Elephant tusk on the bow of a sailing lady, docked on the Ivory Coast
These lines begin the usage of the white imagery portrayed throughout the song. Ivory is a color that’s an off-white. The image depicted is one in which a boat is docked in Cote d'Ivoire, a country known as the Ivory Coast.
The Ivory Coast has a long history with elephants and ivory poaching. This country used to be filled with elephants, but currently, the population is under the threat of extinction due to poaching.
Elephants are poached for their ivory tusks, which are very valuable. The tusks being on the bow of a sailing lady (a ship) shows that they’ve already been killed. If you’d like to help stop elephant poaching, check out the Bloody Ivory website.
“Elephant tusks of the bore of a sailing lady docked on the Ivory Coast” might also refer to the slave trade and the money Europeans made off black bodies. The old money that helps them afford their Mercedes in a row, winding down the road…
These lines also bring to mind the Greek goddess Atalanta. Listen to how Frank pronounces “bow” like a bow and arrows, not like the bow of a ship. She has been depicted as carrying her arrows in an ivory quiver, and was, herself, a sailor. Her mythology involved sailing and the ocean. Numerous ships have been named Atalanta over the years, and of course, the city of Atlanta itself.
Another interpretation of these lines portray a reference to the ivory figureheads on slave ships (above), ornately decorated with the trappings of wealth, concealing squalor below deck. The comparison between “clean” white and “dirty” black takes on a new level of irony here, as it really the white slavers who are “dirty” in the figurative sense.
To tie it all back in to elephant poaching, note that these ships held cargo not only of human chattel, but also of ivory. When the wreck of the Dutch slaver Fredenborg was salvaged by divers, they found elephant ivory in the wreck. One can only imagine that the more readily dissolvable bones of slaves might also have been found.
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