Category Archives: Queer Politics

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAYIBUYE! iAFRICA!

In January 2014, a group of Africans from many physical, spiritual, and political locations began conversations around the deteriorating state of our Continent, the fundamentalisms that divide us and the multiple forms of violence that harm us. Initially spurred by the violent laws enacted in Nigeria and Uganda against Africans who are non-conforming in terms of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and African women, we put this statement together to mobilise and re-engage ourselves and others around a platform to re-imagine and transform Africa in the tradition of our liberation struggles and spirit of our ancestors. We use the title Mayibuye iAfrica – a slogan from the liberation struggle in Southern Africa meaning ‘bring back Africa’ – to call for self-determination, diversity and justice and a return to our traditions of resistance. We hope you will join us.

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MAYIBUYE! iAFRICA!

On this African liberation day, we, the undersigned, note with grave concern the continent-wide deepening crisis including, growing militarism, the crisis in democracy, an expanding neoliberal economic order, deepening patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism, amongst others.

We especially note the worsening social and economic conditions of those who have been dispossessed of dignity and autonomy over their lives, bodies, lands and natural resources, and denied rights to access shelter, food, water, education & healthcare.

We call the attention of all freedom loving people across the Continent and around the globe, to the pervasive and debilitating violence faced by those who are pushed to the margins because of divisive and unjust laws and policies, and poor practices by our own governments, who do not respond to their people but to financial interests. We condemn and resist attempts to homogenise Africa‘s multiple legacies into legalised hatred and discrimination.

We rise up and come together as Africans globally, working for a continent where self-determination, as well as physical, emotional, social and economic wellbeing are guaranteed to all. We come together to condemn and resist all forms of violence and militarism, including inter-community and state sponsored violence such as is currently rife in the Central African Republic and Kenya; systemic violence against Africans based on their actual or assumed sexual orientation and gender identity, as in Nigeria and Uganda; and endemic violence against women, girls and gender non-conforming persons, as witnessed in the abductions of girls and lack of adequate response in Nigeria.

We remind ourselves of the critical contributions that Africans have made across history in defining and defending principles of justice, solidarity, liberation and diversity. We salute all Africans who speak and have spoken in defence of these principles.

We stand for a return to Africa in every respect:

Re-imagining our lives outside neo-colonial power.

Breaking free from the structures, systems and individuals who disappear our history and traditions of democratic principles and respect for humanity, and who erase our cultures of agency, resistance, creativity and people power.

Reclaiming and upholding the rich legacies and cultural norms of collectivity, freedom, self-determination and ubuntu.

Taking individual and collective responsibility to fight globally and locally against the impoverishment and dispossession of the majority of African people.

Fighting for an end to violence and militarisation that destroys and harms us all.

Fighting for an end to the greed and oppressive power responsible for the destruction of our lands and the Earth.

We recognise, affirm and insist that Africa needs:

Economic and environmental justice to claim and redistribute power, to redistribute land and put our vast resources to the benefit of our people and the healing of mother Earth.

To eradicate militarism and all forms of violence, including the violence of oppressive laws and of poverty.

Racial and ethnic justice.

The transformation of the politics of sex, sexuality and gender, the rightful access to affirming and responsive institutions and services, and the restoration of spaces free of fundamentalisms in order to practice our religions and participate in our cultures.

Africa needs Africans who are imagining and building a future of freedom. We believe that Africans, in our multiplicity, have the potential to transform the world.

We, the undersigned, recommit ourselves to working actively for the Africa we want.

Contact Persons:

Dawn Cavanagh

Pouline Kimani

Phumzile Mtetwa

Contact Address:

mayibuye.pledge AT gmail.com

Deadline: 23 May 2014

Publication date: The statement, with the list of signatures, will be published on Africa day, 25 May 2014.

With Matsheko Acey Manik at Wits Art Museum.

Sally Gross Memorial – Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg

All Wits Art Museum Photographs by Germaine de Larch 

Sally Gross - portrait by Gabrielle Le Roux, 2013

Sally Gross – portrait by Gabrielle Le Roux, 2013

Remembering and celebrating the life of Sally Gross, our beloved friend, comrade, teacher, philosopher – a great soul who is missed by many and remembered for her role in so many struggles. Sally was a comrade in the anti-apartheid struggle, part of the ANC in exile, she was part of the Palestinian struggle and she made history writing intersex rights into South African legislation and thereby making ours the first country with a Constitution that protects intersex people’s rights……Gabrielle Le Roux

 

With Selogadi Ngwanangwato Mampane and Kezia Lewins at Wits Art Museum.
With Selogadi Ngwanangwato Mampane and Kezia Lewins at Wits Art Museum.

 

With Matsheko Acey Manik at Wits Art Museum.
With Matsheko Acey Manik at Wits Art Museum.

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Young Sally Gross
Young Sally Gross

 

 

Selogadi Ngwanangwato Mampane with portrait of Sally Gross
Selogadi Ngwanangwato Mampane with portrait of Sally Gross

 

With Carla De Bouchet
Carla De Bouchet with portrait of Sally Gross

 

Gabrielle Le Roux with portrait of Sally Gross
Gabrielle Le Roux with portrait of Sally Gross

 

Bongi covering the event in spite of not feeling well himself. Thanks Bongi.
Matsheko Acey Manik was there both as photographer representing Inkanyiso, and to mourn Sally. Here Ace’s shadow falls on the first portrait I did of Sally Gross, onto which she wrote “I am what I am” .

