Skinheads, Swastika, Reggae, Afrika

 

Imitation isn’t always flattery…

Skinheads:

Who Stole the Soul?

Skinhead was an extension of the sixties mod subculture.

1950s-1960s:  The Mods- European Clothes & Black Music

Mods were working-class kids who wanted to dress better than their parents, peers and bosses. Their style was influenced by French, Italian and Ivy League fashion and they listened to (and celebrated) music by black artists, such as blues, soul and R&B. They were also introduced to ska (sometimes called bluebeat) and early reggae by Jamaican immigrants (who had their own subculture, the Rudeboys).

1970s:  From Jamaican Rudeboy to English Skinhead

The style skinheads wear today was actually stolen from Jamaican and white Brits.  It was all about dancing, looking cool, learning from each other.  These weren’t the same skinheads you know today.

Towards the end of the sixties, Mod had become mainstream, commercialised and very flowery. Psychedelic music was becoming popular and some mods became hippies. The tougher, more masculine ‘hard mods’ hated it and wanted to distance themselves from all that. So they started to cut their hair in a very short college-boy style, often with a shaved in side parting (also popular with Rudeboys).

The overall look was stripped down, mixing Ivy League style button-down shirts, dockworker boots and Rudeboy style short trousers and skinny braces (that’s suspenders to you Yanks). People called them various names, such as ‘cropheads’, ‘bovver boys’ or ‘peanuts’, but  on the 3rd of September 1969 a Daily Mirror article gave them the name Skinhead.

20centmax.tumblr.com

And so a new, multicultural subculture – based around working-class pride, toughness, looking smart and dancing to ska and reggae music – was created.

 

The whole scene was influenced by black culture

– the haircut, the length of our trousers, the walk, some of the talk and, of course, the music, much of it copied from Rude Boy style. Black and white generally got on, we intermingled and if there was trouble it was usually about a woman.
– Nigel Mann, original Skinhead  [quote taken from Paolo Hewitt’s book, The Soul Stylists] 

 

1980s:  This Is England

Along with this, white nationalist and supremacist movements began to arise in Britain’s marginalized underclass.  Under-educated, unskilled and unemployable, these rebels with neither cause nor clue were so culturally and intellectually bankrupt that they didn’t even have an identity.  They resorted to stealing a white imitation of black culture and claiming it as their own, either unaware of the irony, or too desperate to care:

Unfortunately, the skinhead’s hard, macho image started to attract the National Front and the British Movement. Racists put on braces and big boots and called themselves skinheads without knowing the roots of their adopted subculture. Kids were shouting ‘sieg heil!’ and saluting diagonally, unaware of the irony. There was less emphasis on style – racist skinheads tended to wear t-shirts displaying British Movement and National Front logos instead of smart button downs – and they distanced themselves from the subculture’s black influences by listening to white power rock bands.

News of attacks on Asians, black people and other minorities spread and soon the media blamed skinheads, whether they were actually responsible or not.

 

White supremacists infected the skinhead scene like a virus- hijacked a vitality and identity that they could never come up with themselves.

Let’s take a second to think about how the white skinheads felt.  Their look and lifestyle, which was an expression of their admiration of black fashion and music, and multiculturalism, had come to symbolize the opposite.  Their identity was stolen from them.  They couldn’t even be themselves anymore, unless they wanted to be mistaken for violent racists.

It’s been stolen.

For me it felt great. You’re amongst your own kind with the music and the clothes. I loved it. So when I read these things about fascism, it’s been stolen, they’ve stolen something that meant so much to me.’
James Ferguson , original Skinhead  [quote taken from Paolo Hewitt’s book, The Soul Stylists]

The Swastika

Those Who Hate You Imitate You

angolan swastika
Angolan Swastika

 

That the swastika is an ancient African symbol has been known to historians for centuries:

[They] were a dark-skinned people with short hair and prominent lips; and that they are referred to by some scholars as Cushites (Ethiopians), and as Hamites by others.

Mr. Wells alludes to this early civilization in his Outline of History, and dates its beginnings as far back as 15,000 years B.C.

