What Is Wrong With This Picture?

The ngoma, a sacred wooden drum-- or Ark of the Covenant?


a.)  Assumed biblical historicity  

b.) DNA interpretation  

c.) Correctness of artifact identification  

c.) Essentialist ethnic identity assertions  

d.) Implied allegorical significance in contemporary Zimbabwe  

e.) Resurrection of Rider Haggardism  


Extra credit will be given for all additional problems/issues identified.  

From the Jewish Chronicle Online:  

African ‘Jewish’ tribe displays its lost ark

By Moira Schneider, April 22, 2010

Members of an African tribe are displaying a sacred object they believe to be the Ark of the Covenant in a Harare museum.  

The item is a ngoma, a sacred drum made of wood. According to oral tradition, a ngoma was carried from Israel by the Lemba, a South African tribe who believe they are descendants of Jews from the Middle East. After it burst into flame and was destroyed, another ngoma – the one currently on display – was constructed from the ruins.  

DNA research has traced the Lemba’s origins to the Middle East. More remarkably, a genetic marker largely found only in Cohanim, descendants of the ancient Jewish priesthood, is present in the same proportions among the Lemba’s own priests, known as the Buba.  

The 80,000 Lemba people, who live in Zimbabwe and northern South Africa, have many customs in common with Jewish tradition, including male circumcision, refraining from eating pork, allowing the blood to drain from an animal before they eat it, wearing skullcaps and prayer shawls during rituals and adorning some tombstones with Stars of David.  

But Alex Makotore of Harare, son of a late chief of the Lemba, says that the tribe does not claim to be Jewish. He accuses scholars of trying to impose a foreign identity on them.  

“We don’t want to look like people who are looking for an identity,” he said. “We’ve got our own African identity, we are not looking for our roots.  

“They call us black Jews, but it is them [the scientists] that call us that. If we are linked to the Jews, then fair and fine, but we cannot rightly say that it is only the Jews that [have those customs].”  

He does say he is “excited” about a possible connection to the Old Testament, but says the Lemba are unconcerned that there is little connection with the local Jewish community.  

“We don’t look for them. We don’t want to end up with a situation where we feel second-rate to another race.”  

By contrast, Perez Hamandishe, member of parliament from the Movement for Democratic Change and a pastor in the Pentecostal church, says that the Lemba believe that they are Jews.  

“We are Jews by blood,” he insists, adding that like the majority of the Lemba, he is Christian by religion, but Jewish by culture.  

“My lifestyle is Jewish, we observe everything Jewish – we only eat kosher,” he said. “If I go to a Gentile house, I don’t eat their food. When I travel, I carry my own pots and food. I don’t eat prawns, fish without scales or rabbit.”  

Sam Benatar, president of the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies, said that there were “all sorts of claims all over Africa by people purporting to be Jewish”, but the Lemba’s belief “may well be true”.  

Peter Sternberg, former president of the Board, said that the Lemba “are virtually all either Christians or Muslims – one should really leave it at that.”  

The story of the Lemba Ark was originally revealed by Tudor Parfitt, professor of Hebrew at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, in his book The Lost Ark of the Covenant.  

And Speaking of Historic Tourist Attractions…

Lady Evelyn Herbert, arriving at Luxor Station on 23 November 1922, with her father Lord Carnarvon, and are met by the governor of Qena province and Howard Carter.


Isn’t the era of colonial rule and the birth of Egyptology and early western tourism part of Luxor’s heritage?     

Doesn’t the functioning of Luxor as a modern city– however poor and Muslim, rather than royal and ancient– deserve some respect?  Or at least more sensitive treatment than “planned” reshaping and population removal?    

If not, aren’t we heading toward something like Luxor Las Vegas— a fantastically antiseptic, pharaonic-themed, leisure-time venue? 


Is this kind of trivialized Ancient Egypt theme park on a grand scale what the modern Egyptian authorities and their consultants really have in mind with the “Comprehensive Luxor Development Plan“?   



*   *   *           

From Reuters UK:           

Bulldozers overhaul Luxor, city of pashas and pharaohs

Thu Apr 1, 2010 10:21pm BST

By Alexander Dziadosz           

LUXOR, Egypt (Reuters) – In the dusty streets behind the pasha’s grand villa, bulldozers and forklifts are tearing into the city where Agatha Christie found inspiration and Howard Carter unearthed Tutankhamun.           

Egypt has already cleared out Luxor’s old bazaar, demolished thousands of homes and dozens of Belle Epoque buildings in a push to transform the site of the ancient capital Thebes into a huge open-air museum.           

