Books by Kalamu ya
The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts
A Revolution of Black Poets
Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology
From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets
Our Music Is No Accident /
What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self
My Story My Song (CD)
* * * *
Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa But I
E-F-G-H: PANAFEST 1994
By Kalamu ya
E: How the West Was Won
voice startles me. It was late, very late. Nearby some
star crossed rooster was crowing even though it was 3:00
supposed to be sleeping. I had been writing. Now I was
lying in bed. Thinking. Thinking. Unable to sleep. Lying
quietly. Lying still. Thinking.
sleep, can you?"
bother looking for him in dark. In fact, I raise my arm
and cover my eyes.
know old chap, it seems to me your people have forgotten
how the west was won. I'm talking about you Black
Americans, is that what you're called this year? I do so
want to be correct."
dark I hear pages rustling.
it's changed. It's African Americans now. Well, that's
romantic. Af - free - can? Really! You guys are afraid
of Africa. You're like lions who were born in a zoo and
have never been let loose in the wild. I don't mean to
offend you, old boy, but you can't drink the water, find
the food distasteful, and would always prefer to ride in
a private car rather than walk or crowd into a bus. So
what's African about you?"
tired. Tired of thinking. Tired of looking through the
wall of my eyeballs at people in the dust and knowing
that those people are me, yet I am not fully comfortable
with them. Tarzan is trying to rile me. I answer his
question with a question.
what does any of that have to do with how the west was
it's fifty questions time is it? Well, I shall answer
your questions one for one as you answer mine. Goose and
gander. Fair enough?"
rooster crows again.
start with an easy riddle for you. Why does an African
rooster crow at night?"
"Because day's work is never done. We can't stay up too
late nor rise too early."
plausible, but the real answer is simple: because he
wants to. You fellows are always looking for some big
picture answer. Sometimes the answer is very simple. You
know what people do? They do exactly what they want to
respond quickly, "And likewise, people don't do
whatever it is they don't want to do, unless, of course
they are forced."
eyes engage each other. Neither of us blink. Finally,
Tarzan raises his brandy sniffer.
throws back the entire shot.
we walk some, old chap?"
"Tarzan, I don't want to walk with you."
afraid you might learn something?"
only thing I want to learn from you is how to kill you."
takes a seat, crosses his legs, looks toward the
ceiling, and, after a few moments, begins speaking in a
contemplative manner. "You know I sometimes stayed in
the bush for years without seeing a White man and it
didn't bother me."
wouldn't bother me if I went for the rest of my life
without seeing a White man."
glad to hear you are feeling a bit better. You know you
can't reduce everything to race."
should talk. Isn't that a little like the pot calling
the kettle . . ."
meant old chap is that can you be yourself when you're
living among people who are different from you?"
assuming that Africa is different from me?"
not assuming anything. I was merely commenting on what
the bush was like for me and wondering whether you're up
to the challenge."
"Tarzan, why do you visit me and carry on these
conversations, especially since you know I intend to
ignores me at first, then he crosses close to me, stands
close enough that I can smell the peach brandy on his
breath and looks me in the eye.
only reason I come is because you call."
knocks at the door. "Yes," I call out through the door.
It's one of the workers awaiting breakfast instructions.
Tarzan and I been talking that long? I open my eyes
and there's light in the room. I must have fallen
asleep. I tell the man what Nia and I want for breakfast
and inform him that we will be down in forty-five
begin thinking again about how the west was won and
suddenly realize what
was saying. In order to win the west you have to leave
where you were born and settle somewhere in the west. In
order to win we will have to go to the battleground,
live in the bush. Walk deep into Africa's night. Alone
and go for years without . . .
you're getting the hang of it. You just might catch on
yet. See you in your dreams."
up. I thought
was gone. Tarzan winks at me and nonchalantly walks
through the wall.
can return to anything he has destroyed. That is why
Tarzan can not return to Africa. The people Tarzan
encountered when he first arrived no longer exist.
the ruler can not return to Africa.
Tarzan can and will continue to frequent Africa as
an investor such as a hotel owner, or as a physician,
an industrial engineer, as a missionary caring for the
bodies and souls of the poor and/or an educator working
to insure future skills, as a mandated economic
consultant turning the screws on the economy, and
certainly as a technical advisor teaching everything
from computers to catering, tourist services to office
administration. Nevertheless, it will not be like
Tarzan first encountered is finished. First, some of
us met the Europeans man to man, warrior facing
explorer. Then king to ambassador and merchant. And, as
slavery progressed, eventually, we all—woman
and child, as well as man—had
to face them. Slave to master. Conquest to conqueror.
Raped to rapist. It was then that we submitted,
physically overpowered and, eventually, also
psychologically overpowered. Then the Whites graduated
from men, from conquerors, to gods; their far off
countries became "heaven" in comparison to the colonial
hell we suffered in our homelands. Then the cruelest cut
of all, the colonialists handpicked and educated our
leaders. Everything has been shit since then.
even though we still suffer from that scenario,
nevertheless, at least we know that the Whites are not
gods and that we are not animals. The old myths Tarzan
perpetuated are ruptured. Though a certain gullibility
remains exploitable and though the effects of the myths
linger, naive acceptance of the god = White myth is
done. The magic of the myths is no more.
Africans have a better understanding of ourselves as a
forced us to recognize that we had a commonness that was
not so apparent to us before Tarzan's arrival. We never
conceived of all of us being Africans until after Tarzan
made it impossible for us to ignore both the problems
and the potential of embracing ourselves. Before
Fulani, but not Africans.
But not Africans as a common denominator.
the sad truth is that we often considered each other the
enemy. Some of us even mistook Tarzan for an ally
against our neighbors whom we had known for ages, our
neighbors whom we regarded as age old enemies. How naive
we were. Thank you Tarzan. You cured some of us forever
of our innocence with respect to our alienation from
course old myths die hard. Even after the spell is
broken the effects linger on. We are still struggling
with being our own worse enemy. Still clawing through
the cocoon of colonized thinking that wrapped around and
continues to smother the very African identity which
emerges from it. Like the worm called a caterpillar,
after a gestation period of confinement within the shell
of colonialism, in order to be the beautiful butterfly
we are destined to become, we must break through the
cocoon or else the cocoon will become our coffin. We
will literally abort unless we break free.
after all we have suffered (or is it because of all we
have suffered), there is a pretty steep price to pay for
our freedom. After many, many years of struggle, we
still ain't free. Most of the original freedom fighters
have been discarded, the original leaders discredited or
forgotten. Toppled in coups. Replaced in elections.
Brought down by economic conundrums. Or something.
almost like the whole African world is caught captive on
a slave ship and fated to toss and twist forever on the
churning seas of the Atlantic. The bulk of us enchained
below. A thin professional crust entertained on deck.
And Tarzan's kin at the wheel.
I am returning to Africa with a bundle of questions for
it, for myself, for my survivors on the Black side of
the water. Chief among these questions is what does it
mean to break free?
Freedom, I believe, is not a thing to possess but a
process we must struggle through each and every day if
the sacrifices of slavery are to ever bear fruit. Is
(the Akan bird faced backward but moving forward) our
Africanists in the Diaspora are guinea fowl searching
yard. We peck the corn but not every kernel is eaten.
Sankofa. We must retrieve but not every tradition
should be carried into the future.
come both to embrace Africa and to criticize Africa. To
embrace myself and criticize myself.
embrace, to hold, to touch.
critique, to question, to make choices.
inspect and peck, but not all the food of this ancient
ground will be eaten.
such a funny thought: I am not returning to Africa, I am
going forward into Africa. Going forward. Steady.
Forward. Forward. For what?
(Excerpt form the PANAFEST Opening Address by Ghana's
Flt-Lt. J. J. Rawlings at
Coast, Ghana on Saturday, December 10, 1994.)
long you may have been away, we know that
many of you yearn to be reunited with your
ancestral home. I assure you on this happy
occasion that a warm welcome awaits you
here. Our traditional extended family has
ample room for all its members.
In bringing this family together
again, I hope that we will experience more
than just an exercise in nostalgia for the
lost years. It should strengthen our
determination to work together for the
development of Africa and raise the dignity
of people of African descent.
The integrity of the family
permeates every level of social, political
and economic institutions as also does
family disintegration. At this festival we
are laying emphasis on strengthening the
family because it is the building block of
Membership of a family implies
more than a shared past. A family also looks
to the future, and I trust that before
PANAFEST '94 is over, links will have been
forged which will lead to positive and
practical action in uniting the extended
African family in a purposeful drive into
But we may also look at the
African family in its narrower and generic
context. For those of you in the Diaspora,
the separation and break-up of the family
suffered by your ancestors centuries ago
might have influenced your concept of the
recently, the experiences of the slums, of
inner city crime, the drug culture, the loss
of parental control, the emphasis on
material things, have also struck at the
foundations of the family. The declaration
International Year of the Family is an
attempt by the world community to restore
the dignity and integrity of the family.
Whilst in some of you, this has
been a source of strength, self-discipline
and motivation with which to confront the
scourges of the modern world, in others it
has led to cynicism, apathy and a penchant
for finding scapegoats to blame our troubles
on, instead of bravely facing up to our
difficult circumstances and striving to
improve our lot.
One of the most troubling
aspects of this last reaction is the loss of
respect for each other.
African family here in Africa is also under
serious threat. Some of the factors could be
traced to the colonial period, when policies
were introduced which laid siege on our
The current urban drift also
adds a further strain by destabilizing
relationships in the rural areas through the
easy association that pressures of city life
impose on vulnerable new comers.
