ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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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 Tarzan we

were Ashanti or Ibo, Mandingo or Fulani, but not Africans. Zulu and Ndebele, Tutsi and Hutu.



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: 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 Can


By Kalamu ya Salaam


E: How the West Was Won

            Tarzan's voice startles me. It was late, very late. Nearby some star crossed rooster was crowing even though it was 3:00 a.m.

            I was supposed to be sleeping. I had been writing. Now I was lying in bed. Thinking. Thinking. Unable to sleep. Lying quietly. Lying still. Thinking.

            "Can't sleep, can you?"

            I don't bother looking for him in dark. In fact, I raise my arm and cover my eyes.

            "You 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."

            In the dark I hear pages rustling.

            "Oh, 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?"

            I'm 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.

            "And what does any of that have to do with how the west was won?"

            Tarzan smiles.

            "Oh, 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?"

            The rooster crows again. Tarzan smirks.

            "I'll 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."

            "That's 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 do."

            I respond quickly,  "And likewise, people don't do whatever it is they don't want to do, unless, of course they are forced."

            Our eyes engage each other. Neither of us blink. Finally, Tarzan raises his brandy sniffer.


            He throws back the entire shot.

            "Shall we walk some, old chap?"

            "Tarzan, I don't want to walk with you."

            "Why, afraid you might learn something?"

            "The only thing I want to learn from you is how to kill you."

            Tarzan 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."

            "It wouldn't bother me if I went for the rest of my life without seeing a White man."

            "I'm glad to hear you are feeling a bit better. You know you can't reduce everything to race."

            "You should talk. Isn't that a little like the pot calling the kettle . . ."

            "All I meant old chap is that can you be yourself when you're living among people who are different from you?"

            "You're assuming that Africa is different from me?"

            "I'm 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 kill you?"

            Tarzan 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.

            "The only reason I come is because you call."


            Someone knocks at the door. "Yes," I call out through the door. It's one of the workers awaiting breakfast instructions. Have 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 minutes.

             I begin thinking again about how the west was won and suddenly realize what Tarzan 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 . . .

            "Now, you're getting the hang of it. You just might catch on yet. See you in your dreams."

            I look up. I thought Tarzan was gone. Tarzan winks at me and nonchalantly walks through the wall.

*   *   *

            No man 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. Tarzan destroyed them.

            Tarzan the ruler can not return to Africa.

            But of course, 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 before.

            The innocence 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 allwoman and child, as well as manhad 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.

            But 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.

             We Africans have a better understanding of ourselves as a whole because Tarzan 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 Tarzan we were Ashanti or Ibo, Mandingo or Fulani, but not Africans. Zulu and Ndebele, Tutsi and Hutu. But not Africans as a common denominator.

            Indeed, 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 each other.

            Of 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.

            Even 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.

            It's 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.

            So now 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 sankofa (the Akan bird faced backward but moving forward) our destiny?

             We Pan 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.

            I have come both to embrace Africa and to criticize Africa. To embrace myself and criticize myself.

            To embrace, to hold, to touch.

            To critique, to question, to make choices.

            We will inspect and peck, but not all the food of this ancient ground will be eaten.

            It is 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 President, Flt-Lt. J. J. Rawlings at Cape Coast, Ghana on Saturday, December 10, 1994.)

However 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 our societies.

            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 the future.

            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 family.

More 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 of the 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.

The 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 traditional values.

            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 personal ideology.

My 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 sources.

            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.

*   *   *

            Our first evening in Ghana is spent at the DuBois Center. 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 1990she's now on staff with the 1996 Cultural Olympiad. We are hanging together in Ghana.

            The 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."

            The Pan 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 enchanting instrument.

            "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, percussive metronome.

            The Pan 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 contemplative.

            Part of 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.

            Over 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 incompleteincomplete 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 setting.

            One of "THE" headliners, 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 untuned pianoa 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 African music. 

            The 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 Ghanaian 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.

            The two 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 climax was Kanda Bongo Man of Zaire with an exuberant display of 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.

            Dressed in a red suit with a black sash and red Zorro hat, 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 he did.

            Two 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 time 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.

            Oh what a show!

            What it all had to do with Pan Africanism I'm not sure. But, that's entertainment!

            The 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 Statesa 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 is direction.

            In the 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 including artists.

            On the 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.

*   *   *

            African Americans are a dangerous fire. Africa needs our light but the burning must be controlled, otherwise, as the examples of Stevie Wonder and Princess illustrate, instead of being illuminated, our hosts will be burnt.

            I pay 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.

            When I see these same videos in Ghana I am forced to pay attention.

