The Burial of Kojo Movie as a Window into some of Ghana’s Pertinent Issues

The Burial of Kojo debuted on Netflix in April and combines magical realism and realistic depictions of Ghanaian society to tell the story of a girl that journeys between two spaces to save her father from giving up the ghost.

The narrative voice in the movie which narrates from opening to end of the movie belongs to the protagonist; – (Ama Abebrese) who is reading the story of her childhood which she has set in a book to an audience. While this story is moving, surreal and well told, it succeeds in triggering our emotions mainly because it resides on filial rivalry, struggle and finally revenge that ends fatally. However, the film maker, Blitz Bazawule, accomplishes the telling of this unique story with stark juxtapositions that show Ghana today –

Ghana ( Africa ) is in Bed with China

In Uganda, elementary school kids of Ugandan origin are learning Chinese. For better or for worse, the Chinese are now a strong part of their community and learning Chinese in the words of one of the students will open many doors. In Nigeria Chinese firms own exclusive rights to mine gold in Zamfara, ironically, Nigeria’s poorest state. In Ghana, the situation is no different. The New York Times reported in 2013 that a Chinese illegal miner was shot by Ghanaian police which led to heightened tensions. Chinese use/used locals as fronts to engage in mining that they are/were otherwise not allowed to do. Ghanaian miners that work with Chinese companies reported many problems including a deep disregard for labor laws and the environment as well as the use of violence. Today, in 2019, the same situation remains and nothing has changed. The movie beautifully delivers this societal plague which interestingly acts as the bridge between the dramatic plot and the realistic matter of Ghana’s economy and its murky part linked to the Chinese. The fact that the co protagonist dies in a trench dug up on a mine site speaks volumes. This death re illuminates the danger that miners face / have faced over time and in different spaces. The trench is undoubtedly a symbol of exploitation, danger, injustices and above all, inequalities in Ghana today when it comes to foreign presence, investment and local gain. For this reason, The Burial of Kojo also fits well into art that calls for change in society.

Behind the Scenes of the Trench Scene

Though the movie touches on other issues such as the great exit from small towns to the capital mostly for better opportunities and better amenities, the scenic shots from Nzulezo, Ghana’s south western village that sits on stilts (and mirrors a similar settlement in neighboring Benin . ) are wonderful additions that probably add onto the surrealism of the plot. While living in the water village, the girl ( Esi ) has many recurring dreams that show a black crow that she later comes to fully understand and tackle. Speaking of the Black crow, the pink hues that appear in those scenes that otherwise should look morbid and dark, make the scarier scenes easier to watch.

The movie however feeds into the cliché of certain stock colors representing good and bad. Why does the White dove not represent evil and why can the Black crow for once not represent good? Regardless, a particularly unconventional aspect of the film is that it is totally in two major Ghanaian languages; Fante and Twi, and subtitled in English.

Kojo in the Water Village (Nzulezo)

Symbols

The use of dream sequences ( Kojo’s recurring dream and Esi’s dream ) as a technique not only facilitates story telling but also speaks of the Ghanaian socio consciousnesses that attaches so much importance to dreams. Esi finally discovers through a dream, the cause of her father’s near fatal situation in the trench and goes into another dream to try to rescue her father. The dreams in addition to the moments where the characters undergo deep streams of consciousness feature special types of lights that signal to viewers the difference between regular scenes and scenes that are supposed to be mental projections of the characters.

The Scene with Esi’s mom’s stream of Consciousness

Why Jordan Peele’s US Movie has Inequality Written all Over It

Theme song from the US movie

Any literary fanatic knows that the technique of recurrent motifs in a work of art be it literary or visual is a way of sending home an idea.

Motif – In a literary work, a motif can be seen as an image, sound, action, or other figure that has a symbolic significance, and contributes toward the development of a theme. … In a literary piece, a motif is a recurrent image, idea, or symbol that develops or explains a theme, while a theme is a central idea or message.

The Image of the Bunny

The movie opens with a shot that enlargens as viewers are brought from the image of the pink eye of a bunny to a larger frame containing a good number of bunnies all stuck apathetically behind the iron mesh of individual cages they are kept in.

Question – So how does a bunny connect with the idea of inequality?

