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Although the program today was the most loaded with Nubiological activities, the title of the post betrays that other things attracted more attention!

So, the morning session was build up by papers on the Acts of Gregentius and the Red Sea (Vicky Savvidou, secretary of the Institute of Greco-Oriental and African Studies), on Written Sources about Medieval Sudan (Mohamed Adam Abdelrahman Hamid, University of Khartoum), on the formation of Nobadia and the role of the Roman Empire (Effie Zacharopoulou, University of Johannesburg), on Literary Manuscripts from Christian Nubia (Alexandros Tsakos, University of Bergen) and on a project aiming at compiling a catalogue of royal documents from Christian Nubia (Benjamin Hendrickx, University of Johannesburg). Starting from the last presentation a workshop has been organized for tomorrow, so perhaps there will be more things to say then.

More things relating to Nubia and Sudan were presented in the first part of the afternoon session. The daughter of professor Benjamin Hendrickx and Thekla Sansaridou-Hendrickx, Raita Steyn, presented a very interesting chapter from her recently defended doctoral dissertation on protection scenes involving Afro-Byzantine Emperors, that is Ethiopian and Nubian Christian kings.

Then, associate professor at the University of Khartoum, Amel Suiman Badi, gave a well-thought paper on The Greek Influence in Meroitic Art. It was the first time since my cooperation with the late Salah Omer al Sadig and his paper “Relations between the Meroitic Kingdom and the Mediterranean World” (KUSH 1998-2002, pp. 109-129) that I heard a Sudanese researcher attempting an analysis of what followed the transformation of the Meroitic king Arqamaniqo to Ergamenis.

Those two papers were related to art through archaeology, but the third paper of the afternoon session was about art per se. African art that is, and more precisely South African Art: Jonas Nkadimeng (Senior Education Specialist at Tshwane South District) discussed South African Rural Art within the spiritual realm. He explained that art in South Africa should not be understood and appreciated with the esthetic criteria of the urban West because it is conceptual and symbolic and functions always inside a ritual framework. To my question whether there are esthetic categories for the South Africans he replied that “Esthetics are Exaggerations of those Visions that invite artists to create their works”. In order to substantiate his argument he showed to us the inspired creations of Ima Stem, David Koloane, Noria Mabase, Jackson Hlungwani, Nelson Mukhuba, Phutuma Saoka and Bonnie Ntshalishali, all of whom ‘received a calling’ to start working with art.

It was an excellent surprise when I found a brochure of Hlungwani’s latest exhibition at the UJ Art Gallery where we went after the afternoon sessions to visit the currently displayed photographic exhibition by Robert Hamblin. A very fine and meaningful display of an original photographic work with a critical eye on socio-economic problems of our (post-)modern world.

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Last but not least, I should mention that the famous South African actor Mpho Molepo honored the participants of the Byzantinoafrican and Grecoafrican Congress by bringing to the conference his theatrical group (consisting of Ntsoaki Mathiba, Regina Mary Dlovu, Kelly Mtshali and Alistair Dule) who staged snippets from a drama project commenting upon Albinism, which has groundbreaking significance for the understanding of issues of racial discrimination in (South) Africa.

It is really praiseworthy that the organizers of the conference added this different note to our academic venue and I feel that Raita Steyn has played an important role there and she should be particularly thanked!

Grecoafrican at Soweto

The conference continued today with three very interesting papers:

1. Savvas Kyriakides (postdoctor at UJ) analyzed The Letter of the Mamluk Sultan al Nasir to John VI Kantakouzenos and offered to those in the conference with a Nubiological interest an insight into the other end of the diplomatic contacts of the very important for the final period of the Makuritan kingdom Mamluk kingdom. I did not know myself of this correspondence and I believe that it would be a fruitful academic exchange if the foremost specialist on Mamluk historiography about Christian Nubia, namely Robin Seignobos, discussed the issues arising from this letter with Dr. Kyriakides.

