Sunday, February 3, 2013

Kamajoeh, Mozambique Beauty En Voile, circa 1905

As well as being a lovely image in and of itself, this is a very interesting postcard for a number of reasons. The subject of the image, almost certainly an actress or performer, is a woman of color whose name (probably Swahili or possibly Malagasy), suggests she may have come from the Portuguese colony of Mozambique in Africa, or the French colony of Madagascar off Africa's coast. Though the postcard bears a German stamp and was probably produced in Germany, the image itself is quite probably French, as her costume, with layers of filmy material wrapped low about her shoulders, and her hair, done up in the classic chignon so popular in that period, are distinctly French European in style. 

AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE Kamajoeh, Mozambique Beauty En Voile, circa 1905

Why do we find this so fascinating? Primarily because—although dance, music, and costume in the France of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was clearly influenced by the cultures of European colonial holdings—it is uncommon to find on postcards images of performers of color who actually come from these colonies.

Theatrical entertainment in France at that time was full of the romantic idealization of foreign cultures. Margaretha McLeod, a young Dutch woman who apparently learned Indonesian dance while locked in a terribly unhappy marriage in the Dutch East Indies, left her husband, made her way to Paris and, in the proud tradition of P.T. Barnum, changed her name to Mata Hari, billed herself as a Javanese princess, became hugely successful with her sensual dance routines, and the rest is history. There were so many others, many images of whom, from time to time, grace the cards we sell in our shop, but almost always they are white Europeans.

Still, though such images as this one are uncommon, we feel it's important to point out that the egalitarian nature of French society was such that performers of all cultural, religious, and ethnic origins made their way to Paris, where many found success and fame. After all, it was in the Paris of the 1920s that Josephine Baker, the famous African American dancer and stage performer, found a broad acceptance and venue for her talent that had not been available to her in the United States of that time.

Finally, we want to acknowledge that we are mere dabblers in history, and certainly not historians. Our focus is limited and narrow, and our short posts far from even remotely complete. So we offer our observations in the spirit of enthusiastic collectors, and hope they are welcomed by fellow enthusiasts and that our over simplifications of complex historical issues and events are forgiven by those more knowledgeable than ourselves.