All posts by Sokari

Healing in the Homeland – Haitian Vodou Tradition

‘As a child in Haiti laying in my bed, I heard the Tams Tams of the Vodou drums beating all nights. These beats were telling the stories of my African ancestors, of their struggles, and their survival, their self determination and resistance to domination to keep their dignity. However, the Christian schooling system and the social setting alienating children from their African Traditional heritage and demonized it. As an adult I have decided to go and make a difference. Thus my Doctorate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution reflects this conflicts and the healing that followed.’ Margaret Mitchell Armand

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Margaret Mitchell Armand is a Haitian scholar, poet, artist and trained psychologist. Born in Haiti and raised between Haiti and the US, Margaret’s’ life and work are framed by her faith in the African religious traditions and a celebration of Haitian Vodou.

Two of her most recent publications are a poetry collection “Finding Erzili” [English, French and Haitian Kreyol] and “Healing in the Homeland – Haitian Vodou Tradition”. In addition to writing, Margaret is an artist whose work is grounded in Haitian culture, which is to say it is grounded in Haitian Vodou. She creates art using scraps of wood, branches from palm trees, rocks, calabash, seeds and whatever else she finds in her garden. Her garden is also a lush collection of herbs and plants for healing and soothing the body and spirit.

‘Healing in the Homeland: Haitian Vodou Tradition’ explores the possibility of attaining decolonization through reconnecting with the past and reclaiming knowledge, particularly for the Affranchi descendent / bourgeois / elite class in Haiti. This is achieved through a series of narratives of formally educated Haitians who have ‘transcended their class and elite status’ to openly embrace Vodou, Haitian Kreyol and African-Haitian culture. I say openly, as Margaret points out that most Haitians practice Vodou in secret whilst dismissing it publicly. The narratives provide an insight into how social and cultural mores act to oppress individuals and take on a life of their own.

The work is an ‘indigenous intervention’ which begins by honoring the Taíno people who were murdered by the Spanish. Margaret alerts us to the failure of Western scholarship to acknowledge the Taínos as well as their relationship to African peoples both prior to Columbus and during the colonization.

‘All the ideology, the connections to nature, cosmology, what it means to be human, traveling with the stars. These were shared by Taíno and Africans.’ [MMA: Healing in the Homeland]

Although she is a Haitian scholar and Vodouizan, her position as researcher from a privileged social class highlights class divisions and assumptions around language, religion, and political affiliation. Margaret tells us how she had to recognize these issues but at the same time acknowledge to herself as she powerfully states:

‘Voice gives us, as writers, a presence in our writing. Our voices can thus position us as part of the humanity we write about or as separate and coolly detached. In this study, my position is as part of that humanity I am studying. I belong to the struggle because I was also a victim of it.’ [MMA: Healing in the Homeland]

In the conversation Margaret underlines the importance of historical knowledge in the decolonization process. She asserts that for Haitians and people of African descent or any indigenous people who suffered colonization, the decolonization process must begin around the Poto Mitan. That is to say, decolonization must be grounded in our historical knowledge and belief systems as African peoples and drawn from the spirit of the Haitian revolution and our ancestors knowledge. In particular she emphasizes that to reclaim one’s culture and identity through the Vodou tradition is a liberation from colonial mentality and a way to bridge the cultural gap between bourgeois and the popular masses.

‘The spirit of the Haitian Revolution was based on African and Taíno philosophy and ideology, a tradition of ancestral remembrance, a connection to nature, reparation of past wrongs and the fundamental principle of equality and justice for all through collaborative effort and consensus-based problem solving ….

‘Indeed the Haitian Vodou tradition is the cohesive force of the African Haitian revolution, the rallying point of resistance against colonial ideology continues to be the Poto Mitan of Haitian identity, which is the fulcrum of this study.’ [MMA - Healing in the Homeland]

 

The Haitian Vodou tradition began on the Atlantic crossings of enslaved Africans. On reaching Haiti, the enslaved men, women and children from across west and central Africa shared their belief systems, knowledge of the spirit world and rituals, with those of the indigenous Taíno peoples of Ayiti.

An awareness of the origins and the centrality of Vodou and Kreyol to Haitian identity formation, enables us to understand why both have been maligned and desecrated by Europeans from the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade. The colonizers and plantation owners realized very quickly that Vodou Tradition was critical to freedom and from then until now, they have never ceased in attempts to destroy the essence of Haitian culture.

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SOKARI EKINE: You have been a Manbo for over 25 years, why did it take so long before you had the idea to write this book and what kind of challenges did you face?

MARGARET MITCHELL ARMAND: It was never an idea to write a book. You know I am a Manbo, I initiated but it was not easy because the society I’m in was not supportive. Vodou was not part of my childhood experience but my grandmother and great grandmother were both Manbos. As young adult I had little to say about being Haitian and I felt diminished because of this. So I returned to Haiti and with the support of Ati [url=https://vimeo.com/64228572Max Beauvoir[/url] as my spiritual father, I was initiated in the Peristyle of Mariani in Haiti. I am an avid learner and when I decided to get my Ph.D, I knew that my dissertation would be something that has deep meaning to me. One day, a colleague came to visit who had just finished her PhD and I said to her ‘oh I cannot do this, I cannot do the qualitative work, I am stuck’. She said to me ‘Margaret, don’t you have Vèvè, don’t you have Lwas, Don’t you have Vodou ceremony? I said ‘yes I do’ [Laughs] ‘Then do it!
SE: In terms of the structure of both your poetry and ‘Healing in the Homeland’, you choose to use the Vèvè and Lwa’s as a way of introducing the chapters. Why did you do this and what is the importance of the Vèvè ?

MMA: Vodou is about life itself in its many forms. It is also about art, music, and dance. Vèvès are everywhere, they are part of our spiritual, artistic and cultural expression, and also they are found in other indigenous communities. There they are called in terms of that culture. They are also used to depict the design and energy that you want to connect with. Just like in other religious beliefs systems. A Vèvè could be the design of a business card, it could be the symbol of a belief, so we cannot pin point the Vèvè.

The Vèvè has a spiritual element to it if one wishes. The design of the Vèvè varies according to the Lakou,[2] or the Peristyle; it has a structure but within that, it is flexible. It is an evolving process and we can create our own vèvès just like I have done with my business cards.

SE: You include in ‘Healing in the Homeland’ a series of participatory interviews with formally educated Haitians who have decolonized themselves through embracing Vodou. Each interviewee takes the name of a Lwa also depicted with their Vèvè, to represent themselves? Whose idea was this and why?

MMA: During the interviews, as part of the reclaiming of identity process, it seemed fitting that the interviewee chose a name for themselves and they chose a Lwa name. For others, I picked a name that would fit their personality.

SE: And that is what gives the book character, you are talking about Haiti, talking about Vodou, culture and language and you frame it all within the Vèvè, the Lwa and the Poto Mitan. One question we have discussed before is the chapter ‘Decolonizing the Poto Mitan’. How is the Poto Mitan the sight of decolonization, of Haitian decolonization in particular and even beyond that because you can take the idea of the Poto Mitan as the central force, of our very essence as [Black] people?

MMA: The Poto Mitan is the seed that grows into the tree of knowledge, that is the tree of Loko Atisou.[3] It is our seed, so when the seed comes up as Poto, the tree is our Poto Mitan in nature. This is our communication where the energy of a Lwa comes to communicate with us. It is under the Poto Mitan that we draw the Vèvè to say which spiritual energy [Lwa] we want with us. It is around the Poto Mitan that we find our peace and we can learn about our ancestors and our stories are told, and we pray, we dance we sing, we communicate with our Lwas. Here we are no longer colonized, that is why it is the place of decolonization.

Anything can be a Poto Mitan; in my Lakou, a mango tree or palm tree. When you put your ear to the palm tree you can hear the energy so its our connection to nature, to the energy and with spirits and our respect for nature. Around the Poto Mitan even from the time of the Taínos, it is here that we sit, we discuss and make plans. Its a collaborative consensus thing. And that is why I say it is a place of decolonization because this is the place of our truth.

SE: Our senses become numb when you live in certain environments not necessarily the west but in Haiti too. One of the things I learned from your work is the need to be aware and not to fear because then you are unable to feel or see.

MMA: Yes, you have to be aware that we have ancestors and we have some energy around us, you don’t have to see it, you have to feel it and have that sense but you have to work on this by being more observant. You have to accept it and trust it.

SE: From the interviews it is clear that many of the Haitian elite who become Vodouizan do so as a way of reclaiming their Haitian identity which is part of the decolonizing process. For example Marinèt Bwa Chèch [one of the interviewees] life struggle was a struggle to be Haitian and like many elite, her decolonizing journey began by discovering a hidden family history of Vodou practice.

‘Ah it felt good. I felt good to know that I had a Manbo and Hougan in the ancestral family. ….then I wanted to give myself a Haitian Lwa name. Give myself a name that could link me directly, not only to the Haitian Vodou religion but put me right there in it. Therefore I gave myself the name of a Lwa, you know Ezili Freda and Danto and Dahomey…’

Out of all the interviews which was your favorite?

MMA: I respected all their stories because they are all powerful. However, I admire a lot Grann Ayizan Velekete. [Standing Tall] She has moved to the world of the ancestors, I miss her, but she has done so much work and I identify with her in so many ways. It was a hard time, she had the whole society against her, she went to the countryside, to the Manbo’s house. Even today her family refuses to admit that she said these things but its all on tape, thats her voice. So Grann Ayizan to me was a fighter.

SE: She was my favorite too. She had so much to fight against because she went against the grain of her social class and because she was a woman too. I wonder why she chose Grann Ayizan?

MMA: Her strength was obvious. Whenever I asked her how is she doing she would reply “I’m still standing tall”! And the tree for Grann Ayizan is the royal palm and the royal palm always stands tall. It is also the palm in the Haitian flag.

SE: Grann Ayizan along with the other interviewees is a descendent of Affranchi which is a pejorative term used for the bourgeoisie. Could you explain the concept and the relationship of Affranchi with class in Haiti?

MMA: The Haitian elite do not like the word; they like to think they are French. Affranchi is not based on color, it is social status from pre-independence, someone of African descent who paid for his freedom. This is why in the book I did not use race as a variable because everyone is Black [Dessalines declared every Haitian to be Black]. I remember when I asked my aunt to tell me the story of our family, I said I know we were Affranchi. She got upset with me and did not want to talk about it because the Affranchi suffered a lot too. They were caught between two worlds and penalized by both. The affranchi were abused. They were used as prostitutes, humiliated, beaten.

They were eager to have families but seeing the Black families so denigrated they wanted to be like the white family. The Affranchi and the ‘mulatto’ had huge psychological problems. Petion [Alexander Petion] went to find his father who said “who are you”? But then when he ruled Haiti, he was just as bad as his [white] father. So being an Affranchi came with suffering but at the same time you had the space to survive, make money and have status.

