Books by Kalamu ya
The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts
A Revolution of Black Poets
Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology
From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets
Our Music Is No Accident /
What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self
My Story My Song (CD)
* * * *
Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa But I
S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z: PANAFEST 1994
By Kalamu ya
S: What's Your Name
Wangui wa Goro is from
A long way from Kenya. She lives in exile in England.
Unable to return to Kenya because of the clash of her
human rights activism with Kenya's current barbaric
both a creative writer and a translator. Her most well
known work is the translating of
Ngugi wa Thiongo's books into English. She is often
identified as Ngugi's translator. Some people even
assume they are related.
there is a double frustration in her life. She can't go
home because home is politically inhospitable—she
will be jailed or, worse yet, assassinated should she
return. Additionally, her important work of translating
overshadows her creative writing.
day or so,
Wangui stays at the
Marnico guest house but eventually moves to another
hotel. Later when we all return to Accra after the
colloquium, we are staying together at the
Mariset Hotel in the
East Cantonment area of Accra.
are two Mariset Hotels in Accra. This one is a lovely
little, isolated accommodation. There is original
contemporary Ghanaian art decoring the walls. The rooms
are, for my taste, more comfortable than the
Novatel. They have a small fridge in each room. We
use ours for water and juice concentrates. There's a
basket in the room with a fragrant potpourri and the
telephones have the "standard American plugs" on them.
Mariset's brochure notes them as "international"
telephone hook-ups. I resist the temptation to jump on
line and check my E-mail.
each other at breakfast and are soon conversing.
Wangui is traveling with her six year old son,
Mbuguah. A son who has never seen
"The only time he was in Kenya was when he was a small
seed growing inside of me." Mbuguah nevertheless
identifies Kenya as home.
is also joined by
the director of Africa Centre in London. I share some of
manuscript with them.
been working at night throughout the trip and have
already completed over seventy-five percent of the
writing. Fortunately, in
Coast I was able to print out the manuscript. My
has Apple file exchange. I've brought both Mac and DOS
discs with me. The setup in the temporary Cape Coast
colloquium office is DOS-based. I transfer the file to a
DOS disc and print with no problem. There is no way I
could have written all of this without a portable
while many of my colleagues continue to resist using
computers and hooking up E-mail, the fact is the
computer revolution is irreversible. In Accra, one
small record store on a nondescript side street had a
computer. Between computers and advances in
telecommunications, Africa will quickly be able to
close a significant developmental gap.
day communications across the continent, as well as
between Africa and the rest of the world will take a
gigantic leap in the next two or three years. This will
unavoidably also advance
Pan Africanism, a philosophy which seeks unity of
the African world and thus grows closer to fruition
simultaneously with increased, easier, and more
accessible communications. To my way of thinking, the
computer revolution is a boon for our
manuscript goes around the table, we talk.
Wangui asks me about my name. She speaks Swahili and
wonders how my Swahili name came about. I tell her I
took my name at
in 1970 and that it was a political choice.
we knew that the majority of African Americans came from
the West Coast of Africa, we chose
Swahili because it was the only African language
that was the official language of an African country.
Most African countries use the former colonial language
as the official language.
Swahili was also a Pan African, trade language
spoken up and down the East Coast and throughout parts
of Central Africa. It was a language that was not
associated with any one people. It was easy to learn and
had a basic grammatical structural.
Wangui corrected me. Although it was widely used by
various peoples, it nevertheless was the indigenous
language of a specific group of people. She then
commented that she liked my name: "pen of peace."
Wangui is one of those gentle, iron-willed spirits
who possesses a fierce quietness. As silent as a distant
mountain in the moonlight, and just as unmovable in her
convictions. She speaks in a tone about two small steps
above a whisper but she is also an independent thinker
and a person of purposeful movement. From my brief
observations during the few days we were together, I
surmise there is very little wasted motion in anything
she does. Because of her focused intensity, there is no
danger that her quietness will be mistaken for shyness
Wangui, her son, and
had an earlier flight than we did, and so checked out
early in the afternoon. At that time I saw a
demonstration of her battle stancing, the kind of
principle-based movement which I'm sure drove the Kenyan
law and order fascists straight up their government
walls. When the hotel bill was presented,
Wangui refused to sign for the last day. Wangui's
position, which she stated in calm nonnegotiable terms,
was that they were not staying in the room that night
and therefore should not be charged for it. The clerk
said the policy was they should be charged for the night
because they were checking out in the afternoon.
The clerk couldn't believe what was happening because
all she wanted was for
Wangui to sign for the bill. PANAFEST was going to
pay for it. The money wasn't going to come out of
Wangui's pocket. But for
Wanguiit was about principle and not money. Finally,
Wangui drew a line separating the charges and signed
for the other two nights but did not sign for the last
whole exchange took maybe five or six minutes. The clerk
had struck a rock.
Wangui was like a tree planted by the water in her
intransigence. There was no doubt in my mind that a
woman such as this would be killed in contemporary Kenya
which is rent by divisive neocolonial tribal politics.
majority of African states are not politically ready to
confront the limitations of tribalism and nationalism, a
potent mix which is always self destructive. Moreover,
as the conflagrations in Bosnia make clear, the extreme
negative that results from mixing tribalism and
nationalism is not a racial characteristic, even though,
thanks to the cultural hegemony of colonialism, whenever
one says "tribalism" one immediately thinks about either
Native Americans or Africans.
regardless of the location or source, we must confront
and overcome the limitations of
nationalism. This process of overturning ourselves
is the life work of
Wangui wa Goro.
confronted by a free thinking woman, there is no doubt
that many of today's nominal African leaders (most of
whom are not just male—they
are also "macho") will exhibit a negative response. Her
traditional opponents notwithstanding,
Wangui wa Goro's no nonsense, principled and
fearless attitude is precisely the quality of leadership
that (Pan-)Africa needs.
Pan African leadership, as its history demonstrates,
will come from unexpected places and in its own time.
The first day we were in Accra we went to the
Du Bois Centre. Du Bois, an ardent and globally
significant Pan Africanist, is buried in Ghana.
W.E.B. Du Bois did not
start off his professional life as a Pan Africanist. In
fact, when he was a founding member of the NAACP, he was
often the only person of color integrating these
meetings. Eventually, he broke with the NAACP. As
important as his NAACP work was, it was as a Pan
Africanist that Du Bois made his mark internationally.
He was one of the chief organizers of the important Pan
African Conferences, international gatherings which
fueled the then nascent African independence movements.
Attendees included many of the initial heads of state of
countries such as Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Bois' advocacy of Pan Africanism came as a surprise to
some who identified Du Bois as one of Garvey's
staunchest and unremitting critics. In his book,
Dusk of Dawn, Du Bois sums up the conflict
between himself and Garvey in a charitable fashion,
displaying none of the bitterness and name-calling that
was characteristic of their long running feud.
first effort was to explain away the
Garvey movement and ignore it; but it
was a mass movement that could not be
ignored. I noted this movement from time to
time in the Crisis and said in 1920
that Garvey was "an extraordinary leader of
men" and declared that he had "with singular
success capitalized and made vocal the great
and long-suffering grievances and spirit of
protest among the West Indian peasantry."
