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new internationalist
issue 159 - May 1986



Modern Madonnas
Black Virgin revival

CONVENTIONAL Christian icons leave many Christians unhappy because they usually exclude women or give them menial background roles. But alternatives do exist. So, if you are looking for 450 images of a Madonna who is black and miraculous, don't go to Africa. Try Europe, especially France. The black Madonna's popularity in France is not an indication of anti-racism, but of Gallic religious and Crusading history.

The Cult of the Black Virgin by Ean Begg, is the first book in English to examine the phenomenon. Begg, who was once a Dominican Friar and now works as a Jungian analyst, interprets the worship of the black Virgin in psychological terms. He sees the black Virgin as a covert manifestation of dark forces of mystery and fertility, of power within life and death - in short of the female principle - which for nearly 2,000 years patriarchal Christian Europe has attempted to suppress.

The conventional image of the Virgin and Child pre-dates Christianity. It can be traced to the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis holding her son Horus. They were black, and this was the image which served as the model for Byzantine and Early Christian artists representations of the Virgin and Child. The familiar picture of the sweet, milk-faced Virgin is a relatively new one compared with that of her hidden, archaic and invincible black sister, the mother-goddess, whose origins lie in Isis, an Egyptian fertility goddess, and equally in the Greek goddesses, Artemis-Diana, Aphrodite-Venus and Demeter-Ceres.

Begg is not interested in the direct racial associations of black Madonnas. But he is interested in the light they throw on the West's suppression of the female principle: that which is dark, powerful and mysterious. Observes Begg: 'The black Virgin of Rocamadour (in France) looks thoroughly tough and masculine. The 12th-Century black Virgins are not inclined to be pretty, especially when they've been buried for hundreds of years. But they are more powerful than their white counterparts'. The familiar Virgin Mary is powerful, but, as Begg puts it, 'she remains the statutory woman on the all-male board'.

The current revival of Christianity must have surprised informed punters who might have been betting that the world was going to adopt a universal religion based on the worship of a powerful and black primaeval Mother. But the Mother-Goddess is not being completely denied by today's Christians. The growing Christian interest in the Black Madonna suggests that the West is beginning to cherish the qualities she represents.

The Cult of the Black Virgin is published by Routledge and Kegan Paul, UK £5.95.

Patricia Morris, Gemini


Troublesome technology
Tractor U-Turn

THE world's tractor manufacturers are facing a crisis of profitability. At least one International Harvester factory and one Allis-Chalmers tractor-plant are being closed. The world's largest tractor-manufacturer, Massey-Ferguson Ltd., recently reported that European sales fell by 14 per cent, and its North American market remained static. Declining sales in the developed world, and a series of mergers, make it likely that these companies will try to increase sales to developing countries.

But there are good reasons why the Third World should not buy tractors. Their use causes job losses amongst those who are the most vulnerable, the rural poor. Farm labourers lose their jobs as tractors replace them. Over two and a half million jobs have been lost in Latin America alone since the introduction of modern tractors.

Tractors also cause severe long-term environmental damage by compacting the soil. Compaction prevents water seeping into the soil and prevents adequate drainage. It also reduces plant rooting depth and limits nutrient uptake. Ten per cent of yields were lost because of compaction in the Southern States of the USA during 1971. This represented a loss of more than $1 billion per year. And the figure is increasing: 30 per cent of crops, valued at $3 billion, were lost in 1980.

Tractors are usually introduced into farming at the expense of traditional draught animals such as buffalo or oxen. But they have some disadvantages compared to beasts of burden. Unlike animals, they are expensive to buy and costly to run. They have the additional disadvantage that their owners become dependent on foreign spares and services. Spare parts - or the foreign currencies needed to buy them - are about as plentiful as hen's teeth. To make matters worse, the increasing use of tractors means the loss of fertiliser, previously created by animal droppings. This valuable organic matter has to be replaced by imported artificial fertilisers. In turn, these chemicals are often dangerous pollutants.

Tractors are sold on the promise that they will increase agricultural production. But these increases only take place on large farms. And the poverty-stricken in rural areas can rarely afford to buy the extra food that is grown. Many of them will have lost what little work they had - in the name of 'development'

Andy Crump

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Plenty's poor
Rich world poverty

Widespread poverty is re-emerging in the rich world. This disturbing pattern is a result of US President Reagan's welfare-cuts. The gap between rich and poor in the US is now wider than it has been since 1945 according to recently released Census Bureau Statistics. In 1984, the top 40 per cent of American families received more than two-thirds of the national income. The bottom 40 per cent received the lowest level ever recorded: just 15.7 per cent of all income.

Children are suffering as much as adults. Another study by the Congresional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office found a 50 per cent increase in child poverty in the US in the last two decades. About 22 percent of all children under 18 are living in poverty. To out of every five Latino children are poor and nearly one in two black children I spoor.

