ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
There is sufficient data available to establish beyond . . .that the brain weight
of the whites is larger . . . particularly larger than that of the Negroes
African Background of the Negro
By W.D. Weatherford
The Dark Continent. Africa next to Asia is the largest of the continents, having an estimated surface of 12,000,000 square miles. This tremendous figure has little content for us, but one is immediately awakened to its meaning, when told that is it is sixty times as large as the German Empire and one hundred times as large as the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Africa has long been called the “dark continent,” which designation is finely descriptive if it is taken to mean a continent about which almost nothing has been known. Next to Tibet perhaps no other great expanse of the world’s surface has been so tardily explored and described. There are evident reasons for the slow progress of African exploration.
Why Africa Is Unknown. First to be noted is that the African coast line is almost unbroken in its entire 15,000 miles. While the continent is three times as large as Europe, its coast line is 4,000 miles shorter than that of its sister continent. This is due to the great number of inlets, bays, peninsulars, and capes of Europe, and the severe regularity of the African coast. In this respect Africa is the most forbidding of all of the continents, offering few sheltering bays in which a vessel may find haven. Still again Africa is poorly supplied with navigable rivers. its great rivers are the Congo, the Zambezi,, the Niger, the Nile. Its smaller rivers are the Senegal, the Ogowe, the Orange, and the Limpopo. All of these rivers rise in the elevated interior and flow down through cascade after cascade to the sea, thus making navigation well-nigh impossible.
The Congo. The Congo, which carries to the sea the largest quantity of water of any of the African rivers, rises in the lake region toward the eastern coast, makes a a long curve toward the north and then plunges down from the highland to sea level, through 200 miles of rocky brawles and picturesque cascades which made Henry Stanley’s journey up the river one of immense labor and danger. Ocean steamers can ascend the Congo only 110 miles to Matadi.
The Niger. The Niger system rises in the northern portion of the West African Highland of Futa-Jallon, describes a great curve to the north, and drops into the lowlands of the Bight of Benin, where it spreads out into a series of nineteen or twenty marshes and smaller rivers among which the Nun, the Forcados, Bonny and Cross rivers are alone navigable by boats of any considerable size. Each river has its sandbar guarding the mouth, and between alluvial mud and rocky shoals the main bed of the streams are made almost useless for sea-going crafts. most of the ivory and slave traffic of the upper Niger has been carried on across the desert rather than attempt to follow the river to the coast.
The Zambesi and Others. The Zambesi River takes its rise in the far western part of the continent in southern Angola, sweeps across the central tableland, swerves suddenly northward toward Lake Nyasa, and then plunges down to the sea. James Bryce calls the Victoria Falls on the Zambesi “the only very grand natural object which South Africa has to show.” These falls effectually cut off all navigation and consequently help to lock the interior to the outer world.
The Nile, as is well known, serves navigation better, therefore from that direction exploration and travel extend far up toward the heart of Africa, even as far back as the reign of the Pharaohs.
On the whole the rivers of Africa have given little encouragement to the traveler to explore the interior sections of Africa. “All the rivers,” says Keane, “Nile, Congo, and Niger, are interrupted by cataracts and rapids which cut off from outward intercourse populous regions whose fluvial systems ramify over many hundred millions of acres.”
“East of the Nile and of the great lakes there is no space between the plateau and the coast for the development of large streams.”
North of the Zambesi for 2400 miles there is not a great river and between the Senegal and the mouth of the Nile, a distance of 4800 miles, no stream of importance empties into the sea.
The Mountains and Desserts. Another barrier to the outside world is the system of mountains and deserts. Sahara, like the ring of fire, guarding the sleeping maiden in the early Norse myths, encircles central Africa from the north, cutting off all penetration for centuries until at last the camel was introduced, giving some access for trade, but not inviting exploration. the city of Timbuktu, long known to fame through the coast tribes, was first visited by a white man, Major Laing, in 1825, Mungo Park, having failed to reach it a few years before, being drowned just on the eve of his arrival at this long looked for goal. To the southwest of Sahara the high tablelands of Futa-Jallon, rising at its highest point to the altitude of 10,000 feet, gives precipitousness to the upper reaches of the rivers, and forms an effectual barrier against easy exploration.
Sweeping on down the coast to the head of the Gulf of Guinea, one finds the Kamerun Mountains, whose giant peaks, the “Three Sisters,” attain an altitude of 14,000 feet, which, because they are so formidable and are usually covered with snow are called by the natives the “Mountains of the Gods.” These mountains pile themselves precipitously above the sea, and thus effectually bar a passage to the interior, which otherwise might have been found through the sheltering bays of the gulf.