Later when he began to collect money for his
steamship line, I characterized him as a
hard-working idealist, but called his
methods bombastic, wasteful, illogical, and
almost illegal. I begged his friends not to
allow him foolishly to overwhelm with
bankruptcy and disaster "one of the most
interesting spiritual movements of the
modern world." But he went ahead, wasted his
money, got in trouble with the authorities
and was deported from the United States. He
made a few abortive efforts later, but
finally died in London in 1940, poor and
The unfortunate debacle of his
over-advertised schemes naturally hurt and
made difficult further effective development
of the Pan-African Congress idea.
Nevertheless, a third Pan-African Congress
was attempted in 1923. It was less broadly
representative than the second, but of some
importance, and was held in London, Paris,
and Lisbon. Thence I went to Africa and for
the first time saw the homeland of the black
Eventually Du Bois repatriated to Ghana and,
in so doing, gave his personal answer to the question of
"double consciousness" which Du Bois eloquently
articulated in the
Souls of Black Folk.
. . .
It is a peculiar sensation, this
double-consciousness, this sense of always
looking at one's self through the eyes of
others, of measuring one's soul by the tape
of a world that looks on in amused contempt
and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, -- an
American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts,
two unreconciled strivings; two warring
ideals in one dark body, whose dogged
strength alone keeps it from being torn
The history of the American
Negro is the history of this strife, -- this
longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to
merge his double self into a better and
truer self. In this merging he wishes
neither of the older selves to be lost. He
would not Africanize America, for America
has too much to teach the world and Africa.
He would not bleach his Negro soul in a
flood of white Americanism, for he knows
that Negro blood has a message for the
world. He simply wishes to make it possible
for a man to be both a Negro and an
American, without being cursed and spit upon
by his fellows, without having the doors of
Opportunity closed roughly in his face.
most interesting is that only after visiting Africa is
Du Bois able to articulate the Negro "message for the
world." In a word, it is humanism. Africa can teach
humanism. Upon reading Du Bois' reflections on seeing
Africa, I felt that in December of 1994 I had seen the
same essence of Africa that Du Bois saw in December of
1923 and wrote about in
Dusk of Dawn.
And there and elsewhere
in two long months I began to learn:
primitive men are not following us afar,
frantically waving and seeking our goals;
primitive men are not behind us in some
swift foot-race. Primitive men have already
arrived. They are abreast, and in places
ahead of us; in others behind. But all their
curving advance line is contemporary, not
pre-historic. They have used other paths and
these paths have led them by scenes
sometimes fairer, sometimes uglier than
ours, but always toward the Pools of
Happiness. Or, to put it otherwise, these
folk have the leisure of true aristocracy—leisure
for thought and courtesy, leisure for sleep
and laughter. They have time for their
well-trained, beautiful children with
perfect, unhidden bodies. Have you ever met
a crowd of children in the east of London or
New York, or even on the Avenue at
Forty-second or One Hundred and Forty-second
Street, and fled to avoid their impudence
and utter ignorance of courtesy? Come to
Africa, and see well-bred and courteous
children, playing happily and never
sniffling and shining.
I have read
everywhere that Africa means sexual license.
Perhaps it does. Most who folk talk sex
frantically have all too seldom revealed
their source material. I was in West Africa
only two months, but with both eyes wide, I
saw children quite naked and women usually
naked to the waist—with
bare bosom and limbs. And in those sixty
days I saw less of sex dalliance and appeal
than I see daily on Fifth Avenue. This does
not mean much, but it is an interesting
The primitive black man
is courteous and dignified. If the platforms
of Western cities had swarmed with humanity
as I have seen the platforms swarm in
Senegal, the police would have a busy time.
I did not see one respectable quarrel.
Wherefore shall we all take to the Big Bush?
No. I prefer New York. But my point is that
New York and London and Paris must learn of
West Africa and may learn.
. . .
African life with its isolation has deeper
knowledge of human souls. The village life,
the forest ways, the teeming markets, bring
in intimate human knowledge that the West
misses, sinking the individual in the
social. Africans know fewer folk, but know
them infinitely better. Their intertwined
communal souls, therefore, brook no poverty
things are to them un-understandable. On the
other hand, they are vastly ignorant of what
the world is doing and thinking, and of what
is known of its physical forces. They suffer
terribly from preventable disease, from
unnecessary hunger, from the freaks of the
Here, then, is
something for Africa and Europe both to
learn; and Africa is eager, breathless, to
Europe? Europe laughs with loud guffaws.
Learn of Africa? Nonsense. Poverty cannot be
abolished. Democracy and firm government are
incompatible. Prostitution is world old and
inevitable. And Europe proceeds to use
Africa as a means and not as an end; as a
hired tool and welter of raw materials and
not as a land of human beings.
I think it was in Africa
that I came more clearly to see the close
connection between race and wealth. The fact
that even in the minds of the most dogmatic
supporters of race theories and believers in
the inferiority of colored folk to white,
there was a conscious or unconscious
determination to increase their incomes by
taking full advantage of this belief. And
then gradually this thought was
metamorphosed into a realization that the
income-bearing value of race prejudice was
the cause and not the result of theories of
race inferiority; that particularly in the
United States the income of the Cotton
Kingdom based on black slavery caused the
passionate belief in Negro inferiority and
determination to enforce it even by arms.
the Du Bois who lived out his last years working in
Ghana. This is the Du Bois, his eyes opened by Africa,
who committed class suicide by siding with the
development of the African masses rather than remaining
a lionized intellectual in America. This is the DuBois
whom most of us seldom encounter. A Du Bois who tired of
the high wire, double consciousness balancing act, and
decided to cast his total lot with Pan Africanism.
was an intellectual: first, last and always. His was no
romantic nor nostalgic cleaving to Africa. He was a
rationalist unswayed by emotionalism and appeals to
sentimentality. Here's how he described himself in
Dusk of Dawn, his autobiography written when he
was seventy years old as a summing up of his life:
leadership was a leadership solely of ideas.
I never was, nor ever will be, personally
popular. This was not simply because of my
idiosyncrasies but because I despise the
essential demagoguery of personal
leadership; of that hypnotic ascendancy over
men which carries out objectives regardless
of their value or validity, simply by
personal loyalty and admiration. In my case
I withdrew sometimes ostentatiously from the
personal nexus, but I sought all the more
determinedly to force home essential
One of the most
forceful of those ideas is this seldom quoted insight in
which Du Bois locates the fervor and future of Pan
Africanism squarely in the masses of the
. . . From the
eighteenth century down the Negro
intelligentsia has regarded segregation as
the visible badge of their servitude and as
the object of their unceasing attack. The
upper class Negro has almost never been
nationalistic. He has never planned or
thought of a Negro state or a Negro church
or a Negro school. This solution has always
been a thought upsurging from the mass,
because of pressure which they could not
withstand and which compelled a racial
institution or chaos. Continually such
institutions were founded and developed, but
this took place against the advice and best
thought of the intelligentsia.
