Most of us are familiar with the idea that Culture is a weapon. It can be used to keep us confused, satisfied and oppressed. Or it can be used to educate, agitate/incite and organize.
From time to time, we will present some magnificent gems of powerful Black culture (and other folk of color culture, too).
Sista Beauty Power - Serious and
Elegantly Urban Herbal Chic
Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms -1993
The Writer in a Neocolonial State
By Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the renowned novelist and scholar from Kenya, will deliver a special lecture hosted by the School of Welsh, Bangor University in the Main Arts Lecture Theatre at the beginning of June.
Born in Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiong’o was persecuted and imprisoned for opposing Moi’s Dictatorship. He has being living in exile since 1982.
He is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at University of California, Irvine and his scholarly publications, which include Decolonising The Mind, have contributed greatly to postcolonial studies.
He is also a prolific dramatist and novelist in his native Gikuyu, and Wizard of the Crow, the English translation of his most recent novel, was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2007. To visit Ngugi wa Thiong'o's official website, please click here: http://www.ngugiwathiongo.net/index.html
The African writer who emerged after the Second World War has gone through three decisive decades which also mark three nodal stages in his growth. He has gone, as it were, through three ages within only the last thirty years or so: the age of the anti-colonial struggle; the age of independence; and the age of neo-colonialism.
First was the fifties, the decade of the high noon of the African people’s anti-colonial struggles for full independence. The decade was heralded, internationally, by the triumph of the Chinese Revolution in 1949 and by the independence of India in 1947. It was the decade of the Korean revolution, he Vietnamese defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu, The Cuban people’s ouster of Batista, the stirrings of heroic independence and liberation movements in Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. In Africa the decade saw the Nasserite national assertion in Egypt culminating in the triumphant nationalisation of the Suez canal, armed struggles by the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, Mau Mau, against British colonialism and by FLN against French colonialism in Algeria, as well as intensified resistance against the South African Apartheid regime, a resistance it responded to with the Sharpeville massacre.
What marks the decade in the popular imagination, however, was the independence of Ghana in 1957 and of Nigeria in 1960 with the promise of more to follow. In Europe, the immediate post-war decades, particularly the fifties, saw consolidation of socialist gains in Eastern Europe and important social-democratic gains in the West. In the USA, the fifties saw an upsurge of civil rights struggles spearheaded by Afro-American people.
It was, in other words, the decade of tremendous anti-imperialist and anti-colonial revolutionary upheavals occasioned by the forcible intervention of the masses in history. It was a decade of hope, the people looking forward to a bright tomorrow in a new Africa finally freed from colonialism. Kwame Nkrumah was the single most important theoretician and spokesman of this decade. Towards Colonial Freedom: that was in fact the title of the book Kwame Nkrumah had published at the beginning of the fifties. How sweet it must have sounded in the ears of all those who dreamt about a new tomorrow! His Ghana became a revolutionary Mecca of the entire anti-colonial movement in Africa. Hutchinson, a South African nationalist, captured Ghana’s centrality to the era when he called his book – itself an account of his own life and escape from South Africa – simply, Road to Ghana. All the continent’s nationalist roads of the fifties led to Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. Everywhere on the continent, the former colonial slave was breaking his chains, and singing songs of hope for a more egalitarian society in its economic, political and cultural life and Nkrumah’s Ghana seemed to hold the torch to that life!
The African writer we are talking about was born on the crest of the anti-colonial upheaval and worldwide revolutionary ferment. The anti-Imperialist energy and optimism of the masses found its way into the writing of the period. The very fact of his birth was itself evidence of the new assertive Africa. The writing itself, whether in poetry, drama or fiction, even where it was explanatory in intention, was assertive in tone. It was Africa explaining itself, speaking for itself and interpreting its past. It was an Africa rejecting the images of its past as drawn by the artists of imperialism. The writer even flaunted his right to use the language of the former colonial master any way he liked. No apologies. No begging. The Caliban of the colonial world had been given European languages and he was going to use them even to subvert the master.
chinua achebewole soyinka
camara layeousmane sembene
There is a kind of self-assuredness, a confidence, if you like, in the scope and mastery of material in some of the best and most representative products of the period: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests, ’s The African Child, and Sembene Ousmane’s God’s Bits of Wood. The decade, in politics and in literature, was however best summed up in the very title of Peter Abraham’s autobiography, Tell Freedom, while the optimism is all there in David Diop’s poem ‘Africa’. After evoking an Africa of freedom lost as well as the Africa of the current colonialism, he looks to the future with unqualified, total confidence:
Africa tell me Africa
Is this you this back that is bent
This back that breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous son that tree young and strong
That tree there
In splendid loneliness amidst white and fading flowers
That is Africa your Africa
That grows again patiently obstinately
And its fruit gradually acquires
The bitter taste of liberty
The writer and his work were products of the African revolution even as the writer and the literature tried to understand, reflect, and interpret that revolution. The promptings of his imagination sprang from the fountain of the African anti-imperialist, anti-colonial movement of the forties and fifties. From every tongue came the same tune: Tell Freedom.