“This peculiar development of the Neolithic culture,” says Mr. Wells, “which Elliot Smith called the Heliolithic (sun-stone) culture, included many or all of the following odd practices:…(9) the use of the symbol known as the Swastika for good luck. …

Elliot Smith traces these associated practices in a sort of constellation all over this great Mediterranean / Indian Ocean-Pacific area. Where one occurs, most of the others occur. They link Brittany with Borneo and Peru. But this constellation of practices does not crop up in the primitive home of Nordic or Mongolian peoples, nor does it extend southward much beyond equatorial Africa. …

The use of the swastika as an African symbol is an established tradition that still flourishes today amongst the Akan or Ashanti people of western Africa:

The Akan occupy a large part of West Africa including parts of Ghana and the Ivory Coast and include many sub-ethnic groups such as the Baule and the Asante (Ashanti).  The Akan were producing swastikas to weigh gold dust which was their currency, thus the name ‘gold weights’.  When used on the gold weight, the swastika was a symbol of currency, expressing power, money, wealth and integrity.  The idea and the implementation of gold-based currency came from the Akan people of modern-day Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. (Oliver 2014)

 ashanti

The swastika is also one of the Akan people’s famous Adinkra symbols.  Look at number 12 below:

adinkra symbol
According to one source, the swastika is referred to by the Akan as a monkey’s foot. Another source says it is called Kode Emower Ewa (‘talons of the eagle’), represents devotion and service and is shaved on the back of the heads of the Queen Mother’s servants.  Still another source names it Nkotimsefuopua, claiming similarly that certain attendants on the Queen Mother who dressed their hair in this fashion.
The Asante also weave the swastika into their cloth. 
See the top left corner below: 

 

adinkra cloth
Other African uses of the swastika include scarification, architecture and other decorative arts.
Scarification, Congo
Lalibela Rock Church, Ethiopia

Skirt, Kuba people, Congo

Comb, Akan people, Ghana

Many more swastikas from throughout Africa can be viewed on Pinterest:  suunjata – swastika

Of course, though, the swastika is most famous as the symbol of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National-Socialist German Workers’ Party, better known as the Nazis.  This is where its association with white power and white nationalism comes from.  But where did the Germans get it from?

In the century leading up to the Nazi era, Europe and Germany in particular gained a profound interest in Eastern religion, philosophy, mysticism and occultism.  The most famous leader of the most famous movement- Theosophy- was Helena Blavatsky.  Her writings had a profound influence on the Ariosophy- love of Aryans- that later arose in Germany and Austria, NSDAP founder Adolf Hitler’s place of migration and birthplace, respectively.  This is undoubtedly how he became aware of the symbol.  As we read above, though, many of the eastern cultures that Theosophy and, in turn, Ariosophy were based on, especially the more ancient ones, were actually dark-skinned, and often Africoid, people.  There is evil irony in the fact that their symbol was used against them in hatred.

There is another nearer possible connection to Nazi Germany and the swastika:   Germany’s colonial misadventures in Deutsch-Südwestafrika (German Southwest Africa, a/k/a Namibia) from 1884-1915.  Namibia borders Angola, in which very ancient swastikas have been observed.  Were they exposed to it there?  One can only speculate.

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Today’s Neo-Nazi Skinhead

Human Viruses

 

Neo-Nazi skinheads are, in essence, using black fashion and an African symbol to express white power and racism.  On top of that, their musical style- neo-Nazi punk- is a genre based on- you guessed it- the ska and punk of Jamaican Afro-Brits.

Despite despising them- or maybe because of it, I’m starting to realize- they stole everything from them:  their style, their symbols, their very identity.

