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Entrance to Pere Marquette Lodge

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The Lodge’s restaurant has lovely stained-glass window panels, including this one of an eagle

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Part of the park, with view down to the Illinois River

We began our eagle-watching weekend on Friday night at the Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park, an ideal place to use as a base. Open all year. Reservations: call 618-786-2331, or www.PMLodge.net .Their slogan is “Come and stay, the natural way”. Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center, a few miles north of Grafton on Highway 100—the Great River Road—is on the edge of the state park by the same name. The 8000-acre park is set in the rolling bluffs and woods overlooking the scenic Illinois River.

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A picture of Pere Marquette in the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

Pere Marquette State Park was founded in 1932 under the name “Piasa Bluffs State Park’ (named for the legendary Piasa Bird, see later). The original purchase of 2,605 acres was made for $25,000, through a combination of local donations and state matching funds. By popular appeal, the name was changed to Pere Marquette State Park, reflecting Father Marquette’s connection with the early history of the area. Today the park encompasses 8,050 acres.

Father Jacques Marquette (the French Jesuit missionary-priest who came to North America to share his faith with the native people), with explorer-cartographer Louis Joliet, was the first European to enter what is now Illinois in 1673, where they met members of the Illini tribe. They were paddling down the Mississippi River on an expedition commissioned by the Governor of New France, trying to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean. When the local people told them that this river emptied in the Gulf of Mexico, they turned back and went along the Illinois River, stopping at a point near what is now the state park. A large dolomite stone cross commemorates this landing close to the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

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Painting of Marquette and Joliet’s trip along the river

Marquette’s journal gives the first written description of the land that is now Illinois. Excerpt found at the Pere Marquette Visitor Center: “We have seen nothing like this river [the Illinois]…for the fertility of the land, its prairies, woods, wild cattle, elk, deer, wildcats, bustards, swans, ducks, parrots, and even beaver: its many small lakes and rivers. That on which we sail is wide, deep and still.”

But, the history of the park is much older than this. Throughout the hills, ravines, woods, and prairies of the fertile area along the Illinois River, Native American people hunted game, gathered food, and later made houses. Archeologists describe 6 Native American cultures from this region and have found fragments of pottery, spear points and planting tools. About 150 burial mounds are distributed throughout the park, most still unexcavated.

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piasa2A fascinating legend still survives from these early days. Early people painted 2 huge pictures on one of the bluffs of a creature called Piasa—part bird, with the face of a man, scales like a fish, horns like a deer and a long black tail. Marquette and Joliet saw these and were initially afraid. What was this creature and what was its significance? Supposedly it preyed on local Indian tribes, until it was killed by Illini Chieftain Owatoga, whose village was near Elsah. The original Bluff Picture was painted so Indians, passing on the river, could shoot poisoned arrows at the “Bird”, in memory of their deliverance. A modern painted Piasa Bird is maintained to this day on the bluffs about 20 miles south of the park close to Alton.

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The Lodge is a huge, sprawling structure

PMsignThe Lodge was originally built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) from 1933-1939, supposedly over a Native American village site. It opened for business in 1940 and was dedicated in 1941. The cost of construction was $352,912.00. Timbers of Douglas fir and western cedar from Oregon were used, along with limestone from the Grafton Quarry.

Recent expansions and renovations blend in with the native stone and rustic timbers of the original. The massive lodge building has 50 guest rooms, an indoor pool, game room, a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Mary Michelle Winery/bar, and gift shop.

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The Great Hall

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Kids love this game too

The focal point is a an enormous hall with vaulted ceiling called the Great Room Lobby, decorated with 4 very attractive hanging fabric collages/tapestries of a woods pattern—leaves, branches, creatures—and a mammoth stone fireplace (50 feet high and said to weigh 700 tons) with cheerful dancing flames (very welcome in the frigid cold). Couches, tables and chairs in original 1930s style are grouped around for visitors’ use and a large wooden floor chess board and chess set is well used, especially by kids. Many tables have other games on them too. Picture windows all along one side open to the Brussels Terrace, which gives a great view onto the Illinois River,

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Breakfast in the restaurant 

especially at sunrise and sunset. This is also a favored venue for weddings—and we watched one the Saturday evening we were there. The lodge also offers 22 stone guest cabin rooms, in 7 cabins, a short walk from the main building.

The Lodge overlooks the Illinois River and is just a short walk from the Pere Marquette Visitor Center, which has a lot of useful information about the park’s fauna and flora, the history of the area, and bald eagles.

