Zuma and Montezuma) is set out by the clairaudient Dr Laurence Oliver in Knot of Stone, Chapter 95. Here follows the full text:

September 25. Following through on the lives of Jacob Zuma: After his tragic life as Montezuma, his soul ached with a deep distrust and hatred of white men. This carried over into his next life, recorded in the amaZulu chronicles at the time of Shaka and Dingane, under the name Jacob.

Jakob or Jacob was the Christian name given to him by Dutch settlers and British soldiers, as being phonetically close to his isiXhosa name, Jakoet. His clan name was Msimbiti.

Convicted of cattle theft on the Colony’s eastern frontier, Jacob was sent to the penal colony on Robben Island in 1819, along with the banished amaXhosa king Makhanda (hence the name “isle of Makhanda”). Jacob and several others were involved in the daring escape of 1820—in which Makhanda, tragically, drowned when their boat capsized—and Jacob himself was caught and sentenced to hard labour in irons for a further fourteen years. However, Jacob was released soon after into the service of English mercantile traders. They needed an interpreter.

On a sea-going expedition with his new masters, including the notorious ex-lieutenant Francis Farewell, their boat floundered in the surf off St Lucia. Jacob rescued one of his masters from drowning. Nevertheless, he was blamed for toppling the boat, at which he deserted and swiftly fled into the bush. Farewell and others would later catch up and seal his fate.

Shaka Zulu
For now, Jacob arrived at the royal kraal of Shaka Zulu who, on hearing his woeful tale, nicknamed him
Hlambamanzi, the “Swimmer”, and retained him as his personal aide, adviser and interpreter. While king Shaka welcomed white traders, Jacob always warned against their treachery.

‘Meeting between Shaka and Europeans, 1824′ by Angus McBride, 1989. Here Farewell greets the Zulu king in the company of a praise-poet (n0. 2) and a Xhosa interpreter (no. 4). The latter could be Jacob Msimbiti who, according to Dr Oliver, reached the kraal before his masters. The artist also depicted Almeida’s tragic death, a keystone image in KoS. (p.70)

It would seem that Jacob eventually switched his allegiance to Shaka’s half-brother, Dingane, for when the latter assassinated the king it was Jacob who sent foot messengers to the traders, saying they had nothing to fear as the new king invited them to trade skins and ivory. Acting as Dingane’s ambassador, Jacob promised them renewed peace and prosperity in Zululand.

His former masters were suspicious, however, as Jacob had openly opposed the presence of white hunter-traders in Natal under Shaka’s rule. The English were also wary of his criminal record and widespread reputation as a liar and schemer, even among his compatriots.

And indeed it was that Jacob constantly urged Dingane to avoid association with the Whites. He schemed and plotted, calling them “evil sorcerers” while poisoning the king’s mind with lurid tales of their cruelty and treachery.

He was again arrested by the Whites for pilfering, and they pressed Dingane to put him on trial for deceit and duplicitous conduct. Dingane vacillated, half-believing Jacob’s insistent claim that the Dutch and British were conspiring to invade and steal his kingdom.

But, after Jacob was caught stealing again from the royal herd, Dingane lost his temper and ordered his execution. Jacob was hunted down by his arch-rival, John Cane, to whom Dingane later gave eighty cows from Jacob’s own herd.

Dingane never forgot Jacob’s oft-repeated prophecy—echoing Shaka’s dying words—that one day the Whites would conquer and rule the land. It was his past experience as Montezuma that told him so. And surely he was right?

Clairaudient message cited in KoS pp.428-429

We should not despair over South Africa’s future, says Dr Oliver, since we all have to prove ourselves again in other lives.  So too for president Jacob Zuma, should he wish to contribute positively to the lives of Msimbiti and Montezuma. The historical portrayal of Moctezuma II (c.1466–1520) has been largely coloured by his role as ruler of a defeated nation, and several sources describe him as weak-willed and indecisive. Such biased reportage makes it difficult for us to understand his motives and actions today, a problem Zuma seems to be bedeviled with too.

http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Montezuma-headdress-before-restoration.jpgThe feathered headdress of Montezuma, unauthenticated, courtesy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. According to Dr Oliver, the karmic history of Jacob Msimbiti and Jacob Zuma are linked to that of Montezuma. 
Hérnan CortésMoctezuma IIHérnan Cortés, conqueror of Mexico (left); and Moctezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs (right), by George Stuart.

The historical Montezuma was the last Aztec emperor of Mexico. His initial career was as a military leader and priest in the temple of the war god, Huitzilopochtli. In accordance with Aztec custom his coronation was accompanied by mass human sacrifices. As an expansionist, he enlarged his empire through the conquest of the Honduras and Nicaragua. His rule was accompanied by unfavourable omens—notably the predicted return of Quetzalcoatl, a local god, white in colour.

The arrival of Cortés and the Spaniards was thought to fulfil this prophecy and so Montezuma, with uncharacteristic diplomacy, did not react aggressively. In return, he was imprisoned by Cortés in Mexico City, precipitating an uprising by his brother and heir. In an effort to divert the revolt, Cortés induced Montezuma to address his people from the Spanish stronghold. The angry mob responded by showering Montezuma with stones and arrows, and so he died, either by wounds inflicted by the mob or, afterwards, at the hands of his captors. We must wait to see how he redeems himself in South Africa. 

Clairaudient message cited in KoS p.427

‘The meeting of Moctezuma II and Cortés, 1519′ from a folding-screen mural by Roberto Cueva del Río, 1976.

Charles Ricketts, The Death of Montezuma, c.1927. Courtesy SA National Gallery, Cape TownWe’ll have to wait and see if the besieged soul of Montezuma-Msimbiti-Zuma can still redeem itself. To do so, Zuma has to overcome the arrogance and fears of his past before following the example of his predecessor, Nelson Mandela. We look at the lives of the latter in the post below.

Charles Ricketts, The Death of Montezuma, c.1927. 
Courtesy South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

Nicolaas Vergunst

Posted in Blog | 5 Comments

10. Exploring past and present lives—Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

How are we to remember Nelson Mandela? Should it be as one of our most celebrated prisoners or, rather, as the first black president of South Africa? Should it be for his vision, his compassion, or for his strong will? Knot of Stone  looks at his historical role as the Tree Shaker and the friends with whom he shared his past lives.

Among the various clairaudient messages published in Knot of Stone is one by the revolutionary pharaoh Akhnaton and the enlightened emperor Kublai Khan. They praise Mandela for his remarkable leadership during Egypt’s Eighteenth dynasty and China’s thirteenth century, and draw specific parallels to recent South African history. We highlight those parallels here.

We would have that you hear the unfinished story of our time and its sequel in yours.” Akhnaton and Kublai Khan, KoS p.418

Akhnaton and Kublai Khan’s message was dictated unexpectedly over Easter 1996 and faithfully transcribed by the South African psychiatrist Dr Laurence Oliver. Cited in Knot of Stone, Chapter 94, the contents reflect neither the personal nor the political views of the clairaudient, author or publisher.

General Horemheb
According to the message, Nelson Mandela had been Akhnaton’s trusted military advisor in Amarna, c.1330BCE. He was born a commoner and rose to power as the commander-in-chief of Akhnaton’s army. He was known as General Horemheb:

“I, Akhnaton, would have you know that Horemheb is none other than your Nelson Mandela. Fourteen centuries before your present age, Horemheb was my military commander-in-chief and had warned me of the weakening political situation in my empire. Regrettably, I ignored his advice and forbade any military action. Withdrawn and out of touch with the populace, I concerned myself only with issues of religious revolution—the monotheist religion of Aton. For his worship I built a new capital, Akhetaton, ‘citadel of Aton’, and moved my court out of Thebes.” 

Clairaudient message cited in KoS p.419

General Horemheb (left) c.1307BCE, from a tomb pillar at Saqqara; Nelson Mandela (right) c.1961, photo by Eli Weinberg. The photograph of Mandela was taken in hiding, 1961-62, which explains why a bed cover and not a traditional blanket was used to cover one shoulder (a custom generally reserved for amaXhosa chiefs). Note the similar beaded neckpiece worn by Horemheb and Mandela.

Akhnaton explains how Horemheb feared that the continuing emigration of Egypt’s slave population—initiated by the Keeper of the Ark, Osiraes, also known as Moses—would set off a Hebrew rebellion or invasion:

“Still, I refused to listen, preoccupied by my grandiose vision of a utopian church-state. Had it not been for the diplomatic initiatives of my minister of foreign affairs, Tutu, the eastern provinces may have seceded their independence. However, my political indifference was counterbalanced by Tutu’s tactful foreign policy, for he saved Egypt when I, alas, failed my people. It should be easy to guess that Tutu is the gracious and illustrious former archbishop, Desmond Tutu. Coincidently, my minister of art and culture was then Bek, the same as your Thabo Mbeki. He orchestrated under my direction a renaissance in art and architecture to express the religious revolution with which I was obsessed.” (KoS p.419)

The celebrated Eighteenth dynasty came to an end under the rule of its military usurper Horemheb, which was to endure for twenty-seven years [1319-1292BCE]. It is in consequence of this that, in your era, he would endure imprisonment for another twenty-seven years [1962-1990], and so become the liberator of his oppressed people.” (KoS p.420)

Mandela’s given name, Rolihlahla, literally means “tree shaker” or “trouble maker”. Both Horemheb and Mandela ‘shook’ their nation and ‘took’ power through popular uprisings. Both set about transforming internal power structures and curbing abuses by the state. Both appointed new judges, re-established order and ruled a divided people (Horemheb over Upper and Lower Egypt, Mandela over White and Black South Africans). Both men initiated a culture of reconciliation. Curiously, each had two tombs prepared for them. Horemheb chose the necropolis of Saqqara at Memphis but was, instead, buried in the Valley of the Kings on the opposite side of the Nile. Mandela, as per his request, will be buried in the rural village of Qunu, twenty kilometres from where a second family tomb had been prepared for him.