            When 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 backbeat.

            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.

            There 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.

            When 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.

            Imagine 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 say?

F: Once You've Been There

            I used 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.

            But you 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 castlea 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' woolly heads. 

            After 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.

            Once you have been there you will know why, after he secured a toe hold on the coast, we never stood a chance against Tarzan. 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 human.

            And especially if 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.

             Our PANAFEST guide now is a young Ghanaian woman named Ivanayes, 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 economyincluding the national airline company.

            We flew 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 playersthat's the essence of structural adjustment.

            In Cape 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 African styles.

            Ivana may or may not know about the terms of foreign aid, about the IMF and about the Soviets. Right now she and a fellow guide, also a young woman from Accra, 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. 

            Ivana 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 kingassuming that you can even get that close sit holding wooden staffs which are topped with solid gold emblems. I spot the sankofa 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.

            This is the night before we visit the slave castle on Cape Coast which is a long drive outside of Accra. This is our second night in Accra. The first night we went to the DuBois center 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.

            Even 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 lord."

            What is 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.

            Other 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 tomorrow.

            They 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 town.

             This 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.

            What 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 collaboration.

            Until 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.

            Part of 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.

            Part of 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 Tarzan 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. 

            Tarzan 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 Tarzan's footage is of the people. Nobody translates what they are saying to each other.  

            And 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.

            At one 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.

             When 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.

            Like, I 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 traditional politicians.

            It may sound totally cynical to view myself in this way, but the truth is, at some point it crossed my mind.

            The truth is that Black politicians have a history of selling us out.

            The truth is that I was in the dungeon, thanks in part to the chiefs.

             The truth is it will take more than the slaughter of one bull and one goat to account for that.

Source: WordUp

*   *   *

G: Woman, No Man

            Do you 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?

            Why were they always leaving their women? Don't they love them?

             I know they love our women.

            You 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.

            What 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?

            If you're a man reading this, you know what I mean.

            If you are a woman reading this, you really, really know what I mean.

            Men leave and go it alone. A woman always brings/births family.

            When 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.

            Do you 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?

            In the daylight, Tarzan swings with Jane, but at night, at night. Tarzan's fascination is obvious when you look at the way we look since Tarzan has made himself part of the family.

*   *   *

            One night I was sleeping and Tarzan was in the bed, snoring next to me. He must have been dreaming because he called your name. I woke him.

            "Man, you're keeping me awake."

            "So you woke me to tell me I was keeping you awake?"

            "You were dreaming."

            "And how the devil do you know I was dreaming?"

            "Because you called her name."

            "Whose name? Jane?"


            I looked away.

            Tarzan stirred, throwing the covers back. He was naked and I looked at his member. It did not seem to be any longer than mine.

            "I was 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 said nothing.

            "I say old chap would you like to have a go at Jane?"

            In the language of our eyes, you told me no. Don't go.

            "Or would you like to have a go at her when I'm done?"

            Tarzan 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 Tarzan's 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.

            "I say old chap would you like to have a go?" 

*   *   *

            In a 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 generates.

            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.

            As he converses with an anonymous physician in Zaire about the high incidence of heterosexually transmitted AIDS in Africa, Shoumatoff makes the following observation:

We 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, and the frottement, or grinding, that the women of certain tribes are famous for, certain techniques like the titikisha, Swahili milling movement, and the okuweta ekiwoto, the frenzied twisting of the waistline of Baganda women, may play a role.

In 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.

             What scientific study supports the generalization that "For most Africans, sex is a matter of vigorous old-fashioned humping, often without foreplay . . ."?

            Are there no names for the "grinding" movements that the "men" of certain tribes are famous for?

            Why are women always the site of sexual attention in the West, from Freud's "penis envy" and "vaginal orgasms" to Shoumatoff's "frottement"?

            Could 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?

            Women. Could it be fear and envyfear 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. Why?

*   *   *

            In her paper "The African Woman Today," Ghanaian writer Ama 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 Ama Ata Aidoo. We are all here to participate in the five day long colloquium.

            From 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 contrasting attitudes Chinwezu and Ama Ata Aidoo suggest how Africa will face the hard row we have to hoe.

            Shortly after Stephanie, Nia, and I first arrived at and checked into Marnico, Ama Aidoo's car pulled into the compound. However, she was told that there were no rooms. A discussion ensued. At first Ama Aidoo was going to try to find another place. The manager said they were full. PANAFEST had reserved 10 rooms and they were all takenthe whole week I never saw ten of us in the hotel, but that is another story.

            Then 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 in case.

            Ama 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 else.