 

Sally Gross in the time she worked at the Regional Land Claims Commission
Sally Gross in the time she worked at the Regional Land Claims Commission

Area Scatter – “”Ugwu Anya Engbulam”

From Likembe: Cross – Dressing Fun with Area Scatter

 

 

I’ve recently learned that several years ago the Igbo traditional musician Area Scatter was killed in an auto accident. Area was a performer who achieved renown throughout Ala Igbo, and even drew some international notice. One of the more memorable sequences in the acclaimed television documentary series Beats of the Heart came during “Konkombe,” the segment on Nigerian music. It featured Area Scatter, who had a performing style that was unique, or unique for Nigeria, anyway. Let’s read the description of him in the book Beats of the Heart (Pantheon Books, NYC, 1985):

 

“. . . we headed off into the forests to the hut of an infamous ‘witch doctor,” or shaman, called Area Scatter. His home was filled with bones and skulls and paintings of the power of good and evil. A muscular, humorous man, he explained how, after living through the civil war, he had gone into the wilderness for seven months and seven days and had reappeared transformed into a woman. The day we visited him he headed off, dressed in white smock, polka-dot skirt and a shamanist bone necklace, to the residence of his Royal Highness Eonunnoke to play for the local king and queen.

“Area Scatter was a highly accomplished performer on his thumb piano which was decorated with a distinctive skull and crossbones. When the king and his wife ceremonially entered and seated themselves on their thrones, Area Scatter bowed deeply and started to sing in a soft, rich voice. . .”

Of course, in the United States there are well-known transvestite performers like Ru Paul or Divine, but I understand that this sort of thing is rather odd for Nigeria, at least among the Igbo. I’m not aware of any tradition of theatrical cross-dressing in Nigeria (as for instance in Chinese opera or during Shakespearean days), nor should we assume that Area was gay. While homosexuality in Nigeria is certainly not unheard of (a reading of Hints or any of the other Nigerian “True Confessions” – type magazines should dispel that notion!), it is surrounded by so many layers of scandal and condemnation that the idea that any Nigerian would flaunt his or her gayness is, frankly, mind-boggling. So let’s just say that Area Scatter was a guy who literally marched to his or her own drummer, and leave it at that.

Uchenna, from With Comb and Razor, was kind enough to rip that segment from Beats of the Heart for us, and here it is:
When my wife, Priscilla, returned from Nigeria a few years ago, she brought back an actual Area Scatter LP, Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter (Namaco ENLPS 56), excavated from a used-records shop in Ajegunle. The name of the group, “Ugwu Anya Engbulam” means roughly “The Evil Eye Will Not Kill Me.” I was originally going to put up just one track from it, then decided that posting the whole album would give listeners a better feel for the talent of this unique artist, Area Scatter.

In the first song, “Uwa Marala Okaa Ome Nwachukwu,” or “the well-known Nwachukwu does what he says he’ll do,” Area Scatter sings the praises of a certain Mr. Nwachukwu, who built a big house, who helps widows, and who pays the tuition for needy students, among other things:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter – Uwa Marala Okaa Ome Nwachukwu

The title and refrain of this song, “Nwa Nnem Uwam Gbulam,” means “my brother, my sister ["nwa nnem," literally "my mother's child"], I am just fed up with this world”:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter – Nwa Nnem Uwam Gbulam

This is a long testimonial to the “Great Chief” (“Eze Ukwu”) of Ngwa-Ukwu, a township near Aba. The final part of the song apparently deals with a love triangle – there was a struggle, police were called, etc:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter – Ajelele Eze Ukwu of Ngwa-Ukwu / Akwa Goddy Uwalalula

Many thanks to Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics. Albums of Nigerian traditional music like this are not rare – thousands of recordings of Igbo traditional music alone were issued during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. What is unusual is to find any of them outside of Nigeria. To be honest, I just love the stuff, so I will be posting more of it in the future.

If you would like to see “Konkombe,” or any of the other episodes of Beats of the Heart, you can order the DVD here.

A Gay Kenyan’s Gang Rape (Part 1): The Blessing

On the morning of Dec. 11, 2007, Anthony Adero decided to leave his hometown forever and head to the capital, because he wanted to kiss a man for the first time in his life. He packed the few essentials needed for his five-hour trip, little things that carry weight, like family photographs and a prerecorded cellphone message from his baby sister; he felt soothed whenever he heard her giggles. What he could not stuff into his suitcase he packed in his heart. Then he took two reassuring breaths for courage, allowed himself a measured silence, and then headed straight for the central bus station in Kisumu for his final goodbyes. His grandmother cried. The men cried, too, but rural machismo forbids public displays of emotion among men, so they turned their backs to hide their shame. His older brother was envious, while his baby sister was proud. Anthony was hopeful, but everyone else held serious doubts. Kiss, hug… those final moments were so tense that he forgot his ticket before boarding.

One covers 164.85 miles, or 265.3 kilometers, between Kisumu and Nairobi, which would require five hours and three minutes on the well-lit, pothole-free, butter-smooth road that exists in every African’s dreams for his or her country’s future. In reality (wherever reality is), his trip took longer, but linear time, like history, is the Western world’s delusion, and no African on that bus cared how long it took to get to Nairobi as long as they were safe with their possessions intact by journey’s end. With both hands pressed against the window to frame his world, everything familiar got swallowed as the bus inched toward its final destination, which, according to Anthony, wasn’t so much a fixed spot or place but the sweet promise of self-actualization that would come with the freedom to explore his sexuality. Whatever didn’t slip past his eyes as he looked out the bus window burned deep in his mind as painful memories: the semester when six boys were expelled for wearing earrings; the boys beaten to a pulp by their fathers who had sacrificed nearly everything to educate them, counting on their sons for support should they take sick, grow old or become too weak to provide; blood spilling from one boy as he fell to the ground, kneeling as his father pounded him, front teeth knocked clear out of his swollen mouth; searching the dictionary for “homosexuality” to find no word in Kiswahili, though the slang for “faggot,” “cunt” and “bitch boy” lives in multiple incarnations at the tip of every Kenyan’s tongue; televised broadcasts of presidential speeches outlawing gay love; sermons preaching eternal hellfire, demonic possession, perversity; finally telling his girlfriend, “No, sweetheart, I cannot marry you, because I’m gay,” then banking on God’s protection, not hellfire, to pave the way for a planned escape.

