Thoughts

Socotra

SOCOTRA, Yemen . . . a celestial island of Dragon Blood trees and dragonflies.


Her fragile ecosystem is falling apart. It was a slow death at first; climate change is a familiar culprit. Her wounds took a turn for the worse amid the ongoing war against Yemen. The world must not turn away from this injustice. If the war ends tomorrow, we might salvage her rare charms, and with persistance she may even flourish. Socotra was once the most alien-looking place on Earth, untouched by man’s corruption. Alas, the islands’ sanctity has withered away in recent years . . .

Socotra, Yemen . . . a military base for foreign invaders.

Dragon Blood trees, formally known as Dracaena Cinnabari, are so called for the thick crimson sap that runs through their trunks and branches, much like the blood that runs through our own bodies. These trees breathe. The resin has been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties. Our island, with all its endemic flora and fauna, only became a UNESCO World Heritage site in this past decade. As I write this, GCC troops are vandalizing Socotra’s environment from the surface all the way down to the marrow. Thousands of Dragon Blood trees that have grown undisturbed for four centuries, are now being uprooted and killed in mere minutes — all it takes is a push of a few buttons on a bulldozer to kill these ancient trees. Many Dragon Blood trees are being exported into the UAE for aesthetic purposes. There, these trees shrivel up and die, as the UAE’s habitat is not natural for them to thrive.

Dragon Blood trees today are literally bleeding between the firm grips of warfare. Socotra has become another playground for supremely wealthy savages. The endemic life that once made her beautiful is being exploited faster than her ability to reproduce, and the life that remains, falls into decay.

This is the current reality, but how can we — the concerned citizens of Earth — put this nightmare to an end? Unfortunately, the world’s leading powers focus only on selfish political agendas, showcasing military strength, and immediate self-gratification over the future of our shared ecosystem, world harmony, and steady perseverance towards a greener and happier planetIf only there were a way to stop this madness before it’s too late.


About This Painting:
Socotra is an island that lies just south of Yemen and east of the Horn of Africa, on the Arabian Sea. Desolate, yet mythical. This acrylic painting depicts the dragon blood trees and dragonflies that call Socotra their only “home”. On the foreground, I illustrated an anguished dryad sipping her dragon elixir (i.e., gahwa Yemenia). 



This was my first time using acrylics, and it took some getting used to. The quality of the final piece is not as I imagined it to be, because I used gouache as a base layer, and the canvas I applied on was meant for water-based paints. I do plan to create an improved version of this piece in gouache and on a much larger canvas. 

Random Thought:
Socotra is a living example of the phenomenon where hearts of gold attract toxicity. Exceptionally kind-hearted people accept bad souls, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, and trying to bring a positive influence into their unstable minds and troubled lives. Many times, those with hearts of gold become emotionally exhausted, whether they realize it or not, as their positivity has been sucked dry.

For detailed information on these trees, this article by Linda Crampton, is very informative. This article by Michael Horton, details the devastation and divide that Yemen is now facing, as KSA and the UAE continue to take advantage of the chaos they caused.

An Homage to Yugoslavia

KSV_SRB2_

Dear Serbia: Stay strong, and please do not feel compelled to join forces with NATO.

I created this advocacy poster to honour Serbian Statehood Day, which occurred on February 15th and 16th. Actually, what triggered me to start sketching was last week’s tragedy in Libya, which involved two Serbian embassy employees whom were abducted by ISIL last Fall, and then killed in a U.S. air strike. Since I have no knowledge of Serbian, I wrote in Russian Cyrillic: “Kosovo aeta Serbija”, or Kosovo is Serbia. I adapted the “И” (pronounced “i”) to represent an Orthodox cross.

This illustraion goes to show the world that not all Muslims (or people raised as Muslim) support Kosovo as a sovereign nation or Albanian-owned territory. Many of us are in favour of the historic Slavic Kosovo. However, the resolution to this conflict is not as simple as declaring which ethnic group has more of the historic right to the modern-day Kosovar boundaries. It is disputed whether or not Albanians are descendants of the Dardani tribe that called parts of Kosovo their home. It is known that Serbians called the area their homeland from the early Middle Ages. Later, when the Ottoman Empire ruled over the Balkans for almost 500 years, Albanians saw an increase of privileged status. The Soviet Union rule over the Balkans in the 20th century then gave the Slavic folk short-lived unification.