A wonderful weekend.

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Happy New Year everyone! May 2018 be a good year for all.

We’ll soon be off on our next adventures, so I wanted to finish my mini-series on Fort McHenry in Baltimore (bit delayed I know, sorry!)

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armisteadplaque copyPart 4: Plaques and statues at Fort McHenry

Dotted around the fort are a number of plaques and statues that also continue the story of the fort and the people involved with it.

The first that caught our eye was an imposing statue of George Armstead, the Commander at Fort Henry who was instrumental in warding off the British. He was also the one who commissioned the famous flag.

Another was a plaque to Francis Scott Key. In 1914, as part of the National Star-Spangled Banner Centennial Celebration, the city of Baltimore dedicated the Francis Scott Key Tablet. Designed by Hans Schuler, originally from Germany, the bronze shield depicts and American flag and myrtle (symbol of love and immortality) surrounding a portrait of Key.

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Illinois copyAs mentioned before, when we walked back to catch the bus, we noted metal plaques set into the sidewalk along the edge of the entrance road, with the names of US states. We discovered that there is one for each state, commemorating when the state entered the union. We couldn’t find them all, but did find Illinois! Significant for us, as Illinois will celebrate its 200th year in the union in 2018.

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orpheuscloseWe also detoured to a grassy area to look at a huge statue we’d noticed when we came into the park. It is called Orpheus, the Hero of Music and Poetry. In 1916 the Fine Arts Commission sponsored a national competition for a statue to honor Francis Scott Key and the defenders who protected Baltimore during the War of 1812. It chose “Orpheus” by Charles Niehaus. America’s involvement in WW1 delayed the completion of the statue. It was dedicated on Flag Day June 14, 1922 and was originally placed in the middle of the entrance road, where it was the centerpiece for the annual commemoration of the Battle of Baltimore. It was moved to the current location in 1962. The statue and the surrounding grove of flowering crabapple trees is one way of showing how the fort changed from an active military base to a place of reflection and commemoration.

 

 

 

 

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View of fort and park from entrance

 

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The fort has many canons of varying ages

We’ve had so much other wonderful travel this year that I never did get round to finishing the story of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. It is an interesting story and we did enjoy our morning visiting the fort in the summer. So, to rectify that, here come parts 3, and 4.

Part 3: Brief History of the Fort:

In a way, the history is more impressive than the actual structures we see today, as they are more symbolic than grand now.

Although the United States won its independence from Britain in 1783, the threat of foreign invasion remained. To protect the young republic, the federal government launched an ambitious program of building forts near America’s primary cities along the East Coast. Fort McHenry was one of those forts.

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One of the informative boards in the fort

Completed in 1805 and named after the Secretary of War, James McHenry, the new fort had five points or “bastions”, which had a star shape, accommodations for over 150 soldiers, and a line of heavy artillery aimed downriver. The fort is strategically placed at the end of a point dividing different branches of the Patapsco River, a perfect spot for protecting the city of Baltimore.

The first flag to fly over the newly-constructed ramparts was a 15-star, 15-stripe banner, reflecting the recently added states of Vermont and Kentucky.

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Entrance to inner fort

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Part of the inner fort, and a flag that always flies

The fort saw serious action when it was attacked by the British in September 1814, but repulsed the British onslaught (see earlier post https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/fort-mchenry-and-the-star-spangled-banner/ ).

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Board about Lt Allen Fay, at the time of the 1814 war. Interesting facts about amounts of rations (click photo to make it bigger)

 

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Statue of Lt Allen Fay

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Rod M and a Rodman canon

The fort never again came under enemy fire, but it continued as an active military post for the next 100 years. In 1829 the earthen walls were reinforced with granite blocks and a brick wall was added to shore up the parapets. During the Civil War it was used as a temporary prison for captured Confederate soldiers, southern sympathizers, and political prisoners.

In 1866 the enormous Rodman Canons were installed, the heaviest ever at the fort. However, they were only ever used for ceremonies.

During WW1, the US Army built over 100 buildings around the star fort. It was one of the rodmanlargest military hospitals in the country and housed 3,000 wounded soldiers from the battlefields of France. Over 1,000 staff worked in this facility. From 1917 until 1923, US Army General Hospital No. 2 was located here to serve WW1 veterans. It was especially known as a surgical center and great advances in neurosurgery and reconstructive surgery took place here. It was also one of the first medical centers to reintegrate disabled soldiers into civilian life by offering special classes in typing, knitting, metal work, automotive repair and other trades.