Answer – All the bunnies are white, and stuck either inside the cages they are assigned or freely wandering in the rabbit hole in which the minions ( whose doppelgangers are up above on the earth are located ). The color white is a symbol of innocence, and purity. The bunnies are victims of their situation, are powerless and incapable of doing anything except wander. The use of an even color for all the bunnies symbolises the sameness of all the bunnies, their sameness does not only stop at their color, their sameness is seen in their collective lot; they are all trapped in the rabbit hole or the cages. At some point, we are unable to quite distinguish between the bunnies and the doppelgangers that remain in the underworld with the bunnies, who represents who? do the bunnies represent the puppetted humans or do the puppetted humans become an extension of the bunnies?

A bunny is an animal that can connotatively be linked with docility, apathy and indifference. Ever seen a bunny eating mindlessly? They eat as though they do not even care about the food itself; I’m yet to encounter a bunny that has been aggressive or that has tried to exit its circumstances or act in any kind of proactive way. In the same vein, a rabbit hole denotatively defines as a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself. ( credit Google ) The puppetted humans are trapped in an underground area with the rabbits; this underground area which is nestled beneath a lone house on a beach is a place of chaos, brainless and idiotic repetition and confusion. The tethered remain down the rabbit hole and for the rest of their lives, are subjected to only doing exactly what their copies do on earth. The camera shows us many a person that simply repeats exactly what their earthly copy does without a will to stop or break out of it. The people trapped in here seem to be a part of an entire calculated system that is designed to keep them there; the cages of the bunnies are a larger symbol of the prison of a carbon copy life these people are subjected to. The bunnies in their own terms also hop around the area without any particular direction or purpose in mind. This repetitive system and bubble that these beings are trapped in mirror a system that is designed to keep people below and hopeless. The people like these bunnies being the puppets they are will forever be unable to leave the shackles of their situation ( cages/rabbit hole). Which is why when they get the chance to leave their circumstances, they come out with a lot of little bit of contempt to trade places with their alter egos who by living their lives have subjected these minions to suffering.

Aimless bunnies in the rabbit hole

A Reversal that is Born out of Contempt

To start quite tragically, the people on earth who by living their daily lives deprive the tethered of will and choice do not even know of the existence of their suffering doppelgangers. The tethered – The very name of the alter egos indicate a deprivation of will. To be tethered translates into being tied or bound to a thing or person out of compulsion. Adelaide’s tethered often describes herself as the shadow of Adelaide. How then can a person separate themselves from their shadow? It is the impossibility of this separation that irks the tethered and makes them exact revenge on the earthlings because as we see, the very existence of the earthlings guarantees an endless suffering for the tethered. In Red’s ( Adelaide’s alter ego’s) narration of her life, we see a binary that is deeply soiled with inequality. While Adelaide enjoys a warm bed and gifts and love, Red barely lives, enduring what she is dealt which is the exact opposite of what Adelaide enjoys. The first thing that gives a brash indication of the stark message Peele wishes to send across comes through when Adelaide asks Red who the tethered are; to this question, Red answers, ‘We are Americans’. This answer begs many questions, if they are Americans, and humans at the core of everything, why do they get a different treatment from the other Americans who live freely? Let’s not forget that the protagonist as well as their friends are middle to upper middle class families who can afford a vacation, a vacation home, a yacht and other luxuries. Gabe is college educated from his overly apparent alumnus Howard sweater and his taste for the finer things in life which pushes him onto an unhealthy need to rub shoulders with his wealthy White friend whose wife is as vain as a peacock. These are a cohort of people whose concerns exceed the mundane and painful lot of living as a puppet ( which is the fate of the Reds so to speak).

Also interesting is the fact that the movie commences with the obvious message of a humanitarian organization ( Hands across America ) that is known for its 1986 protest of a people connected hand in hand in a solidarity statement to end poverty, homelessness and hunger. In the US movie, it is no longer regular people that hold hands, it is the Reds that hold hands perhaps to protest inequality. After all, what is the aim of standing in solidarity and unison with connected hands if not to support each other? The imagery of this human connectedness is cast in such dramatic irony when we realize that Peele’s characters are everything but connected. Like in modern society, they remain apart and far from connected while one group suffers and another ‘lives’

Follow theAffickyPodcast for an extensive conversation on what the movie meant for us 🙂

The Western Erasure of African Tragedy

This article was written by Hannah Giorgis and published on The Atlantic blog…parts of it will be highlighted in this post, however, for the original story, go on The Atlantic

According to a list shared by Ethiopian Airlines following the crash, these passengers hailed from 35 countries. Several nations suffered more than five casualties—among them, Kenya, Canada, Ethiopia, China, Italy, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Egypt. In the hours following initial reports, the corners of Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook frequented by African users were filled with shock and horror, mourning and disbelief. The crash seemed senseless, and its human toll devastating.

