What Pegman Saw: Blackbirding

Image: Googgle Street View

Solomon crouched to the last snare. This was often the best place – dense shrubs in the lea of a tumbledown wall, the sound of waves crackling over the shingle beach below.

The blackbird eyed him. It lay on its side as if tipped by the wind, exhausted from fighting the snare. A young cock, strong, clean feathers. The scales on its left leg were torn away, bloodied, the foot nearly off where the wire had pulled tight.

The sun was almost up, the world all greys, the blackbird a scrap of night with a golden beak.

Solomon enclosed it in his hand, rubbing the soft head with his thumb. The bird was too tired to fight, breaths coming fast and shallow.

He’d always liked blackbirds – smart, handsome, harmless.

The neck broke easily with a twist of his fingers. He tossed the corpse into the sea.

Poor eating on a blackbird.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview. This week we are in Vanuatu in the Solomon Islands.

On reading the history of the islands, I found they were a target for slavers seeking labour for sugar plantations. This practice was called ‘blackbirding’.

46 thoughts on “What Pegman Saw: Blackbirding

    1. Thank you, kind lady! Poor old blackbird, though, eh? Never understood why farmers targetted them. Wonder if there was a superstition surrounding them

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      1. Ah, yes of course. Obvious now you’ve said. They’re welcome in my garden, though. Have a bird feeder that attracts way too many wood pigeons for my liking. Then the other day there was a thump on our roof and the other half went out to the sight of a buzzard pinning one of said pigeons to the lawn! Welcome one, welcome all 🙂

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      2. I witness a dinner. It was bizarre. I was eating my sandwiches and watching a blackbird tug at a worm when this sparrowhawk descended and snatched up the bird. And I thought, is this a message to watch my back?

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      1. I read an article about the French government allowing the use of glue sticks to trap songbirds. I really just don’t understand why! Surely we want to encourage song bird populations, not decimate them. Leaves me totally baffled.

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      2. It’s legal in some places and not in others. Like bullfighting and cock fighting. In most regions it’s considered disgusting, in others it’s ‘tradition’. Like fox hunting I suppose in UK and grouse shoots. It will end. There is too much opposition to it.

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      3. It’s the unnecessary nature of it that’s so awful. I can see where it all came from – even bulfighting. Man’s need to show power and prowess over even the most powerful creature, back in the days when life was less secure, when nature needed to be tamed. Now, I know nature can still bite us on the butt, but largely we have nothing to prove now. It’s all just outmoded knob shaking!

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      4. Bread and circuses, I suppose. Some would blame equal opportunities, this imagined bias in education that favours girls and casts the poor boys adrift, pinches their jobs, deprives them of manly pursuits. Men like killing things that’s all there is to it. Not all men, but enough to make changing laws difficult.

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      5. I can’t disagree with you on any of that. Saw an interesting lecture given by the historian Mary Beard after she was trolled in the most derogatory, misogynist way. She traced the hatred of women in the public eye back to the Roman and Greek periods – men just don’t like us to talk, basically. And while those attitudes remain there will always be more men in power, more men deciding what happens

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      6. Yes, you can see why the Greeks were so revered where native mythologies weren’t given the time of day. The misogyny fits in nicely with what most religions preach, so when you get it from the Pagans too, it sort of enshrines female inferiority as the normal human condition.

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      7. It just reinforced what they were already thinking. I’d love to talk to an anthropologist/historian about how that shift from mother goddesses to patriarchal Gods came about, if we know. Be interesting to find out the training begins a shift that had affected women for millennia

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      8. Robert Graves had an interesting theory that sounds about right to me—a matriarchy based on planting, growing, bearing and rearing children, until men discovered the (probably withheld) secret of paternity and through sheer brute force imposed the hegemony of the physically strongest. Since history has always been written by men, it’s to be expected that the patriarchy has been depicted as the natural state of things.

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      9. That’s really interesting, Jane. So they worked out they had some input in child bearing and used that as a way to dominate woman? Sounds utterly feasible

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      10. Graves reckoned that women always knew about paternity, and men were in awe of them in particular because they could reproduce not only themselves, but males too. When they cottoned on about paternity, it was only a short step to men keeping a woman only to reproduce themselves and no other man, to be able to say that is my son, my blood, my heir. Yes, sounds feasible to me too. That women would know and keep quiet about it for the good of the world as they saw it, and that men would use the knowledge to disrupt that world and impose a new, belligerent one.
        Graves had quite progressive ideas about feminism though.

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      11. It’s an aggressive attitude, so pretty believable! It is, after all, what many male animals do by instinct, make sure they are the only ones able to reproduce, kill the offspring of rivals.

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      12. Funny that human males didn’t have that particular instinctive insight. The evidence is that the structure of early human groups was based on collective effort, the same way wild dogs work, with tasks being allocated depending on ability not gender. And all the group protecting the young and feeding them before anyone else. Not surprising we admire the big cats more than dogs these days.

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      13. Ha! And yet, people are still drawn to these stories. I’d rather watch a documentary about ordinary people than kings and queens any day

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      14. I suppose they had their place, top of the pyramid and had all the interesting things happen to them. But everybody else had a horrible time, and I think it’s this harping on about monarchy and nobility as if they were somehow the brightest and the best the born leaders, that I find disturbing. People still believe that. Hence the success of films that take it for granted you’re going to have a male ruler who happens to be the first born son of the last king, even if he is a congenital idiot with psychotic tendencies.

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      15. … as so often happened in royal families! Problem is, too that powerful people had records left of them – portraits, writings, legal documents – so they loom so much larger than those who couldn’t write or who had no money or leisure time to do so. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I find the ordinary folk so interesting – because we’ve heard so much less from them

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      16. Very true. Living in virtual slavery under the feudal system too. I remember studying the Frondes during my degree, astonished when I realised that France was split into three ‘estates’ (nobles, clergy, peasants) and it was only the peasants who had to pay taxes. The very poorest in society paying for the very richest to live their pampered lives. Hardly surprising the Revolution happened, is it?

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      17. Not at all, no. I wonder how many of the English nobility paid taxes, and if that might not have had something to do with their terror that the revolution might cross the Channel? Given the number of right royal hangers on that there are still even after the Queen did a cull reasonably recently, the numbers in the Eighteenth century must have been considerable. Paying taxes is still a novelty for them.

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      18. Very true. I’m just astonished that after throwing the monarchy out in Britain, we reinstated them just a handful of years later. I’m guessing it’s at least partly due to the mishandling by the interregnum government. And the fact that Charles II was not the absolutist his father tried to be. And as for today, tax dodging has spread from the nobility to corporations, hasn’t it? If you’re wealthy enough, you can find ways round these inconveniences. Of course, if you can’t afford to pay the best accountants…

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      19. Same the world over. Nobody seems to really want to get rid of privilege. Do we all secretly hope one day it might be us sitting on that throne/by that pool?

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  1. Ooh! Ow! Ouch!
    I felt physical pain when Solomon snapped the blackbird’s neck. Brilliant writing to describe how he liked blackbirds immediately before his callous act. And with the title and location you show us that your story is a metaphor.
    Ooh! Ow! Ouch!

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    1. Thank you so much Penny. Glad that all came through in the writing. Dark times and horrifyingly, slavery is still with us, even if it isn’t legal. Thanks for the kind comment and for reading.

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