Aug 112015
 

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Today is Independence Day in Chad, officially the Republic of Chad, marking the end of French colonial rule on this date in 1960. In the past I have not celebrated countries with poor human rights records, but a friend recently challenged this policy saying that (a) a country’s people should not necessarily be held responsible for the actions of its leaders, and (b) anniversaries of this sort are a chance to highlight abuses. So here is Chad.

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Chad is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It borders Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west. Due to its distance from the sea and its largely desert climate, the country is sometimes referred to as the “Dead Heart of Africa.” The territory now known as Chad possesses some of the richest archaeological sites in Africa. A hominid skull was found by Michel Brunet in 2002 in Borkou that is more than 7 million years old, the oldest discovered anywhere in the world. It has been given the name Sahelanthropus tchadensis. In 1996 Brunet had unearthed a hominid jaw which he named Australopithecus bahrelghazali, and unofficially dubbed Abel. It was dated using beryllium based radiometric dating as living circa. 3.6 million years ago.

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During the 7th millennium BCE, the northern half of Chad was part of a broad expanse of land, stretching from the Indus River in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, in which ecological conditions favored early human settlement. Rock art of the “Round Head” style, found in the Ennedi region, has been dated to before the 7th millennium BCE and, because of the tools with which the rocks were carved and the scenes they depict, may represent the oldest evidence in the Sahara of Neolithic industries. Many of the pottery-making and Neolithic activities in Ennedi date back further than any of those of the Nile Valley to the east. In prehistoric times, Chad was much wetter than it is today, as evidenced by large game animals depicted in rock paintings in the Tibesti and Borkou regions.

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Recent linguistic research suggests that all of Africa’s major language groupings south of the Sahara Desert (except Khoisan), i. e. the Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan and Niger–Congo phyla, originated in prehistoric times in a narrow band between Lake Chad and the Nile Valley. The origins of Chad’s peoples, however, remain unclear. Several of the proven archaeological sites have been only partially studied, and other sites of great potential have yet to be explored.

Toward the end of the 1st millennium CE, the formation of states began across central Chad in the sahelian zone between the desert and the savanna. For almost the next 1,000 years, these states, their relations with each other, and their effects on the peoples who lived in stateless societies along their peripheries dominated Chad’s political history. Recent research suggests that indigenous Africans founded most of these states, not migrating Arabic-speaking groups, as was believed previously. Nonetheless, immigrants, Arabic-speaking or otherwise, played a significant role, along with Islam, in the formation and early evolution of these states.

Most states began as kingdoms, in which the king was considered divine and endowed with temporal and spiritual powers. All states were militaristic (or they did not survive long), but none was able to expand far into southern Chad, where forests and the tsetse fly complicated the use of cavalry. Control over the trans-Saharan trade routes that passed through the region formed the economic basis of these kingdoms. Although many states rose and fell, the most important and durable of the empires were Kanem-Bornu, Baguirmi, and Ouaddai, according to most written sources (mainly court chronicles and writings of Arab traders and travelers).

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The Kanem Empire originated in the 9th century CE to the northeast of Lake Chad. Historians agree that the leaders of the new state were ancestors of the Kanembu people. Toward the end of the 11th century the Sayfawa king (or mai, the title of the Sayfawa rulers) Hummay, converted to Islam. In the following century the Sayfawa rulers expanded southward into Kanem, where was to rise their first capital, Njimi. Kanem’s expansion peaked during the long and energetic reign of Mai Dunama Dabbalemi (c. 1221–1259).

By the end of the 14th century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn Kanem apart. Finally, around 1396 the Bulala invaders forced Mai Umar Idrismi to abandon Njimi and move the Kanembu people to Bornu on the western edge of Lake Chad. Over time, the intermarriage of the Kanembu and Bornu peoples created a new people and language, the Kanuri, and founded a new capital, Ngazargamu.

