Category Archives: African History

History of African and African Diaspora – Black History Month

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

ht2

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.

ht4

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

 

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.

“Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality.

From the Guardian Africa Network, Nigerian / British writer, Bernadine Evaristo dismisses the mantra that homosexuality in Africa is a ‘western import’ and provides examples of  same sex relationships and multiple gender relations.  “Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality. The desire to do so has never been confined to particular geographical locations. Its reach is universal.”

 

Bernadine Evaristo
Bernadine Evaristo

Africa has 54 countries and more than a billion people. One of the most ridiculous myths about it is that homosexuality did not exist in the continent until white men imported it. Robert Mugabe is one such propagator, calling homosexuality “un-African” and a “white disease”.

Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality. The desire to do so has never been confined to particular geographical locations. Its reach is universal. Yet today the myth of a pre-colonial sexual innocence, or more fittingly, ignorance, is used to endorse anti-gay legislation and stir up homophobia and persecution in Africa. In my father’s country, Nigeria, a new law passed in January carries a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex marriage and up to 10 years for membership or promotion of gay groups. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Act can impose life imprisonment. Latter-day evangelicals from the US are partly to blame for this continuing persecution, but so are Africa’s political leaders such as presidents Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who use rabble-rousing anti-gay rhetoric to increase their power base and popularity.

While much has been written about this dangerous turn of events, little has been written about its origins. Two trailblazing studies in the field – Boy Wives and Female Husbands edited by Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe, and Heterosexual Africa? by Marc Epprecht – demolish the revisionist arguments about Africa’s sexual history. From the 16th century onwards, homosexuality has been recorded in Africa by European missionaries, adventurers and officials who used it to reinforce ideas of African societies in need of Christian cleansing.

The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to explore the continent. They noted the range of gender relations in African societies and referred to the “unnatural damnation” of male-to-male sex in Congo. Andrew Battell, an English traveller in the 1590s, wrote this of the Imbangala of Angola: “They are beastly in their living, for they have men in women’s apparel, whom they keep among their wives.”

Transvestism occurred in many different places, including Madagascar and Ethiopia. Among the Pangwe people of present-day Cameroon and Gabon, homosexual intercourse was practised between males of all ages. It was believed to be a way to transmit wealth. The Nzima of Ghana had a tradition of adult men marrying each other, usually with an age difference of about 10 years. Similar to the pederasty of ancient Greece, Sudan’s Zande tribe had a tradition of warriors marrying boys and paying a bride price, as they would for girl brides, to their parents. When the boy grew up, he too became a warrior and took a boy-wife.

In this same tribe lesbianism was practised in polygamous households. In the 18th century the Khoikhoi of South Africa used the word koetsire to describe men considered sexually receptive to other men, and soregus was the word they used for a friendship which involved same-sex masturbation.

Homosexuality is also recorded among the Siwa of Egypt. It was considered a boy’s rite of passage in Benin, and woman-woman marriages involving a bride price existed in more than 30 African societies from Nigeria to Kenya to South Africa.

How far back can homosexuality be traced in Africa? You cannot argue with rock paintings. Thousands of years ago, the San people of Zimbabwe depicted anal sex between men. The truth is that, like everywhere else, African people have expressed a wide range of sexualities. Far from bringing homosexuality with them, Christian and Islamic forces fought to eradicate it. By challenging the continent’s indigenous social and religious systems, they helped demonise and persecute homosexuality in Africa, paving the way for the taboos that prevail today.

The main character in my latest novel, Mr Loverman, is a 74-year-old black gay man, Barrington Walker. Married with two daughters, he has been in the closet for 50 years. Soon after the book was published, a young gay man emailed me from Nigeria expressing his fear that his life would turn out like Barrington’s. I didn’t know what to suggest except that, if he wanted to live openly and legally as homosexual, he had to leave his homeland. What else could I say?

Millions of gay people living in Africa face a similar choice. If they stay, they can either repress their natural sexuality or risk losing their liberty and their lives. The legacy of colonialism is alive and well. As another character in Mr Loverman says: “It’s homophobia, not homosexuality, that was imported to Africa.”

 

Guardian Africa Network

DEDAN: A One-Man Play.

How do we remember history’s heroes? How do we also forget them? Dedan Kimathi Waciuri (1920-1957) was leader of the Mau Mau freedom fighters. He dedicated and gave his life to fighting against British colonial rule in Kenya. How do we remember such a figure? How do we forget him? Why do we forget him? Written and Performed by Donald Molosi.

 

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

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

images

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 

 

Black History month in unGrand Britannia :

Some excerpts from Black History month in unGrand Britannia :  Many people are aware of the Black Panther movement in the US but how many know of the British Black Panthers which had a brief 10 year life in the late 60s and early 70s.  The Independent reports on a photo documentary by a group of young people called “Organized Youth” who interviewed many of those who were involved in the British Black Panther movement.  Like the US Black Panthers, their struggle was against institutional racism, poor housing and education, and police brutality.   Olive Morris was one of the few women involved in the movement.

Although many members were inspired by hearing American activists talk in London – including Angela Davis, who addressed a crowd to thank her British peers for their support while she was in jail – there were notable differences between Black Power groups in Britain and the US. “Over there, they were a party; they were seeking political power,” explains Kenlock. “The American Constitution allows people to carry guns, so they were policing the police. There was segregation in America at that time – the system in America was far behind Britain. What we were about was seeking better education and jobs, and making sure the police treated us fairly. It was just the name and the culture that was adopted.”

5618304

The name was a quick way to attract attention and get young people excited; some of the style was taken on, too. “The berets, black trousers, black T-shirt and guns,” is how Darcus Howe, a member of the British Panther inner circle k and later editor of Race Today, describes the iconography. ” But we didn’t get to the [real] gun bit over here.”

Howe got involved in the movement after meeting Panthers at the Mangrove Trial in 1971. The Mangrove, a West Indian restaurant in Notting Hill, was repeatedly raided by police; a subsequent protest march saw nine people – including Panthers such as Jones-LeCointe and Barbara Beese – arrested. Their trial became a turning point for racial justice in Britain: they were acquitted, and the institutional racism of the police was publicly acknowledged.

But while the British movement was largely founded on political protest, it was also culturally significant and socially rich. Linton Kwesi Johnson describes, in an interview for the exhibition, how his interest in poetry was ignited by exploring the library at the movement’s headquarters: “Joining the Black Panthers was a life-changer for me because for the first time I discovered black literature.”

While the movement had its own literary sub-groups, it was primarily concerned with fostering understanding of black history and radical political thought. For many, it was a Marxist struggle, an adjunct to the labour movement.

The British Black Panthers’ founders were often highly educated immigrants, scholarship kids who came to the UK from the colonies in order to gain a university degree; from wealthy backgrounds, they had never before encountered racism and were incensed at the violence and prejudice of Britain in the 1960s. They made it their mission to educate and radicalise the black immigrant working-class, too, uniting against racism across class divides (and, of course, across different ethnicities – members might have Caribbean, African or Indian heritage).  Continue on the Independent.

According to the late British social historian, Peter Fryer, Black people have been settled in Britain since Roman times. However it wasn’t until the 16th C that the numbers became significant.  The Old Bailey records and research into plantation owners reveals much about the lives of Black people during this period and later.    However most of the records are limited to England so it was with great interest that I read this account on ‘Scotland’s complicated Black history‘.

SIDEBAR: My own British roots are English from West Yorkshire, my great grandfather was a French polisher who was recruited to work on the Grand hotel in Manchester which of course was built buy capitalists money from the cotton plantations  and slave labour of the West Indies.  At that time Manchester was possibly the richest metropolis in Britain as it was the center of the industrial revolution factories producing cotton and sugar with an exploited indigenous work force including child labour.  As a ‘skilled’ workman, my great grandfather would have had better living conditions than factory workers nonetheless my grandmother spent her working life in factories or as a cleaner to rich industrialists.  Whilst my grandfather worked in a grocers shop.

Back to Scotland…

Scots were heavily involved in the slave trade of the 18th and 19th Centuries, something which leading historian Prof Tom Devine has accused Scotland of ignoring today.

Men and women were put to work in Scots-run plantations in the colonies. Female slaves were also sexually abused by their owners.

An exhibition on slavery held in 2011 involving the Centre for History in Dornoch and Edinburgh Beltane organisation featured correspondence detailing the keeping of sex slaves.

The letters were sent by Highland owners to relatives in Inverness and their contents were described as “graphic” and “disturbing” by researchers.

Prof Tom Devine’s article asked the question “Did slavery make Scotland great?” in which he argues that the close relationship between Scotland’s  18th C economic growth and slavery in plantations owned by  Scottish masters. He also admonishes Scottish academics for ignoring this fact.

The acclaimed historian added: “If you look at the telephone directory for Jamaica it’s stuffed full of Scottish names. These are people who have taken their names from their Scottish masters.

“The jewel in the crown in the Caribbean was Jamaica, which was the single richest colony in the British Empire during the 18th century. We know that and we have evidence that the Scots were the dominating force in Jamaica.