Then, along came the USA into this already hot mess of fallen empires and frustrated ethnic tensions . . . Perhaps due to all the ethnic migrations, foreign interference, internal gangs, underground movements, and crimes, the political border that marks the entire territory of Kosovo needs to be revised for the modern-day. Is there any other way?

Could Albanian and Serbian parties agree on new borders based not off of their own demands, but off of the majority views of the many towns that lie within it? The two population groups are clearly not appeased with the current boundaries. Could there even be a compromise where Serbia and Albania have an equal share and rule over Kosovo, instead of having foreign countries intervene by clustering the Serbians in the extreme north of the Kosovo territory? Will both sides come to a satisfactory resolution soon? I would love to see that.  Anyhow, I find this topic very interesting, and will continue to learn more about it.

You may view the process of my work below. In the next week or so (depending on how I manage my spare time), I will try to produce artwork for even more mountain folk — ABYSSINIA! After that, I will refocus on Mesopotamia, Gilgamesh, and Cuneiform.

stage_1stage_2stage_3

(from) Akkadian syllabary | (to) Hebrew symbolism — part II

As promised, our voyage into this subject is far from over! This post is a continuation of a previous post I wrote over the summer. Consider reading Part I before you proceed with my blatherings below.
BET-Sumerian|Semitic_01I recently found a credible resource that contains a cohesive list of Sumerian pictograms. It lists [figure 3a.] under E(scroll down to the letter ‘E’; “E2″ is the third entry). In this link, E2 is defined as ‘household’ (if you don’t feel like scrolling, searching, and clicking, you can find the definition directly [here]). Although both pages in the links I provided are found in The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), I am still relieved to see consistency in both pages, and the database it easy for me to understand.  I was beginning to doubt the pages of text by Budge, but the ETCSL confirms (to me) his rendition to be valid and gives me a more thorough insight that the sign is indeed closer to late Sumerian rather than Akkadian — scroll to E2.

What boggles me is, how do we vocalise E2? How is it even pronounced?!
Is it: “Eh, subscript 2”?, or: “EEEE!”?!.  I need a scholar of Sumerian literature to clarify this for me — I’m surprised that “e” means ‘house’ in Sumerian.

Ok, enough with Sumerian for now. Let’s move on to Akkadian!

BET-Sumerian|Semitic_02
In this page, one can find a rich resource of Akkadian (including both Babylonian and Assyrian phases of the language) scriptures and linguistics. Scroll down to segment 5.3 on Phonetic Complements, and we are fortunate to see that [figure 4] is used in an example, and is defined as ‘house’. We are even given more detail of the Sumerian variant which is pronounced as “e”, and not “bitum”. Furthermore, it lightly explains the evolution to the logogram (then, the phonogram) features of the later Akkadian (Old Babylonian), from the former pictographic elements of the same reference (i.e., ‘house’) in the older Sumero-Akkadian.  It’s confusing and gets more confusing as you read into it, but in the end, everything begins making sense.

Let us now see a third source: the Assyrian dictionary (also claims to be late Akkadian). The same sign and the same pronunciation for the reference ‘house’ is given.

There are numerous resources for learning Neo-Babylonian syllabary. Here is one by the University of Helsinki’s “Introduction to the Babylonian Language” course. The chart organises chunks of syllables that exist in the language, either by consonant + vowel or vowel + consonant. Find “bi” and “tu” on the chart, and you’ve got two syllables that together denote ‘house’, as demonstrated on [figure 5]. I often find that once I have learned a Neo-Babylonian word and its definition, I break it up into syllables (C+V or V+C), and I match it up to the chart. I write it down, and I check as many sources as possible to verify whether the written form I have is the correct written form of the word.

Now we can be certain of the signs I have illustrated in the second image. When I find more time, I will try to see the connection between figures 3a, 4, and 5. How did [figure 4] result in [5]? The “bi” syllable in [figure 5] looks like it could have been borrowed from the front end of the logogram for “bitum” in [figure 4] (yes, Cuneiform is written left to right!), but I am sure if we found another Old-Assyrian word that begins with “bi”, the logogram wouldn’t necessarily have the same front end (those double arrows).

For example, if an Assyrian scribe from 1500 BCE were to have separated the double arrows of the logogram “bitum” from the four standing wedges, the double arrows would not be read as “bi” — when the two forms separated, the logogram is meaningless. The phonogram writing method of the Neo-Babylonians is closer to most modern Western alphabets, regardless of script. It relies on combinations of sounds, which makes learning it easier, and more practical for newer words into a phonetic language to be introduced and have a written phonetic form.

