No Man’s Land (2015-) By Nicola Roos We should not enclose what we deem to be our racial or ethnic cultural heritage within the walls of Jericho. – Kgalema Mothlanthe, 2012 Since discovering the medium in early 2015, I have primarily been working in life-size figurative sculptural installations constructed out of recycled rubber tyre tubing. I investigate the origins of civilization and society, as well as the ever-changing politics of national identity, collective memory and cultural belonging in the postcolonial world. The point of reference for my 2015 debut installation at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, No Man’s Land, was the only black Samurai ever written into recorded history: a man of African descent, known only by the name of Yasuke (pronounced yas-kay), who was taken from his homeland - presumably in East Africa - and came to serve under an influential daimyō (feudal lord) in late 16th-century Japan. His legacy of cross- cultural exchange shifted the focus to a new world state of ethnographic modernity and the transient fixity of culture and tradition. My interest in colonial history and the commemoration of abstruse individuals was sparked by the little-known narrative of Yasuke and the myriad of socio-cultural implications that ripple outwards from this remarkable man in Africa and abroad. In The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory (2000), Adam, Beck & Loon argue that the Western concept of high/low, grid/group distinctions, that were previously used in the analysis and classification of societies, cannot be mapped onto actually existing societies in a straightforward way any longer. Cultural change, in response to socio- economical, historical or political forces, reflects better knowledge of alternative cultures and such knowledge leads to cultural mergers: new syntheses in languages, religion, and other domains. Thus it can be said that, above all, the majority of cultures today exhibit transient fixity. This is often referred to as individualism-collectivism – a new form of consciousness transforming the global cultural experience today. In The Predicament of Culture, author James Clifford (1988) offers a poem by William Carlos Williams about a housekeeper, “Elsie”. This girl is of mixed blood – with a divided common ancestry – and no real collective roots to trace. In the poem, Williams observes that this is the direction that the world is moving in, as Clifford then states —“an inevitable momentum.” Clifford is of the subsequent belief that, “in an inter-connected world, culture is always to varying degrees, ‘inauthentic.’” These so-called “impure” cultures have conflicted with the forces of ‘progress’ and ‘national’ unification. This has led to “many traditions, languages, cosmologies, and values [being] lost, some literally murdered”. The argument here is that, inevitably, all cultures either will, or have experienced this, and in the end have transformed into an alternate version (or versions) of themselves. This predicament has come to be called ethnographic modernity: ethnographic because Williams (like us) finds himself unbalanced among dispersed traditions; modernity, since the state of rootlessness and continuous motion he meets has become an increasingly common fate. "Elsie" simultaneously represents an indigenous cultural cessation and a shared future. To Williams, her story is inescapably both his own and everyone's: accepting this inter- connectivity is not the same as accepting cultural decline into a nightmare of syncretic circumstances. My work suggests that this shifting state of culture and the resulting sense of alienation is so much more apparent at the dawn of what curator/author Okwui Enwezor (2008) terms post-Westernism – a possibly threatening, unstable no man’s land that we find ourselves in today. However, my characters – like the various articulations of Yasuke that form the basis of my exploration into this segment of the past – are no longer individuals, but rather elements of an imagined realm beyond official history. They are the embodiment of a local cultural breakdown and a communal future where beliefs, assumptions and knowledge about place and culture can be de-constructed and re-negotiated. The socio-political events of late, such as the nation-wide call for the decolonisation of tertiary education systems and the Africanisation of existing knowledge bases, has encouraged South Africans to look back upon their ancestries. This grandiose attempt to unravel the labyrinthine processes of colonisation that still holds our country in its suffocating grip has driven us to re- examine our individual places in history and rediscover our sense of ethnographic and cultural belonging during this tempestuous period. These events, too, have prompted the recurrence of the notion of diasporic indigeneity. Social theorist Erich Tree (2015) describes this concept as a bourgeoning understanding of the self that amalgamates the migrant’s claim to his “new place(s) of residence” and his standing within the homeland of his ancestors. This creates a mental “re-territorialization” of two separate geographic locations into a single, conceptual “super-territory”. Here the migrant sets himself apart from the colonist in the sense that he does not harbour a desire for a social or political reunification or the repossession or domination of this new super-territory. However, diasporic indigeneity does not serve as the anathema to colonialism that we may be seeking: Graham & Penny suggest that it should rather be perceived as a “‘force’ that is able to act in spite of the ravages of history […], a compulsion to remember: the capacity […] to retain knowledge of the past, a framework that allows the present to exist at all.” It is indeed a force, a mode of identity that is made visible through commemorative action and can only truly be understood with reference to the body. Diasporic indigeneity does not typically recognise an established sense of self or is concerned with contentions of authenticity; rather, it invokes the vocabularies of dynamic lived experience that have ordinarily been silenced, disregarded or dis-remembered within the context of the modern urban world. To me, the body that represents this notion most articulately can be rediscovered within the very context of the colonial past: that of Yasuke (彌介), born circa 1555–1566. His existence is mentioned in the letters written between Jesuits Luis Frois and Lorenco Mexia in 1581, in the Annual Report of the Jesuit Mission in Japan (1582) and in the sixteen-volume-long compilation of the The Nobunaga Chronicle (2011). Even though his origins are shrouded in mystery, the general consensus seems to be that he was a Mozambican slave of the Makua tribe taken to the East in 1579 by a Jesuit missionary, Alessandro Valignano. Likely