Africanism will have its day. Will future rise. But not
because of ideas, no matter how prescient or how
logical. Rather Pan Africanism will rise because the
masses of we African people in the Diaspora will find
that their brightest future is located in the complex
matrix/nexus of African unity and not simplistically in
the countries wherever we may have been born as a result
of colonialism and the slave trade. Our brightest future
will be wherever we can band together and work with and
for each other as a specific manifestation of Africa,
whether that be at "home" in the Americas or abroad, in
the Diaspora or on the continent of Africa.
secret of Pan Africanism is that it is about Africa the
people and not simply about Africa the land. Make no
mistake, the control of Africa the land mass is
important. But the ultimate measure of civilization is
the social welfare of the people and not the material
level of industrial development or lack thereof.
The children smiling. The women toiling. The men
struggling mightily to make things work: old cars,
crumbling buildings, underdeveloped townships. The
people. Waking up. Walking. Working. Talking. Touching.
Singing. Dancing. Collectively.
Jamilla. Shaqiel. Kunta. Kwame. Lashawna. Tariq. Kenya.
Rhodesia. LaToya. Keasha. Aiesha. Damieka. Damella.
Shawneeka. Tupac. Assata.
list goes on and on and on. African-sounding names
picked by the working class to illustrate their
identification with Africa even when they don't know one
word of an Africa language.
people this is all laughable.
Africanism is laughable.
nonsensical, totally homemade, made-up, crazy sounding
if you want to, but Africa is alive. It's alive and it's
the working masses keeping Pan Africanism alive. All
across the Diaspora.
is conceived in Kenya and born in England. His mother
teaches him that Africa is his home.
Ghana we met elderly African American women. Quiet. In
their sixties. Some of them married to Ghanaians.
They've been there twenty, thirty years. Not thinking
America there are thousands and thousands, thousands and
thousands of African Americans who will never return to
Africa but who turned out to support both Winnie and
Nelson Mandela when they separately toured the United
will is alive in the hearts of the masses.
worsening conditions of our inner cities waters the tree
of Pan Africanism. As massive lay-offs increase and
government entitlements decrease. As personal security
can no longer be guaranteed, and, indeed, insecurity and
fear become the norm. As family ties unravel and people
find themselves living not blocks or a few miles away
from the nearest relative, but living in different
states separated by thousands of miles. And, conversely,
as the world shrinks because of technological advances
in telecommunications and computers. All of this
contributes to the development of Pan Africanism.
now a leap of faith, tomorrow may be but one small and
rationale step toward a better life.
skilled and semi-skilled working masses of us: the
teachers and mechanics, social workers and industrial
equipment operators, postal workers and truck drivers,
nurses and medical care providers (e.g., x-ray and
laboratory technicians, therapists and nutritionists),
administrators and office workers, accountants and
retail merchants, as those of us who work everyday and
help make the world go round, as we assess our relative
positions and, increasingly, opt to investigate and
exercise other options, particularly the option of
living and working elsewhere, for us Africa will become
more and more attractive.
Africanism's most pressing problem is not a lack of will
but a lack of leadership. Committed and inspiring
leadership which can articulate and implement solid
plans which provide linkage and opportunity. Leadership.
But it's coming.
bulk of this leadership will not be the extraordinary
individual geniuses but rather will be composed of the
ordinary, hard working laborers who will choose a
historic option, and, in so doing, make real the promise
of Pan Africanism. The leadership will rise from among
the most capable of the masses. From those whose strange
and funny names are illustrative of an undying African
dream. From those who right now may not even have a
clue. No concern for Pan-anything. Just young and full
of themselves, looking to make a way in the world and
sure to find no way. None of their names inscribed
anywhere. And they will be forced, by circumstance and
by the intransience of our historic oppressors (both
internal and external), these young people, if they are
to become even marginally productive as adults, these
young people will have to struggle for their rights.
Indeed, even if all they want to do is party, they will
have to struggle for their right to party. They will
have to struggle just to live.
nineties will be both the best of times and the worse of
times to be young, not to mention gifted and black. But
out of the ever encroaching social malaise which
threatens to engulf all of us, a new wave of leadership
will emerge. A leadership which will turn to Africa, the
Africa within all of us as well as Africa the continent.
Some of them will "choose" to turn that way. Others will
turn toward Africa because they have no other viable
choice. In the long term, in terms of the social
development of the masses of our people, linking and
uniting Africa, that is the only way ahead available to
the leadership that is coming.
Tomaniqua. Nefertteti. Ashanti. Cinque. The leadership
is coming. From: Oduno. Latifa. Tiaji. Bomani. It's
coming. Leadership, the last missing puzzle piece, is
T: Polling on a
River of Rhythm
Coast we go to a
Durbar. All the chiefs in the central region are
procession to a program in an open field near
the sea. They are all dressed like something Ebony
Fashion Fair has yet to attain. Gold for days.
brocade, weaves and prints in colors so vibrant every
movement is a dance. Drummers everywhere.
what is most impressive to me is that these are elders
lining up, patiently waiting until it is their turn to
march in. There are young, strong men carrying the
chiefs. There are young strong men beating the drums.
But the elders are also there. Linguists with staffs. An
occasional master drummer. Queen mothers sheltered under
beautiful umbrellas, stunning as gigantic butterflies.
pushes. Shoves. Or complains.
procession starts and for fifteen minutes shy of two
hours they parade around the field. Each king has an
assigned area. Nothing is running on time but everything
is in order.
of athletic young men
parades with twirling flags. Huge
flags embroidered with signs and symbols. They strut.
They jump. They squat, drop, duck walk, kick spin, lay
on their backs in the dust, always keeping the flags
flying through the air so violently fast they seem to
stiffly stand straight out as if they were made of wood
instead of fabric. As they pass you hear the rough
flutter of the flags bull roaring through the air. Later
in the program they dance before the kings and the
president. The announcer explains that they represent
resistance. The people would dance. The colonial police
would try to stop them. The colonial powers would try to
jail them. But they danced. They danced. All of this was
acted out. Here was the cakewalk turned inside out. They
brass band comes strutting in. Young men, swaying,
dipping, dancing as they play trumpets, bugles, a
flugelhorn, trombones, euphoniums, even a French horn,
and of course snare drum, a bass drum and cymbals. They
remind me of their counterparts in New Orleans, the same
vitality. They even do a number with a one drop
incorporating reggae into their sound the same way young
bands are doing in the Crescent City.
there is the procession of this group of sisters playing
instruments, singing and dancing. Instruments that are
traditionally played by men—a cylindrical shaped horn
patterned on an elephant's tusk, held horizontal and
blown at the small end. The
Mmenson Group are one of the
musical highlights. I remember them from the castle
procession. To hear them. To see them. They move with a
graceful, syncopated gait, blowing their horns, beating
their drums, and dancing as they parade. They are young,
vital, a clear female compass for Ghana's future.
rear of the procession comes what we would call a
secondline. A band of poor folk beating on boxes,
makeshift drums, and an old drum or two which has
definitely seen better days. They parade around the
whole field and then off the field. The police did not
stop them. They laughed, and drummed, and sang, and
danced. They had no king, but they were swinging.
point there must have been four or five different drum
things happening within twenty feet of each other. Each
kept its own beat flowing. The sonorous cacophony of
rhythm was astounding. A chaos of order.
swirl of humanity, swirl of colors, swirl of sounds,
within the sandaled procession of chiefs and elders, the
vibrant ebullience of strutting youth, the amazement of
visitors, amid all of this there was room for everyone.
Everything was in order.