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Kanem-Bornu peaked during the reign of Mai Idris Aluma (c. 1571–1603). Aluma is remembered for his military skills, administrative reforms, and Islamic piety. The administrative reforms and military brilliance of Aluma sustained the empire until the mid-17th century, when its power began to fade. By the early 19th century, Kanem-Bornu was clearly an empire in decline, and in 1808 Fulani warriors conquered Ngazargamu. Bornu survived, but the Sayfawa dynasty ended in 1846 and the Empire itself fell in 1893.

In addition to Kanem-Bornu, two other states in the region, Baguirmi and Ouaddai, achieved historical prominence. Baguirmi emerged to the southeast of Kanem-Bornu in the 16th century. Islam was adopted, and the state became a sultanate. Absorbed into Kanem-Bornu, Baguirmi broke free later in the 17th century, only to be returned to tributary status in the mid-18th century. Early in the 19th century, Baguirmi fell into decay and was threatened militarily by the nearby kingdom of Ouaddai. Although Baguirmi resisted, it accepted tributary status in order to obtain help from Ouaddai in putting down internal dissension. When the capital was burned in 1893, the sultan sought and received protectorate status from the French.

Located northeast of Baguirmi, Ouaddai was a non-Muslim kingdom that emerged in the 16th century as an offshoot of the state of Darfur (in present-day Sudan). Early in the 12th century, groups in the region rallied to Abd al-Karim Sabun, who overthrew the ruling Tunjur group, transforming Ouaddai in an Islamic sultanate. During much of the 18th century, Ouaddai resisted reincorporation into Darfur.

In about 1804, under the rule of Sabun, the sultanate began to expand its power. A new trade route north was discovered, and Sabun outfitted royal caravans to take advantage of it. He began minting his own coinage and imported chain mail, firearms, and military advisers from North Africa. Sabun’s successors were less able than he, and Darfur took advantage of a disputed political succession in 1838 to put its own candidate in power. This tactic backfired when Darfur’s choice, Muhammad Sharif, rejected Darfur and asserted his own authority. In doing so, he gained acceptance from Ouaddai’s various factions and went on to become Ouaddai’s ablest ruler. Sharif eventually established Ouaddai’s hegemony over Baguirmi and kingdoms as far away as the Chari River. The Ouaddai opposed French domination until well into the 20th century.

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The French first penetrated Chad in 1891, establishing their authority through military expeditions primarily against the Muslim kingdoms. The decisive colonial battle for Chad was fought on April 22, 1900 at the Battle of Kousséri between forces of French Major Amédée-François Lamy and forces of the Sudanese warlord Rabih az-Zubayr. Both leaders were killed in the battle. In 1905, administrative responsibility for Chad was placed under a governor-general stationed at Brazzaville, capital of French Equatorial Africa (AEF). Chad did not have separate colonial status until 1920, when it was placed under a lieutenant-governor stationed in Fort-Lamy (today N’Djamena).

Two fundamental themes dominated Chad’s colonial experience with the French: an absence of policies designed to unify the territory and an exceptionally slow pace of modernization. In the French scale of priorities, the colony of Chad ranked near the bottom, and the French came to perceive Chad primarily as a source of raw cotton and untrained labor to be used in the more productive colonies to the south. Throughout the colonial period, large areas of Chad were not governed effectively: in the huge BET Prefecture, the handful of French military administrators usually left the people alone, and in central Chad, French rule was only slightly more substantive. France managed to govern effectively only the south. During World War II, Chad was the first French colony to rejoin the Allies (August 26, 1940), after the defeat of France by Germany. Under the administration of Félix Éboué (lead photo), France’s first black colonial governor, a military column, commanded by Colonel Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, and including two battalions of Sara troops, moved north from Fort Lamy to engage Axis forces in Libya, where, in partnership with the British Army’s Long Range Desert Group, they captured Kufra.