My poetry is a reflection of the journey of my soul in particular time and space that brings magic to my life. It is often thought-provoking as it interrogates, shares, brings into perspective, writes back, questions, talkback, defends, speaks out, brings close, teaches, shows gratitude, understands, nurtures, remembers, dreams, honors, gives hope, cherishes and above all Heal and LOVE. It is a medium through which the creative energies of ancestral legacies flow in their relentlessness to provide immense satisfaction while transforming what I feel to a clearly defined outcome. The poems coalesce with the sacred arts of the Vèvè that offer the testimony of spiritual powers’. [Margaret Mitchell Armand - Finding Ezili]

SE: All your work is extremely personal and your poetry too; it is a self-exploration and very touching as you write about the loss of your son and the loss of your parents but you also celebrate them. So there is grief but also joy of life. How has your work as a writer, poet and artist impacted on your life as a Haitian American?

MMA – My poetry is personal. It is about celebrating life – love, joy and grief. Being an immigrant, coming to a different country I felt free because in Haiti then we were persecuted by the Haitian Government. Becoming an immigrant was an opportunity because in Haiti at that time there were limited opportunities in terms of higher education. I was glad to be in America and was able to adjust very fast. Then I realized also it was not as easy because of racial tensions. But when my culture and Haitian Vodou was attacked, I saw the ignorance and I wanted to change it but first I had to accept who I was and learn about Haitian Vodou and decolonize myself as well.

Many family members and friends showed their displeasure about me becoming a Manbo while introducing my children to Vodou. I did not care, I listen to the energies of the Lwas and I began to write poetry. So when I work it is the energy that talks to me. I don’t sit down and say I’m going to write a poem today. I just follow my instinct. As an example I miss my son who passed away and one day I saw some flowers that he loved and I wrote the poem. I feel something and I write it, these are my healing processes. I do not think of myself so much as Haitian American or American or Haitian. I just feel that where I am is where I need to be in this world. So I write, I dance, I paint
SE: In 1999 you traveled to West Africa. Why did you go, why was it important?

MMA: I wanted to make that connection so I travelled to West Africa. Afterward I did my DNA with African ancestry to find my roots to a specific area where my ancestors lived. The DNA revealed that I am connected to the Yoruba people [this is the Kingdom Nago / the Oyo Kingdom, during the time and prior to slavery,] and the Hausa and Bamileke people from Cameroon which was South Kongo prior and during the slave trade. This knowledge is found in the Vodou songs. I travelled to Benin in 1999 and to Senegal, Ghana Ivory Coast and to Cameroon in 2010. These are the most memorable places for me. I am grounded. I am Free.

 

‘Transformation is only valid if it is carried out with the people, not for them. Liberation is like childbirth and a painful one. The person who emerges is a new person: no longer either oppressed or oppressor, but a person in the process of achieving freedom’. Paulo Freire [MMA - Healing in the Homeland]

END NOTES

[1] Grann Ayizan – a powerful Lwa who cares about the weak and the unprotected and establishes order and peace.

[2] Lakou – a compound of traditional extended family and spiritual living

[3] Loko Atisou – the Lwa represented as the tree of knowledge of the Vodou tradition.

 

ADDITIONAL READING:

Margaret Mitchell Armand – http://www.margaretmitchellarmand.com

 

An intimate portrait of Somalian trans-woman

 

From Inkanyiso.- An intimate portrait of Somalian trans-woman by Abdi Osman


Labeeb is an intimate portrait of Sumaya, a Somali trans-woman.
The project consists of large-scale colour photographs, and a double-projection video. Some of the photographs are studio portraits where Sumaya sat for the artist; others depict Sumaya in her daily life. One video also documents aspects of her daily life, while the other portrays Sumaya performing a Somali ritual usually reserved for women. This practice is one that Somali women undertake when preparing for a special occasion or ceremony. The practice itself is a hybrid: traditional and religious. The double projection is meant to add texture and complexity to Osman’s attempt to engage with questions of gender, sexuality, and culture. The videos speak to the hybrid cultural expressions of Sumaya and other persons like her.
These images place African-born trans-people directly within the traditions of their African/black cultural heritage.

While posing questions concerning gender, culture, and religion, the videos examine how the body can move into new states of being. They are themselves “trans-ing” practices, crossing the traditional with the new all-in-one body. This work pushes back against claims made by some African leaders that there are no African queers in their countries.

Osman’s work puts African/black trans-people on record. It questions how we understand the various roles bodies play or perform, and which bodies or genders are understood to perform them—in particular, assumptions we make about female, black, queer, and trans bodies.

 

 

 

About the photographer, Abdi

Abdi Osman is a Somali-Canadian multidisplinary artist whose work focuses on questions of black masculinity as it intersects with Muslim and queer identities.

Osman’s video and photography work has been shown in Canada and internationally in both group and solo exhibitions. He holds an MFA in Documentary Media from Ryerson University, and B.A. in African Studies from the University of Toronto.

Previous work has been supported by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. His photographs are also in private collections and the Art Bank of the Canada Council for the Arts. Some of his work was in the year-long group show DiaporaArt: Strategy and Seduction by Canadian Artists from Culturally Diverse Communities at Rideau Hall.

Abdi was a 2010 artist-in-resident at the McColl Centre for Visual Arts in Charlotte North Carolina. Most recently in 2012, he was a fellow at The Interdisciplinary Center for Culture and Creativity (ICCC) at the University of Saskatchewan.

 

 

 

Mr Loverman – portrayal of a gay, British-Caribbean late bloomer

 

Review of Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Mr. Loverman’ by Diriye Osman

James Baldwin once stated that “love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” This is a sentiment that applies equally to anyone who has ever experienced a profound sense of difference, a secret identity that is both a source of comfort and corrosion.

One of the many challenges with settling for “living in Narnia” — the closet — is that it invalidates half of your existence without you realizing that you have consented to such a huge degree of self-erasure; and what is left is a half-life teeming with anxiety, paranoia, shame and fear. This is where the love that Baldwin discusses so eloquently retains both its balm-like and burning qualities.

Stepping out into the sun requires strength. Although the majority of us who do come out of the closet increasingly do so at a younger age there are also those late-bloomers, those beautiful, older LGBT men and women who have spent a lifetime with one foot in the shadows and the other in a state of strenuously cultivated emotional paralysis, a seemingly sunlit space peopled with straight spouses, children and grandchildren.

This concept of double-identities, of secrets and consequences, forms the crux of British novelist and poet Bernardine Evaristo’s latest work of fiction, Mr. Loverman, a dazzling, gorgeously textured portrayal of a gay, British-Caribbean late bloomer and his infectious zest for life, language and love. In fact, one of the most remarkable feats of the novel is show how a septuagenarian can possess the kind of sizzle and sexual passion that would make most millennials look like poor relations of Mary Poppins.

The septuagenarian in question is Barrington Jedidiah Walker Esq, an Antiguan-born dandy based for decades in East London, who’s deeply in love with his childhood sweetheart, Morris Courtney de la Roux. The caveat is that Barrington is married to Carmel, his wife of 50 years. Carmel suspects that Barrington, or Barry as he’s also known, is having an affair, but assumes it to be with a woman. What Evaristo does so well is not only depict the strain that Barrington’s justifiable deception places on his marriage but she also deepens the narrative to include Carmel’s side of the story. One uses the term “justifiable” deception entirely accurately here. Homosexuality is still illegal in most parts of the Caribbean and Antigua is no exception. As evinced by the attitudes of Barrington’s grandson, Daniel, this stigma has seeped from generation to generation, from one continent to the next, creating a virulent animus against gay relationships within Britain’s collective black community, and the consequence of coming out of the closet is immediate rejection or violence.

So if Barrington’s deception can be considered justifiable — even for a minute — what about Carmel’s reality? A 50-year marriage is a lifetime’s investment, and Evaristo depicts Carmel’s disappointments with earth-deep empathy, showing us her vibrant youth, her pursuit of spiritual sustenance through the Church, and her struggle with post-natal depression. It is a beautiful, touching portrait of a woman pushed to the edge of her parameters. There is no victimhood here, and that sentiment extends to Barrington’s circumstances as well. The plot fizzes in a way that enables Barrington to confront his fears and face up to the truth of his “down-low” lifestyle with results that are poignant and cathartic in equal measure.

It must be noted that by writing directly in the voice of an older, gay Caribbean man, Bernardine Evaristo, who’s British-Nigerian and a woman, has executed an extraordinary act of ventriloquism that crosses gender boundaries as well as racial, cultural, sexual and linguistic differences. The fact that she accomplishes all of this with lyricism, authenticity and compassion is not only an act of bravery and confidence but a testament to her virtuosic capabilities as a writer. If the novelist’s job is to make sense of the world, Bernardine Evaristo’s entire oeuvre attests to her desire to upend preconceived notions of what is and isn’t impossible and reflect that mirror right back at her readers. Mr. Loverman is a powerful, morally rigorous and joyful novel and Bernardine Evaristo is a writer at the height of her imaginative powers.

Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo is published by Akashic Books. You can purchase the book here.

Interview with Dorothea Smartt, Brit born Bajan literary activist, live artist & poet

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Dorothea Smartt is a literary activist, live artist, and an established and respected poet with an international reputation. Born and raised in London she is of Barbadian heritage. Described as a ‘Brit-born Bajan international’, her work typically bridges the islands of Britain and Barbados, effortlessly shuttling between local and global scenes as it weaves a diasporic web. With two full collections, Connecting Medium and Ship Shape [Peepal Tree Press] her twenty years of experience, includes been engaged by the British Council and travelling to Bahrain, South Africa, Egypt, and Hungary. In 2013 she was keynote speaker at the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award, the premier literary award in Barbados. She is an honorary team member and advisor to Cambridge University’s Caribbean Poetry Project. She is Co-Director of Inscribe, a national writer development programme, Associate Poetry Editor of “Sable Litmag” and guest co-editor of their LGBTQI issues, and an Advisory editor to “Scarf”, a global arts & literature magazine. In her forthcoming third collection she continues to rework standard narratives, this time examining same-sex relationships and cross-gender experiences as push-pull factors behind ‘West Indian’ émigré workers on the Panama Canal.

In this interview, Dorothea underlines her relationship to her Bajan voice as a critical medium for her poetry. She reflects on her South London birth and upbringing in a Bajan household and the process of finding her voice and creating her place in the world as a Black girl in Britain. In the course of discussing her depiction of specifically located characters and their particular voices within her poetry collections, she repurposes historical and mythological figures, from Medusa to “Samboo” whom she renames Bilal. She engages us in her practice of historical “healing, restitution, recovery, re-membering and re-calling” in the excavation of overlooked and erased voices in past and present contexts. Her philosophy as a cultural practitioner is revealed through her treatment of cultural narratives as they impact individual and collective memory and consciousness, and implicate themselves in geographical landscapes. Her work re-inscribes a gendered, multiply located, lived and mythologized individual, familial and collective healing space.