* * * *
U: Oh, What a Feeling
Riding in a car or bus
on the recently asphalted road up the coast from Accra to the Cape Coast
Castle is rough enough. It is super hard to imagine being driven to the
castle on foot, chains around your neck and your ankles, trodding
barefoot through the bush. This is not "jungle" area, but heavy bush,
rocky ground in some places.
As we drive for better
than two hours my eyes get tired and I doze. My ancestors herded like
cattle, were force marched for hours beneath sun with whiplash licking
their bare backs. They too were tired, but they were never allowed to
Standing in the
magazine where they kept the powder and looking through the portal down
into the dungeon where people are now standing with torch light in the
very spaces where their ancestors were crowded, peering into those
ancient spaces, I do not feel anger, I do not feel spirits calling me, I
do not feel anything. I simply understand that we did not stand a
chance. And that is a cold and helpless feeling.
* * *
After one of the
symposium I was talking to
complimenting his presentation, "Slave Castle, African Historical
Mindscape & Literary Imagination."
He touched my hand.
I held his unforced touch.
There are no words for all of this.
* * *
My oldest child, my
daughter Asante preceded me to Ghana. Back in August 1994 she went for
six weeks. An opportunity to travel presented itself and she jumped on
it. She and Jelsy, a Haitian born artist friend. The trip was important
Many, many years ago,
in 1969, Tayari, Asante's mother and my ex-wife, spent a summer in Ghana
Crossroads. And now I am crossing the sea to this place. What is it?
Ghana calling? What?
Asante laughs one day
as we are talking about something and comments on how fragile men are.
"Men are so fragile. They have this tough ego shell, but inside they're
so fragile. They're just like all the shell creatures of nature. Without
their shell, they can't make it."
I am standing here holding a grown
It takes some getting used to.
Reentry into Africa is an emotional
strip search for self.
Crawling out of my red,
white, and blue shell. Crawling out of my negro shell. Crawling out of
my dominant male ego shell. Crawling out of my shell and wondering will
I ever learn to fly—where are my wings?
And that's all I can say right now.
V: The Whole of Ourselves
Our African identity,
like all of life, is contradictory in nature. We have both great
negatives and great positives that we must face. At certain periods of
negritudinal reaction to racism and colonialism, we romanticize our
positives. At other periods after fighting and sacrificing for so long,
we wallow in the self indulgence of shams. Sham development. Sham
socialism. Sham democracy. Sham capitalism. Sham nationalism.
What we must face and
embrace is the whole of ourselves and not simply those parts which are
acceptable to Tarzan
or those parts which make us feel big like Tarzan.
Tarzan is easy, but
what does that lead to but one or two junior European cities per
country, with mayors and presidents who, on an international level,
exhibit the same impotence as did traditional tribal chiefs who, when
confronted by European military might, were forced to "negotiate" with,
and eventually capitulate to, the kings and presidents, generals and
mercenaries, merchants and bankers of Europe.
What we must do is
extract the lessons of history from our historic encounters with
Tarzan, and we must do
so realistically rather than romantically.
Tarzan is a difficult
character for us to deal with because we both hate and admire
Tarzan. We want to
expel him from our lives on the one hand and yet, on the other hand, the
cumulative effect of our desires and fantasies is to recreate ourselves
into an idealized Tarzan. Our national bourgeoisie, they are Tarzan.
Most of our elected officials and nearly all of our heads of state,
especially the dictators, they are Tarzan.
Tarzan in Black face.
The rub is that
Tarzan taught us that
we were all Black but he also taught us that being Black was a bad
thing. There are too many examples of our contradictions to even begin
enumerating. Every African's mirror contains at least one major
contradiction, if not more. But at least one.
Unfortunately for us,
we African Americans have internalized the psychology of the oppressed.
After fifteen generations or more of subservience, Black inferiority is
all we know. A major corollary of our inferiority complex, is a high
tolerance for suffering. Indeed, our tolerance of downpression verges on
an addiction to suffering.
I am no longer a
Christian. I do not believe in the redemptiveness of suffering. Oh how
they oppressed us with that one. Under Tarzan's religious tutelage,
suffering became such a great part of our worldview that we were not
happy unless we were unhappy.
"Woe is me" became our daily bread.
"Deliver us from evil"
we asked of Tarzan's
god while we looked forward to an almost certain lifetime of hell and
fervently believed in a hoped for eternity in heaven.
"Deliver us from
Tarzan" is what we
should have said. But we were so good at suffering. And Christianity
taught us that we were born to suffer. That "man is born of sin" and
that Jesus will redeem us in heaven.
Meanwhile, down here on
the ground, Tarzan rules. And when
Tarzan is absent,
Tarzan's flunkies and
trainees stand in for the master and rule. And when neither Tarzan nor
his flunkies are present, Tarzan's ideas rule and we create our own
Tarzans as we await deliverance to arrive from outside ourselves.
Our deliverance as a
people, however, cannot be given to us by others, nor passively
accepted. Deliverance must be fought for and seized. Deliverance is a
birthing process requiring hard labor, rupturing of the womb, and the
flowing of blood if new life is to be created. Some of us have worked
for deliverance for a long time, most of us have been awaiting
deliverance for an equally long time. But, to date, howsoever long it
has been, deliverance has not come.
How long has it been,
500 years? In all this time, for all his omnipotence,
Tarzan has been unable
to deliver us. Tarzan's failure has taught us well. If we want to be
delivered, we will have to deliver each other. Give birth to ourselves.
The kingdom that we create in the here and now is the only kingdom we
will ever enjoy in this life on earth.
And to kill
Tarzan we must desire
to be ourselves. A truly revolutionary behavior.
* * *
On the second morning
in Accra, we were bussed to Drago's Restaurant for a breakfast. We
assumed that it would be a program of some sort. That assumption was a
mistake. Not only was there no program, everyone didn't even get to eat.
But it did afford us the opportunity to meet and talk with some of the
people attending PANAFEST whom we did not already know nor know of.
One of the people at
our table recognized me and helped me remember him:
Harvey. One of the early members of
US Organization. Present at the founding of Kwanzaa. Present at the
Black Power Conferences of the sixties.
Congress of Afrikan People. We began exchanging stories and
reminiscences about people, places and events. Behind all we talked
about was an assessment of our failure to make revolution in the United
States and our hopes for Africa in the future.
Today, in the nineties,
revolution is such a lonely word. Discredited. Rejected. Some even
declare that following the
collapse of the
Soviet Union, that we have reached a period which wishful thinking
calls "the end of history."
failures are sighted as evidence of the failure of revolution.
They talk. The spread of democracy. The
coming of the superhighway. The world becoming a free market.
They whistle past their own graveyards.
It's well past midnight.
Make fun of
out monster portraits of
At the breakfast table someone asked
for papaya. The waiter nodded. Returned a little later and said, "papaya
That's what the Republicans want us to
believe. Revolution finished.
That's why "we're" in
about Rawanda. If-ing
at Bosnia. Finished?
A man is confronted by
his wife. This man, it seems, was a philanderer. He would runaround.
Cheat on his wife. And lie to her. Constantly. Her friends told her.
People she didn't know, told her. At some point it became unbearable.
She confronted him. He confessed his errors. Begged for another chance.
She started to put him out but relented. Then one day she visited his
office and caught him in a compromising position with his secretary.