As the bus pulled into the depot, Anthony decided that a celebratory drink should precede a phone call home telling his family that he’d arrived safely. The rumored hotspot for gay-positive clubbing was Steps on Tom Mboya Street, where men who have sex with men (MSM) mingled with marginalized folks who could party: tourists, prostitutes and the high-ranking African diplomats who preferred local whores to their well-educated African wives.

Anthony sat at the bar and ordered his drink, but he was reluctant to look around, in case locals mistook him for a wide-eyed, awestruck “rural greenhorn” fresh off the bus. Plus, who could see much of anything, given how dark it was inside? Two men, mostly in shadow, sat beside him. They were tall with deep voices, probably MSM. Prospects to explore his sexuality were abundant. “Maybe that first kiss could double for both lovers,” Anthony thought as the men inched closer, offering to buy his next drink if he cared to stay a little longer and keep them company — pretty boy. Anthony smiled. It was his first mistake. Harmless. His second proved to be disastrous.

* * * * *
They stole my shoes, my bag, my money. I lay stomach-down on a dirt floor, embraced by darkness. Eyes closed, I heard the rush of cars down a nearby road. Where was I? I’d been dumped in a semi-completed, abandoned house without a door, which meant they could come back to rape me again and again. Mosquitoes feasted on blood from my anus. Blood was dripping down my legs. There was blood on the side of my skull, where they’d beaten me with a steel pipe, I guessed. My asshole throbbed with pain. My skull and stomach jerked with pain whenever I moved; even the slightest gesture jolted my suffering to its depths.

But to stay motionless was an invitation for rape, more insecurity in a mysterious world where my survival was nothing but a threat. Alternatively, I could escape this hell. I closed my eyes and pushed my consciousness into a bird. I flew. I soared. I was free. Eyes open, I tried to push my upper body off the dirt floor but failed. My wings were too fragile. In my stillness I could not gather peace, only rushing thoughts from a counternarrative in which they parted my legs and penetrated me, stabbing my sexuality as mosquitoes danced joyfully to the rhythm of each greedy thrust. “No!” I screamed, pushing my upper body off the floor. “No!” I screamed as I came to my knees. “No! No! No!”

I stood naked in the dark, a baby bird on the verge of flight, at the edge of a steep cliff, facing takeoff. My first wobbly step took me toward heaven, the open door a threshold to eternity. Then I realized that I had to cover my nakedness if I wanted to reclaim my damaged body to the world outside. I felt around for plastic sheeting left over from construction work. I found it. My broken heart danced. I put the plastic around my body, careful to cover the blood on my legs as best as I could. I worried that I smelled of spunk, blood, sweat, anus. When I reached the door, I took one deep breath, then my first step. How to describe it, that moment of initial self-rescue? A million birds taking flight from my heart, thanks to release by an inner warrior. The spirit regaining “yes” language with each step as affirmation. God of a thousand hands stretching to lift the mountain off my back. Fire dragons plunging headfirst into the ocean, emerging as butterfly love. I was flying. I was soaring. Yes, freedom.

At the end of the road, I came across a woman, old, tired, overworked, poor. I looked for scorn in her eyes. She gave me directions. She walked me to the matatu bus stop, step after step, then slowly reached into her bra and brought out 90 Kenyan shillings for my fare back to Nairobi. “Take,” my angel said. She promised to pray for my protection. During the ride back, passengers refused to sit near me. They called me “monster” with volume to accentuate their disgust. In Nairobi I telephoned my rich relatives, who came to pick me up. They said I looked miserable. They said Nairobi was a cosmopolitan city for sophisticated people, a place where someone as dirt-poor and as rural as I could not survive beyond a week at best. They said I smelled bad and spoke like a stupid, uneducated farmhand. I kept silent, in pain. They said curse words. “Idiot, ugly, filth, trash,” they said. They sai– Stop! A voice in my head interrupted their dirty, abusive sermon with warrior language for my broken spirit:

“Anthony Adero, this is not who you are.”

“Who am I?”

Then came the epiphany:

“I. Am. Blessed.”

* * * * *
Anthony Adero had contracted HIV.

 
© Nick Mwaluko and Anthony Adero

Fighting Oppression 1

Dear Nfifi,

Although I was deeply grateful to be part of the Height’s Collective albeit for such a short time during which I became aware of the good work the organisation does in terms of general activism: immigration, prostitution and other areas where the oppression of women persists. One question I really needed to ask you was, “given how you feel now, if I as a transwoman of African origin approached you for your advice, would you fling me to the dogs? It wouldn’t have been a first, according to Leslie Feinberg who likened transphobia to colonialism and illustrated the murders of “two spirited” people while Balboa & co (European colonialists) watched as depicted in a 1594 engraving by Theodor de Bry1.

 

To think most African’s in the Diaspora, some literate others illiterate, who think we no longer suffer the consequences of colonialism? Racism, transphobia (or what some call gender-phobia2) and sexism (both hetero and homo) to be sure. Decolonialism, which one would be sensible to view as your line of work still leaves a lot of unanswered questions around gender identity and sexual orientation which needs specific attention —the transgender perspective, to be precise which on the whole seem relegated to oblivion post-the-Stonewall- march against a heavy handed police force. Perhaps you are not aware of these pitfalls in your activism but I can’t escape their impacts. Black neo-colonialists pepper the entire black community where gender and sexual intolerance with the consequent gender colonialism is rife. I face them daily through acknowledging their subtle presences but this is not enough.