She concludes by reading the introductory poem to her latest publication, “Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings-On”, which was launched in Barbados at the Bim LitFest held on May 15-17, 2014.

Kagendo Murungi is a Kenyan writer, video producer and activist with a background in international sexual and gender rights advocacy. Her writing has been featured in the Queer African Reader (2013), Kwani? 07 (2012), United Nations Days of Vesak/International Association of Buddhist Universities Conference Journal (2012), Yellow Medicine Review (2011/2010) Sing Whisper Shout Pray: Feminist Visions for A Just World (2002), Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature & Art (2002) and a range of other publications and multimedia productions.

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Nigeria: Chibok, A Living Nightmare, Find our Daughters

Relatives of Kidnapped Girls [Source: TheGuardian.com]
Relatives of Kidnapped Girls [Source: TheGuardian.com]
 Women across Nigeria are protesting the abduction of 234 schoolgirls from Chibok, in north east Nigeria, which took place on Monday April
the 14th. Starting from Wednesday the 30th of April, protests and rallies are planned in Abuja, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Kano, Lagos, Kaduna,
Benin.

A Living Nightmare, Find our Daughters – Statement by Women of Peace And Justice

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Since Monday 14th April 2014 when over 200 young female students from the Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno State were abducted by heavily armed men, millions around the world have been unable to come to terms with the loss and the implications of this loss. Today, millions of Nigerian women and men call on the Federal Government and the security agencies to find and bring back these girls currently living in captivity.

These young girls are daughters, sisters, nieces; tomorrow’s women and mothers. Those directly affected grieve, and we as Nigerians and human beings, join them in their anguish and distress. We want them back. Safe in their homes where they belong.

The trend of conflicting information about the exact number of girls who are still missing and even the operations are regrettable. The fact that as yet, no credible claim of responsibility for the abduction of these girls has been made is equally disturbing. This makes it an imperative for all Nigerians to amplify and demand of those with the responsibility for the safety of all Nigerians to ACT and CONSTRUCTIVELY engage to find and return these girls to their parents.

As citizens it is our right and responsibility to ask the following questions which have been on the lips and on the minds of millions around the world. This is even as we wait, with baited breath, to be informed about the fate of these young girls whose only crime is striving for an education:

How is it possible in the age of drones, Google Maps, and aerial surveillance that over 200 girls will vanish without a trace? Is this suggestive of the weaknesses of security operations covering soft targets such as schools even after clear indications of their vulnerability?
Why was protection for our children in schools in the N.E not intensified even after the devastation and pain of the 59 innocent children murdered in FGC Buni Yadi on February 25 2014?
How is it that security is not upgraded around institutions even when warnings of potential threat or imminent aggressions are issued? The warning after Buni Yadi that girls would be targeted or that Giwa Baracks in Madiguri are two cases in point.
What is the rational explanation that in a location (Borno State) under a state of emergency; 4 trucks and numerous motor bikes can deploy, move in convoy, unleash terror on the school at Chibok and then flee with over 200 girls to a location yet to be determined by Nigeria’s security institutions?
Where are or what has happened to the much mentioned assistance to the Federal Government or collaboration with friendly governments ?
Why, despite the massive increase in security spending, (up to N1trillion in 2013 and N845 Billion in 2014), are Nigerians not safer; while our security and military personnel are said to be under equipped and ill prepared to face the ever growing security challenges confronting Nigeria?
What support plans are being made to cater for the emotional needs and management of the trauma the parents of these girls must be going through?
The Chibok incidence is CRITICAL as well as a stark reality of the vulnerability of all Nigerians but most especially innocent children seeking to actualize their right to education towards a potential improvement of quality life. There is a need to scale up security efforts and sustain vigilance until ALL the girls are found. They cannot be abandoned and all Nigerians must share in their agony and in the anguish of their immediate families. The media must step up its act especially in reporting and constructive investigative journalism.

We recognize the complexities and dangers in security and military operations, however it is our firm belief that these institutions hold in high esteem the value of Nigerian lives as well our sovereignty being their primary mandate. The reading from Chibok is WE, ALL, including the military and security personnel are at great RISK of being consumed by the aggression of those in ambush of our peace and prosperity. Extra measures that remain within the legal limits of operations and counter insurgency/terrorism must be employed. Citizens must remain vigilant and supportive of the institutions of security at all times.

We speak out today and will do so every day until these girls are ALL accounted for. As mothers, fathers and siblings we call for the urgent and complete end to the politicization of the insecurity in Nigeria. OUR pain and solution are collective.

Updates on twitter at #BringBackOur Girls and #FreeOurGirls

Interview with Haitian historian Bayyinah Bello

Bayyinah Bello with Professor Leonard Jeffries
Bayyinah Bello with Professor Leonard Jeffries

Bayyinah Bello first traveled to Africa at the age of 12 to join her father in Liberia. She later returned as an adult first to Nigeria where she lived for four years and later to Benin, Togo and other countries in the region. In total she spent 15 years living on the continent. In retrospect, her journey was a circular one in search of Ayiti and it’s indigious belief system, Vodou. Bayyinah discusses her experience and research into religions beginning with Islam, Hinduism and later African belief systems including Vodou as practiced in the Kingdom of Dahomey [now Benin]. She is founder of Fondasyon Felicite, named after the wife of revolutionary hero Jean Jacques Desslaines, Marie Claire Heureuse Felicite Bonheur Dessalines, The foundation is part of Bayyinah’s insistence that to ” knowing is doing” or to know is to do. In this case to know the true history of Ayiti beginning before colonization, before slavery, before the indigenous Taino peope were wiped out by the occupaying forces of Europe, up to the present post 2010 earthquake and invasion of new colonizers in the form of NGOs and missionaries. For Bayyinah, Ayiti’s future is bound with the past, a past born in Africa and lived through African belief systems and not those used to colonize our minds.

Haiti: Collateral Alibis – NGO Watch

Last year I was alerted to the website Turning World @Turning_world by some friends here in Haiti. The site is run by photojournalist Brad Workman who has an ongoing photo documentary project in Haiti. We took issue with the language, his profitmaking approach, and the fact that there is no acknowledgement let alone giving back to those whose lives he invades under the guise of social documentary. I wrote a post on this that asked the question: Photo Journalism or Poverty Porn?

In a similar vein, many of us are now questioning the website content of the Foundation for International Development Assistance – Productive Cooperatives Haiti (FIDA-PCH), a Canadian NGO operating in Haiti which purports to have set up a number of agricultural cooperatives and literacy projects in rural areas. Below are a set of photographs  and text , defining what they, the colonial missionaries, imagine it means to be Haitian.

There are different ways to tell a story without invading peoples’ lives and assaulting their dignity. The photos chosen by Haiti’s Camp Acra residents on their blog should be a lesson on how Haitians see themselves – see here and here. In the 1805 Constitution written by the first President of the Black Republic, victorious revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines (also called JanJak Desalin), declared that to be Haitian is to be Black (Article 14). In other words, being Haitian and being African are one and the same –inseparable. The Constitutions also states freedom of worship and no religion shall dominate.

With this in mind, consider the Western colonial narrative that writes Haiti as “the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere” composed of suffering, dysfunctional victims, both pathetic and resilient at the same time, lacking autonomy, waiting desperately for “white saviors” to arrive. And so they arrive, with the bible in one hand and stale bread in the other, to live like masters on the plantation in charge of childlike natives whose savage proclivities must be held in check. In their heads, like all previous colonizers, they need justification that goes beyond the practical. In the case of FIDA-PCH, this justification can be found in their photos and text.

This is important as in order for colonialism to function—and let’s be clear, FIDA-PCH and others like them are colonizers—its targets have to be written as passive, incapable, simple and in need of salvation. This pathologizing is necessary to recruit funds and gain acceptance in the home countries of the NGOs and missions. It is also necessary to create this narrative within Haiti to enable domination and recruitment into these fundamentalists groups.

FIDA-PCH and those like them come to Haiti and view the Haitian culture as inferior, and the Haitians as uncivilized. They assume Haitians need to be taught farming and the Western way of life, which of course is not supposed to include Vodou or any African religion that survived the Middle Passage. The country which is the most African of all the Diaspora is, in one slash of the white supremacist machete, disconnected from her ancestral roots. Haiti is presented in the most insidious racist terms, as inherently barbaric, and Haitians as inherently hateful of each other.

Like most NGOs and missionaries, FIDA-PCH’s presentation has no understanding that KREYÒL along with Vodou are the Poto Mitan* (Center Post) of Haitian culture – the latter a permanent historical presence whether practiced or not. The devaluation of Vodou throughout Haiti’s history is the one constant that can be found amongst the vast majority of foreign NGOs, missions and western media that shapes the views of the many who come to “help” Haiti.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that despite all the foreign interventions, the Poto Mitan has never been colonized!  Instead of Haiti written as victims who hate sections of the population such as LGBTIQ people, Vodou writes Haiti as a continuing revolution and one where the core principle is an assumption that I am a living being and it is here that my merit lies.

There is so much violence and destructiveness in the FIDA-PCH text, photos and the actions that must stem from this mindset, and contrary to what they state, it is this which leads to the breakdown of traditions and causes much friction between groups. FIDA-PCH believes that Haitians, and therefore Black people, Africans, have no sense of community or agency.

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Colonialism, imperialism, the ongoing exploitation and genocidal legacy of AmerEuropeans is dismissed. The enslaved and exploited are the ones judged and blamed. But the truth lies elsewhere. At the beginning of the revolution in 1791, the enslaved peoples of Haiti were united in purpose, language and belief systems; overthrowing plantation slavery could not have happened otherwise.

The text accompanying the photo below is particularly vile.

screenshot343-300x181What really happened was quite the contrary.

FIDA-PCH: “She was born into a culture yet to wash its self-esteem of the stains of slavery.”

NO: Haiti “washed” itself clean of the “stains of slavery” when Dessalines led an army of formerly enslaved Africans and beat back the British, French and Spanish to form the first Black Republic – a communal act of courage and bravery referred to as “the first great social revolution in the hemisphere.”

FIDA-PCH: “She remembers that her own tribal chief sold her family into slavery.”

NO: She remember that YOUR ANCESTORS sold her into slavery, transported her chained hand and foot in the bowels of hell, and then proceeded to torture, rape and use her as a beast of burden and dog bait!

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In the above photo, the text claims “he [the Haitian] is acted upon. He turns passive. He resigns. Responsibility seems to him to belong to everybody else.” This is the exact scenario of power and control being created by NGOs, particularly those with Christian agendas and evangelical missions that seek to erase Haitian culture and demonize Vodou. These attacks   have been on the increase since 2003 when President Aristide decreed Vodou as a national religion and “an essential part of national identity.

The first proverb misrepresented on the FIDA-PCH website states, Depi nan Ginen neg pa vle we neg, which they translate as “Back in Guinee and ever since, Africans have no use for Africans.”

