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African history: The age of exploration: when Africa discovered Spain | Culture

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There is a persisting image of Africa as having always been subordinate to Europe to some degree – that the relationship between Europeans and Africans has always been uneven, whether through exploitative colonialism, through condescending paternalism, or through the racism underlying both of the above. But this image of dependency could not be any further from the truth: during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, encounters between African and Spanish kingdoms were largely a relationship of equals.

Not only were the African kingdoms not isolated from the rest of the world – they were actively exploring it in search of information, trade and political alliances. And Spain was one of the main destinations of these missions. This is the story of how Africans discovered the Iberian peninsula.

The first African kingdom to send a diplomatic mission to Europe was Ethiopia. Around the year 1306, the Ethiopian emperor Wedem Ar’ad sent a delegation of 30 people to Europe with the goal of forming an alliance against the Muslims threatening his empire. The first stop was in Spain, where these delegates met with “the king of las Españas” (no name is provided) before moving on to Avignon in modern-day France to meet with the Pope (seven popes were established there, rather than in Rome, between 1309 and 1377).

The ambassador of Allada in the court of Louis XIV.
The ambassador of Allada in the court of Louis XIV.

Following this early contact, relations gradually intensified and in 1427 a new Ethiopian delegation arrived in the Spanish region of Valencia headed by the Persian merchant Nur-al-Din Al Tabrizi, who brought a letter from Emperor Yeshaq I to Alfonso V, the king of Aragón. In his letter, Yeshaq proposed an alliance between both kingdoms, and Alfonso V happily accepted, sealing the deal with a double marriage between his own brother Pedro and an Ethiopian princess on one hand, and between his niece Doña Juana with Emperor Yeshaq himself on the other. The latter also sent over 13 artisans to decorate the king’s court, but the embassy never made it back to Ethiopia: all the craftsmen died along the way, and the wedding plans were abandoned.

Despite this mishap, relations between Aragón and Ethiopia continued: in his letters, Alfonso V addressed Yeshaq as “the Ethiopian emperor, our dear friend and brother,” and in 1450 an Ethiopian delegation was sent to Naples to witness Alfonso’s triumphant entrance into the city.

Besides these official delegations, many Ethiopians decided to explore Europe on their own. This was the case of a scholar named Yohạnnǝs (1509–65), who arrived in Rome with his father and decided to make the long journey to Santiago de Compostela in today’s Galicia region of Spain. After walking the 2,200 kilometers separating both cities, partly along the pilgrimage route known as Camino de Santiago, he turned south and kept going all the way to Lisbon in Portugal, where he took a ship to Goa, which was then part of Portuguese India. Upon his return to Rome, Yohạnnǝs played a leading role in the Counter-Reformation and spent the last period of his life as the bishop of Cyprus.

Although the Ethiopians were the first to visit the Iberian peninsula, they were not the only ones. In 1602, there was an individual who caused a huge commotion in the courts of Europe: the first ambassador from the Kingdom of Kongo (covering parts of present-day Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of the Congo) to go to the Vatican. Ne Vunda (who was rechristened in Italy as Antonio Emmanuele da Funta) was known for his erudition and for his oratory and diplomatic skills. He spoke Portuguese and Spanish, and was well-versed in European politics.

Ethiopia, Allada and Kongo are just three examples of former African kingdoms that showed an interest in the Iberian peninsula.
Ethiopia, Allada and Kongo are just three examples of former African kingdoms that showed an interest in the Iberian peninsula.

His journey was not an easy one: from Kongo he took a ship to Brazil, and from there he traveled to Lisbon. Along the way he was attacked three times by Dutch pirates who took everything he owned. After a brief period at the court of Felipe IV in Madrid, he reached Rome on January 2, 1608 (six years after his departure); by this time he was gravely ill and only four of his 25 original companions were still with him. He died three days later after receiving a visit from Pope Paul V, and was buried with honors at the basilica of Santa María Maggiore.

But his story does not end there: while in Madrid, Ne Vunda left a locked chest at the Convent of la Merced, in today’s Tirso de Molina square, where he had stayed. After a considerable exchange of letters between Madrid and the Vatican, it became evident that the ambassador had not made a will, and Felipe IV ordered the box opened. Inside were several letters and decorated dishes from the Spanish city of Talavera that were donated to the convent. The contents of the letters are not known, nor why the ambassador was so fond of Talavera ceramics, because the convent was ransacked by Napoleon’s troops in 1809 and demolished a few decades later.

Another African kingdom with an interest in the Iberian peninsula was Allada or Arda, in present-day Benin. In 1657, King Tojonu sent an ambassador named Bans to the court of Felipe IV. This man, who was immediately renamed Don Felipe Zapata, had been tasked with enlisting Catholic missionaries for Allada. Bans went home a few months later with a delegation of Capuchin monks ready to spread the gospel across the entire kingdom.

Unfortunately for them, they were met with considerable resistance. After a year and a half of failed evangelism, the king summoned them and explained that although he highly appreciated this gesture by his brother the king of Spain, the reason he had requested missionaries was not to adopt a change in lifestyle and religion, but rather because there was a serious problem with people getting struck by lightning in Allada, and he had heard that Catholic priests had some control over the management of these celestial phenomena. The king concluded by noting that he would be much obliged if the monks could solve their meteorology problems, but if not, then he would prefer for them to go back home, as all this preaching was beginning to get tiresome.

Ethiopia, Allada and Kongo are just three examples of African kingdoms that showed an interest in the Iberian peninsula, but the full list is much longer. Unfortunately, this chapter of diplomatic history and exploration was rewritten, and at times directly deleted, centuries later. Africans were denied their own history because it made it so much easier to justify the allegedly civilizing nature of the colonial project and the exploitation of Africa’s people and resources.

Now that movements like Black Lives Matter are finally underscoring the need to give visibility to the role played by slavery in the creation of many European states and cities, it is important that we do not forget that historical justice also means recovering this mostly invisible period in the history of African exploration and diplomacy.

Unfortunately for those wishing to learn more on the subject, there is no book specifically focusing on the journeys of Africans to the Iberian peninsula, but there are two good introductions to the issue on a European scale: Africa’s Discovery of Europe by David Northup, and the edited volume Black Africans in Renaissance Europe.

Sirio Canós Donnay is a Marie Curie Fellow at the Heritage Sciences Institute of the Spanish National Research Council (Incipit-CSIC)

English version by Susana Urra.

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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