Without African (diaspora) fashion, music and symbology, white supremacists wouldn’t have an identity.  Someone that utterly impoverished- morally, intellectually, spiritually- is normally worthy of sympathy.

white power
Indeed…

Conclusion:  Going Viral

As can be seen with the original skinheads- a blend of black and white British culture- trading and borrowing, when credit is given where credit is due, is always welcomed and encouraged.  The borrower is enriched, and the donor is embraced.  (We have to remember that the original skinheads didn’t become Neo-Nazi skinheads- they were hijacked and discarded, too.)  That is cultural appreciation.  That is symbiotic.

image
Prince Buster & A Skinhead Fan (20CentMax.tumblr)

What we see from modern skinheads, though, is cultural appropriation, and that- feeding off the host and destroying it- is viral.

How do the two differ?  Cultural appropriators

  • claim the cultural items as their own- theft
  • overlook the plight of the culture they borrow from- hypocrisy
  • benefit from the borrowed culture in ways its creators can’t- privilege

Here are some examples:

The girl on the left is “edgy” or “eclectic”.  The girl on the right, whose culture originated the style, is “ghetto” or “thuggish”:

The woman left and center (Saartjie Baartman) got paraded in human zoos in Europes.  The woman on the right who used a wire frame in her dress to imitate her anatomy was a ‘lady’:

bustle

This is where skinheads today, the Nazis, Ariosophists and Theosophists of the past, and indeed most racists went awry:  they crossed the fine line between appreciation and appropriation.  They turned something so beautiful and unitary became so ugly and divisive.

They stole the soul.

Let’s take it back.


 

Sources

All quoted text in “Skinheads” section from Max.  “All You Skinheads Get Up On Your Feet!”.  20th Century Max.  1 October 2015.  http://20centmax.tumblr.com/post/130292077655/all-you-skinheads-get-up-on-your-feet

Jackson, John G. “Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization” (1939); Retrieved from http://2017blackart.wordpress.com/2009/11/01/ethiopia-and-the-origin-of-civilization-by-john-g-jackson/

Oliver, Daniel.  “Afrikan Swastikas.”  Knowledge of Self. 11 December 2014.   https://selfuni.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/afrikan-swastika/

Angolan Swastika:  Drawing by Redinha, 1948.  Found in Coimbra Fernando. “The astronomical origins of the swastika motif”.  Published in 2011: Proceedings of the International Colloquium – The intellectual and  spiritual expressions of non-literate peoples. Atelier, Capo di Ponte: 78-90. https://www.academia.edu/2951519/The_astronomical_origins_of_the_swastika_motif

 

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Afrikan Swastika

From the Volta to the Congo to the Nile, from scarification to gold weights to hieroglyphics, the swastika has been used throughout Afriqa for a long time…

When you see hear the word “swastika or see this symbol

swastika

what are the first words that come to your mind?

“Nazis.”

“Hitler.”

“Aryans.”

“Blonde hair and blue eyes.”

Then where would you guess these come from?

gold dust weights akan goldweight ashanti ashanti goldweight

An educated guess would be India.  But no, they are all from Africa.  That’s right Sub-Saharan, “Black” A-F-R-I-C-A.  They are gold dust weights used by the Ashanti, to be more precise.

No, not this Ashanti…

ashanti

These Ashanti:

asantehene

The ones who make kinte cloth…

kinte

They are also called Akan. The Akan occupy a large part of West Africa including parts of Ghana and the Ivory Coast and include many sub-ethnic groups such as the Baule and the Asante (Ashanti). [1]  The Akan were producing them to weigh gold dust which was their currency, thus the name ‘gold weights’.  When used on the gold weight, the swastika was a symbol of currency, expressing power, money, wealth and integrity.  The idea and the implementation of gold-based currency came from the Akan people of modern-day Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. [5]

 

The swastika is also one of the Akan people’s famous Adinkra symbols.  Look at number 12 below:

adinkra symbol
https://at37.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/symbols-of-power-adinkras-by-s-james-gates/

According to one source, the swastika is referred to by the Akan as a monkey’s foot. [1]  Another source says it is called Kode Emower Ewa (‘talons of the eagle’), represents devotion and service and is shaved on the back of the heads of the Queen Mother’s servants. [2]  Still another source names it Nkotimsefuopua, claiming similarly that certain attendants on the Queen Mother who dressed their hair in this fashion. [3]

The Asante also weave the swastika into their cloth.  See the top left corner below:

adinkra cloth
https://at37.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/symbols-of-power-adinkras-by-s-james-gates/
apremo
Another Adinkra swastika?