The correct spelling is: Depi nan Ginen nèg pa vle wè. It is clear they simply do not understand that the essence of a proverb is in its coded meaning. But we cannot simply dismiss this as an error. We must look at the intent, which is so twisted with toxic consequences. What we see is the inability to imagine that Africans/Haitians use language to express satire, irony, double meanings and a philosophical worldview and existential condition.

The correct translation is: Since Ginen, people don’t want to see people: Since coming from Guinea, the spiritual and ancestral homeland, people don’t want to see people. “Nèg” definitely does NOT stand for Africans; the Kreyol word for African is “Afriken.” The translation of “having no use” is invalid, as wè is to see. “People” and its literal meaning is “Negro,” but in Haiti “Negro” is also used for people that don’t have African ancestry. There is also ti nèg: ti means little and refers to a common person, for example a laborer or peasant;  and gwo nèg, which refers to a rich and influential member of society or a person from the elite class. Not connected to ancestry or ethnicity.

One has to understand that after Haiti’s revolution, Dessalines said that there were only two types of people: blacks, which included all people of non-African ancestry that sided with the freedom fighters against oppression and slavery, and whites, which were all those on the opposing end. This meant, for example, that Polish settlers in Haiti who defected from the colonial troops to side with Dessalines and stay in Haiti were considered as blacks. In so doing, Dessalines made all Haitians equal, and therefore of the three revolutions of the time—French, US and Haitian—Haiti was the only country to live up to the ideal of equality and of freedom. Black for Dessalines was less a racial identifier and more about consciousness and a conscious awareness of justice against the global white supremacist structure of oppression.

The second proverb FIDA-PCH misrepresents is Abitan pa janm konnen, which they translate as, “He pretends he knows nothing even when he knows.” They interpret this revisionist lie as, “a fitting statement of Haiti’s scarred history.” Again agency is removed, history is erased, identity is rendered invisible, and we are presented with a cowering Haitian hiding from their words, life, community.

The correct translation is: The peasants never know. The meaning of which is: the opinion of the poor, the common people, is never sought nor consulted. This is in stark contrast to the meaning given on the website. FIDA-PCH’s Haiti is one full of mistrust, slavish dependency and self-hate whilst they present themselves as the savior in bringing to Haiti a cooperative environment where Haitians are TAUGHT to share and work together.

FIDA-PCH completely undermines indigenous social systems such as the concept of community, helping and trusting others and family in the Lakou system of shared agricultural and living compounds, and the Konbit, a get-together in which everyone donates their labor to help accomplish a common goal for community improvement, or to help out an individual. There are many Haitian proverbs that stress community and mutual help. The often cited Men anpil chaj pa lou, Many hands lighten the load, means things are easier to accomplish when a group works together. So here again you have a proverb that is in stark contrast to the reframing of Haitian cultural identity given on the FIDA-PCH website.

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NGOs, missions and assorted visitors have had free reign in Haiti for too long. There are no visa requirements and no questions asked, no accountability to the public. Their profits are hidden and they can make whatever spurious claims about projects they run, the people they work with or have met. Agricultural projects in particular have a habit of making claims that do not exist in reality. Often they operate using questionable labour practices, in addition to forcing workers and their families to abandon their indigenous belief systems for Christianity in return for food and shelter. This culture of entitlement and ownership of Haiti’s future became entrenched following the January 2010 earthquake when NGOs and so-called humanitarian organisations felt they were beyond accountability, and fundamentalist attacks on the Haitian identity by evangelicals from the United States escalated.

Haiti, Africa and other parts of the African Diaspora are under attack from self-appointed white saviors and religious fundamentalists. The miracle is that the Haitian people have been able to survive at all. The voices of Haitians are no more than what filmmaker Raoul Peck describes in his film “Fatal Assistance” as “collateral alibis.” The outcome of 500 years of the EuroAmerican cultural tradition is one of genocide of indigenous peoples and the genocide of our minds.

We reject this in all its entirety and demand it STOP NOW!

We demand that all the photos and text on the FIDA website are removed and the proverbs replaced with the correct translations.

We are watching!

Written in collaboration with the following organizations and individuals :

Chanjem Leson,

Coalition Pour Humaniser Les Actions Aux Logements (CHAL),

Alyssa  Eisenberg @alyssa011968,

Dominique Esser @dominique_e_,

Stephanie Horton @ducorwriter,

 

* References for the Poto Mitan:

It is the centerpost around which rituals and ceremonies unfold in a Vodou temple.  It represents a great tree which reaches into the heavens, and through it’s roots, it grows deep into Africa, “Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English” edited by Benjamin Hebblethwaite]

Resisting  Freedom in “Invisible Powers: Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture” edited by Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith.

The Week on Sunday (weekly)

  • Junot Díaz reads Edwidge Danticat’s “Water Child” and discusses it with The New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman.

    tags: Fiction GoodReads Literature Haiti Edwidge_Danticat JunotDiaz

  • “Part of what makes Simphiwe Dana so compelling for me, part of why I had to write this book, is that she is almost impossible to govern,” writes Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola in her latest book, A renegade called Simphiwe. This book is a “creative-intellectual portrait” of the public (and private) life of the musician. In this country where our imagination of political liberation has largely focused on the soap-opera like manoeuvres of politicians, Gqola carefully recasts our eyes by showing us the intersection between the creative and the political. While we have been accustomed to colourful politically focused book titles fit for Hollywood blockbusters from Eight Days in September to Mangaung: Kings and Kingmakers, Gqola dares and goes against the grain in this book.

    tags: Literature Non-Fiction Fiction GoodReads Pumla_Gqola

  • Almost a decade has passed since Edwidge Danticat’s last work of book-length fiction, The Dew Breaker. In the meantime, she’s written a memoir (Brother, I’m Dying—National Book Critics Circle Award winner, National Book Award nominee), received a MacArthur “genius” grant, edited the Best American Essays and Haiti Noir collections, delivered a Toni Morrison Lectures series that was turned into a celebrated book (Create Dangerously), and, in successive years, received honorary degrees from Smith and Yale. She’s been so busy it’s almost easy to forget what a homecoming her new book is. After the long wait, Claire of the Sea Light has just been released by Knopf.

    tags: GoodReads Literature Fiction Non-Fiction Edwidge_Danticat

  • Díaz turns his remarkable talent to
    the haunting, impossible power of
    love – obsessive love, illicit love,
    fading love, maternal love. In prose
    that is endlessly energetic, inventive,
    tender, and funny, the stories in
    This Is How You Lose Her lay
    bare the infinite longing and inevitable
    weakness of the human heart.
    They remind us that passion always
    triumphs over experience, and that
    “the half-life of love is forever.

    tags: Literature Fiction GoodReads Non-Fiction JunotDiaz

  • “An incredibly readable and rich tapestry of Nigerian and American life, and the ways a handful of vivid characters-so vivid they feel like family-try to live in both worlds simultaneously. As she did so masterfully with Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie paints on a grand canvas, boldly and confidently, equally adept at conveying the complicated political backdrop of Lagos as she is in bringing us into the day-to-day lives of her many new Americans-a single mom, a student, a hairdresser. This is a very funny, very warm and moving intergenerational epic that confirms Adichie’s virtuosity, boundless empathy and searing social acuity.”

    tags: GoodReads Literature Reading Fiction Nigeria ChimamandaNgoziAdichie

  • Reviews of Mr Loverman

    ‘Heartbreaking, yet witty, this is a story that also needed to be told.’ Book of the Year’ – Observer

    ‘A brilliant study of great characters in modern London. As such – as Mr Barrington Walker Esq himself might have acknowledged – it is very clever indeed.’ – Independent on Sunday

    ‘Fear and loathing of homosexuals has a long history in the West Indies….Bernardine Evaristo, in her funny, brave new novel, Mr Loverman …explores issues of homosexuality in the British West Indies and London’s West Indian diaspora community… I loved Mr Loverman…this tender, even trailblazing novel. – The Spectator

    tags: GoodReads Literature London Fiction Non-Fiction Reading BernardineEvaristo

  • Diriye Osman is the acclaimed author of Fairytales For Lost Children, a collection of stories that takes an intimate, passionate look at the lives of gay and lesbian Somalis living in the beach towns of Somalia, the suburbs of Kenya and the streets of South London.

    In an intimate evening of storytelling badassery, Diriye brings his trademark slangy style to Wanstead Library, London, to celebrate LGBT History Month. He’ll be performing extracts from Fairytales For Lost Children as well as signing copies of his book. As a special part of the LGBT History Month celebrations, Diriye will also give an exclusive performance of an exquisite, unpublished new story called I Once Belonged To The Sea, which will form part of his second collection-in-progress The Shape Of Purity.

    tags: GoodReads Literature Non-Fiction Fiction Reading Somalia Kenya SouthLondon DiriyeOsman

  • Soul-stirring, brain-expanding reads on intuition, love, grief, attention, education, and the meaning of life.

    tags: GoodReads Literature Reading Fiction Non-Fiction

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Week on Sunday – The Reward for Love is Death!

Very briefly -

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The December issue of Chimurenga, The Chronic is out and the $7 digital edition price is worth it if only to read two pieces.   First Nick Mwaluko’s  “XXYX AFRICA” a review of  “three new excellent works: Queer African Reader, African Sexualities: A Reader, and Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction.”  The best book review I have read, possibly ever!

LGBT Africa held two truths: you fuck, you die” How’s that for the spectacular!   African Queers woke up on Friday morning to learn that this statement was in fact too near the truth.   In Uganda the Anti-homosexuality Bill was finally passed and is  awaiting President Musoveni’s signature before becoming law.  This places it in the same status as the Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Bill which is also waiting presidential approval.  These two Bills have played havoc with the lives of  Ugandans and Nigerian Queers for some 5 years.  Just when you think they are forgotten, their ugly heads rear up and slap you back to homophobic reality.  Ugandan queers responded by sticking to their party plans a  bit like the last supper. Celebrate, share stories, eat, drink for tomorrow they might be,  as Kasha Jacqueline wrote  on Twitter,  starring in a Ugandan version of ‘Orange is the new Black’.

The death Nick speaks of comes in many forms.  Death as criminal punishment, death from loneliness, death from invisibility, death from the pain of the closet and ‘keeping safe’, ‘being normal’! But there’s another possibility,

“Maybe just maybe, a tribe is in my future if I survive this moment.  If I claim the body that holds the story to voice my song, if I taste the death-wish during illegal fucking , if I re-imagine the world behind my eyelids, recreating reality to make it mine.  Is this why some of us refuse to hide? When I live in integrity, don’t I like myself more ? Aren’t  I more alive?