Still further south, not only do the rivers give poor facilities for navigation, but the heat, the rainfall, the heavy growth of vegetation, the terrible fevers, and insect pests of the torrid zone, have held the white man at a distance for long centuries. The eastern coast is guarded by a long line of mountains and tablelands, culminating in Kilimanjaro and Kenya, both over 18,000 feet high, which form the roof of the continent and through which mountain chains all the eastern rivers must pierce to find vent into the sea.
It is this general contour of the continent that causes Keane to remark, “The comparative absence of navigable waters, of islands and great harbors, combined with the great extent of desert wastes, has mainly contributed to exclude Africa from the general life of the commercial world.” Like the mountain peoples of Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina, who for two centuries or more have been held in isolation by their mountain fastnesses and hence have fallen two centuries behind the procession of civilization, so the African peoples, shut in by the natural barriers of their own continent for thousands of years, have dropped many centuries behind the progress of civilization, not altogether because of less capacity, but mainly, at least, because of less contacts.
Africa Land Unknown. Although Egypt was one of the cradles, if not the cradle, of civilization, and the northern coast of Africa has been known during the whole period of which history gives an account, still Africa as a continent was not at all seriously considered until after the establishment of the English Society for the Exploration of Africa in 1788. A few more daring spirits had made journeys down the west coast as early as the fourteenth century. Marco Pizzigami plotted part of the coast as early as 1367, and the people of Dieppe claim to have made a settlement on the Guinea coast as early as 1364.
The Portuguese, under Prince Henry, deserve the credit of having really opened West Africa to exploration. in 1415 John I of Portugal and his five sons attacked and captured Ceuta, a fort which faces Gibraltar. Henry, the youngest of five sons, following this initial exploit, determined to know more about the African continent and to Christianize its people. By 1445 his followers had explored the coast as far south as Cape Verde, and in 1461, they reached the coast of Sierra Leone. The death of Henry in 1460 did not dampen the Portuguese ardor, for in 1470 we find them at the equator.
Cape Lopez, near the mouth of the Congo, and many other geographical points, bear the names of these early Portuguese explorers, such as Lopez Goncolvez.
“It is also certain that the Portuguese formed permanent settlements at several points along the coast, and the remains have even been discovered of buildings and of rusty guns in the island of Coniquet toward the center of the Gaboon Estuary. But for over three hundred and fifty years after the first discoveries, European commercial relations were mainly confined to the slave trade, those engaged in this nefarious business maintaining a studied silence and screening from the eyes of the outerworld the scenes of their profitable operations.”
Mungo Park. In 1796 the Society for the Exploration of Africa sent Mungo Park to the west coast to make an entrance through the Gambia River. His motives, as he declares, were “a passionate desire to examine into the productions of a country so little known; and to become experimentally acquainted with the modes of life, and character of the natives.”
His directions from the society were “to pass on to the river Niger, either by way of Bambouk, or by such other route as should be found most convenient. That I should ascertain the course and if possible the rise and termination of that river. That I should use my utmost exertions to visit the principal towns or cities of its neighborhood, particularly Timbuktu and Haussa; and that I should be afterward at liberty to return to Europe either by way of the Gambia or by such other route, as, under the then existing circumstances of my situation and prospects, should appear to me to be the most advisable.”
Park reached the Niger, and proved that it flowed eastward, but he did not reach Timbuktu either on his journey or his subsequent journey of 1805, nor was he able to follow this river to its mouth. he did, however, arouse a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for African exploration which led Laing, Caille, and Lander, and later Barth, Vogel, Nachtigal, Livingston, and a score of others to give their lives to the discovery of this great continent.
Africa and America. Unfortunately for Africa, dreams of fabulous wealth in America drew the attention away from Africa for two hundred years. Africa was only secondary in that it furnished slaves to carry forward the work of the new continent.
“When the New World was discovered,” says Thornton, “west Africa was sacrificed to America. . . . We would like, therefore, to point out some points of contrasts and connection between the two. Firstly, the celebrated Papal Bull of 1493 marked off the eastern world for the Portuguese and the western world for the Spaniard, so that at first each nation ran a different course.
“Next, while the West Indian Islands have comparatively a healthy climate, the west Africa coast is notoriously unhealthy for white men, and even its native inhabitants suffer constantly from malaria. Hence, while the West Indies became a sphere of European settlement, and one of the very few tropical ports of the world where colonists from Great Britain have made a home, the west coast of Africa, from first to last, has hardly been suitable even for temporary residence. Again, West Indian colonies have always been colonies of produce. . . . West Africa, on the contrary, though producing gold, palm oil, and jungle products, has, as a whole, no definite system of cultivation, no regular agricultural settlements, and no mining centers.