But much more disturbing is the
bombardment of our young people by the
international media, through TV, films,
video, magazines, etc. with what can only
be described as the lowest common
denominator of international pseudo-culture.
The powerful international media
message is about individualism,
self-gratification, material values and a
cynical lack of respect for any moral
authority which stands in the way of the
instant attainment of perceived wants.
Our traditional African values
which define the responsibilities, duties
and respect owed by the individual to the
family and to the community, to the
ancestors and to the land, are threatened by
this flood of empty media hype served as the
latest international trend, fashion or
Brothers and Sisters, Nowadays there is so
much talk about the world becoming a global
village. Modern communication technology
especially television is 'shrinking' the
world and homogenizing its cultures. However
that process has tended to either exclude or
subjugate the cultures of our peoples.
We have to be honest to admit
that distressing though this is, a good deal
of these unproductive and sterile material
which undermine the values and ideals of our
youth originate from Western and Christian
It is part of the purpose of
PANAFEST '94 to challenge this picture of
media imperialism and offer to the world the
true African identity.
first evening in Ghana is spent at the
A friend of Stephanie Hughley told her she should check
out a performance by the Pan African Orchestra. I first
met Stephanie when she joined the National Black Arts
Festival staff as artistic director in 1990—she's
now on staff with the 1996 Cultural Olympiad. We are
hanging together in Ghana.
opening performance is by a traditional, predominately
percussion music ensemble. They are good. In honor of
the holiday season, they even do a rhythmically rich and
melodically inventive version of Handel's "The Messiah."
African Orchestra follows. The instruments are all
traditional African instruments, including a one string
fiddle-like instrument which is bowed. There are
twenty-some musicians. One row of musicians on wood
flutes also double on traditional "horns" (the
mmenson) and percussion, two string players, and a
brace of percussionists. They file in like a European
orchestra and remain standing until the conductor seats
them. Instead of a baton the conductor wields an
"Televi" is a percussion instrument of the Ewe
people of Ghana. It's basically two small balls,
probably gourds, which have something inside so that
they rattle when you shake them. The two balls are
connected with twine. One ball is held in the palm of
the hand and the other swings around the outside of the
hand. As the free swinging ball wraps around the hand it
clacks sharply as it makes contact with the ball that is
held in the palm. At the same time the player shakes
the ball that is held. So you have a shaking sound on
the regular beats and the clacking on the down beats or
the syncopated off beats, depending on how the
televi is played. The conductor is ambidextrous and
plays one in each hand as he directs the orchestra, his
hands held shoulder high, shaking this swinging,
African Orchestra reminds me of Wynton Marsalis' efforts
at developing jazz as a classical music. The repertoire
and styles unavoidably look backward in an effort to
identify and preserve the high points of the historical
musical development. In a similar manner, this ensemble
uses traditional instruments, traditional themes, and
attempts to perform them in a traditional manner
faithful to the origins but also reflective of "high
art" standards. The string instruments, for example, are
tuned each time before playing. The overall sound is
quiet swinging, even when full out percussive, they are
never riotous. The overall effect is sonorous and
me admires and loves these and similar efforts to
quantify and preserve the classical aspects of our
traditional cultures. But unfortunately, the very
process removes the communal dynamic. We sat and
listened to a performance rather than participated in a
ritualistic outpouring. Some of the flute players read
from scores and all of the musicians were directed by a
conductor who controlled the whole performance. No one
danced, although I'm sure we could have (or, perhaps,
should have) if we really wanted to. This aural
archiving of the traditions is important, however, it is
not the future of African music.
the two week period, I will hear the Pan African
Orchestra three more times: between addresses at the
opening of the colloquium, as a feature at one of the
Cape Coast Castle performances, and at the closing
program. Each time I enjoy them. But the question
remains, this is past, what is the future? What are we
headed forward toward?
Ironically, even though a major part of PANAFEST is a
presentation of music and dance, most of the
performances are either weak or incomplete—incomplete
because in far too many cases, the main headliners
either don't show up or, when in the country, don't
perform as scheduled. Based on my experience as a
festival producer, I'm sure a great deal of the no
shows are due to the fact that deposit moneys were not
put in place early enough to guarantee the presence of
headliners. I had looked forward to hearing artists such
as Youssou N'Dour and Angelique Kidjo in an African
Stevie Wonder underscores another weakness of the
program. He actually arrives but does not perform at the
major concert. (I learn later that he did perform on an
piano tuner could not be found in time.) One unconfirmed
report is that he did not finish the preparation of his
music and equipment. I don't know what the real story
is. but I do know that the majority of the performers
are entertainers in the Western sense and project only a
limited Pan African consciousness. I saw or heard no
contemporary performances that were worth writing home
about as exemplary of cutting edge new directions in
closing program featured a line up of musicians, most of
whom were scheduled to perform at the gigantic 18-hour
show but, for one reason or another, didn't get to
perform. The personal highlight for me was a performance
by a legendary
highlife vocalist who seemed to be in his fifties or
sixties. His set got people up and dancing to his
topical songs, one of which welcomed us to Ghana and
spoke about pulling the African family back together.
His warmth and sincerity were matched by his
musicianship and professionalism as a performer.
Unfortunately, because there was no printed program and
because my ear was unattuned to the emcee, I didn't
catch this performer's name.
final performances were the negative highlights of the
well intended but mismanaged closing program, which was
in itself, already too long and meandering. The first
Kanda Bongo Man of Zaire with an exuberant display
soukous. His band, including a European keyboardist,
was in top form. The drummer in particular was awesome
as a percussionist and expert as a second vocalist.
in a red suit with a black sash and red
Kanda sang and dance with the fervor of a true "soul
man." He sweated and gyrated. He funked it up and
dropped some pelvis swivels on us that left no doubt
about his prowess as a love man. He also had a female
backup vocalist whom he did not feature and dancers whom
African female dancers came out and proceeded to put
their backfields in furious motion. A follow-up number
featured the larger of the duo and she had muscles
controlling her muscles, able to ripple her bared
stomach and micro move her ample buttocks. Later they
did a comic routine dressed as White women with bustles.
Then, out came a "real" White woman as a third dancer
and this combination of pelvis thrusting femininity
proceed to do an even more "exotic" floor show. All this
Kanda Bongo Man is whooping with delight and
directing the female traffic, occasionally joining them
in a chorus of twists and shouts. Needless to say, the
whole dance floor is filled. Each song is met with
rapturous applause. A thunderous ovation demands an
encore. Out come the dancers and there is now a second
White woman completely the female zebra in heat routine.
They put Raquel Welch and Paula Abdul to shame.
all had to do with Pan Africanism I'm not sure. But,
anticlimax was provided by Princess, a contemporary
urban music vocalist from the USA. She can sing, but
coming on just before midnight, after five hours of a
wide range of performances and presentations (the
obligatory thanks and awards to sponsors and short
speeches from dignitaries) and immediately behind
Kanda Bongo Man was the worse possible slot.
Moreover, she didn't have her own band. A male cohort
served as bandleader directing a Ghanaian contemporary
music ensemble which did a competent job of serving up
slinky, funky backbeats and melodies. Princess, dressed
in a tight, hip-hugging, semi-sexy, Black outfit, did
the in vogue, gospel-voiced, apolitical, ingénue routine
currently popular in the States—a
routine which Diana Ross propelled to both its apogee
and nadir. It was embarrassingly inappropriate as the
closing performance at PANAFEST.
Princess, in all fairness to her, probably really wanted
to sing at PANAFEST, and undoubtedly has genuine
feelings for the goals and aspirations of PANAFEST and
African people in general. The rub is that, politically,
African Americans are underdeveloped. At this moment,
abetted by the willing compliance of young African
American entertainers desperate to develop their
fledgling careers, the state of Black music in the
States has sunk to an abysmal level of apolitical
non-relevance and mindless sexual hedonism. Princess is
far from the worse of the lot. She has talent and, in
time, may even become a major artist. But, the question
United States, and elsewhere in the Diaspora, there are
literally thousands of socially relevant and
aesthetically exciting artists who would have loved to
perform at PANAFEST. Clearly artists such as
Sweet Honey in The Rock should have headed the U.S.
delegation of artists. But the problem is not just the
state of the entertainment industry but also the
orientation of those of us in charge of programs such as
this. We go for the "big names" and for people who work
in the vein of the big name performers. We are
invariably disappointed, but we have no one to blame but
ourselves for not closely examining our criterion for
other hand, PANAFEST was able to put itself financially
into the black by selling television and video rights,
and, no doubt, a lucrative deal could not have been
closed without the presence of "big name" entertainers.
Americans are a dangerous fire. Africa needs our light
but the burning must be controlled, otherwise, as the
Stevie Wonder and Princess illustrate, instead of
being illuminated, our hosts will be burnt.
very little attention to most Black pop videos, the
flaunting of light skinned, barely clothed, women. The
macho posturing. The gaudy and glitzy ostentatiousness.
