Not too many people understood Tufnell Archie’s world/religious view. It certainly was whacky though, and, as Tufnell Park’s most notorious bar brawler, he was the least likely role model for the pacifist movement…”
by mike morgan
Manuel “Gunyas” De Gouveia’s first and only fighter in Africa was a lummox of a fellow whose boxing name was Taras Bulba. This was in 1939, long before the Yul Brynner and Tony (“yonder lies de castle of my fadder”) Curtis film of the same name about murderous Cossacks on the Steppes of the Ukraine. But in Portuguese East Africa at the dawn of World War Two, there were slim pickings in the pugilism department, and Taras could take the punches and dole out a few himself.
Manuel found Taras in the rail yards of the port city of Beira. Taras was a tapper, the lowest-ranked black worker in an institution, namely the South African Railways (SAR), designed to ensure white supremacy at the job site. A tapper’s task entailed banging train wheels with a hammer to ascertain whether they were about to fall off or not. Manuel, however, was a fitter and turner in the Beira SAR shop. He was a syndicato gent, and could be seen regularly picking his teeth with a stiletto, staring into his glass of Porca De Murca, mumbling about workers’ power, and that a milling machine was a milling machine, whether in Oporto or in Lourenco Marques. Manuel had earned his nickname “Gunyas” after his affinity for a popular American soft drink. “Gunyas,” in Portuguese street slang, means Coca-Cola bottle.
Manuel had been in the Lisbon fight game all of his life, both in the ring and as a trainer and manager. When the European fascists were running rampant over that continent, Manuel and his beautiful wife, Dulcinea, found themselves exiled to the far-off colonies of Africa. Beira, in 1939, resembled the sweltering Latin American town in the movie “Wages of Fear,” inhabited by men with murky pasts, men who were on the run from all corners of the world. Spies, secret police, Comintern merchant marines and anarchist renegades rubbed shoulders in the cantinas, often resulting in the flash of a flick knife, the blue steel of a Luger pistol, or the knot of a garotte. Outlaw South African Boers, sympathetic to the Nazi cause, signaled subversive heliographs to German U-Boats off the Indian Ocean coast. Sullen African workers, under the yoke of the Portuguese colonial administration, plotted for their day in the sun. It was the end of the world, a dark and bloody ground.
Just as driving the truck loaded with sweating gelignite over the Andes mountains was Yves Montand’s way out of the hell-hole in “Wages of Fear,” so did Taras represent Manuel’s ticket out of Beira. Once he’d sold Taras on the idea of giving the white man a good knock, and getting paid for it too, Manuel and Taras became an inseparable unit. They rented training space in the back room of Johnny Ornellas’s “Live And Let Live” saloon.
Manuel immediately tore down the “Loose Lips Sink Ships” poster and replaced it with one of the triumphant Detroit native staring down at Adolf Hitler’s floored great Aryan hope, Max Schmelling. It read, “JOE LOUIS WINS BY A KNOCKOUT!” Another wall hanging he put up was a copy of the black-owned Chicago Defender’s front page which blared, “JOE LOUIS WINS AGAIN BY ANOTHER KNOCKOUT!” This one had a photograph of Primo Carnera, Benito Mussolini’s blue-eyed boy, flat out on the canvas beneath the glowering champ, Joe. “We gonna chase dem crazy baldheads out of town,” Manuel promised Taras, a line later lifted by a more prominent Rastafarian tunesmith. From the ceiling rafters, draped Dulcinea’s homemade banner. It said, “THE WORK OF HUMANITY IS NOT YET DONE!”
Blow by blow, Taras belted his way victoriously through the local opposition. Soon came their chance at a rumble for big Escudos (the local cash). Antonio Oliviera Salazar, then a captain in the Marines, later Portugal’s homegrown miltary dictator, was the old country’s premier slugger. He was on a tour of the empire taking on all comers, and Taras gave that crazy baldhead the business in the second round. Manuel and Taras pocketed enough geld from the win to splurge excessively. They ordered a brand new Duesenberg V-12 automobile, direct from the factory in Motown, USA. If they were going to hit the road, it would be in Jimmy Cagney style — whitewall tires, running boards, pin-stripe suits, fedoras, and spats to boot.