“Their owners didn’t want to live in this lethal environment so they were absentees. A lot of young Scots went out there, including one Robert Burns, who was about to go out to a post in Port Antonio in Jamaica in 1786 when he made his money with his poetry.”

Scottish academics have always skirted round the issue of Scottish slavery because it was mainly thought that the nation had not been involved. Professor Devine expressed regret in the lecture that in earlier studies he had also failed to realise the impact slavery had on the nation and omitted references to Scottish slavery in his past work.

After the bees and the frogs we are not far behind

In an August 2013 report, Haiti Grassroots Watch wrote that Haiti’s mineral wealth could be worth as much as $US 20 billion and for this already land has already been given to US and Canadian businesses fronted by Haitian firms.   These awards have been taking place over the past five years and behind closed doors with no oversight.

The “gold rush” in Haiti has been going on for the past five years or so, since the price of gold and other minerals rose. Until last year, the government and the companies cut their deals behind closed doors. After an investigation revealed that 15 percent of the county was under contract, on February 20, 2013 the Haitian Senate adopted a resolution demanding all activities cease in order to allow for a national debate and for analysis of all contracts.

Writer Edwidge Danticat goes further by tracing the quest for Haiti’s gold back to Christopher Columbus who set in motion and ongoing disaster for Haiti  culminating in the present day unregulated quest for gold.   People have already been displaced, land will be destroyed which forebodes a warning for something more to come such as the disappearance of frogs along with the disappearance of people.

The land has been  destroyed, the rivers, and all of nature.   Greed has no respect for any of these – It  takes  and takes and takes till there is nothing left, then pockets full of dollars,  moves on to somewhere else and repeats.

From The Coffin Factory an interview with Edwidge Danticat ….

The Coffin Factory: You have this whole environmental aspect of Claire that I haven’t seen in the other books. There are what initially seem to be surreal, almost magical, elements, like the exploding frogs. But then you explain that this is part of climate change.

Edwidge Danticat: The Cuban writer Mayra Montero published a wonderful novel a few years ago called In the Palm of Darkness, which is about two men, one Haitian and one foreigner, who are looking for a very rare kind of frog in Haiti. Every once in a while some rare species of frogs are discovered in Haiti, which are either endangered or extinct elsewhere. Given how little tree cover there is now in Haiti, something like less than five percent, it is amazing that something like this is even possible. I did some research and it seems that frogs, like bees, are a bellwether species. Like the Jean de la Fontaine poem the radio personality quotes in the book, when all these types of animals start disappearing, we can’t be far behind. So the facts that the frogs are disappearing in Ville Rose is a sign that something big is going to happen, something even more environmentally drastic—and everyone knows it. In a way, you have this ongoing disaster in Haiti that started with Columbus’s quest for gold and continues through the renewed interest in Haiti’s gold mines today.

 

 

 

 

John Akomfrah on his film “The Stuart Hall Project”

From Derica – Speak, Collaborate, Listen

I came to learn of Stuart Hall in the 1980s London and with him my introduction and understanding of being Black British – not something I ever felt personally but an identity that made sense to my children growing up Black in Britain.  As Akomfrah writes, Stuart Hall was a kind of  ‘rock star – pop icon with brains’ disseminating race and empire…  We were proud, we listened and learned….

 

image

“I’ve been making projects on memory for a while now, but this one feels like the one I have been ‘preparing’ for a very long time indeed, possibly all my working life.

In our teenage years, there is always at least one person we meet or see perform or watch on the screen who in that first encounter leaves such an indelible mark on our soul that we end saying to ourselves: “when I grow up, I want be just like that; I want to be that cool, that hip, that confident, that compelling”.

Of course we always change our minds later since this is after all our ‘growing up’ years. But whatever reasons we subsequently give ourselves for our change of mind, for that shift in our thinking, secretly we also know that it usually coincides with the growing realization that we don’t have the talent or the brains or the wherewithal to become that person.

Once we accept we are never going to be exactly like our heroes, something very interesting begins for us because the initial burst of enthusiasm they sparked off, the charismatic example they offered about the purpose and direction one’s own life could take, these remain with you, moulding and shaping one’s expectations and, crucially, what ‘deals’ we end up making with this unfolding thing called life.

For many of my generation in the seventies, Stuart Hall was just such a figure. In those heady, mono – cultural days, he was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn’t crooning, dancing or running. I loved all the athletes and singers and dancers too but when you are a black teenage bookworm in seventies West London, let’s just say a public intellectual of colour disseminating ideas on television offered other more immediate compensations.

Stuart Hall was a kind of rock star for us; a pop icon with brains whose very iconic presence on this most public of platforms – television – suggested all manner of ‘impossible possibilities’. By just being there in our bedrooms and living rooms, he opened up pathways into that space that he has referred as the place of ‘the unfinished conversation‘, that space in which the dialogue between us and the external world begins, that place of identity. With him and through him we begun to ask the indispensable questions of that conversation: who are we, what are we and what could we become.

Throughout the making of The Stuart Hall Project, I’ve thought a lot about this questions of identity and of our ‘debt’ to this man. I’ve also thought a lot about the poignancy of the eulogy delivered at the funeral of Malcolm X by Ossie Davis, especially the section where Davis talks about “the presence of his (Malcolm’s) memory”. And the section I find the most affecting in that eulogy, the one I returned to again and again to the point where it became the organizing motif for this piece, comes at the end when Davis says “.. in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves“.

The presence of memory. What a wonderful way of describing all our lives. And for me, the question of ‘honoring’ begins there; with memory, with uncovering the stems of memory, the ghosts of history, sifting through the debris and detritus of past events for traces of the phantoms. It begins with searching and rummaging through all those itineraries, those collective unfinished conversations that tell us something about how a very bright young Rhodes scholar from colonial Jamaica, became ‘Stuart Hall’.

In understanding him and the movements he shaped and was shaped by, we begin to understand something about how we became what we are: the Suez crisis, the Hungarian revolution , the anti- colonial project, the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the new Left, feminism, class politics, cultural studies. All these interventions, these unfinished conversations.

And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Amen to that.”

__

Also, a review of “The Unfinished Conversation” the split screen installation that became the feature documentary “The Stuart Hall Project” (now showing in the UK)

Haiti: Occassional Musings 21, A brief encounter with King Henry!

The Citadelle Henry
Citadelle Henry

A week ago, 17 of  traveled to Okap [Cap Haitian] for a few days vacation.  Apart from reunion with family, the center piece of our visit would be a trip to the Citadelle and Sans Souci, palaces built by Henri Christophe, [King Henry] one of the three revolutionary heroes of Haiti.   I’d seen photos and paintings of the palaces but as these can often be deceptive, I  didn’t have great expectations.   By 11am we were still not ready to leave and there were concerns that the climb would be too much under the midday sun.  Because no one could agree on what to do, the final decision on whether to go or not was placed with me.

My response was I had just traveled some 10,000 miles from Port Harcourt, Nigeria for the sole purpose of visiting the Citadel so not going was not an option – rain, sun, hail and unbelievably steep road!.  Not quite true but that’s how I felt at the time and used this as my argument for going.     The first part of the journey was by truck, up and up the steep winding cobbled road and still the palace was in the distance.  We arrived at the car park where we were harassed by tens of  souvenir hustlers and young men trying to get us to rent one of the small skinny horses all of whom we  ignored and began the long climb.  The initial half mile or so was so steep I honestly wasn’t sure I could make it and being surrounded by horse hustlers trying to get me to hire one didn’t help.  My legs moved in slow motion as if tied to chains and cannonballs.  One of our group tried to sit on one of the horses but promptly jumped off as the horse skipped precariously near the edge of the path.  Eventually the hustlers gave up and we were left in peace and sweat to make the climb in our own time.

Citadelle

The kids raced ahead whilst I and the rest of the old adults made the climb in just over 30 minutes.  As we got closer and closer we began to feel the grandeur of this magnificent palace, now a world heritage site, built on a foundation of rocks atop the highest point from which even the hills of Cap Haitian are over looked.

King Henry was born in Grenada in 1767.  According to a Haitian historian friend, at the age of 12, Christophe joined a ship’s crew and set sail for Saint-Domingue.   He worked as a waiter before joining the French army in Saint Domingue.   At the time the Americans were still fighting the British and had called upon the French for support.  In a  twist of irony,  Henry Christophe, soon to be Black revolutionary hero,  was one of 500 Haitian soldiers – the Corps de Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue,   who fought alongside  the Americans against the British at the Battle of Savannah in 1779.  I doubt many in the US today are aware of the role of Haitians in securing their own freedoms.   Another lesser known fact is that after Haiti’s independence  in 1804, many Black Americans began emigrating to  the island.

christophe

On his return, he left the French army and eventually joined with the revolutionary leaders, Janjak Desalin [Jean Jacques Dessalines] and Tousssaint L’Overture in the hills of Cap Haitian in the war to free Haiti from France and slavery which would lead to the country being the first Black independent nation in 1804

More on Henry Christophe at Kreyolicious

Venus Noire – A film about Saartjie Baartman

Via Shadow and Act – The story of Saartjie Baartman [Parts 1 & 2]The film is in French with subtitles but unfortunately I havent had much success in watching it.   I would love to hear from anyone who has seen the film meanwhile a review by Tamara Obenson is published below. The comments on the original post are interesting and express some of my concerns – ie three hours later how angry will I feel? Is this yet another exploitation of Saartjie Baartman?

