Uppity Women: The Women’s March

Uppity Women: The Women's March

Uppity Women: The Women’s March

At this moment in time, it would not be appropriate to write about any other uppity women than the women who took part in The Women’s March. Or should I say Women’s Marches because there were marches all over the globe. Women and men took part in marches to express their concerns regarding women’s rights, civil rights, climate change and other issues they fear could be under threat from Donald Trump’s presidency. There were marches in such far flung places as Cape Town, Sydney, Berlin, London, Paris, Nairobi and Antarctica. And women marched across the United States. In Washington D.C. the Women’s March turned into a rally because marchers simply could not march due to there were so many people. Meanwhile an estimated 250,000 people rallied in Chicago. In New York approximately 100,000 people marched past Mr. Trump’s home in the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

Marches also occurred in state capitals such as St. Paul where an estimated 100,000 people turned out to express their concern over a Trump presidency. Thousands gathered in Lansing. About 50,000 marchers participated in Portland, Oregon.

 

Pink Pussy Hats

During the marches many women wore pink, knitted hats with cat corners– the pussyhats. The homemade hats referenced a video from 2005 where Donald Trump described how he assaults women by grabbing them by the genitals. The PussyHat Project started in Los Angeles, originating from Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman. Suh has said she wanted to visually show solidarity among women in regards to Trump’s attitude towards women. Being from California, she also wanted to stay warm. What began as a knitting project among friends at the Little Knittery, spread. Soon knitting groups all across the United States began churning out the hats and craft stores reported shortages of pink yarn. Knitters in places such as Australia and Austria made hats. The goal was to knit 1.1 million hats. Many pink hats sprinkled the photos of the D.C. march.

Speakers

Not only did ordinary people march to show their concerns, many prominent celebrities and politician’s spoke at the Women’s March yesterday.  Speaking first, America Ferrera energized the crowd by saying:

“We march today for the moral core of this nation, against which our new president is waging a war. Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack, and a platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday. But the president is not America. … We are America, and we are here to stay.”

Continuing the rally, women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem spoke and said,

“We have people power and we will use it.”

In addition, other speakers included Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, Madonna, actresses Ashley Judd and Scarlett Johansson and director Michael Moore among others. At one point a group of senators and house representatives took the stage together. This group included Kirsten Gillibrand, Claire McCaskill, Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth, Maxine Waters, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Cory Booker.

Where Do We Go From Here?

While the Women’s Marches yesterday demonstrated the power of people acting and speaking together, we aren’t done. Continuing, we have more work to do. Activities, such as watching our elected officials, writing to them, and making sure they act in our best interests. Each of us needs to stay informed — including critically evaluating news sources and not allowing “alternative facts” from Trump’s administration to gaslight us into tyranny. Further, we need to identify people we can run for local, state and national elected positions.

We also need to caucus and create a list of positive goals– goals such as equal rights and equal pay for women, funding of Planned Parenthood, funding of research and initiatives for women’s health, funding and continued protection for parental leave, an examination and reform of our tax structure to more equally distribute wealth, protection for our National Parks, creating legislation to address climate change, protection for immigrants from xenophobia, addressing civil rights concerns regarding police actions, raising minimum wage, funding education, …

In conclusion, let’s keep the momentum going!

 

 

 

Comets and Uppity Women

woodcut comet image, Comets and Uppity Women

Comets and Uppity Women

Comets and Uppity Women. The thought might arise these two things have little in common, but Bathsua Makin said,

“A learned woman is thought to be a comet, that bodes mischief whenever it appears.”

Hunter-Gatherer Egalitarianism?

I recently read an article in The Guardian about a study of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies conducted by anthropologists at University College London. I still need to track down the paper the article was based on. The Guardian quoted one of the authors of the study as saying, “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

Anthropologists for a long time have puzzled over why while people in hunter-gatherer societies show strong preferences for living with family members, in practice few closely related individuals make up the groups they live in. The study focused on computer simulations based on the assumption people would chose to populate an empty camp with their close kin– siblings, parents and children. When the choice was male dominated, the simulation showed a pattern closer to male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies. When the choice was more sexually egalitarian, a pattern closely resembling the observed pattern of the contemporary hunter-gatherers emerged. And each hunter-gatherer group has far flung connections with many different hunter-gatherer groups.