The fantasy settings: sleek cars, fabulously laid out
homes and apartments. The fancy, hi-tech accouterments
and personal accessories. The drinking, dancing,
drugging. The modern day minstrel shows.
see these same videos in Ghana I am forced to pay
you see these videos in Ghana, what you see is
cultural imperialism in Black face. You see
shamelessly misleading adverts of fantasy masquerading
as reality. And all brought to you with a beat. The
baddest beats in the world. Beats so bad even the drums
of Africa are incorporating the African American
Traditional African drumming eschews the thumping
backbeat. The rhythms are both more complex and more
varied. But there's still nothing like basic African
American funk whether watered down into Western pop or
dropped full force, uncut in the various manifestations
ranging from the jumping jive of
Louis Jordan to the digitized rumble of phat rap
samples and beat loops.
is a battle going on for the souls of Black folk, and
unfortunately albeit not inconsistently with our
history, people of African descent are on both sides of
the battle line.
you get to Africa, turn on a television and see one of
these 90s videos, you see a lot more than you do sitting
home on the urban plantations of America.
yourself explaining the cultural significance of any
random half hour of BET soul videos. Explaining the
meaning of this madness to people for whom this is their
main contact with African Americans. Fellow Africans who
want to claim us as sisters and brothers. What do you
F: Once You've
to wonder how could one ship load of Portuguese or
English be enough to conquer mighty, mighty nations. I
don't wonder any longer. The answer is obvious once you
have been there.
must be in
Ghana, on the coast where the English were, pass
through the five walls, the triple gates, walk through
the stark, hard stone courtyard of the 15th century
Portuguese fort which served as a slave castle—a
holding place for the exportation of enslaved Africans.
Be there and feel the weight of walls, the thickness of
canon, the cold iron of twenty pound (or heavier) shot,
descend those steps and shiver listening to the echo of
your footsteps in the clammy cavern, hear the waves
splintering on the rocks with a poltergeist roar that
pounded the last sound of Africa into your ancestors'
you have experienced the soft tones of the gentle
Ghanaian people, eyes wide, men holding hands, women
leaning against each other, everyone touched. After
being there, you know.
you have been there you will know why, after he secured
a toe hold on the coast, we never stood a chance against
A thousand spears could never have destroyed a single
fort door. And we were just too humane to ever assume
that someone would destroy our world. Even today,
without airplanes it would be hard to take the fort,
especially if the soldiers inside were better armed,
ruthless and under the illusion that you were not even
Lord Greystone's predecessors had collaborators:
kings who sold. Merchants, mercenaries, and middle men
who directly profiteered off the slave trade. Guides and
translators who traitored.
PANAFEST guide now is a young Ghanaian woman named Ivana—yes,
a Soviet name. Someone said to her "that's Russian." And
she said "yes"; but she should have said "Soviet" from
when the communists worked in solidarity with the
liberation movements. Sure they had their own agenda and
were pushing their own philosophy, but they helped when
the West refused. Refused even medicine and clothing to
the liberation movements. Or worse yet, the West sent
aid to emerging states, aid which was a Trojan bomb
wrapped in IMF (International
Monetary Fund) total tinkering with a country's
economy. Tinkering at the level of a stern pa-pa
parceling out fifteen cents daily allowance with a
solemn lecture that if you buy any candy, even a penny's
worth, all of the dole will be cut off immediately. And
you better not get caught hanging with the wrong crowd.
Structural readjustment is what they call this
tinkering. Young college trained economists from the
West are the de facto regulators of large sectors of the
the national airline company.
in on a leased, Ghana Airlines jumbo jet. Even though
native Ghanaian pilots are available, the terms of the
lease dictate that certain experienced ("certain
experienced" is a euphemism for "White" or White
acculturated) pilots and crew members be used. In the
international leagues you don't even get to choose your
own team players—that's
the essence of structural adjustment.
Coast a young vendor explains that Western clothing
is dumped on Ghana as part of
IMF trade regulations. African clothing is more
expensive than the Western commodities. So generally,
the people acquire the cheapest apparel available. Even
so you still see a lot of Ghanaians in traditional garb.
IMF makes it difficult for Africans to dress in
may or may not know about the terms of foreign aid,
IMF and about the Soviets. Right now she and a
fellow guide, also a young woman from
want to see the slave castle. Ivana had tasks to
complete and by the time she got to the castle, the
dungeon doors were locked. I will ask Ivana later why
she has that name.
was born into a family of priestesses of traditional
religion. She does not plan to become a priestess but
she explained the whole ritual to Stephanie as we stood
in an open square near the fort in downtown Accra. The
kings of the area were there enthroned beneath gold
encrusted umbrellas. Linguists whom you must speak
through to talk to the king—assuming
that you can even get that close—
sit holding wooden staffs which are topped with solid
gold emblems. I spot the
symbol atop one of the staffs and know that is the
symbol for "return and fetch it." From a distance of
twenty feet or so, even I can see that real gold has a
shine that is deeper than glitter. Real gold is
impressive, especially when thick and intricately
carved. Or so it seems to my untutored eye. Immediately,
I reflect on the African American penchant for wearing
gold rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
the night before we visit the slave castle on
Coast which is a long drive outside of Accra. This
is our second night in
The first night we went to the
for a concert. Actually this is the beginning of the
third day because it is shortly after midnight and we
have been told that there will be a special ceremony, an
atonement ritual in which the chiefs will beg the
ancestors for forgiveness because of what some of them
did in collaborating with the slavers.
though it is video taped, this is not simply a staged
event. It is in a poor part of town. There are no
politicians around making speeches. There is no
Christian preacher beginning with a prayer to "our
here are hundreds of poor Ghanaians watching as their
chiefs announce the purpose of this gathering. A bull is
led out, later a goat. They will be sacrificed. Three
different sets of drummers.
than the chiefs and the priestesses, no one is dressed
up. People wear whatever they wore yesterday, whatever
they will wear later today. Whatever they will wear
stand in the dirt. Some laugh in the background. Some
are somber as they watch the ceremony. And as they watch
us, their American brothers and sisters.
Although the event was impressive, it really was not for
the benefit of the Diaspora. This was a necessary step
toward facing up to the painful negative realities of
our history. No concerted effort was made to make sure
that all of the Diaspora attendees to PANAFEST were
brought to the ceremony. It was not held in the national
stadium or the national theatre. In fact there was not
even a bus to bring us to this field in the poor part of
was a step that the continent needed to take. I watched
from a distance and understood that although it was
specifically about the slave trade, this purification
ritual was not about me as a "Diaspora
survivor/descendent" of that trade. This was about those
who had collaborated in sending me away.
was most interesting to me is that this was the
traditional chiefs speaking to the masses and not the
contemporary elected officials speaking to the educated.
I knew that the traditional chiefs needed to atone, but
I question why weren't the "contemporary chiefs" also
present to assure the people and themselves that they
would not fall victim to a reoccurrence of this historic
repatriation of the Diaspora is the law of every African
state, and especially of West African countries, the
betrayal will not have been fully reversed. Just as they
sent us away, they must bring us back, otherwise our
return will be seen as a threat and resentments will
abound. The reintegration of the family that was torn
asunder is no simple task. In fact it is emotionally
taxing. Sometimes, like when I am standing there, one
a.m. in the morning watching "them" slit the throat of a
sacrificial bull, I find pause and wonder just how much
I want to return if this is what I am returning to.
me is in the crowd of simple people, looking at the
chiefs, listening to the words, looking at us, watching
the ritual and trying to sort it all out. At least five
or six people say to me in broken English, welcome home
brother. Unlike the chiefs, the poor people intuitively
know that our positions are interchangeable. It could
have been them in the dungeon, and now returning
centuries later ignorant of the mother tongue, a
stranger in my motherland.
me is with the dispassionate observation of the media
cameras angling for a better or more dramatic shot,
taking it all in indiscriminately without any filter
other than the consciousness of
the video director dictating what should be observed and
remembered and what did not matter. Stephanie and Nia
did not bring their cameras because they thought this
was going to be a sacred ceremony. They were very
disappointed when they saw the media video equipment.
The world has changed so rapidly, Africa's growing pains
are illuminated, and everything takes place within the
public glare. Africa has no privacy.
spends most of his time looking at the chiefs, observing
the rituals, talking to an interpreter who explains
what's going on. Very little of
footage is of the people. Nobody translates what they
are saying to each other.
there is another tortured part of me on that killing
ground, my throat slit. Even though I do not want to
think it, I have had enough experience with Black
political leaders to know that not only would they sell
us out, but they will even fake elaborate rituals of
seeming sincerity if they think that is what it will
take to maintain their power. I try not to make a
judgment about these men whom I never met.
point there is a delay. I find out later that Ivana told
Stephanie the purification ritual required the
participation of the women but the chiefs had not
involved the women from the beginning of the program,
even though the priestesses were there dressed in white.
the men finally got around to asking the women to
participate, the women first said "no." After giving
them a piece of their mind, the elder sisters relented
and the ritual went on.
said, even when they are sincere, sometimes politicians
are still only thinking about themselves. Perhaps, like
that bull kicking in the dust long after its throat had
been slit and its blood had been gathered in a pan, and
used in the ceremony; maybe, like that bull whose
carcass was carted off on a flatbed wagon drawn to the
field by two young boys, a cart whose two wheel flaps
had pictures of a brown Jesus on them; perhaps like that
bull, like that goat, perhaps I was simply being used as
a sacrificial vehicle to assuage the guilt of these
sound totally cynical to view myself in this way, but
the truth is, at some point it crossed my mind.
truth is that Black politicians have a history of
selling us out.
truth is that I was in the dungeon, thanks in part to
truth is it will take more than the slaughter of one
bull and one goat to account for that.
G: Woman, No Man
know that it was White men who first came into us. After
they left their women to sail the seas. Left their women
to see what lay beyond the edge of the world. Left their
women. Behind. Do you know what I am saying?
were they always leaving their women? Don't they love
they love our women.
know there's the race issue. There's the class issue.