2. Thekla Sansaridou-Hendrickx (professor at UJ) presented the story of Miqdad and Mayasa: a Swahili Epic Romance with reference to the East-Mediterranean Byzantine-Islamic common cultural pool? A very interesting exercise of literary and cultural borrowings that widens the horizon of the sources to Swahili literature. I wonder what Anne Bang from SMI/AHKR/UiB would have to say about this. Another possible cooperation?

3. Selamawit Mecca (Ass. Professor and Acting Head of Department of Amharic Language, Literature and Folklore at Addis Ababa University) discussed eloquently and thoroughly the Representations in Ge’ez Texts about Ethiopian Women focusing on what she called “politics of the body in regards to gender”.

Despite the interest of all three papers, the visit to Soweto that followed the morning session overshadowed any other impression today.

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Driving out of Melville, the university area or downtown Joburg, one meets a different landscape.

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Soweto is a renowned town all over the world from the uprising that took place there on 16 June 1976. Nelson Mandela’s house is there and is a major tourist attraction. But our visit targeted two other places, the Regina Mundi Church and the Jabavu East Primary School. While Regina Mundi is very famous, since many students fled to its interior after the shootings of 16 June 1976 in Orlando West, few people know the Jabavu East Primary School. Let me explain.

In South Africa schools can choose the second language, that the pupils will learn, from a list that includes Greek, obviously in recognition of the long and numerous presence of Greeks in the country. Well, at Jabavu East they have chosen Greek indeed! This is the doing of the Friends of Cultural Interactions Project, a movement founded by Mrs. Ava Papatheophilou, a qualified drama teacher and behaviour scientist, with years of working experience with children. She belongs to the staff of Jabavu East Primary School and she teaches Greek to all pupils for almost thirty years now! It was Mrs. Ava who invited the conference participants to Soweto today, where we were introduced to the staff, followed activities by the pupils, and saw the Greek classroom that the Greek Bishop Damaskinos blessed in a decent ceremony of multicultural colors. It is somehow difficult to discern in the intentions and views of each of those involved in this amazing cooperation between the School and Mrs. Ava whether what lies behind is of educational or humanitarian purpose, but it is certain that both Mrs. Ava and her husband Vassilis are people who have gained love and respect in areas where others almost dare not drive into. They have given a lesson of coexistence for all people of South Africa; a lesson that can be useful for other schools and communities here, back in Greece or in other countries too. I believe that they have set a paradigm for other diaspora communities to follow…

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After this visit that filled us with awe, admiration, and sincere smiles, we visited the nearby church of Regina Mundi with one of the most famous black madonnas in the world, and with strong memories from the era of Nelson Mandela. He had visited the church twice and in one of these visits he was accompanied by George Bizos, as the guard and guide of the church showed us proudly.

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There will be more to discuss about South Africa and its cultures tomorrow, since after the afternoon session dedicated to art, a couple of exhibitions will be visited.

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Those who follow this blog or have read the entries from South Africa, perhaps have noticed that I posted photos again. No, I did not find my camera unfortunately… But a colleague at the conference, Ph.D. candidate of UJ, anthropologist Alexandra Fefopoulou was kind enough to provide me with pictures from the visit to Soweto. Thank you very much Alexandra!

The second day of the Conference of Afro-Byzantine and Greco-African studies at the University of Johannesburg was full of contrasts. There were both positive and negative ones.

One of the positive ones was already announced in the program with the combination of a morning session on the Ancient Civilizations of Africa and an afternoon session on Greek and African Philosophy and Theology promising highly diverse and stimulating presentations.

An interesting contrast was the one between the papers by Louise Cilliers (Honorary research fellow at the University of the Fee State in Bloemfontein) and Mag Moodie (PhD candidate at Edinburgh). The first presented an overview of the Roman sites in North Africa with a lot of images from the archaeological sites but very little discussion about the role of the indigenous populations, Berber or otherwise. While the second was a well grounded discussion of the way archaeology can recreate a historical narrative and memory for precise these populations, taking as a case study the little known region of Numidia during the Hellenistic period.