But in the aftermath of the tragedy, many Western media outlets reported the news with unevenly rationed compassion. Some stoked unfounded suspicions about the caliber of the airline itself. Others stripped their reporting of emphasis on Africa almost entirely, framing the tragedy chiefly in terms of its impact on non-African passengers and organizations.

Elsewhere, Western publications engaged in selective reporting about the deceased. The Washington Post, for example, led its homepage coverage Sunday with a headline that informed readers only that “Eight Americans among 157 people killed in Ethiopian Airlines crash.” (The Washington metropolitan area has the largest population of Ethiopian descent outside the country itself.) In a tweet about the national background of the deceased, the Associated Press listed eight nations affected by the crash. Not one of the countries mentioned in the AP’s list is populated by black Africans. This, despite the fact that Kenya topped the list of the deceased, with 32, and nine Ethiopians were on board. On CNN and BBC News, the presence of American and British nationals respectively is what drew narrative prominence. (In a brutal irony, the Nigerian writer Pius Adesanmi, author of You’re Not a Country, Africa, was among those on the flight.)

For a full reaction to this write up and more, listen to episode 4 of the Affickypodcast. On this episode, we talk Monsters and Representation, how certain groups are perceived in society and what effects this perception has on these groups on many levels. Also read Which deaths matter for a broader view of the discussion.

How Similar are the Aquaman and Black Panther Movies?

Aquaman

Khal Drogo is such a baddie! Khal Drogo remains my personal go-to name for Jason Momoa just because I really can not shake off the impression he made on me in the Game of Thrones. His first shirtless entrance onto the set in Aquaman where he gives his back to the camera and then turns dramatically in a perfect male model pose only to kick the asses of the villains on the submarine is more than enough to leave a double dose of awe.

The cinematography of Aquaman together with all the dramatic elements that combine to make this great movie will leave viewers with that intense satisfaction of having seen unknotted ties resolve. However, just like most superhero movies, the ending where the assassin (whose dad was murdered) demonstrates a relentless need to continue pursuing Aquaman leaves the possibility of a sequel. Aquaman’s brother the ( Oceanmaster ) is also alive which equally leaves a huge possibility of a sequel.

More importantly, this post aims to comment on the many parts of the movie that are hugely reminiscent of the Black Panther movie.

Consanguineous Struggle, a legitimate premise or a basic appeal of human emotion?

The resurfacing of an illegitimate relation who threatens the so-called legitimate son and heir to the throne is no new development on our screens; Lion King follows this pattern, Tchalla’s kingship is threatened by Killmonger who surfaces out of nowhere. Unlike Killmonger, Aquaman does not exactly want the throne because he does not even believe himself a king yet the conflict of interests and the potential demise of the kingdom based off of two different approaches to saving the seas from earth’s pollution force Aquaman to man up and take his rightful place as king of the Ocean. Another scene that makes the Aquaman movie hugely evocative of the Black Panther movie is that the protagonist and villain battle it out in or around water. Tchalla and Killmonger’s fight like Aquaman and Oceanmaster’s fights are in or around water. In both movies, the fights leave viewers at the edges of their seats as audiences struggle with which side to be on while remaining transfixed because of the implications of the fight. Because how do deal with the pain of seeing two brothers or closely related kin fight?

Love as a Tool to Reveal the Other Side of the Protagonist

Aquaman’s built, tattooed and cut body together with his eyebrow slit and piercing gaze make him look everything but weak. The use of the word weak here is in no way implicit of love equalling weakness, yet love often brings with it a level of vulnerability and uncertainty that is not the least synonymous to the superheroes often depicted with it. This lumberjack character comes with a blend of sexy and sultry that keeps eyes glued on the protagonist throughout the movie. Aquaman rocks blond highlights in his hair which seem to blend in perfectly with his bronze skin and eyes. This sharp copper tone together with shoulder length tousled hair makes him visually pleasing whether in underwater scenes or on land. Like Tchalla, the strong and constantly valiant personality is often overtaken by emotion. Aquaman allows himself to show viewers that he is unsure of his capacity as a king regardless of his unshakable nature. He also has moments where he is completely open and unrestrained in his display of interest and attention received from Mera. To see heroes bare their human sides once in a while is realistic and refreshing. Equally interesting is the way Aquaman and Tchalla decide to give their vanquished opponents the chance to live, though these proud opponents ironically demand to be served their death. While Killmonger decides to join his ancestors fearlessly through death, the queen of Atlantis comes through as a deus ex machina for her Ocean Master son who is on the verge of death. Even the queen’s look and the look of the Black Panther queen are similar, whitish-blond lace frontals seem to be the queenish go to look these days.

