Saturday, March 31, 2018

Constance Markievicz - The Countess Who Rebelled

Countess Markiewicz.jpgCountess Markievicz played an active part in the Easter Rising of 1916, and also in post-1916 Irish history. Born in 1868 as Constance Gore-Booth, Countess Markievicz was sentenced to death for her part in the Easter Uprising but had the sentence commuted to life incarceration on account of her gender. Her life was full of excitement, and many battles for the causes of suffrage for women or for establishing the independence of the Republic of Ireland from the British rule. There no way to make the long story short in her case.

She was an Irish Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil politician, revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist. In December 1918, she was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, though she did not take her seat and, along with the other Sinn Féin TDs, formed the first Dáil Éireann. She was also one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position, as a Minister for Labour of the Irish Republic, from 1919 to 1922.

read more here 

Armenia’s "Missing Girls"

Image result for sex symbolsSex selection may have been outlawed, but a shortage of women threatens the very survival of a country where boys are traditionally seen as an investment and girls as a loss.

Sometimes it seems there are so many ways to destroy women that the methods become invisible to us. There are some women you will never see because they will never be born.

Amartya Sen talked of “missing women” in his famous 1990 essay because of technologies that enable prenatal sex selection.

Most people are aware this happens in China and India, but I am in Armenia, talking to a nervy woman in her early 30s. We are in the eastern region of Gavar, which is second only to China in the number of female foetuses that are aborted. Here, 120 boys are born for every 100 girls.
Armenia really needs its missing women. “We lose 1,400 girls a year. In the long term who will our boys marry? How will we consolidate the Armenian nation? We are only 3 million people. We have no right to such losses. There will be no mothers to give birth to girls,” says Khalafyan.

read more here @ The Guardian

Admiring Flowers in Ancient Times

During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960), it is said that the official Han Xizai loved to burn incense near a flower vase because he liked the combination of the fragrance of flowers and incense. Using flowers in this way was popular during Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), people preferred to chant or sip wine while being surrounded by flowers. Music also goes well with flowers and refined scholars in Song Dynasty loved to play music to flowers. The musical instruments were thought to match different kinds of flowers. According to ancient book records, elegant flowers such as jasmine went well with the musical instrument heptachord.

China's only female emperor Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty was obsessed with flowers. The peony in ancient Luoyang was quite famed and each year when peonies flowered, she would hold celebrations and feasts.

This language was used by only women in China

Nüshu is considered to be the world’s only writing system that is created and used exclusively by women in China.

Originating in China’s Jiangyong county in the nineteenth century, it is endangered today but the country’s local and national authorities are working to revive it.

The earliest known artefact in the Nüshu script is a bronze coin discovered in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province. It was minted during the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a rebel kingdom in China from 1851 to 1864, which introduced important social reforms and adapted to a certain extent several policies regarding gender equality. The eight characters etched in Nüshu on the coin mean “all the women in the world are members of the same family”.


read more here @ Pulse

Liberia bans female genital cutting in a triumph for local journalism

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf left office in January with a tremendous, if overdue, parting gift for the girls of Liberia. During her final hours in office, Africa’s first woman elected head of state signed an executive order abolishing female genital cutting, an ancient practice that is endured by more than half of Liberia’s girls.

The fight is not quite over. Lawmakers have a year to enshrine the ban into law, and it may be many years before the law is properly enforced. But it is a momentous step that seemed unthinkable just six years ago, when an explosive newspaper article propelled the issue onto the national agenda.

No one thinks FGC ended in Liberia with one article, but what it did do was spark a vibrant national dialogue that boosted the work of anti-FGC campaigners.

Africa’s Ebony Life to Develop Female Warrior Drama Series

The film Black Panther has inspired new stories based on real-life events in the ancient Dahomey kingdom in West Africa, particularly an all-female military unit dubbed the Dahomey Amazons.