There were also two papers with an Egyptological focus, the one opening the morning session and the other closing it. Elizabeth Mary Brophy (PhD at Oxford) made an excellent presentation of the main points of her doctoral thesis discussing Greek Kings as Egyptian Gods: Ptolemaic Cult Statues in Egyptian Temples, on the basis of historical sources, artistic works, and religious practices, and she contextualized her data in time and space, in regards to both the Pharaonic tradition in Egypt and the Ptolemaic dimensions of the Hellenistic era. On the other hand, the paper by Jock Matthew Agai (PhD candidate in History of Christianity – UKZN) on The journeys of the dead: a comparative study of ancient Egyptian and the Yoruba conceptualization of the human body suffered from weak argumentation on its most basic points, namely that there exist direct correlation between the Egyptian concepts of Ka, Khat, Akh/Khaibit, Sahu, Ba and the Yoruba concepts of Oka(n), Ara, Ojiji, Emi(n), Iye/Ori respectively.

Nevertheless, the speaker who opened the afternoon session felt quite happy with this type of approach. Although in some details Agai could improve his argumentation, Morakinyo Olusegun (Postdoctor in the department of Philosophy, UJ) believed that he is in the right path with his research. Himself, he would talk about African Philosophy and Greek Philosophy: Beyond the ‘Black Athena’ debate, where although he tried to bring a balance between Bernal’s theories and both earlier and later Afrocentric theories on the primacy of African philosophy against the Greek philosophy, he never managed to bring his talk further than the attack against the ‘racist’ perception of Africa by Western scholarship that supports the Greek model and works only inside of it.

It was very interesting that the next speaker, Christo Lombaard (professor of Christian Spirituality at the University of South Africa, Pretoria), tried to challenge the “Greek cultural stream that we find ourselves in” by discussing Mysticism in/and the Old Testament: methodological orientation and textual examples, because the pre-Septuagint Old Testament may reveal mystical experiences that a researcher of spirituality like himself is looking for in order to apprehend “mystic possibilities”. The best answer to this problematization was perhaps expressed by the theologian Chris de Wet who considered the corporal dimension of ascetism as a means for attaining pre-Greek-world mystical experiences.

De Wet (Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies at the Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, UNISA) spoke himself about his current research on John Chrysostom on the treatment of Household Slaves where despite the richness of the opinions brought forward based on reading of the immense Chrysostomian corpus, it was never made clear what was the role of this paper in an Afro-byzantine & Greco-African conference!

This was not the case with the brilliant work by Luca Di Campobianco (postdoctor at Department of Greek and Latin at UJ) who proposed us his experience from Gazing at the tabula ‘Banasitana': an example of metaphorical code? He proposed to understand the bronze inscribed tablet as a powerful object reflecting the rays of the African sun and creating strong impressions to the local population. Impressions that helped reinforce in their consciousness and senses the authority of the local chief who was granted the Imperial gift of the tabula Banasitana.

The most interesting contrast would have been concluding the day, when a talk by Angelos Nikolaides (Professor at UNISA) on The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and of All Africa – a historical review would have been followed by a talk of His Grace Bishop Antonios Markos on The Impact of African Christianity on World Christianity. Nikolaides could not make it to the conference and the dialogue between the two lectures that was obviously intended by the organizers never materialized.

All in all a very rich day in academic experiences, but that was unfortunately crowned by a negative experience of non-academic order: during the morning coffee break, all participants went out of the room leaving our belongings in the venue and when we returned my camera, three mobiles and some money was missing. The local staff apologized deeply and promised to help get compensation for the things lost, but the result is twofold: on the one hand, no photos accompany today’s entry; on the other hand, it proves so difficult to trust a society with so strong contrasts and problems like the one of Johannesburg…

Today I finally visited the University of Johannesburg.

UJ entrance

The campus is impressive, green, and clean.

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It is clearly an architectural product of the 1970s-80s…

modern

…and its interior spaces create very nice light conditions in an interplay with the rays of the African sun.

light

The main place I visited was the hosting department of Greek and Latin Studies.