Queen Atlanna
Queen Mother of Wakanda

Other Interesting Parts of the Aquaman Movie

Why is the Half Bred Colored?

The half-bred grows from a brown baby to a Brown man who is considered bastard and unworthy by his underwater family. His mom who is fully Caucasian defies the norm and lays with an ordinary brown man. His brother who is Caucasian fits what is expected of a legitimate heir and a full son of the underwater world. The bastard son, on the other hand, feels culpable for the mother’s excommunication and feels a sense of defeat already since he is often reminded of his hand in the mother’s death. To the dwellers of Atlantis, this half-bred son of the queen may be the legitimate heir to the throne by virtue of being first born yet the mere fact that he is not fully Atlantean ( if that’s a word ) makes him questionable.

Is the making of this other coincidental or intentional?

The Aquaman Movie and the Athenian/Futuristic Divide

Atlantis and its scepter bearing lords together with its lifelike statues and busts of past lords combine an Athenian feel that takes us back to ancient Rome. The round underwater courtyard that some of the scenes capture and the fighting ring remind of the large roman amphitheaters that hosted athletics, gladiator combats, and circuses. At the same time, parts of the movie feature ultra-modern technology, robotics and futuristic scenes that are sometimes good to look at and sometimes flat out mechanical and a bit much. Some of the underwater agents sent out by the ocean master to arrest or cause havoc on land reminded me vaguely of newer makes of the power rangers. I hated them to be honest.

Parallel Struggles and Techniques that made the Movie so Badass

Anyone who watched the movie carefully would have noticed that Aquaman’s eyes are a larger reflection of his intuitive power and charm. His eyes not only illuminate underwater to guide his path, his eyes seem to be the pathway into this strong yet peaceful character. The final scenes where his eyes almost reflect and actually match the golden hue of the scepter and his costume actually remind us of the fact that he is truly king. His former scruffy, laid-back local town dwelling self in average clothes do not do enough justice to the glow in his eyes and his soul. The glory and grandeur of kingship suit him better than his former ordinary self. Aquaman is truly made for the throne and that is exactly what those glowy set of eyes and mysterious air is made for. Kingship brings out his full character and the Khal Drogo we sort of want back on our screens.

The cinematographic technique of making Mera and Aquaman face their own unique pursuants in the hills of Italy helps audiences realize the unique power that the duo has and the even greater force they will be once their love joins forces.

Mera and Aquaman

The exaggeration presents itself when the fight is taken into the living space of an extraordinarily calm senior who watches two metahumans fight as if fighters at each others’ throats breaking through her roof on a sunny afternoon is an entirely normal occurrence. Needless to say, I hate how superheroes fight with a plain disregard for the destruction they leave in their wake.

Women Women Women!

What would Aquaman do without the women in his life egging him on to, first of all, believe in himself and act in the interest of his people?…. Women play key roles in this movie and their direct influence and help cannot be underestimated in this movie or in the Black Panther movie where women warriors, intimate lady friends, and mothers join hands to nurture, protect and enamor the men protagonists.

The scene where Aquaman and Mera go through dangerous lengths just to journey through a middle passage to rescue Queen Atlanna feels similar to the scene from the Ant man movie where the characters went through great lengths only to retrieve the mother. Mother is supreme! Chinua Achebe did not lie!

Conclusion

Aquaman releases all the knots from a pent-up climax. The movie is satisfying and I would watch the sequel any day any time. The final scene with the reconnection of the father and the mother wraps up the movie with a perfectly satisfying resolution. On a more thematic level, the love of Aquaman’s parents surviving despite all odds renews hope for the general belief in enduring love and also a more reverberating statement that interracial dating can survive despite all the odds in a racially and stereotypically charged environment which is the US.

Becoming MO and Thoughts on a Premature January Birthday

Capture d_écran 2018-12-06 à 13.36.26

‘Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result’ – Michelle Obama

When I read Becoming Michelle Obama, I suddenly agreed with what she said about growing and its infinite nature. She said she thought it was stupid for adults to ask kids what they wanted to ‘become’ when they grew up; – a doctor? a lawyer? whatever else…as if growing up was finite and as if the growth process stopped at when we ‘arrived’ at a career choice, a life partner, a choice on a critical question, a purchase of a house, maybe.

