Nov 092019
 

Independence Day ( បុណ្យឯករាជ្យជាតិ) is a national holiday observed annually in Cambodia on this date. The date celebrates Cambodia’s Declaration of Independence from France on 9th November 1953. I think of it as Be Careful What You Wish For Day.  The country could not have foreseen the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot regime, whose legacy is still with us, that independence from France unleashed.  Independence from colonial power is certainly to be striven for, but the path must be trodden carefully and thoughtfully.  I will celebrate today as I have done for the past 2 years, but mindful of the dangers inherent in unthinking “freedom.” (All the photos here are mine).

France started controlling Cambodia in 1863. After being colonized for around 80 years, king/prince Norodom Sihanouk began claiming independence from France in 1949. In 1953, he was successful in gaining full independence, and France agreed to decolonize the whole country. Due to this accomplishment, Cambodian citizens view him as “the father of independence (ព្រះមហាវីរបុរសជាតិ – ព្រះបិតាឯករាជ្យជាតិ).”

Every year, Independence Day is a very special and happy day for the whole nation celebrated around the country, but the absolutely crucial one takes place at Independence Monument (វិមានឯករាជ្យ) in Phnom Penh. On that day, all the leaders and representatives of state organizations and public departments must participate and celebrate at the formal ceremony in the morning.

Usually the roads around the Independence Monument are closed to provide the space for the ceremony (and people like me (i.e.foreigners) are prohibited from getting close).  The whole ceremony is broadcast on national television and radio.

Every state palace is decorated with slogans related to the independence of Cambodia and with lights.

At night, there is a firework display in the Chatomuk River (ទន្លេចតុមុខ) located in front of the Royal Palace.

Here is a video for making pork belly and egg soup which is very popular in Cambodia – rather different from dishes you might find in a Cambodian restaurant.  Very much home cooking.

Oct 162019
 

The Palace of Westminster, the medieval royal palace used as the home of the British parliament, was largely destroyed by fire on this date in 1834. The blaze was caused by the burning of small wooden tally sticks which had been used as part of the accounting procedures of the Exchequer until 1826. The sticks were disposed of carelessly in the two furnaces under the House of Lords, which caused a chimney fire in the two flues that ran under the floor of the Lords’ chamber and up through the walls.

The Palace of Westminster originally dates from the early 11th century when Canute the Great built his royal residence on the north side of the River Thames. Successive kings added to the complex: Edward the Confessor built Westminster Abbey; William the Conqueror began building a new palace; his son, William Rufus, continued the process, which included Westminster Hall, started in 1097; Henry III built new buildings for the Exchequer—the taxation and revenue gathering department of the country—in 1270 and the Court of Common Pleas, along with the Court of King’s Bench and Court of Chancery. By 1245 there was a King’s throne  in the palace, which signified that the building was at the center of English royal administration. In 1295 Westminster was the venue for the Model Parliament, the first English representative assembly, summoned by Edward I; during his reign he called sixteen parliaments, which sat either in the Painted Chamber or the White Chamber. By 1332 the barons (representing the titled classes) and burgesses and citizens (representing the commons) began to meet separately, and by 1377 the two bodies were entirely detached. In 1512 a fire destroyed part of the royal palace complex and Henry VIII moved the royal residence to the nearby Palace of Whitehall, although Westminster still retained its status as a royal palace. In 1547 Henry’s son, Edward VI, provided St Stephen’s Chapel for the Commons to use as their debating chamber. The House of Lords met in the medieval hall of the Queen’s Chamber, before moving to the Lesser Hall in 1801. Over the three centuries from 1547 the palace was enlarged and altered, becoming a warren of wooden passages and stairways.

By 1834 the palace complex had been further developed. The potential dangers of the building were apparent to some, as no fire stops or party walls were present in the building to slow the progress of a fire. In the late 18th century a committee of MPs predicted that there would be a disaster if the palace caught fire. This was followed by a 1789 report from fourteen architects warning against the possibility of fire in the palace. Architect Sir John Soane again warned of the dangers in 1828, when he wrote that “the want of security from fire, the narrow, gloomy and unhealthy passages, and the insufficiency of the accommodations in this building are important objections which call loudly for revision and speedy amendment.” His report was again ignored.

Since medieval times the Exchequer had used tally sticks, pieces of carved, notched wood, normally willow, as part of their accounting procedures. The parliamentary historian Caroline Shenton has described the tally sticks as “roughly as long as the span of an index finger and thumb”. These sticks were split in two so that the two sides to an agreement had a record of the situation. Once the purpose of each tally had come to an end, they were routinely destroyed. By the end of the 18th century the usefulness of the tally system had likewise come to an end, and a 1782 Act of Parliament stated that all records should be on paper, not tallies. The Act also abolished sinecure positions in the Exchequer, but a clause in the act ensured it could only take effect once the remaining sinecure-holders had died or retired. The final sinecure-holder died in 1826 and the act came into force, although it took until 1834 for the antiquated procedures to be replaced. Charles Dickens, in a speech to the Administrative Reform Association, described the retention of the tallies for so long as an “obstinate adherence to an obsolete custom”; he also mocked the bureaucratic steps needed to implement change from wood to paper. He said that “all the red tape in the country grew redder at the bare mention of this bold and original conception.” By the time the replacement process had finished there were two cartloads of old tally sticks awaiting disposal.

In October 1834 Richard Weobley, the Clerk of Works, received instructions from Treasury officials to clear the old tally sticks while parliament was adjourned. He decided against giving the sticks away to parliamentary staff to use as firewood, and instead opted to burn them in the two heating furnaces of the House of Lords, directly below the peers’ chambers. Dickens later mocked the decision, commenting that “the sticks were housed in Westminster, and it would naturally occur to any intelligent person that nothing could be easier than to allow them to be carried away for fire-wood by the miserable people who lived in that neighbourhood. However, they never had been useful, and official routine required that they should never be, and so the order went out that they were to be privately and confidentially burnt.” The furnaces had been designed to burn coal—which gives off a high heat with little flame—and not wood, which burns with a high flame. The flues of the furnaces ran up the walls of the basement in which they were housed, under the floors of the Lords’ chamber, then up through the walls and out through the chimneys.