Before she could say a word he told her: "It's not what you think." She
replied, "what do you mean, not what I think? I'm looking at you." He
loudly protested that she was wrong and concluded with this challenge,
"who are you going to believe? Me! Or your lying eyes!"
Who are we going to
believe? Our downpressors or our lying eyes?
One of the colloquium
participants, in a bold self critique, noted that apparently
wrong when he said "seek ye first the political kingdom and all things
will be added thereto." Political kingdoms absent economic revolution
have proven to be bankrupt. Those of us forty and over, still alive,
halfway sane, and with even a modicum of strength and stomach left for
struggle, we know. The real deal is to figure out how to economically
sustain and develop ourselves.
The real revolution is
self development. What we used to call "Kujitegemea"— economic self
reliance. Balozi runs the Harlem, New York based Third World Trade
Institute. We talk about effecting trade and economic development in
Finished? We've hardly
just begun. There are questions of the environment. Questions of
affordable and appropriate technology. Questions of mass transit and
In the West there's a
mess. Every major urban center of the United States has problems. The
really big ones have really big problems. In
Brazil there are
horrendous problems: in the
lungs of the world are being burnt up and children are systematically
slaughtered in Rio. Jamaica is Hollywood: the "wild, wild west" but with
real bullets, real death and real destruction. Eastern Europe is a
cauldron that no detente can hold together. The end of history? Who are
we going to believe: the West or our lying eyes?
The end of history? No.
The end of his story? Yes. At last. Yeahhhh booooyyyyyeeeeee! It is
really now our time to decide how to live our lives.
To try to figure out
how to get it together and move forward. And part of moving forward must
be leaving a bunch of our badness behind. Jettison the European model.
Fanon told us oh
so long ago. But we did not really understand. Now with Paris looking
the way it does. With London, with New York, with Moscow, Berlin. With
all of that being what it is, which is not us. No map for our space.
What we are faced with finally is a fight within ourselves to determine
which way forward. And that's revolution.
Why should anyone want
to recreate the United States, England or France? How could we? Whom
could we enslave by the millions? Which continents would we kill the
indigenous inhabitants, remove most of the accessible mineral wealth,
colonize, industrialize, pollute and declare to have reached the end of
history? We have only ourselves and the spaces we occupy. The Caribbean
isles are too small to sustain us. The West too covetous of what they
have built up to share. We have only that which is yet to be developed.
We have the dirt roads
of Ghana. We have the hinterlands of Africa's West Coast. We have war
weary Central Africa. And the industrial jewel of South Africa. We have
ourselves. We have a future. But it will take a revolution to actualize
A future for us
requires a revolution in our lifetime. The real battle will be to
overturn ourselves and become Black again, moving at our own pace, in
our own space, in directions of our own choosing.
And this is what we
wrestle with at a breakfast without a purpose. We had the breakfast
because that is what one does at conferences. Maybe we needed something
else. Maybe what we need is to stop.
Stop doing what has already been done.
Create what does not now exist.
Stop emulating the end
of history. Honor the lives of our ancestors. Make and build a space
where their spirits can be blessed by the smiles of future generations,
walking in rhythm, living in harmony, enjoying the fruits (and
vegetables) of a revolution that we accepted responsibility to wage.
A revolution is more
than simply a change of mind. Revolution is conscious engagement with
the forces of history, the discarding or overthrowing of a dominating
social order and the institution of a new social order. Every revolution
fights two phases. First, the struggle (generally violent) to gain
control of the productive forces and defend oneself from outside control
and/or domination. Second, the struggle for social reconstruction and
instituting the new social system.
So far we have had no
successful revolution of the second phase. From Haiti onward to
independent Africa and the Caribbean, all of the revolutions which have
succeeded in phase one have failed in phase two. In cases such as
Mozambique or Grenada, phase two was aborted because they were not able
to defend phase one against external aggression (Mozambique) or internal
conflicts (Grenada). But the deal is to learn from, rather than be
discouraged by, the mistakes and failures of our predecessors. Moreover,
regardless of the outcome in the past, revolution is still what we need
to built a secure future.
One reason we need
revolution is Euro-supremacist imperialism has no intention of leaving
us alone. We can not simply withdraw into ourselves because they won't
Our oppressors and
exploiters, our ex-masters and economic creditors, Western social
engineers and scientists, dominate us even without their physical
presence by actively seeking to incorporate us into the web of their
influence either directly or through proxies and stand-ins. Without a
revolution of our own making, we fight phase one and then simply end up
with new masters trading places with old masters. The dominant and
dominating systems staying in place, modified only in so much as
necessary to accommodate the newly ascendant, and generally less
competent, "native/petit bourgeois" ruling class.
Western dominance is
not simply a matter of ideology but also of institutions and individual
behavior. Dominance is structural and behavioral. This is why Black
faces in high places do not necessarily raise the level of life for the
majority. Whether as heads of state and government functionaries for
newly independent countries or as mayors and legislators in Western
countries, more often than not, this new ruling elite ends up being
caretakers of crumbling and disintegrating societies which are dependent
on aid from the West. A flag and military don't make a country. Indeed,
the maintenance of government bureaucracies and militaries often
impoverish developing countries.
To be real, a
revolution must be able to improve the quality of life for its people by
bringing about positive change at all three levels: ideology,
institutions and individual behavior. This then is why and what a
revolution is. A revolution of two phases leading to real power to
define, defend, develop and respect our lives.
Then, and only then, will we truly be
able to know, taste, love, hold and procreate the whole of ourselves.
W: Flight Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, President of
He looks like Larry Fishburne. The
jutting jaw. The cinnamon brown. The beard. The muscular frame.
"What do we do with armed robbers?"
Our second day in Accra, a crowd caught
a thief and killed him.
"We execute thieves."
"These people driving these cars
irresponsibly. Accidents? No. It's manslaughter. It's murder they're
getting away with. Let the courts convict one of them. I will sign the
He had a script and he
had some deeper stuff he wanted to get off his chest—and brother man did
go off. In addition to the prepared script he talks about family
planning, sanitation, and some things in a language I don't understand
but which delights the crowd.
When he speaks, I look at the people.
The shine of their eyes. The smiles set
to break into laughter as the punch line is delivered.
Flight Lt. Jerry John
Rawlings, President of Ghana
When he talks about executing irresponsible drivers, these people who
spend a large part of every day walking—walking with water on their
heads, with food on their heads, with trays of vegetables, boxes of
canned goods, chewing gum, walking, a load of firewood, maybe a baby on
the back, oranges, pineapples, walking, bolts of fabric, walking, a sack
of rice, walking, roasted corn, walking, walking, walking, through dust,
down miles and miles of dirt road, walking, to the market, walking,
pausing and backing up for speeding cars, the drivers leaning on their
horns, walking, bus broke down, walking, car broke down, pushing and
walking, waiting to sell to tourists coming out of the castle, standing,
hoping to get closer to the president, standing, walking, sandals,
walking, bare feet, walking, hopping cross open sewers, walking, legs
bruised, open sores, walking, pants the wrong size, walking, lacy dress
soiled, worn and torn, walking and then waiting, waiting and then
walking, standing, silent, glancing at us up and down, whispering
something to each other, teeth missing from big beautiful smiles,
laughing, standing, shyly touching your hand, hello, akwaaba, welcome,
siss-taa, braaaa-thaaaa, eyes looking up from the smoke fish fire, bread
on the side of the road, walking straight up like some mothers used to
make girls do with books on their head for posture practice, walking,
pausing while suckling child, hawking wares, standing, looking, waving,
bending, walking, lifting, working, sleeping, walking, eating, walking,
eating and walking, walking to eat, walking, braiding hair, those dark
skinned people, little girls with close cropped hair and their hands
hiding the hope light of their smiling lips, walking, children and
elders everywhere, walking, these people, these people, my people,
walking, me, when he talks these people listen, and cheer, and clap.