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Guy Regis Jr, is a Haitian playwright, poet, filmmaker, translator who has translated  Albert Camus, and Maurice Maeterlinck into Haitian Kreyol.   Presently he is translating Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.  Haitians speak Kreyol but even though it’s  been the official language since 1987, children are still forced to learn in French.   Regis explains the development of Kreyol from a fluid language to one ‘rendered uniform’, codified and recognised and importantly some educators are now teaching in Kreyol.     Regis makes two interesting points.  First contrary to popular opinion, Kreyol and French differ significantly. The syntax is different and Kreyol is  drawn from other languages including Taino, various African languages and Spanish.   The second point is on the art of translation.    To translate you have to ‘reach the heart’ of the text so for example  the opening sentence of Camus’, The Stranger  is ‘Today maman died’ .   The obvious Kreyol would be  “Jodi a Manman m mouri”.  However a more simple and unemotional interpretation and closer to the French original is  “Manman, m mouri Jodi a”.

Over the past 10 months I’ve been teaching  ‘African Literature’ to a small group of  students.  The biggest frustration voiced by the students is the unavailability of any African writers either in original French or translated  into French let alone into Kreyol.  It would be wonderful if Guy Regis would one  day take on the task of translating some African texts into Kreyol!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maleshwane Emely Radebe : Born 25.08.1977, Died 7.12.2013

While South Africa and the world were mourning the death of Madiba, a young lesbian was murdered in Ratanda, Johannesburg. Maleshwane Emely Radebe was murdered on the 7th December 2013 aged 32. She was stabbed  to death alongside her girlfriend who managed to escape and survived with stab wounds to her face, arm and thigh.  Maleshwane was buried on the 14th December.

She is Survived by her mother, 3 nieces and 2 children born by the nieces. She also has uncles, aunts, and many friends who loved her dearly.

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Continue on Inkanyiso….

The Week on Sunday (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Week on Sunday (weekly)

  • Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.

    […]

    The time for the healing of the wounds has come.
    The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
    The time to build is upon us.

    tags: Nelson_Mandela south africa Madiba apartheid

  • Thousands of creatives around the world mourn and celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela.

    tags: Nelson_Mandela Madiba South_Africa apartheid

  • In the summer of 2011, I volunteered with an organization in the U.S that sends high-school kids to Senegal to do community work, in the hopes of making a difference and experiencing something out of the norm.
    I planned on doing a lot of personal work while on location. When I wasn’t needed, I photographed people in the village of Dindefelo (south of Senegal) where we were volunteering for three weeks. After “work” was over, I headed to Dakar to do more “strobist” style, street photography and worked on different personal projects.
    It is sometimes hard to convince people that your are taking these pictures because of your love for people and places with, what I define as, true character. I’m very glad I didn’t give up and I want to thank those who agreed to let me photograph them. I made sure people in Dindefelo received copies of their portraits and I hope they enjoy looking at them. I also made a few friends in Dakar that I’m still in touch with.”

    tags: photography Senegal

  • Marta Tveit is furious about the seeming popularity of the term “Afropolitanism” in African discourses.

    “Fronting a constructed group identity such as the ‘Afropolitan’ backs-up a reductive narrative of Africa and the African, which in turn continues to be an important part of neocolonial power structures. As an individual who happens to have one parent from the African continent I am offended by being put in a group and perceived to have certain interests and affiliations because of the nationality of one of my parents.”

    tags: Afropolititan Diasora TheAfricas

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Week on Sunday (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

HIV in the Time of Cholera

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Long before 9/11 and the subsequent incarceration of hundreds of so called “terror suspects” in Guantanamo Bay, thousands of Haitian refugees fleeing the military junta in the early 1990s, were detained on the US base. Many of those were detained because they were suspected of being HIV Positive [+].

The marking of Haitians as carriers of AIDS goes back to the early 1980s when the Center for Disease Control [CDC], identified four high-risk groups, known pejoratively as the 4-H club — “homosexuals, haemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitians”.  This was the first time a disease was tied to a nationality but not the first time black bodies have been tied to racist notions of deviance and contagion and of being a threat to whiteness.  [1]

The first documented case of HIV in Haiti was from the Clinique Bon Sauveur in the Central Plateau in 1986. Within two years the clinic had introduced a programme of free testing, counselling, condoms, HIV education and prevention.  By the early 1990s 25% of admissions were related to HIV and by 1995 this had risen to 40%. Two other medical centres have been at the forefront of HIV/AIDs and TB in Haiti; the GHESKIO Centre in Port-au-Prince, a global pioneer in HIV/AIDS research and treatment, and Partners in Health, which has run an extensive preventative and treatment programme for the past 25 years.  Both must take considerable credit for the massive decrease in the HIV+ rate from 9.4% in 1993 to 1.8% in 2011, an estimated 51% of whom are women and 12% children.  Even with the disruption to treatment caused by the January 2010 earthquake the infection rate continued to decrease.

The underlying and most significant contributory factor to both the spread and death from HIV/AIDS and TB in Haiti is not lack of awareness or failure to follow medication regimes as policy officials tend to argue, but life-shortening conditions, that is the material conditions and structural violence under which people become infected.  Paul Farmer writing on Haiti describes structural violence as
……..one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way… The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people … neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.[2]

After talking to dozens of patients, nurses, doctors and health officials over the past six months, I am very much aware of the violence of poverty which impacts on people in multiple ways.    Gustave and Emile and their families are just three of millions.

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Gustav Renaud was born in Port de Paix in the north, not too far from Cap Haitian. He is 30 years old and came to PAP six months ago after falling ill. He lives with his mother, sister, brother-in-law and their three children in Camp Acra at Delmas 33. His mother, Gustave Taliette, was the first to move to PAP two years ago to look for work and was followed a few months later by her son-in-law, Jonas, and then his family; altogether they are seven. The family was given the tent by someone who moved out from the camp. This was better for them as there is no rent to pay. Since arriving Jonas has only managed to find a few weeks’ work here and there and much of the burden for feeding the family has fallen on Mdm Taliette, who occasionally finds work washing clothes in the city.

Like the dust in the camp, hunger is ever present in their lives. There is nothing to do except to sit and sit some more as the day passes into night. The day I first met Gustave he was sitting in front of his tent with his mother and some neighbours. On the ground in front of Gustave’s tent are a few very old dusty shoes and bags laid out for sale on a piece of equally old plastic. They reminded me of a piece of still-life art moulded into the ground.

We were meeting to talk about his TB. However, during the nearly two hours we sat outside his tent, he hardly coughed, although he was visibly very ill. His hair was thinned out, and he was covered in dried sores. He complained of feeling dizzy with headaches, diarrhoea, vomiting and pains in his legs. Gustav said he left his wife and two children in Port-de-Paix because she threw him out when he became sick. I found myself wondering if he was really HIV+ and possibly the TB story was a cover. Since arriving he had been to two hospitals, Petit St Luke in Tabarre and Kings Hospital in Delmas33, but he said he did not know what was wrong with him. Although the consultations were free, patients have to pay for the test results and since he had no money he could not get the results. I asked him why he thought he had TB? “Because I am coughing and I am tired, also my chest hurts.” He had been given some medication but he didn’t know what it was and anyway it was finished and this was months ago. It was difficult to really assess what was happening. I explained to him that in Haiti everyone who has TB is also tested for HIV and asked if he had had either test. He said no, he did not think so.

As we sat and talked neighbours passed by along the narrow path between the tents. Some kept walking, others stopped to listen until asked to please move on. At one point, Mdm Taliette got up and began walking away. A while later I noticed her return with a bucket of water. She then sat down on a bench in front of the adjoining tent and proceeded to undress to her underpants and bathe herself. I watched briefly as she stared straight ahead and despite the circumstances of bathing in the public glare, there remained a dignity and a defiance in her actions. I looked at the others; no one was watching. There is no privacy in the camp. No privacy to speak, not even for a 50-year-old woman to bathe. She must do so in front of her grown son, her son-in-law, neighbours and strangers like me.

Later, Mdm Tailette returned from bathing with a smile and a photo of Gustave taken about a year ago. In the photo he is a tall, 6ft. 5in heavy-set young man, far removed from the wafer-thin, balding, aged person sitting next to me.

I was concerned that Gustave might be HIV+. I asked Gustave, his mother and brother-in-law what they were going to do as clearly he needed to see a doctor quickly. They said they wanted to go to a doctor but they had no money so they had no choice but to sit and wait. No need to wait, I thought, there is Dr Coffee!

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A few weeks earlier I had gone to meet Dr Megan Coffee, an American infectious disease specialist and a truly amazing woman. She had come to Haiti a few months after the earthquake and stayed. Dr Coffee runs a TB clinic in the grounds of the Hopital l’Universite d’Etat d’Haïti [General Hospital] in downtown PAP. Her clinic consists of three permanent tents laid out on concrete under the glaring 95° degree heat. The first tent is for in-patients, who are extremely sick and near dying of TB and/or HIV+. The middle tent, which is the smallest, is a meagre office consisting of a desk with an assortment of drugs, papers, masks etc; a second desk with more assorted bits and medical files; a camp bed behind a curtain and a wardrobe. There was also a group of four Haitian nurses who are paid by the General Hospital to assist in her clinic.  She volunteers alongside the infectious disease nurse and they survive on donations, as does the clinic. Food for patients is donated by various charities. The third tent, which is really just a piece of tarpaulin giving shade, is for outpatients and family.

This is the only dedicated TB clinic in PAP. On the day of my first visit I arrived around 11am.  There were six people crowded into the small office tent and the one fan blowing hot air did little to relieve the heat. Dr Coffee hadn’t yet arrived so I took the opportunity to speak to the other volunteer, the infectious disease nurse who had been here for a few months. As we spoke she continued to work, emptying the contents of various capsules into a mortar and mixing away. I was fascinated and wondered if this was what chemists do behind pharmacy doors or was this part of the make-shift world of healthcare in Haiti? The nurse explained she was mixing the cocktail of drugs into individual dose bags to make it easier for the patients to take. The bags were for newly discharged out-patients to take home.

Soon Dr Coffee arrived in her usual outfit of long-sleeved t-shirt, overshirt and broad-rimmed hat to protect her from the glaring sun. Patients immediately surrounded her as she spoke in an impressive accented but fluent Kreyol. Eventually with a few minutes to spare she turned her attention to me and I rushed through my interview, not wanting to take time away from very sick people.

The clinic started with just three patients and now treats 800 annually. At present she has 70 bed-patients, four of whom were near death. I asked Dr Coffee what were her biggest challenges?

“Ensuring the patients take their medication. The patients have their own challenges such as food and surviving so I have to stress the pill is their life… missing it will lead to death.”

TB patients burn excessive calories and they need a great deal of food but at the same time they don’t feel the need to eat. Even when they are eating they are still thin. This is additionally problematic when people are hungry and those coming to Dr Coffee’s free clinic are the very poor. One positive system she has managed to create is a “buddy” system where cured patients give back by returning to support sick patients. This could be by helping to exercise patients, helping to feed them or just keeping up their spirits.