And there's the ass issue. You know that's why they made
the bustle the fashion rage during the colonial era.
kind of man leaves his woman. Or perhaps it is only men
who leave women. Men go it alone and love it. You know,
rape, pillage, plunder. Have fun. You know what I mean?
you're a man reading this, you know what I mean.
are a woman reading this, you really, really know what I
leave and go it alone. A woman always brings/births
they came here they had no women with them. Now, look at
the colors amongst us -- all the different shades, hues,
and intensities of our skin.
notice that in the movies Tarzan is never shown with an
African woman but where did all of the brown babies of
black women come from?
Tarzan swings with Jane, but at night, at night.
fascination is obvious when you look at the way we look
Tarzan has made himself part of the family.
night I was sleeping and
was in the bed, snoring next to me. He must have been
dreaming because he called your name. I woke him.
you're keeping me awake."
woke me to tell me I was keeping you awake?"
how the devil do you know I was dreaming?"
"Because you called her name."
stirred, throwing the covers back. He was naked and I
looked at his member. It did not seem to be any longer
not dreaming. A dream is an imaginary thing. I was in
fact and have been for a long time having quite a go of
it with your woman, old chap. Well, she's not really
yours, but she is quite a woman."
Suddenly I saw you climb silently out of the bed. You
were naked. When you saw me, you picked up a cloth from
the foot of the bed, wrapped yourself, and stood
smoldering beside the bed. I lay there fully clothed.
You looked at me and said nothing. I looked at you and
old chap would you like to have a go at Jane?"
language of our eyes, you told me no. Don't go.
would you like to have a go at her when I'm done?"
motioned for you to drop the cloth. I jumped up,
stalking out of the room. When I got in the hall
slamming the door behind me, Jane was fleeing down the
hall, running toward my room. I went to your bed and you
were gone, probably still in
bed. Jane was crying in the hallway, slumped beside my
bedroom door. She looked so white lying there. And I
stood not knowing where to sleep. Somehow, I never
thought of lying in my own bed.
old chap would you like to have a go?"
very perceptive and sensitively written, although
provocatively titled, book
Alex Shoumatoff, a travel writer and naturalist
investigates the social reality of contemporary Africa.
His book is called
African Madness. A collection of four long
essays, the fourth one, "In Search of the Source of
AIDS" contains an interesting aside which suggests the
fascination that African female sexual activity
Shoumatoff is careful to deflate the more
sensationalist claims, and even casts a cold light on
totally unreliable statistics which are often used to
buttress a case for Africa as both the source of AIDS
and Africa as the site of a raging AIDS epidemic.
converses with an anonymous physician in Zaire about the
high incidence of heterosexually transmitted AIDS in
Shoumatoff makes the following observation:
talked about the risk of being infected by a
single sexual contact with an infected
person. Estimates range from one in ten to
one in a thousand. There are no believable
figures, but it would seem that the virus is
not very easily acquired when both partners
are healthy. It is more readily transmitted
to the woman, which would suggest that
Zairois men are more promiscuous than women
if the sex ratio of AIDS cases is equal.
He explained that heterosexual
sex was a lot more risky and efficient as a
mode of transmission in Africa than it is in
the West because the levels of
seropositivity are much higher and a lot
more people have other diseases. I wondered
if the way sex is performed has anything to
do with it. For most Africans, sex is a
matter of vigorous old-fashioned humping,
often without foreplay, which means that
there is insufficient lubrication, and the
genitalia of both partners are therefore
liable to abrasion. Some researchers have
speculated that the duration of the sex act,
frottement, or grinding, that the
women of certain tribes are famous for,
certain techniques like the
Swahili milling movement, and the
okuweta ekiwoto, the frenzied
twisting of the waistline of
Baganda women, may play a role.
other tribes, like the
Tutsi and the
Kikuyu, the woman is not supposed to
move during intercourse lest she be thought
of as a prostitute. It seems reasonable that
the longer the genitals are in contact and
the more fluid that is emitted and the more
frottement the greater the chance
for infection. But like the theories about
ritual scarification, female circumcision,
and blood brotherhood, this is not supported
by any scientific study.
scientific study supports the generalization that "For
most Africans, sex is a matter of vigorous old-fashioned
humping, often without foreplay . . ."?
there no names for the "grinding" movements that the
"men" of certain tribes are famous for?
women always the site of sexual attention in the West,
from Freud's "penis envy" and "vaginal orgasms" to
it be that the Western
patriarchy, and by extension, most men in the
contemporary world via the influence of Western media,
are actually filled with envy and awe in the face of the
undeniable power of the female womb to generate life,
not to mention the immense attraction that the
vagina/womb has to owners of penises, even to
homosexuals who often adopt feminine characteristics?
Could it be fear and envy—fear
of female power, fear of what in comparison is perceived
as male weakness; envy of female fecundity, envy of the
ability of women to do everything a man can do except,
of course, generate sperm?
Tarzan's other name is Dr. Frankenstein. Not the
monster, mind you, but the good doctor, the man who
would create life. The dream of every generation of
Euro-centric manhood. Articulated in the Greek mythology
of Zeus giving birth to a goddess out of his brain.
Proselytized in the Christian mythology of Adam giving
birth to Eve. And institutionalized in gender
chauvinism, in the patriarchy of Western culture. All in
an effort to supplant women, make women superfluous.
paper "The African Woman Today," Ghanaian writer
Ata Aidoo noted: "In most countries of Africa whole
sectors of the economy, such as internal trade,
agriculture, agro-business and health care are in the
hands of women."
Chinwezu, a leading, if not "the" leading, African
literary critic is from Nigeria. He is staying at the
Marnico Guest House in Cape Coast, as is
Ata Aidoo. We are all here to participate in the
five day long colloquium.
what I know and surmise based on my meetings with their
respective nationals, Nigeria, by contrast to Ghana, is
materially richer but spiritually poorer. In their
Ata Aidoo suggest how Africa will face the hard row
we have to hoe.
after Stephanie, Nia, and I first arrived at and checked
Aidoo's car pulled into the compound. However, she
was told that there were no rooms. A discussion ensued.
Aidoo was going to try to find another place. The
manager said they were full. PANAFEST had reserved 10
rooms and they were all taken—the
whole week I never saw ten of us in the hotel, but that
is another story.
the egg popped out. Some film crew guy had stopped by
and told the manager that he might be back for three
rooms, so the manager was holding three rooms aside just
Aidoo is a matronly Ghanaian, and when the truth was
finally out she asserted herself in the spirit of
matrons: You give me a room now. I am not going anywhere
told the driver to unload her bags. The manager relented
and she moved in. Hours later I heard some men come into
the room across the hall. I don't know whether it was
the film crew, nor how many of them they had.
was nagging at the back of my head is why would the
manager try to deny a room to a woman who could easily
have been his mother, in favor of a "possible" booking
from someone he didn't know.
would be more than a few days later before I realized
what I had run into. The lack of respect we African men
have for African women, and the absolute fact that
African women are beginning to demand respect. To note
one without the other is a mistake because it is women's
demands which will overcome men's ignorance.
cases, we men don't even realize we are trodding on
sometimes when I am excited about something, I will
charge ahead and stampede Nia. I will put my "two cents"
in and expect to talk even when the conversation is not
about money. Fortunately, as is her way and in her
characteristic tone, Nia will speak softly but firmly to
me when I err. She reminds me to respect her space and
howsoever she chooses to occupy that space, especially
when she chooses to occupy space in ways that are vastly
different from the way I would negotiate the territory.
not abstract. Men not respecting women and not realizing
they aren't respecting women is a real problem of the
African world. The solution is for women to demand
respect. Those of we men who are serious about building
a future will listen to our sisters.
know I don't say much, but when I decide to talk, I want
to do so without you interrupting."
ashamed of myself when Nia criticized a particular piece
of dumb behavior I exhibited. But I felt thankful and a
lot better about myself when I was able to catch my
tongue on the next occasion I was about to jump in
unannounced. Fortunately for me, although my mouth
sometimes is undisciplined, my ears work very well. And
I try to stay particularly attuned to women when they
speak to me, especially when I am being criticized.
Wednesday, 14 December, mother
Aidoo left us for a short run to Accra. "I will see
you back here on Friday when I come back and when you
come back from
As she pulled away, Nia and I were sitting in the wooden
lawn furniture under a tree in the courtyard. The night
before we had sat out past midnight talking with
Haile Gerima and mother
Aidoo. It just so happens that early Thursday night,
15 December, Nia and I are sitting at the same table
awaiting a ride when mother
Aidoo returns from
Accra. She joins us and we talk. "Whenever I think
of Marnico, I will think of you two sitting here."
supposed to go to Kumasi but never made it because we
had planned to take a car early, early Thursday morning
rather than catch the bus which left Wednesday
Youssou N'Dour was scheduled to play the castle on
went, he didn't and there was no explanation about what
happened. Youssou N'Dour's no show at the castle
happened after we found out that none of the cars were
allowed to drive to
We had hit our first string of bad luck on the trip thus
far, but even the bad luck turned out good.
Kumasi on Wednesday afternoon and returning to Cape
Coast on Thursday night proved to be a logistical and
programmatic disaster. The Kumasi move was especially
negative for the Women's Day program which was held in
program featured dance and poetry performances by
schools, women's associations and individuals. One
choir, who waited patiently for three hours, completed
their three numbers they had prepared even when the
eager emcee tried to talk them off the stage after two
numbers. Another drama group, from the northern part of
Ghana, did a long musical about marriage with specific
moral and practical advice about family planning, sex
before marriage and similar issues.
were welcome addresses and a strong speech from
Dr. Mary Grant, who spoke on the need for women to
actively assert themselves in all spheres of national
development. She spoke in direct and simple terms, not
in slogans or rhetoric. The assembled women, some in
T-shirts and skirts, some in uniforms, some in Ghanaian
dress, all responded with enthusiasm.