As we know and would probably consider, life hardly allows us ‘arrive’ even after we achieve what we want….we still decide we want more by asking the essential question of what is next. This is a question I’ve asked myself on countless occasions. On the eve of three decades and one walking this earth…dramatic, I know…. I acknowledge that I have not ‘arrived’. I still have many questions that have not yet been answered. I still have to figure out truly what I want from professional offerings, choices and decisions. I need to figure out daily basic questions from dealings with people; – are they sincere, do they want the best for me, what can I offer them? I still want to or need to understand why I’m considering plan B when plan A has hardly ended.

Im still hopeful, thankful, fortunate, blessed and continually refreshed by the idea that growing up is not a destination but an eventful process of change, becoming and evolution. If this brings you any comfort, one of my favorite quotations ever by Zora Neale Hurston says that life just like a ship faraway at sea that is hardly visible is comparable to uncertain years or patches in our lives.

‘’There are years that ask questions and years that answer them’

Let this quotation constantly remind you that uncertainty and slow answers are okay. 

Should the Conversation surrounding Consent be Culturally Packaged?

This post acknowledges other relationship types but stays within heterosexual relationships for the purpose of this post.

 Whether we've ever copulated, intertwined, fucked or quite colloquially rolled in the sack, no matter the number of times, the act and its frequency simply do not translate into an automatic go-ahead that whoever is welcome without my consent!

My screen lit up. It was a simple link leading to a story of a young Ghanaian. He’d been reported to the police. His feet had taken him into the bedroom of his white female acquaintance who he’d had sex with. The woman had been asleep (read: drunk) and had obviously not been fully aware of the events that took place in her bed. I shook my head in awe and disbelief but mostly in awe.

…..She’d taken his name to the police despite the number of times they’d been together. Interesting…

Capture d_écran 2018-10-07 à 12.14.52

We sat in the auditorium waiting for the western experts to come talk to the local African students union about Consent. My temporary concerns were typically millennial; – I needed a source of power for my dying cell phone.  I needed to post highlights of the conversation to my Instagram feed. I needed to note down key points. I finally found a power station and then turned my focus off the device to the humans around me.

My friend quickly analyzed the seating arrangements in the room and compared it to the African society only we had seen growing up, and which, only we, could quite conveniently dare to analyze…The men sat up front in their burly suits, wearing their overall sense of self-importance around their necks like their stifling neckties. They carried equally bulky briefcases and wore shiny leather shoes that only they, could see their bloated self-reflections in. A pair of spectacles or two sat on tired noses. They were exhausted but determined to bombard the foreign experts with questions. ‘How dare you spoil our women with messages that will make them rebel? We’re here to cross-examine your intentions, first, it was feminism, now its consent,…’

Behind them was the matriarchy, we sat expectant, speaking in loud tones and ready to jump on anyone who dared hush us up. This was our time, we had a voice, anyone who wasn’t with it didn’t understand women’s empowerment, we were here and our objective opinions were valid.

Behind us sat the newbies, a mixture of men and women who weren’t quite sure of their contribution or place in the group.  Well, just yet…..Beside me, a male in his late twenties started to engage me in small talk surrounding the language of consent.

-Do our people really understand consent?

-I honestly don’t think some African guys understand the language of consent.

-Why?

-I mean,….consent is always mostly left in that messy place between let me convince them a bit more or let me reason out with them on why they should probably be doing x or y with me…

-But sometimes the women mean yes when they say no…..or what do you think? Really why do you think consent is one big blurry area in our part of the world? Aren’t our women ours?

Its many things, I would say a part of it comes from sexism and the different reactions to what a person does based on their sex. First, of, the concept of sex with enthusiasm begs many questions. Is this sex pre-marital or marital sex because we are schooled differently on how to react to these two types of sex. Sex education which is taught as a topic under the Religious and Moral Education course is full of Bible quotations and a tirade of do’s and don’ts. To summarize what we learn in this class, it simply remains at three words, –  ‘DON’T DO IT’.  Then, suddenly a person marries and is suddenly supposed to know what to do, or women become wives, remain pure and true while husbands daydream of that nasty mistress who was so uninhibited and knew just the right thing to do. Needless to say, women are taught to cater to EVERY need of the husband IF we want happy homes. Also, pre-marital sex is usually about sinning and asking for forgiveness later. The persons in question go in under a thick web of shame and guilt that sits on their shoulder, undresses with them and lays on the bed of fornication with them. Images of hell replay over and over and the sweltering heat of Ghana serves as a visual reminder of how hellish Hell will be if they do not repent. What enthusiasm will there be to show in a situation like that? Most importantly is the fact that the religious message surrounding sex is more severe on women than it is on men (read: through the backings of religion, women’s sexuality and not that of men’s is controlled). Maybe hypersexuality, zeal or interest is whorish. Maybe certain sex positions are not honorable enough for wives. Girlfriends and hoes are the ones that are deserving of being turned over like pieces of furniture, not pure wedded wives….. All these combative reasons and more, push women to indirectly show interest in ways that can be misleading. The idea is that even if I am interested, I would not want to be won over easily…Let me show interest, but let me not be over the top interested otherwise, they may think I’m a hoe…..