A scribe and a lawyer, General Horemheb (left) and Nelson Mandela (right). The photograph of Mandela was taken while he was on the run and staying in Wolfie Kodesh’s flat in Johannesburg, late 1961. Courtesy BBC. The statue of Horemheb dates from the 2ndC BCE and resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Akhnaton also speaks about his tragic relationship to Nefertiti, chief consort, and his love for Tutankhamun, a son by another woman:

“My queen-wife, a foreign princess from the kingdom of Mitanni in the Tigris Valley, was called Nefertiti on account of her beauty. Her name means “beautiful woman” and she had been chosen as a new wife for my father, but their marriage was never consummated due to his ill-health. She is known today as Winifred, or simply Winnie, the former wife of Nelson Mandela.” (KoS p.420)

“I must digress to my unfortunate marriage again. Unbeknown to official history, I had a son by a beloved mistress Hareth, who was also my court singer. The child was called Tutankhaton, destined to rule as Tutankhamun. Nefertiti was exceedingly jealous, fearing she would be deposed as queen-wife in favour of the child’s mother. She became disloyal and treacherous, abducting Tutankhaton and taking him to Thebes. Here he was raised as a royal priest of Amen-Ra, like Osiraes [Moses] before him, so when the time came he would be presented as my successor, reclaiming their position as the state religion. Hence I am called the Heretic Pharaoh.” (KoS p.420)

The iconic bust of Nefertiti (left) by Thutmose, 1345BCE, from the sculptors workshop in Amarna, Egypt, now in the Neues Museum, Berlin; and a portrait of Winnie Mandela (right) from 1975. Photograph courtesy Avusa. The reputations of both women were marred by allegations of abduction involving young boys.

Akhnaton relates how Tutankhaton’s true mother, Hareth, was heartbroken by the loss of their son and subsequently drowned herself in the Nile. He says his own heart broke and he never smiled again. As the years passed his health began to fail slowly, then rapidly, so that he knew he was dying from grief and disillusionment:

Shortly after this I, Akhnaton, died in despair. Smenkhare, my younger brother, bravely ascended the throne and defended my capital against the onslaught unleashed by the Amenite priesthood in Thebes. But the regime now seized its chance to regain supremacy in Egypt. I would that you know who Smenkhare was. He returned as General JC Smuts, twice South Africa’s prime minister, and similarly failed to stave off the ominous rise to power of a new regime—Afrikaner Nationalism.” (KoS p.421)

Approaching the end of his message, Akhnaton explains that his ministers and court officials, some ever loyal to him, later returned as the black leadership of South Africa; whereas the priests of Amen-Ra in Thebes became the leaders of the old white regime. Here are some examples: Sebekhotep, high priest of the Amenite crocodile-god, became state president PW Botha during the Apartheid era. Mahu, chief-of-police, returned as Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party. Akhnaton’s court secretary, Hani, was none other than Chris Hani, chief-of-staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC’s former military wing. Maya, Akhnaton’s chief administrator, returned as Roelf Meyer, chief government negotiator who, together with Cyril Ramaphosa, paved the way for the first democratic elections in 1994. Significantly, both Meyer and Ramaphosa had been army generals under Akhnaton. “Karma,” the message adds, “has a way of turning events around to maintain a balance in the world.” Perhaps more pertinent here—as South Africa enters a new political phase—is the fact that Horemheb was succeeded by his trusted second-in-command, Ramses, first pharaoh of the Nineteenth dynasty. Ramses is today reincarnate as Cyril Ramaphosa and may, who knows, still become president of South Africa in 2017. (KoS pp.425-426)

Two defining moments: First, Cyril Ramaphosa (left, wearing a green tie and holding the mike) watches Nelson Mandela deliver his first public speech after his release from prison in 1990. Photograph by Chris Ledochowski. Second, Cyril Ramaphosa (right, now wearing a red tie) watches Nelson Mandela sign the new Constitution in 1996. Photograph by Charles O’Rear. These moments were the culmination of pivotal talks, both private and partisan, that set South African history on a new course.
Helen Suzman (left) visits Nelson Mandela at his Soweto home in 1990, following his release earlier that year. For more than a decade, Suzman was the only MP to openly condemn the whites-only Apartheid regime. Photograph by John Parkin. President Jacob Zuma (right) celebrates Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday at his home in Houghton on 18 July 2009. Photograph courtesy of the BBC.

As for the women, Akhnaton admits that men overshadowed the women, then as now, regrettably. “But there was one woman who could have ruled Egypt better than any man, had she been given the chance. She was my dear and revered mother, Queen Ti, who returned as Helen Suzman.” (KoS p.421)

Lastly what about Jacob Zuma? It seems he was an Amenite priest called Ahmose or Ahmes and partisan to Nefertiti’s plot to install the abducted Tutankhaton as a puppet pharaoh. With their success he became vizier of the South, at Thebes, and is remembered as Usermontu. What’s striking about this parallel is that Ramases, then vizier of the North (Pa-Ramose), played a counterbalancing role too. It will be interesting to see what happens to Zuma and Ramaphosa over the next few years. (KoS p.426)

Akhnaton concludes his message with the following exhortation:

“It matters not who was who, who did what, or who was right and who wrong. What matters are the lessons to be learnt from one another. In the politics of your day, there is no one who is right and all others wrong. There are but those who seek to serve their own self-interest and those who consider the good of all. You judge which way is best. Be wise and broad-minded in your judgements; gentle and generous in all your doings. To my former ministers I say: may you remember who you are and heed the lessons taught by my life as Akhnaton. May you fulfil the best of my ideals and triumph over the worst of my tragedies. There is no cause whatsoever that justifies enmity against one another, no ideal worth the exaction of another, for you must live up to your ideals with inner fortitude and not, no, not with outer hostility. This is the lesson South Africans must learn and teach the world: that ideals cannot be divorced from the people they serve but must grow in their hearts and minds, not through imposition, but through nurture. Let my people grow. I am Akhnaton.” (KoS pp.421-422)

Pharaoh Amenophis IV Akhnaton (left) 1375-1358BCE, fragment from a monumental statue in Karnak, Egypt. Courtesy of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Kublai Khan (right) 1215-1294, as painted by the court astronomer Anige shortly after the emperor’s death. Courtesy of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.

Mongka Khan
In the second part of the passage Kublai Khan speaks about his relationship to Nelson Mandela in thirteenth-century China:

“I who speak to you am Kublai Khan, the enlightened overlord of a cultural renaissance dedicated to the advancement of religion, art and knowledge. My history must speak for itself, for it is not why I come to you. I would speak of my brothers Mongka, Hulagu and Boka, who are reincarnate among you today as Nelson Mandela, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Thabo Mbeki, respectively. We four were then heirs of the monstrous Temüjin, our grandfather, known to you as the notorious Genghis Khan. My beloved spiritual brother, Akhnaton, has already informed you of their ancient incarnations in Egypt’s Eighteenth dynasty, and I would show you now how their thirteenth-century incarnations in Mongolia shaped their political roles in your world today. I do so neither to glorify nor vilify them, but to illustrate what lessons life teaches us through karma.” (KoS pp. 422-423)

“Genghis Khan bequeathed an empire unparalleled in the history of the world. Established through merciless massacres, his realm embraced almost all Asia and was to expand further east and west under his descendents. After our grandfather’s death, his four sons contested the succession… Batu Khan, who extended the Russian conquests into Eastern Europe, favoured the eldest Mongka for Grand Khanate. This may seem ironic, if you recall that Batu was PW Botha, the president who perpetuated the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. Mongka’s own military triumph in the ensuing civil war made him, before all, the undisputed Great Khan. The deposed princes were banished while the ex-regent’s mother, Oghul, was executed for her sorcery and treachery. She had striven sorely and bitterly against his ascension. I leave it to your discretion to recognise Oghul in her present-day incarnation, in the light of Akhnaton’s disclosure.” (KoS p.422)

The emperor and a president, Mongka Khan (1209-1259) and Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). Mongka was the first Great Khan from the Toluid line and made significant reforms to transform the Mongol Empire, earning him the title of Supreme Khan and King of Kings. Likewise, Mandela has been hailed the President of Presidents. The 13thC painting of Mongka shows a cartouche with his name in traditional Mongolian script, while Mandela’s signature appears alongside the photograph of him from c.1957.