So there I was waiting for the subway train after my screening of Venus Noire (Black Venus), and what did I see plastered almost all over one of those ubiquitous tunnel newsstands? Covers for various magazines, many unabashedly featuring the barely covered-up plump bottoms of predominantly black women in seductive poses – 2 dimensional images of voiceless bodies, objectified, exotified, envied, denigrated, and more; depending on the viewer.

And with that picture, Obvious Guy asks, so, really, has much changed in the 200 years since Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman found herself victim of the same kind of mixed gaze? Of course, there’s the perceived independence, and even false sense of power and control some might claim those in the present-day wield over their spectators (an illusory brand of feminism as I’ve heard others suggest), and they aren’t introduced in cages by a man carrying a whip (well, actually, some are), and Saartjie’s experiences were more direct and literal; but, frankly, the similarities can’t be ignored. I even considered that Saartjie’s torment was strictly race-based, and a result of its time; but I was able to dismiss that notion in realizing that there still certainly exists a racial “otherness” that precedes and influences the various gazes I mentioned above. For example, I still (unfortunately) hear stories about enthralled white women asking black women if they can touch their hair, ignorant of the sensation the request itself provokes.

The film opens in 1815, France, some time after Saartjie’s death, as a French academic, addressing what look like his peers, with a physical mold of Saartjie’s body on display, makes his scientific and historic case for why her “species” is inferior to theirs. The lengthy opening lecture is met with applause from his audience of all white men. The matter-of-fact nature of the entire sequence is revelatory in that it shows just how ignorant, yet assured of themselves these leaders of the world were, and helps explain their callous treatment of their perceived inferiors – a trend that continued long after they themselves perished.

Following that opening sequence, we travel back in time, 5 years, to 1810, London, some time after Baartman had been taken from Cape Town, with promises of wealth, via exhibition, in Europe. And so the tragic tale of the “freak show attraction” known as the Hottentot Venus began…

Like those women on the magazine covers, Saartjie is mostly mute throughout the film, her body language representative of her thoughts, and clearly, she isn’t exactly cherishing the spectacle that’s being made of her physical self – much of it some will find difficult to watch, as it should be. Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche makes sure of that, with numerous scenes running quite lengthy – possibly 10 minutes or more in some cases.

Given the style in which the film is made, it felt almost like a documentary. Kechiche does little to distract from the narrative; the performances from the entire cast are realistic (you believe them), including Yahima Torres (as Baartman), Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet, Elina Lowensohn, Francois Marthouret, Michel Gionti, and Jean-Christophe Bouvet; there’s virtually no soundtrack (any music heard occurs naturally within the scene); the mostly hand-held camera moves but, oddly, you forget that it’s there – partly due to the stark nature of the physical settings, and also of the subject matter itself; you may feel guilty enough to look away, but you can’t.

In reading some early reviews of the film before I saw it, I expected to be turned off by what some seemed to suggest would be gratuitous on the part of the director. But I didn’t feel what they felt, and I do wonder if the reactions to Venus Noire will be similar to a film like Precious (a story about a character whose physical self was also arguably a character in its own right), in that they will be separated along color lines. I could certainly make sense of a white film critic being made uncomfortable by the inhumane treatment Saartjie endured; her captors are white. And as I’ve already suggested, one can’t help but see connections to the present-day race- and sex-based prejudices that still exist. There’s a reason (amongst many) that films that center on whites-as-saviors-of-”others” continue to be produced. They like to see themselves in that light. Rarely do we see stories told that detail the inhumanities whites have dished out intently and indiscriminately on the darker-skinned “others” across the world, without retribution. In a way, it’s like a revision of history.

But no one comes to save Saartjie here; she lives a brutal life, and dies just as punishingly, with the film not necessarily making it clear who we are supposed to point our fingers to, for blame.
Continue reading here

Via – Liberator Magazine

A History of Haiti and the Legacy of Violence in Jamaica

From Left of Black: A History of Haiti and the Legacy of Violence in Jamaica with Laurent Dubois and Deborah Thomas

Host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined in-studio by Laurent Dubois, the Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke University A co-director of the Haiti Lab at the Franklin Humanities Institute, Dubois discusses his new book Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (Metropolitan Books). Dubois gives historical context to the longstanding relationship between the U.S. and Haiti. Also the author of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France, Dubois also talks about how he uses athletics as a gateway into political and cultural engagement.

Later, Neal is joined via Skype© by University of Pennsylvania professor of anthropology Deborah Thomas. The author of Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship and Transnational Jamaica and co-director and co-producer of the film Bad Friday: Rastafari After Coral Gardens, Thomas discusses common misconceptions and stereotypes against Jamaican people. Thomas dives into the history of the Rastafarian Movement and their oppression. Lastly, Thomas talks about her film, and how her background as a dancer inspires her scholarship.

Mandela’s Queer Legacy

From the Mail & Guardian, Phumi Mtetwa discusses Nelson Mandela’s role in facilitating LGBTI rights in South Africa through encouraging dialogue. However his contribution fell short as failed upset the social and economic structures at the  core of inequality.

“Oliver Tambo thetha noBotha akhulul’ Mandela / u Mandela azobusa… [Oliver Tambo speak to Botha to release Mandela to rule!"]

Many anti-apartheid activists of my generation sang this song, along with others. I can still feel the yearning for freedom, which we believed Nelson Mandela’s ascent to the presidency would bring.

And so, on the eve of his release, we marched and danced in the streets of KwaThema; the next day we watched on big screens as he walked out of prison, raising his fist. For many of us that was the first taste of how freedom felt — and our struggles seemed closer to an end.

On April 27 1994 we voted for the ANC and for Mandela as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. In May that year, on the occasion of the opening of Parliament, Mandela said: “We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political liberties and the human rights of all our citizens.”

Encouraged by many calls to build a new South Africa, about 70 lesbian, gay and human rights organisations launched the South African National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) in Johannesburg in December 1994. This new formation had the objective of guaranteeing equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, in the country’s new Constitution and legislation. The coalition’s strategy was informed by the diversity of its constituency and in recognition of all forms of oppression. It thus campaigned for equality for all.

This significant moment in the history of gay and lesbian organising in South Africa had its roots in the anti-apartheid struggles, in which many openly gay and lesbian people were active. It was also a moment for the majority in South Africa collectively to define the nature of the way  we relate to each other as a people, informed by a past filled with exclusion, oppression, discrimination and violence.

Discriminatory conditions
The wider ANC movement, at home and abroad, had been challenged to discuss homosexuality openly and explicitly, and to adopt policies that protected lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

The 1993 interim constitution had the equality clause, which recognised a range of discriminatory conditions and identities by means of which South Africans were excluded. Sexual orientation was one of them.

The coalition saw the significance of the ANC’s commitments to human rights, and of what Mandela implied in his presidential address in 1994: that the Bill of Rights, as endorsed by the ANC in 1990, encodes principles that “speak of a [an] … order in which, regardless of colour, gender, religion, political opinion or sexual orientation, the law will provide for the equal protection of all citizens.”

A coalition delegation (Simon Nkoli, British actor Sir Ian McKellen and myself) met President Mandela in February 1995, at the ANC’s then headquarters, to acknowledge the organisation’s commitment to equality, and to reiterate the importance of ensuring that it lived up to that commitment and presented the aspirations of many lesbian and gay people, organised as the NCGLE.

Mandela’s presidency was one of constitutional and legal reform. In 1996, when the final Constitution was adopted, we could continue to celebrate the equality clause and the Bill of Rights.

The NCGLE, until it was disbanded in 1999, then the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, and then the LGBTI Joint Working Group and their member organisations, worked on legal reforms such as the recognition of same-sex partnerships and marriage. This latter campaign was successful in 2006, when Parliament passed the Civil Union Bill. That is one instance of widely celebrated processes and results attributable to Mandela’s vision of South Africa as the “rainbow nation”.

Basis of sexual orientation
At the ANC’s 50th congress, in 1997, the party adopted a resolution opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This resolution drew on the party’s 1993 “Ready to Govern” document, which had included support for equality for LGBTI South Africans, committing the ANC to public representation of LGBTI people, and calling for ­programmes to counter anti-gay prejudice and to promote equality in the organisation.

The importance of these victories was huge. Many people came out. The oldest Pride march in Africa (Johannesburg’s) no longer included faces hooded with brown paper bags!

The legal gains helped to reverse discriminatory practices. Mandela became an important icon of the movement, in contrast to homophobic leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Namibia’s Sam Nujoma and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

Mandela came from a political tradition that encouraged debate, and provided leadership of a kind seldom seen now in Africa. He lived up to his name, Dalibhunga — “convenor of the dialogue”. He courageously listened and positioned his views according to the principles he stood for, even if they were unpopular.