Another problem is due to the poor material conditions under which patients live; they wait until they are really ill before attending the clinic, thereby reducing their chances of full recovery.
The majority of sick people I have met over the past six months have been ill for weeks or months before they went to a clinic and often pregnant women will only attend the hospital after they have gone into labour. Even when hospitals are free people are still reluctant to go for fear of being presented with a bill they cannot pay.

I told Gustave and his family about Dr Coffee. I explained she was a TB specialist and all the treatment would be 100% free. All they had to do was to get to the hospital by 10am and she would see them. I explained that he would have a TB and HIV test and then wait and see what happens. Everyone was happy with the suggestion and we said our goodbyes. The next day I learned that Gustave and Jonas had gone to the clinic but were unable to register. I frantically tweeted direct messages to Dr Coffee who responded saying they must return immediately.

This time I decided to go with them. We all met at the hospital and Gustave registered, saw Dr Coffee and had his tests.  It took a few more visits but finally he received the news that he was HIV+ but did not have TB. Now he has transferred from Dr Coffee’s clinic to the Hopital l’Universite d’Etat d’Haïti as an HIV+ patient. At one point he was going to the hospital a couple of times a week. Attending the hospital has been extremely difficult for Gustave. He is weak from the illness which is exacerbated by food insecurity and poor diet. It takes two buses to get to the hospital which costs 100 gds which is 100 less to spend on food for the family. The choice often becomes either the hospital or food to eat. One day he was so weak he collapsed on the street and Jonas had to carry him by motorcycle taxi. At this point it was hard to persuade Gustave to return to the hospital as he said he no longer cared if he died.

If Gustave was HIV+ then it was very possible his wife was also positive and possibly their three-year-old son. When I asked him whether he had told his wife, he replied she was positive and she had been taking medication even before their son was born, who is also positive.  However, he continued to insist that he did not know he, too, was HIV+.  His wife remains in Port-de-Paix so there is no way for me to follow up on her and the baby’s present health status.

Emile Charles is 16 years old and is HIV+. His whole family have died of AIDS-related illnesses. First his younger sister, then his mother and finally his father. I had seen Emile many times during my visits to the workshop at Delmas 33. He was one of the many young boys and girls who made the shoes and jewellery for the camp shop. I was told he might be HIV + and may also have TB as he was coughing a great deal. He is a thin, intense young man with a soft, gentle, inquisitive face. He doesn’t smile often but when he does, it’s like a burst of light.

Emile’s family were from Hinche in central Haiti. He is not sure but thinks he was six when his father died and he came to live with his uncle in PAP. His uncle did not allow him to play with his own children and Emile had his own food utensils. In 2008 or 2009 he became very ill and was taken to hospital where he ended up spending a year. As a minor, Emile’s uncle would have been told his status and it would be up to him to inform the child. He did not do this. After he was released from hospital he was given a patient card, medication and an appointment. But his uncle never took him back and soon after that Emile was adopted by a neighbour, Jean-Louis [Elie] Joseph who is now one of the main organisers of the Chanjem Leson movement at Camp Acra.

Elie had complained to the uncle about his treatment of Emile and in the end the uncle told him to take the boy but he did not tell Elie about Emile’s medical history. Soon after Emile moved in with Elie and his wife Esther, the earthquake happened and they all moved to Camp Acra.   Emile was constantly sick and at one point was very ill with what Elie believed was shingles. It seems that everyone involved suspected Emile was HIV+ but no one made a decision to take him for a test, the main concern being cost.
At the time I formally met Emile he had again become ill with fever and night coughs. It was at this point that the uncle, who also lives in the camp, finally told Elie that Emile’s family had all died of AIDS-related illnesses and Emile told us he had spent a year in GHESKIO hospital so it made sense for him to return there and continue his treatment. However the hospital had no record of him ever being a patient.

To understand some of the confusion — how was a six or eight-year-old child supposed to know which hospital he had attended, how long he had stayed or what medication he was given? The uncle, possibly not wanting people to know about his nephew’s status, was not forthcoming with information. Despite the decrease in HIV/AIDS and increase in awareness and prevention, there remains a high level of stigma around the illness. Eventually Emile’s guardians found out he had been in a hospital run by nuns in Delmas 18 but the uncle could not remember the name.

By this time four weeks had passed and Emile’s health was deteriorating rapidly. Soon after I received a text message from my interpreter, Serge Supre, saying he was going to Delmas 18 to try to find out the name of the hospital and to collect Emile’s records so they could treat him again or refer him to the Hopital l’Universite d’Etat d’Haïti. The hospital turned out to be run by the Sisters of Mercy of Mother Teresa fame. But it was not a good ending.

The overall context in which Gustave and Emile are trying to live with their illnesses is compounded by the general insecurity and fear in the camp itself. In April someone claiming to be the owner of the land threatened to burn down the camp unless everyone left. The following day a fire broke out in one section which everyone took as a warning. Camp residents reported the fire and threats to the police who said there was nothing they could [would] do. They then decided to protest against the threats and lack of police action during which two men were arrested and one died in custody. Chanjem Leson activists worked with the family of the deceased and reported the police in question to the Inspector General of Police. Since then they have faced daily phone threats from unknown men, including repeated night visits to their tents.

The whole camp is nervous and fearful of being evicted at any moment. Emile’s adoptive parents, Elie Joseph and Esther Pierre have gone into hiding and he is being cared for by Esther’s cousin Serge Supre. Serge is unemployed except for the little he earns from interpreting, and worries about how he will pay for his 18-year-old daughter to finish high school. Regular evictions have begun to take place around the city and each night people go to sleep wondering if this will be their last. This has also meant disruptions to the small craft and art workshop and the school.

Gustave has started ARVs and although the family is happy with his treatment they want more than anything to return to Port-de-Paix – “if we have to be hungry better to be hungry at home than in PAP!”
For the first few weeks Gustave responded positively to the medication and even planned to find work and try to visit his wife and children. However over the past two weeks he has deteriorated, becoming aggressive, removing his clothes and disappearing for days and worst of all, he has stopped taking his medication. The stress of caring for him has taken its toll on his family especially his mother for whom this is one burden too many.

Statistics tell us the numbers of people living with HIV and dying of AIDS / TB in Haiti has decreased dramatically over the past 10 years due to a policy directed at prevention based on education and increased access to treatment. But there are other realities excluded from official reports and statistics.  Gustav and Emile, and millions like them, are forced to struggle to receive the most basic healthcare. Emile has spent two months trying to get treatment and he’s still waiting. It is hard to say no one cares and even though I have followed him through the repeated hurdles and I know we, his family and his friends care, but without money and without agency people like Emile and his family are regularly treated with disdain. You attend the hospital and people don’t even look you in the face, preferring to watch TV or chat with their colleagues. People treated as “expendable non-persons”!
And Emile is doing badly. The hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy is now in Carrefour but they refused to see Emile because “his uncle gave trouble”. Serge tried to appeal to their “mercy” but in vain…

“They said they will do something for the poor but they cannot help Emile because his uncle brought trouble. I would like to know who are the poor – are we not poor, is Emile not poor and sick and a child? Something must be done for him. He cries at night and I don’t know what to do. On Monday I will return to GHESKIO and hope they will help. If not we have to go back to Dr Coffee.”

Emile didn’t get to GHESKIO. Through a “friend of a friend” he is now waiting for an appointment at Dikini hospital in Kafou where they receive HIV+ patients. I hope he finally gets the treatment he needs.

UPDATE: After visits to numerous hospitals and clinics in PAP, finally with the help of Dr Coffee, Emile finally started on ARVs at the end of September 2013.   He had fallen ill yet again and was in a very poor state and was immediately admitted to Dr Coffee’s TB clinic and placed on medication.  In total it had taken  four months since the initial visit to the hospital for Emile to receive ARVs.  Emile then spent another 4 weeks of almost daily hospital visits waiting for a pediatric and  psychology assessment that would enable him to enter a food and school programme providing him with rice, beans and oil plus school fees and text books.   By the end of October he had begun to put on weight and regain his strength.  Now we all look in awe at the new Emile who is twice the size we all thought he was.  He hopes he will start school in January

1] A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo: Legacies of US Imprisonment of Haitian Refugees, 1991-1994”  published in Radical History Review Issue 15 /Winter 2013].
2] Castro, Arachu and Paul Farmer, “Infectious Disease in Haiti” EMBO Reports 2003.
[3] ARDTA – Asosyasyon Respekte Dwa Timoun – Ans Wouj [Association for the Respect for the Rights of Children]
* Not his real name!

 

This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

Jaywalking the Freeway from Fear

From Center for Women’s Global Leadership by Bernedette Muthien, South Africa

In 1993, the year of the germinal UN conference in Vienna, the first President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, affirmed that all freedoms (and hence oppressions) are interdependent. This speaks critically to intersectionality, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression, and its intersections with privilege. Intersectionality influenced South Africa’s groundbreaking Constitutional equality clause, which guarantees the rights of all peoples.

Vienna was a groundbreaking intersectional moment too, affirming human rights as a universal standard and emphasising the indivisible, interdependent nature of human rights, specifically in response to the historic divide between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other hand.

Intersectionality shows how categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexuality and other forms of identity interact in myriad ways, contributing to systematic societal inequity. Classic conceptions of oppression in society, such as racism, sexism and homophobia interrelate, creating a web of subjugation.

While we are familiar with victims suffering violence, we often forget that witnesses suffer vicarious trauma, and that most perpetrators are themselves survivors of violence, including gender-based violence, that violence and discrimination often stems from insecurity and fear, rather than a lustful nature, no mirth intended.

Of less concern are the labels or issues we are still forced to deal with, like widespread gender-based violence that has not diminished over decades of feminist activisms and progressive legislation and policies. Of greater import are the approaches taken, the imperialist or colonial gaze, how we conceptualise issues, how these lenses shape/d activisms.

This includes the narrow LGBTQQI discourse, European letters completely ignorant of and sidestepping ancient same sex practices on all continents, including woman to woman marriage across Africa. Ifi Amadiume and the late Audre Lorde famously argued whether these women had romantic-sexual relations, Audre’s argument, or whether it was entirely about property relations and ensuring succession, Ifi’s contention. This ancient practice was almost entirely eradicated by colonial Christianity, yet it still persists, especially in rural areas, across East, Central and West Africa.

Of equal concern is the classification, led by the global North, of the rape of lesbians, ostensibly due to their sexuality, as a “hate crime”. This divorces so-called “curative” or “corrective” rape from its rootedness in gender-based violence and an analysis and challenge of Patriarchy, effectively deradicalising a revolutionary moment.