“Further, slavery in the West Indies promoted cultivation within certain limits, and retarded it in West Africa. it was impossible to develop (that) part of the world which was perpetually being drained of its labor supply.” Thus it is again seen how fortune retarded the development of a continent.
Climate of Africa. More of Africa lies within the Torrid Zone than that of any other continent, though South America is a fairly close second. In addition, to Africa’s Torrid zone, however, there are two great desert regions, Sahara in the north and Kalahari in the south. The trade winds, “blowing from the northeast in the northern, from the southeast in the southern hemisphere, divert to the equator most of the vapors crossing their path, leaving elsewhere clear skies and arid lands.”
Were it not for the fact that great stretches of the continent rise to high plateaus, the heat of the continent would be unendurable. As it is the western coast from the mouth of the Gambia River, at 12 degrees north latitude, is a section of very heavy rainfall, heavy forestation, and humid climate. The annual rainfall in this section varies from 100 inches along the ivory coast, the gold coast, the slave coast, and the Kamerun section, to between twenty and forty inches at the altitude of Benguela. This is the section, as will be seen later, from which most of the American slaves were drawn, and the influence of these climatic conditions on the development of the ancestors of our slaves will have a very vital bearing on our studies.
The east coast of Africa is high and more open and the rainfall much lower, hence the climate is far more pleasant, varying from 50 degrees to 70 degrees mean temperature. The great section known as the Southern cattle zone, including the territory south of a line drawn from Benguela to the mouth of the Zambesi is also high and has a rainfall not to exceed ten to twelve inches. The great central section, known as the Sudan, stretching across the continent from the Atlantic coast to the Mile basin, between the lines of 15 degrees and 5 degrees north latitude, has in its northern section a high and dry climate. The central section of the continent known as Uganda, Buganda, and neighboring territory, north and west of lake Victoria, is also high and therefore temperate in climate although located almost astride the equator.
These four sections in Africa which are high and temperatethe northern half of the Sudan, the southern Cattle Zone, the central section, west of Victoria, and the northeast coast, are very different from the lower sections of the continent in development, organization, and capacity of the people.
The Resources of Africa. Africa is rich in vegetable oils, fibres, gums, and hardwood. “First among the trees of Africa is the oil palm, first in beauty, first in utility, and first in fertility.” “Is the traveler athirst and weary?her luxurious foliage gives him shelter, whilst from her tree trunk pours forth a draught of foaming wine. Is the traveler without meat?then her nut oil and palm cabbage provide a meal fit for a sylvan prince. What will youmerchant, traveler, native?a loin cloth, a tool, a mat, a roof, a wall, a house, a fortune, or a sylvan picture?these and more are to be found in the oil palm of West Africa.”
The cocoanut palm which thrives only near the coast is also a very prolific tree and grows in great profusion. from the oil palm we get “pure olive oil, lubricating oil, the oil of soap, the base of margarine, and during the war one of the ingredients of high explosives. from cocoanut palm, our cocoa-mats, materials for making sacks and rope false horse hair for stuffing cushions and nut butter or margarine.” Ground nuts, from which the French manufacture salad oils, grow in profusion. Cocoa originally secured from South America is now largely drawn from Africa.
The gum which is chief of all the products of Africa is rubber, which has turned millions of dollars into European treasuries. Among the African fibres, cotton easily holds first place and the annual value of the crop now runs into the millions of dollars.
Precious Metals. South Africa is the world’s greatest diamond field. It is estimated that $1,000, 000, 000 ($1 billion) would no more than cover the value of diamonds taken from this section in the last fifty years.
Harris thinks that the immense sum of gold for Solomon’s temple was secured in eastern Rhodesia.
“The traveler through Rhodesia looks on in wonder at kopjes whose bowlders are linked together and then rendered impregnable to assault by hewn granite walls in most cases several feet thick. In any single ruin there must be hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of granite blocks shaped by some prodigious human agency and then built into the walls and structures covering extensive areas of the territory in the Zambesi valley. . . . It is clearat least to most peoplethat these extensive structures were not the work of the indigenous African, but that of some immigrant racean immigrant race bent not upon civilization, but the exploitation of the resources of the valley. . . . [This theory of some foreign race building Great Zimbabwe has been abandoned. Editor’s note. RL]
“Their implements remain to this daynot single instruments in a given spot, but hundreds of them, scattered over the entire territory–the implements of the gold seeker, picks, crucibles, gold wiring presses and metal engravers. Nor is this all, for many of the old workings remains today just as they were hurriedly forsaken on one tragic day many centuries ago, while scattered around in the debris are tiny fragments of pure gold, beads, wire and countless little nails all of solid gold.”