Aidoo was sorry to hear that she had missed the program.
She asked how it went and said that she had heard that
it was beautiful. I then brought up Chinweizu's book
Anatomy of Female Power. On the cover of the
book is a provocative quote: "For all men who have been
confused, misused and abused by women, particularly
since the coming of feminism; and definitely not for
women." The book is subtitled "A
Masculinist Dissection of Matriarchy."
dedication says: To the handful of women now in my life
(platonic friends, lovers, ex-lovers, lovers-to-be); To
the countless others who have slipped in and out of my
life; and especially To those who have attempted to
marry me: From them I have learned most of what I know
Strangely absent in the dedication of a book purporting
to analyze "Female Power" is any mention of his mother.
Chinwezu sells his
136-page misogynist screed for US$10. Both
Aidoo and I had bought a copy from
Chinwezu one night
when we sat out talking. When I first started reading
it, I thought the man had written a satire, a
caricature, but as I read on, I was forced to judge him
serious in his views.
A baby is a breathing, bawling,
flesh-and-bones club with which a woman can
beat a man down to the ground and compel him
to toil for her. Even an embryonic baby, a
mere speck of a foetus in her womb, will do
just fine when a woman wants to bend a man
to her will. When she gets tired of
supporting herself, she can throw her cares
unto some hapless man by getting herself
pregnant by him, knowing full well that it
would take a most heartless man to abandon
their child, and that where the baby goes,
she, its mother and nurse, would tag along.
That is why their baby is probably a wife's
ultimate tool for getting, holding and
exploiting her husband. (p. 101)
above quote is not an especially virulent extract, in
fact, it's about the norm of most of the book. I could
quote paragraph after paragraph in a similar caustic
Chinweizu's main thesis is that women control, and
thus have power over men.
power exists; it hangs over every man like a
ubiquitous shadow. Indeed, the life cycle of
man, from cradle to grave, may be divided
into three phases, each of which is defined
by the form of female power which dominates
him: motherpower, bridepower, or wifepower.
From birth to puberty, he is
ruled by motherpower, as exercised over him
by his one and only "mummy dearest". Then he
passes into the territory of bridepower, as
exercised over him by his bride-to-be, that
cuddlesome and tender wench he feels he
cannot live without. This phase lasts from
puberty to that wedding day when the last of
his potential brides finally makes herself
his wife. He then passes into the domain of
wifepower, as exercised over him by his own
resident matriarch, alias his darling wife.
This phase lasts until he is either
divorced, widowed, or dead.
In each phase, female
power is established over him through his
peculiar weakness in that stage of his life.
Motherpower is established over him while he
is a helpless infant. Bridepower holds sway
over him through his great need for a womb
in which to procreate; if he didn't feel
this need, he wouldn't put himself into the
power of any owner of a womb. Wifepower is
established over him through his craving to
appear as lord and master of some woman's
nest; should he dispense with this vanity
not even the co-producer of his child could
hold him in her nest and rule him.
There are five conditions
which enable women to get what they want
from men: women's control of the womb;
women's control of the kitchen; women's
control of the cradle; the psychological
immaturity of men relative to women; and
man's tendency to be deranged by his own
excited penis. These conditions are the five
pillars of female power; they are decisive
for their dominance over male power . . .
(p. 14 - 15)
Chinweizu who wrote
The West and the Rest of Us and Decolonising the African
Mind. This is a major intellectual force. A man
whose work is widely known and widely admired. This is
also a man who obviously feels that he has been
"confused, misused, and abused by women". Although I
know neither the cause nor the details, my brother's
pain is obvious. He like many, many men in Africa feels
intimidated and oppressed by the strength, fecundity and
persistence of African women.
study more and more about the period of the slave trade
and the subsequent colonial period, it is clear to me
that not only was Africa depopulated, but a large
percentage of her strongest men were literally kidnapped
often at the hands of mercenaries. In my opinion, those
mercenaries are the immediate ancestors of some of
Africa's most brutal Black military dictatorships. But
deeper than that brutality, slavery and colonialism also
account for the two major prototypes of African male
behavior: the macho and the meek.
Chinweizu agrees with me that this is the normative
profile of the male, but he, not surprisingly,
attributes this to female power over men rather than to
the psychology of the oppressed and repressed.
To understand why men
have not yet revolted in the wake of
feminism, we ought to note that, in their
attitudes to women, there are three basic
types of men: the macho, the musho, and the
masculinist. A macho is a brawny, and
sometimes brainy, factotum who has been bred
for nest slavery, and who is indoctrinated
to believe that he is the lord and master of
the woman who rules him. A musho is a
henpecked version of the macho who hangs
like a bleedy worm between the beaks of his
nest queen. A masculinist is a man who is
devoted to male liberty, and who would avoid
nest slavery. (p. 124)
castration image ("bleedy worm") underscores the
virulence of those males who blame women for the current
state of powerlessness in world affairs that is the
reality of most African men. What is most interesting is
Chinweizu never makes an assessment of the African
reality. Most of the quotes are from American and
European authors, especially the quotes on
Choosing to ground his analysis in the psychological
realm without first examining the material and the
Chinweizu's major problem. We should look at the
conditions first, then consider why and how we feel
about our conditions.
hard truth is that African women on the continent
generally work from sunup to sundown, toiling on foot
and with hand tools to eke out subsidence in a world
that is terribly skewed against them. Just on a physical
level, everywhere one looks, one sees mostly women and
children porting material on their heads up and down,
the length and breadth of the countryside.
Ghana in particular, not only are women the numerical
majority, and not only do women do an inordinate amount
of physical labor, they specifically produce,
distribute, and market the bulk of indigenous
agricultural foodstuffs. The market women are
"notorious" for their psychological and economic
independence. Ghana's first lady has thrown herself
fully into the organizing of women, particularly in the
rural areas, through initiatives such as the
December 31st Women's Movement.
PANAFEST Women's Day program was designed to address
these and other issues. I didn't see
Chinweizu at the program, and assume that he, as
were most of the other delegates, was in
Kumasi. Because of this scheduling conflict, the
importance of the Women's Day program was severely
has been a political revolution in Africa. That
revolution gained nominal control of what we know today
as the independent states of Africa. But in a world of
multinational corporations and Euro/American/Asian
concentrations of wealth in specific national economies,
there is no real Africa independence in the sense of
total self-reliance. Africa remains subservient to and
aid-dependent on not only the former colonial master
states, but also to and on newly emerged Arab and Asian
powers. Everywhere in Africa efforts are underway to
figure out a winning strategy for an economic
will not have the luxury of uninterrupted linear
development: first in politics, then in internal social
affairs, and third in economic affairs. The nations and
people of Africa will not have the opportunity to
establish nations whose boundaries are drawn up by and
in the interest of Africans. The internal affairs of
African nations will constantly be influenced by
political and economic forces foreign to Africa.
Economic development moving from dependency and
subservience to self-reliance and independence cannot
happen as long as the former colonial powers remain
overwhelmingly influential. That's the downside.
upside is that although we face tremendous odds, at
wildly uneven levels, social and economic development is
happening in Africa, sometimes sequentially, sometimes
in parallel, but happening nonetheless.
first revolution was political and the ultimate
revolution will be for economic self-sufficiency, but
between these two is the third revolution, the necessary
internal social revolution required for the third step
of economic revolution to be successful. African women
moving from being the objects of the national productive
forces to political and economic decision makers is a
prerequisite of national economic independence.
are strong in Ghana and elsewhere in the African world
but they are neither respected nor in control. Women
will have to demand and struggle for both respect and
control. Indeed, that is the essence of power, the
ability to self-defend, self-respect and self-control
contradictory as it may seem, in the long run, I think
Africa will see a more genuine empowerment of women than
in the West, precisely because African women are already
1.) strong in and central to the daily life of their
countries, 2.) integrally involved in the internal
economy, 3.) absolutely vital to the national
well-being, and, most important of all, 4.) because
African women are now beginning to demand respect and
revolution is coming, it's coming. Which is why mother
Aidoo had a room at
Marnico Guest House.
H: One Step
Backward, a Great Leap Forward
get back people will want to know "what is Africa like."
But I am not in Africa, I am in Ghana. Here I have to
deal with specifics, "Africa" is a generality.
GHANA The Land, The People And The Culture, A Tourist
Guide published by Ghana Tourist Development Limited
offers this succinct history of independent Ghana.
formerly the Gold Coast, gained her
independence within the Commonwealth on 6th
March, 1957 under the leadership of
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. On 1st July, 1960, Dr. Kwame
Nkrumah proclaimed Ghana a republic and
combined the roles of President and Prime
Minister. Dr. Nkrumah's Convention People's
Party (CPP) government was ousted on 24th
February, 1966 through a military coup; and
the National Liberation Council (NLC) with
General Joseph A. Ankrah as Chairman, took
over the administration of the state.
Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia and
his Progress Party (PP) after gaining
majority vote in a parliamentary election,
took over the leadership of the state.