I was interested to see how the Height’s Collective at Tishken Town might be an outlet for transwomen of African origin which is important from where I stood. Little did I know that the ravings of a transphobe’s held such sway in and around the above mentioned collective until it hit me in the face in the person of Eulij? So traumatic was my experience of this open infraction that I felt a need for the first time to face up to the continuing gender colonialism that certain lesbian activists faced with transsexual women that choose atypical gender expressions harbour. The question that comes to mind is, “can one be assured that no more such eventualities will arise in the future of this ongoing hub of joint activism against the oppression of women?” I cannot confidently say no given your own unquestioning response to Eulij’s transphobic stance. Should it matter that after transition I choose to adopt a sexuality of choice? Why do ‘gender terrorists’3 think that they are well suited to the decolonisation of gender and sexuality by the same token while to all intent and purpose they purported to be fighting the good fight for ALL WOMEN?

As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I cannot pretend that I am confident about the seduction of the old guard’s allies by proxy of activists so rooted in their ways that they miss the part they play in the perpetuation of oppressive ideologies around race, gender identity and sexualities perhaps unknowingly or deliberately. The example of a militant at work can be glimpsed in “Better Than Chocolate,”4 which depicted an angry butch who took it upon herself to gender terrorise a femme pre-op transwoman after a set in which she sang a song about being transgendered and insisted that she would not let the world forget her status as a “transgender person”. After her set, she was in the Ladies with Frances, her “genetic girl” girlfriend who left to pay the bills hot under the collar.

The Butch militant entered shortly afterwards, insults Judith Squires (the transgender woman) by calling her attention as if she were addressing a disgusting pet pig, and then goes on to address her in the following terms: “Sir… Shouldn’t you be in the men’s?” Although Judith tried to defend herself to no avail, at least she tried. The Militant, however, was insufferable. She attacks Judith passive victim with a bag of rubbish which she wielded like a baseball bat deliberately and accurately. As luck would have it, Judith is saved by Margie and her partner, Kim, who forced the Militant to see the error of her ways under Kim’s expert and effectively applied arm lock forcing the militant to retract her insults. In reality this response might only solve a fraction of the problem if it managed to scratch the surface at all since Judith Squires only represents the white, talented, and supported and “passing” side of transsexuality. What about the many transsexual women that did not have all those networks to secure their place in the world? Where do they go?

As a black or African transwoman, I was once asked to carry the mantle for other transwomen or those less willing to be seen to ‘rock the boat’ due to a lack of confidence by a member of my then local Victim Support. I was cautious with good reason. Even there and then before leaving my local housing office with which I was in dispute I saw it all over again. Although my complaint was about a clerical officer I wasn’t expecting both housing manager and an LGBT liaison officer to become just as hostile as the person I’d reported for less. On their way to the toilet they engaged in the usual transphobic banter outside the view of their co-participants with impunity. It didn’t even bother them that the victim support representative was still there in the building. Was I then expected to be overjoyed at such abusive treatment? I wondered when ‘equal opportunities’ became ‘only equal on transphobic terms’ as some public officials tend to deploy the policy depending on each other’s complicity to keep inequality for certain individuals alive!

Seeing similar attitudes on full display with non judgemental activists at the Height’s Collective was not entirely unexpected since human beings of all races, gender identities and sexualities have a common humanness with smidgens of prejudice which seemed to persist but that does not mean it should be allowed to do so unchallenged, does it? In other words, I’m saying that you Nfifi are only human but I do not think a person in your shoes should allow ‘dangerous activism’ as in a transphobe’s view to contaminate the good work you do? I thought I had better tell you this the way I’m doing because it is important that you know my opinion this way if no other avenue of getting it to you is available at present, I feel this will have to do.

A dependence on certain neurotic habits such as hatred oriented gossip, rumour mongering and outright abuse that certain African/black people still use to police themselves are dangerous tools for an activist to employ in the course of their duties. They may even hold extreme views concerning gender and sexuality as credible ways of socialising and freely sharing these with activists in subtle transphobic tittle-tattle which activist’s then reproduce in their work while unknowingly undermining their own effectiveness as social actors. This can be dangerous for ongoing or yet to be acknowledged types of engagement. Perhaps that’s the idea? The question is, how does such intolerance help us in our attempts to at stamping out oppression altogether? It will be sad if we turn out to be saying, if it does not concern us personally, it is alright to flaunt laws put in place to protect every one of us without exclusion.

Personally I am taken by Audre Lorde’s position on most of the questions I have raised here. ‘… Outside of rhetoric and proclamations of solidarity, there is no help, except ourselves’ 5 Asking someone else to do our activism for us is often problematic. These words leave me in no doubt that it is time the African LGB and especially “T” fought its own battle as of old? I’m grateful that the collective upholds the course of women but transgenderism (by which I mean transsexuals, intersexuals and genderqueer women) cannot be effectively supported without a genuine understanding of who we are. Being an activist by itself is not a prerequisite for understanding the transgender community and this more than anything else is the unique expertise I hoped I might have been able to share with other sisters with respect rather than firing off shots about who said what and when. It is a shame that this is all the Collective’s rigidity thinks activism amounts to in their adversarial mindset but it doesn’t have to be. What’s wrong with us working together?

Mia Nikasimo © February 2009

Call For Papers TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 1:2 Decolonizing the Transgender Imaginary

What would it mean to “decolonize the transgender imaginary?” 