The authors of the paper make a case for sexual equality as an evolutionary advantage for humans because then early humans would have had wider networks to interact with. With the advent of agriculture, our species skewed towards male dominance.  Agriculture brought with it the opportunity to accumulate possessions and wealth. It also meant groupings with men living with their brothers. The men’s wives were at the fringes of the group. A man’s children and relatives would be more numerous than the relatives within the group of any adult female member. And women lost their voices.

Losing Our Voices

Women lost their voices and many were forgotten through history. How many other Boudica lead armies? What female leaders and advisors’ names have been lost? What tales of adventuresome women are no longer told? How many inventive women’s engineering accomplishments were ascribed to men? How many women writers’ works have been lost? Can we continue with only a portion of the story? Can we survive with only a portion of humanity’s possible contributions?

Women in History and Feminism

I don’t have time or space in this one post to write a history of feminism. There have been powerful women, strong feminine voices, and human females all through out history. And not all of them are famous like Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic pharaoh of Egypt before Egypt became a Roman province. Or Queen Elizabeth I who was the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Most of the women in history who were accomplished, outspoken, adventuresome, powerful or extraordinary in other ways are not routinely mentioned in history books. I have written posts about several of them in the past on this blog. Women such as Ching Shih, Ada Lovelace, Grandy Nanny, and Queen Nzinga Mbande.

Further, there is a tradition of female intellectual resistance to oppression and repressive cultural norms that goes back centuries and includes women such as Christine de Pizan, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf and many others. I opened this post with a quote from Bathsua Makin.

Bathsua Makin

Bathsua Makin was the daughter of a schoolmaster named Henry Reginald. Bathsua’s father was enlightened in an age when it was considered that girls should only learn “feminine” arts such as dancing, singing and needle crafts. He trained his daughter in classical and modern languages. Bathsua Makin wrote a book of poetry at the age of sixteen that included passages in Greek, Latin and French.

During the seventeenth century in English culture, women were subject to men. Family, education and religion were all male dominated institutions. Queen Elizabeth’s reign shook things up and women had enjoyed more freedoms during her lifetime, but with the ascendancy to the throne of James I previous societal patterns returned. With one exception, Protestantism encouraged everyone to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, including women. More women were taught to read. While women were relegated to the private, domestic sphere where they were under the governance of the men of the household, there was an undercurrent to challenge norms. While it was lauded for a man to publish his writings and take on a public voice, women were scorned for such an action. And still women such as Makin published.

Makin’s life was never easy. While she was considered “England’s most learned lady”, she struggled financially. Her husband, Richard Makin, was a minor court servant. When he lost his position, Bathsua petitioned for a position and was successful. She was a tutor to Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Charles I, and taught the girl mathematics, reading, writing and languages. After the death of the princess, Makin tutored Lucy Hastings, Dowager Countess of Huntingdon.

The Whole Nation Advantage

Makin understood the power of educating women. For ten years she ran a school at Tottenham High Cross. She advocated for teaching women a broad range of subjects including mathematics, history, science and languages. Dying at the age of 75, her life may have influenced many others in small and important ways. It’s hard to know what the impact of her work was in its totality. She wrote that educating women would give “the whole nation advantage”.

Comets and Uppity Women

It has been a while since I wrote about women through history who did unexpected, extraordinary, revolutionary things. Everybody needs role models. I feel society has taken steps backwards towards less egalitarianism and moved towards being more male dominated. In my opinion this development hurts our species. The challenges of our current time period require all the talent, hearts and minds available to us. As women we need to know women before us pushed boundaries, spoke out, and contributed. If writing about these women is mischief, then I will strive to be a maker of such. Look for another post next Sunday.