There were two slight problems: the law didn’t allow for the likes of Taras to drive, and Manuel didn’t know how and had no intention of ever learning. So it was that Manuel and Taras became a fixture on the highways and byways of Mocambique, backseat Homberg drivers, with Dulcinea behind the wheel. On training runs, Dulcinea kept it at a steady twenty miles an hour, while Taras skipped and shadow-boxed alongside, with a cheroot-chewing Manuel “Gunyas” De Gouveia yelling “Depressa! Depressa!” (faster, faster) to both his wife and his boxer. “Eez no probleem,” the unruffled Dulcinea could be heard whispering.
To round out his prizefighter familia, Manuel invited a fellow lathe operator and his best friend in Beira, Tufnell Archie, into their ranks as the corner man. Archibald Spottiswoode, from Tufnell Park in North London, was considered by most to be a weird duck. A self-described radical pacifist, he was personally led up the gangplank of a tramp steamer in the Thames docks by a burly Scotland Yard detective, who unceremoniously told him to bugger off from the King’s domain and never set foot in it again. Not too many people understood Tufnell Archie’s world/religious view. It certainly was whacky though, and, as Tufnell Park’s most notorious bar brawler, he was the least likely role model for the pacifist movement. He claimed to have a close personal relationship with god and referred to the Big Unit as “Junior.” “Junior wants the right hook,” he would holler at Taras from their corner of the ring. “Junior hates a cheat,” he would shout at the opposition, whenever a rabbit-punch was illegally thrown. If he felt the referee was fudging, he would hoot, “Junior can count to ten too.” When Manuel once asked Tufnell Archie about his spiritual beliefs, all he got back as an answer was “Junior is too big to fit into any one religion.” Manuel was an atheist and couldn’t give a Scottish fuck about any of this, but Tufnell Archie had smart ringside instincts, and having Junior as a silent partner couldn’t harm affairs. Now, their organization was complete. They called themselves “The Portuguese Men Of War.”
After Taras had annihilated the Salazar thug, his reputation blossomed. The Men Of War’s next deed of derring-do had them rubbing noses with royalty. It so happened that the King of neighboring Swaziland, Sobhuzha I (pronounced Soboozer), had a son, Sobhuzha II, who fancied himself as an up-and-coming cruiserweight. A healthy purse was at stake if Manuel’s entourage would pitch up at the Royal Kraal in Mbabane, and Taras would go toe to toe with Sobhuzha the Cruising Bruiser, as he referred to himself. Sobhuzha the Cruising Bruiser was an earlier incarnation of The Louisville Lip. An aspiring poet, he sounded off about his bout-to-be with Taras. “Bulba’s a loser, when he catches up with Sobhuzha,” “I’m on fire, and Bulba’s a liar,” “It’ll be a farce, when the Bruiser knocks Bulba on his arse,” and other boastful predictions poured forth from the Cruising Bruiser’s camp, forcing Tufnell Archie to fire off a telegram warning them that “Junior takes a dim view of motor-mouth braggarts.”
The three-hundred mile journey north to Mbabane, Swaziland, in the Duesenberg was an event in and of itself. Dulcinea, of course, did the driving, while Tufnell Archie sat alongside her in the role of navigator. Manuel and Taras lounged in the back seat, occasionally barking out directions and commands, “Esquerda!”(left), “Direita!” (right), “Parar!” (stop) and “Vamos!” (go). The hitch was that Tufnell Archie had a peculiar way of navigating. Basically, he didn’t rely on any maps at all, claiming that “Junior always knows the way, all the way.” The result was a wrong turn at the town of Big Bend, and an unfortunate foray into the wilds of the Kruger National Game Park. If it hadn’t been for Dulcinea’s able wheelmanship, they would have been sat on and crushed by a herd of rampaging hippopotami.