            She 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.

            What 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.

            It 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.

            In many cases, we men don't even realize we are trodding on women.

            I know 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.

            This is 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.

             "I know I don't say much, but when I decide to talk, I want to do so without you interrupting."

            I felt 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.

*   *   *

            On 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 Kumasi." 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 Chinwezu, 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."

            We were 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 afternoon. Youssou N'Dour was scheduled to play the castle on Wednesday nightwe 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 Kumasi. We had hit our first string of bad luck on the trip thus far, but even the bad luck turned out good.

            Moving to 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 Cape Coast.

            The 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.

            There 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.

            Ama 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."

            The 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 about women.

            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 Ama 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.

            For example:

            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)

            The 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 vein. Chinweizu's main thesis is that women control, and thus have power over men.

Female 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)

                 This is 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.

            As I 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)

            The 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 that Chinweizu never makes an assessment of the African reality. Most of the quotes are from American and European authors, especially the quotes on feminism.

            Choosing to ground his analysis in the psychological realm without first examining the material and the social is Chinweizu's major problem. We should look at the conditions first, then consider why and how we feel about our conditions.

            The 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.

            In 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.

            The 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 undermined.

            There 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 revolution.

            Africa 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.

            The 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.

            The 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.

            Women 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 one's life.

            As 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 control.

             The 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

            When I 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.

Political History

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.

On 30th September, 1969, Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia and his Progress Party (PP) after gaining majority vote in a parliamentary election, took over the leadership of the state.

On 13th January, 1972 Ghana experienced its second military coup which brought General Kutu Acheampong and the Supreme Military Council (SMC) into power.

There was an uprising on 4th June, 1979 and Flight Lieutenant Jerry John  Rawlings emerged as leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which took over power for 3 months.

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) Government.

Two years later, on 31st December, 1981, there was a revolution which brought back Flight Lieutenant Jerry John  Rawlings to power.

Since then, government functions have been carried out by the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry John  Rawlings. (p.  17 - 18)

            I know 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.

            I am 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 interview with 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.

            In the political arena it is dangerous to believe in absolutes. Every event, every experience, every action, every individual, every group can only be appreciatedif, indeed, appreciation is possiblein their own relative context.

            A military man runs Ghana.

             On the ground, at the street level, how is Ghana?

            Outside 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 coconutstheir water is a refreshing drinkare 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.

            Corn roasted on the roadside. Peeled oranges piled in small pyramids. Shaved coconuts bunched on a cartthe 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.

            Fresh 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 health boon.

            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 malaria or some bug attacking either your digestive or respiratory system knocks you on your backside for a couple of days.

            I 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.

            One 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.

            How is Ghana?

            Other 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 it ride. 

            The 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. 

            Even 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.

            The 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 to 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 optioneven 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 cities.

             I 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 imaginable.

            My 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.

            Ghana has dust everywhere. Nevertheless, people are clean, even dirt floors and spaces in front of houses, huts, stands and work sites are neatly swept.

            Ghana is underdeveloped. But there is electricity and the phones, though scarce and constantly clogged, do work.

            The 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.

            Right 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.

            Ghana is the promise of young people working computers as well as young people  hawking dry goods in the street.

            Ghana. The promise of pride in traditions and a thirst for the future.

            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 future.

*   *   *

            I have not seen one lion or elephant.

            Come to think of it, not one spear nor alligator yet either.

            I saw a queen mother who looked like my grandmother.

            I saw 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.

            By any 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 called Free Press and offers a critical voice on national concerns.

            How 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 Ghanaian Voice, Ghana's Best Independent Newpaper.

 In his 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.

            I was especially touched when he confessed that he had forgiven all those who  have trespassed against him (What about the future?)

            His 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.

            Perhaps 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.    

            Is that free enough for you?

            The Voice's sensationalistic cousin is P & PPeople and Places. Its masthead proclaims "We Report Nothing But The Truth."

            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.

Tragic Murder

            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 mother.

             The P & P expresses indignation at the crime and cannot believe that this act could happen in Ghana.

            The 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 of yourself.

            For 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.

            In 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.

*   *   *

            USA based, Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima is also staying at the 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.

            We begin exchanging jokes. I say, "someone told me that there are 40 million people in Nigeria and all of them are at the airport."

            Haile laughs, that's like Jamaica where they stand looking into the sky waiting for American Airlines to descend with tourists.

            Then 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 bedroom. 

            Haile 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.

            "Every minute in Africa is explosive. Everything can change in just one minute."

            In one minute a coup.

            In one minute an official rescinds a contract.