The above is a kinte cloth symbol called Apremo-Canon.  It is a symbol of resistance against foreign domination, and superior military strategy.  This motif represents  the superior military strategy with which Akan nations such as the Asante and Akwamu defeated the West Asians who had superior arms. [6]

But how could this be?  How did Africans learn about the swastika?

If your idea of swastika is the symbol of a Nordic (tall, blonde, blue-eyed) race who conquered India from the north before invading West Asia  (“Europe”), that’s a good question.

The idea is not to decouple the swastika symbol and the Aryans.  Rather, one must decouple the Aryan from Nordic, and race from ethnicity.

No signs of a Nordic Aryan invasion here...
No signs of a Nordic Aryan invasion here…

Arya means pure or good in Sanskrit. In the holy Vedas the good people were called Arya.[2]

So “Arya” means, in short, “noble”.  It appears to be an adjective, and can not refer to a group of people.  If it is a noun, it translates to “nobility”  Either way, it refers to the CHARACTER, NOT the APPEARANCE of certain people.  Note: The word “Aryan” does not appear.

So how did the word Aryan come into existence, and how did it become associated with a blonde, blue-eyed master race?

Fredrich Max Muller, a staunch German nationalist and Christian missionary, was Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford labored for years translating the Vedas into English.
In 1851 Muller wrote his first article in English wherein he used the word “Aryan” for the first time in the sense of a race.

Max Muller’s good friend and fellow Indologist Paul then popularized the word “Aryan” in France. Soon many Christian scholars were seized upon by the theory of Aryan race. In 1859 Swiss linguist Adolph Pictet wrote that the Aryan race was the

“…one destined by Providence to reign one day supreme over the entire earth . . . They were the race of Aryans. …”

The notion of “Aryan” had become, in a few short years, the emblem of European manifest destiny over the world, a signet coined in the language of scholarship which gave Europeans a racial and religious mantle of superiority.[4]

But the people weren’t fooled. Initially

 all attempts to correlate the Aryan language to Aryan race were not only unsuccessful but also absurd”. Even at that time many academics opposed the Aryan invasion theory.[4]

So if Aryan refers to a race, it is not a race in the way we usually think of it.  “Race” to us means people with the same skin color, culture and language.  That is actually ethnicity, though.  Ethnicity means related identity, but race means similar qualities.  And the people with noble character (‘arya’) can be found all over the world.  Maybe they use the same symbols to recognize each other:

Map Showing Distribution of the Swastika - http://www.swastika-info.com/en/historical.php
Map Showing Distribution of the Swastika – http://www.swastika-info.com/en/historical.php

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[1] “Nine Cast Brass Gold Dust Weights, Akan People, Ghana, 16th-18th centuries”.  Michael Blackman, LTD.  Retrieved 10.12.2014 from http://www.michaelbackmanltd.com/1402.html

[2] “Adinkra:  Kode Emower Ewa”. About.com.  Retrieved 10.12.2014 from http://africanhistory.about.com/library/bl/blfreestencil-AdinkraKode-Emower-Ewa.htm

[3] R. S. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti (Oxford, 1927), 265.  Retrieved 10.12.2014 from https://at37.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/symbols-of-power-adinkras-by-s-james-gates/

[4] Kenyatta, Ekowa.  “The Swastika”.  The Stewart Synopsis.  Retrieved 10.12.2014 from http://www.stewartsynopsis.com/swastika.htm

[5] “Swastika Symbol on Akan gold”.  SwastikaShop.com.  Retrieved 11.12.2014 from http://swastikashop.com/swastika-symbol-akan-gold/

[6] “Kente Cloth:  Ghana’s Ashanti Cultural Heritage to the World’s Fashion Civilization”.  Kwekudee- Trip Down Memory Lane.  3.12.2012.  Retrieved 11.12.2014 from http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2012/12/kente-cloth-ghanas-ashanti-cultural.html