Kublai Khan goes on to explain how Mongka became the Great Khan and his court at Karakorum the diplomatic centre of the world, receiving embassies from all over Asia and Europe. Mongka, like Mandela six centuries later, believed law and order was the way to create political conditions necessary to unite all peoples under a common welfare of peace and prosperity. And like Mandela, once again, he practised no racial or religious discrimination:

“Mongka believed in one God, but in no particular form of worship. He attended religious ceremonies of all the great faiths—Buddhist, Christian and Muslim equally—and religious freedom was well tolerated by him. But he never could tolerate dissension and was ruthless with those who pitted themselves against him.” (KoS p.424)

While Mogka held court, his brothers re-expanded the Mongol empire. Batu (Botha) used his Golden Horde to occupy Russia and eastern Europe; Hulagu (Buthelezi) conquered Persia; and Kublai Khan established the Yüan Dynasty. Kublai Khan is reincarnate today as Tenzin Gyatso, beter known as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Please see our previous post on the karmic connections  between the Dalai Lama, Tutu and Mandela.

The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, Nobel Peace Laureates, in 1993. Both men took an extraordinary leap of faith, together, thus changing the course of South Africa’s history forever. This joint award acknowledged their shared roles in the country’s historic path to reconciliation. Sadly, the road is far less travelled today.

As for Zuma, finally, we should say that  he reappeared in Kublai’s court as Ahmad Uzma who, judging by his name, appears to have come from what is now Uzbekistan. He rose to the position of finance minister, taking advantage of his master’s misplaced trust and the distractions of civil war. He was reputedly a corrupt court official and, too, renowned for his many wives. Though accused of murder, the Grand Khan sidelined all attempts to impeach Uzma (Zuma) and kept him at court. Despite this Uzma’s abuses of power did not stop and, like Zuma again, he had to face charges for capitalizing on arms-deals.

Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma at the African National Congress conference in Mangaung on 18 December 2012. Following a dramatic election battle, Zuma swept to victory as president of the ANC and secured a second term as party leader, while outsider Ramaphosa was elected as deputy president. Their bond goes back to ancient Egypt when both served as Amenite priests at Thebes. Photograph courtesy of Ouest France.

With this, Kublai Khan too concludes:

“From my spirit realm, I advocate the renaissance in South Africa.  I know all too well the difficulties of trying to serve spiritual ideals in a world of political contention and religious strife. I also know that it can be done, and done well. To my three brothers in this life, and to my spiritual brothers and sisters of the eternal past, I say: help one another. Help each other to live up to your highest ideals as human beings. True humanity lies not in enmity and conflict, but in tolerance and goodwill. I am Kublai Khan, the Dalai Lama of your time. (KoS p.425)

Nelson Mandela
The world will soon lose a great man, a man of noble actions and kind deeds. But the world will also have gained from his lessons of equality, justice and gentleness. It is a world in which Mandela has demonstrated that racism makes no sense when we incarnate into different bloodlines all the time. Moreover, it is a world in which love triumphs over hate: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Autobiography, 1995)

As Mandela’s given name suggests, let’s remember Rolihlahla as a true Tree Shaker.

Nicolaas Vergunst


Posted in Blog | 3 Comments

1. East meets West, where?

Modern technology has transformed our societies, bringing remote and distant corners of the world together. Watch this three minute animation to see how industrialisationtransport networks, electricity and telecommunications have united people around the globe. This Globaïa video was produced for the Planet Under Pressure conference, London, in 2012. If you prefer, watch the narrated version here.

In a world without end, spinning endlessly in space, is there such a thing as an East or a West? And if so, where does one end and the other begin?

Cradle of Civilisation
Is the East-West division between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the legendary home of the Garden of Eden and our so-called Cradle of Civilisation? Mesopotamia itself means “between rivers” and fits, some scholars claim, the biblical description of Paradise. Others believe the human species originated in Africa before dispersing, at a far later date, via the Rift Valley corridor onto the Eurasian plains. However, the Fertile Crescent still remains the most accepted home for the birth of our first cities; that early building block of civilisation. If so, is it from Mesopotamia (Iraq today) that civilisation spread both eastwards and westwards, towards the periphery?

Above right: oldest known world map, 6thC BCE, Babylonian clay tablet. Courtesy British Museum, London.
‘Nova totius Terrarum Orbis’ by Hendrik Hondius, Amsterdam 1630. A typical 17thC world map showing two halves of the globe. The East shows both Eurasia and Africa (including the newly sighted Australian coastline) and the West the two Americas.

Unlike the narrow Rift Valley gorge, Eurasia’s open plains and vast plateaus provided a favourable passage for migrating clans and their herds. So, was it on the Russian steppe or in the Iranian deserts that sweeping hordes and conquering armies first crossed from East to West? And if so, which horizon separated the lands of the rising sun from those over which the moon set?

Great Cities
Or, instead, did East and West meet along the Bosphorus where various cultures bumped into each other over several millennia? Here Byzantium-Constantinople-Istanbul saw all manner of Greeks, Romans, Latins and Turks step across the great divide. Or was it in Jerusalem, perhaps, where Jews and Christians and Muslims have rubbed shoulders for countless centuries? Jerusalem was, after all, the conceptual centre of the world. Or, was it perhaps in Berlin where, until only a few decades ago, capitalists and soviets faced each other across the Wall? During the Cold War, c.1946–1991, the wall symbolically divided East from West, separating what had once grown and belonged together.

But is it a river, a mountain, or a wall after all? Or is it, say, a crossroad, trade route or military frontier? Or a set of borders, like the state lines dividing Eastern America from the American West? Like most borders these lines arbitrarily divide natural, traditional and even seasonal territories.

Another ‘Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis’ world map by a 17thC Dutch cartographer, Claes Janszoon Visscher, showing the Tordesillas meridian that divided the non-Christian world into two halves; the one part going to Portugal, the other belonging to the Spanish crown. This map was published in 1652, the year in which the Dutch took possession of the Cape of Good Hope.

Open Oceans
Or could it be out to sea, perhaps, somewhere in the Atlantic? Historically, the Pope divided the earth in two, pole to pole, along an imaginary line in the mid-Atlantic, giving Spain one half of the world and Portugal the rest. Excluding Europe, of course. On that day, 7 June 1494, the Western territories included a still unknown America and the East all of Africa—though its full extent still had to be discovered. Known as the Tordesillas meridian, the line of demarcation brushed the right shoulder of Brazil which, officially, would only be discovered in 1500.

That was then, but what about today? Perhaps it is the Greenwich prime meridian that determines where we are now? Well, yes, it is around zero longitude that we orientate ourselves spatially and relativise our time on an East-West basis. But this places Europe in the East and pushes Africa towards the Orient—an orientation that suits China today!

For now, the question is not where but when did East and West meet? It’s a question that always vexes me because, as a westerner, I can’t step outside my own shoes. Questions of relativity require both feet on the ground and, simultaneously, a head above the rest. Nevertheless, the question does force us to rethink our histories.

The first separate map depicting the African continent, alone, from Sebastian Munster’s ‘Cosmography’, Basel 1545. It is full of fanciful details based on the work of ancient scholars, such as Ptolemy and Herodotus, and includes a one-eyed cyclops called Monoculi, the mythical guardian of the Cape of Storms. Despite the fact that the southern tip had been rounded a half century before, the Cape of Good Hope is not named here. 

Cape of Good Hope
The East-West line has clearly shifted over time and, from a Western perspective, reflects the ebb and flow of Europe’s overseas expansion. For instance, during the Age of Exploration c.1400–1600, the southern tip of Africa became the new threshold between an ancient East and a modern West. The Cape of Good Hope was then the southernmost Portal to the Indies and one of the most dangerous known to man. Ironically, it’s known as the Fairest Cape today.

Towering above Cape Town, Table Mountain was once seen to personify the character of a Stormy Cape. The mountain was a wild and vindictive giant called Adamastor, a tormented figure derived from Greek mythology. Like the Titans, Adamastor dashed all hopes of passing mortals. The Cape was his forbidden portal, a threshold between the Atlantic and Indian oceans, beyond which neither ship nor sail should pass.

Artist’s impression of the giant Adamastor, showing the Portuguese fleet rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Courtesy Marina dos Santos Salgueirio Tomas Teixeira.

The long voyage East, amid raging storms and inner temptations, symbolized a journey of spiritual enlightenment. It was a concept that possessed Prince Henry and the explorers of Atlantic-Africa, a concept that also transformed the oceanic ‘Discoveries’ into a quest for individual spiritual enlightenment. Portugal’s exploration from West Africa to East Africa, from the shores of the Atlantic to the Indian seaboard, was thus more than a mere adventure in maritime geography. And thus, in 1488 a weatherworn Bartolomeu Dias first crossed this great divide, unknowingly, after being driven out to sea in a storm. For more images of Table Mountain, see Hoerikwaggo: Images of Table Mountain.

A decade later, on his historic outbound voyage to India in 1497, Vasco da Gama too clashed with Adamastor off the Cape. Their confrontation came to symbolise the conflict between modern man and the classical gods. For Luís de Camões, poet laureate of Portugal, the clash symbolised mankind’s inevitable triumph over the gods, a triumph of the Renaissance over the Medieval, of humanism over dogmatism.

Table Mountain has also been likened to the double-headed god Janus (Ianus) of Roman mythology. Looking forward and back, he was the awe inspiring Door- or Gate Keeper. Janus looks ahead and behind, knowing the future as well as the past. Likewise, Table Mountain watched over the African continent, protecting it from men sailing from the Atlantic into the Indian Ocean, West to East, from new to old, cold to warm. Or so it was until 1869, when the Suez Canal opened.