But despite these minor mishaps, Dulcinea got them there in one piece, and Taras put the major hurt on the young Sobhuzha, eliciting a “No Mas!” from the Bruiser’s bloodied big-mouth. All boxing enthusiasts know that the rope-a-dope tactic was first introduced in Africa. Most are unaware that it was used initially, not by Mohammed Ali against George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, but by Taras Bulba against Sobhuzha the Cruising Bruiser in Mbabane, some thirty-odd years earlier. The contest was an unqualified success for the Portuguese Men Of War. The former Bruiser never fought again, but he did go off to study medicine in the United States, and later became the only successful Swazi plastic surgeon on Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills, California. He was the first Prince-In-Waiting ever to perform boob jobs on both Gabor sisters, Eva and Zsa Zsa.
Back in Beira, storms were brewing. Because of Portugal’s neutrality, all Allied and Axis shipping had been interned in the port for the duration of the war. This gave the local anti-fascist community a plethora of targets, from hijacking Nazi cargo and supplies, to singling out German seamen and officers for attacks on the streets and alley-ways, to attempts at actually scuttling the ships themselves. The authorities took note, and began to weed out the troublemakers. High on their list was Manuel and his band of upstart, fighting gypsies. The Portuguese East African colonial government complained to the South African Railways that it was harboring Red Bombers in its work-force. The SAR, eager to purge any threat of worker unrest, came down hard on the Men of War. They all were transferred summarily to the SAR stockyards of Bulawayo, in the far North of British-owned Rhodesia.
Relocated close to the banks of the Zambesi river, they were now truly in the backwaters. But the fight was far from over. Bulawayo (whose African name means “Place of the Elephants”) was a hotbed of activity, unbeknownst to the SAR hierarchy. A young Joshua Nkomo, later to become co-leader of the Zimbabwe Patriotic Front, the liberation front that eventually won the independence war from white settler rule, was then a welder in the metal shop. An emergent African nationalist movement welcomed the likes of the Portuguese Men of War, similar to the way that Malcolm X later embraced a youthful Cassius Clay as a fellow freedom fighter. The Men of War were renamed “The Bulawayo Bolshies.”
The Bulawayo Bolshies cut a stunning figure. Nobody in Bulawayo had ever seen a Duesenberg, least of all a Duesenberg driven by an attractive European woman with an African boxer, all duded up like Pretty Boy Floyd, holding forth from the back seat. Manuel immediately put out the word that they were accepting challengers, and Taras rose to the occasion. He amassed an impressive array of wins, all knockouts. His victims included Lobengula The Lout, Boom-Boom Basutho, Sherman “The Macho” Mashona Tank, and the Ugandan King’s African Rifles’ hopeful, Sergeant Idi Dada Amin. Taras also trounced a young white local security cop named Ian Smith, Gatsha Brutus Buthelezi, the Matabeleland Basher, and the black Congolese champion, who ironically called himself Johnny Weismuller.
Manuel built a fence around their training facility and declared it to be an independent state, christening it “The Republic of the Boxer Rebellion Compound.” Shindigs and hootenanies were thrown at the Compound whenever Taras won a fight, which was often, and the entire township was invited. Local whites were the only non-attendees, by their own choice. Other youngsters in the ghetto, inspired by the Compound strategy, founded further satellite republics by cordoning off their own hovels, resulting in more Special Branch raids into the hood.
Tufnell Archie, who finally published his magnum opus, “Why Mohandas Gandhi Should Arm the Hindoos,” a controversial diatribe of a book for pacifist readers, even ran for mayor. The result was disastrous, since only whites could stand for political office, and only whites could vote. Poor Tufnell Archie received all of two votes, namely from Dulcinea and Manuel. He did, however, win kudos in the African community by proposing that, if elected mayor, he would swear the entire population of Bulawayo into the police force, claiming that “Before a policeman slaps and arrests you, he’ll have to think twice because you’re a policeman too.” Many years later, Jello Biafra’s abortive attempt at becoming mayor of San Francisco echoed this original Tufnell Archie demand. “Elect each policeman!” campaigned the Dead Kennedys’ frontman.