After the war ended local parties started to develop in Chad. The first was the radical Chadian Progressive Party (PPT) in February 1947, initially headed by Panamanian born Gabriel Lisette, but from 1959 headed by François Tombalbaye. The more conservative Chadian Democratic Union (UDT) was founded in November 1947 and represented French commercial interests and a bloc of traditional leaders made up primarily of Muslim and Ouaddaïan nobility. The confrontation between the PPT and UDT was more than simply ideological; it represented different regional identities, with the PPT representing the Christian and animist south and the UDT the Islamic north.

The PPT won the May 1957 pre-independence elections thanks to a greatly expanded franchise, and Lisette led the government of the Territorial Assembly until he lost a confidence vote on 11 February 1959. After a referendum on territorial autonomy on 28 September 1958, French Equatorial Africa was dissolved, and its four constituent states – Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville), the Central African Republic, and Chad became autonomous members of the French Community from 28 November 1958. Following Lisette’s fall in February 1959 the opposition leaders Gontchome Sahoulba and Ahmed Koulamallah could not form a stable government, so the PPT was again asked to form an administration – which it did under the leadership of François Tombalbaye on 26 March 1959. On 12 July 1960 France agreed to Chad becoming fully independent. On 11 August 1960, Chad became an independent country and François Tombalbaye became its first President. Since then Chad has been torn apart by coups and attempted coups, civil war, external wars and interventions, insurgencies, brutal repression, civilian massacres, government corruption, and constant abuses of human rights. Nothing much new on the horizon.

Like most cuisines of central Africa, Chadians use a variety of grains, mainly millet sorghum and rice, vegetables, such as okra, tomatoes and cassava, and meats, including goat, mutton, beef and chicken. Fish is the most easily available protein in the region around Lake Chad. Here’s my version of a local goat stew. It’s not easy to find goat in the West. I used to find it frozen (in bony chunks) in an immigrant community in Rockland County, NY. It requires long, slow simmering to be tender, but it is very flavorful.

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© Chadian Goat Stew

Over high heat in a deep, heavy skillet sauté, in a little vegetable oil, 1 Kg of goat meat cut in chunks until nicely browned on all sides. Add 3 onions coarsely chopped, 1 clove of garlic minced fine, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of chili powder, 1 (8 ounce) can of tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, and light stock to cover. Bring slowly to a gentle simmer and cook, covered for 2 hours or longer, until the meat is rags. Add more stock if the stew begins to dry out.

Add ½ cup of smooth peanut butter and stir well to incorporate. Heat through for about 20 minutes. Serve with boiled white rice.

Oct 022014
 

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On this date in 1950 the syndicated comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz was published for the first time. The strip is the most popular and influential in the history of the comic strip, with 17,897 strips published in all. At its peak, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages. It helped to cement the four-panel strip as the standard in the United States, and together with its merchandise earned Schulz more than $1 billion. Reprints of the strip are still syndicated and run in almost every U.S. newspaper.

Peanuts had its origin in Li’l Folks, a weekly panel comic that appeared in Schulz’s hometown paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, from 1947 to 1950. He first used the name Charlie Brown for a character there, although he applied the name in four strips to three different boys and one buried in sand. The series also had a dog that looked much like the early 1950’s version of Snoopy. In 1948, Schulz sold a cartoon to The Saturday Evening Post which published 17 single-panel cartoons by Schulz. The first of these was of a boy sitting with his feet on an ottoman.

