This week I'll take you globe-trotting once again. While I suspect you'll be treated to a myriad of contraptions powered by the internal combustion engine by other Saturday Sepians, I'm choosing to use a more environmentally friendly, if not particularly pc, means of transport.
Jinnirickshaw, undated probably c.1880s, unidentified photographer
Albumen print (141 x 95mm) mounted on printed card (155 x 112mm)
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
This mounted albumen print of a non-standard format was purchased on a whim, partly because it's a well composed and exposed photograph of an interesting subject, representing a way of life that's pretty much disappeared, but also because it doesn't merely reinforce the colonial stereotype of white sahib being conveyed from one shady verandah to another by a rickshaw-wallah.
Judging from the style of print and mount, I estimate that it was probably printed in the 1880s or 1890s, and I think it may have been taken somewhere in the Indian sub-continent. The printed text at lower left appears to relate to the subject, rather than the photographer or publisher, and suggests that the photograph may have been produced in some numbers. Indeed, I found another copy of the image here, dated 1895.
The derivation of jinnirickshaw is suggested by The Free Dictionary to be from three Middle Chinese words, jin (person), lik (strength) and chai (vehicle) via the Japanese word jinrikisha. My Concise Oxford Dictionary states that the variety of spellings one finds are archaic forms of the more familiar rickshaw, which they define as a:
Light two-wheeled hooded vehicle, drawn by one or more persons.Wikipedia claims, quite plausibly, that the rickshaw is thought to have been invented in Japan in 1869 after the removal of a ban on wheeled vehicles during the Tokugawa period. After a popularity explosion in that country, it spread quickly to other Asian countries, being introduced to India around 1880.
Kingwell in a rickshaw, Durban, South Africa, c.1920s
Souvenir postcard portrait by unidentified photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Although the popularity of hand-pulled rickshaws waned in the Third World throughout the twentieth century, particularly after the Second World War, there was one country where this mode of transport took on a life of its own. South Africa's first rickshaws were imported into Natal in 1892 and within a decade had become the main mode of transportation, with over 2000 of them in Durban's streets. Gallery Ezakwantu tells a fascinating and well illustrated story of how the rickshaw puller's simple, unadorned calico uniforms and traditional Zulu feathered, bovine-horned headwear have evolved, over time, into outrageous enormous multi-horned headdresses and costumes spectacularly decorated with beads, sheepskins and a variety of other accessories.
An example of one such Zulu rickshaw puller with his conveyance and a client is pictured in the postcard above, probably taken in a makeshift outdoors studio on Durban's waterfront some time in the 1920s. The scene somewhat clumsily painted on the backdrop is easily identifiable as Durban's sweeping beachfront, with The Bluff forming a backdrop to the harbour entrance, as this Streetview shows. The message handwritten on the back of the postcard merely identifies the occupant of the rickshaw as "Kingwell," presumably a surname. I feel that the uniform he is wearing is possibly merchant marine, or perhaps from a colonial administration, but I haven't been able to pin it down.
"Rickshaw Boys" - Durban, South Africa
Postcard by unidentified publisher, posted 1966
In early 1968 my family had an extended holiday in South Africa, photos in the family albums showing that we spent time in Potchefstroom, Simonstown, Bredasdorp, Durban and Umhlanga Rocks. The only memory of that trip that remains with me is an extremely vivid one of the rickshaw drivers on the Durban waterfront. By that time their costumes, and their playing-up-to-the-tourists antics, were probably at their most extravagant. Unfortunately I don't have a family photograph to go with it, which reinforces my idea that it is a real memory rather than one prompted by later tales of the event related by my parents. In my mind's eye, however, they looked very much like the three posing for this mid-1960s postcard.
An excerpt from a 1967 article in the New Age provides a taste of the experience to be expected:
As pictorial attractions for tourists go probably no city in the world would care to challenge Durban ... at the spin of a 20c piece ... some 15 Zulu ricksha boys, who ply their trade along the sweeping Durban Esplanade between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. ... offer outstanding value. They out-Twiggy Twiggy with the number and variety of their poses ... [take] a swing along the sea shore ... [and] spread their regalia like peacocks.As a six year-old country boy who had never come across anything like this in my life, I was terrified and absolutely refused to go near it. When one of my parents and my younger sister Diana went off down the Esplanade for a ride, complete with the see-sawing, twirling gyrations and strange chants of the "driver," I was convinced I would never see them again. I suspect tears ensued although time, thankfully, has wiped those from my memory.
Bud Payne, Durban or Umhlanga, 4 April 1968
Photomatic photobooth portrait (65 x 68mm)
Images © and collection of Brett Payne
Although, as far as I am aware, no photograph exists of that particular scary ride, there is a photobooth portrait of my father which could have been taken on the same day. It doesn't have any identifying studio marks or printing on it, but by comparison with similar thin-metal-framed prints from the 1950s which I discussed in a previous article, I can tell it was taken in a Photomatic photobooth. It's possibly the latest example of a Photomatic portrait that I've seen.
Getting back on topic, this series of photos suggests that Durban's rickshaw drivers are still attracting the tourists, although I suspect they're no longer offering rides for twenty cents. I don't think I would fancy expending that amount of effort, even for a considerably greater sum.
Japanese Rickshaw, at the Powerhouse Museum.
Zulu Ricksha, 1892-2000, Power Carriages of the Mandlakazi Clan, from Gallery Ezakwantu.
Ricksha Boys of Durban, The Age, 11 September 1967, p.11, courtesy of Google Books.