Two trends are clear in the recent data. One is what sociologists are calling the feminisation of poverty. Single mothers form the largest percentage of the poor. Around 55 per cent of all poor children are living in a female-headed single parent household.

The second trend is the growth of the working poor, those who are employed at poverty-level wages in largely unskilled jobs. The surveys show that a person with four children who is paid the federal minimum wage for a full time job is earning 4,000 below the poverty line.


War-games fall-out
Military abuse of lnnu lands

MILITARY exercises in remote areas are on the increase - causing acute misery to many native peoples who live there. 'All of a sudden two Luftwaffe Phantom jets flew right over the tent. We could hear them coming. They were about 200 feet above the ground. The children started to cry. The noise was very loud indeed.' This testimony is not from a WW2 refugee but from someone living in the remote Labrador community of Shesthatshit.

Labrador - the northern section of mainland Newfoundland - is inhabited by the Montagnais-Naskapi Indians known as the Innu. They maintain their traditional lifestyle by trapping, hunting, fishing and growing hardy crops that survive in the harsh northern climate. Today NATO jets fly 100 feet away from Innu camps and hunting parties, threatening this traditional way of life.

These disruptions seem likely to get worse. The Canadian Government is actively encouraging NATO to establish an $800 million Tactical Fighter Training Centre in Goose Bay, Labrador.

Opposition to the flights and training centre is beginning to crystallize. A public campaign exposing the damage to Innu communities has been launched by native organizations and peace groups.

Further information from: Native People's Support Group, Box 582, Station C, St. John's, NFLD, Canada


Of bikes and museums
Curators' clanger

Amazonian Indians - like other native peoples are fighting to ensure that they are consulted when images of their culture are produced. But the Indians weren't given a chance to comment about the Hidden peoples of the Amazon exhibition mounted by London's Museum of Mankind.

The exhibition has been accused of inadequacy by two Indian representatives, Evaristo Nugkuag and Cristobal Tapuy, and by Survival International (SI), a group that campaigns for indigenous people's rights. Tapuy was particularly insulted by a large photo of an Indian riding a motorbike. 'It is like saying, Indian culture has no value,' he said. SI objected to the 'Amazon Today' section, on the grounds that it did not depict the exploitation of the rainforest by ranchers, miners and land profiteers.

Both parties have fought to persuade the Museum to make changes, but with little success. SI has campaigned in protest.

What are SI gaining through this protest? Should they expend energy attacking a London Museum rather than devoting scarce resources to overseas projects? SI have been accused of using the exhibition just to attract notice and recruits - though they deny it.

But SI is changing its policies. Though the Indians still need help, they are increasingly effective campaigners on their own behalf. SI is putting more effort into campaigning in the West, source of much of the industrial exploitation that destroys these, and other, endangered habitats. OXFAM, Christian Aid, War on Want and other British agencies are changing likewise. The UK Charity Commissioners (who refuse charitable status to all organisations they define as political) watch dubiously.

The museum still refuses to give an inch, even as the exhibition enters its second year. SI now proposes to 'go public' internationally, and to protest for as long as the show lasts.

Survival International can be contacted at 29 Craven Street; London WC2, UK

Jonathan Hugh-Jones


Trees of life
India's disappearing forests

A NEW report outlines the disaster that will face the poor if the depletion of forests continues. Wood, says the State of India's Environment Report, is needed by millions for warmth and cooking, as well as for making ploughs, bullock carts and timber-frames for mud huts, yet the precious resource is disappearing alarmingly fast.

In India 3,000,000 acres of forest are cut down each year. Deforestation is particularly worrying in the Himalayas, where official statistics indicate forest cover of 66 per cent while satellite imagery indicates - at the most - 40 per cent.

Many of the trees that are cut down go to wealthier Indians. Forests are sold to contractors and merchants for commercial logging operations, and then much of the wood is sold as fuel thousands of miles away. In Delhi the middle-class urban population buys wood that grew in Assam. This wood used to be freely available to Assam's women. Now many of them have to walk for up to ten hours each day in order to reach areas where they can collect wood.

Some women are fighting back. The Chipko Movement - in which women literally hugged trees in order to stop them being cut down - has inspired similar protests throughout India. Collective action offers poor Indian women their main hope of breaking out of today's vicious circle in which they are, according to the report, 'Tired, overworked, under-nourished, unrepresented, powerless and unorganised'.

The State of lndia's Environment Report can be obtained from the Centre for Science and the Environment, 807 Vishal Bhawan, 95 Nehru Place, New Delhi. 110019, India.

Martin Stott

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New Internationalist issue 159 magazine cover This article is from the May 1986 issue of New Internationalist.
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