Before the Canal, the Cape of Good Hope had offered the most direct sea passage to the Indies. Like the once impassable Pillars of Hercules, Table Mountain helped to create a concept of an intermediary Africa. With northern and southern portals at Gibraltar and the Cape, respectively, Africa mediated between a fabulous East and a robust West. To this end the Portuguese also tried to reach the other side of Africa via the Congo River, but malaria thwarted their efforts (as it did during the building of the Panama Canal in the 1880s and 1900s). Be that as it may, the East was not to be found by transversing the continent. A fact White explorers would only discover for themselves centuries later.

A model of the known world according to the Greek geographer and ethnographer Herodotus, the so-called Father of History. His view of an inhabited world, spread out on the East-West axis, was to have a lasting influence on western historians.

Some alternatives
Traversing a continent along its East-West axis is not new, of course. Early long-distance migrations followed the same pattern, moving within compatible climatic zones. Moving laterally allowed caravans and armies to harness the same pack animals, gather the same food and, so far as was possible, to avoid new diseases. To the North lay ice and bitter cold. South the sand and scorching heat. For contemporary geographers the world was elliptical, or elongated, with an East-West to North-South ratio of 5:3 (see map above).

The main East-West route ran from the Chinese capital of Chang’an (Xian today) via the Himalayan valleys and Afghan passes, and then across the Arabian Desert to the port-cities of the eastern Mediterranean. Exchange along this line of oases, once known as the Khurasan or “Old Silk Road”, prepared the ground for varied beliefs; blending cultures and promoting religious tolerance. All the great conquerors of Eurasia—Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane—used this route while criss-crossing the continent.

Modern copy of the ‘Tabula Rogeriana’ by Muhammad al-Idrisi, the Muslim geographer and traveller from Ceuta (opposite Gibraltar), for King Roger II of Sicily, 1154. 

The expanding Muslim empire had an East-West axis too; as well as a formidable array of Ottoman, Mamluk and Zamorin fleets that controlled the main trade routes from the Strait of Malacca to the Strait of Gibraltar. Their oceanic network had evolved as an alternative to the heavily taxed and bandit-ridden routes across the Eurasian continent—and as a result of disruptions caused by the great marauding warlords.

By 1500 the centre of this vast commercial network was the Middle East; and not the Mediterranean. Venice was an exception, being a mercantile linchpin for Jews, Turks and Christians. The rest of Europe was of limited value, and Portugal merely peripheral. The West had no raw materials or manufactured goods to offer India, China or Japan—except imported gold and silver. And thus without Africa’s gold there would have been no grand sea-trade in the sixteenth century and, subsequently, no modern world economy.

Perched on Europe’s most south-westerly corner, Portugal was ideally positioned for its westward expansion. Pre-empting the discoveries of the 15thC, old Phoenicia had faced west too. Likewise the powers that would succeed Portugal—Holland and England—also faced the Atlantic. But it was not the open sea alone that gave them the advantage, it was the prevailing Westerlies that blew at their backs. As a result, the world opened up toward the West. In short, it was the East that first discovered the West and not the other way around. But this history is best told another day.

NASA satellite reconstruction of the oceans in motion. Courtesy of National Geographic, February 2013. NASA satellite reconstruction of the oceans in motion. Courtesy of National Geographic, February 2013. White lines show the flow of currents in the Atlantic and Indian oceans while the swirling eddies indicate where these are disturbed by land and wind.

Perhaps when or where the two meet is not as important as why we need both to make us feel whole? For now I’m sure of only one thing, we orientate ourselves by facing three directions: the rising sun, the open sea and the way forward. This is the result of ceremonial, conceptual and navigational necessity. Seen from outer space, of course, our planet has neither a top nor a bottom, nor an East or a West. Thankfully.

Heart-shaped (cordiform) map projection by the French mathematician and cartographer Oronce Finé, 1534.

This article was first published in the United States by World Report: The Student Journal for International Affairs (Autumn 2011).

Nicolaas Vergunst

Posted in Blog | 15 Comments

2. Old mariners, modern explorers—part one

De ruimtevaarder (spaceman) is a typical travel ballad by singer-songwriter Stef Bos, appearing on his 2005 album RuimtevaarderOnce a borderless roamer, the renown Dutch troubadour now lives in Cape Town.  Music courtesy of Niemandsland.

“Both Jason the Argonaut and Henry the Navigator sent their seafarers to the ends of the world and did what others thought impossible: they made the promise of a safe return a reality.” Volodya Vasilevsky, KoS p.246

Among the many parallels in Knot of Stone is the comparison between ancient mariners and modern explorers. We begin this month’s post with an extract from the book:

‘The legend of the Golden Fleece is based on voyages made around 1500BCE, when seaborne gold-prospectors crossed the Black Sea,’ said Volodya, ‘although the story’s origins date back far further.’
‘Dating back to a distant pre-Christian Georgia?’
‘Yes, where they washed their alluvial sediments through a sheep’s skin, trapping the grit in its fatty curls. So, voilà, the legend is partly true… at least one part is history, the other allegory.’
‘Allegory? Why, because the argonauts were like astronauts?’
→’‘Précisément, bon. Yes, both possessed courage, both undertook voyages into the unknown and went beyond their respective horizons—’
‘—as had Dias,’ she said, testingly, ‘going to the Back o’ Beyond?’
‘Yes, that’s why they nicknamed him the “Captain of the End”.’
‘Who, Dias?’
‘Da, because he brought his men back from the End-of-the-Earth, from Ultima Thule, whose limit was yet unguessed.’
‘Well, I can’t leave home without a TomTom.’ He seemed not to share her humour. ‘Sorry Volodya, please continue.’
‘Merci. There are some obvious parallels between the founding of an ancient Greek state and the emergence of the Portuguese nation: Jason and Henrique were both princes who sent seafarers to the ends of the world and did what others thought impossible: they made the promise of return a reality—’
‘—but Prince Henry never sailed so far himself.’
‘No, indeed, but that made him no less adventurous. Since Antiquity the southern hemisphere was believed to lead to the Underworld—the World’s End—where the natural order was reversed.’
Pulling herself back, she heard Volodya explaining how the voyage of the Argo symbolised a descent into the Underworld—a world of initiation.
‘I thought we were talking about Prince Henry?’
‘Da. His navigators had to face terrible sea monsters and, like the dragonslayers of yore, had to vanquish the unknown.’ (KoS pp.246-247)

      Early explorers were taught to face fearsome creatures at sea and, like their modern counterparts in space, learnt to overcome the fear of an alien-inhabited world or universe. Follow our discussion on facebook with Nicolaas Vergunst.

Prince Henry and King John
When Henry the Navigator died in 1460, aged 66, his nineteen year old grandnephew João was made responsible for exploring the seemingly endless Atlantic-African coastline. Little progress was made, however, until the Crown Prince became king and resumed Henry’s quest for a sea passage to the Indies.

Despite claims to the contrary, young king João was optimistic that the great geographer-astronomer of Antiquity, Ptolemy, had been mistaken when he said the Indian Ocean was a landlocked “Emerald Sea” and, moreover, that Africa and India were connected by a bridge of land. Like his grand-uncle Henry, João held to the classical idea of a Great Outer Sea surrounding the world. Greek and Arab geographers had seen this as a vast river; encircling all Europe, Asia and Africa. Like Henry, João believed the Indian and Atlantic met below Africa, and by the mid-1480s felt that the terminal point lay within his reach. (KoS p.92)

To this end king João elected Bartolomeu Dias, a schooled mariner and minor noble, to sail around Africa’s southern extremity. Dias was told to secure a sea route around the Muslim  trade monopoly of the Mediterranean—and to locate the legendary Prester John, a Christian priest-king reputedly living in the Indies (then known as India, Libya or Abyssinia, see KoS p.175). In 1487, the same year Dias set sail, Pêro da Covilhã was sent to Cairo to espy an overland route to the Indian Ocean Rim and, likewise, to seek the paradisal realm of Prester John. As with Almeida, both Dias and Covilhã belonged to the Order of Christ; that is, to the brotherhood’s secret inner circle. (KoS p.85)

Bartolomeu Dias
Dias left with the best charts and latest equipment, commandeering two caravels and a broad-bottomed boat for extra supplies. He took a padre, three stone crosses, and four female hostages from Guinea. He was told none could be set ashore until he passed the furthest landfall made by earlier Portuguese explorers. (KoS p.95-96)

Dias sailed down the west coast of Africa, beyond the mouth of the Congo River, ever further and further south, until, tired of beating against the wind, he set a course for the open sea. However, driven off course by a storm, he did not see the Cape, being then too far south at sea. The land ahead now lay to the other side of their ships and followed an eastward trend. It was only when he saw Table Mountain on his return, some weeks later, that he renamed it Cabo da Bõa Esperança, the Cape of Good Hope.

Hunger, fear, superstition and the threat of mutiny forced him to turn his boats and sail for home. He felt humiliated. In Lisbon he failed to receive the gifts once lavished on his predecessors. He was told, instead, to confer with the royal mapmaker, Bartolomeu Columbus—brother of Christopher Columbus—and to supervise shipbuilding for another expedition. Faster caravels would be needed for the next trip.