The first sign of trouble was a hostile letter in the Bulawayo Bugle, the white-owned newspaper, suggesting that the woman driving the uppity coon boxer around town was none other than a traitor to her race. Furthermore, unless the police stepped in, stopped this treasonous behavior, and shut down swarthy Manuel’s operation, the angry white people of Bulawayo would have no choice but to take the law into their own hands. The letter was signed “An Irate Citizen.”
Manuel dismissed the threat. “Who do they fool?” he told the others. “The law eet eez entirely in their own hands already. Besides, they’ll learn… things they go better with Gunyas, better with big, big Gunyas.”
Taras, at the receiving end of this kind of hatred all of his life, answered with a verse — “I’m going to chase dem to outer space, to find another race.” Taras had become close friends with Sobhuzha the Cruising Bruiser since their only match-up, and his buddy’s way with a rhyme was rubbing off on him.
Naturally, Tufnell Archie went on the offensive. His reply letter was never published by the editors of the same newspaper, but it did appear in the form of a flyer, which mysteriously showed up at town-council meetings, police rugby matches, cake sales, bingo binges, church socials, school dances, cinema showings, wedding bashes, and any other event that the white settlers of Bulawayo deemed socially important. His fiery rhetoric further angered and confused them. The pamphlet read, “If you geezers think that the best Juniordamned boxer in Sub-Saharan Africa is going to walk to work, you’re bonkers! — Yours truly, The Best Juniordamned Boxer In Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Dulcinea, always the calm one, had this to say: “Dos pessoas (folks) are nothing but imbecilios (flatheads).”
They all agreed that maintaining a public profile was their best protection. Unfortunately, they underestimated the venom of their foes. On his regular five-mile run early one morning, Taras Bulba was ambushed by a gang of young white goons, who attacked him from the bush. He fought back like a tiger, but superior numbers won the day, and his body was found lynched and flayed, hanging from a nearby tree. The same racist horde, enthused by their first kill, advanced on the Compound. There, they surprised and seized Manuel and Tufnell Archie, and tarred and feathered them. They trussed up Dulcinea with a chain, and shaved her head. The bloodthirsty mob trashed the entire premises, scrawling “THE WORK OF MAN IS NOW DONE!” in large, ugly letters over the entranceway. They bound Manuel and Tufnell Archie, and paraded them around the Compound perimeter like slaughtered game. Then, the hooligans deserted the scene of the crime, leaving both Manuel “Gunyas” De Gouviea and Tufnell Archie Spottiswoode to die the slow and painful deaths of suffocation. That day was October 31, 1942, and the Portuguese Men Of War, aka the Bulawayo Bolshies, were finished.
But not quite. Being of Anglo blood, the so-called law-abiding citizenry of Bulawayo celebrated the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes Day, with fireworks and assorted pyrotechnics. Gathered in the grounds of the Police Fort for the festivities, no one paid any attention to the idling American boat of a car until it was too late. Yelling “La Luta Continua!” (the struggle continues) at the top of her lungs, Dulcinea detonated a homemade explosive device attached to the Duesenberg, the makings of which were stolen and constructed by militant SAR workers, and the entire spectacle, garrison and spectators included, was blown to kingdom come.
The remains of Dulcinea, Manuel, Taras and Tufnell Archie were buried in the Potter’s Field of the African township of Bulawayo. Poor people from all over the region flocked to the funeral ceremony, presided over by none other than His Royal Highness, Sobhuzha II. A small headstone was erected in their honor, and a gold boxing glove, courtesy of the Royal House of Swaziland, was laid into the granite, above the hood emblem of the powerful Duesenberg motor car. Below was an inscription, which read, “Gone Visiting With Junior… We’d Like to Buy the World a Gunyas!” Coke bottles, filled with wild flowers, adorned the grave site. The tombstone might still be there, amidst the ruins of Greater Old Zimbabwe.
(art: troy dockins)
A Brooklynite by way of Wales and South Africa, Mike Morgan is the founder of Burrow Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at several neighborhood bars, where he can be found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time. More from Mike Morgan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.