But very often the writer who sang ‘Tell Freedom’ in tune and time with the deepest aspirations of his society did not always understand the true dimensions of those aspirations, or rather he did not always adequately evaluate the real enemy of these aspirations. Imperialism was far too easily seen in terms of the skin pigmentation of the coloniser. It is not surprising of course that such and equation should have been made since racism and the tight caste system in colonialism had ensured that social rewards and punishments were carefully structured in the mystique of colour.
Labour was not just labour but black labour: capital was not just capital but white-owned capital. Exploitation and its necessary consequence, oppression, were black. The vocabulary by which the conflict between colonial labour and imperialist capital was perceived and ideologically fought out consisted of white and black images, sometimes freely interchangeable with the terms ‘European’ and ‘African’. The sentence or phrase was ‘… when the whiteman came to Africa…’ and not ‘… when the imperialist, or the colonialist, came to Africa…’ or ‘… one day these whites will go…’ and not ‘… one day imperialism, or these imperialists, will go…’! Except in a few cases, what was being celebrated in the writing was the departure of the whiteman with the implied hope that the incoming Blackman by virtue of his blackness would right the wrongs and heal the wounds of centuries of slavery and colonialism. Were there classes in Africa? No! cried the nationalist politician, and the writer seemed to echo him. The writer could not see the class forces born but stunted in a racially demarcated Africa.
As a result of this reductionism to the polarities of colour and race, the struggle of African people against European colonialism was seen in terms of a conflict of values between the African and the European ways of perceiving and reacting to reality. But which African values? Which European values? Which Black values? Which White values? The values of the European imperialist bourgeoisie and of the collaborationist African petty bourgeoisie? The values of the African peasant and those of the European peasant? An undifferentiated uniformity of European, or white, values was posited against an equally undifferentiated uniformity of African, or black, values.
This uniformity of African values was often captured in the realm of political parlance by the grandiloquent phrase, African socialism. The phrase was to be given even greater intellectual sophistication by Julius Nyerere (whose personal integrity has never been in any doubt) when in his famous paper ‘Ujamaa: the basis of African socialism’ he defined socialism as an attitude of mind. A millionaire (while remaining a millionaire I presume) could be a socialist, and a worker (while remaining a worker) could be a capitalist. Socialism (and therefore its opposite, imperialist capitalism) was reduced to a matter of beliefs, moral absolutes, and not that of a historically changing economic, political and cultural practice. Values without the economic, political and cultural practice that gives rise to them even as they in turn reflect that practice were seen as racially inherent in a people.
In short the writer and the literature he produced did not often take and hence treat imperialism and the class forces it generated as an integrated economic, political and cultural system whose negation and the class struggles this generated had also to be an integrated economic, political and cultural system of its opposite: national independence, democracy and socialism.
And so the writer, armed with an inadequate grasp of the extent, the nature and the power of the enemy and of all the class forces at work could only be shocked by the broken promises as his society entered the second decade.
The beginning of the sixties saw an acceleration of the independence movements. Tanzania, Uganda, Zaire, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Congo (Brazzaville), Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali: country after country won the right to fly a national flag and to sing a national anthem. At the end of the sixties only a few smudges on the map represented old colonies. The OAU was the symbol of the new age, or rather it was the promise of greater unity to come. But if the sixties was the decade of African independence, it was also the decade when old style imperialism tried to halt the momentum of the anti-colonial struggles and he successes of the fifties. Old style imperialism tried to make a last stand. Thus Portuguese colonialism clung tenaciously to Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. In Zimbabwe, Ian Smith and his Rhodesian Front, with the active overt and covert encouragement of the big imperialist bourgeoisie, tried to create a second South Africa by means of an American-sounding Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Internationally – that is, outside of Africa – this last stand of old style imperialism was represented by the USA in South Vietnam. But US domination of South Vietnam also represented new style imperialism; that is US-led imperialism ruling through puppet regimes.
Thus in Vietnam lay a clue as to what was happening to the Africa of the sixties, happening that is, to its independence from classic colonialism. New style imperialism was dependent on the ‘maturing’ of a class of natives, already conceived and born by colonialism, whose positions and aspirations as a group were not in any fundamental conflict with the money-juggling classes, the financial gnomes of the real centres of power like Zurich, the City of London and Wall Street.
There is a Kikuyu word, Nyabaara, derived from Kiswahili Mnyapala which adequately describes these mediators between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the mass of workers and peasants in the former colonies. George Lamming in his novel, In the Castle of my Skin, had called it an overseer class. The Boer racist South African regime, not to be outdone, was to caricature the new process when they too went ahead to create their own Bantustans. Bantustanism! How innovative the Boers are! But in a sense, how true!