A decade later, demoted and disillusioned, Dias served as a pilot on Vasco da Gama’s epic voyage of 1497, but only sailed as far as the Cape Verde Islands. Then, in 1500, he sailed across the Atlantic with Cabral’s fleet, reaching the shoulder of Brazil in the company of Gaspar das Índias, before swinging back toward the southern tip of Africa. On approaching the Cape a comet streaked the sky—a heavenly portent, they thought—after which a rogue wind sank four ships. He and his men were never seen again. Ironically, Dias died at the Stormy Cape he himself had named the Good Hope. Alas, he never found this Preste João. (KoS p.100-101)

Like the archetypal southern voyager, Ulysses, Dias floundered in sight of his goal. As did Moses. In fact, the Italians compared Dias to Moses as both were “permitted to see but not enter the Promised Land”. (KoS p.118)

Pêro da Covilhã 
Covilhã was a traveller, a linguist and a negotiator extraordinaire. He was reputedly, too, “the most famous secret agent of his day”. He was sent to spy in Spain and served as ambassador in Morocco. Disguised as a Muslim trader, he left the same year as Dias by way of Alexandria, Cairo and Aden; taking a circuitous route to Cananor, Goa, Calicut and Cochin; then back via Ormuz before sailing down to Kilwa and Sofala. Here, on the far side of Africa, he hoped to meet Dias, or at least hear news of his visit. But they never saw each other again. Instead, Covilhã heard from an Arab or Hindu merchant that the sea beyond the tip of Africa lay open to the west—a fact Dias was discovering for himself, but now in reverse. Some say it was the most important joint-venture in the history of pioneer exploration. (KoS pp.79, 156-157)

After a long and tiresome journey, Covilhã finally reached Emperor Eskender’s court in Yeha, near Axum, Ethiopia, where he was detained for the thirty years. He was well cared for and respected—but never allowed to leave court.

Despite the splendour, Covilhã found little resemblance to the legend of Prester John. As had Marco Polo two centuries before. After completing his travels in South Asia, Polo identified Praeti Jiani as one of the great Mongol Khans—with whom lived the Manichaeans and Nestorians, the so-called White Christians of China.

Three decades later, in 1520, when a new Portuguese party arrived, they found Covilhã still there with an Ethiopian wife and family. Covilhã was praised for his wit, intelligence and his role as an advisor. He died in Yeha a few years later, having never seen his wife in Lisbon nor the child she’d been carrying thirty years before. (KoS p.133) No doubt he also found his Prester John. Or his own terrestrial paradise. (KoS pp.118)


Spiritual enlightenment
An eastward voyage symbolised spiritual enlightenment. East was where the Terrestrial Paradise could be found. For this reason Portugal’s exploration from West Africa to East Africa, or from the shores of the Atlantic to the Indian seaboard, was far more than a mere adventure in maritime geography. Dias found not only the end of a continent but crossed a great divide, breaking into a new world, from a savage West to a fabulous East. And, ultimately, it was Gama who provided the proof and Camões the symbolism.

Read about the Terrestrial Paradise in our previous post on Prester John of Africa.

Nicolaas Vergunst

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments

2. Old mariners, modern explorers—part two

They say Sagres was as important to the Age of Discovery as Cape Canaveral has been to the Space Age?” Sonja Haas, KoS p.127

One of the most striking parallels in Knot of Stone is that between the oceanic explorations of the fifteenth century and the discoveries of our solar system in the twentieth. Both periods demanded something new from the explorers who undertook these voyages; and both were full of perilous journeys. Here’s an extract from the book itself: 

‘A psychiatrist from Dornach, Dr Georg Unger, prepared American pilots for unknown conditions in Space during the 1960s. At the time, no one knew if we could digest or metabolize in outer space, let alone remain rational in orbit. His task was to train astronauts to control their thoughts in an environment without light, sound or gravity. Under these conditions our involuntary response is to sleep or lose consciousness. To this end, Doctor Unger developed meditative exercises to prevent the loss of conscious control,’ explained Volodya, recalling his experience in Russia: ‘Cosmonauts underwent the same training in our Soviet Space Programme.’
All Sonja knew had been garnered from Algarve’s travel websites:
‘They say Sagres was as important to the early Age of Discovery as Cape Canaveral has been to the Space Age?’
Voilà,’ he replied smoothly, ‘Henry the Navigator taught his captains to overcome irrational fear and to trust their perception of reality. They had to prepare themselves for months at sea in a vessel no larger than a harbour tug—something we find difficult to appreciate in a world of giant oil tankers and skyscrapers.’

Like the legendary dragonslayers, navigators had to face terrible sea monsters and vanquish the unknown. Science-fiction readers believed, too, that modern spacetravellers had to overcome hostile aliens in space. Follow our discussion with Nicolaas Vergunst on facebook.

‘Oké, but is there any evidence of Prince Henry’s preparations?’ asked Sonja.
‘No, not that I’m aware of, although neurobiologists have since demonstrated how the human nervous system can be programmed, or rather re-programmed, by regular and repeated exercises. They’ve been able to show how the body can be taught to react differently to the same stimuli and, ultimately, how this can be made to induce an altered state of consciousness—’
‘—as in chanting or a mantra?’ inserted Sonja, recalling what she’d heard about trance-dance among the Bushmen of the Kalahari.
‘Yes, though biochemical reactions are something else. There the danger of substance abuse is real, something you don’t have with the repetitive physical acts of fasting or prayer…’ (KoS pp.127-128)

Nicolaas Vergunst

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments

2. Old mariners, modern explorers—part three

In July 1969, when Neil Armstrong left for the moon with his Apollo 11 team, he knew there was a chance that they may not return to Earth. Speechwriter William Safire thus prepared a statement ‘In Event of Moon Disaster’ for President Nixon to read on television. The text was never broadcast because all three crew returned. On 25 August 2012, forty-three years after his historic mission, Armstrong passed away.  Safire’s original text follows below:

The travels of Marco Polo, Queen Hatshepsut and Admiral Zheng He are mentioned in Knot of Stone too. We shall touch on Christopher Columbus again in November, so watch this space. Meanwhile, follow our two facebook pages for the latest updates: Nicolaas Vergunst and Knot of Stone.

Nicolaas Vergunst

Posted in Blog | Comments Off

3. KNOTof STONE in Portugal

This old Volvo coupé is the one used by Sonja and Jason in Knot of Stone. It belongs to her brother Bart and was stowed by her parents in Lagos, Portugal, during his prolonged illness. (KoS p.137) Their trip is as much a journey through Europe’s diverse histories as it is one that unravels their own individual life stories.

While the story behind Knot of Stone begins in June, the real journey starts in July when Sonja travels from Sagres to Paris. Joined by Jason in Lisbon, she finds herself driving across Europe hoping to unravel clues to the murder of Francisco d’Almeida five centuries before. Here we focus on the first castles, churches, museums and sacred sites visited in the book.

Fortaleza, Ponta de Sagres, Portugal (Chapters 25-27)
Sonja returns for a brief holiday in the Algarve, Portugal, where her parents have had a second home for decades. Visiting nearby Sagres she meets Volodya Vasilevsky (40), son of a Russian naval officer, and a man obsessed with Prince Henry’s school for navigators. Although the Sagres Academy wasn’t as sophisticated as scholars once claimed, it did serve as a school for neo-Templar initiates. Their studies, Volodya explains, were surrounded by secrecy as pre-Christian teachings—especially those taken from Greek and Arabic sources—had been long since suppressed. Moreover, those withholding arcane knowledge could be severely punished. (KoS pp.123-136)

Although the fortress dates from c.1650 and has been restored several times, it was from Sagres that Henry the Navigator initiated the Portuguese Age of Discoveries (Descobrimentos). Prince Henry was obsessed with the idea of an independent Christian king, a potential African ally who was neither Orthodox nor Catholic nor had any allegiance to Rome or Constantinople. Alas for him, the legendary Prester John was never found.
Puerto de (port of) Sagres, Atlas de Pedro Texeira, 1634.
While visiting the Algarve, Sonja walks across the Ponta de Sagres and stands, alone, watching the gulls swoop over the swirling sea. Here she finds the same solitude she’d felt at Cape Point (see below left), and is thrilled to know that she stands at the opposite end of that same ocean.
Cape Point (left) and Ponta de Sagres (right) were once regarded as Holy Capes—one above the equator, the other below—and also linked to the pursuit for a priest-king somewhere in Africa (Abysinnia-Ethiopia). As part of a three-pronged approach, the Portuguese tried reaching East Africa via Cairo, the Congo River, and the Cape of Good Hope. But the far side of Africa was not to be found by transversing the continent—a fact White explorers would only discover for themselves centuries later. 

 Sonja’s map showing the places she will visit in Portugal. 

