Thursday, February 18, 2010

Black History on SIR-MORIEN

The First black Knight
of the
Round Table

Few documents portray the ethnicity of the Moors in medieval Europe with more passion, boldness and clarity than the epic of Morien. Morien is a metrical romance rendered into English prose from the medieval Dutch version of the Lancelot. In the Lancelot, it occupies more than five thousand lines and forms the ending of the first extant volume of that compilation. Neither the date of the original poem or the name of the author is known. The Dutch manuscript is dated to the beginning of the fourteenth century. The whole work is a translation, and apparently a very faithful translation, of a French original. It is quite clear that the Dutch compiler understood his text well, and though possibly somewhat fettered by the requirement of turning prose into verse, he renders it with uncommon fidelity.

Morien is the adventure of a splendidly heroic Moorish knight (possibly a Christian convert) supposed to have lived during the days of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Sir Morien is described as follows: "He was all black, even as I tell ye: his head, his body, and his hands were all black, saving only his teeth. His shield and his armour were even those of a Moor, and black as a raven."

Initially in the adventure Morien is simply called "the Moor." He first challenges, then battles, and finally wins the unqualified respect and admiration of Sir Lancelot. In addition, Morien is extremely forthright and articulate. Sir Gawain, whose life was saved on the battlefield by Sir Morien, is stated to have "harkened, and smiled at the black knight's speech." It is noted that Morien was as "black as pitch; that was the fashion of his land--Moors are black as burnt brands." And again: "His teeth were white as chalk, otherwise was he altogether black." "Morien, who was black of face and limb," was a great warrior, and it is said that: "His blows were so mighty; did a spear fly towards him, to harm him, it troubled him no whit, but he smote it in twain as if it were a reed; naught might endure before him." Ultimately, and ironically, Sir Morien came to personify all of the finest virtues of the knights of the European Middle Ages.

As a sort of concluding note, the English ethnologist and antiquarian scholar Gerald Massey (writing in 1881 in his massive two-volume text, A Book of the Beginnings) noted that, "Morion is said to have been the architect of Stonehenge.... Now, as a negro is still known as a Morien in English, may not this indicate that Morien belonged to the Black race, the Kushite builders?" It should be further added, according to Dr. Jack Forbes in his scholarly work Black Africans and Native Americans, "that for a very long period the Dutch language used Moor and Moriaan for Black Africans." Among the Lorma community in modern Liberia, the name Moryan is still prominent.