To the majority of African people in the new states, independence did not bring about fundamental changes. It was independence with the ruler holding a begging bowl and the ruled holding a shrinking belly. It was independence with a question mark. The age of independence had produced a new class and a new leadership that was not very different from the old one. Black skins, white masks? White skins, black masks? In each of the African languages there was an attempt to explain the new phenomenon in terms of the ‘White’ and ‘Black’ symbols by which colonialism had been seen and fought out. But really, this was a new company, a company of African profiteers firmly deriving their character, power and inspiration from their guardianship of imperialist interests.
It was Frantz Fanon in his book Les Damnés de la Terre, first published in French in 1961 and later (1965) in English under the title The Wretched of the Earth, who prophetically summed up the character of this emergent phenomenon. The class that took over power after independence was an underdeveloped middle class which was not interested in putting the national economy on a new footing, but in becoming an intermediary between Western interests and the people, a handsomely paid business agent of the Western bourgeoisie:
“Before independence, the leader generally embodies the aspirations of the people for independence, political liberty and national dignity. But as soon as independence is declared, far from embodying in concrete form the needs of the people in what touches bread, land and the restoration of the country to the sacred hands of the people, the leader will reveal his inner purpose: to become the general president of that company of profiteers impatient for their returns which constitutes the national bourgeoisie.”
I have always argued that literature written by Africans, and particularly literature of this period, cannot really be understood without a proper reading of the chapter ‘Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ in Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. The literature of this period was really a series of imaginative footnotes to Frantz Fanon.
The new regimes in the independent states increasingly came under pressure from external and internal sources. The external pressure came from the West who wanted these states to maintain their independence and non-alignment firmly on the side of Western economic and political interests. Where a regime showed a consistent desire to break away from the Western orbit, destabilisation through economic sabotage and political intrigue was set in motion. The US role in bringing down Lumumba and installing the Mobutu military regime in Zaire at the very beginning of the decade was a sign of things to come.
The internal pressure came from the people who soon saw that independence had brought no alleviation to their poverty and certainly no end to political repression. People saw in most of the new regimes dependence on foreigners, grand mismanagement and well-maintained police boots. To quite Fanon: ‘scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up, the members of Parliament feather their nests and there is not a soul down to the simple policeman or the customs officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption.’
Some military intervened either at the prompting of the West or in response to what they genuinely saw and felt as the moral decay. But they too did not know what else to do with the state except to run the status quo with the gun held at the ready – not against imperialism – but against the very people the army had ostensibly stepped in to save.
Thus the sixties, the age of independence, became the era of coups d’état whether Western-backed or in patriotic response to internal pressures. Zaire in 1960 and 1965; Nigeria and Ghana in 1966; Sierra Leone, Sudan, Mali, Uganda: all these and more fell to the armies and by 1970 virtually every independent state had experienced a measure of military coups or threat of coups. The result was often intra-class fratricide as in the case of Zaire and Nigeria but one that dragged the masses into meaningless deaths, starvation and stagnation. Wars initiated by Nyabaaras! The era of coups d’état also threw up two hideous monstrosities: Bokassa and Idi Amin, two initial darlings of the West, who were to make a total mockery of the notion of independence, but who also, in these very actions, made a truthful expression of that kind of independence. Hideous as they were, they were only symbols of all the broken promises of independence.
What was wrong with Africa? What had gone wrong? The mood of disillusionment engulfed the writer and the literature of the period. It was Chinua Achebe in A Man of the People who correctly reflected the conditions that bred coups and rumours of coups.
The fictional narrator captures in the image of a house the deliberate murder of democracy by the new leadership:
“We had all been in the rain together until yesterday. Then a handful of us – the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best – had scrambled for the shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in. And from within they sought to persuade the rest through numerous loudspeakers, that the first phase of the struggle had been won and that the next phase – the extension of our house – was even more important and called for new and original tactics; is required that all argument should cease and the whole people speak with one voice and that any more dissent and argument outside the door of the shelter would subvert and break down the whole house.”
A Man of the People, coming out at about the same time as the first Nigerian military coup, had shown that a writer could be a prophet. But other writings – particularly Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born, and Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino – were equally incisive in their horror at the moral decay of the new states. The writer responded to the decay by appealing to the conscience of the new class. If only they would listen! If only they would see the error of their ways! He pleaded, lamented, threatened, painted the picture of the disaster ahead, talked of a fire next time. He tried the corrective antidote of contemptuous laughter, ridicule, direct abuse with images of shit and urine, every filth imaginable. The writer often fell back upon the kind of revenge Marx once saw the progressive feudal aristocracy taking against the new bourgeoisie that was becoming the dominant class in nineteenth-century Europe. They, the aristocracy, ‘took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new master, and whispering in his ears sinister prophesies of coming catastrophe’.