Academy Award winners Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis have teamed up for The Woman King, a movie based on the Dahomey warriors, and Marvel has also announced a three-part comic series focused on the Dora Milaje to be written by Nigerian-American author, Nnedi Okorafor. The latest production inspired by the Amazons is a television series to be co-developed by EbonyLife TV, a five-year old Nigerian television network, and Sony Pictures Television.


The Dahomey Amazons, were thought to be the only all-female front-line military unit in modern history, a combat force of women who were feared across Western Africa for over 200 years from the 17th century. The Amazons were initially set up as elephant hunters in the 17th century. The group slowly morphed into a military unit and became protectors of monarchs in Dahomey, a kingdom in modern day Benin Republic in West Africa. This group of female warriors were the inspiration behind Wakanda’s Dora Milaje characters played by Lupita Nyong’o, Okoye, Danai Gurira, and Florence Kasumba.

Egyptian artwork of female pharaoh Hatshepsut is found

An Egyptian artwork that has been sitting in storage for more than four decades has been found to depict a rare female pharaoh who ruled 3,500 years ago. The sculpture (pictured) depicts Hatshepsut, one of five women known the have ruled the ancient Egyptian empire
An Egyptian artwork that has been sitting in storage for more than four decades has been found to depict a forgotten female pharaoh who ruled 3,500 years ago. 

The rare sculpture, which was discovered on International Women's Day, depicts Hatshepsut, one of five women known the have ruled the ancient Egyptian empire.

Consisting of two irregularly shaped limestone fragments, the sculpture had been gathering dust at Swansea University's Egypt Centre when it was found during a session where students can handle objects in the archives. 

The sculpture has its face missing but traces of hieroglyphs and a cobra icon on the forehead show it is a pharaoh and the text above her head indicates it is a woman. 

Her successful reign lasted two decades, yet history has largely forgotten Queen Hatshepsut who was a powerful woman in a man's world.

read more @ Daily Mail Online


Ghastly 'coffin birth' in a medieval grave

A grave dating back to early medieval Italy is a sad testament to the horrors of medicine in the Dark Ages. The skeletal remains of a young woman were found with the skeleton of a foetus between her thighs - and a hole in her skull researchers have determined was likely the result of a medical treatment.

Found in 2010 in Imola, Bologna, the well-preserved remains were face up in a brick coffin - indicating a proper burial. Initial analysis dated it back to the Lombard period, around the 7th and 8th centuries CE. But the foetus and the head injury warranted further investigation.

Researchers from the University of Ferrara and the University of Bologna determined the woman to be aged between 25 and 35 years, while the foetus - based on the length of its femur - was around 38 weeks. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks, so the mother was extremely close to giving birth when she died.

In the grave, the foetus was in an unusual position - its head and torso between her thighs, but its legs were in her pelvic cavity, as though it had been partially expelled. This, the researchers determined, was consistent with a phenomenon known as "coffin birth".



A mysterious, medieval skeleton discovered in Italy shows signs of a "coffin birth" and primitive brain surgery.Credit: Pasini et al./World Neurosurgery/Elsevier

In a cramped stone grave beneath the medieval town of Imola, Italy, a 1,300-year-old woman lies dead with a hole in her skull and a fetus between her legs.

The fetus, now just a collection of tiny bones trailing below the mother's skeletal pelvis, was likely delivered in the grave through a "coffin birth" — essentially, when an unborn child is forced out of its mother's womb by posthumous gases after both mother and child have died.

It's a rare sight in archaeology — but rarer still might be the peculiar circular wound bored into the mother's skull. 