The process of destroying the tally sticks began at dawn on 16th October and continued throughout the day; two Irish laborers, Joshua Cross and Patrick Furlong, were assigned the task. Weobley checked in on the men throughout the day, claiming subsequently that, on his visits, both furnace doors were open, which allowed the two laborers to watch the flames, while the piles of sticks in both furnaces were only ever four inches (ten cm) high. Another witness to the events, Richard Reynolds, the firelighter in the Lords, later reported that he had seen Cross and Furlong throwing handfuls of tallies onto the fire—an accusation they both denied.

Those tending the furnaces were unaware that the heat from the fires had melted the copper lining of the flues and started a chimney fire. With the doors of the furnaces open, more oxygen was drawn into the furnaces, which ensured the fire burned more fiercely, and the flames driven farther up the flues than they should have been. The flues had been weakened over time by having footholds cut in them by the child chimney sweeps. Although these footholds would have been repaired as the child exited on finishing the cleaning, the fabric of the chimney was still weakened by the action. In October 1834 the chimneys had not yet had their annual sweep, and a considerable amount of clinker had built up inside the flues.

A strong smell of burning was present in the Lords’ chambers during the afternoon of 16th October, and at 4:00 pm two gentlemen tourists visiting to see the Armada tapestries that hung there were unable to view them properly because of the thick smoke. As they approached Black Rod’s box in the corner of the room, they felt heat from the floor coming through their boots. Shortly after 4:00 pm Cross and Furlong finished work, put the last few sticks into the furnaces—closing the doors as they did so—and left to go to the nearby Star and Garter public house.

Shortly after 5:00 pm, heat and sparks from a flue ignited the woodwork above. The first flames were spotted at 6:00 pm, under the door of the House of Lords, by the wife of one of the doorkeepers; she entered the chamber to see Black Rod’s box alight, and flames burning the curtains and wood panels, and raised the alarm. For 25 minutes the staff inside the palace initially panicked and then tried to deal with the blaze, but they did not call for assistance, or alert staff at the House of Commons, at the other end of the palace complex.

At 6:30 pm there was a flashover, a giant ball of flame that The Manchester Guardian reported “burst forth in the centre of the House of Lords, … and burnt with such fury that in less than half an hour, the whole interior … presented … one entire mass of fire.” The explosion, and the resultant burning roof, lit up the skyline, and could be seen by the royal family in Windsor Castle, 20 miles (32 km) away. Alerted by the flames, help arrived from nearby parish fire engines; as there were only two hand-pump engines on the scene, they were of limited use. They were joined at 6:45 pm by 100 soldiers from the Grenadier Guards, some of whom helped the police in forming a large square in front of the palace to keep the growing crowd back from the firefighters; some of the soldiers assisted the firemen in pumping the water supply from the engines.

The London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE)—an organization run by several insurance companies in the absence of a publicly run brigade—was alerted at about 7:00 pm, by which time the fire had spread from the House of Lords. The head of the LFEE, James Braidwood, brought with him 12 engines and 64 firemen, even though the Palace of Westminster was a collection of uninsured government buildings, and therefore fell outside the protection of the LFEE. Some of the firefighters ran their hoses down to the Thames. The river was at low tide and it meant a poor supply of water for the engines on the river side of the building.

By the time Braidwood and his men had arrived on the scene, the House of Lords had been destroyed. A strong south-westerly breeze had fanned the flames along the wood-paneled and narrow corridors into St Stephen’s Chapel. Shortly after his arrival the roof of the chapel collapsed; the resultant noise was so loud that the watching crowds thought there had been a Gunpowder Plot-style explosion. According to The Manchester Guardian, “By half-past seven o’clock the engines were brought to play upon the building both from the river and the land side, but the flames had by this time acquired such a predominance that the quantity of water thrown upon them produced no visible effect.” Braidwood saw it was too late to save most of the palace, so elected to focus his efforts on saving Westminster Hall, and he had his firemen cut away the part of the roof that connected the hall to the already burning Speaker’s House, and then soak the hall’s roof to prevent it catching fire. In doing so he saved the medieval structure at the expense of those parts of the complex already ablaze.

The glow from the burning, and the news spreading quickly round London, ensured that crowds continued to turn up in increasing numbers to watch the spectacle. Among them was a reporter for The Times, who noticed that there were “vast gangs of the light-fingered gentry in attendance, who doubtless reaped a rich harvest, and [who] did not fail to commit several desperate outrages”. The crowds were so thick that they blocked Westminster Bridge in their attempts to get a good view, and many took to the river in whatever craft they could find or hire in order to watch better. A crowd of thousands congregated in Parliament Square to witness the spectacle, including the Prime Minister—Lord Melbourne—and many of his cabinet. Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher, was one of those present that night, and he later recalled that:

The crowd was quiet, rather pleased than otherwise; whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it: “there’s a flare-up (what we call shine) for the House o’ Lords.”—”A judgment for the Poor-Law Bill!”—”There go their hacts” (acts)! Such exclamations seemed to be the prevailing ones. A man sorry I did not anywhere see.

This view was doubted by Sir John Hobhouse, the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, who oversaw the upkeep of royal buildings, including the Palace of Westminster. He wrote that “the crowd behaved very well; only one man was taken up for huzzaing when the flames increased. … on the whole, it was impossible for any large assemblage of people to behave better.”

Many of the MPs and peers present, including Lord Palmerston, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, helped break down doors to rescue books and other treasures, aided by passers-by; the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms had to break into a burning room to save the parliamentary mace. At 9:00 pm three Guards regiments arrived on the scene. Although the troops assisted in crowd control, their arrival was also a reaction of the authorities to fears of a possible insurrection, for which the destruction of parliament could have signaled the first step. The three European revolutions of 1830— French, Belgian and Polish —were still of concern, as were the unrest from the Captain Swing riots, and the recent passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, which altered the relief provided by the workhouse system.

At around 1:30 am the tide had risen enough to allow the LFEE’s floating fire engine to arrive on the scene. Braidwood had called for the engine five hours previously, but the low tide had hampered its progress from its downriver mooring at Rotherhithe. Once it arrived it was effective in bringing under control the fire that had taken hold in the Speaker’s House. Braidwood regarded Westminster Hall as safe from destruction by 1:45 am, partly because of the actions of the floating fire engine, but also because a change in the direction of the wind kept the flames away from the Hall. Once the crowd realized that the hall was safe they began to disperse, and had left by around 3:00 am, by which time the fire near the Hall was nearly out, although it continued to burn towards the south of the complex. The firemen remained in place until about 5:00 am, when they had extinguished the last remaining flames and the police and soldiers had been replaced by new shifts.