Execute irresponsible drivers.
"Commitment." He says
we have knowledge. We have skills. We need commitment. He says in the
States a Ghanaian away from home wanted to know what the government was
going to do to help all of the people who are moving from the rural
areas into the cities.
Rawlings encourages the
brother to come home. Encourages all Africans to come home. Whether
continental or diasporan, come home.
In terms of
development, it can be said that Africa is the rural area and the West
are the cities. We need you in the rural areas to help us develop.
Together we can develop our rural areas. Leave the cities. Come home.
What do we do with thieves?
This is Ghana. The
streets are safe at night. And the people whom dark finds three hours
walk from home, can set down their load and sleep where they are,
wherever they are in Ghana.
It's murder these
people driving these cars irresponsibly.
The people who walk
love the President. The people. Who walk. Love. The President.
When the President
arrives he walks onto the field. He walks around the field and greets
each king who has been carried in the Durbar procession of the kings,
carried in these boats held aloft on the waves of muscular shoulders.
Boats shaded by umbrellas. Preceded by the court. Followed by drums. The
chiefs rode in waving and dancing. The President of the country walked
around the soccer sized field and greeted each king individually. The
The people who walk love the President
Walking is the Ghanaian way.
Surely there are those who hate this
man. The wheelers have different values from the walkers.
The people who walk.
X: In the Hinterlands of Our Souls
I have been to Africa before so I am
prepared. I know that I am not going to visit an unspoiled land, and
unsullied people. I know that I will encounter more than Africans in
Africa. I know that I will also meet Tarzan there.
He will be there to
greet me. I know this. I know this because even though I am African, a
descendant of those Africans who were enslaved, I know that I, like
every African, especially we Africans in the Diaspora, we carry Tarzan
within us. Indeed, a major part of our value to the motherland is that
we have African souls and Tarzan personalities, with all the
positives of skills and technology that implies, and all the negatives
of individualistic material and moral decadence it also implies.
Tarzan will arrive at
the same time I do, if and when I am frustrated in my search for hot
water to bathe or angry about the unavailability of iced, chilled drinks
to consume. Or when I am turned off by dust and dirt everywhere,
repulsed by hot sun and daily heat. Tarzan will be gleaming in my eye as
I am aroused by all the opportunities I spy to run the con games and
hustles which are the daily fare of life in the industrial world,
especially when my schemes and dreams are clothed in the brotherly cloak
of helping my people to develop the motherland. We could put up a hotel
there. Open a specialty restaurant here. Put an import record store over
there. Import this. Start up that.
I can not help it, I
was reared in America to be like Tarzan. My brothers and sisters on the
continent were reared to believe they need a Tarzan.
Tarzan, as the big
White man can not revisit Africa, but I am coming weighted by the
terrible knowledge that we all have a Tarzan to expel from the interior
of our African souls.
* * *
After the Revolutionary
War when the American colonialists beat the British, some of us vanished
from these shores. Thus, Sierre Leone, a British colony in West Africa
which was partially colonized by American born Africans reintroduced
into Africa. Some of us had fought against the colonialists, had sided
with the British. Had been promised freedom. When the British lost, we
won a return trip to Africa.
As has ever been our
history, we African Americans always seem to be on both sides of the
battle line. Crispus Attucks the first to fall, martyr defending
American freedom. On the other side, unnamed others boarded English
ships fleeing America's freedom.
Sierre Leone was our first major
return. British subjects reinserted into Africa.
The second coming was Liberia—and a
bigger mess could not possibly have been made. Tarzan was in full
The bible and the gun.
Liberia. The so-called first Black republic. Liberia declared itself
sovereign on 26 July 1847. From jump street it was a colonial missionary
We went there (or more accurately, were
sent there) for the expressed purpose of establishing a Christian
colony. We were literally pilgrims in Black face. And true to our
Christian creed, true to our God, true to our "native land" (i.e., the
U.S.A. who sponsored us), we came, we saw, and we conquered. Committed
all sorts of unspeakable cruelties. Wallowed in all sorts of
Meanwhile, the American
Colonization Society, peopled and funded mostly by Whites, acted on
their conviction that the way to respond to the slave question was to
take Lady MacBeth's advice: "out, out damn spot." In Historical Lights
Of Liberia's Yesterday And Today, author Ernest Jerome Yancy,
writing in 1934, breaks the history down.
...Liberia is a by-product of the
complex conditions of American society resulting from the American Negro
A careful study of the
American economic, political, and social conditions beginning in 1619 at
Jamestown, VA—a nursery of slavery—to the organization of the American
Colonization Society in December 1816 at Washington, D.C., avails one
the opportunity of knowing the conditions under which the colonization
society was organized and that the founding of Liberia was an attempt to
adjust those conditions. In this respect, Sir Harry Johnston wrote: "Its
inception" (the American Colonization Society) "grew out of the
institution of slavery and represents an endeavor on the part of early
statesmen and philanthropists to solve a vexing situation in America
which was confronting them."
Historical data show
that at this time there were free men of color in America and it is
claimed that they had an evil effect on the slaves and menaced the
institution of slavery. Many criminal acts were charged to these freemen
of color and Negroes, and in some instances, we are informed, they were
guilty of these charges. Under these two-fold conditions it became
necessary for something to be done in order to save American society and
the institution of slavery. Therefore, with these dual motives,
statesmen, philanthropists, and former slaveholders joined in devising
means by which they could solve the problem. As a result of these
efforts, the American Colonization Society was organized for the purpose
of assisting free men of color to return to the continent of Africa.
The first president of
the American colonization Society was Judge Bushrod Washington, nephew
of George Washington, and among the founding organizers was Francis
Scott Key, author of the "Star Spangled Banner." Their exclusive aim was
to remove free folk of color from America.
Back on the block,
Negro leaders, principally Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington,
were intransient in their opposition to colonization. Wasn't going
nowheres. Saw no future in it. No win. Wanted their piece of the rock.
Insisted on making a home of where they were born.
Y: One on One
Tarzan is dying.
In the long run, it's
about what we do with each of our own little individual steps. The
singular soul facing the void, the chaos, the problem, the opportunity.
The skull speaks: "You know I went into
those jungles alone? I faced..."
He pauses. His voice a weak whisper. I
can barely hear him. I am forced to draw closer.
No. Nobody is forcing me. I'm curious.
I want to hear what he has to say.
He draws a difficult breath. Perhaps he
faced the animals. The loneliness.
"No, none of that. I faced..."
At first I am surprised that he has
read my thoughts and then I remember that Tarzan is in my head.