Uppity Woman: Ruth Stout

Spring brings gardening. After a very long winter of too much snow, temperatures driven by the polar vortex, and ice that seeps into my bones, being out in the garden under the sun is glorious. Digging through the soil is meditative, uplifting, and grounding. I imagine the weeds of my garden as cartoon villains, the rose as an abuse loving damsel, the Stella d’oros as good citizens. My garden is an ongoing science experiment. I don’t expect much from it anymore. I am learning to do what I like in it, with it. If it gives me some strawberries, basil and a few tomatoes– that is a grand thing.

I read a fair amount. Study. I need to keep learning– so I have many subjects I delve into. Sustainable gardening is one of these.

I was introduced to a video of Ruth Stout a couple years ago at a permaculture design certification class offered at the Midwest Permaculture Institute

Ruth Stout gardened in a traditional manner for the first fifteen years of her gardening career. She was frustrated with having to wait to have her garden ploughed. In 1944, she decided to not plough and just plant her seeds. The “no-work” method of gardening was born. Ms. Stout lived to an old age and died in 1980. From 1955 through the 1970s Stout wrote several books on gardening and spoke throughout the US. Her method of gardening involves mulching with hay and not rototilling to simultaneously build the fertility of the soil, hold in moisture, and maintain fertility. The attached video is in English and translated into another language through subtitles. Ms. Stout was a free thinking, strong woman who was gardening and providing vegetables for herself and another through her old age. Uppity woman: Ruth Stout– she is an inspiration.

Ruth Stout’s Garden

Dangerous Women: Ching Shih

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When we think of pirates, we might think of such men as Edward Teach, Black Bart, or Henry Morgan. Edward Teach, Blackbeard, commanded a fleet of four ships and over 300 pirates. Black Bart seized over 400 ships. Henry Morgan was the terror of the Caribbean in the 1600s. Their “accomplishments” pale in comparison to the most successful pirate of all—a woman named Ching Shih. Ching Shih is known to have commanded more then 300 junks manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates. Her Red Flag fleet, which was a coalition of pirate fleets, may have included upwards of 1800 ships manned by over 80,000 people. From 1807 until 1810 she dominated the South China Sea and a merchant ship could not sail anywhere from Korea to Malaysia without purchasing a license ensuring safe passage from her. She also “retired” from pirating, was allowed to keep her wealth, and lived to the ripe age of 69.

 

Ching Shih’s early life is mostly unknown. She was born in 1775 in Guangdong province. Her birth name may have been Shil Xiang Gu. Ching Shih means the “wife of Zheng Yi”. As a young woman she enters history as a Cantonese prostitute on one of the renowned floating brothels. In 1801, at the age of 26, she was captured by the notorious pirate Zheng Yi. He had fallen in love with her and set his pirates to raid the brothel and bring her back as his portion of the loot. Zheng Yi was from a lineage of pirates that extended back to the mid-seventeenth century. He commanded a fleet of several ships called the Red Flag Fleet. When she appeared before him, it is rumored that she scratched his face and refused to marry him unless he allowed her to co-command with him and to receive a share of the loot equal to his. Zheng Yi agreed.

 

With Ching Shih beside him, Zheng Yi’s fleet grew. By 1807, because of alliances that they made with the Cantonese Pirate Coalition and with another pirate named Wu Shi’er, 1700-1800 ships were at their command. And because of their successes, more and more pirate ships joined them. Then tragedy struck. Zheng Yi’s ship was caught in a typhoon and all aboard perished. Ching Shih, did not step aside. She offered to co-command with Zheng Yi’s second in command, a 21 year old man named Chang Pao who Zheng Yi had adopted as his son.