I have written posts about the old parliament here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/house-of-commons/ and the new building here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/big-ben/ with suitable recipes. They would work for today also but in addition I have chosen a recipe for a dessert known as Westminster Fool, which seems like a suitable name for a dish celebrating the destruction of a great Westminster monument through multiple acts of sheer folly.  If you are familiar with historic English cooking, you will know that a fool is a precursor of trifle, made mostly of custard and fruit with a bread filler.  Here’s Hannah Glasse’s recipe from her 1747 compendium, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy.

A Westminster Fool

Take a penny-loaf, cut it in thin slices, wet them with sack, lay them in the bottom of a dish, take a quart of cream, beat up six eggs, two spoonfuls of rose-water, a blade of mace, some grated nutmeg, sweeten to your taste. Put all into a sauce-pan, and keep stirring all the time over a slow fire for fear of curdling. When it begins to be thick, pour it into a dish over the bread, stand it till it is cold, and serve it up.

Sep 292019
 

Today is the birthday (1758) of Horatio Nelson, aka 1st Viscount Nelson, aka 1st Duke of Bronté, KB,  a Royal Navy officer still well known for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 36, as well as most of his right arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when he was 40 years of age. He was shot and killed at the age of 47 during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz in 1805.

Nelson was born into a moderately prosperous Norfolk family and joined the navy through the influence of his uncle, Maurice Suckling, a high-ranking naval officer himself. Nelson rose rapidly through the ranks and served with leading naval commanders of the period before obtaining his own command at the age of 20 in 1778. He developed a reputation in the service through his personal valor and firm grasp of tactics but suffered periods of illness and unemployment after the end of the American War of Independence. The outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars allowed Nelson to return to service, where he was particularly active in the Mediterranean. He fought in several minor engagements off Toulon and was noteworthy in the capture of Corsica and subsequent diplomatic duties with the Italian states. In 1797, he distinguished himself while in command of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.

Shortly after the battle, Nelson took part in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where the attack was defeated and the loss of his right arm forced him to return to England to recuperate. The following year he won a decisive victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile and remained in the Mediterranean to support the Kingdom of Naples against a French invasion. In 1801 he was dispatched to the Baltic and won another victory, this time over the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen (where he legendarily put his telescope to his blind eye and refused to take account of the admiral’s signal to discontinue action – “turning a blind eye”).  He subsequently commanded the blockade of the French and Spanish fleets at Toulon and, after their escape, chased them to the West Indies and back but failed to bring them to battle. After a brief return to England he took over the Cádiz blockade in 1805. On 21st October 1805, the Franco-Spanish fleet came out of port, and Nelson’s fleet engaged them at the Battle of Trafalgar. The battle was Britain’s greatest naval victory but during the action Nelson, aboard HMS Victory, was fatally wounded by a French sharpshooter. His body was brought back to England where he was accorded a state funeral.

Nelson’s death at Trafalgar secured his position as one of Britain’s most heroic figures. The significance of the victory and his death during the battle led to his signal, “England expects that every man will do his duty”, being regularly quoted, paraphrased and referenced up to the modern day. Numerous monuments, including Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, and the Nelson Monument in Edinburgh, have been created in his memory and his legacy remains highly influential.

Trafalgar was a major turning point in the Napoleonic Wars because without a fleet, Napoleon could not defend his flotilla of boats packed with soldiers and ready to cross the English Channel to invade England. Britain, by contrast, with its complete control of the seas, could easily dispatch troops and materiel to the continent at will. After Trafalgar, Napoleon had to shift his goals substantially, and, in hindsight, his ultimate doom was cast.

As a teen I was a huge naval buff, with no end of interest in Nelson. It’s rather sad that I could have written full essays on all the naval battles of the Napoleonic Wars, yet not one came up on my O-level or A-level history papers which covered the period.  Fictional captains such as Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey who are thinly disguised versions of Nelson in some ways, while they replicate his naval skills, are not at all like him temperamentally. His narcissism was well known to all, and may well have caused his demise in battle.  He had several prominent stars on the  breast of his uniform, and going into battle he refused to cover them up – making him a clear target on the quarterdeck. Early 19th century muskets were not terribly accurate, but it was only a matter of time before a marksman aloft in an enemy ship picked him off.  If he had worn a plain blue coat, he might well have been spared.

His publicly conducted affair with Lady Hamilton while both he and she were married was a notorious scandal which he made no effort to hide.  My take on the matter is that his marriage to Fanny, which was childless, was an expedience, and his affair with Lady Hamilton, which produced a daughter, was genuine love.  His lack of tact or discretion in regards to the affair were almost certainly an outcome of his self-assured vanity.

Before Trafalgar, Nelson put in a special order for raisins and suet, strongly suggesting that the sailors had spotted dick for dinner before heading into battle.  You’ll find the recipe here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/trafalgar-day/  where I celebrate Trafalgar itself.  I have also made mention many times of the rum ration in the Royal Navy, so here’s a classic West Indies rum cake.

Sep 232019
 

Today is Kyrgyz Language Day, a celebration initiated by the government of Kyrgyzstan to encourage use of the language in the aftermath of Soviet occupation when there was a concerted effort to replace local languages in nations within the Soviet Union with Russian. I gave an account of Kyrgyzstan in this post http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kyrgyzstan/ when I was there last year for the World Nomad Games – another government effort to promote Kyrgyz national and ethnic identity.

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language spoken by about four million people in Kyrgyzstan as well as China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia. Kyrgyz is a member of the Kyrgyz–Kipchak subgroup of the Kypchak languages and modern-day language convergence has resulted in an increasing degree of mutual intelligibility between Kazakh and Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz was originally written in Turkic runes, gradually replaced by a Perso-Arabic alphabet (in use until 1928 in USSR, still in use in China). Between 1928 and 1940 a Latin-script alphabet, the Uniform Turkic Alphabet, was used. In 1940 due to general Soviet policy, a Cyrillic alphabet eventually became common and has remained so to this day, though some Kyrgyz still use the Arabic alphabet. When Kyrgyzstan became independent following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, there was a popular idea among some Kyrgyzstanis to switch to the Latin script, which is still common in some small pockets of the countryside, and to make the Latin script the country’s official national script (using a version closer to the Turkish alphabet rather than the original alphabet of 1928–40). Although the plan has not yet been implemented, it remains in occasional discussion.