Torre de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal (Chapter 28)
On her arrival, Sonja’s first choice is to wander down to the Tagus to see Belém Tower. The Torre de Belém was once the symbolic gateway to the new world and protected the entrance to Lisbon’s bustling port. It was only completed in 1515; that is, five years after Almeida’s empty ship came limping home. When news of his death at the Cape of Good Hope reached Lisbon, king Manual called for a day of national mourning. Named after Bethlehem, Belém itself was where the seafarers’ long journey South began. (KoS p.139)

Lisbon’s Torre de Belém overlooking the Tagus River as it flows toward the Atlantic.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Portugal (Chapter 28)
That same evening, Sonja strolls over to the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery, founded in 1501, a mere four years before Almeida sailed for India, via the Cape of Good Hope. The cathedral was built beside the medieval city gates, over a chapel once used by Prince Henry, and served as a rite of passage for departing seafarers. It contains the tombs of both Gama and Camões and has, allegedly, the most beautifully proportioned claustro in all Christendom. (KoS p.139)

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, viewed from across the water on Rua Bartolomeu Dias.
nave, Jerónimos Monastery, Belém, PortugalThe great nave of the Jerónimos Monastery with its intricate Manueline carvings. Built in honour of king Manuel (who reigned 1495–1521), the entire building reflects his grandiose title as “the serene and all powerful ruler, on this side of the world and beyond the sea, and always visible”. 
cloister, Jerónimos Monastery, Belém, PortugalThe beautiful cloister of the Jerónimos Monastery, restored in 2002, with its eclectic stone ornamentation. 

Museu de Marinha, Lisbon, Portugal (Chapter 30)
Sonja and Jason visit the Maritime Museum, also in Belém, and find it stuck in a by-gone era. Here Portugal’s Age of Triumph appears defiant in a world of relative sensibilities and negotiated histories. Nevertheless, the museum has a bright portrait of Almeida—shown in a long billowing coat—not unlike the one they discovered in the British Library. (KoS pp.65, 150-151)

Façade and entrance (bottom right) of the Museu de Marinha, Lisbon, structurally part of the old monastery.
Francisco d’Almeida’s portrait in the Maritime Museum.

Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal (Chapter 30)
Located between the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower, the Cultural Centre of Belém (CCB) is a most striking monument to modern design and architecture. Completed in 1992 to host Portugal’s presidency of the European Union, the building was as controversial as the idea of a single EU community itself. The democratic ideal of a unified Europe is a leitmotif in Knot of Stone. In our story, Sonja and Jason visit the CCB at the end of their first day in Lisbon. (KoS pp.148, 150)

The CCB’s riverfront garden and shaded patio is a cool place to relax at sunset, especially in summer, as Sonja knew from previous visits to Lisbon. The castellated structure resembles a medieval town with intersecting “streets” and “squares”, echoing its function as a conference, performance and exhibition venue. (KoS p.148)
Linking the building’s interior and exterior, this transversal “street” also connects the Jerónimos Monastery with the riverside Tower of Belém. The red carpet symbolically recalls the annual procession of departing sailors who, following their king and bishop, walked from the church to their ships. As many had done before, Almeida and his men followed the same “rite of passage” down to the Tagus. (KoS p.139)

Torre do Tombo, Lisbon, Portugal (Chapter 31)
On visiting the National Archives, Sonja discovers that Almeida’s brother Pedro argued with king Manuel and subsequently promised to leave Portugal should Almeida be escorted safely back from India. What was their argument about and, moreover, why should Pedro offer to leave the country? Had the family been disgraced? Was Almeida dishonoured? Follow Sonja as she unravels the clues to his murder. (KoS pp.152-158)

The Torre do Tombo (now called the Institute of the National Archives) houses many of Portugal’s oldest records, some dating back to 1378, including those dealing with the Age of Discoveries (Descobrimentos). Although the Church only began recording births, marriages and deaths from 1550—a generation or so after Almeida himself lived—the archive provides an invaluable source of information for Sonja and Jason.

The pearly Volvo coupé used by Sonja in Knot of Stone.

Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo, Abrantes, Portugal (Chapter 32)
Using their Volvo, Sonja and Jason drive into the country to visit the Almeida family seat, Castelo de Abrantes, in the heartland of Portugal. Here they discuss Almeida’s career and attachment to his wife and daughter. The castle towers above a bend in the Tagus River and, once captured from the Moors in 1148, became a strategic Templar stronghold and dominion of the Order of Santiago de Compostela—to which Almeida’s forefathers also belonged. Within the ramparts of the castle, now much in ruins, stands the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The church also served as a private chapel and family tomb, and is the only surviving building from Almeida’s lifetime. It is used as a family museum today. (KoS pp.159-160)

Inside the Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo are the tombs of Almeida’s father, mother and brother. The church has green azulejos tiles behind the altar and a flagstone floor worn smooth by the tears of countless generations. Beside a few sculptures and a carved baptismal, little else survives what Almeida himself may have seen—except for two tipo gótico frescoes, of which one depicts a Templar knight slaying a dragon.
São Jorge, Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo, Abrantes.

Convento de Christo, Tomar, Portugal (Chapter 33)
The twelfth-century Convento de Cristo served to defend the Christian border against the Moors. At the centre of this magnificent monastic fortress stands the Charola, or Round Church, built by the Knights Templar and modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Its octagonal design demonstrated the Templarist view that Jerusalem, rather than Rome, was the historical link between East and West. (KoS p.165)

As a former Templar stronghold, the Convento was well suited for the headquarters of the Order of Christ. Knights who belonged to this Order were neo-Templars. (KoS pp.129-131)
The Gothic-style Claustro do Cemitério was used as a cloistered cemetery for knights and monks in the Order of Christ. Here Almeida’s forefather, Vasco Gonçalves de Almeyda and his wife, then governors of the young Prince Henry, donated a side chapel for his private use. (KoS p.165) Pictures courtesy of Fernando Fidalgo.
The Convento’s gradiose 16thC ediface is adorned with emblematic Templar symbols and—like the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia—appears entirely cut from one single stone. Here Sonja and Jason find further examples of twisted Manueline knots made of coiled rope. 

To read about the symbolism of the knot and why we chose this for the title of our book, see How to tie a Knot in Stone.

Nicolaas Vergunst

Posted in Blog | 2 Comments

4. KNOTof STONE in South Africa

The story behind Knot of Stone begins in June—yes, that’s this month—following the arrival of Sonja Haas in Cape Town. To assist our new readers, we’ve compiled a chapter summary of Sonja’s journey and will, day by day, add highlights from her trip. So, watch this space…

Chapter 1: lower contour path, Table Mountain, Cape Town. 
Sonja Haas (35), a visiting Dutch historian, and her mentor Prof Mendle (65), sit beside a mountain stream above Cape Town. They discuss old burial customs, slavery, and the forgotten outcasts of Robben Island—mutineering sailors, convicts and lepers—until an urgent phone call cuts him short. As chief anthropologist at the SA Museum, Mendle is required to help examine a mass-grave exposed by a tempestuous storm the previous night. Several skeletons have been found, he is told, lying on their backs with their arms folded. More importantly, the skeletons appear to predate any foreigners at the Cape.

Chapter 2: disused railway yard, Old Woodstock Beach, Cape Town.
Mendle takes Sonja to the excavation site where she meets Jason Tomas (28), also from the SA Museum. He shows them the sand-packed bones; including clasps, buckles, riveted plates and a rusty rapier—evidence of the first fatal skirmish with European soldiers in southern Africa? So as to conduct a proper investigation, and avoid unwanted publicity, one skeleton is covertly removed and taken to the museum.

Chapter 3: anthropology laboratory, SA Museum, Cape Town.
Mendle reveals the articulated skeleton of a mature male, about sixty years of age, with a fractured skull. It has missing teeth and a severely scarred jawbone—as if struck under the chin by a double-edged blade, probably made of steel. Suspecting that they may have found the burial site of Viceroy Francisco d’Almeida, killed at the Cape in 1510, Mendle decides to pursue his investigation behind closed doors. However, as museum policy bars the storage of illicit human remains, he asks Sonja and Jason to swear an oath of secrecy—until the victim is identified. It’s an oath that will change their lives.

Chapter 4: military museum, Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town.
Following Mendle’s suggestion, Sonja and Jason visit the Castle Military Museum to view the only known painting of Almeida’s ill-fated death. It depicts how he and his men were ambushed by herders and stampeding war-oxen after they raided a Khoena village near modern-day Mowbray. Questioning the reconstructed facts, they search the library upstairs for more clues.

Chapter 5: military library, Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town.
Browsing between the bookshelves, Sonja and Jason learn that Almeida served both Portugal and Spain, then at war with each other, at a time when the new Discoveries of the world were being divided between the two competing sovereigns. Turning to leave, Sonja stumbles upon a dossier of scrap notes, maps and lists about Almeida’s death; including how his demise had been foretold by the so-called witches of Cochin. However irrational, or criminal, Sonja steals the dossier.

Sample pages from Knot of Stone, including items found in the stolen dossier.

Chapter 6: at home with Prof Mendle, Gardens, Cape Town.
Sonja and Jason rush across town to show Prof Mendle the dossier, asking him to explain the uncanny prediction. He cautiously notes that the prophecy only appeared after the massacre and, moreover, blends fact and fiction, history and allegory. However, Mendle quickly adds, a local clairaudient and close friend believes Almeida’s death was disguised by the Portuguese as a prophecy of doom: Almeida’s assassins ritually pierced his throat with a lance of steel, thus silencing him forever.