Archaeologists from the University of Ferrara and University of Bologna attempted to unwind the mystery of this mother's and child's deaths in a new study published in the May 2018 issue of the journal World Neurosurgery. According to the researchers, these remarkable skeletal remains may present a rare Middle Ages example of a primitive brain-surgery technique called trepanation. This procedure involved drilling or scraping a hole into the patient's skull to relieve pressure and (theoretically) a whole host of medical ailments. In this case, sadly, that relief may not have been enough.

read more here @ Science Alert and Live Science

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Islamic Pirate Queen - Sayyida al-Hurra

Image result for Sayyida al-HurraFrom OZY:
Sayyida al-Hurra and her family fled Spain for Morocco, where, after marrying and burying her first husband, she succeeded him as the governor of Tétouan before remarrying — this time into royalty. When Sayyida wed Ahmed al-Wattasi, the sultan of Morocco and ruler of Fes, she became queen of Morocco. 

Holding a grudge, and feeling a great deal of shame over her fallen childhood homeland and its takeover by Ferdinand and Isabella, Sayyida became hell-bent on revenge. She reached out to the famed Barbarossa, an Ottoman admiral and among the most successful corsairs, to ally with the pirates in seizing control of the nearby seas. Sayyida and her privateers would eventually take over the Western Mediterranean during the corsairs’ and Ottomans’ reign in the early 16th century.

To this day, she’s remembered as a free and independent noblewoman who made the king of Morocco come to her to marry — the first time a royal had left the capital to wed.

read more here


Lyudmila Zhivkova, one of Bulgaria's most powerful political figures

Lyudmila Todorova Zhivkova (1942 – 1981) was the daughter of Bulgarian Communist leader Todor Zhivkov. Primarily known for her interest in preserving and promoting Bulgarian arts and culture on the international stage, Zhivkova was also a controversial figure within the former Soviet Bloc because of her interests in esoteric Eastern religion and spirituality.

Zhivkova died at the age of 38 from a brain tumor. Unsubstantiated rumors continue to circulate that perhaps Zhivkova was murdered by those who disapproved of her esoteric interests.

The official cause of death was a brain hemorrhage. Some suggest that the 1973 car collision finally had killed her. Others say it had been a subtle, slow-acting poison (a precursor of the Litvinenko death, perhaps).

Varying accounts describe her as having been depressed in the weeks before her death and having reverted to conventional medicine, including sleeping pills.

Others say that she had been in fine form. They recall her repeating, even in the final days before her death, what had become a favorite saying: “Think of me as fire”.

Who Framed Mary Magdalene?

Image result for mary magdalene movie
Mary Magdalene's character was traduced by Pope Gregory the Great in 591 when he declared her a prostitute, albeit a repentant one. That papal misreading of the gospel narrative and conflation of different Marys, including the one who washed Jesus's feet with her tears, into 'Mary Magdalene the prostitute' became an established myth, with artists down the centuries drawn by the dramatic potential of the sensual temptress.

In an article titled 'Who Framed Mary Magdalene?', Heidi Schlumpf, former editor at US Catholic, noted that since scripture scholars have "debunked" the myth that Mary Magdalene and the infamous repentant sinner who wiped Jesus's feet with her tears are one and the same woman, "word is trickling down that Mary Magdalene's penitent prostitute label was a misnomer. Instead, her true biblical portrait is being resurrected, and this 'apostle to the apostles' is finally taking her rightful place in history as a beloved disciple of Jesus and a prominent early church leader."

The director and crew behind the new biopic hope Mary Magdalene will turn the tables on the received narrative and tell the story of Jesus from a female perspective. The film's aim, as the actor Tahar Rahim, who plays Judas, succinctly puts it, is to help people realise "it's not Mary the prostitute, it's Mary the disciple".


see also: Melisende's Library - Mary of Magdala

Larger than Rajini: The 19th-century stage actress who drove to her performances in a silver chariot

Balamani lived life queen size, literally. A palatial bungalow with a swimming pool, marble fountains, a garden adorned with a swing and peacocks and deer, a domestic staff of over fifty women and much more surrounded her at all times. When she ventured out to make an appearance in public, she did so in style, in a silver chariot drawn by four horses. Her fame grew so much at some point in the early 1900s that the State began arranging special trains to ferry scores of her fans who wanted to watch her plays. 