 

Ching Shih set up an ad hoc government to rule her pirates. She established a businesslike framework, which included taxes. Ching Shih set in place an absolute code of conduct that made the pirate code of the Spanish Main look tame. Disobeying an order would result in a pirate being beheaded. Stealing from the common plunder before it was accounted for and divided properly would result in being beheaded. Ugly women were set free. Beautiful women could be purchased for marriage and were expected to be treated appropriately. If a pirate ill-treated his wife he would be punished. Raping a woman meant death. Consensual sex while on duty meant beheading for the male pirate and the woman would be dropped into the ocean with cannon balls to weigh her down to the ocean floor. If a pirate or a pirate ship harassed a town, merchant, farmer or anyone that the Red Flag Fleet had an agreement with or received support from, the pirate or pirates would be beheaded. If a pirate tried to desert, their ears were chopped off to announce their humiliation as a coward.

 

Thinking beyond the norms, Ching Shih did not limit the raiding by her ships to the open sea. She used numerous shallow bottom boats to traverse up China’s rivers to raid towns inland. Two towns banded together to form a small fleet to try to defeat the Red Flag Fleet. They were annihilated.

 

For the Chinese Emperor this was a humiliation. He raised a naval fleet to attack Ching Shih’s fleet. Ching Shih met his fleet head on rather than run. She routed the Emperor’s navy. She captured 63 large ships and impressed thousands of recruits from his sailors by offering them the choice of joining with her or having their feet nailed to the deck and being beaten with clubs.

 

The Emperor of the Qing Dynasty was at a loss. He turned to the aid of the British and Portugese navies. He offered large sums of money to Dutch mercenary ships to defeat the Red Flag Fleet. These combined forces engaged with Ching Shih’s ships repeatedly. And were repeatedly defeated. No one sailed in the ocean waters where her fleet held sway without her permission and she was ruthless to those who tried.

 

In 1810, the Emperor offered her amnesty if she was willing to kneel before him as his subject. She refused these terms. The official who had performed her marriage ceremony when she became Zheng Yi’s wife offered a solution. He proposed that Ching Shih kneel before the Emperor not in subjugation but rather in thanks for allowing her to maintain her wealth and for the offer of amnesty. Ching Shih agreed and negotiated a peace with the Emperor. Her fleet was to disband, her ships were to be given up, and amnesty was extended to all pirates under her command except 376 individuals who were brought up on various other crimes. Ching Shih also negotiated for herself that she was to be given an aristocratic title, “Lady by Imperial Decree”, which entitled her to various legal protections.

 

Ching Shih retired at the age of 35. She settled down at first with Chang Pao and they had a son. When he died unexpectedly, she moved to the countryside and opened a gambling house and brothel. She lived to the age of 69 and had a grandson. Ching Shih made her way in a dangerous world. She seized every opportunity, went beyond anyone’s expectations of what was possible, and lived well.

Dangerous Women: Ada Lovelace

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Dangerous Women: Ada Lovelace

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was 26 years old when she wrote what would later be described as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine and earning her the title of being the world’s first computer programmer. Lovelace described herself as an “Analyst and Metaphysician” and her approach as being “poetical science”.

Lovelace was the legitimate daughter of Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella “Annabella” Byron, nee Milbanke. All of Lord Byron’s other children were scandalously born out of wedlock. Lord Byron had wanted a boy and was disappointed that Lovelace was a girl. At his encouragement, Lovelace’s mother moved herself and the baby to her parents’ home while Ada was only one month old. Lord Byron signed separation papers shortly after; never attempted to gain custody of little Ada; and left England for good a few months later. Lovelace’s mother was bitter. She spoke frequently about Lord Byron’s depravity and immoral behavior. Lovelace’s mother encouraged her daughter’s mathematical interests in order to prevent Lovelace from developing the poetical insanity of her father. The sensational nature of the relationship between Lovelace’s mother and father made Ada famous in Victorian circles. Lovelace’s mother constantly feared that Lord Byron might try to obtain custody of Ada. While Annabella Milbanke had little interest in raising her daughter and left Ada to the care of her grandmother, Annabella did not want Lord Byron to have custody of the child. She wrote letters feigning interest in Ada. And told her mother to keep the letters in case they needed to argue for custody of Ada. Lady Annabella Milbanke’s stories about Lord Byron and “concerns” that her daughter might develop to be as depraved led to several of Lady Milbanke’s friends watching Ada closely as she became teenager for any signs of immoral behavior. Ada named these people “the Furies.”

