Look to the beginning. It always matters.
Y’all, this one is so fascinating. I knew nothing when I started on this on Sunday morning and now….. voila! And it took some time to chew on it and get it to this point. I think it will be two articles!
I love beautiful pieces of jewelry. I love stones and the craftsmanship of such adornments. As I thought about what I wanted to write about regarding the monarchy, this piece would not leave me alone.
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The Afrikaners, also known as the Boers, are an ethnic group with a unique language in South Africa. They descended from Dutch, German, and French settlers who migrated there in the 1600’s. However, in 1795, Britain gained control of the country, and many British government officials and citizens settled at the cape.
The independent minded Boers resented the Anglicization of South Africa and Britain’s anti-slavery policies and resisted the British and began an exodus into African tribal territory, where they founded the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (see map below.)1 They considered themselves a distinct racial and cultural entity and wanted to secure their own future with governance on their own terms. The British angered the Boers by freeing their enslaved people.
The two new republics lived peaceably with their British neighbors until 1867, with the discovery of diamonds and gold in the region. The British wanted to further their dominance in Africa by owning the gold mines in the Boer territory.2 Conflict between the two Boer states and Britain began, and the Anglo-Boer war lasted from 1899 until 1902 when a settlement was reached and British annexed the Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
As part of this settlement, white people in the Transvaal and Orange Free States were allowed to decide how they wanted to treat Africans. The system adopted by Boers proclaimed, “There shall be no equality in State or Church between white and black.” 3 Annnnnddddddd….. As we know, apartheid is the legacy of the Afrikaners, the Boers.
Many British colonialists adopted the Afrikaners system because it protected their high wages in the mines and in industries. Africans were not allowed to occupy high skilled labor jobs and therefore were limited in the income they could earn.
This is the social and political context in which the world’s largest diamond was discovered in 1905.
The Raw Diamond
Three years after the Anglo-Boer war, the world’s largest diamond (it is still that until today) was discovered. It was named “The Cullinan” and weighed over 3,000 carats.
The person responsible for the extraction of the stone from its natural element could not sell it, and a couple of years later, the Transvaal Colony government (the red area in the map above that was Afrikaners but now under British rule) bought the stone to curry the favor of the British Crown, given the tensions with Great Britain and the war.
The Prime Minister presented it as a 66th birthday gift to the then King of the United Kingdom, Edward VII, saying it was “a token of the loyalty and attachment of the people of the Transvaal to His Majesty’s throne and person.” 4 At the time, the Transvaal Colony government was under direct British rule and military occupation and the Prime Minister was Afrikaans.
“Cullinan” refers to the name of the stone, the mine in which it was discovered, and the town in which it was found which is about 19 miles east of the city of Pretoria, South Africa today. The stone was named after was Sir Thomas Cullinan, a South African diamond magnate of British descent.
Upon receipt of the gift, the raw diamond was cut into several fragments. And today, we are seeing quite a bit of two of the diamonds on TV and in the media.
The Cullinan Diamonds
The raw stone was cut as follows:
“Cullinan I” or the “Great Star of Africa,” weighing 530.4 carats and is the largest clear-cut diamond in the world. It is mounted in the head of the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross and is the largest gem in the Crown collection, worth 400 million pounds or about 550 million dollars5. It weighs 3lbs, is laden with 333 diamonds, 31 rubies, 15 emeralds, 7 sapphires, 6 spinels, 1 composite amethyst and the elaborately besotted small diamonds on the scepter’s cross (see image below).6
“Cullinan II” or the “Second Star of Africa,” weighing 317.4 carats is mounted on the front center of the Imperial State Crown, which also has almost 3,000 diamonds in silver mounts, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and about 270 pearls, with rubies and sapphires, embellishing the front and back of the crown (See image above).
Seven other major diamonds, weighing a total of 208.29 were privately owned by Elizabeth II, who inherited them from her grandmother, Queen Mary, in 1953.
96 smaller diamonds.
The 9 Cullinan diamonds are part of the Crown Jewels7 of the United Kingdom and are collection of royal ceremonial heirloom objects and include the coronation regalia and vestments worn by British monarchs. The collective estimated value of the Crown Jewels is between 3 and 5 billion pounds which is 4-7 billion dollars.
Yes, the Jewels supposedly belong to the British monarchy.
AND the whiteness of it all. The quest to own everything and anything. This is what “ownership” looks like. This is how imperialism and colonialism strip the natural resources of their “subjects” to curry the Crown’s favor, to own wealth, to take power and to own position at the cost of the lives of the people who are indigenous to the land.
First, the ownership of the land – It was not Cullinan’s ancestral home. He was born in South Africa but was from white settler parentage from England. Cullinan bought the land and set up a mine. He hired overseers. The whole area was under British rule, and I wonder to whom prospecting licenses were issued. Not Black people, I am sure.