Popular narratives about transgender communities, identities, and practices outside North America and Europe often imagine non-Western locales as either idyllic havens of traditional acceptance towards gender diversity, or else as backward places in which trans people, like gays and lesbians (both Euro-American constructs) are universally shunned and hated. In both schemes, the non-West forms a premodern backdrop for the civilizing, tolerant liberalism of a homonationalist or trans-normative modernity. All the while, trans people and nonbinary gender systems find ways to survive, live and thrive. In these existences, we find important challenges and negotiations to localized discourses of modernity. A transnational transgender rights movement, at times sited in the global south, has taken shape over the last decade, enabled by new media technologies that are as symbolic of late capitalist industrial modernity as are the body technologies of changing sex. Together, these contradictory flows form a transnational transgender imaginary. Who are the players in this transnational transgender imaginary? What is at stake in such representational struggles? How does imagining globally networked communities of trans people interact with already-existing global flows: post- and neo-colonialism; global capital; immigration; diaspora; refuge and asylum seeking; global labor flows such as sex work or care work, and leisure travel?

Trans and queer of color scholarship has already begun to critique the homonationalism within emergent forms of “trans-normative” citizenship in many locations. And yet the very terms “trans of color” and “queer of color” signify, for some, a concern with the racial economies of the U.S. How do these optics and critiques work in a transnational context? How might such critique inform international NGO funding or human rights activism? How do “trans of color” and “queer of color” signify differently in different continents, regions, and locales? How are issues of linguistic diversity and translation to be addressed from a decolonizing perspective?

Multiple perspectives within and without queer studies about the “queer globe” have addressed similar questions for some time. Transnational queer scholarship comments on, and often participates in, a transnational LGBT justice movement. Much of the existing scholarship on transnational gender-variant social practices has appeared in the context of queer anthropology. While this cross-cultural work has made critical contributions to theories of how sexual and gender non-normativities emerge in relation to local, regional, and global flows, it also often assumes “homosexuality” as the default category of analysis within which gender-variance is subsumed. This raises important questions about the epistemological investments that contemporary Anglophone queer and transgender studies have in the categorical (dis)articulations of gender, identity, and sexuality. 

We seek to call attention to the assumptions operating in much of this cross-cultural work that both biological sex and the categories “man” and “woman” are stable and self-evident across time, space, and culture, resulting in homosexuality being privileged as the essential framework in which to categorize sex and gender. These conceptual operations impose an Anglophone, modern, and western interpretive schema on historically colonized parts of the world. How might a transgender focus alter, sharpen, critique or inform such scholarship? Conversely, when scholars, activists, and funding bodies use the term “transgender” as an umbrella for local or regional categories indexing sex and gender diversity, we risk making a similar imperialist move. How might emphasizing a transgender studies perspective do more than simply offer  “trans” as a better alternative to “homo,” and instead find new ways to encounter the global diversity of embodied subjectivities? How might transgender studies contribute to the decolonization of the sex and gendered imaginaries through which we grasp a world of difference?

Framed within the context of a transgender studies journal based in North America, this special issue itself is implicated in the colonialism of the North American academy. How do we decolonize our own ways of thinking transgender? How do we decolonize transgender studies itself?

We invite proposals for scholarly essays that address these and similar issues. Potential topics might include transgender studies in relation to: 

  • multiple, geographically disparate modernities
  • trans as a site of racial, class, anticolonial struggle
  • indigenous studies and settler colonialism
  • decolonizing transgender studies
  • trans of color critique
  • critiques of cross-cultural analysis
  • whiteness
  • anthropology
  • transgender necropolitics
  • transnationality
  • the “third gender” debate
  • transnational violence, transphobia, and responses to “hate crimes”
  • ethnographic methods
  • global trans movements
  • the uses of “transgender” in NGO’s and the academy
  • trans studies from the global south
  • south-south dialogues
  • global trafficking and sex work
  • citizenship and national belonging
  • global migration
  • trans inclusion within queer anthropology
  • the innocence of difference and trans studies globally
  • challenges in circulation/use of transposing theories and methodologies
  • local categories and vocabularies of trans survival and existence

To be considered for publication, please submit an article by February 1, 2013 to tsqjournal AT Gmail DOT com. Include a brief bio, your name, postal address, email, and any institutional affiliation. Final revisions will be due by May 2013.

Transgender community as an African in the Diaspora

Violent suppression of initiatives we cannot understand or even deaths in the African Diaspora as well as the African LGBTI set us back for generations but worse still is the hypocrisy and corruption that blinds us to this fact. Why? When you kill a living being because of their gender identity or whatever reason, you rob yourself and the rest of the universe of a part of What Is. Because of our mundane human conditioning and ingrained religious intolerance we adopt self-righteous pedestals and snuff out the life force that is human diversity. We laugh at what we see as spectacles as we slowly die away ourselves as part of the essence of the universe. “Everyone dies sooner or later,” is something we dread hearing while knowing the truth of the statement.

When I think of the plight of the transgender community as an African in the Diaspora I’m reminded of all those little murders that happen daily in the name of propriety or why most of them happen in the western world. In Africa most transgender people are underground so nobody knows any better but as a friend argues it is no surprise. “If African transgender people were out they’d suffer the same plight as their sistren and brethren in the west,” and don’t we know it?

Even as I gather my thoughts in my head to write this piece, I can hear the whispered indifference of people who ought to know better as they willingly give in to learned bad behaviour in the name of “doing what’s best for you” as if that makes them better people. In fact they are no better than Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” when he drags Ikemefuna off to sacrificial slaughter. I do not mention this lightly. Okonkwo’s masculinist stance leads him to greatness but robs him of responsibility with regard to Ikemefuna’s death and eventually to his own exile for killing a clansman.

However in this context, Ikemefuna is no longer the little boy of the novel but a vision of the future -openness, courage and compassion. In this guise, he is the spirit of the transgender dead facing up to cultural traditions that exclude difference for nepotistic gains. This usage is not accidental as we live in post colonial or neo colonial times in terms of gender identity and the rules remain the same: conform or die! Exile for anyone is a type of death as some transgender people can attest and we do so in plain view daily: at home, abroad or overseas.