In the midst of these emotionally difficult circumstances, Ada Lovelace grew up in her grandparents’ home. As a young child she was frequently ill. Despite her illnesses, Lovelace pursued her studies. She was privately tutored in mathematics and science by such Victorian intellectuals as: William Frend, Augustus De Morgan, and Mary Somerville. Frend was a radical social reformer. De Morgan was a reknowned British mathematician and logician. Somerville was a noted researcher and scientific author. When Lovelace was twelve, she decided she wanted to fly. She went about the project methodically—she studied the anatomy of birds; considered the length of their wingspan in proportion to their bodies, investigated different materials such as paper, wires and feathers; and she decided what equipment would be necessary for flight which included steam. She wrote a book, complete with illustration plates, about her investigation to create a flying machine. When Lovelace was seventeen, De Morgan wrote a letter to her mother stating that in his opinion Lovelace could become “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence.”

Lovelace was first introduced to Charles Babbage when she was seventeen years old. Lovelace’s prodigious mathematical abilities lead to her working with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Machine. He called her “The Enchantress of Numbers.”

Lovelace believed that intuition and imagination were important to use when employing mathematical and scientific concepts. Her creativity combined with intellectual ability allowed her to imagine creating a mathematical model of how the brain works. She could conceptualize leaps with mathematics, using mathematics to discern the unseen and test theories, creating diverse with mathematics.

In a paper she translated from the work of an Italian engineer on the Analytical Machine, Lovelace included her own elaborate set of notes, simply titled “Notes”. These notes included the algorithm– which was a complete method for using the Analytical Engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. If the algorithm had been run, it would have worked. Lovelace was a visionary. She could see applications of computers far beyond simply calculating numbers. She pondered heady questions such as how individuals and society relate to technology. She wrote

 

The Analytical Engine “might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…

“Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

 

Lovelace died of uterine cancer when she was 36 years old. She was brilliant and far ahead of her time.

 

Dangerous Women: Grandy Nanny

While there is little clear physical evidence about Grandy Nanny and she is only mentioned four times in historical texts, Grandy Nanny is a Jamaican cultural hero who lived in the eighteenth century. She is revered in Jamaica for her role in Jamaican independence. Her image adorns the $500 bill. Much of what is known about Grandy Nanny has come down through oral tradition passed along by her descendants and she is as much a myth as a historical figure.

Grandy Nanny began her life as a royal member of the Ashanti tribe. She was trained in the religion of Obeah to be a priestess and medicine woman. Kidnapped in western Africa in an intertribal conflict, she and her brothers were sold into slavery. Once they were in Jamaica, they quickly escaped and went into the hills. Grandy Nanny created a community of free men, women, and children in what would become Nanny Town. Her brothers created other settlements and her brother Captain Cudjoe was the leader of the Leeward Maroons and founded Cudjoe Town.

As the leader of the Windward Maroons, Grandy Nanny was only one leader of several groups of escaped slaves who formed independent tribal groups around the Caribbean and ran their communities in a similar way to tribal villages in Africa. Many of the the members of the Maroons were from the Akan region of Western Africa, but slaves from other areas also joined their ranks. The former slaves also inter-married with the indigenous Arawaks. Archeological evidence of some of these various communities suggests that the different Maroon groups traded with Spanish and later British plantations or settlements, exchanging produce and livestock for cloth, weapons, and other items. In addition the Maroons obtained necessities by leading raids against the plantations and settlements to free more slaves and to drive the British out of Jamaica.

