Saturday, February 3, 2018

Nikola Tesla, His Mother, and Hemp

Someone tweeted out this meme (right) and, not being one to spread false information when there is so much verifiable hempen history (and herstory) to be found, I did a little digging.

In Tesla's autobiography My Inventions, he wrote of taking apart the clocks of his grandfather as a boy. "Shortly there after I went into the manufacture of a kind of pop-gun which comprised a hollow tube, a piston, and two plugs of hemp," he wrote. "The art consisted in selecting a tube of the proper taper from the hollow stalks." Hemp does indeed have hollow stalks, so it seems the young Nikola was familiar with the plant.

A bag made by Tesla's mother
Tesla called his mother Georgina-Djuka "a woman of genius and particularly excelling in the powers of intuition." He wrote, "My mother descended from one of the oldest families in the country and a line of inventors....she invented and constructed all kinds of tools and devices and wove the finest designs from thread which was spun by her. She even planted the seeds, raised the plants and separated the fibers herself....When she was past sixty, her fingers were still nimble enough to tie three knots in an eyelash."

It is quite probable that the seeds Djuka planted were hemp. Nikola was born in 1856 in a mountainous Serbian village in what was then part of the Austrian empire and is now in Croatia. Some of my ancestors happen to have lived during that time in a similar village only 200 km away, and I have confirmed that the national costume of the Gottschee people, as they were called, was made from hemp.

According to Gottschee and Its People (John Kikel, 1947):

Being separated from the mother country [Germany], the Gottscheer developed his own national dress. He obtained wool from the sheep which he raised himself, and the hemp which he planted, supplied him with the yarn from which he spun his own linen, which was known as ‘Konig.’ On Sundays and holidays, the men wore linen trousers that went just above the shoes, a jacked made of coarse material and a broad-rimmed large black hat.

The women’s apparel was very colorful and picturesque. They wore snow-white pleated linen aprons and, around their middle, they wore a bright red or brightly embroidered belt with long fringes hanging down their backs. Around their shoulders, they wore a colorful shawl. There was always a great deal of competition amongst the women as to who would have the prettiest dress when they made their next “Kirchgang” since they all made their own dresses . . . Until the latter part of the 19th century, this type of national dress predominated. 

Hemp is still grown and processed throughout Eastern Europe.

Djuka and Nikola didn't necessarily make rope and paper from it, but quite likely she spun and wove the hemp she grew and processed, and her young son played with the stalks and fibers. One can only speculate as to whether Djuka's "genius" and intuition, and that of her son, were enhanced by hemp.

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