In 1925 Congress made Fort McHenry a national park; 14 years later it was re-designated a national monument and historic shrine, the only park in US to have this double distinction.

Next is Part 4 on plaques and statues in the fort park.

 

 

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RfossilsSomething Really Old!

Found in the small garden outside the entrance to the East London Museum in the eastern Cape, South Africa.

These sections of fossilized trees are from the Permian Period, 299-241 million years before the present. It’s amazing to think that all that time ago, these trees were alive and now they are fossilized wood!

They were found on the farm Winkelhurst in the Stutterheim District by landowner Bobbly Wilson and brought to the East London Museum in 1955.

Prof. Marion Bamford of Wits University has identified sections of this specimen as an fossils closeAgathoxylon species. Associated with the Glossopteris plant life of the Permian Period, these trees grew in fairly moist environments and contributed to the formation of the coal deposits in South Africa. They were deciduous trees called gymnosperms, a group of seed-bearing plants that includes the conifers (like pines), yellowwoods and cycads.

Rod has always been keen on fossils, so this was an interesting find.

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Inside the fort today

canonPart 1: Our Visit to Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry and what it stands for in American history is so important, with so much information available, that I decided to break it up into 4 parts—that makes for easier reading and understanding, I hope.

One of the most popular places to visit in Baltimore is Fort McHenry—to visit the actual fort and to learn about the American flag and anthem. As we discovered, it’s impossible to talk about the fort without also mentioning the flag and anthem as their history is so intertwined.

We caught the free Banner bus at the stop close to the Baltimore Visitors’ Center—about a 20-minute bus ride to the entrance to the park, but it’s also possible to go by water taxi.

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At the entrance to the park

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Visitor Center at the fort

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View through windows as curtains open

A short walk takes you to the impressive fort Visitor Center, which has a ticket counter, shop, restrooms, and a small museum that offers an audio-visual show at regular intervals. We bought a life-time pass to the US National Parks for only $10 each as seniors—what an amazing deal! The museum has information on the fort, the siege and defense of Baltimore, and the story of Francis Scott Key writing the words to the Star-Spangled Banner. (See my earlier background post here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/fort-mchenry-and-the-star-spangled-banner/ ). A ranger gives a short audio-visual presentation, at the end of which curtains open over huge picture windows, giving a dramatic view out to the fort.

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Entrance to the inner part of the fort

canon2You can take a ranger-guided tour, or just walk around by yourself, which we opted to do. The sight has many information boards along the paths and by all the buildings and other points of view, so it is very easy to picture what was going on here. Some of the structures from the original fort no longer exist (such as the Tavern, as alcohol was important to the soldiers), but the foundation outline is still there, so we can imagine the layout. What we see today are the modifications over 200 years.

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These Rodman canons were installed in 1866

It’s a large grassy area, with great views out to the river, and it’s fun to ramble around. The fort is in an excellent location for protecting Baltimore as it controlled the entrance to the Inner harbor. Almost all of this was new information for us, which we tried to absorb, but being there and walking around made it much more personal and meaningful

fortinsideThe actual fort inside is quite small (it was built for 150 soldiers), so trying to imagine 1,000 people crammed in there during the siege of Baltimore is hard. Many of the rooms in the inner fort buildings now serve as a museum depicting life in the fort. We learn details and snippets, such as the fact that officers were from rich families and often had their own servants and paid for their own (nice) food. Tobacco was important as an export to America and the British blockade badly affected imports and exports, with negative impact on the economy. One of the important ports was Baltimore, so it’s also symbolic that it played a pivotal role in fending off the British.

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Example of an information board —this one about the Magazine

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Magazine inside today

We saw the cross-traverse for the original flag. This kept the flagpole from falling over, because such a big flag on a pole would just blow over. We also saw the magazine used for stored gunpowder (it was used to store coal in WW1), and some of the canons used in 1814 and later, plus explanations about the fuses and how long fuses should be. The canon balls were solid and varied in size—all were deadly.

What are the main take-home lessons from visiting the fort?

First, how important the War of 1812 was in American history. It was the second war against Britain, and the success of the American defense got the British “off their backs”. It’s also very clear that the British could potentially have sacked Baltimore just as they did Washington DC, so holding them off here was enormously important.

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Canon balls (shots) of different sizes

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A 36-pound shot. Absolutely lethal 

Second, this was the naval battle that led to the development of the national anthem. And this was due to a huge American flag flying at the fort. See Part 2 on information about the flags at Fort McHenry.

