Friday, August 14, 2020

Giuseppe’s Jeep

A screen shot from the Swat Museum’s virtual tour website

Now that the Crown Virus lockdown seems doomed to be forever, we need to find more productive ways of wasting our time indoors. Not wasting it might mean doing what a lot of the world’s museums want us to do, which is to visit them virtually, online. It may be because their employees have nothing else to do but primp up their online incarnations. If you don’t believe me just go here, and get lost in a universe of awesome art. But if you are like me you know that big metropolitan museums are not always the best, and even when they are they can be simply overwhelming, not to mention exhausting. So today I’d like to invite you to take a tour in a smaller place without much-too-much space, and with collections especially interesting to us.

By now every Tibeto-logic reader has heard the news that the Swat Valley in modern-day Pakistan is the homeland of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava, known to Tibetans as O-rgyan or U-rgyan. If your memory is dim, as mine tends to be, try to recall that old blog, “Swat’s Good Feng Shui.”  Many know that a 13th-century Tibetan actually visited the place, and for this was rewarded with the name O-rgyan-pa.  But  besides yourself of course, few are aware that a study of O-rgyan-pa’s life was done by Giuseppe Tucci back in the ’40s already, and even fewer that Tucci involved himself in the archaeological excavations in the Swat Valley itself, excavations that continued over many decades. But I can hardly imagine how miniscule the number who could conceivably be aware that Tucci’s jeep has been made into a museum display in the newly furnished Swat Museum. Well, that’s why I’m putting out this brief blog-ette, to let everyone in on this amazing fact. That would probably be the first ever Tibetologist’s motor vehicle valued highly enough to be placed on display. Not that it has a price tag on it, it was a gift from Italy.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Tucci (1894-1985) was a man who packed a pistol wherever he went, it’s true. But that was common in those days in all parts of Central Asia, not just in Tibet. And he received financing for his expeditions from Fascist labor organizations, something we might tend to forget when we witness the poetic paeans to transcendence wresting control over his prose writings that tend at times to soar just a little too high. I’m not here to praise or condemn Tucci, not today. His super-deluxe publication called Tibetan Painted Scrolls, grandiose as it is, is still something we cannot live without, since so much of what we can find there (if we can master the alphabetic system used in the index!) has never been covered in the 80 years since. Academic Tibetan Studies has supposedly made such great strides in the mean time, but has it really?

One thing Tibetanists will be thankful for in aeons ahead is his employment of photographers, some of them what we would call multi-taskers. One was Eugenio Ghersi (1904-1997) who also served as physician on some of Tucci’s expeditions.* One of them, Francesca Bonardi, had the additional role of wife. Perhaps the most famous among them was Fosco Maraini (1912-2004), who accepted the job in 1937. He went on to write quite a lot of books and articles, some of them famously critical of Tucci, not an easy person to work with or for, no doubt about that. He published his own first book already in 1939, entitled Il Dren-Giong. Appunti di un viaggio nell’Imalaia.** Another photographer was Felice Boffa, who also made maps. For more on Tucci expedition photographs, see Nalesini’s essay listed below, or the articles by Deborah Klimburg-Salter. 

(*Subject of an obituary by D. Klimburg-Salter & D. Bellatalla, see East and West, n.s. vol. 47 [1997], pp. 435-437. **Dren-Giong is an Italian way of spelling the Tibetan name of Sikkim, ’Bras-ljongs.)


In closing I’ll just say this, in a spirit of constructive criticism. If the Italian people would like to make a nice gift to the Tibetan people, one worth much more than any jeep, I’d suggest open access digitization for the entire Tucci archive of not only photographs of Tibet, but also woodblock prints and manuscripts of works composed in Tibetan language. It’s high time this kind of cultural restitution became the new normal. I hesitate to use this sometimes overused word, but it surely smacks of fascism to maintain exclusive control over these cultural assets, withholding them from the endangered culture in question, for such a long, long time. Something needs to be done about this as soon as possible.*

(*And since I promised to be constructive it's clear what models ought to be followed. For supplying digital scans of Tibetan texts, nobody does it better than TBRC/BDRC recently upgraded to BUDA, to ensure they will be available to the interested public worldwide. For photographs of Tibetan and Himalayan subjects, follow the pattern of The Tibet Album and their collection of British photographs from the early 20th century.)

Tucci Having Tea

Tucci enjoying high Tibetan tea

Books and Articles in Print (or Printable, or Readable On-Screen)

I’ve mostly listed here scholastic publications put out in his honor, or in order to criticize him, obituaries, and some literature concerned with his photographers. Some of these things I mention just because they can be damnedly difficult to locate in a library, let alone online. For much more bibliography than I will provide here, see East and West, n.s. vol. 34, nos. 1-3 (Sept. 1984), pp. 23-42, or most recently Oscar Nalesini, Giuseppe Tucci’s Chronological Bibliography, Scienze e Lettere (Rome 2018).