As a transgender person that also identifies as a lesbian, I’m constantly aware of the dangers of being out but some of us cannot help but be. In this sense then as beings, human beings, even in the company of allies we still face predictable and unpredictable danger within the global LGBTI not to mention back home in Africa. How many have died suspicious deaths globally so that “old western values” last? How many more suffer in silence boxed in by the subtlety of compulsory binary fixity? How many more of us must go underground for life’s sake? How many are displaced in dehumanising exile in far away lands that circumstances have hand picked for us?

The temptation here is to join forces with the gender debate rattling on in traditional Gender Studies academy and fix the players… Obiageli and Okonkwo’s other wives and their prescribed roles in that world cannot always be fixed. The consequences of such fixation stifles our evolution. Rather in those very communities and elsewhere, Ikemefuna must become more than the little boy but a sort of archetypal voice conferred for the remembrance of transgender victims of persecution alive or dead by allies as by foe. In other words, art and literature of peoples all over the world must speak out lest they accept their complicit roles to stifle diversity and equality. Hiding behind religious intolerance, tradition or fixed notions of “the way things are” or Western values is no longer an option.

I’m reminded of openness and courage in the face of impending deaths or hard worn longevity, I’m reminded of compassion exercised in the face of ostracisation because we dare to say, “for us, in the transgender community, there is more to being human than merely following the flow of constructed, possessive and or perceived sameness,”. I’m reminded of the loaded injustice of those in the medical profession whose training would rather they told a parents lies rather than admit to the ambiguity of a child’s gender and the parent that either leaves the fate of child and mother to societal indignation. I’m reminded of men who have leered at first sight only to take up “honour restoring” arms or “corrective rapes” to cover their own monstrous appetites.

A pitiful attempt to announce to the patriarchal world that they are not gay or women who take sides with their tyranny claiming, “I’m not a lesbian” or worst still, “That’s not a real woman. I should know!” I’m reminded of some members of the LGBTI whose selfish supremacist yearnings threaten the very ethos of activism. Their aim: to isolate, incite violence against and or exclude permanently all transgender people out of existence. But most of all, I’m reminded of the many transgender dead whose names, like Ikemefuna’s, are with me every waking day. Those whose lives made mine worth living in plain sight; those whose very deaths have changed and continue to change the judicial framework and will do so for those to come in future times.
Thank you all for paving the way for all of us!!!

 

Abdellah Taia & Self Actualisation – Gay, Moroccan, an Arab, a Muslim, an African

Moroccan writer Abdellah Taia speaks about  coming out in Morocco, gay responsibilities and the importance of books and writing

Also, aside from their intellectual importance, I believe that books help us to live. When you read a book or a poem it connects you to something new inside of you or it confirms some premonition you’ve had. Using my books as a cultural instrument in the fight for freedom, for individuality, is something I’m very happy to do. Since I come from a world where individuality doesn’t exist, where homosexuality is still considered a crime, where you don’t completely own your body, and where you can’t speak freely, it’s the least I can do. The past ten years in Morocco have brought some change, but politically, socially, and traditionally the individual cannot be as free as they want. They are not protected by the law.

Asked whether he categorises his work as fiction or memoir, Taia’s questions the traditional definition of fiction which states the story is made up and has nothing to do with the writer.  His argument makes sense.  Even if a story is made up, its still me, my imagination, my fantasy.  He asks how is it possible to write fiction — a story which has nothing to do with the writer?  This makes perfect sense to me.

 I write novels, texts. They are not expressions of my social self, they are expressions of something else. I don’t know what label we should put on them. Though the experiences and scenes are coming from my life, when I start to write there are so many things that come out and put themselves into the text. I have no idea about those things five minutes before I start writing. The fictionalized always comes out and puts itself into my writing. But I don’t agree with the definition of fiction. Is it something that has nothing to do with us, that is made up? I don’t believe in that. As human beings, in order to make our lives acceptable and not too sad, we imagine things. We do it all the time. How would you label that? Fiction? Not for me. What I invent, what I imagine, is part of something.

Read the full interview here on Samsonia Way

Texting Poetry – 5: When……

 

When I look in the mirror

I see a beautiful woman

I see a woman’s woman

I see the reflection of a

Goddess looking back at me: Oshun, Oya, Moremi,

Mirror, mirror show me

The Great Goddess I feel,

Tara, saviour, me, I see.

 

When I look in the mirror

I don’t see impositions

I don’t kowtow for bread

I don’t disappear into thin

Air on hatred’s lashes. I

See a bodhisatsva’s flair. I

See tolerant compassion

Deeper than any surface

Glimpse -I see humanity.

 

When I look in the mirror

I feel empowered, free,

I feel loving kindness,

I feel purposeful prime -I,

Human consciousness so

Far and vast beyond the

Veneer of infrastructural

Daily dangled tokens. I’m

above empty platitudes.

 

When I look in the mirror

I see a beautiful woman

I see a woman’s woman

I see the reflection of a

Goddess looking back at me: Oshun, Oya, Moremi,

Mirror, mirror show me

The Great Goddess I feel,

Tara, saviour, me, I see…

 

 

Mia Nikasimo (c) July ’09

Texting Poetry – 4: Why?

Queering the game of life Via Queer and Present Danger

 

Because even you are Human,

Because you are my Sister,

Because you are my Brother,

Because, only if u allowed Yourself, we could be pals,

Because, in a past life, you

Were my mother,

Because, looking through Eons of the ether, you Were my father,

Because you’ve been all Creatures to arrive here,

Because we all Interconnected…

 

I’ll reach out to you all the

Same, you and I.

Why?

Because all creatures are bright and beautiful no matter their surface seas.

 

Mia Nikasimo (c) May 2009

Texting poetry – 2: Being…….