The first people certainly known by the name Kyrgyz are mentioned in early medieval Chinese sources as northern neighbors and sometime subjects of the Turkic steppe empire based in the area of Mongolia. The Kyrgyz people were involved in the international trade route system popularly known as the Silk Road no later than the late 8th  century. By the time of the destruction of the Uighur Empire in 840 CE, they spoke a Turkic language little different from Old Turkic, and wrote it in the same runic script. After their victory over the Uyghurs, the Kyrgyz did not occupy the Mongolian steppe, and their history for several centuries after this period is little known, though they are mentioned in medieval geographical works as living not far from their present location. In the period of tsarist administration (1876–1917), the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz both were called Kyrgyz, with what are now the Kyrgyz subdenominated when necessary as Kara-Kyrgyz “black Kyrgyz” (alternatively known as “The Great Kyrgyz”).

In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of president Akayev’s staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for “Kyrgyzification” of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. However, in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz, marking a reversal of the earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev. Nowadays, Russian remains the dominant language in the main cities, such as Bishkek, while Kyrgyz continues losing ground, especially among the younger generations.

I gave a recipe for Beshbarmak in the post I cited. Now I will turn to plov or paloo (палоо), a rice based dish, versions of which can be found all over Asia. The Kyrgyz version of plov has meat and carrots with dried fruits and nuts occasionally added, as in some other Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan. Carrots are not commonly used to make plov other than in Central Asia. Carrots and meat dominate in Kyrgyz plov. The Central Asian plov is almost always cooked with fatty chunks of meat and bones. Generally red meat is used (mutton or beef) but chicken plov is also found. Small warning: getting plov right takes decades of experience. Simpler to take a trip to Bishkek, where wonderful plov is plentiful.  I was instructed by a local cook.

For authentic Kyrgyz plov the variety of rice used is probably difficult to find in Europe. The rice is colored brick red, when you wash it the water turns red and streaks of red remain on the rice, even after cooking. The rice is thicker than long grain. Its thickness is comparable to calrose/arborio but longer and not as starchy. The rice remains firm even after cooking.

This recipe is more about proportions than absolute quantities.  That is, the ingredients are for ONE (generous portion, that is, 1 part meat, 1 part carrots, and two parts rice, by weight. Typically, plov is made in giant batches to feed an army.  The rice used is grown locally and has a special red tinge.  Good luck finding it outside of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz Plov

Ingredients

100-150 grams beef or mutton cut into 2cm cubes
1 large carrot, cut into strips
½ medium sized onion, peeled and diced
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
50ml rice, thoroughly washed
75 ml water
2 tablespoons oil
salt

Instructions

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a large cooking pot. Add the meat, carrots, onion and salt to taste and cook until the meat has browned, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the water and garlic, cover, and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the rice and cook covered until the rice is done, about 25-30 minutes. Writing the last instruction is simple; getting it right is not.

Serve a large ‘mountain’ of plov scattered with chunks of meaty bones and a whole bulb of steamed garlic sitting on top

Sep 152019
 

Today is the birthday (1890) of Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (née Miller) who is generally known for her detective fiction, particularly those works revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I have posted on the world’s longest-running play that she wrote, The Mousetrap, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mousetrap/ and also on Murder on the Orient Express https://www.bookofdaystales.com/orient-express/ . Therefore, I am going to limit my remarks here to her mysterious disappearance in 1926, with bits of context to flesh out the post. I will note that Guinness World Records lists Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 2 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world’s most-widely published books, behind only Shakespeare’s works and the Bible. According to Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author, having been translated into at least 103 languages. And Then There Were None is Christie’s best-selling novel, with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. I wonder who remembers the original title? It comes from the nursery rhyme that is the backbone of the murders in the story which was not called Ten Little Indians originally (the name the book and subsequent play had for a period).  I am old enough to remember.

Christie was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon. Before marrying and starting a family in London, she had served in a Devon hospital during the First World War, tending to troops coming back from the trenches. She was initially an unsuccessful writer with six consecutive rejections, but this changed when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Hercule Poirot, was published in 1920. During the Second World War, she worked as a pharmacy assistant at University College Hospital, London, acquiring a good knowledge of poisons which feature in many of her novels (and in the recipe at the end of this post).

She met Archibald Christie (1889–1962) at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford at Ugbrooke, about 12 miles (19 kilometres) from Torquay. Archie was born in India, the son of a barrister in the Indian Civil Service. He was an army officer who was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1913. The couple quickly fell in love. Upon learning that he would be stationed in Farnborough, Archie proposed marriage, and Agatha accepted. With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Archie was sent to France to fight. They married on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church, Clifton, Bristol, which was close to the home of his parents, while Archie was on home leave.

Rising through the ranks, he was eventually stationed back to Britain in September 1918 as a colonel in the Air Ministry. Agatha involved herself in the war effort. After joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1914, she attended to wounded soldiers at a hospital in Torquay as an unpaid nurse. She performed 3,400 hours of unpaid work between October 1914 and December 1916. On qualifying as an “apothecaries’ assistant” in 1917 and working as a dispenser, she earned £16 a year until the end of her service in September 1918. After the war, Agatha and Archie Christie settled in a flat at 5 Northwick Terrace in St. John’s Wood, northwest London.

Christie had long been a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and The Moonstone, as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. She wrote her own detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Hercule Poirot, a former Belgian police officer noted for his twirly large “magnificent moustaches” and egg-shaped head. Poirot had taken refuge in Britain after Germany invaded Belgium. Christie’s inspiration for the character stemmed from real Belgian refugees who were living in Torquay and the Belgian soldiers whom she helped to treat as a volunteer nurse in Torquay during the First World War. She began working on The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1916, writing most of it on Dartmoor. Her original manuscript was rejected by such publishing companies as Hodder and Stoughton and Methuen. After keeping the submission for several months, John Lane at The Bodley Head offered to accept it, provided that Christie change the ending. She did so, and signed a contract which she later felt was exploitative. It was finally published in 1920.

Christie, meanwhile, settled into married life, giving birth to her only child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks, in August 1919 at Ashfield, where the couple spent much of their time, having few friends in London. Archie left the Air Force at the end of the war and started working in the City financial sector at a relatively low salary. Her second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), featured a new detective couple Tommy and Tuppence, again published by The Bodley Head. It earned her £50. Her third novel, Murder on the Links (1923), again featured Poirot, as did short stories commissioned by Bruce Ingram, editor of The Sketch magazine. In order to tour the world promoting the British Empire Exhibition, the couple left their daughter Rosalind with Agatha’s mother and sister. They traveled to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.