Officials say the project will preserve temples and draw more tourists, but the work has outraged archaeologists and architects who say it has gutted Luxor’s more recent heritage.           

“They basically want to tear the whole thing down,” said one foreigner who lives in Luxor part of the year, agreeing to speak only if his name was not used.           

“They want it to be all asphalt and strip malls and shopping centres. That’s their idea of modern and progressive.”           

He pointed to the destruction of the 19th-century house of French archaeologist Georges Legrain, demolished to make way for a plaza outside Karnak temple, and plans to knock down the 150-year-old Pasha Andraos villa on the Nile boardwalk.           

While known mostly for temples and tombs, Luxor’s Victorian-era buildings and dusty alleyways have drawn Egyptologists, statesmen and writers for decades.           

Samir Farag, a former Egyptian general who now heads the billion-dollar plan to reinvent Luxor, dismisses the criticism. Improvements to the city had reduced traffic and brought top-notch education and healthcare.           

“Just a few people, maybe I removed their houses or something like that, they want to criticize,” Farag said this week in his wainscotted office of British military style.           

“We just cleaned the houses, cleaned the streets. You’ll never find a clean city like Luxor now in Egypt”…           

For complete story, click here.         

*   *   *     

Ceremonial entrance to Luxor Casino, Las Vegas. Photo: Zeke Quezada



Spring Cleaning in the real Luxor begins…         

View of Luxor; workers dismantling early 20th c. house in the foreground. From al-Mahrusa. The excavation in the center (begun after the demolition of existing structures) is uncovering the continuation of the ceremonial Avenue of the Sphinxes that leads to the main entrance of the Karnak Temple. The modern mosque and remaining blocks of 19th-20th century houses and shops will spoil arriving visitors' impressive view all the way to Karnak from a new, enlarged cruiseboat dock slated to be built on the Nile Bank. The mosque and surrounding buildings are slated for demolition, with the resettlement of their current residents to planned suburbs.



For an on-the-spot report on the situation in December, click here.    

10 Endangered American Tourist Attractions Worth Saving

From the Society for Commercial Archaeology: 

Advocacy Committee Selections for the 2010 Falling by the Wayside: 10 Most Endangered Roadside Places List

From a huge concrete cowboy statue in Canyon, Texas; to California’s once common roadside orange stands; to a three-mile strip of forlorn motels in Lordsburg, New Mexico; to a Depression-era pullout in Garrison, Minnesota, many of America’s iconic roadside places are threatened. 

The Society for Commercial Archeology announces its first Falling by the Wayside, a list of the ten most endangered roadside places in the United States. Here is this year’s list, ranging from a single building to a 65-acre park:


Buckhorn Baths, Main Street, Mesa, Arizona

  Buckhorn Baths, a ten-acre oasis of palms, gardens and Spanish bungalows, sits along Mesa’s busy Main Street, a reminder of the town’s former life as a desert resort community. Closed for over a decade, future restoration and reuse of the property is growing less likely as the surrounding area redevelops for commercial use.  Read more…
Photo courtesy Emily Koller


California’s Roadside Orange Stands, US Highways 66 and 99, California

  Before it was the Inland Empire, it was the Orange Empire. Long stretches of California US Highway 66 once passed through picture postcard landscapes of citrus orchards. Dotted along the highway were fruit stands shaped like oversized oranges. Here tourists could pick up a bag of fruit and delight to a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. With the widening of highways and spread of suburban growth after WW II, the orchards, along with their stands, soon disappeared. Now only a few are left scattered across California.  Read more…


Clark County Rest Area, Interstate 64, Clark County, Kentucky

  Like a mushroom, the I-64 Clark County, Kentucky rest stop rises from a small knoll, surrounded by greenery. Designed in the early 1960s, it is wholly modern, with a folded plate roof and strong concrete and glass composition. Inside the circular space, a tile mosaic map of Kentucky stretches along a curving wall. Despite its architectural significance, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet may demolish this space-age rest stop.  Read more…
Photo courtesy Joanna Dowling


Pig Stand Coffee Shop No. 41, Calder Avenue, Beaumont, Texas

  A horseshoe shaped building, tinted purple and green, with an adjacent wavy carhop canopy, the Pig Stand Coffee Shop in Beaumont, Texas is a classic post-war drive-in. But for all of its neon and flying saucer design, the owner of the closed restaurant cannot find a new tenant, and has threatened demolition.Read more…
Photo courtesy Gregory Smith