Once I learn more about the evolution between Old-Assyrian logograms to Neo-Babylonian phonograms, and if there is a connection we can see, I will dedicate a few posts to that. I’ll try to make it an interesting read! Since I am now familiar with enough online/printed resources and these specific Cuneiform signs, I will soon have to flee this nest (*cough*house*cough*) of safety I’ve constructed, and onto more  challenging Cuneiform signs. Wish me luck.

“Sapari (Tema Temima)”

Sapari_refined

Later Draft: This is sloppier because I was using rusty old calligraphy nibs and dipping them in a variety of coloured inks (I tried, but failed, to do gradient swatches). The nibs caused abrasion on the surface of my sheet, so the inking was not applied evenly in certain areas! I used high-end inks and gold leaf, but the quality of my work isn’t quite better than my earlier draft with cheaper utensils (see below).

See the complete version (+ audio) of Sa’adiah ben Amram’s poem in the Piyyut database.

Long ago, I remember trying to get in touch with Yemenite musical heritage, during which an acquaintance mentioned Sa’adia ben Amram to me. Information was sparse on this 17th century poet from the highlands of northern Yemen (normally, I’d use Jstor for this type of search, but my student access expired…sorry, Google). It didn’t take much longer until I discovered that Orphaned Land, an Israeli progressive metal band that I hadn’t heard from since 2008, made a cover of one of Amram’s renown poems, “Sapari”. Amazing! The hybrid melodies between traditional Yemeni folk vocals intertwining with elements of metal was masterfully achieved (to my ears, at least)—I listened to the track several more times, and still didn’t know how to react!

I was captivated enough to find myself comparing the lyrics and the actual poem side-by-side, with the (limited) Hebrew I understood, whilst picking up new vocabulary in the process. To my excitement, I discovered that “Sapari” is often performed by many other Israeli musicians (whom weren’t all Mizrachi) in a variety of genres. The diversity and depth I find in many other Israeli songs, whether folk, reggae, or pop, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, or Sefardi, makes it so much more intriguing to me than…than the bland khaliji pop music I was constantly exposed to in Dubai, where every khaliji hit seemed like an uninspired mimicry of the previous khaliji hit (but hey, you are free to enjoy Khaliji music if it’s your cup of shai!).

I am a 100% halal-certified beef frank; don’t let the opinion of one Yemeni girl offend you.

Sapari_sketch

Early Doodle: I did this on a train in a few minutes, using 1 simple calligraphy pen and gold Sharpie. Notice how much more refined the edges are (compared to above) and the even application of ink. In spite of the turbulence, I was more confident (perhaps because subconsciously, I knew it was just a draft). Just goes to show you, confidence and simplicity can sometimes make-up for lack of good-quality materials, even on a commute 😉

סַפְּרִי תַמָּה תְמִימָה
סַפְּרִי נָגִיל בְּתֵימָא
בַּת מְלָכִים הַחֲכָמָה
אָן מְקוֹמֵךְ סַפְּרִי לִי
עָנְתָה יוֹנָה סְעַדְיָה
לִי בְּפַלְטֵרִין עֲלִיָּה
וַאֲנִי תּוֹךְ לֵב אֳנִיָּה
בַּיְּפִי עוֹטָה מְעִילִי

Tell me, O innocent oneTell me, we will rejoice in innocence! Daughter of wise kings, where is your hiding place? Tell me. My dove answered: Sa’adya, I went up to the palaces. And I, though secretly I am poor, still I am robed in beauty.

If you are reading this post and can point me to credible references or exhibits regarding Sa’adia ben Amram or other Yemenite/Yemeni/Yemen-ish artists (contemporary or historic), please share! 😀 Preferably in English (or Arabic) since my Hebrew is weak. hehe.

(from) Akkadian syllabary | (to) Hebrew symbolism

First, a brief history lesson:
The earliest Sumerians sailed from [wherever their origins were], and settled along the marshes of southern Mesopotamia. Their predecessors (much earlier Sumerians) scribed on papyrus and vellum (skin), but in their new settlement, they found an abundance of clay; a much more resourceful medium for the scribes! At that point, the Sumerian inscriptions still remained pictographic. What made such complex renderings of early Sumerian pictographs possible, was due to their standard usage of dry, flat, thin, and hard papyrus and vellum. (See chapter “Writing and Learning” in Babylonian Life and History by Sir Ernest Alfred Budge. I am hunting for additional supporting resources.)