He knew there were threats to freedom and equality. He knew legislative changes would not eliminate social and economic oppression and exclusion. He did not, however, upset the political and economic structure at the core of inequality and, in turn, of rising homophobic and other violence, misogyny and other forms of scapegoating of the impoverished by the impoverished.

These are issues the ANC should address urgently to rectify the contradiction of advancing a sociopolitical vision such as Mandela’s without reconstructing the political-economic structure.

As a queer activist I will remember uTatu Dalibhunga for the dreams of freedom he symbolised. This, for me, offers renewed inspiration to continue to challenge neocolonialism and capitalism. I will defend South Africa’s Bill of Rights and struggle to make the government deliver on its promises. I will struggle against the hate waged against LGBTI people and nationals from other African countries who are living here. I will struggle against inequality, patriarchy, misogyny and racism. I will struggle against tribalism, nationalism and fundamentalism.

Many LGBTI people across the world celebrate Pride on the last weekend of June. In several South African cities and townships, Pride happens throughout the year! I hope that at all such events, with rainbow flags flying high, we celebrate one of the freedom movement’s greatest icons, and that we reflect and build on Mandela’s insight: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Phumi Mtetwa is a co-founder of the NCGLE and former executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project

Haiti: April 26th 1963, Testimonies of Duvalier Massacre

Testimonies

The April 26, 1986 commemmorative march on Fort Dimanche [also known as Fort Death] was a huge march by the people of Haiti marking the overthrow of Duvalier on February 7th 1986. One of the organisers of that march was a young parish priest,Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Below are a few testimonies from survivors of the massacre which included many children.

TESTIMONY 1: GEORGES “Ti Joe” EDELINE

Indeed, Lt. Francois Benoit, married(15 Dec. 1960) to one of my 3 older sisters, Jacqueline , lost their first-born, Gerald “Gerry” Benoit(b.30 September 1961), on Friday, 26 April 1963, 11:00 am.

Gerry was taken out of the home of Lt. Francois Benoit’s parents (Judge Joseph & Mrs. Benoit), corner of Ruelle Jeremie and Bois Verna, by Captain Max Dominique, who led the macoutes, in the middle of the day, to arrest Lt. Benoit.

The latter, member of the Haitian sharp-shooting team, had been falsely accused, of being involved with the attempt to kidnap the president’s son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, then about 11-12 years old, as he was being picked-up from school.

Once Max Dominique cleared the gate, on his way to the waiting vehicles, the macoutes spread fuel on the house and the dead bodies of the people they had just massacred, i.e. Judge & Mrs. Joseph Benoit, a pregnant visitor who was mistaken for my sister, Jacqueline Edeline Benoit(Francois’ wife), 2 maids and a young male gardener; before burning it to the ground. The remains of the house, in that vacant lot, have not been touch since.

It seems as though Gerry Benoit(then 17 months) was taken directly to the palace, never to be seen again.

In the meanwhile, another truck full of macoutes, led by Lt. Edouard Guillot, headed to 18 Ruelle Robin, home of the Edeline family. My parents, Paul Rene(55) and Georgette(48) Edeline, were the only ones home, along with a couple of maids and a gardener.
My mother, by pure luck, saw a truck of macoutes through the window of the first floor and got suspicious. She shouted my dad’s name, and alerted him of the sight in the front of the house, screaming for him to come down and get away; but, he replied that he had not done anything wrong and had no reason to run. So she and the servants took off.

Lt. E. Guillot personally escorted my dad to the waiting vehicle, hitting him all along, as one of my 3 other older brothers(Jean-Robert “Bob”) watched from across the street, where he and a couple of neighbors were chatting. My dad was taken away, never to be seen again?

My mom jumped the wall in the back yard and escaped through the neighbor (Moravia)’s yard. From her hiding place, blocks away, she managed to gather several of us, from schools and work, and send us into separate hiding places, for the next four months.
When things calmed down, the ones of us who did not leave the country, were able to come out of hiding, go back to school, and work, as if nothing had happened; until nine months later (July 1, 1964).

Because of the Benoit Affair, 26 April 1963, my brother-in-law, Lt. P. Francois Benoit, had to take refuge at the Dominican Ambassy which, incidentally, the macoutes attacked in order to capture him. The latter, who was armed and very familiar with weapons, along with the Ambassy guards, defended themselves very successfully.
Juan Bosh, the Dominican president at the time, quickly contacted Papa Doc to tell him to keep his distance, if he did not want a war, and leave Benoit alone, which he did. Arrangements were then made for Benoit to be transferred to the D.R. Ambassador’s residence until they could make safely get him to the Embassy of Ecuador, where he stayed for over a year.

Papa Doc tried his best to keep Benoit on Haitian soil until he could get a hold of him. In addition, he held on to the false accusations, declared Benoit under arrest, judged, convicted and sentenced to death, and executed, all “in absentia.” He was not able to get out of the country until January of 1965.

Since my brother, then Captain Claude Edeline, was also part of the Haitian sharp shooting team, the macoutes went after him. At the time, he was staying at his in-laws’ home, in Pacot.
By then, it was in the middle of the night of 26 April. Because there were watch dogs barking inside the gated house, and both my brother and retired Colonel Max Bazelais, were armed, the officer in command, ordered the macoutes and soldiers, in a loud and alerting voice, to get back in the trucks and wait until day time to return.
We all still think that the officer may have been sending a message to my brother(29), and his immediate family, wife(Josselyne Bazelais, daughter of Colonel Max Bazelais), and 2 children, Patrick and Florence, both under 3.5 years old, that he was in danger.
So now Benoit’s wife, Jacqueline; plus her brother, Claude Edeline and his family of four; all went into hiding, until they could get into various Embassies and, eventually, leave the country. The rest of us, siblings and other relatives, had to go into hiding, as well. In those days, gender and age did not matter to the macoutes. They picked up anyone and everyone who happened to be with or around their targeted victims.

When things calmed down, months after the Benoit Affair, those of us still in the country, slowly started to venture out again. We went back to school, or work, and moved into another area altogether; since or house was taken over by “friends of the regime.”
Well, the calm period did not last very long; for, in the summer of 1964, my older brother, Claude, had moved from New York City, where he had been since the escaped a year earlier, to Baltimore, Maryland, for a new job. It just happened that a small group of Haitians, who had been living in and around New York, invaded the country. Without any evidence or proof, my brother was accused of being part of the invasion, which started in the south of the country, near a town where he was stationed as a young army officer. It seems as though one of the locals reported that he had recognized my brother among the invaders. So, the macoutes wasted no time in rounding up all the other members of the family, whom they had not picked up the first time. Well, all the ones they could find, anyway.
Consequently, they arrested my 49-year old mother, Georgette; two older sisters, Ghislaine Edeline Duchatelier(29), along with her husband, Maurice, their baby, Philippe-Maurice; an older brother, Bob(21); another older sister, Gladys(19); from their Delmas home, at lunch time. My 96-year old grand-mother, who lived with them, was shaken up but left alone. My 2 younger siblings, Guerda(15) and Edouard (10), though in the house at the time, were spared. Guerda, by pure luck, since she is the one who answered the door, when Lt. Harry Tassy showed up with his truck load of macoutes and sent her to get mom. The others were already in a car, pulling out of the driveway, to go back to work, after lunch.

As Guerda went back in to find mom, the latter was on her way to the front door. Tassy had her join the others (Maurice, Ghislaine, Bob and Gladys) in the car, and taken away; never to be seen again, along with the car. Guerda figured out what was happening, once everyone disappeared. She gathered younger brother Edouard (the 9th of 9 children); nephew Philippe-Maurice, along with 2 of Maurice’s younger boys from his previous marriage, who were visiting; and fled through the woods, behind the house.

They were barely into the woods when they heard the loud noise of the macoutes’ vehicles heading back to the house, apparently remembering that they had talked to Guerda but had failed to take her along.

The four children, then, ran into a neighbor’s house, to hide, which happened to be the home of Colonel Frank Romain’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Qualo. Colonel F. Romain lived right across the street.
Lt. Tassy, not having found Guerda in the house, decided to search the whole neighborhood, one house at a time. Mrs. Qualo realized what was happening, as the macoutes were only already entering her property. She instantly ordered the kids to run into the maids’ quarters, detached from the house, but kept the baby with her.
The macoutes demanded to have the baby before proceeding to search the property. Miraculously, they searched all the rooms in the main house, and all the ones detached from the home, the doors of which were closed; but not the one room in which the kids were hiding. They had run into that room so fast that the door remained ajar, behind them. The macoutes must have assumed that no one was hiding in a room with a open door; so they skipped it, as they moved on to search other houses in the neighborhood.
As soon as the kids were able to get away, they all fled through the woods and ran as far away as they could until they recognized some family friends. Within minutes, they were all thrown into a car and driven out of the neighborhood.

In my case, I was at my cousins’ house in Pacot when the news reached me, via words of mouth. As a lady came out of nowhere was still telling my aunt the story, an older cousin also rushed in, having left his car running in the driveway, and dragged me away from a scrabble game. Strangely enough, the last word that I placed on the board as we headed for his VW Beetle, was “deuil,” the French word for “mourning.” He had also heard the news, himself, and knowing that I had been staying there, he came to rescue me and take me to a safe place.

