The devshirme system began in the late 14th century. Christian boys were recruited by force to serve the Ottoman government. The boys were generally taken from the Balkan provinces, converted to Islam, and then passed through a series of examinations to determine their intelligence and capabilities. In special palace schools, they learned Arabic, Persian, Turkish, math, calligraphy,... Read More »
The Khoikhoi were semi-nomadic pastoralists (herders of sheep and cattle), who hunted game and gathered edible plants, nuts, roots, berries, and honey to supplement their diets. There was a division of labor between men and women: men hunted and tended the cattle while women looked after small stock and gathered food in the surrounding countryside. One of the implements used by women was the... Read More »
In the late 17th century, an anonymous artist did a series of impromptu sketches and set pieces showing Khoikhoi at the Cape of Good Hope. The artist seems to have been interested in capturing natural movement and depicting actual articles of Khoikhoi clothing or activities in which they engaged, rather than falling back on the stereotypes that tended to be perpetuated in European books about... Read More »
Bonaparte’s secretary naively complained how the hopes of the French invasion were shattered by the reality of the situation in Egypt. He clearly expected that the invaded would regard the French as liberators instead of attackers.
The same image can be valued differently over time and in different cultures. Take, for example, the long journey in time and space of images and hieroglyphic writing that cover the surfaces of the coffins of mummies from Egypt. In their own period, several thousand years ago, the presence of the images and writing were an essential element in the ritual of death and burial of an important... Read More »
The photograph at the top shows two children gazing into the soft light of a fanoos [fan-NOOS], or traditional Ramadan lantern. In the photograph below, Ramadan lanterns are hung outside a shop in a section of medieval Cairo. As far as is known, the tradition originated in Egypt, perhaps as long ago as pharaonic times, when it may have announced the Nile flood. The tradition in its current... Read More »
The following excerpt focuses on Ibn Battuta (1304-1369), a Moroccan Berber scholar and explorer, who traveled extensively in Central Asia, China, northern and eastern Africa, as well as the Mediterranean for much of his adult life. While the details of some of his diaries may exaggerate what he saw and experienced, they do give an interesting portrayal of customs in the places in which he... Read More »
In 1526, the king of the Kongo, Nzinga Mbemba (who by this time had adopted the Christian name of Afonso I) began writing a series of 24 letters to the Portuguese King Joao III appealing for an end to the slave trade. While a trading relationship had been in place between Portugal and Kongo since the 1480s, Afonso was increasingly unhappy that the relationship between both countries had... Read More »