January, 1972 Ghana experienced its second
military coup which brought
Acheampong and the Supreme Military Council
(SMC) into power.
was an uprising on 4th June, 1979 and
Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings emerged as
leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary
Council (AFRC) which took over power for 3
Parliamentary elections were held in the
same year; and on 24th September, 1979,
power was handed over to
Dr. Hilla Limann
and the People's National Party (PNP)
years later, on 31st December, 1981, there
was a revolution which brought back
Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings to power.
then, government functions have been carried
out by the Provisional National Defence
Council (PNDC) led by
Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings. (p. 17 - 18)
as much factual details about the internal politics of
Ghana as I do about the internal politics of Washington,
D.C., which is to say, in the real world of movers and
shakers, I know less than nothing. "Less than nothing"
because everything I do know has been carefully filtered
by some agency or individual before the information
reached my brain.
perpetually aware and wary of the high degree of media
manipulation and political sleight of hand that
accompanies every government. I have never forgotten an
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founding and
former president of
Tanzania. Mwalimu (teacher) is a
Swahili honorific bestowed on Nyerere. He said,
referring to the tendency of those in power to do
whatever is necessary to remain in power: "all
government are conservative. All." Someone asked him
what about his revolutionary government. He simply
repeated himself and smiled a cryptic, ironic smile that
was chilling in its comradely candor.
political arena it is dangerous to believe in absolutes.
Every event, every experience, every action, every
individual, every group can only be appreciated—if,
indeed, appreciation is possible—in their own
military man runs Ghana.
ground, at the street level, how is Ghana?
of Accra, modern housing is rare in the south central
area through which we traveled. Traditional villages and
crumbling vestiges of colonial era buildings are
occasionally interrupted by new housing developments.
Fortunately, the weather is relatively benign and people
can comfortably sleep on the street at night: in door
ways, on carts, on benches, tables, everywhere without
fear of disturbance or of being robbed blind.
Chickens and goats range freely on roadsides. That
certainly would not be possible if people were literally
starving. Young coconuts—their water is a refreshing
drink—are sold for forty
cedis (that's roughly four
cents). Oranges, apples, bananas, papaya, watermelon,
mango and pineapples abound.
Ironically, the vast majority of Ghanaians eat a higher
nutritional quality food than we do in the United
States. I was startled into this realization by the
epiphanic appearance of an ordinary Ghanaian woman
walking toward me with a huge tray of colorful, fresh
vegetables balanced serenely and securely on her head:
bright orange carrots stuck out the front of the tray,
an angular array of tender tubers. Were carrots native
to Ghana? I just never imagined carrots in Ghana, yet
there they were, not as a specialty item for the
superrich but an average, everyday, cheap, and
ubiquitous, healthy vegetable. My eyes were opened at
that moment. Everywhere I looked, there was fresh food.
roasted on the roadside. Peeled oranges piled in small
pyramids. Shaved coconuts bunched on a cart—the empty
shells used for fuel to fire the mud ovens where fish is
smoked. Freshly harvested pineapples, carved into
fragrant slices and wrapped a small handful to a plastic
package. On and on.
fruit and vegetables everyday. Freshly caught fish, free
ranging fowl, and small amounts of red meat,
supplemented by beans are the staples of the Ghanaian
diet. Compare that to the chemical filled, canned, fast
food, salt and sugar drenched food that most Americans
eat daily. Plus most Ghanaians walk constantly, another
Sanitation is rudimentary; brackish green sewerage sinks
and stagnates as it trickles down narrow, open concrete
gutters. The sharp aroma of open air latrines, and the
ubiquitous sight of men relieving themselves at the
sewer's edge repulses industrially acclimated
sensibilities, but you get used to it. That is, you get
used to it after you get sick. Usually either
some bug attacking either your digestive or respiratory
system knocks you on your backside for a couple of days.
weathered the toughest cold I have had in years. For
half a day I lost my voice. The onset of the illness was
sharp pangs across my abdomen, followed by a cold.
Strangely, there was no diarrhea. But then a cold in
full force, which at its height included a painful
tightness in my lungs that made deep inhalations a
trial. Because my immune system is very strong, I was
able to keep pushing and went about my work just as
though nothing was wrong.
night the mosquitoes drove us inside. I think back to my
childhood days in New Orleans when the mosquitoes there
would drive us inside. I can remember the fog trucks
going around to spray. I can remember the mosquitoes
being so bad that the weatherman would warn us when they
were spawning in the swamps. I can remember that in my
lifetime, New Orleans was not much more advanced in
terms of fighting mosquitoes than is
Cape Coast, Ghana
today. I remember.
than the sewerage situation, one of the most glaring
failures in development is the paucity of mass
transportation. Accra is clogged with cars, some of
which appeared to be held together by Third World juju—"Third World" because anywhere in the developing
world you go, you see museum-ready automobiles puttering
along, sustained by the ingenuity of shadetree mechanics
who literally manufacture spare parts and improvise
riggings to keep these vehicles in service. For example,
the private taxis we rode in were ageless wonders whose
parts probably spanned at least three decades. Moreover,
the rule of the road seemed to be, if it will roll, let
police who were out in force were inspecting licensees
for tax purposes rather than inspecting the cars for
road worthiness and safety. Road blocks along the
highway, and at critical junctures were the rule.
though Accra is very large, there seems to be four or
five avenues that the vast majority of cars travel, and,
during the day these routes are always crowded. As a
testimony to African humanness, the traffic jams aren't
accompanied by the cursing, and sometimes physical
violence, that routinely occurs in the United States.
people's maintenance genius and civil patience with the
traffic clogs notwithstanding, the private automobile
remains a symbol of having arrived. A late model, shiny
car, whether a luxury sedan or a modest two door economy
car, marks the owner as being a cut above the working
class. The black or dark maroon, brand new PANAFEST
cars, with their distinct license plates, stood out
everywhere we went. Needless to say, there was some
fierce behind the scenes jockeying to determine who was
assigned a car, and how one could get a car if not
originally assigned a car.
Stephanie had been assigned a car and we rode with her
Cape Coast. She returned to the States before we did,
and we "inherited" her vehicle. The car question was
really a question of mass transportation. PANAFEST was a
special event, but what did the ordinary people do? They
either crowded into private taxis and buses, or onto one
of the handful of public service vehicles, or, more
likely, they walked.
Perhaps, its my own Western bias, but I think a light
rail system connecting the various towns and villages,
combined with a major bus system would tremendously
facilitate development. But then again, maybe not. Maybe
mass transit would only mean people ended up waiting
longer for other things. I'm sure there is a reason that
the government has not pursued that option—even if
the reason is only that ranking government bureaucrats
tend to measure their status by whether they have a
private car. Maybe, mass transit is a secondary or
tertiary concern in the overall scheme of social needs.
Maybe, it's only because I come from America that the
whole transportation issue is even important to me.
Maybe, but I don't think so. Even America is deficient
when it comes to mass transit, particularly between
remember reading an article about concrete. Yes,
concrete; the history and uses of it. In the fifties,
succumbing to the construction and automobile lobbies,
the federal government decided to institute the
interstate highway system. The option, of course, was to
develop the rail system for interstate travel. We don't
often think of it as a government policy, but the truth
is a decision was made favoring the private automobile
rather than a government supported rail system. That
decision is one reason that Amtrak is such a total
embarrassment as mass transit. In any case, while some
argue that the government should not subsidize mass
transit, the building of the interstate system is the
most massive subsidizing of private transportation
point, vis-a-vis Ghana, and the rest of Africa, is that
less should be put into private automobiles (including
the construction of concrete and asphalt highways) and
more into rail based mass transit. Fortunately, it is
not too late to make rational developmental choices.
Overall, how is Ghana? Ghana is poor but far from
impoverished. People are proud of their traditions and
exhibit concern for the well-being of their family,
friends and neighbors.
has dust everywhere. Nevertheless, people are clean,
even dirt floors and spaces in front of houses, huts,
stands and work sites are neatly swept.
is underdeveloped. But there is electricity and the
phones, though scarce and constantly clogged, do work.
deficiencies notwithstanding, everywhere one looks,
social progress is budding. Though it's too soon to pick
flowers and wave bouquets, people are patiently pushing
forward. Women's associations. Clubs of young people. In
ten years Ghana will be a different place.
now, Ghana is a bright smile on the face of a two year
old, who is being watched by an eighty year old woman
beaming a great grandmother's smile.
is the promise of young people working computers as well
as young people hawking dry goods in the street.
The promise of pride in traditions and a thirst for the
Independent Ghana is less than fifty years old, full of
adolescent vigor and aggressive optimism. Ghana, like
all of Africa, for all of its problems, is relatively
new in terms of national development even though ancient
in terms of social development. Though it lacks capital
and technology, what Ghana has is humanity, a veritable
sea of patient and optimistic bright Black faces proudly
extending their social traditions into the developing
* * *
not seen one lion or elephant.
think of it, not one spear nor alligator yet either.
I saw a
queen mother who looked like my grandmother.
pinto beans and rice. CNN on cable and scandalous
tabloids whose "shocking" revelations are so tame by
U.S. standards that one wonders does Ghana realize the
state the Western world is in.
measure, Ghana has a relatively free press. By
comparison to most African states, Ghana's press freedom
is almost absolute. In fact, one of the papers is even
Free Press and offers a critical voice on
free is the press? Consider this excerpt from the "MY
CONCERN" column by Frank Abu Addo published in the
19th-20th Dec., 1994 edition of the The
Ghana's Best Independent Newpaper.
address during the Thanksgiving Service in commemoration
of the Silver Jubilee celebration of Ghana Pentecostal
Council, President Rawlings talked at length about love
for one another.
especially touched when he confessed that he had
forgiven all those who have trespassed against him
(What about the future?)
second point which I found touching was the fact that
the Jews have made a lot of films and documentaries
about the Holocaust which serve as library materials and
reminders to all living that this is what happened to
the Jews on other lands especially Germany. He lamented
that nothing of that sort is found here in West Africa
on how slaves were taken from the hinterland, their
ordeal at the castles and their "triumphant' entry into
the voyage ships through the small holes which serve as
the exits of the dark dungeons.
the President would love to see how the Europeans at the
Elmina Castle used to stand on top there, looked into
the female area of the dungeons and beckoned any woman
they would want to sleep with into their bedrooms
upstairs in a local film. Maybe that will explain how
half castes and mulattos like himself came into being.
free enough for you?