The town of Cullinan where the mine is, even has his name on it.
Cullinan put his name on that diamond, didn’t he? Forever, he lays a claim to the stone. When you name something, you still have a piece of its ownership, to seal in your legacy and to secure your name in the future.
Stop and absorb this – A man whose parents came from England became a prospector, bought, or set up a mine, found the world’s biggest diamond in South Africa, and his name is now on the Crown that Queen Elizabeth II wore.
Black bodies were exploited to mine the land and not paid much, if anything. Who dug the stone out of the mine? Whose family was decimated to own the land that the mine was on? Who sacrificed their lungs in poorly ventilated mines to reveal this amazing piece of nature? What are their names?
We have lost this entire history of how that stone got to be on the crown of the Monarch of England. We do not revere the journey of the stone from the mine to the coronation of the British Sovereign. We have forgotten the poor dead Black people in the mines, unknown and unnamed. We have no knowledge of what that raw stone could have meant to the indigenous people of that land. Even if we just returned the current equivalent of the value of the stone to the people who had no say in the colonization of their land, imagine what could be done with the modern-day financial equivalent of the stone.
And the gall – to put the biggest pieces from that diamond on the crown, and the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross – the artifacts which accord the monarchy sovereignty, rulership, anointing by God and earthly AND spiritual power and authority over land and people!!!
This is what we do as beautiful yet incredibly flawed humans. We whitewash history, just like that rough stone that raw, was 4″ long, 2.5″ wide, and 2.3″ 8 deep and named the “Cullinan diamonds,” and cut into 9 major smooth beautiful perfect looking stones and most of it belongs to the British monarchy.
We forget the rough parts – who we stole it from, how much money it took to get to where it is, and what it actually represents. We turn the spoils of colonization and dominance into the the spectacular beauty of ceremonial jewels and regalia to overwhelm the public with the glamour of stolen wealth and overwhelm critics with thunderous awe, ensuring silence.
Colonization, Empire, Imperialism, and …… wait for it…… The illusion of the supremacy of whiteness are all responsible for this atrocity under the guise of “The Crown.”
The Monarchy and Empire
Today, all that remains of the Monarchy is that it is a figure head, merely the remnant, an ostentatious display of the once dominant sovereignty of the British Empire in the world.
In the past, it was often said that Great Britain was, “the empire on which the sun never sets,” meaning that there were colonized countries in every time zone and, therefore, somewhere in the British Empire, the sun was shining 24 hours a day.
The British Empire is not what it used to be with 65 countries gaining their independence in the last century. Yet, the fact remains that, when it was at its prime, when such colonizing dominance was the way of the world. If it was not the British empire, it would have been someone else – the Germans, the French, etc.
Therefore, personally I have made peace with the fact that for that for three centuries in world history, they dominated imperialism throughout the globe and if it was not them, it would have been someone else.
Yet, while accepting that, I do not glorify and whitewash the impact of this history today. We must acknowledge that the British Empire, through their colonization and global dominance and practices, raped and pillaged people throughout the planet, of their own culture, land, and sovereignty so that they could increase of the supreme power and authority of the British Empire, resulting in obscene wealth.
The Necessities of Our Origin Stories
The Cullinan diamonds are present evidence of the now fading legacy of the British monarchy.
This origin story shows how a raw piece of material, located in South Africa, now becomes the wealth of one family, a monarchy located in the United Kingdom. It is an asset of the Windsor family, and will be passed down to their heirs. It does not even belong to the British Empire. It is not part of the wealth of the commoner on the streets of London. It is not even part of the wealth of the people who originally owned the land.
I delved into the origins of the stone because nothing just appears out of thin air. I was just curious, and I really enjoy a good origin story. I have discovered that digging into the origin of a thing, or person, gives understanding to help shape the present and improve the future.
Thoughts To Ponder
How do we leverage the origin story of the Culligan diamonds to inform our present as we commemorate this moment in history?
How do we reframe the upcoming funeral given these reflections on the origin of some of the things we get swept up with awe about when it comes to the Monarchy of Great Britain?
How might we, on the one hand, grieve the death of the Monarch, the Queen, a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, a person of huge significance in the public eye, a person considered kind, and in many ways a good and gracious leader, and on the other hand, the monarch of a cruel and dominant Empire that decimated untold lives?
Can we have compassionate space in our hearts and minds to hold both truths? And to grieve all death as one human should not be more important than another?
What did I provoke in you? Tell me. And as always, thank you for sharing with others.
By Seb az86556 – Own work by uploader based on File:LocationSouthAfrica.svg and File:SouthAfrica1885.jpg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7391466
Hanson, Marilee. “The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902)” <a href=”https://englishhistory.net/victorian/anglo-boer-war/”>https://englishhistory.net/victorian/anglo-boer-war/</a>, January 12, 2022