-Yeah because I know about that myth that says that she may be saying no but she actually means yes….so what do we really do then?

-No means no. Take the word for what it is and do nothing unless you are absolutely sure the person wants whatever is being offered. Yes, that is said in fear, under the influence of alcohol, under direct cohesion do not equal consent. Also, no matter the number of times you’ve been together, consent is needed for EACH TIME, even if she is your wife or partner or if you think you own them because you paid for them.

-….What if I’m the one she relies on for everything? Do I not deserve some love?

-Do you deserve or do you feel entitled?

-Do you speak of male entitlement?

-Yep,…don’t you think some males are entitled? Deserving something and being entitled to something are very different concepts…

-True..

-I was at a party and this guy wanted to talk to me, I was standing with a group and he walked up and asked for me to speak privately with him. I refused, and then he came back later to ask if I was ready this time. To show his insistence, he grabbed my forearm, ….was he deserving of or entitled to my attention?…..my friend got catcalled in the streets on her way home. She loves to show off her legs and she stands at about six feet one. She wore her mini jupe and set about her life’s activities. The catcalls were ignored but then she realized she’d soon gained a literal follower who was upset that she had ignored him previously. He pursued her until she got really frightened and called her mom. Did he feel entitled to her attention or did he deserve her attention?….

-That’s rough.

-Yep. She always talks about it…..I think she may need to talk to someone after this episode…

-The experts are here…

-I see them.

 

 

 

Book Review, – Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston

Foreword

 Barracoon is an enclosure where Black slaves were held for a period until they were transported to the New World.

Barracoon derives from a Spanish word, Barraca/Barracoon which is the same as Barracks in English.

***

In my review of Barracoon, one theme that kept resurfacing is the complete or gradual loss of the African identity in the New World. I further consider the role of water in this partial or total death to the African identity and the rebirth of a new creature that is never quite ‘there‘. A creature that is not entirely African nor American, in tastes, in manner, in thinking, for example; a creature that is neither considered fully African nor American, a creature that believes itself one thing and is perceived as something else, a creature that never fully fits here nor there, that creature that constantly possesses memories from both places, and that creature that has strong relationships and bonds formed in both places; – a creature trapped in the third space.

***

I considered the Barracoon, a cavern that holds/held people that would eventually go over the water. By extension, the Barracoon or any cavern or space that holds people who are destined to go over the water ( overseas ), including planes and ships, permits the association of the Barracoon with the idea of death and rebirth. A place of temporal hibernation/wait leading to a rebirth and death that happen simultaneously as a result of going over the waterCapture d_écran 2018-07-21 à 9.45.06 PM.

Water as a symbol of Rebirth, Death and a Change in Identity

It is a common thing for a dead person to be sent off to the other world with a gift or two such as a handkerchief or fragrance. In addition to referring to the world of the dead as the world across the water, in Ghanaian culture, crossing this water is something we believe each person would do in order to get to the other side, the world of the ancestors and the dead. Water in this sense may bear certain connotations to death. Similarly, the baptism of a person which is literally total or partial immersion of the individual into the water is a physical and spiritual representation of a change or a death to one part of them ( the carnal parts ) and a rebirth of a new person in Christ. In the same manner, Lepers have been asked to take a dip in the water to receive a complete turn around in their situations. A death to the sickness and a rebirth of a life free of the plague of leprosy.

***

Kossola, the protagonist, and narrator of this biographical account written by Hurston is torn abruptly out of modern-day Nigeria. Before he gets into the boat ( the Clotilde ) that is about to transport him and the other captives to the New World, they are stripped of their old clothes and asked to mount the boat in the nude. The stripping away of their clothes is symbolic of a loss. Boarding the boat, which will travel across the water to the other world, is equally symbolic. The water becomes a vehicle that facilitates a breaking away of that which is familiar and known and cherished and a movement toward that which is uncertain and deeply puzzling. The captives’ loss of their clothes is a larger representation of a loss of identity. The slaves are informed that their destination has a lot more clothes and therefore this dumping of their old clothes is a necessary move. The Clotilde journeys for about seventy days and upon arrival, the slaves are given new clothes which go to support the claim of a loss/death and gain/rebirth of different parts of the individuals all with the help of the water and a boat. This thought seamlessly rejoins the claim that water is a larger connotation of a death, in this case, of Kossola and the other slaves’ identities and an attempt to immerse/ adapt/ be reborn in a totally unfamiliar terrain.