For more information about Fort McHenry and the park, go to their website:

https://www.nps.gov/fomc/index.htm

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fortsign4Fort McHenry and the Star-Spangled Banner: Historical Context

With all the hou-haa going on right now about the US anthem, honoring it and what it means to be patriotic, this seemed like a good time for me to try and finish writing about Fort McHenry in Baltimore and the birth of the song that was inspired by a huge flag.

In July we were in Baltimore for a conference, our first time to visit this American city. Our knowledge of its history was a bit sketchy to say the least, so we had a great time exploring Fort McHenry, and the small house where Mary Pickersgill lived and helped stitch the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen his victory poem that later became the American anthem.

It’s actually a tense and dramatic story, made more real by visiting the sites of the action, and trying to visualize what happened on those momentous days.

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The inside of Fort McHenry today

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Entrance to the inside of the fort today

battle_starsignEveryone speaks of the War of 1812, but in reality the major events took place in 1814.

Bit of background:

After the American Revolution and the exhausting fight to win independence from Great Britain, tensions between the two countries still smoldered. Britain was at war with France for supremacy in Europe, and also set policies that interfered with American trade, like confiscating merchant ships and cargoes. The British navy needed more men, so would board American vessels and seize men said to be British deserters. They also forcefully blocked American expansion along the Great Lakes and Northern Frontier.

Many Americans, including President James Madison, wanted to strike back, and Congress declared war on June 18, 1812. Over the next 2 years, American and British forces clashed in many places from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The British occupied the fertile Chesapeake Bay, and raided waterfront towns.

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One of the canons in Fort McHenry

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Fort McHenry

By summer 1814, President Madison realized the war could escalate, especially since Napoleon had fallen and the British then had more troops available. He worried in particular about the Washington-Maryland area and called for more militiamen and volunteers.

On August 19, 1814 British General Robert Ross brought more than 4,000 troops ashore in southern Maryland to start a land invasion, and Rear Admiral George Cockburn sailed up the Potomac River towards Washington DC. Both of them and their troops arrived at the edge of DC at dusk on August 24, and created havoc and panic. They torched much of the city, including the US Capitol and the President’s house. The rampage only ended because of a violent rainstorm. Bladensburg, a tobacco port just 5 miles northeast of the capital, was also attacked and badly affected, mostly because the American commanders and troops were very inexperienced compared to the British counterparts.

From August 28 the British plundered Alexandria for 5-6 days and then set their sights on Baltimore, on the Patapsco River with its many ‘arms’ and branches.

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The guns that won the battle

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armisteadplaqueBut, Baltimore was better prepared than Washington had been. Under Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith, a US Senator and veteran of the Revolution, defences were erected, arms and equipment stockpiled, and troops trained. He had about 15,000 men, and Fort McHenry, the key to the harbor, had 1,000 men. Fort McHenry was commanded by Maj. George Armistead. The fort’s guns and two batteries along the river’s edge dominated the channels leading to the city. A line of gunboats and sunken hulks across the mouth of Northwest Branch also obstructed entry.

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Direct Hits to Fort McHenry–in which 2 officers were killed

On September 12, Ross’s troops marched towards Baltimore. Ross was killed but his replacement, Col Arthur Brooke, marched to within 2 miles of the city and was waiting for the naval attack to end before assaulting the city. British Admiral Cochrane knew that for the British campaign to succeed he had to capture or destroy Fort McHenry. He attacked the fort at dawn on September 13th and the bombardment from the water carried on for 25 hours. Armistead estimated later that between 1500 and 1800 shells and rockets were fired at the fort. However, only two officers were killed and several gun crew members injured.

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Dawn’s Early Light

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The soldiers on Fort McHenry hoist the huge flag

Around midnight Cochrane realized that shelling the fort was not enough and decided to send small boats as a diversion up the Ferry Branch of the river to distract the Americans and allow Brooke to storm the east side of the city where he was waiting. But in the dark, this plan went wrong—they rowed up the wrong branch, and other barges were detected and driven back by the Americans. The British carried on bombing the fort until 7am on September 14th, and then they withdrew.

The American soldiers fired the morning gun and hoisted the huge flag that Armistead had ordered especially, which later became known as the “Star-Spangled Banner”.

How did that happen? This takes us to Francis Scott Key.