In late 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. He had fallen in love with Nancy Neele, who had been a friend of Major Belcher, director of the British Empire Mission, on the promotional tour a few years earlier. On 3rd December 1926, the Christies quarreled and Archie left their house, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress in Godalming, Surrey. At around 9:45 pm, Christie disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car, a Morris Cowley, was found at Newlands Corner, perched above a chalk quarry, with an expired driving license and clothes.

The disappearance caused a public outcry. The home secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, pressured police, and a newspaper offered a £100 reward. Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes scoured the rural landscape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave a spirit medium one of Christie’s gloves to find her. Crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers visited the house in Surrey and used the scenario in her book Unnatural Death. Christie’s disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for 10 days. On 14th December 1926, she was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs Teresa Neele (the surname of her husband’s lover) from Cape Town.

Christie’s autobiography makes no reference to her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, yet opinion remains divided as to why she disappeared.  She was known to be in a depressed state from literary overwork, her mother’s death earlier that year, and her husband’s infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, supposing a publicity stunt or an attempt to frame her husband for murder.

I was not aware of Christie’s disappearance episode until it was featured on Dr Who in “The Unicorn and the Wasp” (17 May 2008), with Fenella Woolgar, in which her disappearance is the result of her suffering a temporary breakdown owing to a brief psychic link being formed between her and an alien wasp called the Vespiform.  A strange way to be introduced to history, but it did make me look up historical references. I am not a big Christie fan, but I imagine that her disappearance is old news to those who are, and speculation around it is endless.  I’ll leave that to you.

French writer Anna Martinetti  wrote the cookbook Creams and Punishments based on the works of Agatha Christie. In the collection are recipes for dishes in which the protagonists of novels and stories of Agatha Christie added the same ingredient – poison. Here is a video for a version of fish in oil from the novel Sad Cypress, a  dish to which the murderer added strychnine. I’d be inclined to leave it off your ingredient list.

Sep 142019
 

This date in 786 CE is known as the Night of the Three Caliphs, because on this day Hārūn al-Rashid became the Abbasid caliph upon the death of his brother al-Hadi who had a short reign as caliph, and Hārūn’s son al-Ma’mun was born today, and he succeeded his father. For now I will focus on Hārūn, and give a video recipe for fried, salted fish from the Abbasid empire at the end.

Under Hārūn ar-Rashīd Baghdad flourished into the most splendid city of its period. Tribute paid by many rulers to the caliph funded architecture, the arts and court luxuries. In 796, Hārūn moved the entire court to Raqqa at the middle Euphrates, and spent 12 years, most of his reign, there. Subsequently, he visited Baghdad only once. Several reasons may have influenced the decision to move to Raqqa: its closeness to the Byzantine border; its communication lines via the Euphrates to Baghdad and via the Balikh river to the north and via Palmyra to Damascus were excellent; rich agriculture land; and strategic advantage from Raqqa over any rebellion in Syria and the middle Euphrates area. Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani pictures in his anthology of poems the splendid life in his court. In Raqqa the Barmekids, who had been original supporters of the Abbasids, managed the fate of the empire, and both heirs, al-Amin and al-Ma’mun, grew up there. At some point the royal court relocated again to Al-Rayy, the capital city of Khorasan, where the famous philologist and leader of the Kufan school, Al-Kisa’i, accompanied Hārūn with his entourage. When al-Kisa’i became ill, while in Al-Rayy, it is said that Hārūn visited him daily. It seems that the Hanafi jurist Muhammad al-Shaybani and al-Kisa’i both died there on the same day in 804. Hārūn is quoted as saying: “Today Law and Language have died.”

Hārūn made pilgrimages to Mecca several times: 793, 795, 797, 802 and last in 803. Tabari concludes his account of Hārūn’s reign with these words: “It has been said that when Hārūn ar-Rashid died, there were nine hundred million [silver] dirhams in the state treasury.”

Hārūn was influenced by the will of his incredibly powerful mother in the governance of the empire until her death in 789. His vizier Yahya the Barmakid, Yahya’s sons (especially Ja’far ibn Yahya), and other Barmakids generally controlled the administration. The position of Persians in the Abbasid caliphal court reached its peak during al-Rashid’s reign. The Barmakids were a Persian family (from Balkh) that dated back to the Barmak a hereditary Buddhist priest of Nava Vihara, who converted after the Islamic conquest of Balkh and became very powerful under al-Mahdi. Yahya had helped Hārūn in obtaining the caliphate, and he and his sons were in high favor until 798, when the caliph threw them in prison and confiscated their land. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari dates this in 803 and lists various accounts for the cause: Yahya’s entering the Caliph’s presence without permission; Yahya’s opposition to Muhammad ibn al Layth, who later gained Hārūn’s favour; and Ja’far’s release of Yahya ibn Abdallah ibn Hasan, whom Hārūn had imprisoned.

Both Einhard and Notker the Stammerer refer to the envoys traveling between Hārūn’s and Charlemagne’s courts, amicable discussions concerning Christian access to the Holy Land and the exchange of gifts. Notker mentions Charlemagne sent Hārūn Spanish horses, colorful Frisian cloaks and impressive hunting dogs. In 802 Hārūn sent Charlemagne a present consisting of silks, brass candelabra, perfume, balsam, ivory chessmen, a colossal tent with many-colored curtains, an elephant named Abul-Abbas, and a water clock that marked the hours by dropping bronze balls into a bowl, as mechanical knights—one for each hour—emerged from little doors which shut behind them. The presents were unprecedented in Western Europe and may have influenced Carolingian art.

When the Byzantine empress Irene was deposed in 802, Nikephoros I became emperor and refused to pay tribute to Hārūn, saying that Irene should have been receiving the tribute the whole time. News of this angered Hārūn, who wrote a message on the back of the Roman emperor’s letter and said “In the name of God the most merciful, From Amir al-Mu’minin Hārūn ar-Rashid, commander of the faithful, to Nikephoros, dog of the Romans. Thou shalt not hear, thou shalt behold my reply”. After campaigns in Asia Minor, Nikephoros was forced to conclude a treaty, with humiliating terms. Hārūn  established an alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty after he sent embassies to China. He was called “A-lun” in the Chinese Tang Annals. The alliance was aimed against the Tibetans.