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We spent the morning discussing various practical matters of the conference and theoretical topics of mutual academic interests at the office of Dr. Effie Zacharopoulou.

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And by 14:00, we gathered at the conference venue where the first hour was offered at addresses and greetings by the honored guests of the conference hosts. Professor Benjamin Hendrickx, as the head of the organizing committee, welcomed us all and gave the word to the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, to the Greek Orthodox Bishop and the Coptic Bishop, to the Ambassador of Cyprus and the Consul of Greece, to Mr. Bizos, the prominent Greek human rights lawyer who was part of the team that defended Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia Trial, and to Mr. Kouvelis, a former student of professor Hendrickx and the previous president of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE).

After this ceremonial opening it was time for the proceedings to begin and the opening lecture was delivered by professor Vassileios Christides, Director of the Institute of Greco-Oriental and African Studies. The title of this keynote lecture was: The Red Sea, a turbulent sea between Africa and Asia in the 6th c. AD.

christides

The discussion that followed was quite lively and concerned the ship building traditions of the Red Sea, the origins of the armies that fought in the war between the Himarites and the Axumites, the languages used during the first centuries of Christianity in the area. The last topic kept up the interest until much later than the end of the talk promising fruitful debates in the days to come. I bet we are all looking forward to meeting again tomorrow morning for the sessions on “Ancient Civilizations in Africa” and “Greek and African Philosophy and Theology”…

The celebration of the OHI day for the Greeks is considered as a second national day after the Independence Day of the 25th of March. It commemorates the refusal of the dictator Metaxas on the 28th of October 1940 to subdue Greece to the phasist forces of Mussolini’s Italy. The epos of the Greek army is celebrated in an atmosphere of national pride and my experience from the manner this happens in Khartoum prepared me for what I would see this morning at the premises of the Greek Orthodox Bishopric of Johannesburg with the adjacent Greek Cultural Centre, and the building of the old Greek school of the town.

To get to the church we had to drive from the ‘safe’ neighborhood of Melville to the heart of Johannesburg in areas where one would not walk alone that easily – however, I’d love to be able to prove such fears wrong… The building is as old as the church in Khartoum, but thanks to the existence of a more organized system of appreciation of the modern cultural heritage in South Africa, the church in downtown Johannesburg is part of the official City’s Heritage.

city heritage

The Greeks of Johannesburg claim that the architecture of the Cathedral dedicated to STs Constantine and Helen is imitating in a smaller scale the architecture of Saint Sophia in Istanbul.

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Irrespectively of whether this is an exaggeration or not, there are quite some treasures kept in its interiors, the most important of which perhaps is an icon made by the renowned Greek painter Photis Kontoglou.

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During the Mass, it was very interesting – and somehow touching – to observe the humbleness of praying and devotion of some locals who have embraced the Greek Orthodox faith.

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Some of them have entered the ranks of the clergy and it seems to me that this is such an important element in the cultic practice here.

But the day had a national character, so after the Mass the congregation moved out of the church and stood in front of the memorial for all those Greeks who had fallen during the War of Independence and during the Second World War, so as to commemorate them.

the memorial

 

I stepped aside and photographed the old school behind the church from the entrance of the compound.

the old school

Later on, I found out that there are plans to use it again for teaching afternoon classes of Greek language. It seems that the coordinator of education here is a person with the best of intentions. During discussions after the more social festivities that followed the official celebrations, I realized that there are members of this diaspora community who would do their best to help him in his plans for a most effective schooling for the Greeks in Johannesburg.

The festivities took place at the hall of the Greek Cultural Centre and it was inevitable not to notice the composition of the choir that reminded the audience of songs related to national memory and the memory of war.

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Of course, the most interesting discussions took place when the microphones were turned off and the voices could be heard without disturbing the rest of the fine grouping that celebrated today in Johannesburg the OHI day.