Being…

I am a being in the world,
I am a “who-woman” being, a sentient being
A spec of dust; a grain of
Sand or a tear drop!
My own little dot of Oceania. I know my duty.
I am a being in the world,
I am a who woman being,
Just like the lot of you;
A sweet breathe of air
‘s all! Why are you so
Incurably paranoid, peps?
Mia Nikasimo (c) May 2009

Zanele Muholi: Raising consciousness through art

Is their a link between the defacement of “The Spear”, the painting of  Jacob Zuma which shows his genitals and the theft of five years of Zanele Muholi’s work?  Is free expression through art or any other medium under attack from the ANC government.  Possibly so.  Many of Zanele’s supporters question whether the theft of her work was politically motivated and or driven by homophobia.  In March 2010, the South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Minister Lulu Xingwana who has publicly expressed transphobic feelings,  criticised an exhibition of Zanele’swork as “Immoral, offensive and going against nation-building,” .  Zanele has been outspoken and outraged over the violence unleashed on the Black lesbian / queer community in South Africa using her photography and film to not only expose beatings, rapes and murders of Black lesbians but to make visible lesbian and queer intimacy,  to make the statement we are here and we love and live.   The South African online newspaper, The Daily Maverick  interviewed Zanele at the Open Forum on her work and the theft.

Muholi, a tiny woman with dreads and big, round brown eyes, sits on the floor in one of the corridors, leaning back against the wall. She is surrounded by friends and young gay women whom she had trained and mentored in documenting their lives.

Muholi’s work and activism have challenged the stereotypes of lesbian life, in an African environment. Her photographs and commentary make many people uncomfortable, even angry. Sexuality in Africa is a thorny topic. For many, gay female love is positively radioactive. It seems to make the more conservative among us incandescent with rage.

The South African traditional leadership body — Contralesa — is lobbying hard to have the Constitution changed to once again disallow gay marriage. They want a referendum, and are sure South Africans will reverse the right of gay folks to a legally binding partnership. That is, marriage.

In this heated atmosphere, Muholi’s images stoke the flames of prejudice among many. Her images of love, some might say forbidden love, really provoke the majority of people.

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Prejudice…..

  Prejudice… Was that it or wasn’t it? Deception rides the tide Now again, it died of old Whatever it is when it is How it is wherever it took Place there’s only one Name to call it. Prejudice! An opinion based on Limited facts -…

Have you finished?

Have You Finished?

 

Steam rolled daily in a this daily roller coaster called life

Not because of the natural essence of life, worthwhile…

Not because of the appeasing plea unique enlightenment

Not because of reproductive need, procreative futures

Because the cultural  on you demand it? Is that all this is?

Well, guess what? I’m not going to run along doing yours

If you can’t ask a favour when done say, “thank you, I don’t

Know where I’d be without you,” you fit out for size on me.

“That will keep you busy for the day,” you said & I go from

Partner, girlfriend, call it what you will to house maiden!”

I watch you in silence I watch you good I watch you learning

And fast too and aim. No harm meant. I can’t do you harm

Just to tell you this: “if you want to ask a favour ask it, ok!”

The steam of your impetuousness caught in your face. Good

As long as you know, “I’ve stuff to be getting on with too!”

As for marriage; sown in locked in kept in power scape home

As for procreative demands; foraging on capitalist wings far

As for all the culturally imposed stuff, call it entertainment…

And the steam rolling tryst I’ll just say this, I’m a person too

Next time meditate on this before you over do over do, ok?

Do you want a  slap? Over-indulged obese and loud, what?  Me?

But away away cowards never want their faced seen never.

Have you? Have you? Marking me for dead, have you finished?

 

Mia Nikasimo (c) January 2012

Transsexual is not a democratic choice

Self-acceptance as the 18 transsexuals in this video blog attest is not a democratic choice. Rather it is an individual’s decision. These courageous people exlode a number of gender myths. Indeed, these are exciting time to be transgerder in Turkey but as is apparent on some of the faces some of us transsexuals fght daily to be ourselves. Even in the UK while walking up a street with a massive police sation in the middle of it two black women (a carer and her client) moralise at my trans expense. The carer does the pointing out. The client tosses a tag, “liar,” she shouts and I register how society has lied its way into our hearts and minds. Proud Trans Turkey is the alpha in the endless evolution of the omega of change. A film by Gabrielle Le Roux depicts a gender identity utopia in place of past violent transphobic hub or tries to say at least. I feel the celebration and vulnerabilities and I wonder when transsexuals elsewhere will take the initiative? Indeed what are we doing in our respective necks of the wood to say we are transsexual we exist and we are here to stay?

My gratitude goes to the courage of everyone featured in the making of this vlog seen and unseen. Thank you all.

This video is part of a series from the Proudly Trans Turkey project consisting of personal narratives, portraits and documentary film. Watch more from the series here [How Old Are You] and [How Do Hate Crimes Affect You]

#IWD: What does it mean to you

International Women’s Day is here once again and this time I decided to ask recent guest bloggers on Black Looks to write a few sentences on International Women’s Day and what it means to them.   For everyone it was a day of honouring, celebrating, remembering and recognising the struggles of the past and preparing for those of the future.  My mind has taken a different track altogether as I contemplate the meaning of “woman” and how this has changed over time and continues to do so.  Neither gender nor sex as categories are neutral or fixed.  The former is bound in the later and vice versa which makes them both full of complexities especially when they are intertwined with race, class, disability and age [ often forgotten].  Judith Butler asks us to think about new ways of looking at  gender, to move away from the binary of ‘man” “woman”. She asserts there is no single woman, single feminism – there are no singles…..