In this way arose feudal socialism; half lampoon; half echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart’s core but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of history.-- The Communist Manifesto
Thus the writer in this period was still limited by his inadequate grasp of the full dimensions of what was really happening in the sixties: the international and national realignments of class forces and class alliances. What the writer often reacted to was the visible lack of moral fibre of the new leadership and not necessarily the structural basis of that lack of moral fibre. Sometimes the writer blamed the people – the recipient of crimes – as well as the perpetrators of the crimes against the people. At times the moral horror was couched in terms perilously close to blaming it all on the biological character of the people. Thus although the literature produced was incisive in its description, it was nevertheless characterised by a sense of despair. The writer in this period often retreated into individualism, cynicism, or into empty moral appeals for a change of heart.
It was the third period, the seventies, that was to reveal what really had been happening in the sixties: the transition of imperialism from the colonial to the neo-colonial age. On the international level, the US-engineered overthrow of the Allende regime in Chile showed the face of victorious neo-colonialism. The decade saw the clear ascendancy of US-dominated transnational financial and industrial monopolies in most of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This ascendency was to be symbolised by the dominance of the IMF and the World Bank in the determination of the economies and hence the politics of the affected countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The era saw the USA surround Africa with military bases or with some kind of direct US military presence all the way from Morocco via Diego Garcia to Kenya, Egypt and of course the Mediterranean Sea. The aims of the Rapid Deployment Forces formed in the same decade were unashamedly stated as interventionist in Third World affairs, i.e. in affairs of the neo-colonies. Indeed, the decade saw an increasing readiness of former colonial powers to enter Africa militarily without even a trace of shame. The increasingly open, naked financial, industrial (e.g. Free Trade Zones etc), military and political interference of Western interests in the affairs of African countries with the active co-operation of the ruling regimes in the same countries, showed quite clearly that the so-called independence had only opened each of the African countries to wider imperialist interests. Dependence abroad, repression at home, became the national motto.
But if the seventies revealed more clearly the neo-colonial character of the African countries, the seventies also saw very important and eye-opening gains by the anti-imperialist struggles. Internationally (outside Africa), the single most important event was the defeat of the USA in Vietnam. But there were other shattering blows against neo-colonialism: Nicaragua and Iran, for instance.
In Africa, the seventies saw a victorious resurgence of anti-imperialism. The armed struggles in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Zimbabwe had clearly gained from errors of the earlier anti-colonial movements in the fifties. They could see the enemy much more clearly and they could clearly analyse their struggles in terms that went beyond just the question of colour and race. Their enemy was imperialism and the classes that allied with imperialism. Within the independent African countries, coups d’état began to take on a more anti-imperialist and anti-neo-colonial character.
Although occurring in 1981 and 1983 respectively, Rawlings’ coup in Ghana and Sankara’s in Burkina Faso (previously Upper Volta) are the better examples of this tendency. But a more telling symbol was the emergence in the seventies of a people-based guerrilla movement fighting for a second independence. The armed liberation guerrilla movements in places like Uganda and Zaire may well come to stand to neo-colonialism what Kenya Land and Freedom Army and FLN in Algeria stood to colonialism in the fifties. The phenomenon of university-educated youth and secondary school graduates opting to join workers and peasants in the bush to fight on a clear programme of a national democratic revolution as a first and necessary stage for a socialist transformation is something new in the Africa of the seventies. Whatever their ultimate destiny, these post-colonial guerrilla movements certainly symbolise the convergence of the worker’s hammer and the peasant’s machete or jembe with the pen and the gun.
The awakening to the realities of imperialism was reflected in some very important theoretical political breakthroughs in the works of Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Samir Amin, Dan Nabudere, Bala Mohamed, Nzongola-Ntalaja and in many papers emanating from university centres in many parts of the continent. Imperialism was becoming a subject of serious and even passionate academic debate and scholarly dissertations. The Dar es Salaam debate, now published as Debate on Class, State and Imperialism, stands out. But other places like Ahmadu Bello University and Ife University in Nigeria, Nairobi University in Kenya, and the Universities of Cape Coast and Ghana were emerging as centres of progressive thought; but even outside the university campuses, progressive debate was raging and it is not an accident that the Journal of African Marxists should emerge in the seventies.
Once again this new anti-imperialist resurgence was reflected in literature. For the writer from Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau his content and imagery were clearly derived from the active struggles of the people. Even in the countries that became independent in the fifties and the sixties, the writer started taking a more and more critical stand against the anti-national, anti-democratic, neo-colonial character of the ruling regimes. He began to connect these ills not just to the moral failings or otherwise of this or that ruler, but to the perpetuation of imperialist domination through the comprador ruling class in Africa.
The writer in the seventies gradually began to take imperialism seriously. He was also against the internal classes, those new companies of profiteers that allied with imperialism. But the writer tried to go beyond just explanation and condemnation. One can sense in some of the writing of this period an edging towards the people and a search for new directions. The writer in the seventies was coming face to face with neo-colonialism. He was rally a writer in a neo-colonial state. Further he was beginning to take sides with the people in the class struggle in Africa.
The writer who edged towards the people was caught in various contradictions. Where, for instance, did he stand in relation to the neo-colonial state in which he was a citizen, and within which he was trying to function?