We talked mainly about the archives of the Greeks of South Africa, a repository of documents and knowledge that goes in pair with the Grecoafrican academic activities that will be one of the two focal points of the conference that starts tomorrow. And in the spirit of the festal day, we wished that in the future beside the traditional celebrations, some input from the particular relation of the local community with the memory celebrated should be included in the program of the day (e.g. lectures about the role of the Greeks of South Africa in the Second World War, photographic exhibitions of the life in the 1940s in Johannesburg etc.). Or even that more often than just in the two national days, the Greeks of Johannesburg could gather to hear narratives from the history of the Greeks in this corner of Africa that stretches back to the 19th century…

I am writing this post from my room at The Melville Turret guesthouse in Johannesburg!

The Turret at Melville

I am invited here for the Afro-Byzantine and Greco-African Conference organized by the Department of Greek and Latin Studies at the University of Johannesburg. For the program see here: programme & participants. More about the proceedings as the days advance.

Today I met my main contact at the University of Johannesburg, Dr. Effie Zacharopoulou, a specialist of Axumite and Nubian history who also teaches Greek language and literature and is one of the main organizers of the conference I am attending. Lately, Effie has turned her attention to the formation of the Nobadian state and the role of the Roman Empire, so it was with great pleasure that I presented her with a gift from Artur Obluski: The Rise of Nobadia. Social Changes in Northern Nubia in Late Antiquity. I hope that this marks the beginning of fruitful future collaborations.

Artur’s publication is the 20th supplementum of the renowned Journal of Juristic Papyrology (JJP) where very important works about Christian Nubia have already been published.

This is how the Raphael Taubenschlag Foundation, Chair of Roman Law and the Law of Antiquity, Department of Papyrology of Warsaw University and Editors of JJP (J. Urbanik, T. Derda, A. Lajtar, G. Ochala) proudly present Artur’s work (ISBN 9788392591993, hardcover, xviii + 240 pp., 5 maps, 6 charts, 21 figs., price: 60 EUR):

The author of this book presents an innovative approach to the history of Nubia. The period covered includes the fall of Meroe and the rise of the united kingdom of Nobadia and Makuria. The emphasis was put on the analysis of social and political transformations. Moreover some major improvements of the chronological nomenclature have been suggested. Nowadays we can be certain that after the fall of Meroe there was no political vacuum, but various political organisms immediately started to rise: Nobadia, Makuria and Alwa.

While I have read big parts of Artur’s book, I left my copy back home. I did bring with me though the 22nd supplementum of JJP (ISBN 978-83-938425-1-3, hardcover, xiv + 367 pp., 69 b/w figs., indices; price: 77 EUR), namely Giovanni R. Ruffini’s, The Bishop, the Eparch, and the King. Old Nubian Texts from Qasr Ibrim (P. QI 4):

British excavations at Qasr Ibrim have yielded numerous written sources composed in Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian, and Arabic. However, only a small portion has been published so far, among them some sixty Old Nubian texts, both literary and documents, edited between 1988 and 1991 by Gerald Michael Browne. After the field stagnated for twenty years, Ruffini took up the task initiated by Browne and produced an edition of sixty-two further Old Nubian texts, this time only documents. Documents included in this volume supplement Ruffini’s 2012 monograph (Medieval Nubia. A Social and Economic History) and provide illustration for his reconstruction of social and economic life of the Middle Nile Valley in the 12th–14th century.

You can purchase all the JJP volumes and supplements from here:

http://www.taubenschlagfoundation.org/ksiazki/books_1.html

There are also some special offers for those who hold a big basket: All volumes of the Journal of Juristic Papyrology (JJP 1-42) can be bought for 500 EUR (including shipping costs), and the same amount will cost the purchase of all volumes of JJP Supplements (i-xxii), including shipping costs. A wise investment of 1000€ indeed!

If now you wish to dive into the knowledge accumulated by another school of studies of the past in Warsaw, namely the  Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, then things are easier and cheaper. Just click the link below and you will find free online access to volumes 1-19 of the PAM journal:

http://www.pcma.uw.edu.pl/en/publications/#e_publ

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It was raining as I was writing these lines…

The rains started earlier this year in South Africa, and I was lucky to see the famous jacaranda trees blossomed, a scenery that makes Melville particularly beautiful during this season.