The youngest 3 of us, of nine children, were able to stay in hiding for 5 months, as arrangements were made for us to leave the country and, eventually, make it to the U.S. of A, which we have all, gladly, adopted as our new home.

To summarize, Papa Doc’s regime took away mom, dad, 2 brothers, 2 sisters, a brother-in-law, and 2 nephews, from my immediate family; not counting others related by marriage.

THE ESCAPE FROM THE CLAWS OF PAPA DOC’S MACOUTES, AFTER 5 MONTHS OF HIDING AND LOSING MORE THAN HALF OF THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY, IS ANOTHER STORY IN ITSELF…
Testimony Katherine Bouchereau Webster – Granddaughter of Jean Bouchereau and Max Bazelais
April 26th 1963 – April 26th 2013
50 years and 3 generations later

I don’t recall what it’s like to have a grand-father. I was robbed of both grand-fathers on April 26th 1963. What I know of my grand-fathers “papa Max” and “papi Jean,” I know through stories. Everyone, says they would have been great …grand-dads. I’m sure they would have as I had 2 great parents.

Papa Max, I recall vaguely. As a little girl, I remember he came home after “being away” for a long time. He was not home long, before my grand-mother and mother checked him into an end-of-life care facility. All I recall is them saying “This is not Max or this is not my Dad anymore.” Once he left our home, I only saw him I think one more time. He died in that facility a short while later.

Papi Jean, I never knew. I only know stories. Stories, I remember pestering my grand-mother to tell me (How they met, how he proposed and how they dance at “Belle-vue” and what she remembers of that day) and stories shared mostly by my aunts, his daughters. My dad Guy Bouchereau, his son, does not talk about him — ever, not to us. But one of my most vivid memories as a child is of my dad and his dad. It was my dad’s birthday. I guess he wanted a boat. We were all at breakfast, my mom handed him a present and says “here’s your boat” — we all laughed. My dad says “what’s this?” with a huge smile as he attempts to tear through the wrapping. He does not even get to the half point, when he bursts into tears (the ugly cry). The gift was a portrait my mom had commission of Papi Jean in uniform. That was the first and the last time I saw my dad cry like that — The portrait hangs in our home till this day. I know it will be passed down for generations as it priceless to us — and so is the memory of Papi Jean.See More

In Memory of April 26th 1963
Yesterday
Testimony Isabelle Cl̩ri̩ РGrandaughter of Jean Bouchereau
April 26th 1963 – April 26th 2013
50 years and 3 generations later

My grandfather, Jean Bouchereau, was the kind of man that left an impression. He was tall, slim, handsome with a high brow and dark hair. He had a pensive face and a kind smile, and was quite the disciplinarian. My mother remembers fondly her childhood with her eleven sib…lings and they’re many many “exploits”. I recall one particular story always told through waves of laughter, in which my eldest aunt came home from a friend’s house and found her siblings in line for a spanking. As she entered, my grandfather looked at her and said “get in line”, not knowing what mischief her younger siblings had committed she was outraged! She wasn’t even home! Her protests were met with a simple “If you had been here, you would have been part of it, so get in line.”

Every time I think of Papi Jean I can’t help but smile. He would have been an amazing grandfather, if only I’d had a chance to know him.
Fifty years ago, on April 26th 1963, an attempt was made on the life of a young Jean Claude Duvalier and in response his father, Papa Doc, had every officer of the former military arrested or killed. That was the day that Papi Jean was taken from our family. Fifty years later, we remain enshrouded in mystery and unanswered questions. What happened to him? When did he die? How did he die?

I may never have known him but what I do know is that his children speak of him often. I know that every morning, up until her death in 2006, my grandmother came down the stairs of the house her husband had built for her, crossed through the dining room and stopped at the mantle with a large picture of Papi Jean in uniform. Every morning she kissed his picture. Sometimes she stared at it longingly while caressing his printed features through the glass frame and sigh as if even the glass was a further separation to bear. Any man who merits such devotion from a woman like my grandmother must have been nothing short of amazing.

This year marks fifty years since my family was broken. Fifty years of waiting. Fifty years of stories. Fifty years of fond memories that Jean’s grandchildren have adopted as their own just to feel closer to our beloved Papi Jean.

Fifty years of unspoken memories, unsung protests, and unanswered questions. Our country is marred by dictatorships, massacres, and unimaginable injustices yet our silence prevails.

Let us not persist with this subordinate attitude. Let us not let our loved ones go unremembered and unsung. Let us remember always this scar in our history.

I remember Papi Jean. Through the eyes of my mother and my aunts and uncles I know the man he was, and I can imagine the grandfather he would have been. Je t’aime Papi Jean.

In Memory of April 26th 1963

Thursday
26 Avril 1963- 26 Avril 2013 – 50 ANS – POUR QUE VIVE LA MEMOIRE

Temoignages de Guylène Bouchereau Salès

Ce 26 Avril 1963, à 5h du matin, le jeune frère de mon père, ex-officier de l’Armée, comme lui, venait lui annoncer que la veille avaient été arrêtés des anciens officiers. Après lui en avoir cité quelques uns, il lui demanda : « Que penses-tu qu’on devrait faire? » Mon père, Jean Boucher…eau, ex-ingénieur de l’Armée d’Haïti, lui répondit: « Avec mes 12 enfants, où veux-tu que j’aille ? Qui voudrait m’aider avec cette longue famille? » Mon oncle parti, Papa très sombre, me dit : « Les nouvelles sont mauvaises; mais habillez-vous pour aller à l’école, moi après la Banque, je me rendrai à Léôgane faire le paiement de salaire des ouvriers, et je reviendrai vite. »

Rendue à l’école, au Centre d’Etudes Secondaires, voyant que les macoutes connus et puissants de l’époque venaient, en courant, récupérer leurs enfants, préssentant un danger, je demandai à M. Riché, mon prof de math, la permission de quitter la classe et l’établissement. Je partis donc chercher mes jeunes frères et sÅ“urs. En quittant, le Collège Price Mars, entourée de mes 2 frères, Guy et Anthony, de ma sÅ“ur Michèle, nous courions sur l’Avenue Jean Paul 1er en direction de l’Avenue des Marguerites, au Collège Roger Anglade, pour prendre les plus petites. Autour de nous, comme des fous, les automobilistes allaient et venaient en trombe. Ils étaient motivés, comme nous, par la peur, mais la peur de quoi? Nous ne le savions pas encore.

Une fois chez nous, on nous annonça que « quelqu’un » avait essayé d’attenter à la vie de Jean Claude Duvalier, devant le Collège Bird. Ce qui a suivi, restera marqué à tout jamais dans la mémoire de toute une génération.

Des tirs se faisaient entendre dans toute la ville; une fumée épaisse, provenant de la maison du Juge Benoit, nous fit tressaillir. Notre sÅ“ur aînée arriva, en pleurs, un gros sac en main, nous racontant plus en détail la tragédie. A la “Librairie Selecte “, pendant que Papa achetait son Time magazine hebdomadaire, un ami proche de la famille et sbire de Duvalier accompagné de tontons macoutes arrivèrent. De but en blanc, ils demandèrent à voir le propriétaire du magasin, qui était lui aussi officier de l’armée. Malgré les étroits liens d’amitié qui unissaient notre mère à notre bourreau, ce dernier, sachant fort bien l’intégrité de notre père, ordonna malgré tout d’arrêter l’ex-officier qu’était notre père, Jean Bouchereau.

Par la suite, les témoins nous ont raconté que notre père a été poussé dans le coffre d’une voiture, lequel contenait déjà d’autres officiers, connus. La voiture prit la direction du Fort Dimanche, « Fô lamô ». Nous n’avons plus revu notre père. Nombreux sont ceux, qui comme nous, ce jour-là, perdirent un être cher. Nombreuses sont les histoires, les unes plus sordides que les autres. Le 26 avril 1963, « la bête dévorait tout sur son passage. »

Au long des années, ma mère reçu de nombreuses visites de solliciteurs. Ils voulaient tous « lui » – notre père — acheter des cigarettes. Nombreux aussi, ceux, qui proches du Régime, venaient nous annoncer l’Amnistie, et sa libération prochaine, nous permettant de nourrir des espoirs qu’ils savaient faux mais dont ils se nourrissaient pour mieux soutirer de ma mère. Ma pauvre mère a passé des années et des années à attendre son retour, bichonnant ses vêtements, préparant ses mets favoris en ayant soin de toujours mettre un couvert de plus.

Ma mère passa sa vie à s’interroger sur sa disparition. Et nous, les enfants, continuons à questionner l’oracle sans trouver de réponse. L’a-ton donné pour être dévoré par les chiens au Fort Dimanche ? A-t-il été tué sur le champ ? A-t-il passé le reste de sa vie dans ces cellules du Fort Dimanche ?

Autant de questions restées et qui resteront encore dans les annales du temps, sans réponse, comme se retrouve le mot JUSTICE : sans définition, sans aucun sens.