Because of his appearance as the protagonist in many tales in Thousand and One Nights, Hārūn ar-Rashid turned into a legendary figure obscuring his true historic personality. In fact, his reign initiated the political disintegration of the Abbasid caliphate. Syria was inhabited by tribes with Umayyad sympathies and remained the bitter enemy of the Abbasids, while Egypt witnessed uprisings against Abbasids due to maladministration and arbitrary taxation. The Umayyads had been established in Spain in 755, the Idrisids in Morocco in 788, and the Aghlabids in Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia) in 800. Besides, unrest flared up in Yemen, and the Kharijites rose in rebellion in Daylam, Kerman, Fars and Sistan. Revolts also broke out in Khorasan, and ar-Rashid waged many campaigns against the Byzantines.

Ar-Rashid appointed Ali bin Isa bin Mahan as the governor of Khorasan, who tried to bring to heel the princes and chieftains of the region, and to reimpose the full authority of the central government on them. This new policy met with fierce resistance and provoked numerous uprisings in the region. A major revolt led by Rafi ibn al-Layth was started in Samarqand which forced Hārūn al-Rashid to move to Khorasan. He first removed and arrested Ali bin Isa bin Mahan but the revolt continued unchecked. Hārūn al-Rashid became ill and died very soon after he reached Sanabad village in Tus and was buried in Dar al-Imarah, the summer palace of Humayd ibn Qahtaba, the Abbasid governor of Khorasan. Due to this historical event, the Dar al-Imarah was known as the Mausoleum of Hārūniyyeh. The location later became known as Mashhad (“The Place of Martyrdom”) because of the martyrdom of Imam ar-Ridha in 818.

Al-Rashid virtually dismembered the empire by apportioning it between his two sons al-Amin and al-Ma’mun (with his third son, al-Qasim, being belatedly added after them). Very soon it became clear that by dividing the empire, Rashid had actually helped to set the opposing parties against one another, and had provided them with sufficient resources to become independent of each other. After the death of Hārūn al-Rashid, civil war broke out in the empire between his two sons, al-Amin and al-Ma’mun, which spiraled into a prolonged period of turmoil and warfare throughout the Caliphate, ending only with Ma’mun’s final triumph in 827.

Here is a fish dish from an Abbasid cookbook.  The video is in Arabic, but there are English subtitles:

Aug 282019
 

Today is the birthday (1908) of Roger Tory Peterson, a US naturalist, ornithologist, artist, and educator who is perhaps best known for his series of field guides, beginning with the guides to North American birds. He is also a founding inspiration for the 20th-century environmental movement. I used his field guides for many years when I was an active birder, and found them to be singularly insightful in the identification of species. More on that later.

Peterson was born in Jamestown, on the western fringe of New York state. At the age of 11, Peterson’s passion for birds exploded. His seventh grade teacher, Blanche Hornbeck, enrolled her students in the Junior Audubon Club, taught them about birds, and often walked them to a nearby forest where she used nature to teach writing, art, and science. It was during that year on an April morning that Roger had an experience that shaped the rest of his life. While hiking with a friend at nearby Swede Hill, the boys spotted a seemingly lifeless clump of brown feathers on a tree, very low to the ground. Although merely sleeping, the boys thought the Northern Flicker was dead. Later, Peterson described the experience:

I poked it and it burst into color, with the red on the back of its head and the gold on its wing. It was the contrast, you see, between something I thought was dead and something so alive. Like a resurrection. I came to believe birds are the most vivid reflection of life. It made me aware of the world in which we live.

During the summer of 1925 Peterson painted furniture at the Union National Furniture Company for eight dollars a week. He created decorative motifs of intricate Chinese subjects on exquisite lacquer wood cabinets made there. The head of the decorating department, Willem Dieperink von Langereis, gave Peterson his first encouragement about being an artist and insisted that he go to art school. For the next two years, he worked and saved his money. He left Jamestown for the Art Students League in New York City in 1927. In 1929 he advanced to the National Academy of Design. While working and saving money for art school, Peterson studiously practiced art and photography, using birds as his subjects. Two of his earliest published photographs included Northern Cardinals in the 1925 Jamestown High School Yearbook, and Black-capped Chickadees in the 1926 Yearbook.

In 1931, Peterson became a science teacher at Rivers Country Day School, a private prep school for sons of “gentlemen” in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Harvard. In Boston, Peterson became a member of the oldest ornithological organization in the US, the Nuttall Club. Here he encountered Francis H. Allen, an editor at Houghton Mifflin. In 1934 Houghton Mifflin published his seminal Guide to the Birds, the first modern field guide. One of the inspirations for his field guide was the diagram of ducks that Ernest Thompson Seton made in Two Little Savages (1903).

Peterson wrote:

My identification system is visual rather than phylogenetic; it uses shape, pattern, and field marks in a comparative way. The phylogenetic order, which is related to evolution, is not emphasized within families. Similar-appearing species are placed together on plates and the critical distinctions are pointed out with little arrows.

This is simplicity itself. You see a small bird with yellow and brown feathers, so you turn to a page of similar looking yellow and brown birds and look to see what specific field markings distinguish them. Then you look back at the bird to see its field markings, and in short order you have identified it.  In later additions he added silhouettes in flight from below, because sometimes you catch nothing more than that as the bird flies over you. Even with that little to go on (plus size and location), you can often identify the bird.

Giving a recipe for some kind of poultry to honor Peterson would be a tad too ironic, even for me, so let’s turn to the place where he first got his passion for birding. He was raised in Chautauqua county which is well known for a number of things, including the Chautauqua Institution which sponsored public education programs in a variety of areas up until the 1940s. It still houses numerous practical and educational events and one of these involves cooking. Here is a Chautauqua recipe for Concord grape and blueberry tart (both locally available ingredients in abundance). Concord grape pie filling is available at the usual online outlets if you cannot find it in your supermarket.