originally named Yasufe (Yasuke being the phonetic Japanese adaption), this 6-foot-tall youth caught the attention of Oda Nobunaga (c. 1534-1582), one is widely regarded as one of the three primary unifiers of Japan (Chaplin, 2018). Nobunaga was reportedly curious about Yasuke’s black skin and is known to have ordered him to take a bath and scrub himself to prove that the colour was not a result of ink (Strom, 2017). Nonetheless, his respect for the compassionate and charismatic foreigner soon grew, andhe appointed Yasuke to his personal guard in 1580. In 1581, Yasuke was promoted to the rank of Samurai and stationed at Azuchi Castle. This prompted the warlord to invite Yasuke to a banquet with him and his family, which was a privilege rarely afforded even to far more senior samurai. During the same year, Yasuke was promoted to the coveted position of Nobunaga’s sword-bearer and was allowed to carry his own katanas. Despite his profound skill in combat, he was also revered for his linguistic abilities: within only two years of his arrival, Yasuke was able to speak fluent Japanese. After Nobunaga was overthrown and killed in a coup by Mitsuhide – the general under which Yasuke had served – in 1582, the Mozambican returned to Valignano and his company of Jesuits. Valignano reportedly “thanked God” (Strom, 2017) for Yasuke’s safe return and acknowledged the role that he had played in the nascent struggle for the unification of feudal Japan. Yasuke consequently disappeared from historicalrecord. Five centuries later, Yasuke has become the catalyst that compels us to remember the magnificent feats of an African deep within the colonial world at the very beginning of European expansion. This is my embodiment of commemorative action that augments the strength of community rather than any singular identity: this Yasuke survives beyond official history in a super-territory (Graham & Penny, 2014) – he exists purely as a compulsion to remember where we came from and what we have done together in the face of the acrimonious forces of colonial occupation. He is the framework of our contemporary feelings of nationalism, the heritage that we often feel we are no longer able to trace. In this series, Yasuke is the migrant rather than the colonist, re-territorialising a vast mental no man’s land that stretches from Africa to the Far East instead of participating in a conquest to reclaim an extraneous (home)land. Laden with the weight of his costume of inner tyre tubes – possibly one of the last tangible vestiges of colonial cruelty as it was exemplified on the rubber plantations of Africa – Yasuke destabilizes notions of authentic cultural origin and practice that, in the colonial mind, were fixed in place and time. In this turbulent socio-political climate, Yasuke becomes the border between the colonial past and the de-colonial future. His diasporic indigeneity restores a sense of common cause in a transitional time when the need of this country truly is most dire. Reference list Adam, B., Beck, U. and Loon, J.V. (2000). The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory. [online] Google Books. SAGE. Available at: https://books.google.co.za/books?id=- L_5g_3c20kC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022]. Calvert, P. (2001). Internal Colonisation, Development and Environment. Third World Quarterly, [online] 22(1), pp.51–63. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3993345. Chaplin, D. (2018). Sengoku Jidai. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu: Three Unifiers of Japan. [online] Google Books. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform. Available at: https://books.google.co.za/books/about/Sengoku_Jidai_Nobunaga_Hideyoshi_and_Iey.html?i d=ChOlswEACAAJ&redir_esc=y [Accessed 24 Oct. 2022]. Cipolla, C.N. and Howlett Hayes, K. (2015). Rethinking Colonialism: Comparative Archaeological Approaches. [online] academic.oup.com. University Press of Florida. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/florida-scholarship-online/book/17102 [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022]. Clifford, J. (1988). The predicament of culture : twentieth-century ethnography, literature, and art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Coates, T.-N. (2010). ‘The Pure Products of America Go Crazy...’ [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/09/the-pure-products-of- america-go-crazy/62540/ [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022]. Graham, L.R. and Penny, H.G. (2014). Performing Indigeneity: Global Histories and Contemporary Experiences. [online] Google Books. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. Available at: https://books.google.co.za/books?id=ZeMoDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA393&dq=Performing+Indigeneit y:+Global+Histories+and+Contemporary+Experiences [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022]. Ōta, G. (2011). The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga. [online] Translated by J.S.A. Elisonas. and Translated by J.P. Lamers. Google Books. The Netherlands: BRILL. Available at: https://books.google.co.za/books?id=POJ5DwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_Vie wAPI&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022]. Ruin, H. (2019). The claim of the past – historical consciousness as memory, haunting, and responsibility in Nietzsche and beyond. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 51(6), pp.798–813. doi:10.1080/00220272.2019.1652936. SMITH, T., ENWEZOR, O. and CONDEE, N. (2008). Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity. [online] JSTOR. Duke University Press. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv11hpm3c [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022]. Strom, C. (2017). The Amazing Story of Yasuke: The Forgotten African Samurai. [online] www.ancient-origins.net. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous- people/amazing-story-yasuke-forgotten-african-samurai-007554 [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022]. Tree, E. (2015). Diasporic Indigeneity: Indigenizing Indigenous Immigrants and Diasporic Indigeneity: Indigenizing Indigenous Immigrants and Nativizing Native Nations Nativizing Native Nations. [online] Wilfrid Laurier University. Available at: https://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=rlc_faculty [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022]. Label Me Latina/o Special Issue 2015 Volume V. Watson, M.K. (2010). Diasporic Indigeneity: Place and the Articulation of Ainu Identity in Tokyo, Japan. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, [online] 42(2), p.268. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/285327/Diasporic_Indigeneity_place_and_the_articulation_of_Ai nu_identity_in_Tokyo_Japan?email_work_card=view-paper [Accessed 23 Oct. 2022].