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Plaque to Francis Scott Key on Fort McHenry

As the British sailed toward Baltimore in early September 1814, Georgetown attorney Francis Scott Key and John Skinner, the US agent for the exchange of prisoners, met the British to negotiate the release of Key’s friend, a physician abducted from Maryland. They were aboard a truce ship when the British began bombarding Fort McHenry outside Baltimore. They had to watch the fighting through the night, but then came the raising of that large flag measuring 30×42 feet, which Key could see even from a distance. He then knew that the Americans were victorious and was very proud. To record his thoughts at that moment, he wrote a poem about his feelings on seeing the flag. This poem later became the national anthem. Some of his words say “the stars of that banner”, which led to the actual flag being called The Star-Spangled Banner too.

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Viv M and a flag and statue of Key in the Fort McHenry Museum

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The flag on Fort McHenry today

President Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent on February 17th, 1815, and the war was officially over. Neither America nor Britain had won a clear victory, but the war gave Americans a stronger sense of collective identity and confirmed its new position on the international stage.

Fort McHenry became a National Monument, which people can visit. We did and it was fascinating—I’ll write more on that later.

Two lasting symbols came from this war: The Star-Spangled Banner (now in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington DC) and the national anthem that honors it. More details on those coming too.

 

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Rod M and Mike S look at an elephant skull

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kidsOne of the things we did in East London was visit the East London Museum, a first for us even though we have visited the city quite often.

This museum is a little old and musty but has a surprising number of exhibits—from WW1 stuff, to stuffed animals and birds, to a stones collection and shells collection, and the famous Coelacanth fish exhibit, all downstairs. Upstairs is African bead and wire work, period furniture and clothing from the colonist times, a section on the local German settlers, and two exhibits on local shipwrecks (the Grosvenor and the Oceanos).

Actually quite interesting and more than you can take in in one visit. It’s popular with groups of local school kids, who seemed quite excited to be there.

carHere I’ll highlight 2 small special exhibits that we found interesting; Wirework and Shweshwe cloth. Later, I’ll cover the story of the famous Coelacanth fish.

Wirework

Among Xhosa-speaking people, wire obtained from European traders was traditionally used in the manufacture of items for adornment such as waistbands, bangles, and anklets. More recently wire has been used in a range of creative, alternative ways. These include toys made by children and items made specifically for sale to the tourist market. An example of the latter is the model of the Mercedes Benz car and Venter trailer by Philip Ntliziywana, made of wire and scrap tin, around 1998.

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Another is the Model of a Windmill, made by M Adams of wire and scrap tin, in East London, around 1987.

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Shweshwe cloth bags

Shweshwe cloth is a type of indigo print cloth that is very popular in South Africa. Indigo cloth arrived in South Africa after 1652 when a seaport was established at the Cape of Good Hope. It came mainly from India and Holland and slaves, soldiers, Khoi-san and Dutch women wore indigo cloth and floral printed indigo.

In the 1840s French missionaries gave King Moshoeshoe 1 of Basotholand a gift of indigo printed cloth, which became the favored cloth, a tradition that continues today. That’s how the name Shweshwe cloth came about—from shoeshoe or isishweshwe. It is typically used for traditional ceremonies in the rural areas but has also become fashionable beyond this use. It is used for all kinds of clothing, and for cloth bags, for example, all very popular with locals and tourists. A family member bought a Shweshwe print pinafore for our granddaughter when we visited East London not too long ago—very pretty.

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Red Shweshwe cloth pinafore

Much of this printed fabric, which now comes in other colors including chocolate brown and red, is produced in a plant called Da Gama Textiles near East London.

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Traditional and modern

signThe sign explains: the mannequin on the left has an outfit for a newly-wed Xhosa woman (UMakoti). Each piece has a meaning: The Headscarf/iqhlya is used by a married woman to show respect to her in-laws ad to differentiate herself from single women.

The long skirt/Umbhinqo covers her legs and lower body in a dignified way.

The Apron/Ifaskoti symbolizes the way a dignified wife doesn’t share problems or issues in the marriage or new family. As the apron covers what she wears, so will she cover challenges.

The Blanket/Ixakatho also shows respect to the in-laws.

The mannequin on the right has the Shweshwe dress worn by Zoe Reeve to her graduation party, 2008.

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Margie W at the cafe

 

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Rod M, Mike S and Margie W at lunch

After a couple of hours in the museum we had lunch at the museum café, aptly named the Coelacanth Café. It was pleasant and the food pretty good. Lots of local folks were there having lunch too, plus some students from the nearby high school, so they must be doing something right!

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