The Conflict of Duality, New Names, and the African Identity

‘In de Afficky we gottee one name, but in dis place dey tell us we needee two names.’ (so they give their children two names so that ) ‘one name because we not furgit our home; den another name for de Americky soil so it won’t be too crooked to call’ (the other name for the American soil so that people in America will not have a hard time pronouncing the name).

Kossola’s need to satisfy the African and American demands of a suitable enough name that sort of takes both geographical locations into account is a larger representation of the constant fluidity of identity that is shaped by presence, be it spiritual, mental or psychological in these two geographical places. This desire to be here and there or have a life comprising of elements from here and there is the ensemble of the identity of a person dwelling in this third space. Kossola is in America yet gets transported many times over to Africa as he tells Zora his story. Kossola’s sons who are born in America have African and American names, Kossola himself comes to be known as Cudjo Lewis because the Americans are unable to adequately pronounce the name/his name Kossola. Listen to this episode of Jesus and Jollof podcast for a better understanding of New names and the third space.

In addition, Kossola regards his family with love and pride, yet the society he finds himself in views him and his family as  ‘ig’nant’ savages. Kossola and modern-day Black Americans constantly deal with the plague of being doubly conscious; that is, the belief in the worthiness of oneself and conversely living under the imposed and sometimes invisible obligation to perpetually prove this worth or deny all the perceived and imposed negatives of who you are.

‘All de time de chillun growin’ de American folks dey picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat. Dey callee my chillun ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey.

Derefo’, you unnerstand me, my boys dey fight. Dey got to fight all de time.’

Different Spaces and the Difference in Values, Beliefs, and Practices

Marriage 

‘Derefo’, you unnerstand me, after me and my wife ‘gree ‘tween ourselves, we seekee religion and got converted. Den in de church dey tell us dat ain’ right. We got to marry by license. In de Afficky soil, you unnerstand me, we ain’t got no license. De man and de woman dey ‘gree ‘tween deyselves, den dey married and live together’

Kossola gets married after he gains his freedom from slavery. He lives with his wife for a bit and then converts to Christianity and is told in church that living with a woman without a license or without having gone to church to make the marriage ‘legitimate’ is wrong. Ghanaian marriages, once traditionally done are considered legitimate yet it is interesting that over time, church weddings or white weddings, aka western influenced weddings have become more popular than or more positively viewed than traditional marriages.

Hierarchy and Age 

When Zora visits Kossola, she presses for information and is in a great hurry to hear all the details surrounding Kossola’s transition from the Bight of Benin to Alabama. She attempts to rush him through his narration concerning his past life and takes his story about his family lightly. When Zora tries again to rush him through the story of his fathers and to the juicy details surrounding Kossola’s own life as the last slave to have journeyed from Africa to America, he tells her that in Africa, we have a regard for older people and are unable to speak of ourselves without acknowledging our elders.

‘Where is de house where de mouse is de leader? In de Affica soil, I cain tellee you ’bout de son before I tellee you ’bout de father ; and derefore, you unnerstand me, I cain talk about de man who is father till I tellee you bout de man who he father to him, now, dass right ain’it?

Religion

‘Yeah in Afficky we always know dere was a God; // we doan know God got a son. We ain’t ig’nant – we jes doan know. Nobody doan tell us ’bout Adam eatee de apple, we didn’t know de seven seals was sealee ‘gainst us.’

Kossola’s mention of these lines is powerful and a constant reminder of the differences in perception of many things including the ever-delicate topic of religion.

Sense of Community 

At many points in the narration, Kossola’s words illustrate the communal nature and the mentality of concern and brotherliness of the African. On two occassions, he mentions that the community comes together and builds a house for individuals. Also, the community converges and builds a school and church for its use.

 

Conclusion

Though I loved this book for the power of its addition of a detailed and human account to the whirlwind of blurry abstract and impersonal historical information there is, a few statements caught my attention that opened up questions for consideration.

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  1. Why does Zora state that people who live outside the influence of machinery are primitive?

2. why is  Christianity equal to civilization and paganism directly implied, also as primitive?