Whether Harris is right in his conjecture or not, it is certain that Africa now has three great gold fields, the Gold Coast with an output of seven to eight million dollars annually, Southern Rhodesia with an output of twelve or millions of dollars annually, and the Randt, which is richer than either of the other fields. Africa thus proves to be one of the very richest of the continents, with gold, diamonds, cotton, rubber, ivory, and the great oil products as her chief contributions to the world’s wealth.
The Inhabitants of Africa. Some anthropologists have attempted to classify humanity on the basis of color, others on the basis of bodily form, others on the basis of mental characteristics, and still others as to cultural characteristics. One does not have to follow many of these attempts to reach the conclusion that no classification can be made which is completely discriminatory and obviates all overlapping and duplication. However, there are certain outstanding features of various types that at least give basis of general groupings. in all classifications there is recognition of the Negro as that part of humanity which has been developed under tropical conditions.
Humanity sprang from a common anthropoid which in prehistoric times was separated into various groups, which groups lived for continuous centuries under decidedly different environments. The environments of each stamped itself upon the biological life of the group and gradually brought about racial differentiation. The Negro is that group of people who, because of this long process of natural selection and response to environment, has come to be the race best adapted to the heat and humidity of the tropics. It would normally be expected, therefore, that there would be be wide differences between groups of the Negroid type, due to great differences of heat, rainfall, elevation, and products of the different sections of Africa. this difference which we would naturally expect, we actually find. [For a more current environmental perspective on the evolution and dispersal of humanity based on modern genetic research, read: “A Paler Shade of Black“ and “Tell the Truth.”]
Classifications of Africans. Harris divides the inhabitants of Africa into seven groups:
1. The Semitic family, along the north coast and in Abyssinia.
2. The Hamitic family, mainly in the Sahara, Egypt, Galla, and Somali Land.
4. The Negro systems, in western and central Sudan, Upper Guinea, and the Upper Nile regions.
5. The Bantu family, everywhere south of about 6 degrees N. latitude, except in the Hottentot domain.
6. The Hottentot group, in the extreme southwestern corner from the Tropic of Capricorn to the cape.
7. The Malayo-Polynesian family, in Madagascar.
[The above map was prepared by Churchward, M.D, renowned British archaeologist and authority on the origin of races, showing where civilization originated. It is the area marked the “Home of the Pigmies.” Churchward has six groups in his scheme: 1) Pigmies, 2) Masaba Negro, 3) Nilotic Negro, 4) True Negro, 5) Bushmen, 6) Hottentot. The writer speculated that the Bushmen developed from the Pigmies and traveled south and that the Hottentot evolved from Bushmen. He did not attempt in his scheme to account for the natives of Madgascar]
Professor Dowd divides the Negroes into five groups or types:
“First, the Negritos, including the dwarf races of the Equatorial regions, the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert, and the Hottentots of the Southern Steppe.
“Second, the Negritians, including all the natives of dark skin and wooly hair, occupying the territory of the Sudan.
“Third, the Fellatahs, a race supposed to have sprung from crossing the Berbers of the desert with Negritians of Sudan,(occupying the northern portion of the sudan).
“Fourth, the Bantus, including a vast population of somewhat lighter color and less Negroid features than the natives of the Sudan, occupying almost all of the West Africa below the Sudan.
“Fifth, the Gallas, including all of the lighter colored people of east Africa from the Galla country to the Zambesi river.”
The second and fourth groups, that is the Negritians of the great western Sudan and the Bantus of the west coast stretching from the Niger river to the southern point of Angola, are the groups with which our study is concerned, for from these groups come most of our American slaves.
To be sure, some slaves were the introduced into Brazil and other sections of the new World, from the east coast of Africa, the chief point of traffic being Mozambique. “In 1645 the first slaves were exported from Mozambique to brazil. This action was brought about by the fact that the province of Angola had fallen for a time into the hands of the Dutch, and therefore their (Portuguese) supply of slaves to Brazil was temporarily stopped. in consequence of this, Mozambique and Zambesi for some years replaced West Africa as a slave market.”