Around 1720, Nanny and her husband settled in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Between 1728 and 1734, the Maroon communities were frequently attacked by the British who saw the settlements of escaped slaves as lost wealth and property. Grandy Nanny chose her location for its strategic importance. It overlooked the Stony River from atop a 900 foot ridge, making a surprise attack by the British practically impossible. The Windward Maroons also organized look-outs to watch for an attack and used a horn called an abeng to call their warriors to battle if the British turned up.

Several times Grandy Nanny personally lead attacks on the British. The British were flabbergasted that an old sorcerer woman had organized and was leading the attacks. It was rumored that Grandy Nanny’s spiritual powers assisted her in resisting the British. They began a manhunt specifically for Grandy Nanny to stop the rebellion. She retreated into the highest mountains of Jamaica and continued her strategy of guerilla warfare against the Redcoats who she called “red ants.” Over the course of 30 years, Grandy Nanny freed more than 800 slaves in her raids on plantations.

In March 1733, there is a written citation in the Journal for the Assembly of Jamaica that notes Grandy Nanny’s death. It reads:

“for ‘resolution, bravery and fidelity’ awarded to ‘loyal slaves . . . under the command of Captain Sambo’, namely William Cuffee, who was rewarded for having fought the Maroons in the First Maroon War and who is called ‘a very good party Negro, having killed Nanny, the rebels old obeah woman.'”

Most likely Cuffee was a type of hired soldier known as a “Black Shot” and he was motivated by a reward to fight against the Maroons. The use of these “Black Shots” was a common practice by plantation owners to discourage slaves from escaping. Grandy Nanny is buried at “Bump Grave” in Moore Town which is another settlement that was established by the Windward Maroons.

In 1739 the British governor in Jamaica signed a peace treaty with the Windward and Leeward Maroons. A land grant promising 2500 acres in two locations was issued. The Maroons were to remain in their five main towns, namely Accompong, Trelawny Town, Mountain Top, Scots Hall, and Nanny Town. It was negotiated that they would live under their own chief, with a British supervisor. In exchange, the Maroons agreed not to liberate or hide new runaway slaves. Further, they would help to help catch the runaways and be paid for any runaway slaves that were caught. In addition, the fierce Maroons would be paid to fight for the British in the case of an attack from the French or Spanish.

Grandy Nanny was a very dangerous woman.

Poetry: Adrienne Rich’s “Wait” and “Tonight No Poetry Will Serve”

Adrienne Rich was a feminist and a poet who was born in Baltimore in 1929. She died on March 27,2012. W.S. Merwin described Rich as follows: “All her life she has been in love with the hope of telling utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful.” Her poetic career began with two collections that were praised for their fairy tale-like quality. In 1974 she was awarded the National Book Award for Diving into the Wreck. It was in 1973 in the midst of the feminist and civil rights movements, the Vietnam War, and her own personal distress that Rich wrote Diving into the Wreck. The collection was exploratory and contained angry poems. The fairy tale princess aspects had vanished. Rich accepted the award on behalf of all women and shared it with her fellow nominees, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde.

Rich over the course of her life received the Bollingen Prize, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the National Book Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship. She was also a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Outspoken and thoughtful in her politics in 1997, she refused the National Medal of Arts. She has been quoted as saying to explain her refusal, “I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration.” She further offered, “[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.” The same year, Rich was awarded the Academy’s Wallace Stevens Award for outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. She was a powerhouse wordsmith with heroic convictions.

Wait
BY ADRIENNE RICH

In paradise every
the desert wind is rising
third thought
in hell there are no thoughts
is of earth
sand screams against your government
issued tent hell’s noise
in your nostrils crawl
into your ear-shell
wrap yourself in no-thought
wait no place for the little lyric
wedding-ring glint the reason why
on earth
they never told you

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve
by Adrienne Rich

Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon’s eyelid

later spread
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but not oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping
elsewhere

Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve

Syntax of rendition:

verb pilots the plane
adverb modifies action

verb force-feeds noun
submerges the subject
noun is choking
verb disgraced goes on doing

now diagram the sentence

Dangerous Women: Voodoo Queen Marie LaVeau


Warm and sultry with a heat that mesmerizes and seduces, New Orleans is known in part for such things as Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, and its colorful history. The city’s reputation is also infused with the scent of rum-fed spirits, sightings of vampires walking white skinned down its boulevards, and the heartbeat rhythm of generations of voodoo drums.