Motel Drive (former US Highway 80), Lordsburg, New Mexico

  Motel Drive—a strangely desolate strip of highway devoid of operating motels—defines, for better or worse, Lordsburg, New Mexico. At one end an abandoned café announces “Trucker’s Breakfast, Only $3.50,” at the other is a boarded up nightclub, and in between three miles of eviscerated motels, some missing roofs and others with their pools full of garbage. Things were different before the interstate.Read more…
Photo courtesy John Murphey


Dinosaur World, Arkansas State Highway 187, Beaver, Arkansas

  The sign at the entry of Dinosaur World in northwest Arkansas announces the park is “CLOSED Until Further Notice.” And beyond, in a heavily wooded, 65-acre designed landscape, nearly 100 prehistoric replicas remain unvisited. Closed for five years, the future of the “largest dinosaur park in the world” is uncertain.Read more…
Photo courtesy Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com)


Garrison Concourse, US Highway 169, Garrison, Minnesota

  Sitting along a curve of US Highway 169, in the tiny town of Garrison, Minnesota is a pullout to a stone-edged rest area built by the CCC. Landscaped with mature trees and with a sweeping view across Mille Lacs Lake, and a more recent addition of a huge walleye sculpture, it is the town’s only tourist attraction. Years of deferred maintenance have put the structure in a precarious position; urgent advocacy is needed to stabilize and restore the historic wayside.Read more…
Photo courtesy MN Dept.of Transportation


Vale Rio Diner, Pennsylvania State Highway 23, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

  Fabricated in 1948, the Vale Rio Diner sat at the intersection of Nutt Road and Bridge Street for 60 years, serving up food to residents and workers at the Phoenix Iron Company and local textile mills. Like many diners, it was shiny and silver, but distinguished by an unusual pattern of stainless steel circles along its exterior; what diner experts call a “burnished disc pattern.” It was, as one Internet reviewer remarked, “a classic greasy spoon with horrible service.” But progress, in the way of a new Walgreens, pushed it from its coveted location to a storage lot a mile away, where its sits with an unknown future.Read more…
Photo courtesy Roadside Architecture (www.roadsidearchitecture.com)


Tex Randall, US Highway 60, Canyon, Texas

  Looking over US Highway 60, the big cowboy leans on his knee, staring at traffic with a bemused smile. Constructed in 1959, Tex Randall—47’ feet high and seven tons heavy—is a landmark in the Texas Panhandle. But exposure, lack of maintenance and an unknown future is threatening the roadside giant.Read more…
Photo courtesy Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com)


Teapot Dome Gas Station, Yakima Valley Highway, Zillah, Washington

  Constructed in 1922 to look like an actual teapot—with handle, spout and top—this gas station paid tribute to the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal. Today the iconic roadside structure sits vacant on the outskirts of Zillah, 15 miles southeast of Yakima.Read more…
Photo courtesy Roadside Architecture (www.roadsidearchitecture.com)

These places are all marked by threats which can include natural weathering, economic hardship, neglect, abandonment, inappropriate zoning, lack of maintenance and demolition. The list showcases the diversity of roadside places and highlights the issues and challenges facing the preservation of important roadside places. 

The Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) established the Falling by the Wayside program to raise awareness of the importance of roadside places throughout the United States. 

“Our hope is the list will bring attention to roadside commercial architecture—especially these threatened places,” says Nancy Sturm, co-president of the organization. Along with the attention, SCA will help property owners connect with local, state and federal preservation programs. 

Established in 1977, the SCA is the oldest national organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape. The SCA offers publications, conferences, and tours to help preserve, document, and celebrate the structures and architecture of the 20th century: diners, highways, gas stations, drive-in theaters, bus stations, tourist courts, neon signs, and more. 

“We’ve encouraged research and appreciation of highway architecture over the years. Now it’s the time to move toward advocacy, as more roadside places are threatened,” says Sturm. 

For more information http://www.sca-roadside.org/

But Who Owns the Fizz?

Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a coca leaf while addressing the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York 19 September 2006. (Photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)


From Counterpunch.org 

It’s the Real Thing

Bolivia’s Coca Colla

By Nicholas Kozloff

Move over Coca-Cola: here comes Bolivia. 

The Andean nation’s indigenous people have long resented the U.S. beverage company for usurping the name of their sacred coca leaf.  Now, they are aiming to take back their heritage.  Recently, the government of Evo Morales announced that it would support a plan to produce a coca-based soft drink which would rival its fizzy American counterpart.  