Ceci est mon témoignage, mon vécu du 26 avril 1963. Ma réalité en ce 26 avril 2013, 50 ans plus tard pour que Vive la Mémoire. La mémoire d’un peuple sans mémoire.

Haiti: April 26th, Memories of a Duvalier Massacre

From [The Progressive](http://www.progressive.org/). Memories of a Duvalier Massacre, 50 Years Later” by Edwidge Danticat

“Recently, Francois Duvalier’s grandson, Jean Claude’s son, François-Nicolas Duvalier, an adviser to Haiti’s current president Michel Martelly, wrote an opinion piece praising his grandfather’s “republican values” and calling him a “great nationalist.”

+ This is the legacy of Duvalier openly supported by President Martelly

Haiti, April 26, 1963: Some will commemorate this date with religious services, conferences, radio forums, film screenings, and testimonials.
Some will commemorate it on social media, on Twitter and Facebook.
Others will choose to commemorate it privately, without uttering a word.
Others will decide not to commemorate at all.

A radio spot declares:
Ann sonje viktim yo.
Ann aprann sa k te pase.
Ann kenbe rasin memwa nou.
Let us remember the victims.
Let us learn what happened.
Let us keep the roots of our memory alive.
Former journalist Michèle Montas still vividly remembers the bullet-ridden bodies lying on the sidewalk near her home on April 26, 1963. She was seventeen years old.
There had been an attempted kidnapping of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier that morning and his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, decided to unleash his wrath, and his henchmen, on the entire city of Port-au-Prince.
The bloodbath began at the home of Montas’s neighbor, Lieutenant François Benoit, an elite marksman who had been dismissed from the army. Benoit’s parents were killed. His house was set on fire, with a seven-month-old baby inside.
“Soldiers and Tonton Macoutes seemed infected with a blood lust and shot anyone who moved or came near the Benoit place,” retired Marine Corps officer Charles T. Williamson, in Haiti to help train Duvalier’s army, wrote in his 1999 memoir, United States Naval Mission to Haiti, 1959-1963. “Throughout the town the word was out that former army officers were to be arrested along with anyone thought to oppose the regime. . . . The hunt was on.”
The hunt was indeed on for Duvalier’s adversaries, army and civilian alike. Roadblocks were set up. Death squads though roamed freely. Grenades and bombs exploded in the daytime and gunfire crackled at night, resulting in what Bernard Diederich, co-author (with Al Burt) of Papa Doc and the Tonton Macoutes, recently called “a day of mayhem, genocide!”
Montas recalls “the smell of rotting bodies for days, but also the gripping smell of fear. It had become the norm, whole families guilty by bloodline, condemned, executed.”
Hundreds were rounded up or disappeared into the bowels of Fort Dimanche, the notorious dungeon prison where many of Papa Doc’s victims lost their lives.
It was one of the most brutal days of the twenty-nine-year rule of Papa Doc and his son, Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. During their reign, an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 men, women, and children were killed.
Recently, Francois Duvalier’s grandson, Jean Claude’s son, François-Nicolas Duvalier, an adviser to Haiti’s current president Michel Martelly, wrote an opinion piece praising his grandfather’s “republican values” and calling him a “great nationalist.”
This, coming just a few days before the fiftieth anniversary of April 26, 1963, seems to not only be an attempt at whitewashing the past, but at launching an offensive against those who, on this day, will pause to remember.
Fifty years on, the victims of Duvalier père can only evoke these atrocities ceremonially, while a few of those who suffered similarly under his son were recently able to briefly face him in court.
The few–like Montas, who was arrested on Jean Claude Duvalier’s orders, on November 28, 1980–who have been able to file complaints or testify, represent a small percentage of those who were arrested, jailed, tortured, or killed under the younger’s Duvalier regime. Montas joins an even shorter list of high profile victims, whom Baby Doc is able to identify by name.
“But we–the thirty listed in the complaint–are not the only ones,” Montas stresses. “The repression went across all classes, all over the country. Journalists were crushed. Students were crushed. Unions were crushed. Rural people were crushed.”
She recalls the particular case of one of her fellow plaintiffs who was forced to travel from northern Haiti with her husband’s severed head in a bucket during the father’s reign and was only released from Fort Dimanche during the son’s reign, as part of a prisoner exchange with the United States.
“He inherited a repressive machine from his father,” she says, “and continued to use it to stay in power. There should be no statute of limitations for judgment on that. There should be no statute of limitations on the disappeared.”

Continue on The Progressive http://progressive.org/haiti-duvalier-massacre-50-years-later

THE LIONESS OF LISABI – Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

THE LIONESS OF LISABI - Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti – “Nigerian feminist and activist who fought for suffrage and equal rights for her countrywomen”  Reblogged [unedited] from July 2004, one of my first blog posts.  The photos are from a 2010 post by Cosmic Yoruba

Yesterday, I came across this album that contains pictures from the private collection of the much loved Nigerian feminist, shero and inspiration to several young girls and women, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. With Sokari’s help, here are some pictures from the album below but make sure to click on the link above to see more pictures and click here to learn more about Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti or FRK for short

 

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was born on 25th October, 1900  in Abeokuta, Egbaland.  The Egba branch of Yoruba (one of many politically autonomous groups each with its own mutually intelligible dialects) lived in an area between Ijebu in the east, Eko (Lagos) in the south and the Ogun river in the west.  By 1900 the Egba like other Yoruba had a highly sophisticated social hierarchy and socio-political system and in fact the had been in the south-west of Nigeria for over a millennium.   Although women were excluded in all but one of the four branches of government they did have access to the political system through the female only IYALODE society (meaning “Mother of the Town”) which enabled them to be represented in decision making and administration.

 

The settling of the Egbas in Abeokuta was a result of inter Yoruba wars in the early 19C when thousands of Egbas were killed and 1000s more sold into slavery.  Once Abeokuta was secured the Egbas then returned to their traditional economic activity which consisted of a gendered division of labour where the men specialised in agriculture (unusual as most of sub-Saharan Africa this was the women’s role) hunting and warfare and the women cloth production, marketing and trading.   The colonial presence in nearby Eko (Lagos)  provided the Egbas with a ready market for both agricultural produce and the women’s trading businesses.

By 1892 the colonial government had expanded into Egbaland and created the Egba United Government (EUG) and by 1917, Egba was part of the Southern Nigerian Protectorate.  The then Governor, Lord Lugard introduced first a system of direct taxation and secondly created the Sole Native Authority which was a form of indirect rule whereby the Obas (High traditional rulers) acted as agents for the colonial government.   The SNA led to an even greater erosion of women’s access to political power as the Alake rarely if at all consulted women in his decision making.  Nonetheless the education of girls was seen as essential to the progress of the Egba people.    The diminishing status and power of women in Egba was reinforced by the “prejudices and assumptions of the British colonial administration officers who worked for a government in which there were scarcely any women and who therefore did not expect or wish to find women involved in Southern Nigeria” (p11)

t.

 

The direct taxation system which included women was the one issue that catapulted FRK into the political spotlight first in Abeokuta and then in Nigeria.  In fact the issue of colonial FRK was an Afrocentric feminist  who recognised that women faced multiple oppressions of race, gender and class and that the way to challenging these oppressions was through the empowering of women.  Secondly, although FRK actively fought for equality and justice for women, she was also a nationalist which meant that she fought for the end to colonisation  and all forms of domination whether at a local or a national level.  Thirdly she was a social democrat and was committed to the reorganisation of Nigerian society in such a way as to promote self-development over and above capitalism and materialism. Taxation of women was a highly contentious one which was taken up not only in Egba but also in other parts of the country and most notably in Igboland.

FRK had no interest in the material trappings of her class and status and although she shunned western dress and  refused to speak in English in the public forum, she was a nationalist that had no time for ethnocentrism.  Neither did she believe in sticking to tradition for traditions sake.  She challenged those aspects of Yoruba culture which she felt were in conflict with her egalitarian worldview such as kneeling or prostrating to an elder, spouse or titled person.  Both her and her husband refused to do so and taught their children not to do so.

In 1923 FRK was head teacher of Abeokuta Grammar school (girls branch) and it is here that she organised a group of young girls and women into the Abeokuta Ladies Club.   The group made up of western educated middle class and most Christian women concentrated on learning handicrafts and social etiquette.   When FRK moved to Ijebu-Ode with her husband she against founded a similar ladies club and again when she moved back to Abeokuta this time the activities including civic projects and organising a range of activities for teenagers of both sexes.

In 1944 FRK was approached by a friend and former student who introduced her to a market women who told FRK that she wanted to learn to read.  The ALC regrouped itself and expanded its membership to include market women.  Women who were generally poor, Muslim and not educated.   It was at this point that FRK truly began her career as a political activist.     Listed amongst its aims were “to help in raising the standard of womanhood in Abeokuta… to help in encouraging learning among the adults and thereby wipe out illiteracy”.   Members of the extended Ransom-Kuti family were recruited as tutors including Wole Soyinka and his mother, cousins of FRK.