"I faced myself and
learned to live with the people, live with the land. I did it. I jolly
well did it. I lived. They loved me. I think. Maybe not as much as you
love me. But, me, by myself. In the bush, I did it."
"And now?" I ask him.
"And now? Don't leave me." He says.
And then. Silence.
* * *
When the plane arrived
in Ghana we needed a visa—US$50 each for Nia and me. Very official
stamps are inked into our USA passports: Visitor's Permit Form F. Valid
for 30 days.
Three centuries ago
when I left, the trip required neither visa nor passport. Just survival.
If I endured, I went butt naked, headfirst into the new world.
Our heads were
literally our bags. Everything and the only things we could take on this
journey, we carried in our heads. In our hair. Social ideals and okra
seeds. An indelibly black sense of soul and sound. But I did not need to
come to Ghana to know this.
To return to Ghana on
this trip required a yellow fever shot and a weekly regimen of malaria
medicine. When we got here we had to avoid the water and our stomachs
were too weak to eat all of the food. Again, I did not need to come to
Ghana to know that. So why did I need to come to Ghana?
I didn't really need
to. I could have lived, struggled and died without ever having made this
trip. But I wanted to kill Tarzan.
I really, really wanted
to kill Tarzan. So, I signed up. I volunteered for the job.
Once here I have found
that the only way to kill this alien is to get in touch with myself. To
feel. To taste. To smell. To hear. To see. Myself. To choose to be
cleaved, grafted, bandaged, stuck, pressed back into the earth of my
origin, into the very mud and dust of my history. To kill Tarzan I must
choose to grow Africa within me and create me within Africa.
The Tarzan in me only
dies when the Africa in me arrives—otherwise I never grapple with all
the psychosis of my African American upbringing. I never confront a
major part of me: what I think, what I feel, my limitations, my
potentials. Tarzan will never die unless and until I confront and secure
the history of my existence—including the trauma of birth.
No one can be born for me.
No one else may feel the need for birth
completion that I do.
No one else may volunteer to put the
knife in Tarzan.
But what others do or don't do in no
way dictates the road I will travel.
I will fear no evil, for Africa is
* * *
I know that London
Bridge is falling down, falling down, that Babylon time a come, that the
eagle can't fly forever, that indeed there is an end to his story. The
wheels of the West are rusting.
The reality is that we
can not continue to live in America with the social deterioration, mean
spiritedness, and crass materialism which are polluting our individual
and collective lives. We are literally a nation of drug addicts (alcohol
and tobacco chief among our drugs of choice, with over-the-counter pain
killers and headache remedies running a close third). We are suffering
horrendous rates of violence and disease. There is a widening economic
gap at a time when many of our major urban centers teeter on the brink
of implosion: aging physical infrastructures such as bridges, sewer
systems, housing; corrupt political administration; and increasing
ethnic conflict. Something has got to give.
Shine, Shine, Shine, my
sweet brotherman. The last time the ship went down you swam back to
America. This time as the Titanic goes down on the last go round, some
of us will swim back home again, only this time we'll be recrossing the
Atlantic, each of us cutting our own stroke, forward into an ancient
place our spirits know as Africa.
* * *
Should Black people go back to Africa?
Yes! And NO.
Yes. We in the Diaspora
should make the pilgrimage at least once in our lifetime. Christians go
to Bethlehem. Muslims go to Mecca. Jews go to Israel. The Diaspora
should go to Africa. To know and learn, sense and experience from whence
we came. To touch the essence of our future. Future because to the
degree that Africa is strong, the whole of the Diaspora will also
benefit, and to the degree that Africa fails to develop, the conditions
of those of us in the Diaspora will continue our spiraling descent into
social, material, and spiritual despair.
NO. We in the Diaspora
don't need to give up any of our hard won benefits, meager as they may
be in comparative terms. Besides, most of us are addicted to the West.
It is senseless to advocate a mass movement prior to preparations being
made both by the host to receive the Diaspora, and by the Diaspora to
To return unannounced
and unexpected is to court disaster. Numerous are the tales and stories
of those who romantically returned to Africa only to end up "returning
back home" to the industrialized West discouraged and disillusioned.
Yes, we need a mental
return and a spiritual return. In fact, rather than a return it might
make more sense to think of what we need in terms of linkages.
We need to actualize
linkages with the continent—linkages that would facilitate not just the
movement of people, but also the movement of ideas, of resources and
responsibilities, and, most of all, facilitate the uniting of history,
identity, purpose, and future. The real transition will not be a return
back to Africa but a stepping forward with Africa, moving into the 21st
century with Africa the continent and Africa the Diaspora united.
I don't think the
majority, or even a significant minority, of us can or will make this
transition at this time. But as the 90s expire, more of us will seek
other venues within which to live, work, struggle and die.
On the other hand, as
Marcus Garvey demonstrated, millions of our people are ready to move.
Millions of us recognize the bankruptcy of the West.
What it took in Garvey's time and what
it will take now is simply one person striking when the conditions are
right. Individuals standing, and in standing, inspiring others to rise.
Given the ripe historic moment, it only
takes two: me and the other person I encounter. That is how history is
made, how babies are born.
It only takes two you know. It only
I am one and Africa is another. I the
Diaspora. Africa the motherland.
I am Africa. And every
African I encounter is the Diaspora. Conversely and dialectically, every
African is Africa and I am the Diaspora seeking union.
Africa and I. Africa is I.
I and I.
Is all it takes.
I am one. And Africa is the other.
Z: Can I Articulate a New Language
There is so much more to tell, but I've
run out of words.
The colonial alphabet
is ended and I need another language to communicate the balance of my
experiences, the connections which elude this vocabulary, the distances
and disruptions so somber.
I need a new language.
Not more words in proper English. But a whole other way to communicate.
Am I up to the task of
relearning my ancestral tongue, of transforming my colonial tongue, of,
perhaps, even creating a new tongue, creating a new language?
* * *
I consciously resist romanticizing
My feelings, my thoughts, yes, even my
dreams: I rein them in.
We have had a guided
tour. Given the limits of their resources, the planning committee has
rolled out the akwaaba mat. We stayed in hotels and guest houses.
We rode in private buses, vans, and cars. We had major meals provided
for us. And we had money in our pockets, and spent freely. This one was
like riding with the training wheels on and an elder holding you steady.
At the same time, I
remember poet Jayne Cortez telling me I had a Ghanaian "vibe" and would
probably like Ghana.
We all came from
somewhere(s) specific and those specific essentials remain embedded in
the core of our personalities both collectively and individually.
Stronger in some than others. Barely felt in a few, but the African seed
resides inside. Whether wilted or blooming, seedling sprouting or torn
out of the soil of us leaving a gapping wound, Africa is, nonetheless,
in one way or another, Africa is in all of us. And that is our blessing
no oppressor can permanently curse.
* * *
Thinking back to the dungeon, I've been
to the castle a number of times since that first night.
In the day light it is
different. When there is not a large group of emotionally charged people
with inchoate expectations fueling your imagination, the recently
painted castle looks different. When you are there for a music program
in the courtyard. It's different. This is why we need formal
pilgrimages: planned tours that put us in touch with the people, places
and experiences of Ghana at a level that is impossible to reach on a
chance, individual encounter.
Another trip, even another conference
in Ghana would be different.