In 1948, Schulz tried to have Li’l Folks syndicated through the Newspaper Enterprise Association. Schulz would have been an independent contractor for the syndicate, unheard of in the 1940s, but the deal fell through. Li’l Folks was dropped in early 1950. Later that year, Schulz approached the United Feature Syndicate with his best work from Li’l Folks. When his work was picked up by United Feature Syndicate, they decided to run the new comic strip he had been working on. This strip was similar in spirit to the panel comic, but it had a set cast of characters, rather than different nameless little folk for each page. The name Li’l Folks was too close to the names of two other comics of the time: Al Capp’s Li’l Abner and a strip titled Little Folks. To avoid confusion, the syndicate settled on the name Peanuts, after the peanut gallery featured in the Howdy Doody TV show. Peanuts was a title Schulz always disliked. In a 1987 interview, Schulz said of the title Peanuts: “It’s totally ridiculous, has no meaning, is simply confusing, and has no dignity—and I think my humor has dignity.” The periodic collections of the strips in paperback book form typically had either “Charlie Brown” or “Snoopy” in the title, not “Peanuts”, because of Schulz’s distaste for his strip’s title. From November 28, 1966 to January 4, 1987, the opening Sunday panels typically read Peanuts, featuring Good Ol ‘ Charlie Brown.

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Peanuts premiered on October 2, 1950, in nine newspapers: The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Minneapolis Tribune, The Allentown Call-Chronicle, The Bethlehem Globe-Times, The Denver Post, The Seattle Times, The New York World-Telegram & Sun, and The Boston Globe. It began as a daily strip. The first strip was four panels long and showed Charlie Brown walking by two other young children, Shermy and Patty. Shermy lauds Charlie Brown as he walks by, but then tells Patty how he hates him in the final panel. This was groundbreaking. Until then, rarely had children expressed hatred for others in comic strips. Snoopy was also an early character in the strip, first appearing in the third strip, which ran on October 4. Its first Sunday strip appeared January 6, 1952, in the half-page format, which was the only format for the entire life of the Sunday strip. Most of the other characters that eventually became the main characters of Peanuts did not appear until later: Violet (February 1951), Schroeder (May 1951), Lucy (March 1952), Linus (September 1952), Pig-Pen (July 1954), Sally (August 1959), Frieda (March 1961), “Peppermint” Patty (August 1966), Woodstock (introduced April 1967; given a name in June 1970), Franklin (July 1968), Marcie (July 1971), and Rerun (March 1973).

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Schulz decided to produce all aspects of the strip himself from the script to the finished art and lettering. (Schulz did, however, hire help to produce the comic book adaptations of Peanuts.) Thus, the strip was able to be presented with a unified tone, and Schulz was able to employ a minimalistic style. Backgrounds were generally not used, and when they were, Schulz’s frazzled lines imbued them with a fraught appearance. This style has been described by art critic John Carlin as forcing “its readers to focus on subtle nuances rather than broad actions or sharp transitions.” Schulz held this belief all his life, reaffirming in 1994 the importance of crafting the strip himself: “This is not a crazy business about slinging ink. This is a deadly serious business.”

While the strip in its early years resembles its later form, there are significant differences. The art was cleaner, sleeker, and simpler, with thicker lines and short, squat characters. For example, in these early strips, Charlie Brown’s famous round head is closer to the shape of an American football or rugby football. Most of the kids were initially fairly round-headed. As another example, all the characters (except Charlie Brown) had their mouths longer and had smaller eyes when they looked sideways.

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The 1960s is known as the “golden age” for the comic strip. During this period some of the most well known themes and characters appeared, including: Peppermint Patty, Snoopy as the “World War One Flying Ace”, Frieda and her “naturally curly hair”, and Franklin. Peanuts is remarkable for its deft social commentary, especially compared with other strips appearing in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Schulz did not explicitly address racial and gender equality issues so much as he assumed them to be self-evident in the first place. Peppermint Patty’s athletic skill and self-confidence is simply taken for granted, for example, as is Franklin’s presence in a racially integrated school and neighborhood. (Franklin came about at least in part as a result of Schulz’s correspondence in 1968 with a socially progressive fan.) The fact that Charlie Brown’s baseball team had three girls was also at least ten years ahead of its time in terms of Little League realities (and in fact, the TV special Charlie Brown’s All-Stars dealt with Charlie Brown refusing sponsorship of the team because the sponsor said the league does not allow girls or dogs to play).