Atti del convegno internazionale di studi in onore di Giuseppe Tucci (Macerata 1998).

Gustavo Benavides, “Giuseppe Tucci, or Buddhology in the Age of Fascism,” contained in: Donald S. Lopez Jr., ed., Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism, University of Chicago Press (Chicago 1995), pp. 161-196.

A.A. Di Castro and David Templeman, Asian Horizons: Giuseppe Tucci’s Buddhist, Indian, Himalayan and Cental Asian Studies, Serie Orientale Roma CVI, Monash University Publishing (Melbourne 2015). Quite a diverse set of essays by various authors as we expect from conference-based publications.

Gururâjamañjarikâ: Studi in onore di Giuseppe Tuccivol. 1 (Naples 1974).

Felice Boffa, “La spedizione italiana al Tibet (1939),” Bollettino del Club Alpina Italiano, vol. 45 (1946), pp. 126-152. Felice Boffa-Ballaran (1897-1994) was Tucci’s map maker and photographer.

Alice Crisanti, “Il memoriale di Giuseppe Tucci,” Quaderni di Storia, vol. 41, no. 81 (Jan. 2015), pp. 267-276.  Starting in July 1944, Tucci was about to be purged from the academy because of his commitments to the fascist regime. Here can be found transcribed a document Tucci wrote in his own defense, dated Nov. 20, 1944.

Mircea Eliade, “Giuseppe Tucci (1895-1984),” History of Religions, vol. 24, no. 2 (Nov. 1984), p. 157 ff.

Enrica Garzilli, Mussolini's Explorer: The Adventures of Giuseppe Tucci and Italian Policy in the Orient from Mussolini to Andreotti — With the Correspondence of Giulio Andreotti. This book is on my list of things to read, but I don't have any access to it yet.
Raniero Gnoli, Ricordo di Giuseppe Tucci, Con contributi di Luciano Petech, Fabio Scialpi, Giovanna Galluppi Vallauri, ISMEO (Rome 1985), 79 pp.

R. Hadl, “Zu Giuseppe Tuccis Bericht über seine Expedition nach West-Tibet, MCMXXXIII (1933),” Artibus Asiae, vol. 5 (1935), pp. 278-287.  PDF.  On Tucci’s expedition in western Tibet in 1933.

Deborah E. Klimburg-Salter, Oscar Nalesini, and Talamo Giulia, Inventory of the Tucci Photographic Archives, 1926-1936 (Western Himalayas, Nepal, Tibet), Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (Rome 1994).

Simeon Koole, “Photography as Event: Power, the Kodak Camera & Territoriality in Early Twentieth-Century Tibet,” Comparative Studies in Society & History, vol. 59, no. 2 (2017), pp. 310-345.

Rob Mayer, “Uḍḍiyāna, the North West, and Treasure: Another Piece in the Jigsaw?” posted at Kîla Kîlaya blog (July 15, 2020).  Look for it here.  Uḍḍiyāna is U-rgyan is Swat Valley, it seems fairly sure to us.

Oscar Nalesini, “Pictures from the Roof of the World: Reorganization of the Giuseppe Tucci Photographic Archives,” East and West,  vol. 44, no. 1 (March 1994), pp. 185-210.

Bhikkhu Nanajivako, “The Technicalisation of Buddhism: Fascism and Buddhism in Italy, Giuseppe Tucci - Julius Evola,” Buddhist Studies Review, vol. 6, no. 1 (1989), pp. 27-38; vol. 6, no. 2 (1989), pp. 102-115; vol. 7, no. 1-2 (1990), pp. 3-17.

Luciano Petech, “Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984),” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 7, no. 2 (1984), pp. 137-142.

Ramon Prats, “Giuseppe Tucci e il Tibet,” contained in: F. D’Arelli, ed., Le Marche e l’Oriente: Una tradizione ininterrotta da Matteo Ricci a Giuseppe Tucci, Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente (Rome 1998), pp. 306-316.

Giuseppe Tucci, Cronaca della missione scientifica Tucci nel Tibet occidentale (1933), Reale Academia d’Italia (Roma 1934).  Coauthored with Eugenio Ghersi. English tr. published as Secrets of Tibet, Being the Chronicle of the Tucci Scientific Expedition to Western Tibet (1933), Blackie (London 1935), in 210 pp.  

Giuseppe Tucci, Travels of Tibetan Pilgrims in the Swat Valley, The Greater India Society  (Calcutta 1940). Unless you’re a total vegan I recommend the leather-bound versions available in India even now. It is really Tucci’s most enduringly fascinating accomplishment if you were to ask me.

I almost forgot what I set out to do, but I do much recommend visiting the Swat Museum’s website.  Just go here:

then aim a click at the middle of the screen and see where it takes you.  See you later, don’t get lost, have a nice trip!

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