Voodoo has a life in New Orleans. People can be seen with gris-gris bags attached to their belts and many of the folk remedies for a variety of ailments come straight from voodoo practice.

Who knows how early voodoo began in New Orleans? It was alive and well in the 1800’s. Such practitioners as Doctor John were invoking the Lwa, making gris-gris, and holding ceremonies with snakes and other animals at the inception of the nineteenth century. One of the most powerful voodoo priestesses that ever lived was Marie LaVeau.

In reading about Marie LaVeau it is hard to determine when and where she was born. Some accounts say that she was born in Haiti and some that she was born in the French Quarter of New Orleans to a wealthy landholder and his Creole wife who was a free woman of color somewhere around 1794. On August 4, 1819 she married Jacques Paris who was a free man who had immigrated from Haiti after the revolution in 1804. Their marriage certificate is preserved in Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. The marriage mass was performed by Pere Antoine. Jacques died a year later under mysterious circumstances. Marie LaVeau then married Christophe Glapion with whom she had 15 children. One of these children, Marie, inherited her charisma and later continued as the reigning voodoo queen of New Orleans.

Marie was raised as a Catholic and throughout her life she went to mass daily. While the connotations around the title of “voodoo queen” might imply something of a nefarious nature, Marie served the populace nobly. She administered to the sick throughout the yellow fever and cholera epidemics of her time period. In 1853 a committee of gentlemen, appointed at a mass meeting held at Globe Hall on the behalf of the community, requested that she tend to the fever stricken. She went out, worked tirelessly, fought the pestilence where it was thickest, and many survived because of her efforts.

Marie LaVeau was egalitarian in who she would create remedies and charms for. A slave could get a love potion or a remedy for a sick child for a small amount. The wealthy who came to her were charged in accordance to what they could afford. She presided over both private and public rituals. Rituals were performed at Bayou St. John, along Lake Pontchartrain, and outside of Congo Square. Rituals were held every Sunday afternoon which was a time that slaves had free.

Marie LaVeau’s voodoo included African elements of obeah that came from Haiti after New Orleans was flooded with refugees, references to Catholic saints and the use of incense, and preexisting voodoo and folk wisdom from the Creole community already in New Orleans. She had a very large snake named Zombi after an African god that she danced with during the public rituals. Her power and influence were legendary and no one began an endeavor of importance without first consulting the voodoo queen.

Some say that Marie LaVeau’s magical abilities did not derive from her voodoo practice, but rather from her ability to gather information. She began her career as a business woman as a hairdresser and a cook. She catered at first to those in jail and later to the wealthy of New Orleans society. It has been said that she was adept at listening closely and storing in her memory tidbits of gossip and overheard remarks that she later used to great effect. Another possibility is that she used her knowledge of herbal medicine and folk remedies to treat the slaves and household servants of the wealthy who she then employed to act as a network of informants. Whether Marie LaVeau’s clairvoyant abilities were paranormal in origin or had a more mundane explanation, she had significant influence over the activities in her society.

Marie LaVeau is said to be buried in her husband’s family crypt in Saint Louis Cemetery Number One. In the past people came and laid three silver coins at the base of the crypt to request her help with wishes and problems. People still visit the crypt and write three XXX’s on the wall to incur her favor because voodoo queens don’t just die, they pass on to a dimension alongside our own reality and they can still work their influence.

Dangerous Women: Queen Nzinga Mbande


Queen Nzinga Mbande was said to have been born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. This was an omen that she would be a proud woman. It was prophesied that she would become a queen.

In 17th century south west Africa, the Portuguese sought to colonize the region in order to control the trade in African slaves. They attacked many of their trading partners including the African kingdom of Ndongo where Nzinga’s family ruled. At the time her brother King Ngola Mbandi was forced to flee his country when the governor of Luanda invaded the capital as part of an aggressive campaign to conquer and colonize the area. Thousands died. Thousands were taken captive.