FRK husband had meanwhile founded with others, the National Union of Teachers and these two organisations often went on to  work together in their push for women’s rights.    In 1945 the issue of price controls of foodstuff sold by the market women was brought to the notice of FRK and the ALC.  The ALC sent a number of delegations to the District officer and the Egba Native Administration council — to no avail.  However the Daily Service newspaper published an article about the matter and within a week the confiscation of rice ceased.

FRK began to listen to the market women and was horrified to hear of the level of their exploitation by the colonial and ENA.  For example, conditional sales, which forced women to buy slow moving goods together with fast moving ones which placed a heavy burden on the women who lived with very low profit margins.  Another example was the imposition of quotas of food to be sold to the government, harassment by police and representatives of the Alake (Oba of Abeokuta).   All of this came as a great surprise to FRK and she is quoted as saying “ we educated women were living outside the daily life of the people”.  It was at this point that she forever abandoned western dress and started wearing the traditional Yoruba wrapper “in order to make the women feel and know I was one of them”.

From this period on the ALC, later to become the Abeokuta Women’s Union, (FRK was the president from inception until her death in 1978)  became involved in a series of protest actions.  The first was the demand to end government control of trading and for no increase in the taxation of women, the latter would lead to the most “dynamic and protracted struggles, culminating in the temporary abdication of the Alake and reform of the SNA” (p67)

The issue of taxation was a particularly sore issue for the  women of Abeokuta who were amongst the first females to be subjected to tax by the colonial government.  Girls were taxed at age 15 whilst boys 16 and wives were taxed separately from their husbands irrespective of their income.  The women considered the tax as “foreign, unfair and excessive” but they also objected to the method of collection.  “Homes were invaded, women sometimes physically assaulted, including being stripped naked …. And jailed for non-payment.” As stated earlier the British had introduced a system of indirect rule so it was the Alake who was ultimately responsible for the collection.  This then put him in direct conflict with the Abeokuta women who were also disenfranchised through the process of indirect rule.

The AWU became a huge due-paying organisation with some 20,000 women as members.   They were able to organise huge demonstrations.  It was a highly disciplined organisation and everyone was expected to follow the rules.  The anti-tax protest action was a long and protracted one in which FRK was at the head leading the women in the struggle which eventually resulted in the temporary abdication of the Alake of Abeokuta.   The protest consisted of mass demonstrations, refusals to pay the tax.  FRK apparently led training sessions in her compound for these demonstrations.  Where she showed them how to cover their eyes, noses and mouths with cloth when tear gas was thrown.  She also instructed them to pick up the canisters of tear gas and throw them back at the police.   The demonstrations were called “picnics” or “festivals” by the women as they were unable to get permits.  When one puts the demonstrations into a time context (1947) it becomes even more amazing as the women were utterly fearless.  They even challenged the “ORO”, an entirely male “thing or ritual” said to have supernatural powers.  At one point FRK seizes the ORO which is like a stick and displayed it in her home.   The anti-tax protests took a large toll on FRK and the women but they stuck with it and eventually succeeded in their demands.

FRK’s next step was to organise women on a national level and to move into the international arena.   “no other Nigerian woman of her period had the same international exposure.”    The AWU became the Nigerian Women’s Union and began establishing autonomous branches throughout Nigeria.  FRK herself was invited to talk to women’s groups across the nation.  The political objectives of the NWU were getting the franchise for women, allocation of proportional representation for women and the abolition of electoral colleges.   In 1953 the NWU held a two day conference, a “parliament of women of Nigeria”  with 400 delegates from 15 provinces, in which a number of resolutions relating to the political objectives were passed.

At the conference FRK “propounded a feminist consciousness and ideology… acknowledging that women were victimised by their social conditioning, which led them to internalise a negative self-image and to be passive and apathetic”  She went on to criticise polygamy, bride price.   FRK was not only concerned with women’s issues.  She was also an active member of NCNC even though that organisation tried to ban women from membership of the NWU and the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies (FNWS) and used their membership with these organisations as a way to criticise the NCNC on its policy towards women and women’s issues.  Eventually FRK was expelled from the NCNC for constantly criticising the party which had since become highly corrupt and its exclusion of women from the decision making process.

FRK’s  international career began when together with her husband and their  close friend Ladipo Solanke created the infamous West African Student’s Union (WASU).  AS well as providing support for West African students studying in London in 1925, WASU promoted nationalist and anti-colonial movements in British West Africa.  A list of life long members of WASU reads like a WHO’s WHO of West African leaders and activists:  Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief H O Davies, Aliyi Ekineh, H A Korsah of Gold Coast, Dr Taylor-Cummings of Sierra Leone, the Alake of Abeokuta, Emir of Kano and Asantehene of Ghana.  Kwame Nkrumah and Joe Appiah were vice presidents in 1946.  WASU was a huge influence on many West African students of the day and played a major part in the independence movements of West African countries.   FRK and her husband acted as agents in Nigeria raising funds and distributing pamphlets for the union.

In 1947 FRK left for London as part of an NCNC delegation.  During the two months visit, FRK was asked to give a number of talks including one about the state of women in Nigeria.  She also wrote an article on the same topic which was published in the British Communist Party paper, the Daily Worker and reproduced for Nigerian papers.   FRK argued that under colonial rule women had lost more than men:

“Before the British advent in Nigeria….there was a division of labour between men and women…. Women owned property, traded and exercised considerable political and social influence in society….. With the advent of the British rule…instead of women being educated and assisted… their  condition has deteriorated.”  She also wrote that women had lost their traditional economic and political power and that they were oppressed by the colonial system and its agents such as the Sole Native Authority in Abeokuta.   Once again she clashed with the Alake when she wrote about the  how in Abeokuta women were forced to pay taxes that they could not afford and in return did not get even basic amenities and that women were “poverty stricken, disease ridden and malnourished” and held the British government responsible.

The Alake of Abeokuta wrote a reply denouncing the article whilst the Lagos Market Women’s Association and the Abeokuta Women’s Union both declared their support for her arguments and FRK was given a huge reception on her return to Abeokuta.

In 1955 the Rev Ransome-Kuti died of cancer.  The next 30 years saw FRK struggle to build and run a series of schools with and without support from local and national government.  She also became involved with a series of land litigations which cost her and her children dearly and none of which she was able to win.   One of the family properties that became the center of controversy and probably the most infamous sites in Lagos was that which was located at 14 Agege Motor Road.  The property had been occupied by FRK’s musician son, FELA.  FELA’s music and lyrics were highly critical of Nigerian governments.  Fela was a champion of traditional African culture and like his mother a Pan-Africanist.  14 Agege Motor Road had become a commune which Fela called Kalakuta Republic and had changed his name from Ransome Kuti to Anikulapo Kuti meaning “warrior who carries strong protection”.

Kalakuta was often raided by the police and armed forces as was his club “the Shrine”.   On February 18th 1977 Kalakuta Republic was surrounded by a thousand armed soldiers (The present president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo was then Supreme Commander of the military dictatorship of the day).  That day, FRK together with Fela’s brother Bekolari, Fela’s many wives and Fela himself.   This raid was a particularly brutal one.  The soldiers armed with bayonets and clubs stormed the compound without any warning and began to beat people, destroy property and strip women naked.   FRK, then 77,  was pulled by the hair  and literally thrown out of the window severely injuring her leg and putting her into shock.  The property was then burned down by the soldiers.  The raid known as “Kalakuta War” received a large amount of publicity and the government was forced to undertake an investigation.  However this came to nothing and the whole incident was blamed on “over zealous unknown soldiers and to Fela”.   No one including the Ransome-Kuti family have been compensated for what happened that day.  The raid destroyed FRK’s physical and mental health and observers said she had lost her “fighting Spirit”.  A year later the family suit for damages from the Kalakuta raid was dismissed as FRK is said to have moaned “why are they doing this to us”.  She died in April that year, one of Nigeria’s truely greats and one of its very few RIGHTS activists.

 

Reblogged from July 2004.

Women’s History Month – Olive Morris and Black Women of London

I first came to London in the mid 1980s so no, I don’t remember Olive Morris and the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) took place in the early 80s just before I arrived. Olive Morris was a founding member of OWAAD and part of the Brixton Black Panther Party.

Olive Morris

Olive Morris was a key figure in Lambeth’s local history. She worked with the Black Panther movement; set up Brixton Black Women’s Group, was a founder member of The Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) and was central to the squatter campaigns of the 1970s. She died tragically young in 1979 at age 27.

The aim of this weblog is to create a collective portrait of Olive Morris, bringing together the personal memories of those who knew her, and publishing online information and materials relating to her life and work. Lambeth Council has one of its main buildings named after her and yet there is very little information about Olive Morris that is publicly available, especially on the Internet.

By the mid 80s police racial harassment along with the “sus — stop and search” laws contributed to the Brixton riots of 1981 and 1985; the Handsworth riots of 81 and 85 and Broadwater Farm riot in 1985.  For me the mid 1980s marked the beginning of  my awakening with the now historic community organizing from Camden Black Sisters, Camden Black Parents and Teachers Group and Camden Black Workers. None of us had heard of ‘intersectionality but thats what we were all living in our daily struggles across race, sexual orientation, gender, class. We read Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Bell Hooks, Zora Neale Hurston,  and much more.    We walked in solidarity with  our sisters and brothers in South Africa and Grenada, with miners and other unions being torn apart by Thatcher.  We struggled  against  police harassment especially  - stop and search of Black  youth, the institutional racism in our schools leading to the exclusion and pathologizing  of our children,  and for our rights in the work place.     Now most of us have dispersed to various parts of the world, our children grown, our lives moved in new directions but all of US were brave.