The presumption by feminist scholars and activists, especially those entrenched and aptly rewarded in euro-formed discourses, of the primordialism of patriarchy is another point of vexation to those of us from ancient indigenous societies that still remain matrilineal and women-centred, despite centuries of colonial and capitalist depredations. Matrilineal societies, still existing across the continents of the world, tend to be socially and gender egalitarian, with deep-rooted conflict resolution practices and hence less violent. The matriarchal Iroquois of North America’s precolonial Great Peace of the Haudenosee are said to have gifted the United States with the foundations of their Constitution. What can we learn from these nonviolent egalitarian peoples, their complex histories and ways of being? In as much as we study the League of Nations and the social welfarism of Scandinavia. Even as we smartly don the business suits, modern offspring of military uniforms, so necessary for our advocacy and scholarly endeavours, do we hear Audre Lorde’s admonishment of the complexities of employing the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?

The silofication of our discourse and struggle speaks to a weakness of the global imagination. We need to indigenise our struggles. We need to use language that is familiar to local peoples the world over, so that tyrannical patriarchal leaders cannot say our practices are un-African or un-Russian, because they are indeed indigenous and we have been doing it since time began. With indigenous knowledge we can more effectively resist the flood of fundamentalist Christians from North America and Europe recolonizing our continents, aided by despots more interested in scapegoating marginalised communities than in addressing issues of socio-economic justice.

We need to note that violences are structural-cultural, and due to Patriarchy, women are at the centre of this war on our bodies and minds. While we focus on choice, autonomy, desire and pleasure, we need to remember that we need socio-economic-cultural rights to be truly free.

As the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, brutally slain by Apartheid securocrats during the 1970s said in a speech in my Mother City of Cape Town: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” And we all know Bob Marley’s song, “none but ourselves can free our minds…”

Bernedette Muthien, scholar, a poet, and an activist. She co-founded and directs Engender, an NGO which works in the intersectional areas of genders, human rights, justice and peace. Over 20 years, on all six continents, she produced 170 publications and conference presentations, some of which have been translated from English into other languages, including Dutch, Flemish, French, German, and Italian. Follow her @BerneMuthien

Queercide: Campaign Against Violence Against Women – Why We Must Document

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In 2012 there were 10 murders of black lesbians, gays and transgender people in South Africa. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which includes the death penalty and makes LGBTI people and anyone or organisation that supports or helps them, into illegal citizens, has once again been tabled in Parliament and once again delayed – all in the space of a month. There is no guarantee that it will not resurface in 2013. In Nigeria, the “Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage Bill” has been passed unchallenged by both Houses and is awaiting a final reading in the House Chamber.

In South Africa, Queercide, like other social phenomena is being driven by a set of social conditions in this case, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, government inaction and community silence. In Uganda and Nigeria, religious fundamentalism and a weak and disinterested civil society are the driving and enabling forces respectfully. These expressions of the logic of domination are the punishment for daring to digress from arbitrary norms.

It is in this context that Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases exhibition opened at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg on 27th November, 2012. Faces and Phases is an ongoing body of work which began in 2007 with the intention of creating an archive of Black lesbian lives and ensuring black queer visibilities. Faces expresses the person and Phases signifies the stages of those expressions. It is a personal experience and journey for Muholi as a visual activist and the people she photographs.

What I love about Zanele’s work is the strength of performance, the way the faces breathe. The portraits are in different poses. One can hear the voices of those who look directly into the camera. But still, there remains an untold story behind each portrait. Visible yet partially invisible. Invisible yet partially visible. I like that. Photographs capture a moment in history. W.J.T. Mitchell wrote a book “What Do Pictures Want?” I think we should ask this question when we look at the photos in Faces and Phases. People and places are layered and I would prefer it, if we could take the time to unpack the layers instead of diving in and ripping everything apart. Read my story and create your own through your imagination. The same goes for Zanele’s photographs.

From the beginning the impetus for Muholi’s work has been on the one hand, to disrupt sexual and gender norms whilst also highlighting the intersectionality of gender, sexual orientation, race and class both in homophobic acts of violence and the response to these acts of violence. Faces and Phases III consists of 60 black and white portraits and as Muholi points out there is a reason ‘there are no smiling faces here’ – their visibility has become a dangerous one. One that has lead to rape, torture and murder including some of Muholi’s collaborators. The constitutional right to be who you are and choose visibility over the closet, becomes a symptom of vulnerability. Homophobia, hate and inertia become the destructive powers that ridicule the protection of the constitution.

In her exhibition Isilumo Siyaluma* Zanele uses her own menstrual blood as a way to begin to articulate and bridge the pain and lost felt as a witness to the pain of ‘curative rapes’ suffered by many young black lesbians in Zanele’s own community. The first piece is a thumb print thereby establishing her truth and her presence as part of her community. Other photo montages are a ‘mothers cry’, ‘the judge’, and the ‘defendants in the dock’. We are all witnesses and we must make our own judgements on how to respond
Zanele’s work has been exhibited outside South Africa and the continent and this too has implications of meaning in terms of black bodies and bodies which may have been violated being exposed in white colonial spaces. Queer black bodies under the gaze of closeted racism loaded with notions of black sexuality and desire -always we return to Zanele’s question “What do you see when you look at me? ……?????????

Campaign against violence against women highlighted by Zanele in this video

‘Too Black, Too Strong’: Imagining Haiti in Caribbean Popular Culture’.

From the Jamaican Gleaner – Imagining Haiti in Caribbean Popular Culture.

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Whenever I am in the US and  Haiti comes up in the conversation, I am repeatedly faced with varying levels of denigration about Haiti and Haitian people, many of whom are Haitian themselves.  Jamaicans are  particularly prone notwithstanding that most of the people I meet in South Florida are of Jamaican or Haitian heritage.   This piece by Carolyn Cooper challenges the negativity towards Haiti and Haitians by Jamaican and other Caribbean islanders.

Ignorance and self-hate are a terrible thing.

 

A so Mutabaruka seh inna fi im poem bout Haiti pon im ‘Melanin Man’ album weh come out inna 1994. Mi tek Muta lyrics fi di title a one talk mi gi inna Haiti dis ya month. Mi call it, ”Too Black, Too Strong’: Imagining Haiti in Caribbean Popular Culture’.

One big-big meeting did keep up fi di 25th anniversary a di Haitian Studies Association, from November 7-9. More dan 300 scholar from all over di world go a Haiti fi reason bout politics, education, health care, music, literature, language, flim show, economics, history an such di like.

Inna fi mi talk, mi consider Muta poem an one a David Rudder song pon im Haiti album, weh im put out inna 1988. A long time dem two artist a warn wi fi check wiself. Dem a cry out mek wi understand seh di people dem inna Haiti a fi wi fambily an wi no better dan dem. In fact, wi an dem inna di same boat. An if wi no mind sharp, it a go a sink. An di whole a wi a go drown same way.

See how Muta start off fi im poem:

Haiti yu goin an no one seem to care

Haiti yu goin, neighbours, beware!

Di poverty an death that haunts every day

De boat dat leave to de USA.

Same way David Rudder a warn wi inna fi im song:

We are outing fires in faraway places

When our neighbours are just burning.

They say the Middle Passage is gone

So how come overcrowded boats still haunt our lives?

CHAINS DAT KEEP US APART’

Acordin to Muta, di answer to David Rudder question a one long, long story: “Haiti suffers because it made a start.” Muta dig up history fi find di root a di problem:

Yu payin for di afrikaness yu still keep

Yu payin, payin; Boukman is not asleep

Nuff a wi inna Jamaica no know bout Boukman. Im did born right ya so. An im a one a fi wi big-time hero. International hero! Im coulda read an write. A it mek dem call im Boukman. An it look like seh di book im dida read a di Qu’ran. Im a Muslim. An im dida try teach who want know fi read. Di owner fi di plantation never like dat. Boukman a mek trouble. So di owner man decide fi sell Boukman to one Frenchman weh tek im go a Haiti.

An a deh so Boukman mek trouble! When im see wa a gwaan, im couldn’t tek it. Im tek charge. An im turn voodoo priest. Pon August 14, 1791, im keep one big meeting a Bois Caiman, weh di African dem plan out how dem a go free demself from slavery. Dem draw blood an drink it an tek oath fi fight it out. An a deh so revolution start inna Haiti. Di next week, Boukman people dem burn down 1,800 plantation an dem kill off 1,000 a di owner dem.

Muta seh:

Yu gave us Haiti di strength to fight

Black people in di Caribbean, I say unite

Break di chains dat keep us apart

Haiti suffers because it made a start

Mi love di picture Muta draw when im talk bout di chain dem. A mental slavery dat. Di chain dem inna wi mind a tie wi up, mek wi feel seh wi better dan dem other one. Mi glad fi see Haiti President Michel Martelly come look fi wi. Im did come fi talk bout how Haiti an Jamaica can work together. Anywhere Boukman deh, it sweet im fi true.

  • PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

A so Mutabaruka se ina fi im pouwem bout Haiti pon im ‘Melanin Man’ albom we kom out ina 1994. Mi tek Muta liriks fi di taikl a wan taak mi gi ina Haiti dis ya mont. Mi kaal i, ”Too Black, Too Strong’: Imagining Haiti in Caribbean Popular Culture’.

Wan big-big miitn did kip op fi di 25th anivorsri a di Haitian Studies Association, fram Novemba 7-9. Muor dan chrii onjred skala fram aal uova di worl go a Haiti fi riizn bout palitiks, edikieshan, elt kier, myuuzik, lichricha, langwij, flim shuo, iikanamiks, ischri an soch di laiik.

Ina fi mi taak, mi kansida Muta pouwem an wan a David Rudder sang pan im Haiti albom, we im put out ina 1988. A lang taim dem tuu aatis a waan wi fi chek wiself. Dem a krai out mek wi andastan se di piipl dem ina Haiti a fi wi fambili an wi no beta dan dem. In fak, wi an dem ina di siem buot. An if wi no main shaap, it a go a singk. An di uol a wi a go jroun siem wie.

Si ou Muta staat aaf fi im pouwem:

Haiti yu goin an no one seem to care

Haiti yu goin, neighbours, beware!

Di poverty an death that haunts every day

De boat dat leave to de USA.

Siem wie David Rudder a waan wi ina fi im sang:

We are outing fires in faraway places

When our neighbours are just burning.

They say the Middle Passage is gone

So how come overcrowded boats still haunt our lives?

CHAINS DAT KEEP US APART’

Azkaadn tu Muta, di ansa tu David Rudder kweschyan a wan lang, lang tuori: “Haiti suffers because it made a start.” Muta dig op ischri fi fain di ruut a di prablem:

Yu payin for di afrikaness yu still keep

Yu payin, payin; Boukman is not asleep

Nof a wi ina Jamieka no nuo bout Boukman. Im did baan rait ya so. An im a wan a fi wi big-taim iiro. Intanashinal iiro! Im kuda riid an rait. A it mek dem kaal im Boukman. An it luk laik se di buk im dida riid a di Qu’ran. Im a Muslim. An im dida chrai tiich uu waahn nuo ou fi riid. Di uona fi di plantieshan neva laik dat. Boukman a mek chrobl. So di uona man disaid fi sel Boukman tu wan Frenchman we tek im go a Haiti.