Moving on to Clay:
In these marshlands, clay eventually replaced the use of papyrus and vellum; thus, the Sumerian scribes adopted the use of clay slabs as their medium of choice. As the Sumerian scribes picked up the use of clay in the region, in exchange, the non-Sumerian inhabitants of the region gradually adopted the Sumerian pictographic script, and incorporated it into their own (unrelated) language. I don’t call them “natives”, as these inhabitants—Semites—dwelled north of the marshlands in northern Mesopotamia. These inhabitants are known as Akkadians.

As these earliest Akkadians began using a non-Semitic pictographic script to express their Semitic language, they gradually reformed some existing pictographs with established references to refer to different subjects, objects, or ideas. Which is another topic for another time.BET-Evolution-01Both with their distinctive languages, the Sumerians and early Akkadians came into contact with one another…and it was Akkadian, in its spoken and written form, that began to replace Sumerian, to become lingua franca of the greater region, whilst Sumerian remained as the lishanu qudeshu (sacred tongue?). In time, Sumerian became defunct in both spoken and written forms that even Ashurbanipal’s scribes struggled to decipher some of the Sumerian tablets . Once again, another topic for another time.

Elimination of Curves:
We have maintained that both ethnic and linguistic groups adopted the use of clay for their inscriptions. The pictographs that were innovated for use on dry papyrus or vellum had to be modified for simpler application on the new medium: wet slabs of clay. Imagine yourself trying to carve complex imagery on wet clay; so very gloopy!

These modifications were slight: curves and circles on existing pictographs were straightened out into solid lines. Imagine carving solid lines onto wet clay; much more manageable!

BET-Evolution-02Wedges:
With clay, came a new stylus choice: the tapered reed. The wider edge of the reed lead to one end of these solid lines to be thicker and more wedge shaped. This is where these solid lines developed into the wedged lines known as Cuneiform. Grrrrrrrradually, these wedges assumed one of two directions: a wedge either pointed upwards or faced the left (I want to know why and how that process occurred). Even more gradually, these upward and leftward wedged symbols were simplified down to 89 syllables (Old Babylonian) and any association with pictographic references were no longer obvious.

|| Can we say they vanished? — confirmed: p. 153-155, the pictorial association of the pictographs became semi-pictorial, then with the advent of wedges, the “semi-pictorial” wedges developed independently of the pictograph…the wedges (dare I say) developed some character of their own (hehe). Here I go a third time: another topic for another time.

BET-Evolution-03
IN CONCLUSION:
Now, let us take a gander at the evolution of early Akkadian pictographs into later Akkadian cuneiform, and see if we can recognize it using our modern Semitic language skills. The Hebrew ‘B’, ב, carries the symbolic reference of “house”, or “dwelling”. I provided Syriac in the illustration below; one cannot deny the resemblance between the three! BET-Evolution-04Just as the Phoenician alphabet rotated in various degrees will evoke to mind the Greek and Old Italic alphabet (toda raba, Agent-101), and even the Runic all the way in Scandinavia — similarly, we begin to see some resemblance between proto-Semitic cuneiform all the way to our many modern-day Semitic scripts.

But I have given just one comparison that may be far-fetched from a potential theory. I must experiment a little more to justify whether the syllabic development of the earliest forms of Sumero-Akkadian may have influenced upon the symbolic development of early Phoenician and Aramaic (pssst: key words are italicised)!BET-Evolution-05Just to ensure this is not an isolated instance and I am not just hallucinating a trivial theory, I will take my pick on another character from the Phoenician or Aramaic alphabet and work my way backwards to see if I can pinpoint the Akkadian variant of the same symbol in its reference AND its appearance.

Albeit, a character’s appearance will have evolved through the centuries and millennia, we can track the way the character evolved by lining up each character by chronology and script (same script like Old Babylonian and Neo-Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian, and Achaemenian Persian, OR different scripts, like Phoenician, Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, Nabatean, or Syriac). Then, we can examine the traits, new and/or discarded, side by side. Even the meaning can change over time, like gimel (Hebrew) / jamal (Arabic) means both ”camel” as well as “beautiful“ Arabic.

After tracing backwards with several characters, I will have enough instances to develop a theory and to analyse each of these instances even deeper, which yields to stronger evidence. I am not an expert linguist, Semanticist, or Semiticist, so my information in this post is not to be relied on.

I will return next week with my follow-up experiment.

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