            In one minute a flight with necessary equipment doesn't enter the country.

            In one minute, the individual you need to see is no longer here and no one knows where that person has gone.

            In one minute, the currency is devalued and your on ground support budget is suddenly deficient.

            In one minute a piece of equipment can break and its nearest replacement is two thousand miles (and who knows how many dollars) away.

            In one minute. Everything changes.

            The 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.

            Yes, 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 right time.

            In Africa, every minute and every individual is important.

            For 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.

            Dr. 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.

            At one point during the making of SankofaDr. Ben-Abdallah had 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.

            The 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 required.

            "But 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. 

            So, on 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 idea of Pan Africanism will not die. It will emerge."

            To me 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. Padmore and Du Bois are buried here. There are streets, and centers and libraries named for Diaspora heroes of African unity and struggle. 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 development.

            True 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 Kofi Anyidoho 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 Nkrumah years.

Lolita Jones*

            for Dzifa   for Maya       

           And so they says ma Name is Lolita Jones?

           But that aint ma real Name.

           I never has known ma Name   our Name

           I cud'a been Naita    Norwetu

           Or may be Maimouna   Mkabayi

           Asantewaa    may be Aminata    Malaika.

           Ma Name cud'a been sculptured

           Into colors of the Rainbow

           Across the bosom of our Earth.

           But you see:

           Long ago    your People sold ma People.

           Ma People sold to Atlantic's Storms.

           The Storms   first it took away our Voice

           Then it took away our Name

           And it stripped us of our Soul.

           Since then    we've been pulled     pushed

               kicked    tossed    squeezed        pinched

               knocked over   stepped upon     and spat upon.

           We've been all over the place

           And yet

           We aint got nowhere at all.

           That's why when the Black Star rose

           I flew over to find ma Space

           And aint nobody like this Brother

           Who gave me back ma Soul.

           But you    you kicked hem out

                               you pushed him off

                                             you segregated him from his SoilSoul.

           And yet since that fucking day

           You all aint done nothing worth a dime!

           Now his soul is gone on home

           You sit out here    you mess your head

           You drink palm wine     you talk some shit

           Just shuckin'   n jivin'   n soundin'

           All signifyin' Nothin'!

           You all just arguin' funerals.

           Aint nothing gone down here at all

           And you all is nothing worth ma pain.

           I'll gather ma tears around ma wounds

           I'll fly me off to ma QueenDom come.

           I've got me a date with our SoulBrother

           And this aint no place for our Carnival.

           Just hang out here

               And grind your teeth

                And cry some mess

                And talk some bull

                And 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.

           I cudnt care to wait for judgment of your Gods.

           There never was no case against our SoulBrother.

           It's you all is trial here

           But I cudnt care to wait

           And hang you even by the Toe.        

           You didnt even invite me here at all.

           But I came    &    I spoke ma Soul

            * The 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).

*   *   *

            Nia and I are talking. She recalls Haile saying that since this was her first experience with Africa, she is fortunate that it is in Ghana.

             "Why did he say that? Would other parts of Africa turn me off?"

            "No, 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 of slavery."

            The real history. Kalamu ya Salaam 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 Atlantic slave 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.

            The 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 Africans.

            This African against African genocide is one of the most negative characteristics of the modern (i.e. post-colonial) African conditionwhether 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 linesturf which in most cases we don't really control politically or economically.

            I know 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.

            What Haile was suggesting is that of all the countries on the continent, Ghana is the most receptive to African Americans.

            My 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 Africans.

            Ghana 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. Nkrumah, Ghana's 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 onyet, 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 also.

            "So why are you ready to live in Ghana?" I ask Nia as we talk.

            "I didn't say I was going to move to Ghana."

            "I know. I'm not talking about moving, I'm talking about being ready to move."

            "Well I like the people. And I feel safe here."

            We men should never underestimate the importance of African women feeling secure wherever they are.

            The 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.

            At 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 respectedregardless of how their participation is effected and affectedonly then can history truly be understood.

            Too often we overlook the obvious: only women produce people.

             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 the future.

            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 her life.

            Gerima is right, Ghana is a good introduction to Africa.

Source: WordUp

*   *   *   *   *

Ghana—Samia Nkrumah

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.

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*   *   *   *   *


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  / Coming Home—Ghana

Our 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"

 Different But Equal  /  Mastering A Continent  /  Caravans 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  /  Part 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 (Marcus Rediker)



*   *   *   *   *

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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 & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

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.     

Professor Perry 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 Caucasian babies.

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 indiscriminately.


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Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This is 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 countrythe 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 World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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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 Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 6 August 2010 




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