An a de so Boukman mek chrobl! Wen im si wa a gwaahn, im kudn tek i. Im tek chaaj. An im ton vuuduu priis. Pan Aagos 14, 1791, im kip wan big miitn a Bois Caiman, we di African dem plan out ou dem a go frii demself fram slievri. Dem jraa blod an jringk i an tek uot fi fait it out. An a de so revaluushan staat ina Haiti. Di neks wiik, Boukman piipl dem bun dong 1,800 plantieshan an dem kil aaf 1,000 a di uona dem.

Muta se:

Yu gave us Haiti di strength to fight

Black people in di Caribbean I say unite

Break di chains dat keep us apart

Haiti suffers because it made a start

Mi lov di pikcha Muta jraa wen im taak bout di chien dem. A mental slievri dat. Di chien dem ina wi main a tai wi op, mek wi fiil se wi beta dan dem ada wan. Mi glad fi si Haiti Prezident Michel Martelly kom luk fi wi. Im did kom fi taak bout ou Haiti an Jamieka kyan wok tugeda. Eniwe Boukman de, it swiit im fi chruu.

Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  Email feedback to 

 

A young man and his goat – A photographic story

From a collection by Cristina Garcia Rodero, Rituales en Haiti Miami Dade College Museum of Art + Design?

Rituales en Haití  Photographs by Cristina García Rodero
Rituales en Haití Photographs by Cristina García Rodero

 

 

 

The Week on Sunday (weekly)

  • Poet, statesman, and singular voice of the anti-colonial movements of the 20th century, Aimé Césaire continues to influence contemporary discussions of ethics and aesthetics, politics and history in this precariously postcolonial world. In an effort to contribute to Césaire’s living legacy, we have organized an online forum in which four pairs of scholars, from a variety of disciplines, offer reflections along four different critical paths.

    tags: Caribbean Aime_Cesaire Martinique Negritude Black_Liberation

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Odi Massacre & Origins of Militancy in Ijawland

Kaiama – December 1998

Kaiama is a small town in Western Ijaw, about half an hour’s drive from Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State. Historically Kaiama is famous for being the birth place of Major Isaac Adaka Boro, an Ijaw nationalist who in 1966 proclaimed “the Niger Delta Peoples Republic.”  In December 1998 5,000 Ijaw men and women re presenting over 40 Ijaw clans, chose the historic town of Kaiama to articulate their aspirations for the Ijaw people, and to demand an end to 40 years of environmental damage and underdevelopment in the region.

On the 11th December, 1998, they assembly presented the Kaiama Declaration.  What followed is a series of military attacks which provide an historical context and  understanding  to the present day militancy in Ijawland which has also contributed to the violence against women.  In some instances whole villages have been abandoned by women due to fear of militants and gangs.

On the 1st of January 1999 the Nigerian Military Government declared war on the Ijaw people. Following the Yenagoa massacre, the army invaded Kaiama on the 2nd January.  On the 4th January, soldiers using Chevron helicopters and sea trucks invaded Ikiyan and Opia towns.  Other towns, Odi, Sabama, Patani, Aven, Bomadi were all occupied by military. The mayhem continued unabated throughout January and February.  These communities were ransacked and looted, men and young boys were murdered, tortured and beaten.  Women were molested, harassed, beaten and raped.  Many people are still missing almost 18 months later.  The Nigerian army and Mobile Police engaged themselves in a blood bath which left over 200 dead and thousands wounded.  Once control of the area had been established by the military they settled down to occupy Ijawland and continue up to the present time to terrorise communities of mostly women, children and the elderly and commit endless.

Invasion.of Kaiama

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In Kaiama and across the region, many women and girls were raped and forced into prostitution by the Nigerian army.  They also suffered bereavement and were further impoverished through the death or disappearance of family members.

 “I stay in my house at that time, soldiers were everywhere.  Three of them came to my house and broke the door down. They take my son and I have not seen him since that day. I have no money as my son used to look after me.  Before I used to farm but I no fit farm now, I am weak. I no feel to do anything I just wait make I die, I no fit eat, every day I worry what will happen now.”

” My husband dey [was in] Yenagoa with his wife.  When he hear what happen in Kaiama he come see for himself.  Since that day when the soldier came and take him I have not seen him.  I stay in Yenagoa but they I hear say they kill people and start to worry for my husband.  Sometime those who have wounds they bring them to Yenagoa but I check and did not see my husband.  After I come hear that they kill my husband at the Motor park. (the Chief was one of many townsmen that were taken to a nearby army camp and tortured after which he was murdered).
Helen, Widow – On the day the soldiers came I ran with my 3 children to the bush. At that time I was pregnant.  My husband lock the house then follow me run.  I think that he is at my back but I am hearing gun shot.  After I come and see my husband is shot by the soldier when he is running.  They steal all my property and break everything.  Now I have no money, I can only collect firewood to sell and some small farming.  Some time the church help me.  Now my heart is cut.”

” At  that time when the soldiers came I was at home with my husband.  The soldiers came and arrested my husband and took him to the motor park.  When there he was beaten and tortured with the others. His face was cut, nose broken, lips swollen and wounded everywhere.  He had be cut on his head with an axe.  When they took my husband I ran with my children to Opukoma (nearby village) to my father’s house until after 2 days I came back to Kaiama.  At that time there was no one in the town, no medicines. After my husband went to Yenagoa but by that time it was too late for him to recover.  My husband died three months ago from the wounds he received”

Odi Town Massacre.

In the early hours of the morning of the 20th November, 1999, 27 trucks carrying over 2000 soldiers plus 4 armored personnel carriers mounted with machine guns drove into Odi Town in Bayelsa State. Between 2pm that afternoon and 6pm the following day, the town was bombarded with artillery fire. By the end of the two days, practically every building in the town was flattened, set on fire and/or looted. In all 2,483 persons – mainly women, children and the elderly were massacred in 24 hours. Thousands more fled in canoes or on foot to the forests where they hid, some up to a week with no food or shelter.

The order to invade and destroy Odi town was given by the then head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo. The reason given for the attack at the time was that two weeks before, 9 policemen had been kidnapped and killed in the town by a criminal gang.

Odi was not the only town in the Niger Delta where people were massacred and property destroyed during the Obasanjo years. Kaiama just a few miles from Odi was attacked January and later Oleh Town, in Delta State and Erema in Rivers State were also invaded to name a few. Then there was the terrible rape that took place in Choba, Rivers state where Nigerian army soldiers were photographed raping women. No one has ever been held to account for these past and present crimes against women and other civilians.

Odi Town November 1999

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“My 15 year old son is missing. I came back and couldn’t see him. I could not see my son even his corpse I cannot see him even till now – 15 yrs – we were all in this house but when we heard the gun shots everyone take on his heels. My son ran to a different direction to myself and others.  I ran to the bush, there was no food to eat there was nothing.  I stayed in the bush for 12 days as the hunger was so much we started plucking leaves to chew and water to drink – my husband ran on his own too. We were scattered. When the soldiers left I came back and  I saw my husband.  He is looking for our son but we cannot see him.”
” You know you could not stand on the ground, the ground was shaking even the houses were shaking as if they want to fall down.  So I started running down with that fear – I heard the army shooting, even the ground was shaking from the noise of the guns, the houses too.  I had no canoe.  Everything was burnt – books, my properties, my things for teacher’s college, NCE and University of Port Harcourt certificates, everything.”

“Other people ran into the bush. Those who could not get boats ran into the nearby bushes, they were all here most of them were just right inside.  You know that time was a flood period and water everywhere, the whole of the bush was covered with water and some of them were standing on top of trees, hanging like that for days.”

Displaced women from Gbaramatu – May 2009

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On May 14, 2009 at about noon, Gbaramatu Kingdom,Delta State, was in a festive mood. There had been an influx of guests into the community from far and near. They all came to witness the presentation of the Staff of Office to the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, His Royal Majesty Ogie the third. The palace located in Oporoza was filled with well- wishers as the day also marked the King’s one year anniversary. Suddenly, three low flying helicopters were seen approaching the Kindgom. The community people initially thought they were flying dignitaries to the ceremony or that they were part of the glamour for the ceremony. They were wrong. Dead wrong!

 “ Most“Most of the students like me who tried to escape during the deadly incident are dead. Some in the streets, forests …they were killed by the bombs. I lost my mother and six of my brothers in the incidence. Two of my three sisters are still trapped in the forest. The place is too dangerous for them to come out now. They can’t cross with boat and they can’t risk swimming. The JTF people have blockedhave blocked the waterways. One of my sisters has been missing.

Nobody seems to know her whereaboutwhereabouts. The military people were using their helicopter chopper to destroy everything we have ever had. I saw war with my naked eyes. I saw my mum’s dead body. I saw my brothers lying helpless on the ground (here she started sobbing). Everyone was running without direction. It is a bitter experience.

They are wicked people. They are heartless. I don’t have any family member as militants. We used to survive with fishing. It was through fishing business that my mum pays our school fees. Why will the FG send military men to kill us, to destroy our community? We don’t have anywhere else to go now. No home, no place to go. My OND certificate, my only hope for a better tomorrow has been destroyed”. Miss Peres Popo, 21, ,21 from, from Okporoza .

“I was sleeping but suddenly I woke up due to the endless sound of gunshot. It was after twelve in the afternoon. I was confused. When I peeped through my window, I saw people running and screaming. It was a hot afternoon. I slept with only my pants on. I had to run without even knowing that I was naked I was not conscious of my nakedness. It was when I managed to find my way to Warri town that I was able to clothe myself with the help of a relative. I am afraid I have still not seen my younger sister. Her name is Mary. We started running together from the house but at a point Ipoint I was ahead of her. After some time, I didn’t notice her again. I pray she is alive. She is my only sister.
- Mrs. Vero Idolo ,27, mother of two.

“They bombed everywhere and everything. They don’t have feelings at all. I was lucky to have my children and husband alive. My neighbour lost his pregnant wife in the incidence. She was my friend too.” – Evelyn Emmanuel.

“We were warming up for the king’s party. All of a sudden we started seeing helicopters roving in the air. The next thing something was dropping from it and it was landing as fire and exploding and burning and killing. I was scared stiff . I have never seen this kind of thing in my life.
-Timi Tonfawei

The attack on Gbaramatu  brought a huge humanitarian crisis to the region. Besides, an estimated 20, 000 persons believed to be trapped in the forests and swamps.   Those who managed to reach Warri were eventually given shelter in a disused clinic.  Most of the displaced have now returned to their villages.

Gas flaring has been continuous for 40 years.  Gas flaring is the process used in the Niger Delta to separate petroleum from the by product, natural gas.   The process wastes a potentially useful product as well as fills the atmosphere with carbon monoxide, smoke and soot.  The gas flares are right in the middle of farmland and villages burning 24 hours a day every day.  Some of the flares are on the ground in pits, spewing out huge flames and soot and leaving the ground unusable for farming for years to come.   People literally live in fire and oil.

Gas flares

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