A neo-colonial regime is, by its very character, a repressive machine. Its very being, in its refusal to break with the international and national structures of exploitation, inequality and oppression, gradually isolates it from the people. Its real power base resides not in the people but in imperialism and in the police and the army. To maintain itself in shuts all venues of democratic expression. It, for instance, resorts to one-party rule, and since in effect the party is just a bureaucratic shell, this means resorting to one man rule, despotism à la Marquez’s novel, The Autumn of the Patriarch! All democratic organisations are outlawed or else brought under the ruler, in which case they are emptied of any democratic life. Why then should the regime allow any democracy in the area of culture? Any democratic expression in the area of culture becomes a threat to such a regime’s very peculiar brand of culture: the culture of silence and fear run and directed from police cells and torture chambers.
The Kenya that emerged from the seventies is a good illustration of the workings of a neo-colonial state. At the beginning of the decade Kenya was a fairly ‘open society’ in the sense that the Kenyans could still debate issues without fear of prison. But as the ruling party under Kenyatta, and later under Moi, continued cementing the neo-colonial links to the West, the Kenyan regime became more and more intolerant of any views that questioned neo-colonialism. In the fifties, Kenyans had fought to get rid of all foreign military presence from her soil. In 1980 the Kenyan authorities had given military base facilities to the USA. The matter was not even debated in Parliament. Kenyans learnt about it through debates in the US Congress. Now within the same decade which saw the Kenyan coast turned over for use by the US military machine, the Kenya regime had banned all centres of democratic debate. Even the university was not spared. University lecturers were imprisoned or detained without trial; among them were writers like Al Amin Mazrui and Edward Oyugi.
Another lecturer, also a writer and Kenya’s foremost national historian, Maina wa Kinyatti, has served a prison sentence in a maximum security prison for doing intensive work on Mau Mau. Maina wa Kinyatti was educated in Kenya and the Unites States of America. On returning to Kenya at the beginning of the seventies, he joined the History Department at Kenyatta University College. He became very concerned that ten years after the Kenya Land and Freedom Army had forced colonialism to retreat and allow Kenya a measure of self-rule and independence, no work had been done by Kenyans scholars on the actual history and literature of these who died that Kenya might be free. He set about collecting the songs and poems of the Mau Mau era, some of which he later edited into a book: Thunder From the Mountain: May Mau Patriotic Songs. He also started work on the whole anti-colonial resistance within the context of the Kenyan history of struggle from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. The result? He languished in jail, going blind, for 6½ years until October 1989.
Over the same decade, the regime became very intolerant of theatre and any cultural expression that sided with the people. Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre’s Open Air Theatre was razed to the ground. A number of plays were stopped. Kenyan writers like Micere Mugo, Ngugi wa Mirii, Kimani Gecau, were forced into exile. In February 1985, the regime climaxed its decade of intolerance by bludgeoning 12 students to death, and 150 others into hospital; 14 went to jail for 6 months joining another 10 serving long jail terms of up to 10 years. Five others were tortured and subsequently sentenced from 6 to 12 months in jail for holding an interdenominational prayer meeting in day time on an open university sports ground.
How does a writer function in such a society? He can of course adopt silence or self-censorship, in which case he ceases to be an effective writer. Or he can become a state functionary, an option some Kenyan writers have now embraced, and once again cease to be an effective writer of the people. Or he may risk jail or exile, in which case he is driven from the very sources of his inspiration. Write and risk damnation. Avoid damnation and cease to be a writer. That is the lot of the writer in the neo-colonial state.
There are other contradictions of a writer in a neo-colonial state. For whom does he write? For the people? But then what language does he use? It is a fact that the African Writers who emerged after the Second World War opted for European languages. All the major African writers wrote in English, French or Portuguese. But by and large, all the peasants and a majority of the workers – the masses – have their own languages.
Isn’t the writer perpetuating, at the level of cultural practice, the very neo-colonialism he is condemning at the level of economic and political practice? For who a writer writes is a question which has not been satisfactorily resolved by the writers in a neo-colonial state. For the African writer, the language he has chosen already has chosen his audience.Whatever the language the writer has opted for, what is his relationship with the content? Does he see reality in its unchangeingness or in its changeingness? To see reality in stagnation or in circles of the same movements is to succumb to despair. And yet for him to depict reality in its revolutionary transformation from the standpoint of the people – the agents of change – is once again to risk damnation by the state. For a writer who is depicting reality in its revolutionary transformation is, in effect, telling the upholders of the status quo: even this too shall pass away.
I think I have said enough about the writer in the third period – the seventies – to show that his lot, particularly when he may want to edge towards the people, is not easy.