Chapter 7: Wild Fig Restaurant, Mowbray (below Table Mountain).
Prof Mendle and Jason join Sonja at a restaurant situated near the site of the Khoena village, now long since disappeared. Over dinner they discuss the original watering place of the Portuguese and the course of the Camissa stream. Today it flows below the city, around the Castle and under the railway line until, another mile farther, it finally flows out to sea. The stream is seen as the first “source” of modern history in South Africa. Mendle recognizes a drawing of Table Mountain’s environs, including the Camissa, shown beneath a Union Castle Line calendar. The map only makes sense when turned sideways. What then of the skull, should he have turned that too? Was Almeida struck by someone standing over his body, after he’d fallen to the ground? And since a steel blade was used, could one of his compatriots have wielded it against him?


Chapter 9: apartment in Queen Victoria Street, Gardens, Cape Town.
African divination bowls or baskets—shown below with diverse bones, shells, nuts, buttons and coins—are used to determine guilt or innocence. Having seen such artifacts at the SA Museum, including one that can identify liars, Sonja wonders if these may help reveal Almeida’s assassins? However, she quickly dismisses the idea as too fanciful and far-fetched: “I’m not going to become a cultural tourist in ancestral Africa.” (KoS p.47)

Photographs courtesy of the Science Museum of London (L), and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (R).

Chapter 10: museum café, SA Museum, Cape Town.
Sonja checks the clairaudient message, noting that Almeida had been sent to Cochin, India, with a “secret commission to reopen channels of esoteric intercourse between East and West”. According to the sangoma, Gaspar das Indias was privy to Almeida’s esoteric concerns and to his fear of entrapment. It seems only Gaspar knew of his master’s fate and misfortune. Sonja searches for biographical clues and learns that Gaspar’s role as lingua allowed him to move between Jewish, Muslim and Christian societies—a role that gave Almeida access to the arcane knowledge of the East.


Chapter 12: reading room, SA Library, Cape Town.
Sonja and Jason visit the SA Library to search for a motive and cause behind Almeida’s murder. They read about his term of office in Cochin and how his rival and successor, Afonso d’Albuquerque, led an abortive siege of Ormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. After temporarily seizing the port, Albuquerque’s captains deserted him and sought the Viceroy’s protection back in India. Were these captains among the twelve officers killed with Almeida at the Cape?

Chapter 13: apartment in Queen Victoria Street, Gardens (below Table Mountain).
Jason sends Sonja the results of a quick internet search—Almeida’s portrait and a brief biographical synopsis. He is shown with a wart on his cheek. The striking resemblance confirms that the cards and stamps found in the dossier belong to Almeida too. It is clear that Almeida fell out of favor with Manuel I back in Lisbon; whereas Albuquerque, boldly seizing strategic territories in the Indian Ocean, won the sovereign’s approval. Sonja now learns that Almeida refused to recognize Albuquerque’s credentials and had his old rival and, now, successor-in-waiting thrown in prison.

Today the work is attributed to Pedro Barretti de Resende, former secretary to the viceroy of the Estado da Índia, and the date given as 1646. The work is now in the British Library, London. (MS Sloane 197 fol. 9)

Chapter 15: artist’s studio, Wynberg (behind Table Mountain).
Intent on learning more about Almeida’s murder, and the painting she’d seen at the Castle, Sonja visits the artist in his studio. Angus McBride, however, cannot remember his painting of the massacre. Sonja jolts his memory with the mention of Almeida’s rival and successor, Albuquerque. The artist recalls the aborted siege of Ormuz and how Albuquerque appropriated the captains’ share of the booty. More over, he says, Almeida never questioned the captains for their desertion, but took their word on trust. Angus describes Albuquerque’s illness and death, and how his bones could not be returned to Portugal as long as king Manuel I lived. Likewise, she realizes, “Almeida’s bones protect the Cape”. Was there more to the prophecy of Camões, after all?

‘Massacre of Viceroy Francisco d’Almeida, 1510’ by Angus McBride, 1984. Courtesy Castle Military Museum.

Chapter 16: Milnerton Beach (opposite Table Mountain).
Sonja and Prof Mendle take a stroll on Milnerton Beach at low tide. According to Camões, Almeida was killed in retribution for his actions in East Africa—especially Kilwa and Mombasa—while the witches’ prophecy claims that the Cape of Storms is destined to preserve Almeida’s memory with his bones. Besides Almeida and Gaspar das Indias, Sonja cannot trace the other victims of the massacre, and so Mendle suggests she look at who did survive instead. They are listed in the dossier, he says, and most likely named for a good reason. She now knows that Almeida, like Gaspar, was a special envoy who mixed with monarchs, diplomats and well-travelled scholars; and thereby acquired the arcane knowledge of Asian cultures.

Chapter 20: maritime museum, Mossel Bay, Garden Route.
With only a week left to complete her research in South Africa, Sonja drives up the Garden Route to visit the Dias Museum. The maritime museum stands beside a perennial spring where Bartolomeu Dias made his historic landing, the first along these shores, in 1488. The site also marks the first encounter and earliest recorded death in South Africa. Here, at the spring, an affronted herdsman was shot in the throat by a Portuguese crossbow bolt. Two decades later, beside another stream, this time at the Cape of Good Hope, Almeida would die with a wooden spear stuck through his throat too.

Chapter 21: museum café, SA Museum, Cape Town.
Sonja tells Prof Mendle about her trip to the Dias Museum and the confusions caused by unreliable historical sources. He uses Aristotle’s distinction between history and poetry to demonstrate that history merely shows us who we once were; whereas poetry shows who we are—or could still be—inspiring us to strive for something far greater. Most historians believed it was their duty to ennoble others through poetics and, like Camões, their works influenced western historical writing for two millennia—until well into the twentieth century itself.

Façade of the SA Museum, Cape Town, with the illuminated shop-café to the right of the main entrance. 

Chapter 24: apartment in Queen Victoria Street, Gardens, Cape Town.
Before leaving Cape Town, Sonja invites Mendle and Jason for a home-made farewell dinner: an Indonesian ‘rijsttafel’. They discuss changing European perspectives of the Cape landscape and the notion that the ‘Native’ belonged to two stereotypical worlds: one where life was pastoral, tribal and stagnant; the other where life was nasty, brutish and short. Mendle points out that, while some things are new, all things in Africa are extreme.

Out of Africa always something new.” Pliny the Elder, 23-79CE

From a European perspective, Africa was invented before it was explored. By 1450, based on the geography of ancient historians, most Christians still believed Africa was divided into a savage West and a fabulous East. This single idea so possessed Prince Henry and his Navigators—then exploring Atlantic-Africa—that it transformed their Discoveries into a quest for individual spiritual enlightenment. Thus the Cape of Good Hope became a threshold on the North-South axis; and the portal between a modern West and an ancient East. In time the Cape itself, or more specifically Table Mountain, came to be seen as the biblical/mythological Terrestrial Paradise.

The fabled Aethiopes beside the Nile, source of the Terrestrial Paradise? From ‘The Wonders of the World’, 1488. Curiously, it was painted the same year Dias rounded the Cape. Courtesy Bibliothèque national, Paris.

Our next blog follows Sonja as she travels across Europe—from Portugal to Holland—visiting old churches, museums and archives on her way. To preview, see Synopsis.

Nicolaas Vergunst

Posted in Blog | 3 Comments

5. First encounters, lasting legacies—part one

In an age of overseas exploration, c.1400-1600, modern history was born on our beaches, those marginal spaces where indigenes and interlopers first met. These encounters still shape the history, memory and identity of people today. Patric Tariq Mellet and Nicolaas Vergunst take a look at the intertidal zone of history—where local experience meets classical interpretation—and discuss the first recorded skirmish on the shores of modern Cape Town.



Vasco da Gama in East Africa, 1497-98, designed by Carlos Possolo. These commemorative stamps were issued in 1997 to mark the epic Portuguese voyage to India. Shown here are the beaches of Natal, Mozambique and Mombasa. Such idyllic encounters are typical of the travel books produced throughout Europe during the early decades of its overseas expansion and were, of course, read by Almeida and his contemporaries.

Patric Tariq Mellet: From the outset the Portuguese were obnoxious and aggressive. In 1510, led by Francisco d’Almeida, they came ashore and tried to steal cattle and kidnap some Khoe children. It was supposed to have been a reprisal for a clash the day before, when the Khoena had given a fellow named Gonçalo Homen a severe trashing after he tried to trick them. Almeida and his 150-200 insurgents got a severe whipping at the hands of the Khoe who were far fewer in number—an estimated 100 herders, no more. The Portuguese armour and weaponry, as well as their sheer stupidity in terms of tactics, resulted in Almeida loosing his life along with sixty-odd officers and men. The conflict on the beach illustrates two things: the hostility of the Portuguese and the determined resistance of the local Khoena to anything that smelt of exploitation and aggression.

Nicolaas Vergunst: Sadly, this account of Almeida’s murder offers nothing new or even insightful, as it merely repeats the inaccuracies found in the existing historical records. For that I don’t blame you, Patric, since no one else ever stopped to question it and ask if there’d been an ambush, a mutiny or even, say, a hidden assassination from within his own ranks? It is with this question in mind that I started writing my book. In fact, whenever I heard about the tragedy it always seemed to serve two ulterior motives. First, to demonstrate the violent dangers faced by early explorers and, secondly, to show that Almeida had to pay for his arrogance.