Camden Black Sisters is part of Black Women’s History in Britain, the sisters themselves are part of  the black struggle in history. I too am part of that history and I celebrate myself for coming this far.

 

 

 

Sheroes on the Edges of Consciousness (1)

Free.

Nina Simone wears an enchanting and endearing detachment on her face. The kind worn by people who have seen a land flowing with milk and honey.

Then she smiles, raises her hands. The video closes in on her face — her brown, smooth, skin.

Her voice gains power…voice of free.

It ends.

“I’ve found out how it feels…to be free.”

She genuflects to the audience…

…marches out.

…free.

Freedom – a new way of seeing!

The interviewer asks Nina Simone the meaning of Freedom – she begins by saying its like being in love – you know it when you feel it but you cant describe it. Then in a moment of revelation she declares

I’ll tell you what freedom is to me! No Fear! like a new way of seeing

Possibly not realising that moments before she had declared her own freedom when she states

“I wanna go in that den of those elegant people with their old ideas, smugness and just drive them insane… I want to get a show, a real show thats calculated from the beginning where I haven’t sacrificed any of my principles “

Freedom to me is having no fear but its also being afraid, seeing beyond the fear and doing it anyway.  When I give in to my fears, I am distressed,, its like loosing control and being at effect of others.

Nigerian folk stories in minority languages

From Saraba Magazine – The Ways of Nigerian Folk… Sometimes we forget we have 300 plus languages each with their own folklore, creation stores, myths and just wonderful evening stories.

Saraba ChapBook

Too often, Nigeria is presented as a union of three cultures with solid, defined margins. The truth however is far more blurred, delicate and much richer.

Presenting these folklore in their indigenous languages, we aim to communicate the beautiful variation and uniqueness across these cultures on the hinterland.

An Emai myth from the Emai clan of Edo State tells us the surprising creation story of why we have have armpit hair, God’s desire to contain human immodesty.

There are proverbs and sayings in Ibibio,the indigenous tongue of the Ibibio, who make up the majority of the inhabitants of Awka Ibom State. Ibibio is also spoken in parts of southern Cameroon; this illustrates the spread of the language….Continue reading and download

Black history in Britain through the courts.

The central criminal court in London, the Old Bailey has published court records from 1674-1913 online. The database includes records on the lives of Africans and their descendent’s in London. The publication of the archives online is probably one of the most exciting additions to the history of Black people in Britain. The site archives records of 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court between 1674 and 1913. I spent many hours looking for cases of Africans accused of crimes, as well as victims of crimes as a way of beginning to understand the kind of lives they lived.  My search included keywords  ‘negro’, ‘slave’, and ‘African’.

 In Staying Power: A Black History of Britain, Peter Fry traced the Black presence as far back as the Roman invasions, when many of the soldiers came from parts of Africa. By 1674,Britain had been involved in the Transatlantic slave trade for nearly 100 years. In total, 11,500 slave-seeking voyages to Africa were made by British merchants in the 245-year period.  So it made sense there would be a considerable number of black people in London [more on London history here] from that period on — a fact that one Joseph Guy used in his defence on being tried for highway robbery:

‘There are a thousand black men in London besides me: last Monday se’nnight I went to see a serjeant’s sister that lives at the Three Conies in Rumford road; when I had rode over the stones, and cantered about half a mile, I found my horse would not perform his journey; I turned back again, and got to a house in King-street, Westminster; I got there about ten minutes after five, and gave my horse a feed of corn, and in about half an hour or three quarters after, I went for Chelsea; I have been in England six years. Guilty. Death.’ Joseph Guy was convicted of highway robbery on 18 February 1767.

Esther Allingham was a sex worker who refused to work for nothing and was then accused of theft. Surprisingly, this black woman, a sex worker, was acquitted in 1782. She told this to the court:

‘This money they swear to, is my own, I have saved up at a shilling a time. When I met this gentleman first, he was with a black woman with a white gown and white coat on. What he had, was entirely unbuttoned. I was at a distance, against the rails. I went down towards Pall-Mall; I stood upon the stone of a door in Gloucester-court. He asked if there was any house he could go into; I said there was a house there. I knocked at No. 3, and went in. He said, My dear, I have no money; I have been with a black woman; my money is all gone. He pulled out his pocket, and said, I have got a snuff box, and a watch, and a pin valued at so much, and a pocket-book at so much, which he could not part with. I said, if he had no money, I would not go with him. I said, As you have no money, I do not chuse to give my carcase up to you for nothing; and I hope you will give me liberty to get some water, for I am dry. He said yes; but he would keep my cloak till I came back. What he offered to me, was what is not fit: he is a man neither fit for God nor the devil; he is neither fit for a black woman, nor a white woman. What he expressed to me, put a shock upon my spirits, and frightened me.’ Esther Allingham — not guilty, 15 May 1782.

Another interesting case was that of one Highwayman,  John Guy. When he refused to have sex with two women, they robbed him. It was 1786 and Guy was a sailor, so he possibly was a ‘freeman’ from one of the Caribbean islands.

Here’s his testimony:

‘I was just paid off from the Ship Newcastle, and walking along Rosemary Lane , between 4 or 5 o’Clock I met 2 Women; I asked them for a Lodging, they bid me come with them: I went with them to Whitcher’s House, and we had some Salmon and Punch and a quartern of Brandy? Then I went to bed, and one of the Women came to bed to me, tho’ I would not let her: The oldest of the Prisoners pull’d up her Coats, and bid me look at — and told me it was as black as my Face, &c. &c. — I would not do it, but went to sleep, and when I waked I found all my Money gone. One of the Girls own’d before Justice Farmer, that 8 Guineas and 4 s. of my Money was divided among them.’

Like Esther Allingham, John Guy was acquitted — is it possible that black people in those days received better justice than they do today? Certainly if this had taken place in the US, Guy would have been lynched.   However other cases resulted in extreme punishment which could have been as much due to class as race.  ‘Poor’ Thomas Robinson (‘a Negro Black Boy ‘), for example, was sentenced to death for house-breaking and stealing ‘divers Goods’ in 1724.

John Bardoe  was bought as a slave in Lagos by a Genoese sea-captain and, when their ship docked in London in 1859, Bardoe apparently freed himself with the aid of a fellow countryman and began working for another Italian. Bardoe then fell ill and, in a feverish state, assumed he was being recaptured. He first barricaded himself into his room, then made a break for it and stabbed a policeman in a rooftop chase. An interesting story in itself as the translator at the trial was ‘Miss. M. B. Servano, a native of Yorubah, and educated in England’.  Bardoe was found to have acted in self-defence and judged not guilty.

These are only a handful of the many cases at the Old Bailey that involved black people.   There are lots of interesting analytical details to be found: social networks among Africans in London, the continuation of slavery at sea, varying perceptions of freedom, and the education of African women.    Roughly the period I looked at was between 1725 and 1860 and it’s worth briefly examining other events and legal cases during the same period  for example through the civil courts.  For example,  Saartje Baartman arrived in England in 1810 and was exhibited at Piccadilly Circus.  What I did not know was Baartman’s role in the abolitionist movement in her capacity as the “Hottentot Venus”.  This is explained by Christina Sharpe in “Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post Slavery Subjects”. [a must read]

Zachary Macaulay, Robert Wedderburn and the African Institution petitioned the Court of the Kings Bench on account of the indecent nature of the exhibition, in which they suspected she was being kept as a slave.  After hearing and viewing the evidence [including testimony and a signed contract between Dunlop [her keeper/owner] and Baartman dated 29 October 1810] the court concluded, “She came by her own consent to England and was promised half of the money for exhibiting her person – She agreed to come to England for a period of six years”

Sharpe explains that the court’s decision was to “resolve” the question of whether Baartman was someone else’s  property [chattel] or a ‘free’ person with rights over herself.   Although the intention of the petition was to free Baartman and effect her return home, but in claiming Baartman was consensual to her own humiliation, meant she remained in captivity.

“Even as Baartman has the legal signifers of a free subject conferred upoin her by the outcome of the case, in fact she remains captive to her employer and becomes a kind of theoretical limit case that helps define the limits of freedom for the English subject.  However the case could have been resolved, the freedom at issue was never Baartman’s own.   Had she not been viewed as a free citizen under contract in England, she would have been set free [redemption operating here in the sense of the 'action of freeing a prisoner, captive, or slave by payment' ] on the Cape into a state of near slavery” .

I have taken Sharpe’s work slightly out of context of her book to provide a historical and political understanding of this period  in the history of Black people in Britain and the changing significance of race…  The point is that the criminal and civil courts can provide us with an additional perspective on the presence and lives of black people in Britain in the 18th and 19th century’s and how these were and continues to be intertwined closely with the empire.