Concord Grape and Blueberry Tart

Ingredients

Crust

2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp almond extract
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
¼ cup finely ground almonds

Filling

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
16 oz Concord grape pie filling
3 tbsp water

1 cup (approx.) fresh blueberries

Instructions

Pulse the crust ingredients in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse sand and the ingredients begin to stick together. Turn out on to plastic wrap, wrap tightly, and chill in the refrigerator for one hour. Then place the chilled dough on a large sheet of waxed paper, lay another sheet on top, and roll out the dough so that it fits a 9” pie pan lined with parchment paper. Trim off the edges and roll them over to make a neat border. Bake the tart shell blind for about ten minutes at 375°F, making sure that it is cooked through, but not overly brown.

Beat the eggs in a stand mixer until light in color. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat until the mixture is slightly thickened. Add the grape filling and water and beat until thoroughly mixed. Pour the filling into the pre-baked shell. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.

Cool the pie in the pan on a wire rack. Arrange fresh blueberries on the top, pressing them lightly into the cooked filling.

Note: some cooks add blueberries to the filling before baking.

Aug 232019
 

Today is the birthday (1926) of Clifford Geertz, a US anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his strong support for and influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology. His Interpretation of Cultures was one of the pillars of my doctoral training in the 1970s, and he was certainly of monumental importance in pushing anthropology away from reductionist analyses. Both “Thick Description” and “Balinese Cock Fight” were instrumental in guiding cultural anthropology towards interpretive approaches to field data. His training in philosophy as an undergraduate led him to incorporate key directions in analytic philosophy into his anthropological studies. In this regard I am both sympathetic to and critical of his work.

Geertz was born in San Francisco. After service in the US Navy in World War II (1943–45), he received his B.A. in philosophy from Antioch College in 1950. After graduating from Antioch he attended Harvard University from which he graduated in 1956, as a student in the Department of Social Relations. This interdisciplinary program was led by Talcott Parsons, and Geertz worked with both Parsons and Clyde Kluckhohn. Geertz was trained as an anthropologist, and conducted his first long-term fieldwork, together with his wife, Hildred, in Java. He studied the religious life of a small, upcountry town for two-and-a-half years, living with a railroad laborer’s family. After finishing his thesis, Geertz returned to Bali and Sumatra. He earned his Ph.D. in 1956.

At the University of Chicago, Geertz became a champion of symbolic anthropology, a framework which gives prime attention to the role of symbols in constructing public meaning. In The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Geertz outlined culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.” He was one of the earliest scholars to see that the insights provided by common language, philosophy and literary analysis could have major explanatory force in the social sciences. Geertz aimed to provide the social sciences with an understanding and appreciation of “thick description,” an idea he took from the philosopher Gilbert Ryle. Geertz applied thick description to anthropological studies (specifically his own ‘interpretive anthropology’), urging anthropologists to consider the limitations placed upon them by their own cultural cosmologies when attempting to offer insight into the cultures of other people.

Max Weber’s interpretative social science was also a strong influence on Geertz’s work. Geertz himself argues for a “semiotic” concept of culture: “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun,” he states, “I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after, construing social expression on their surface enigmatical.”

Geertz argues that to interpret a culture’s web of symbols, scholars must first isolate its elements, specifying the internal relationships among those elements and characterize the whole system in some general way according to the core symbols around which it is organized, the underlying structures of which it is a surface expression, or the ideological principles upon which it is based. It was his view that culture is public, because meaning is public, and systems of meanings are what produce culture, because they are the collective property of a particular people. We cannot discover the culture’s import or understand its systems of meaning, when, as Wittgenstein noted, “we cannot find our feet with them.” Geertz wants society to appreciate that social actions are larger than themselves; they speak to larger issues, and vice versa, because “they are made to.”

It is not against a body of uninterrupted data, radically thinned descriptions, that we must measure the cogency of our explications, but against the power of the scientific imagination to bring us into touch with the lives of strangers.

The goal of the semiotic approach to culture is to converse with subjects in foreign cultures and gain access to their conceptual world.

His often-cited essay “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” is the classic example of thick description. Thick description is an anthropological method of explaining with as much detail as possible the reason behind human actions. Individual human actions can mean many different things, and Geertz insisted that the anthropologist needs to be aware of this. The work proved influential amongst historians, many of whom tried to use these ideas about the ‘meaning’ of cultural practice in the study of customs and traditions of the past.

Geertz himself was aware of the critical weakness of interpretive anthropology, namely, there is no yardstick to measure its validity by. You have to judge the success of an interpretive study by its believability, but, as he points out, a con man is believable. I would add the question, “To what extent are his thick descriptions legitimate analyses by local standards?” When he argues that such-and-such action in Bali has these seven meanings locally, to what degree would locals agree with him?

In any case, the Balinese cockfight gives us an avenue into today’s recipe: Balinese shredded chicken.

Aug 212019
 

Today is Ninoy Aquino Day is a national non-working holiday in the Philippines observed annually, commemorating the assassination of former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. He was the husband of Corazon Aquino, who was later to become Philippine President. They are treated as two of the heroes of democracy in the country. His assassination led to the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos on February 25th, 1986, through the People Power Revolution. In 2004, the commemoration ceremony for the holiday was held and events were attended by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Fidel V. Ramos. Unlike other dates reserved for national heroes of the Philippines (like Bonifacio Day, Rizal Day, Araw ng Kagitingan, and National Heroes Day), the date is not a “regular holiday” (double pay for working nationals) but only a “special non-working holiday” (premium of 30% for working nationals).

Aquino was a well-known opposition figure and critic of the then-president Ferdinand Marcos. Due to his beliefs, he was later imprisoned for about eight years after martial law was declared in the country. Even in prison he sought a parliamentary seat for Metro Manila in the Interim Batasang Pambansa, under the banner of the Lakas ng Bayan (LABAN). He eventually led in the opinion polls and was initially leading the electoral count but eventually lost to the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) slate led by First Lady Imelda Marcos.

Imelda Marcos

Aquino remained in prison but continued to fight for democracy in the country and against the oppression of the Filipino people. After suffering from a heart attack in March 1980, he and his family moved to the United States for medical treatment, eventually leading to his self-imposed exile for about three years. There, he continued his advocacy by giving speeches to the Filipino-American communities. Later, he planned to return to the islands to challenge Marcos for the parliamentary elections in 1984. Though some did not feel this was a good idea, he still did so in 1983. Upon returning to the Philippines at the Manila International Airport (now renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport in his honor), he was shot and killed on August 21st, 1983 as he was escorted off an airplane by security personnel. This led to several protests at his funeral that sparked snap presidential elections in 1986, which led to the 1986 EDSA Revolution, catapulting his wife, Cory Aquino, to the presidency.