However, in spite of all her fame, she remained much ostracized by the conservative elite and puritans of that time. History and fate turned cruel to Balamani. Her charity cost her much. Gradually her property eroded and she was forced to move to Madurai. The last days of her life were spent in utter penury.

The movement Balamani started empowered many more actresses to start their own drama troupes in the following decades. She was truly the first celebrated superstar of the Tamil stage.

read more here 
@ Narthaki (book review - Drama Queens: Women who dared to succeed in a man's world)
@ Images dot Dawn (interview with author Veejay Sai)
@ Bengal Buzz (rise of women in Bengali theatre)


Emperor Akbar’s wife Jodhabai was Portugese, not a Rajput princess, claims book

From the Hindustan Times:

Princess Jodhabai, often referred to as one of emperor Akbar’s wives and the mother of his son Jahangir, could have been a fictitious character, necessitated by convenient historical narratives during the Moghul era, a new book has claimed.

Goa-based author Luis de Assis Correia in his book “Portuguese India and Mughal Relations 1510-1735” has claimed that Jodhabai was in fact a Portuguese woman, Dona Maria Mascarenhas, who while travelling in a Portuguese armada along the Arabian sea, could have been captured along with her sister Juliana and subsequently offered to a young Emperor Akbar as a gift by Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in the mid-1500s.

Related image“When Dona Maria Mascarenhas arrived at Akbar’s Court, he fell in love with her. He was 18-years-old and he was already married. She was 17 and he said, ‘This young lady is for me’ and her sister Juliana, both of them were lodged in Akbar’s harem,” Correia told IANS on the sidelines of the book release function in Panaji.

The 173-page book suggests that Maria Mascarenhas could have been the mother of Jahangir and was often referred to as Maryum-ul-Zamani and at times, as Jodhabai or Harkabai in popular lore.

read more here 

A royal foxhunt: The abdication of Mary Queen of Scots

From OUP Blog:
Mary Stewart became Queen of Scots aged only 6 days old after her father James V died in 1542. Her family, whose name was anglicised to Stuart in the seventeenth century, had ruled Scotland since 1371 and were to do so until the death of Queen Anne in 1714. Raised in France from 1548, she married the heir to the French throne (1558) and did not come to Scotland until after he died in 1561. By then a six-foot redhead, Mary looked every inch the queen and, with a flamboyant lifestyle suited to an age when appearance was everything, she acted like one. Astute and energetic, she managed to juggle the deeply divisive forces of religious and political faction within her realm. More than this, she trod a diplomatic path between Scotland’s far more powerful neighbours: England, for whom the Scots were an abiding nuisance, and France, where her heart, her roots, and many of her best alliances lay.

see also:
Melisende's Library - Mary Queen of Scots
Executed Today - Mary Queen of Scots


Darwin’s ‘Forgotten Women’

The Darwin and Gender Project (part of the Darwin Correspondence Project at Cambridge University Library) will be adding to Wikipedia for the first time the profiles of ten women who made intellectual contributions to Darwin’s work, and enhancing existing Wikipedia profiles for seven others, including his beloved wife Emma.

As well as the ‘Women in Science’ Wikipedia editing event on March 8, the day also marks the completion of the three-year Darwin and Gender Project undertaken at the University of Cambridge.

The ground-breaking project, supported by The Bonita Trust, has looked at Charles Darwin's impact on attitudes to gender and sexuality. The project makes available for the first time in a single resource Darwin's private and largely unpublished writings relevant to all aspects of gender; in particular, a large body of the great naturalist's own letters.


read more here 
@ University of Cambridge - Darwin's Women
@ University of Cambridge - Darwin Correspondence Project
@ University of Cambridge (youtube) - Darwin's Women
@ The Smithsonian - The Women Who Challenged Darwin's Sexism