Translate? Traduire? übersetzen? ?לתרגם Traducir? Tradurre?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anna Leonowens vs. Rachel Dolezal Part 1.

Look at the Victorian woman in this photo, sitting there with her parted hair and her the barrel-hooped petticoats under her skirts. She seems comfortable with the various Indian young women around her, some likely Hindu, some Muslim, some Parsee (descended from Persian Zoroastrians who immigrated to India in previous generations) some perhaps untouchable. The white woman is probably a British missionary or perhaps a Headmistress of a school. All the girls grouped around her are very young. The only older Indian woman is the one on our right looking at the others rather than at the camera. Notice how the Indian women sit around the white woman as though she were a queen.

This photo was taken around the era in which Anna Leonowens grew up, like this photo, in British Colonial India. Though she presented herself as the red-headed Welsh widow of a British officer, descended from British gentry, Harriet Anna Leonowens was born in India, her great-great, grandfather a saddler, her great-grandfather a Brimstone-preaching Methodist in the days when Methodism was an outrageous new sect that preached--astonishingly--that all men are equal, her grandfather then barely a "gentleman."

Even more astonishingly, Anna's grandmother, about whom we know next to nothing, was a girl very similar to the young woman of this photo, more than likely a mistress or "concubine," of her grandfather.

Her mother, in what was the very best option for the time for a "half-caste" girl was married at fourteen to a much older enlisted man, Anna's father, who died a few months before Anna was born.  With few other options, a six-month pension and no funds, Mary Ann married again, an Irish blacksmith turned Sapper/Miner in the British Army (the people who dug tunnels and set explosions to bring down walled cities during military campaigns.) Mary Ann, already the mother of three  including Anna, gave this Donohoe nine other children, while living in cramped, close quarters, and providing the British military with yet another tool as she aided her husband in his work. In fact, according to Anna's later stories, Mary Ann risked her life to protect the payroll that her husband was assigned to guard. (Of course, Mary Ann was also risking her life to save her husband's career.)

In this narrow world, the fact of Anna's mixed race meant most doors were closed to her. Her best option was to be removed from her family and sent to a school for mixed-race girls like herself. She, her sister and a cousin attended such a school which sounds a lot worse than Jane Eyre's boarding school and more like Tribal Boarding schools in the U.S. harsh goals designed to remove the girls from "chee-chee," culture and train them to be, like their mother, useful helpmates to British enlisted men.

When they reached the age of fourteen or fifteen, they were kitted out with a small dowry. On a regular basis, older, steady enlisted men visited the school and sat in a parlor where they were given a choice among them such girls for a wife.  Anna's other sister,  Mary Anne, married such a steady older man--twenty-some years older.

Anna refused to do so. Instead, she married a fiery young Anglo-Irishman, and headed off with him to Australia and the beginning of a life of struggle, loss, gain and adventure. She cut all ties with her mixed-race family, claimed her complexion had been forever darkened by her years under the Asian sun, and used the tale of her governessing for the King of Siam as a launching point into American society, where, as a supposedly very proper British woman of very high pedigree, she lectured about how British ideals saved Siam from slavery. Her spine straightened by whalebone, her discipline hardened by a mother raised, as she was, in a harsh British boarding school, her mind forever questioning, Anna broke free of the mold and became the very model of British upper-class uprightness, providing a living for herself and propelling her daughter, Avis, into the Canadian upper class.

No comments:

Post a Comment