In the world, the struggle between democratic and socialist forces for life and human progress on the one hand, and the imperialist forces for reaction and death on the other is still going on and it is bound to become more fierce. Imperialism is still the enemy of human kind and any blow against imperialism whether in the Philippines, El Salvador, Chile, South Korea is clearly a blow for democracy and change. In Africa, the struggle of the Namibian people and of South African/Azanian people has intensified. And as the Zimbabwean, Angolan, and Mozambican struggles took the African revolution a stage further than where it had been left by the FLN and the Kenyan Land a Freedom Army in the fifties, in the same way the successful outcome of the Namibian and South African peoples’ struggle will push the entire continent on to a new stage. In a special way, the liberation of South Africa is the key to the liberation of the entire continent from neo-colonialism.
Within the neo-colonial states, the anti-imperialist alliance of democratic forces will intensify the struggle against the rule of the alliance of the comprador class and imperialism. There will be more and more anti-imperialist coups of the Sankara type.
There will be an increase in the Uganda type anti-neocolonial guerrilla movements. There will be greater and greater call and demand for a Pan-Africanism of the proletariat and the peasantry through their progressive democratic organisation. Each new stage in the struggle for real independence, democracy and socialism will have learnt from the errors of he previous attempts, successes and even failures. We shall see a further heightening of the war against neo-colonialism. For as in the days of colonialism, so now in the days of neo-colonialism, the African people are still struggling for a world in which they can control that which their collective sweat produces, a world in which they will control the economy, politics and culture to make their lives accord with where they want to go and who they want to be.
But as the struggle continues and intensifies, the lot of the writer in a neo-colonial state will become harder and not easier. His choice? It seems to me that the African writer now, the one who opts for becoming an integral part of the African revolution, has no choice but that of aligning himself with the people: their economic, political and cultural struggle for survival. In that situation, he will have to confront the languages spoken by the people in whose service he has put his pen.
Such a writer will have to rediscover the real languages of struggle in the actions and speech of his people, learn from their great heritage of orature, and above all, learn from their great optimism and faith in the capacity of human beings to remake their world and renew themselves. He must be part of the song the people sing as once again they take up arms to smash the neo-colonial state to complete the anti-imperialist national democratic revolution they had started in the fifties, and even earlier.
A people united can never be defeated and the writer must be part and parcel of that revolutionary unity for democracy, socialism and the liberation of the human spirit to become even more human.
It is right that I a woman
should speak of white womanhood.
die for it: because of it.
and their blood
chilled in electric chairs,
stopped by hangman’s noose,
cooked by lynch mobs’ fire,
spilled by white supremacist mad desire to kill
give me that right
I would that I could speak of white womanhood
as it will and should be
when it stands tall in full equality.
but then, womanhood will be womanhood.
Void of color and of class,
And all necessity for my speaking thus will be past.
But now, since ‘tis deemed a thing apart
I must in searching honesty report
How it seems to me.
White womanhood stands in bloodied skirt
and willing slavery
reaching out adulterous hand
killing mine and crushing me.
What then is the superior thing
That in order to be sustained must needs feed upon my flesh?
Let’s look to history.
They said, the white supremacist said
that you were better than me,
that your fair brow would never know the sweat of slavery.
White womanhood too is enslaved,
The difference is degree.
They brought me here in chains.
They brought you here willing slaves to man.
You, shiploads of women each filled with hope
That she might win with ruby lip and saucy curl
And bright and flashing eyes
Him to wife who had the largest tender.
And they sold you here even as they sold me.
My sisters, there is no room for mockery.
If they counted my teeth
They did appraise your thigh
And sold you to the highest bidder
The same as I.
And you did not fight for your right to choose
Whom you would wed
But for whatever bartered price
That was the legal tender
You were sold to a stranger’s bed
In a stranger land
And you did not fight.
Mind you, I speak not mockingly
But I fought for freedom,
I’m fighting now for our unity.
We are women all.
And what wrongs you murders me
And eventually marks your grave
So we share a mutual death at the hand of tyranny.
They trapped me with the chain and gun.
They trapped you with lying tongue.
For, ‘less you see that fault—
That male villainy
That robbed you of name, voice and authority,
That murderous greed that wasted you and me,
He, the white supremacist, fixed your minds with poisonous thought:
“white skin is supreme.”
And there with bought that monstrous change
exiling you to things.
Changed all that nature had in you wrought of gentle usefulness, abolishing your spring.
Tore out your heart,
set your good apart from all that you could say,
know to be right.
And you did not fight,
but set your minds fast on my slavery
the better to endure your own.
my pearls were beads of sweat
wrung from weary bodies' pain,
instead of rings upon my hands
I wore swollen, bursting veins.
My ornaments were the wipe-lash's scar
my diamond, perhaps, a tear.
Instead of paint and powder on my face
I wore a solid mask of fear to see my blood so spilled.
And you, women seeing
spoke no protest
but cuddled down in your pink slavery
and thought somehow my wasted blood
confirmed your superiority.
Because your necklace was of gold
you did not notice that it throttled speech.
Because diamond rings bedecked your hands
you did not regret their dictated idleness.
Nor could you see that the platinum bracelets which graced your wrists were chains
binding you fast to economic slavery
And though you claimed your husband's name
still could not command his fidelity.
You bore him sons.
I bore him sons.