Voice's sensationalistic cousin is P & P—People and
Places. Its masthead proclaims "We Report Nothing But
Headlines in the December 15th edition of P & P shout
"GIRL MURDERS BABY She Throws One and A Half-Year-Old
Baby Into Salty Well." Though this paper obviously
aspires to attain the wide readership in Ghana
comparable to the readership that the National Inquirer
has in the USA, the most interesting aspect about its
reporting of the incident was the editorial they ran.
Christmas is normally described as an occasion for
children. Parents are therefore expected to give their
children the choicest meals, the best of clothes and
toys if only they can afford it.
Unfortunately, the late Nana Abokyi, the eighteen
month-old son of Georgina Arthur will not enjoy this
occasion, because he is dead - murdered by his own
& P expresses indignation at the crime and cannot
believe that this act could happen in Ghana.
very thought of murdering one's own child is alien to
the Ghanaian culture.
The extended family
system makes sure that everyone is catered for. When a
father rejects his child and fails to take up his
responsibilities, the child is normally catered for by
some members of the family.
Georgina had no excuse for killing her child except
sheer wickedness. It was certainly not a question of
finance because she had a job and members of the family
were already assisting her to looking after her child.
Georgina's crime should draw our attention to the extent
to which our values are deteriorating and how society is
becoming more inhuman.
To our teenagers,
we hope this incident sends warning signals to you.
Having a child at an early age, only forces the young
mother to take up parental responsibilities and
obligations which she is not prepared or ready for. This
causes the forfeiture of the enjoyment of her youth
which ends up in desperation and then perhaps, murder.
Christmas is a time for enjoyment. There will be parties
but do not be carried away by the excitement. Have fun,
be bold enough to say no to sex and drugs and take care
African Americans the real question is not how is
Africa, but how is America? Africa is an underdeveloped
frontier which offers the opportunity to work fields of
promise. Fields which will require arduous labor. Fields
which are widely uneven in potential. Fields which are
filled with rocky ground. Complicating all of that is
the fact that Africa has few mechanized instruments with
which to sow, reap or harvest. Africa is a field filled
with both problems and promise.
comparison, what developmental potential does America
have to offer our people? In America, people of African
descent as a whole, by every measure of social wealth
and well-being, are worse off in the 1990's then we were
in the 1960's. While it is true that a sector of us are
individually better off, our people as a whole,
especially in economic and social concerns are quickly
slipping below the bottom. The "new" (post-segregation)
America has proved to be a nightmare. For us, America is
a far cry from the land of opportunity that the myth
claims it to be.
* * *
based, Ethiopian filmmaker
Haile Gerima is also staying
Marnico Guest House in Cape Coast. He jokes that
he has a room on the first floor in the back while Nia
and I are in the front building on the second floor.
Usually Haile is very intense, but, he feels at ease in
Ghana. He is smiling and joking. Even though he is
somewhat relaxed here, his sarcasm remains intensely
funny and intensely cutting.
begin exchanging jokes. I say, "someone told me that
there are 40 million people in Nigeria and all of them
are at the airport."
laughs, that's like Jamaica where they stand looking
into the sky waiting for American Airlines to descend
Haile tells us a Cuban joke: A socialist tragedy is a
girlfriend but no house to take her to. A socialist
comedy is to have a house but your girl friend leaves
you. Socialist realism is you have a house and you have
a girlfriend, but the whole central committee is in the
is a trickster, but he is also very, very serious and
deeply concerned about the direction, or lack thereof,
of the African world. At one point he took on a Jamaican
dance troupe who objected to some statements he made
about Jamaica during a question and answer session.
"When I finished, they backed off. I told them how they
make their whole country into a bedroom for White
tourists. People go there just to fuck. That's all. And
they spend their days and nights preparing a place for
these tourists to have fun with them. I was there. I
said do you want me to make a film about your country.
About how the women dance topless and let men feel all
over their breasts and slap their behinds. How they oil
up the skin of Black men and have them dance in bikini
briefs with White women shoving money down the front of
the bikini and feeling on the man's organ. Everywhere
you go in Jamaica that's all you see. What kind of
culture is that?"
Gerima's relationship with Ghana is different. He
despairs about the problems of Ghana but retains some
hope that change is possible. In Ghana, a few people
have been very helpful to him, but the higher-ups have
generally, at best, only given lip service in the
development of Gerima's important
film Sankofa as well
as in the shooting of a follow-up documentary by
Sharikiana Gerima, Haile's African American wife. In her
documentary she interviews African Americans living in
Ghana and describes the repatriation process that has
been going on since Nkrumah days.
minute in Africa is explosive. Everything can change in
just one minute."
minute a coup.
minute an official rescinds a contract.
minute a flight with necessary equipment doesn't enter
minute, the individual you need to see is no longer here
and no one knows where that person has gone.
minute, the currency is devalued and your on ground
support budget is suddenly deficient.
minute a piece of equipment can break and its nearest
replacement is two thousand miles (and who knows how
many dollars) away.
minute. Everything changes.
beauty is that change is a constant and, in one minute,
everything can also get better. Africa's very
instability is an asset to those of us seeking to bring
about structural change.
everything can change in one minute and that magnifies
the power of individuals who challenge and change the
course of events. Individuals in the right place at the
Africa, every minute and every individual is important.
Haile and Sharikiana Gerima, while filming in Ghana, the
individual lever of history is
Dr. Ben-Abdallah who is
currently a professor in the school of performing arts
at the University of Ghana, Legon.
Ben-Abdallah is a former minister of culture, and also a
former minister of information. He is no longer in the
government but remains supportive of the Rawlings
administration albeit critically so.
point during the making of
engineered a shooting contract for Gerima to film in
Ghana at the historic
Cape Coast slave castle. Shortly
after Gerima returned to the States with his signed
contract, he received a letter from a ranking government
official rescinding the contract. Dr. Ben-Abdallah had
been replaced. Gerima tried writing and calling, but was
unable to get a response. When Sharikiana Gerima was in
Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) for a meeting of
film makers, she decided to make an impromptu journey to
Accra, Ghana. Burkina Faso is the country directly north
of Ghana. Fortunately, she was able to contact Dr. Ben-Abdallah.
letters the Gerimas had sent were never forwarded to Dr.
Ben-Abdallah. He was under the impression that
everything had gone OK. Finally, they decided that they
would try again under the auspices of Dr. Ben-Abdallah's
new post. Haile was required to return to Ghana.
Contracts were renegotiated. Of course, more money was
you see if it were not for one individual, I would not
have been able to shoot the scenes at the castle." Every
minute in Africa is explosive.
the one hand, while Gerima lambasts and critiques
bureaucrats and inept government officials, at the same
time Gerima remains hopeful about the future. "It may
not be here in Ghana, and I may never see it, but the
Pan Africanism will not die. It will emerge."
the odds are,
Pan African reemergence will first come to
fruition in Ghana. After all, Ghana, the first
sub-Saharan African country to attain independence, is
the home of Pan Africanism.
Du Bois are
buried here. There are streets, and centers and
libraries named for Diaspora heroes of African unity and
Nkrumah was certainly a visionary, and though
he had his problems, he has left Ghana marching upward
on a road of embracing worldwide Pan African
there has been debate and struggle within Ghana about
the relevance of and Ghana's role in propagating
Pan Africanism. Part of the struggle revolves around a
Ghanaian assessment of the positives and negatives of
Nkrumah and his legacy. Ghanaian poet
wrote a series of poems focusing on this debate. One of
the poems frankly reveals both the attraction of Pan
Africanism in bringing the Diaspora to Ghana as well as
the thorn on the rose: the
rejection of Pan Africanism
by some continental Africans who came to power after the
for Dzifa for Maya
they says ma Name is Lolita Jones?
that aint ma real Name.
has known ma Name our Name
been Naita Norwetu
Or may be Maimouna Mkabayi
Asantewaa may be Aminata Malaika.
Ma Name cud'a been sculptured
colors of the Rainbow
the bosom of our Earth.
But you see:
ago your People sold ma People.
People sold to Atlantic's Storms.
Storms first it took away our Voice
Then it took away our Name
stripped us of our Soul.
then we've been pulled pushed
kicked tossed squeezed pinched
knocked over stepped upon and spat upon.
been all over the place
got nowhere at all.
why when the Black Star rose
I flew over to find ma Space
And aint nobody like this Brother
gave me back ma Soul.
you you kicked hem out
you pushed him off
segregated him from his
since that fucking day
You all aint done nothing worth a dime!
soul is gone on home
out here you mess your head
drink palm wine you talk some shit
Just shuckin' n jivin' n soundin'
All signifyin' Nothin'!
just arguin' funerals.
nothing gone down here at all
all is nothing worth ma pain.
gather ma tears around ma wounds
fly me off to ma QueenDom come.
I've got me a date with our SoulBrother
this aint no place for our Carnival.
hang out here
grind your teeth
cry some mess
talk some bull
drive some corpse to his KingDom Gone.
Why dont you talk of Life for a change?
You all is so hang up with the Dead
And I aint got no time to die just now.
care to wait for judgment of your Gods.
never was no case against our SoulBrother.
you all is trial here
But I cudnt care to wait
hang you even by the Toe.