The holiday was created by Republic Act 9256, which was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on February 25th, 2004, twenty-one years after his death and eighteen years after the People Power Revolution., and was sponsored by Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia. A commemoration ceremony was held at the People Power Monument which was attended by presidents Arroyo and Aquino, the Aquino family, and government officials such as members of the cabinet, top police, and military brass.

The holiday was included in president Arroyo’s program of “holiday economics”, adjusting the observance of the holiday to the nearest Monday in order to boost the tourism industry with long weekends. In 2010, it was moved back to its original date by Aquino’s only son, president Benigno Aquino III.

One of my favorite Filipino dishes is papaitan, which is a tripe soup.  Remember that I am a tripe aficionado!!! I have not ever made it myself, but I have eaten various versions, both in Manila and in Filipino restaurants in New York.  Here’s a video for you:

Aug 162019
 

On this date in 1945, Indonesia formally declared its independence from Japan, and, by extension, from the Netherlands (although not a fait accompli at the time). Sukarno read the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence (Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia) at 10:00 in the morning of Friday, 17th August 1945. The wording and declaration of the proclamation had to balance the interests of conflicting internal Indonesian and Japanese interests at the time. The declaration marked the start of the diplomatic and armed resistance of the Indonesian National Revolution, fighting against the forces of the Netherlands and pro-Dutch civilians, until the latter officially acknowledged Indonesia’s independence in 1949.

Hatta

Indonesia was under colonial rule by the Dutch in some parts for 300 years. Resistance to Dutch rule was met with imprisonment and exile. The fight for independence in the 20th century included Mohammad Hatta and Sukarno, who established the Indonesian National Party in 1927, which advocated for independence from the Dutch. The invasion of Indonesia by the Japanese during the Second World War added a new dynamic to the fight for independence. The Japanese defeated the Dutch in 1942 and moved into Indonesia. There were uprisings against Japanese rule as there had been against the Dutch, because farmers and other workers were exploited by the Japanese. Furthermore the Japanese had tried to limit Islam. Nonetheless, during the war Sukarno delivered speeches saying he believed independence could be achieved with the assistance of Japan. Hatta also worked with the Japanese. Sjahrir, another figure in the nationalist movement, focused on establishing an underground support network. Many educated youths influenced by Sjahrir in Jakarta and Bandung started establishing underground support networks for plans of Indonesian independence following Japan’s defeat.

The end of the war on August 15th further expedited the process for independence. Youth leaders supported by Sjahrir hoped for a declaration of independence separate from the Japanese, which initially was not supported by Hatta and Sukarno. However with the assistance of a high ranking Japanese military officer Tadashi Maeda, the declaration of independence was drafted.

The draft was prepared only a few hours before its reading on the night of 16th August 1945,[36] by Sukarno, Hatta, and Soebardjo, at the house of rear-admiral Tadashi Maeda, 1 Miyako-dōri (都通り). The house which is located in Jakarta is now the Formulation of Proclamation Text Museum situated at Jl. Imam Bonjol No. 1. Aside from the three Indonesian leaders and Admiral Maeda, three Japanese agents were also present at the drafting: Tomegoro Yoshizumi (of the Navy Communications Office Kaigun Bukanfu (海軍武官府)); Shigetada Nishijima and Shunkichiro Miyoshi (of the Imperial Japanese Army). The original Indonesian Declaration of Independence was typed by Sayuti Melik. Maeda himself was sleeping in his room upstairs. He was agreeable to the idea of Indonesia’s independence, and had lent his house for the drafting of the declaration. Marshal Terauchi, the highest-ranking Japanese leader in South East Asia and son of former Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake, was however against Indonesia’s independence.

While the formal preparation of the declaration, and the official independence itself for that matter, had been carefully planned a few months earlier, the actual declaration date was brought forward almost inadvertently as a consequence of the Japanese unconditional surrender to the Allies on 15th August 1945. The wording of the proclamation had been discussed at length and had to balance both conflicting internal Indonesian and Japanese interests. Sukarno drafted the final proclamation which balanced the interests of both the members of the youth movement and the Japanese. The term ‘TRANSFER OF POWER’ was used in Indonesian to satisfy Japanese interests to appear that it was an administrative transfer of power, although the term used ‘pemindahan kekuasaan’ could be perceived to mean political power. The wording ‘BY CAREFUL MEANS’ related to preventing conflict with members of the youth movement. The wording ‘IN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME’ was used to meet the needs of all Indonesians for independence.

PROCLAMATION

WE THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA HEREBY DECLARE THE INDEPENDENCE OF
INDONESIA. MATTERS WHICH CONCERN THE TRANSFER OF POWER AND
OTHER THINGS WILL BE EXECUTED BY CAREFUL MEANS AND IN THE
SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME.

DJAKARTA, 17 AUGUST 1945

IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA

SOEKARNO/HATTA

Initially the proclamation was to be announced at Djakarta central square, but the military had been sent to monitor the area, so the venue was changed to Sukarno’s house at Pegangsaan Timur 56. The declaration of independence passed without a hitch. The proclamation was prevented from being broadcast on the radio to the outside world by Yamamoto and Nishimura from the Japanese military, and was also initially prevented from being reported in the newspapers. However Shigetada Nishijima and Tadashi Maeda enabled the proclamation to be dispersed via telephone and telegraph. The proclamation at 56, Jalan Pegangsaan Timur, Jakarta, was heard throughout the country because the text was secretly broadcast by Indonesian radio personnel using the transmitters of the Jakarta Broadcasting Station (ジャカルタ放送局 Jakaruta Hōsōkyoku).

The Domei news agency was used to send the text of the proclamation to reach Bandung and Jogjakarta. Members of the youth movement in Bandung facilitated broadcasts of the proclamation in Indonesian and English from radio Bandung. Furthermore the local radio system was connected with the Central Telegraph Office and it broadcast the proclamation overseas. Moreover Sukarno’s speech that he gave on the day of the proclamation was not fully published. During his speech he discussed the continued need for the independence of Indonesia from Dutch as well as Japanese rule.

I have been a fan of Indonesian (primarily Javanese) cooking for decades.  If you search this site you will find recipes for my favorites, including soto ayam and nasi goreng.  To ring the changes, here is a video of making Pia Pia, shrimp fritters that are common village and street food.