No, not willingly.
He purchase you.
He raped me,
But you fought neither for yourselves nor me.
Sat trapped in your superiority
and spoke no reproach.
Consoled your outrage with an added diamond brooch.
Oh, God, how great is a woman's fear
who for a stone, a cold, cold stone
would not defend honor, love or dignity!
Your bore the damning mockery of your marriage
and heaped your hate on me,
a woman too,
a slave more so.
And when your husband disowned his seed
that was my son
and sold him apart from me
you felt avenged.
I was not your enemy in this,
I was not the source of your distress.
I was your friend, I fought.
But you would not help me fight
thinking you helped only me.
Your deceived eyes seeing only my slavery
aided your own decay.
Yes, they condemned me to death
and they condemned you to decay.
Your heart whisked away,
consumed in hate,
used up in idleness
playing yet the lady's part
estranged to vanity.
It is justice to you to say your fear equaled your tyranny.
You were afraid to nurse your young
lest fallen breast offend your master's sight
and he should flee to firmer loveliness.
And so you passed them, your children, on to me.
Flesh that was your flesh and blood that was your blood
drank the sustenance of life from me.
And as I gave suckle I knew I nursed my own child's enemy.
I could have lied,
told you your child was fed till it was dead of hunger.
But I could not find the heart to kill orphaned innocence.
For as it fed, it smiled and burped and gurgled with content
and as for color knew no difference.
Yes, in that first while
I kept your sons and daughters alive.
But when they grew strong in blood and bone
that was of my milk
taught them to hate me.
PUt your decay in their hearts and upon their lips
so that strength that was of myself
turned and spat upon me,
despoiled my daughters, and killed my sons.
You know I speak true.
Though this is not true for all of you
When I bestirred myself for freedom
and brave Harriet led the way
some of you found heart and played a part
in aiding my escape.
And when I made my big push for freedom
your sons fought at my sons' side.
Your husbands and brothers too fell in that battle
when Crispus Attucks died.
It's unfortunate that you acted not in the way of justice
but to preserve the Union
and for dear sweet pity's sake;
Else how came it to be with me as it is today?
You abhorred slavery
yet loathed equality.
I would that the poor among you could have seen
through the scheme
and joined hands with me.
Then, we being the majority, could long ago have recued
our wasted lives.
The rich, becoming richer, could be content
while yet the poor had only the pretense of superiority
and sought through murderous brutality
to convince themselves that what was false was true.
So with KKK and fiery cross
and bloodied appetites
set about to prove that "white is right"
forgetting their poverty.
Thus the white supremacist used your skins
to perpetuate slavery.
And woe to me.
Woe to Willie McGee.
Woe to the seven men of Martinsville.
And woe to you.
It was no mistake that your naked body on an Esquire calendar
announced the date, May Eighth.
This is your fate if you do not wake to fight.
They will use your naked bodies to sell their wares
though it be hate, Coca Cola or rape.
When a white mother disdained to teach her children
this doctrine of hate,
but taught them instead of peace
and respect for all men's dignity
the courts of law did legislate
that they be taken from her
and sent to another state.
To make a Troy Hawkins of the little girl
and a killer of the little boy!
No, it was not for the womanhood of this mother
that Willie McBee died
but for the depraved, enslaved, adulterous woman
whose lustful demands denied,
lied and killed what she could not possess.
Only three months before another such woman lied
and seven black men shuddered and gave up their lives.
These women were upheld in these bloody deeds
by the president of this nation,
thus putting the official seal on the fate
of white womanhood with in these United States.
This is what they plan for you.
This is the depravity they would reduce you to.
Death for me
and worse than death for you.
What will you do?
Will you fight with me?
White supremacy is your enemy and mine.
So be careful when you talk with me.
Remind me not of my slavery, I know it will
but rather tell me of your own.
Remember, you have never known me.
You've been busy seeing me
as white supremacist would have me be,
and I will be myself.
My aim is full equality.
I would usurp their plan!
for every man, woman and child
who walks the earth.
This is my fight!
If you will fight with me then take my hand
and the hand of Rosa Ingram, and Rosalee McGee,
and as we set about our plan
let our Wholehearted fight be:
PEACE IN A WORLD WHERE THERE IS EQUALITY.
Beah Richards (July 12, 1920 – September 14, 2000)
...was an American actress with a long career on stage, screen and television. She was also a poet, playwright and author.
Born Beulah Richardson in Vicksburg, Mississippi, her mother was a seamstress and PTA advocate and her father was a Baptist minister. In 1948, she graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and two years later moved to New York City. Her career started to take off in 1955 when she portrayed an eighty-four-year-old-grandmother in the off-Broadway show Take a Giant Step. She often played the role of a mother or grandmother, and continued acting her entire life. She appeared in the original Broadway productions of Purlie Victorious, The Miracle Worker, and A Raisin in the Sun.
"There are a lot of movies out there that I would hate to be paid to do, some real demeaning, real woman-denigrating stuff. It is up to women to change their roles. They are going to have to write the stuff and do it. And they will."