It’s still unclear whether the new drink will be promoted by a private company, a state enterprise, or some type of joint venture between the two. 

The new beverage will be called Coca Colla, in reference to age old history: in Bolivia, Quechua, Aymara and other indigenous peoples descended from the Incas are known as collas. 

In a move that will undoubtedly exasperate Coke, Bolivian officials say Coca Colla will feature a black swoosh and red label similar to the classic Coca-Cola insignia.  Coca Colla reportedly has a black color, just like normal Coke, and could be sold on the market as early as April.  

“Coca Cola robbed from us the name of our coca leaf and moreover has cornered the market all over the world,” says Julio Salazar, Secretary General of the Bolivian Coca Growers’ Federation and Senator from Evo Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism Party (known by its Spanish acronym MAS).  “It is high time that the true owners of this natural resource benefit by industrializing our coca,” he added. 

Bolivians would like to overturn the negative stigma attached to coca leaf.  Morales, an Aymara Indian, says that coca in its natural state does not harm human health, and that scientific research has demonstrated the plant to be “healthy.” When drug smugglers change coca into cocaine, Morales adds, they change the plant’s chemical composition. 

While the Bolivian president condemns such practices, he also touts the commercial uses of coca leaf.  Bolivia’s new constitution, drafted by the ruling MAS party, recognizes coca as Bolivia’s “cultural heritage, a natural and renewable resource of biodiversity in Bolivia and a factor of social cohesion” and adds that coca leaf is not a narcotic in its natural state… 

For Kozloff’s full article and info on his new book No Rain in the Amazon, click here. 


Antiques Roadshow Infection Alert

This semester, in our “Heritage Narratives” seminar, we have been looking at all the different ways that heritage stories are told:  Novels, Films, Documentaries, News Stories, School Essay Contests, Genealogies (and the genealogical TV shows and websites), guided tours, computer games, and social networking sites.  And we examine the strikingly similar tropes, symbols, and storylines that lay behind each of these genres.

But certainly the wackiest heritage narrative is the “Dream of Riches”– that ever-popular televised genre perfected by the Antiques Roadshow, in which the guest character discovers if his/her antique is treasure or trash.  All that blah, blah, blah about provenance, historical background, and craftsmanship is just a prelude to the electric moment when the monetary value of the object is revealed:

What became clear in our discussions (not only of Antiques Roadshow, but also art auctions, antiques flea markets, and E-bay) is that the repeated enactment of the “Dreams of Riches” scenario is really a public ritual of the industrial age:  in which the “use” or “sentimental” value of a piece of heritage is replaced by its market value.  And that market value, that monetary commodification, trumps everything.

It’s certainly something to think about not only on the individual level, but also at the level of communities and states.  How often has an old neglected part of the landscape be seen with new eyes as a potential tourist attraction?  Is the World Heritage List process just another form of the Antiques Roadshow?

It’s also a sign of a stage of globalization when markets and commodification begin to penetrate and disintegrate other exchange systems and human networks.  My thanks to exchange student Wen Hui for pointing out the following article:

From The Independent:

China’s antique lovers turn to TV for education


Thursday, 1 April 2010

China has in the past few years begun to buy back the antiques and art works that have for centuries been spread all over the world, and at the same time the country’s new generation of collectors is learning how to recognize exactly what is real and what is not.

And much of that newfound knowledge has come thanks to a series of television shows which lift the lid on the nation’s antique industry.

China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage claims there were 70 million antique collectors in the country in 2005 – but there are around 90 million now. And that increased interest has seen TV programmers acting fast.

China’s state-run station CCTV launched the country’s first show to deal directly with the antique industry – Artwork Investment – in 2001 but the country’s media has this week reported there are now 50 such programs screening across the nation.

The top-rated Xun Bao – or “Treasure Hunt” – airs weekly on CCTV-2 and claims 27 million viewers per episode.

That show features a team of experts searching for treasures in far-flung corners of China. They then explain how to identify what the piece is, when it was made – and what it might be worth.

Another top-rated show takes a different tact.

Tian Xia Shou Cang – or “World Collection” – often gets collectors to bring their antiques in to the studio for appraisal. If they are found to be fakes, down comes a hammer to smash the offending piece to smithereens.

And the show’s host, actor Wang Gang, makes no apologies. “This is done so the fakes never reappear on the market,” he told the China Daily newspaper.

The common theme among the shows’ producers is that they are helping protect Chinese culture. And Chinese collectors are doing the same….

For full article, click here.