The king sent Nzinga to negotiate a treaty with the Portuguese. When she met with the governor, Joao Correia de Sousa, he did not offer her a chair. Instead he asserted that she was a subordinate by placing a floor mat where she was to sit. Refusing to bow to the governor, Nzinga summoned one of her servants. She had him kneel on the floor and she sat upon his back placing herself at a similar stature to the governor. Rumor has it that at the end of the negotiations she had the servant beheaded in front of the Portuguese to show her fearlessness. The Ndongo people did not submit and assume vassalage under the Portuguese.

The treaty with the Portuguese was never honored despite in a show of good faith Nzinga Mbande had converted to Christianity. The Portuguese never withdrew and never returned their captives. Nzinga Mbande’s brother committed suicide and she became queen. Rumors abounded that she had poisoned him and the Portuguese used the rumors to not honor her right to succeed him.

Queen Nzinga Mbande refused to be subjugated under the Portuguese. She made an alliance with the Dutch and with Dutch reinforcements she routed a Portuguese army in 1647. She laid siege to the Portuguese capital of Masangano. When the Portuguese recaptured Luanda in 1648, she retreated to Matamba and continued to resist Portugal. She and her two sisters personally lead their troops into battle.

In 1657 after a decade of battle, she made peace with the Portuguese and included in the treaty that they would supply support to her family as allies to maintain them as the ruling family. She devoted her later years to resettling former slaves. Legends abound that she had a male harem that she required to dress as women, that men were beheaded after one night of pleasure with her, and that to show her ferocity she ate human flesh. Despite numerous attempts to dethrone her, Queen Nzinga Mbande remained in power until her death at the age of 80.

Dangerous Women: Mochizuki Chiyome

Do you remember the James Bond movie Octopussy? Maud Adams played a woman who was the head of a secret organization of women thieves and spies. There is little known about her but Mochizuki Chiyome was a Japanese noblewoman from the 16th century who was the head of a secret organization of female ninjas.

Chiyome was the wife of the warlord Mochizuchi Nobumasa who was from Shinano and the head of Mochizuki Castle. Whenever he was off making war, she was in charge of the castle. After his death in 1575, it is rumored that her husband’s uncle approached her and offered her the chance to be in charge of an underground network of kunoichi agents. Kunoichi means “deadly flowers” and he was offering her the chance to be at the head of a group of female warriors.

Medieval Japanese aristocratic politics were corrupt and ever changing. Samurai were more than warriors, they were spies, disseminators of subversion, and assassins. Despite that they did the noble class’ dirty work they weren’t paid very well. As popular as they are now in modern culture, during their time they were paid a wage akin to that of someone who works in a fast food chain. Chiyome who was recently widowed had the skills of a ninja, but to become a ninja was unacceptable. She decided to become the sensei to the kunoichi.

Locked away in her compound, Chiyome began to recruit. Those taking note thought that she was simply taking in unfortunate girls and women. Her recruits were orphaned and abandoned girls, runaways, and downtrodden women. Nobody on the outside seemed to hear the whistle of sword blades cutting the air or the zing of throwing stars hitting targets.

In Chiyome’s Kunoichi School for Wayward Girls, the girls were trained in the martial arts. They learned to use knives, swords, spears, and halberds. They also learned the art of disguise, how to use their feminine wiles, how to escape, and to improvise. Sometimes a fan would be sharpened to have a razor sharp edge or a hairpin would be dipped in poison in order to bring death to a target. It is rumored that at the height of Chiyome’s power she had 200-300 agents that were working for the Takeda clan and kept the daimyo Takeda Shingen informed of all happenings within the countryside. Her women could be anywhere. A washer-woman, actress, maid, market seller, or geisha might be one of her deadly flowers. Madame Chiyome was truly a dangerous woman.