Richards was nominated for a Tony award for her 1965 performance in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner. She also received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Sidney Poitier's mother in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Other notable movie performances include Hurry Sundown, The Great White Hope, Beloved and In the Heat of the Night (as the abortionist, Mrs. Bellamy (a.k.a. "Mama Caleba").
She made numerous guest television appearances including recurrent roles on The Bill Cosby Show, Designing Women, and ER (as Dr. Peter Benton's mother.) She was the winner of two Emmy Awards.
In the last year of her life, Richards was the subject of a documentary created by actress Lisa Gay Hamilton. The documentary Beah: A Black Woman Speaks was created from over 70 hours of their conversations. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Film Festival.
Beah Richards died from emphysema in her hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi at the age of 80.
I’ve watched Beah Richards in many films and I remember reading somewhere about her poetry. But I never knew she was a feminist, wrote powerful political poetry speaking truth to power; was a playwright, a strong fiercely political, inspirationally powerful Black woman. Richards had no fear of speaking out at on her commitment to truth and freedom at political rallies. What frightened her was fascism not communism, after all as she said “I grew up in Mississippi and lived with it every day”. In an interview with the director and co-producer, LisaGay Hamilton – who herself must be congratulated for such a selfless work of art – Ann Marie Offer, described Beah Richards as a “Minister of Human Dignity.” what an apt obituary for such a great woman.
Like most life stories the film is full of those joys and sadnesses we all pass through – some better and worse than others. At the time of the interviews, Beah was suffering from the last stages of emphysema and was on oxygen 24 hours a day. Her next to last journey, back home to Mississippi, in which she leaves her home of 25 years, is one of those indescribable painful sadnesses which sap your strength leaving you weak and utterly forelorn.
3 months later, Beah Richards received an Emmy Award for her role in the series, “Practice” and soon after she passed away. Her last request was that her ashes be scattered on the confederate graveyard in Mississippi – even death was to be made an act of struggle.
Her life story is told in the film “Beah: A Black Woman Speaks” a documentary film by LisaGay Hamiliton. As a young woman trying to be an actress and dancer in Hollywood in the 1950s and facing the proverbial slammed door, Beah decided to go to New York. She was penniless and hearing about a peace conference in Chicago with a prize for the poem which best expressed peace, she decided to enter her poem “A Black Woman Speaks……” Beah entered a poetry competition. I never heard of this poem yet it’s at least as powerful as Sojourner Truth’s’ “Aint I a Woman“. The poem speaks to the primordial memory of pre-Americas, slavery, rape, imprisonment, racism,humiliation, lynchings and centuries of dehumanization of Black peoples. The poem though it speaks to these vile memories and realities, is a poem of resistance. An act of survival and despite the terrible hardships of the journey from there to here, I, we remain standing our pride in tact.
UPDATE: 31 December 2010
The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European
Roots of Mathematics
Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 3rd Edition, 2010, 561 pp.
by George Gheverghese Joseph <email@example.com>
From the Ishango Bone of central Africa and the Inca quipu of South America to the dawn of modern mathematics, The Crest of the Peacock makes it clear that human beings everywhere have been capable of advanced and innovative mathematical thinking. George Gheverghese Joseph takes us on a breathtaking multicultural tour of the roots and shoots of non-European mathematics. He shows us the deep influence that the Egyptians and Babylonians had on the Greeks, the Arabs' major creative contributions, and the astounding range of successes of the great civilizations of India and China.
The third edition emphasizes the dialogue between civilizations, and further explores how mathematical ideas were transmitted from East to West. The book's scope is now even wider, incorporating recent findings on the history of mathematics in China, India, and early Islamic civilizations as well as Egypt and Mesopotamia. With more detailed coverage of proto-mathematics and the origins of trigonometry and infinity in the East, The Crest of the Peacock further illuminates the global history of mathematics.
George Gheverghese Joseph was born in Kerala, India, grew up in Mombasa, Kenya, and completed his degrees in England. He has worked in various occupations that have taken him to places all over the world, including East and Central Africa, India, Papua New Guinea, and South East Asia.
Praise for Princeton's previous editions: "Enthralling. . . . After reading it, we cannot see the past in the same comforting haze of age-old stories, faithfully and uncritically retold from teacher to pupil down the years. . . . Invaluable for mathematics teachers at all levels."--New Scientist
Praise for Princeton's previous editions: "What is valuable here is the unified approach that Joseph brings . . . and the non-technical clarity that the attempt to reorder historical priorities and educate his readers out of their European prejudices requires."--Times Literary Supplement
Here is a young spoken word artist-activist from Los Angeles- Mark-Anthony Johnson. He works with the 21-year old progressive grassroots organization: THE LABOR/COMMUNITY STRATEGY CENTER.
Here is his Turn Up the Heat performance at the Labor/Community Strategy Center's May 8, 2010
21st anniversary gala.
Turn Up the Heat!