I know that if I come here alone and
spend days and nights bumping into unplanned experiences, my trip will
I also know that time and distance will
bring about a change.
I remember Brasil and
Barbados—thinking how I could live there. Or literally sitting under a
coconut tree at Oyster Bay in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania dreaming and
scheming. Even the fierce lushness of Surinam. There are a lot of places
I could live.
notwithstanding, I am nevertheless thinking seriously about working in
Ghana and living here at least part time. Time will tell and real world
conditions will supply the motivation or discouragement.
* * *
I can't just up and go
back to Africa. Someone else, maybe. But me. Every move I make needs to
count in the computer I carry in my heart, and if I don't really feel
it, I won't do it. Besides, there is so much work to be done in the
States, so much is needed. But then, the truth is, neither the work nor
the need has anything to do with the United States. Everywhere our
people are there is so much work to do, so much is needed.
Each of us who wants to
work for our people has the option, indeed, has the responsibility of
choosing where we can most efficiently and effectively contribute. Not a
mandate to be here, there, or any specific where, but a choice to be
continuously evaluated and exercised as local and global conditions
change, as doors of opportunity in various spheres are pried open and/or
Finally what will make
the ultimate difference is the luck of the draw. Do I decide to hold or
to fold. To move or to hang, even if only for the time being. I will
sleep on it. Who knows what will inspire me, or anyone, to go one way or
another. Each African minute is explosive.
It's been over a week
since I received, or sought, any information about what is going on in
the States. Perhaps when I recross the Atlantic back into the new world
of the same old same old, perhaps the conditions will inform me.
* * *
Meanwhile, I know this much: Nia loves
Nia blends in so well. The children
love her, and she they. They ask her to write and give her their
addresses on small scraps of paper, fervently hoping that she will not
forget them. People spontaneously talk to Nia on the street. Once, in
the township just outside Elmina, Nia stopped to dance in the street and
later as we walked around, a woman sitting by a streetside stand pumped
her arms in rhythmic motion and softly called to Nia, "you dance. You
There is something in her that clicks
in this environment. My habit of aloofness, observing from a distance in
loud silence is harder to integrate into this reality. I'm comfortable
but very little of me immediately blends with anything. I am the
outsider by temperament and by choice. Many writers tend to be that way.
But Nia connects on another plane. Perhaps it is Nia's calmness and
quietness, her unhurried walk and her patient softness, so much like a
* * *
My son Tutashinda is a master at
working jigsaw puzzles, at figuring out which piece goes where. What
fits together. How to work on different clusters simultaneously, a
little here, a little over there.
I've seen him pick up a piece and
somehow correctly sense what pile to put it in. He can see that way. And
he is quick.
Can the puzzle that I am ever be put
together—indeed, was my puzzle ever whole?
How can the various pieces of Africa be
fitted into one—do the Pan African pieces fit without being forced? Or
must the pieces be reshaped? Is Pan Africanism possible? What
prosthesis—artificial limbs, manufactured parts; what organ donations
and heart transplants will be necessary; what long term therapy to make
the body whole and healthy? Can it be done—especially given we were
never together in the first place? Africa has a need for, but no history
This father needs his son. All parents
need their children. We Africans seeking wholeness, need our children
far, far more than our children need us.
I need him to guide me. Indeed, he is
my guide, my compass, one of my certain ways of knowing if what I'm
doing will mean anything beyond my own personal desires.
Whatever we find in Africa will be
futile if it does not enrich the lives of our children, our
grandchildren, the whole of our future, at the same time and to the same
extent that the search honors the lives of our ancestors—to investigate
the possibilities of this aspiration is why I went to Ghana.
Accra & Cape Coast,
New Orleans, LA, USA
December 1994/January 1995
* * * *
Ghana 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.
* * *
Dr. Wangui wa Goro is a pioneer and distinguished
translator and translation scholar being the first in a new
generation to work in literary translation in her mother
tongue Gikuyu as well as in French, Italian and Swahili
languages. Amongst her translations rank the world renown
and award winning authors
Veronique Tadjo (A Vol d’oiseau),
Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Fatou Keita (Rebelle) and she is completing a
translation of Boccacio’s Decamerone into Gikuyu.
Her work is taught in schools and universities in many parts
of the world. She is also a poet, writer and critic and has
spoken, performed and recited her work in Africa, Europe and
the USA. She has also published short stories including
Deep Sea Fishing in an Anthology of African Stories edited
by Ama Ata Aidoo and Heaven and Earth (McMillan) addressing
issues of gender from feminist perspectives. Her collection
of stories and poetry will be published in 2008/9. Wangui
is also currently completing her first novel.
* * *
Ghana Music Video /
The Curse of Gold—Ghana /
Rice Farming in Afife, Ghana
Busy Internet Ghana /
Africa Open for Business—Ghana /
African Slave Castle /
John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk
The Slave Ship (Marcus Rediker)
* * * * *
music website >
writing website >
daily blog >
* * *
Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power
By Zbigniew Brzezinski
By 1991, following the disintegration first of the Soviet bloc and then of the Soviet Union itself, the United States was left standing tall as the only global super-power. Not only the 20th but even the 21st century seemed destined to be the American centuries. But that super-optimism did not last long. During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, the stock market bubble and the costly foreign unilateralism of the younger Bush presidency, as well as the financial catastrophe of 2008 jolted America—and much of the West—into a sudden recognition of its systemic vulnerability to unregulated greed. Moreover, the East was demonstrating a surprising capacity for economic growth and technological innovation. That prompted new anxiety about the future, including even about America’s status as the leading world power. This book is a response to a challenge. It argues that without an America that is economically vital, socially appealing, responsibly powerful, and capable of sustaining an intelligent foreign engagement, the geopolitical prospects for the West could become increasingly grave. The ongoing changes in the distribution of global power and mounting global strife make it all the more essential that America does not retreat into an ignorant garrison-state mentality or wallow in cultural hedonism but rather becomes more strategically deliberate and historically enlightened in its global engagement with the new East.
* * * * *
Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam
By Fred A. Wilcox and Introduction by Noam Chomsky
Scorched Earth is the first book to chronicle the effects of chemical warfare on the Vietnamese people and their environment, where, even today, more than 3 million people—including 500,000 children—are sick and dying from birth defects, cancer, and other illnesses that can be directly traced to Agent Orange/dioxin exposure. Weaving first-person accounts with original research, Vietnam War scholar Fred A. Wilcox examines long-term consequences for future generations, laying bare the ongoing monumental tragedy in Vietnam, and calls for the United States government to finally admit its role in chemical warfare in Vietnam. Wilcox also warns readers that unless we stop poisoning our air, food, and water supplies, the cancer epidemic in the United States and other countries will only worsen, and he urgently demands the chemical manufacturers of Agent Orange to compensate the victims of their greed and to stop using the Earth’s rivers, lakes, and oceans as toxic waste dumps. Vietnam has chosen August 10—the day that the US began spraying Agent Orange on Vietnam—as Agent Orange Day, to commemorate all its citizens who were affected by the deadly chemical. Scorched Earth will be released upon the third anniversary of this day, in honor of all those whose families have suffered, and continue to suffer, from this tragedy. Noam Chomsky & Fred Wilcox Book-TV
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
posted 9 August 2010