“The consequence of such sharp disagreements about the meaning of gender…. establishes the need for a radical re-thinking of the categories of identity within the context of relations of radical gender asymmetry.” [Judith Butler, Gender Trouble]

Perhaps this is not the place to expand on this – but today I would like us to move beyond the trappings of gender identity and acknowledge, celebrate, honour trans, gender non-conforming and gender questioning, gender queer people  and their personal struggles.

Mia Nikasimo -

I want to say a day of celebration but how can I knowing majority of women are still heavily oppressed globally? Ravaged comes to mind and I speak from experience -as one woman out of millions oppressed daily- because of our gender identities. However, instead after recent readings on organising across the continent and Diaspora,   I’m inclined to dust myself off and re-engage afresh. As a woman in the African diaspora I think we need to build bridges more with homeland African women especially in areas of African sexualities and gender identities with specific focus on our collective human rights in mind.

What does it mean? Better futures for all women irrespective of our stations in daily life.

Rumbidzai Dube - Ma Dube’s Reflections

For me, it is the culmination in a single day’s commemoration of the numerous ways in which we celebrate our womanhood 365 days of the year. On this day we reflect on our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and our continued struggles as we seek ways to improve our status as women in a generally repressive environment.

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Same Sex Marriage – the opposition line up

An excellent article by Gary Younge in which he traces the struggles for marriage equality through first race and now through sexual orientation.   Younge rightly emphasises that to compare the two struggles is not to equate them but there are  parallels which are worth highlighting and he focuses on three of these.

First, is the use of God and tradition to defend exclusivity and, therefore, exclusion. When the Lovings plead guilty in a Virginia Court in 1959, the trial judge, Leon Bazile, gave them a 25-year sentence — suspended, so long as they left the state — with the argument: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red,” as a Virginia judge wrote in 1965, when he upheld the state’s so-called Racial Integrity Act:

“And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

At the US supreme court, the state of Virginia compared interracial marriage with polygamy and incest — just as Republican hopeful Rick Santorum has done regarding same-sex marriage.

In 1971, when a American Civil Liberties Union lawyer argued the case for a gay couple’s right to be married before the Minnesota supreme court, one judge turned his chair around and refused to look at him. The court rejected the case unanimously, citing the book of Genesis to support its decision. Religion is still the principal argument against gay marriage, and religious people are still those most likely to oppose it. Another Pew survey shows three in four white evangelicals are opposed to gay marriage (it’s the only religious demographic where support for gay marriage did not increase between 2010 and 2011); that’s roughly the same proportion as those who support gay marriage who are religiously unaffiliated.

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Nobody Knows My Gender

The anger is still in me. Pure rage at certain people for failing to understand diversity beyond their narrow subjective paradises at the expense of those they claim to support through their activism. I ought to have written these words after Oxford 2011. At the time I was still too raw to review myself never mind the conference. I was already certain that was a last based on the long looks post conference and that fleeting abused, “man!” an audial rape of progress. It felt as if I had inadvertently stumbled into a den of hostility. Collectively, they voiced their imposition, corrective angst without an inkling of who I was or am. Even then when I stepped forward racked with stage fright heavy with their unkind looks, questioning thoughts and horror, did he just kiss my neck, just to tell me that time was up? If those on that panel didn’t understand transgenderism what were they transmitting to the audience -tantalising transphobia? What chance would that august audience have of understanding the “ISM” let alone a notion of agency?
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A history to remember: “Who says being queer is unAfrican?”

 

In “The frightful development of this vice amongst the Natives”: Who says being queer is unAfrican?” Zackie Achmat traces the role of missionaries and the colonial state in the control and disciple of the African male body. He begins with a brief account of his own imprisonment at the age of 16 where he was first placed in a cell with a group of adult men including murderers and rapists. Expecting unimaginable acts of violence against him, the experience changed his own perception of prison gangs.

I could hardly understand the language they spoke. Two or three words were derived from Afrikaans, but the rest was from a mixture of African languages I could not identify at the time. Cups instructed one of the younger lads to call the other cells: “Ons wil met die Generaal tjaizana.” (“We want to talk to the General.”)

Within minutes all the toilet bowls in the Remand Section were flushed and all the water was removed from the one in our cell. In this way, the sound was carried through the entire sewage system of the block. This system allowed prisoners to communicate with each other illegally, with a diminished threat of punishment and discovery by the warders. When we arrived the 28s had to report to their General — they had to account for the loot gained from the newly arrived prisoners. MaPinda and Cups took turns talking into the “phone.” Basil, known in the cell as “die Moffie,”4 spoke to me in a grave tone: “Hulle discuss nou vir jou. MaPinda en Cups wil altwee vir jou he en nou vra hulle virrie Generaal wat hulle moet maak.” (“They are talking about you now. Both MaPinda and Cups want you, and they are asking for the General’s guidance.”) I had not had sex since my detention and felt deprived, but Mapinda was not my idea of a sex partner. Basil interrupted these thoughts with the verdict: “Die Generaal se die rules moet apply. Cups is jonger en is nie die baas nie, maar hy is MaPinda se luitenant. Mapinda het nourie dag ‘n wyfie gekry wat Cups wil gehad het en nou is dit Cups se kans/’ (“The General says the rules must apply. Cups is younger and is not the cell boss. He is MaPinda’s lieutenant. And, the other day MaPinda took a young wife (boy) Cups wanted so now it is Cups’ turn.”)

The post begins with a review of the film “Apostles of Civilised Vice”: ‘Immoral Practices’and ‘Unnatural Vice’ in South African Prisons and Compounds, 1890-1920 Zackie Achmat (1992) 

For, to one native on whose heart the good seed has fallen, who returns to the kraal in native garb and with the glowing message of an apostle in his heart, there are ten thousand who by their speech and countenance are apostles of civilised vice, who through their bodies spread the diseases of the white man over the face of wild Africa.(1) “Ethelreda Lewis (1934).

Continued. …..