Jacarandas

I find it very interesting that the nobelist Greek poet and diplomat, George Seferis, when servicing in South Africa praised the beauty of these trees with the following words:

Jacarandas playing castanets and dancing

threw around their feet a violet snow.

The rest’s uninteresting, and that

Venusberg of bureaucracy with its twin

towers and its twin clocks

profoundly torpid like a hippopotamus in blue sky.

And cars raced by showing

backs glistening like dolphins.

At the end of the street waiting for us -

strutting idly about its cage -

was the silver pheasant of China,

the Eurlocamos Nychtemerus, as they call it.

And to think we set out, the heart full of shot,

saying goodbye

to Onokrotalus the Pelican – he

with the look of a trampled Prime Minister

in the zoological garden of Cairo.

(The translation is from Roy McNab (ed.): George Seferis: South African Diaries, Poems and Letters (Cape Town: Carrefour Press, 1990, and I copied it from a South African blog: http://versindaba.co.za/tag/george-seferis/).

I think it is a good conclusion for this first post from Johannesburg and in anticipation of tomorrow’s visit downtown where I will be attending festivities for the Ohi Day at the premises of the Greek Bishopric in town…

When Wizz Was in Warsaw

I am writing this post from my room at Fleischer’s Hotel at Voss, the famous sport resort north of Bergen. I am here for the annual seminar of the institute of Archaeology, History, Cultural and Religious Studies at the University of Bergen. The discussions have been very interesting, either they concerned the challenges for humanistic studies in the future, or the administrative innovations to smoothen procedures and advance righteous conditions for academic work. As a researcher of religion though, I considered as the cherry on the top of the cake served here in Voss today the round table which closed the proceedings and where a representative from each discipline talked about the way they perceive and work with the main term of one of the disciplines of our institute, namely ‘religion’! What I mostly keep from this debate is the wish to find an overarching topic where all disciplines can contribute studying precisely under the umbrella of a religious theme – I remain silent as to the particular idea so as not to blow away the chances for the surprise element in a future application that can implement interdisciplinary cooperation at our institute!

In any case, what I want to write about tonight has to do with the trip I made before coming to Voss: last Thursday right after finishing the courses of Introduction to Coptic, I flew to Warsaw where I would participate in a weekend workshop on progress reporting in view of the publication of the archaeological record from the Nubian monastery at Qasr el Wizz in nowadays Egypt. It would be impossible to describe the intensity of the work during the weekend with Artur Obluski (architecture and chief editor), Dobrochna Zielinska (wall paintings) and Kate Danys-Lasek (ceramics), or to summarize the ideas exchanged both on topics directly related with the Wizz monastery and on more general matters of the cultural, artistic, religious and literary phenomena that characterized Qasr el Wizz, Nobadia, and Makuria. I admit, however, that I have never felt so satisfied by the way conclusions reached independently by all four collaborators painted such a harmonious picture of Christian Nubia and enhanced so magnificently our understanding of its most distinctive characteristics! Mashallah and already looking forward to meeting again in spring for the second (out of three) steps towards publication…

But the visit to Poland had a surprise for me of first order! On Friday night the National Museum of Warsaw welcomed hundreds of guests for the opening of the renovated Faras Gallery dedicated to professor Kazimierz Michalowski. I have never seen so many non-Nubiologists gathered for a Nubiological event. Or wasn’t it really so? Was it rather that the guests were there because they wanted to pay their respects to the President of the country, the benefactors for the renovation and the venue, ministers, directors of museum etc. who in the end had almost nothing to say about Faras, Nubia, Sudan, and their colleagues from the University and the Academy who continue the work of Michalowski? I guess this would be the case in all the countries of the world, right? Especially when the antiquities are so important and beautiful, and the display so well thought and prepared with the support of the latest technology that the exhibition speaks for itself. So, let me stop here letting the pictures from Warsaw (taken mostly by Dobrochna) speak for themselves…

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