PTM: It’s not true to say that no one else has questioned the Almeida stories as there are a number of early Portuguese writers that do; namely Barros, Castanheda, Goes and Correia. While these overlap in places, they also differ significantly too. There are also a number of British and South African versions of the story. Each seen with a different lens and, like yours, approach the story with a unique bias. I don’t see Almeida as a victim, as you say, but rather as a man who had adversaries and, like any powerful figure in history, was engaged in and/or advanced by the conflicts around him. He was a military man and an aggressor and not as incidental to conflict as you suggest. Like those who came before and after, he had powerful backers sponsoring him with their own interests. The politics of the era is interesting and not too different from today. It is certainly not a story of saints and sinners, evil and lesser evil. Emphasis on different facts takes each different bias down its own road. Perhaps if David Johnson’s excellent chapter in Imagining the Cape Colony (2012) had been available when you did your research, you’d have seen that this entire historical episode is not about ‘inaccuracies’ but all about politically charged differing versions of events and politics of the time, as well as political bias’s which continue to this day. Much of the accounts, and indeed the ‘prophecy’ itself, were written long after the fact (and indeed the prophecy being the most biased version with a nationalism agenda). What is great about Johnson’s work is that it does not carry a torch like you and I, but offers the reader differing versions, including the most recent, and allows debate to develop further based on the plurality of ‘facts’ before us. There are no ‘inaccuracies’ as such.

View of the Cape of Good Hope by Wilhelm Stettler, 1669, based on sketches made by a soldier-adventurer serving in the VOC, Albrecht Herport, who visited the Cape a decade earlier. While most pictures were made by engravers who never visited the Cape, this view of Table Mountain is remarkably accurate as Herport sketched it himself “naert leven” (from life). The rhinoceros, however, was copied after Albrecht Dürer’s famous Asian rhino woodcut of a hundred and fifty years earlier, 1515. While the Khoena wear the traditional sheepskin cloak (kaross) and rolled leather thongs (riems) around their legs, their bodies are composed like figures in a Greek pediment. Here fact and fantasy combine in a single work to create an ‘Arcadian Africa’. Likewise, written accounts tried to combine the same elements into a seamless historical record.

NV: I’m not talking about differing versions of the same episode. What we have here is the same overall story—one in which the event and its core structure stays the same, only certain facts are presented or omitted to promote a particular view or interest group; albeit Portuguese nationalists, British imperialists or South African revisionists.

I’ve dealt with all this in my book Knot of Stone (2011) which, alas, appeared before the publication of Johnson’s paper. Here I show how one version may present Almeida as a victim while another casts him as a hero. For instance, Camões says Almeida was a victim of fate and predestination; Ian Colvin says he and his men fought with valour; while Victor de Kock says they fled like cowards. For one it is Almeida’s personal tragedy, for another it is the Cape’s geo-political destiny. While each version may emphasize unique aspects of the tragedy, it still remains one and the same story. My book’s main character, Sonja Haas, concludes: “Each told what he wanted recorded for prosperity. It was a mix of archival research and bardic inspiration, personal opinion and public information. Inseparable, like mud and manure.” And like the four Gospel versions of Christ’s crucifixion, these are not only inconsistent but also seriously incomplete, each with their own emphasis, resonance, or bias if you like, but they still remain the same Easter story. So I don’t think it quite right to talk about “the Almeida stories” in the plural. The plurality lies in the ever-changing meanings given to one overall story.

PTM: As the first Portuguese Viceroy in India, he was both arrogant and aggressive. He had achieved fame as a conqueror of the Moors at Granada in Spain, and of the African coastal towns of Kilwa and Mombasa. He was known to have burned and pillaged his way through Africa, India and Indonesia. Almeida was the great Portuguese conqueror who wreaked havoc across the world but was brought down by a small clan of Khoe people whose kindness he repaid with treachery.

NV: I’m afraid such generalised character descriptions of Almeida are both inaccurate and misleading. Almeida was not the mighty conqueror, great or cruel, that many sources make him out to be. As far as I know, he only touched the coasts of East Africa and West India—never venturing inland himself—and certainly never reached Indonesia? Having said this, I admit it was an era of religious wars and that colonialists would, over the next four-and-a-half centuries, impose a culture of violence on those they conquered, converted or tried to civilise. However, Almeida actively opposed the violence and destruction that came with warfare: in Kilwa he placed his son at the doors of Imir Ibrahim’s palace to prevent his men from looting and, after they sacked Mombasa, kept only a single spear as his own personal memento.

For what it’s worth, Almeida openly criticised King Manuel’s heedless desire for territorial possessions in Africa and India (then common practice among both Christians and Muslims) and argued for command of the open sea instead. Almeida’s so-called Blue Sea policy was the cause of his downfall as Viceroy and, partly, the reason behind his possible assassination at the Cape. It seems clear to me that we should separate the actions of Almeida and those loyal to him—most of whom were left dead on the beach that Friday—from the conspirators who I now believe instigated his demise. Ironically, both Almeida and the Khoena may have been victims of deception and betrayal that day.

PTM:  I stand corrected about Indonesia. Almeida’s only ‘conquest’ in Indonesia was by way of means of a treaty signed with Melaku (Malaysia). His focus was aggression up the East Coast of India (Malabar) and Bengal.  The battle of the Bay of Diu was one of the most important and bloodiest of naval battles in history, and was led by Almeida against the Egyptians and Indians. In character Viceroy D’Almeida is said to have had his fleet sail along the coast firing the arms and legs of prisoners out of cannon and onto the roofs and streets of native towns.  Hardly the actions of the character you describe. When one talks of Africa of this time and talks about Portugal’s military exploits and dominance it is generally understood that one is referring to North Africa, West Africa and then Sofala, Kilwa, Mombasa and Zanzibar. In all of these areas Almeida has a recorded bloody history regardless of the odd anecdote of compassion. He was not ‘touching on’ the coast of East Africa in my understanding, notwithstanding that there were forces at the time who had a very different agenda more associated with earlier epochs of acquiring possessions rather than opening corridors of trade in keeping with the new commercialism that was emerging. The Portuguese writers who do not agree don’t attempt to suggest that Almeida was less violent in battle than his contemporaries.

NV: The ghastly account of severed arms and legs is abhorrent, certainly, and I don’t defend such action. But do you know the place or the people involved? Was it off the coast of India or Africa? Was it Almeida or Albuquerque or Gama? I raise the question not in denial, but to suggest that these may be stock images in the historical record. The same convention (or licence) is found in the art, poetry and cartography of that period.

View of Aden (top), Mombasa (bottom left), Kilwa (centre) and Sofala (right) by Georg Braun and Abraham Hoegenberg, 1572-1624. During an era of overseas expansion when territories had to be fought for, coastal towns were viewed from the safety of the roadstead. Likewise at the Cape, settlements along Europe’s new trade route were recognized by their tokens of civilization: a fort, church, hospital and sheltered anchorage. As these drawings tended to be generic, and interchangeable, they would often be confused by later writers. 

After Aristotle, classical historians believed it was their duty to ennoble the world through art and poetry, and this assumption influenced how Western history would be written for the next two millennia—right up to the early twentieth century. Remember, Aristotle’s Poetics argues that poetry expresses our highest human values; whereas history only tells us what we once were and not what we may yet become. As a result, Camões and his contemporaries wrote for the purpose of improving the moral marrow of the Portuguese people. Their writings were supposed to teach by way of good examples, but as Portugal’s past included such sullied episodes, they had to recast these to support the assumption of a divine historical purpose. They thus welded fact and ideals to embolden their nation. I don’t believe Knot of Stone belongs to this camp, nor does it bear a torch for any other.

PTM: While I respect your version of history and its groundbreaking approach, it still entrenches a dominant European interpretation of events regardless of local experiences. But saying this is not meant to invalidate your story. I personally find an elaborate plot complete with pre-modernist intrigues and esoteric themes embracing the real and spirit worlds and secret societies a wonderful and captivating approach… but I cannot accept it as the authorative version. There never will be an authorative version. Historical ‘truth’ is an illusion.

NV: I don’t make such claims either. I accept that there’s no indisputable truth, only the truths we choose to believe in. Or, as one of my characters says: “To speak the truth does not assert anything significant about the world, but merely indicates that there is a general agreement about its nature, which we then accept as true.” Like you, I also know that our assertions about the past are biased.

PTM: All versions have their bias. My interest in early Cape roots has one too. For many years ‘Coloured’ people have been ridiculed and told that they, or rather we, are a bastard people with no history or heritage. For the first time we have the chance to explore. We are only just discovering what was hidden from us during the Colonial period; including Apartheid manipulations of our history. At first it may seem that this is a serious disadvantage because we don’t have the array of materials that were available to others for the past millennia. But our advantage is that we see things with different eyes and look with less cluttered minds. We are just opening ourselves up to new horizons, to new political vistas. Our focus too is on ourselves and the ancestry that we are intimately bound up with. We must adjust the lens ourselves. It’s our turn to gaze back.

NV: Which is why you dislike the Eurocentric gaze and ‘white’ revisions of your history?

PTM: Yes. The European lens has dominated our lives and so, naturally, we have to part company with it for a while. While we do so, the European lens will naturally change focus and become excited with its own discoveries—but this is not where we are at right now. We need to revise our own history. 

Part Two of this discussion continues here.

Nicolaas Vergunst

Posted in Blog | 7 Comments