Schulz would throw satirical barbs at any number of topics when he chose. Over the years he tackled everything from the Vietnam War to school dress codes to the “new math.” In 1963 he added a little boy named “5” to the cast, whose sisters were named “3” and “4,” and whose father had changed their family name to their ZIP Code, giving in to the way numbers were taking over people’s identities. In 1958, a strip in which Snoopy tossed Linus into the air and boasted that he was the first dog ever to launch a human, parodied the hype associated with Sputnik 2’s launch of “Laika” the dog into space earlier that year. Another sequence lampooned Little Leagues and “organized” play, when all the neighborhood kids join snowman-building leagues and criticize Charlie Brown when he insists on building his own snowmen without leagues or coaches.

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Peanuts did not shy away from cartoon violence. The most obvious example might be Charlie Brown’s annual, futile effort to kick the football while Lucy holds it. At the last moment, she would pull the ball away just as he was kicking. The off-balance Charlie Brown would sail into the air and land on his back with a loud thud. There was also the ever-present (and often executed) threat by Lucy to “slug” someone, especially her brother Linus. Though violence would happen from time to time, only once or twice was a boy ever depicted hitting a girl (Charlie Brown, who accidentally hit Lucy; when Lucy complained about it, Charlie Brown went down to her psychiatric booth where she returned the slug much harder) August 8, 1965.

Peanuts touched on religious themes on many occasions, most notably the classic television special A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, which features the character Linus van Pelt quoting the King James Version of the Bible (Luke 2:8–14) to explain to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about (in personal interviews, Schulz mentioned that Linus represented his spiritual side). Because of the explicit religious material in A Charlie Brown Christmas, many have interpreted Schulz’s work as having a distinct Christian theme, though the popular perspective has been to view the franchise through a secular lens.

Though Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes rivaled Peanuts in popularity in the 1980’s and the 1990’s respectively, the strip still remained the most popular comic of all time. The daily Peanuts strips were formatted in a four-panel “space saving” format beginning in the 1950’s, with a few very rare eight-panel strips, that still fit into the four-panel mold. In 1975, the panel format was shortened slightly horizontally, and shortly after the lettering became larger to accommodate the shrinking format. Beginning on Leap Day in 1988, Schulz abandoned the four-panel format in favor of three-panel dailies and occasionally used the entire length of the strip as one panel, partly for experimentation, but also to combat the dwindling size of the comics page in general.

Schulz continued the strip until he had to retire because of health reasons; he died the day before the final Sunday strip was published. Final Sunday strip, which came out February 13, 2000: one day after the death of Charles M. Schulz. The final daily original Peanuts comic strip was published on January 3, 2000. At that point, five more original Sunday Peanuts strips had yet to be published.

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On February 13, 2000, the day following Schulz’s death, the last ever Peanuts strip ran in papers. The strip began with Charlie Brown answering the phone with someone on the end presumably asking for Snoopy. Charlie Brown responded with “No, I think he’s writing.” The bottom panel consisted of the final daily strip in its entirety, reprinted in color, and included various Peanuts characters surrounding it. The very last strip consisted simply of Snoopy sitting at his typewriter in thought with a farewell note from Schulz (click image to enlarge). As appropriate, Charlie Brown was the only character to appear in both the first strip in 1950 and the last in 2000.

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Charlie Brown once famously said when the gang were contemplating making Thanksgiving dinner, “All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast.” Peanut butter sandwiches do feature once in a while in the strip:

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I expect you can make a peanut butter sandwich without my help. However, Charlie Brown pudding is very popular with elementary school children in the U.S. and with a little bit of help from an adult they can make it themselves. A complete recipe with demonstration photos can be found here.

http://theworkingmomsrecipebox.blogspot.hk/2009/06/charlie-brown-pie.html

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It’s really not my kind of thing at all, but it is a fitting and loving tribute to Peanuts and Schulz.