Negro Characteristics. The Negroes of Africa are not all black as most people have supposed. They vary in color from the brownish yellow of the Bushmen whom Johnson describes as a “light olive yellowthrough which the mantling of the blood can be seen in the cheeks” to the sooty black Negro of the Sudan and the neighboring lands. Nassau remarks: “Many of the Bantus have Caucasians-like features.” The Gallas of the east coast are almost all much lighter in color, due partly to difference in climate, and partly to intermixture with Semitic and Hamitic peoples.
The Negroes of Buganda and the region east of Victoria Nyanza are also tall, straight and of a lighter color, due perhaps to similar causes. Most Negro types have hair which is coarse and tightly curled, due to the elliptical shape of the hair follicle and the oblique emergence of the hair from the skin. But here again there is great divergence.
“Occasionally in the Pigmy or Forest races the hair is brownish or greenish grey, or may even have a tinge of red.” The author has frequently noticed that where Negroes are of mixed blood, the blond or reddish hair of the Nordic races has given decided tinge to the mulatto’s hair.
The Negro of Africa does not have so much beard or bodily growth as the men of European type. The typical Negro head is long (dolichocephalic) and decidedly prognathous, the width across the brow is usually less than across the cheek bone, giving the face a hexagonal rather than an oval form as among Europeans. The nose is decidedly flat, because the nasal spine is poorly developed of often absent. the lips are usually thicker and turned outward. Johnson thinks the Negro is broader across the chest than any other human species except the Caucasian.
There is much evidence that certain African tribes such as the pigmies are among the most primitive living men. To all these descriptions there are decided exceptions. “The difference in color is due to the influence of climate. Near the coast the greater forests and greater numbers of cloudy days protect the complexion from the sun and give it a lighter tint, while the open country of the north and the predominance of clear days, cause the pigmentation of the skin to thicken and darken, thus giving the complexion a deeper and more glossy black.”
Certain tribes, such as the Waganda of Central Africa, are not so dolichocephalic, nor so prognathous, nor do they have such flat noses. they are lighter in color and many of the women are said to be very beautiful. It will readily be seen that there is no uniformity of type, but great variety, due to climate, food supply, labor and various other modifying causes.
Brain Capacity of Negroes. Painstaking investigations have been made to determine the comparative weight and also the comparative capacity of cranial cavity in various races.
“There is sufficient data available to establish beyond a doubt the fact that the brain weight of the whites is larger than that of most other races, particularly larger than that of the Negroes. That of the white male is about 1360 grams. The investigation of cranial capacities are quite in accord with these results. According to Topinard, the capacity of the skull of males of the Neolithic period in Europe is 1560 cc (44 cases); that of modern European is the same (347 cases); that of the Mongoloid race, 1510cc (68 cases), of African Negroes 1405 cc (83 cases); and of the Negroes of the Pacific Ocean, 1460 cc (46 cases). Here we have, therefore, a decided difference in favor of the white race.”
Boas proceeds to show that the measurement of the heads of eminent men seems to point to a larger brain capacity (1605cc as compared with 1560cc) and that the cranial capacity of forty-five criminals measured 1580cc or more than the average. On the contrary, the brains of many eminent men are under the average in size, and the brain of white women is on the average nearly 100cc smaller than the brain of white men.
Few men in our day would have the hardihood to assert that the brain of the white woman is inferior to that of the white man. They are evidently different in quality, but it would be foolish to assert superiority on either size. While, therefore, difference in size may indicate greater capacity for the larger brain, anthropologists are very slow to assert this superiority. Besides there is wide variety among the Negroes themselves as to the brain capacity, making it impossible to mark down the whole race as mentally inferior.
Source: W.D. Weatherford, Ph.D. The Negro from Africa to America. New York: George H. Doran, Co., 1924
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Look at how Africa is changingThe continent is on the move in the areas of economic development, conflict resolution and democratic governanceBy Adekeye AdebajoThe Observer, Sunday 27 February 2011Africa has been the second-fastest growing region in the world after Asia in the past decade and its population of nearly 1 billion consumers will provide an important future global market. As the editorial in last week’s Observer noted: “Europe and the UK have been slow to adjust to the rise of an Africa powered by economic growth and a burgeoning consumer boom.” China, unlike the west, is investing heavily in Africa’s infrastructure sectorsroads, railways, electricityand has established a strong presence in its extractive sectors. . . . Long-running conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and south Sudan have been largely brought to an end, while the new state of South Sudan is close to being born following a peaceful referendum. While many of these conflicts have been calmed through the help of the United Nations, regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union (AU) have also sacrificed blood and treasure in a bid to achieve Pax Africana.Guardian
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By Adam Hochschild
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 29 April 2010