You didnt even invite me here at all.
But I came &
I spoke ma Soul
occasion is that of the death in exile of Kwame Nkrumah,
the deposed first President of Ghana. There is an
imaginary trial going on in Ghana to decide whether he
deserves to be brought back home for a hero's burial.
Lolita Jones is the final and uninvited witness,
testifying to Nkrumah's Pan African legacy. See "In the
High Court of Cosmic Justice", in my earlier collection
Earthchild (Accra: Woeli Publishing Services, 1985).
* * *
I are talking. She recalls Haile saying that since this
was her first experience with Africa, she is fortunate
that it is in Ghana.
did he say that? Would other parts of Africa turn me
not necessarily turn you off, but just not turn you on
the way Ghana does. Ghana has the Pan African spirit.
The people believe in it. Plus it's a country where the
folk are beginning to openly deal with the real history
took a long time to deal
with the real history of slavery. I can remember while I
acknowledged the role of a tribal king or two as a
collaborator, I never confronted that the
trade was supplied by Black men who marched, shoulder to
shoulder with the European invaders, into the interior,
and literally stole and sold our people.
African world has a legacy of mercenaries who callously
made war on other Africans, even though the mercenaries
didn't consider themselves and their prey as the same
people. This was before some of us knew we were all
African against African genocide is one of the most
negative characteristics of the modern (i.e.
post-colonial) African condition—whether we're
talking about the rabid brutality going down in Liberia
or the rampant Black-on-Black murder rate going down in
inner city U.S.A. All of it is based on Africans preying
on Africans, usually along turf lines—turf which in
most cases we don't really control politically or
that we have been taught for a long, long time that our
brothers and sisters in Africa didn't want us and that's
why they sold us. For a long time I have publicly
struggled against that claim. I would point out,
accurately, that during slavery it wasn't "the people"
but certain factions of society that betrayed us. And
during contemporary times, I would continue, it was not
the "people" but rather government bureaucrats and the
national bourgeoisie who feared competition from
returning Diaspora Africans and placed obstacles in the
paths of those of us who seriously attempted to work in
and/or return to live in Africa. But even that was an
oversimplification of a relationship that is much, much
more complex and convoluted.
Haile was suggesting is that of all the countries on the
continent, Ghana is the most receptive to African
assessment is that in addition to being an English
speaking country, Ghana offers the most immediate
opportunity for the reintegration of the African
American and other English speaking-Diaspora into the
continental family. The English speaking part is
important because it means that African Americans are
able to communicate with the street folk of Ghana
without an interpreter present. This cuts down on the
tendency to hang around only those people who have been
college educated. So rather than only talking to the
college educated elite, in Ghana one can walk the
countryside and interact with a wide range of people,
especially the young people who are learning English in
grade school and who are eager to relate to Diaspora
occupies a seminal place in the history of Africa. From
Ghanaian shores a major percentage of ancestral African
Americans left Africa. At least through Ghana as an
entry point to the continent, if not to Ghana as the
final destination on the continent, many of us will
return, i.e., many of the small but steady trickle of
Diaspora Africans seeking repatriation.
founding president, went to school in the United States. W.E.B. DuBois lived out his elder years in Ghana. The
concordances go on and on—yet, the deep importance of
all these historical, political and symbolic
concordances notwithstanding, sometimes the decisive
element is a basic survival matter, and Ghana has this
are you ready to live in Ghana?" I ask Nia as we talk.
didn't say I was going to move to Ghana."
know. I'm not talking about moving, I'm talking about
being ready to move."
like the people. And I feel safe here."
should never underestimate the importance of African
women feeling secure wherever they are.
overall level of insecurity which is palpable in
America's urban areas is a psychological stress that
alienates people from their fellow citizens and drives
us further into a siege mentality. We begin to view
every unknown person as a potential enemy, potential
mugger, panhandler, nuisance, rapist, crazy person, or
general undesirable. Women, in particular, become
victimized by the general predator/prey syndrome in
which they feel like quarry running from nest to nest as
they negotiate the male territory of America's streets.
night, even men now become furtive and cautious less
they too get blind-sided by an attacker. And when young
men feel insecure about their personal safety, women,
with realistic cause, feel terror. Increasingly the
question will be raised: is access to America's consumer
standard of living worth the psychic toll of stress and
strain? I believe women will be among the first to
answer no and to seek alternative. For example, purely
by happenstance and without specifically looking for
them, I met at least four female African American
retirees who had chosen to live and work in Ghana.
Moreover, in the long run, while the names of "great"
men are usually chronicled in the histories of the
world, only when women's participation is recognized and
respected—regardless of how their participation is
effected and affected—only then can history truly be
often we overlook the obvious: only women produce
Ultimately, what happens to people, the quality of their
social interaction, is the measuring rod of history. So
then, concerning the
"exodus" that Bob Marley eloquently
sang about, the Pan African dream of the African family
reunited on the continent, the reintegration of the diaspora into the continental fabric, regardless of the
importance of individuals at a given historical moment,
women will be the decisive weavers. Until women move,
all is vanity, simply the self serving exploits of men
which will die out unless women join the men in creating
Sometimes while she talks with a throng of young people,
haggles with a vendor, or simply walks down the street,
I watch Nia comfortably settle into the Ghanaian pace of
life. Nia walks through a crowd after midnight, or walks
alone somewhere, and feels personally secure. She can
communicate with just about everyone at a basic level,
and receives a warm response. She can sense flowers
growing and can also see herself living here the rest of
Gerima is right, Ghana
is a good introduction to Africa.
* * * *
hGhana became African's first country to gain
freedom in 1957 and has since grown tremendously both politically and
economically. Kwame Nkrumah is known as the country's founding father
and we meet his daughter Samia Nkrumah in our next story -- who is
determined to follow in her fathers footsteps.
* * *
* * * *
Ghana Music Video /
The Curse of Gold—Ghana /
Rice Farming in Afife, Ghana
Busy Internet Ghana /
Africa Open for Business—Ghana
Business Incubation: a tool for enabling innovation and
entrepreneurship—BusyInternet launched its Busy
incubator program early 2005, with support from the
infoDev Program. The first of its kind in West Africa,
this small business incubation program is designed to
increase the chances of survival of young companies by
providing them with a good opportunity to grow in a
supportive and nurturing environment. To date, 25
companies have been successfully hosted at BusyInternet.
Currently, there are 10 companies located at the
BusyInternet facilities, which provides connectivity
solutions, software development, management consulting,
entrepreneurship development, business process
outsourcing, computer based test preparation, and
administration and web-based applications development.
* * * *
African Slave Castle /
next stop was Cape Coast and Elmina, towns on the coast
with friendly people, laid back attitudes, beautiful
palm lined beaches and unfortunately, a not so beautiful
past. It was here where the start of the Gold Trade and
eventually, the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade began. We
stopped at Cape Coast Castle, a fort where slaves and
gold were traded. Owned ultimately by the British, it is
where many of the ancestors of Black Americans were held
against their will, until being forced on the ships that
would take them to North America. It is now a museum and
a reminder of the horrors of slavery.
There's a display with grotesque reminders of this
period of history, examples of branding irons used on
men and women to identify them as property, chains worn
by men and women as they were huddled in undescribable
conditions in the hulls of ships that took them to the
"New World". We received a tour of the castle and
entered the former slave dungeons. Men and Woman were
kept separate and forced in cramp, unsanitary
conditions. People were forced in dungeons that were a
foot high with hay and feces and forced to remain in
these conditions for weeks at a time.
Many individuals died in these conditions and women
raped by slave traders. In the dungeons are a multitude
of flowers, wreaths and momentos left by the descendants
of the men and women who were held here. Descendants of
the African Diaspora come from around the world to see
these sites. Notes written on pieces of paper and
attached to wreaths of flowers dot the walls of the
dungeons. It was a very emotional experience. We then
headed across the coast to Elmina and Elmina Castle.
Built in 1482, this is the very first fort built by the
Europeans in West Africa and was owned by the
Portuguese. They too, traded in gold and slaves. This is
the place where many of the ancestors of Latin Americans
of African descent were held before going on the ships
that would take them to what is now Mexico, South
America and the Caribbean.
* * * *
Basil Davidson's "Africa Series"
But Equal /
Mastering A Continent /
of Gold /
The King and the City /
The Bible and The Gun
* * * *
Attack On Africans Writing Their Own
History Part 1 of 7
Dr Asa Hilliard III speaks on the assault of academia on
Africans writing and accounting for their own history.
Dr Hilliard is A
teacher, psychologist, and historian.
Part 2 of 7
3 of 7 /
Part 4 of 7
Part 5 of 7 /
Part 6 of 7 /
Part 7 of 7
West Africa Before the Colonial Era: A
History to 1850 (Basil Davidson)
African Slave Trade: Precolonial History,
1450-1850 (Basil Davidson)
John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk
The Slave Ship
* * * * *
music website >
writing website >
daily blog >
* * *
* * * *
The Last Holiday: A Memoir
By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio) / Gil Scott-Heron
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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
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Weep Not, Child
Ngugi wa Thiong'o
a powerful, moving story that details the
effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the
African nationalist revolt against colonial
oppression in Kenya, on the lives of
ordinary men and women, and on one family in
particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau,
stand on a rubbish heap and look into their
futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has
decided that he will attend school, while
Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together
they will serve their country—the
teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya
and the times are against them. In the
forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against
the white government, and the two brothers
and their family need to decide where their
loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the
choice is simple, but for Njoroge the
scholar, the dream of progress through
learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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posted 6 August 2010