Credits for word definitions, Google.

Dehumanizing Africa. Why Topography and Animals remain at the Forefront of Conversations

When Taiye Selasie‘s Ted heralding the need to ask questions about where one is a local and not necessarily where one is from played over and over on my phone, one thing stuck with me; the fact that certain places scream positive connotations while other places project only negatives. Duh! We all know this, don’t we? Scarier still, is the effortless prejudice, deep seated and often indelible impressions that remain in our minds due to the aforementioned connotations. These specific thought processes have become as natural and as normalized as a white cloud in a blue sky. The fact that France for example, represents opulence and sophistication while an African country or the whole of Africa  represents depravity is accepted with no challenge. The fact is, Africa represents depravity. The other fact is that, outside the continent’s poverty, it is also celebrated for its topography, its foliage, its resources, its animals, aka the wonders of Africa, which by the way are disporportionately emphasized over conversations surrounding the continent’s diverse peoples, its languages, its cultures and traditions, its amazing rich history, its food, its music and indeed all the positives of Africa’s humanity. 

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a colonial story set in Congo, portrays one of the many examples of why Westerners or non-Africans have a geographical rather than an anthropological interest in Africa. Marlow, the story’s protagonist is British and has a palpable obsession with the Congo river. He describes the Congo river as a sinuous snake that he could simply not take his mind off of.

“The snake had charmed me”  –  Marlow

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An Illustration of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The story essentially holds a plot that features silent Congolese characters. While the pervading atmosphere in the narrative (outside of course its pejorative title) remains solidly tied to darkness, barbarity, and chaos, this story is a representation of the colonial truth that the world is more interested in Africa’s non-human wonders than its human wonders.  Animals and landscape are given a larger platform than its peoples. Marlow’s obsession with the river and the amount of time dedicated to the description of it versus the blatant silencing of the African characters in the novel speaks to this fact. Today, that overarching geographical rather than anthropological interest remains.

***

Spring was still in the air, yet the heat and its staleness made me hasten plans to a water park and resort in northern Ohio. The water park had the tagline; America’s Largest Indoor Water Park. It seemed exciting and very welcoming. The Kalahari water park in Sandusky Ohio bears the name of a desert in Africa that touches three Southern African countries, – Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. I wondered how many of the patrons of the water park knew that. I was not too sure if the water park was supposed to be a representation of the whole of Africa or if the entire park was actually representative of just Kalahari; the Southern African desert . Hopefully, the president, if he were to ever visit, would probably know that this water park shared the same name as a desert in Namibia and not Nambia. I decided to go to the company’s website to try to understand the real intent behind the questions I had. A cursory glance at the basic info about the park showed me these lines;

Kalahari Resort & Conventions are full service vacation destinations including meeting & convention facilities that combine America’s largest indoor Waterparks with the magic of Africa. 

The whole of the entire African continent’s magic was small enough to fit into a building full of impressions of the animal kingdom. That was impressive. Wooden giraffes lined the hallway to the elevator, wooden elephant head masks covered lighting, the front desk people were dressed in game reserve guide outfits (tan/khaki shirts and pants), and my favorite, the gorilla and leopard paintings that hung right across from my bed and right on top of my head in our hotel room. The resort’s mantra was Authentically African. The resort was supposed to be the representation of Africa to the average American patron.

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The Glorious Image I woke up to

This post was tucked safely in my drafts because honestly, I imagined myself too busy or too full of many reasons why I could put it off until a better day. Sitting chin in hand staring at a million open tabs on my pc was a better deal. One of those open tabs was coincidentally on the New York Times website.Capture d_écran 2018-06-27 à 9.55.28 PM

This article looked like a good read so I dug in, however, I’d gone ahead far too quickly. In the introduction was these two lines.

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I read the article to the end and decided it was meaningful yet remained undecided over the weight of the double ‘m’ alliteration. I repeated the words ‘mystical mountains’ to myself. Was I being too critical or was there really nothing else that distinguishes Cape Town, its people or culture or anything else short of its ‘mystical mountains’? and later its ‘flimsy democracy’?

***

I sat through an undergraduate class and listened to their final presentations. They, (mostly Non-Africans ) had been in an overworked three-month long geography of Africa class ( which though hosted by the geography department did not typically treat geography per se, but topical issues such as Slum Tourism, Poverty Porn, Security, History and finally, Health and Development)

I was amazed that out of the wealth of subjects presented, not one of the presentations had an anthropological theme. They were all either about Animals or the topography of the continent.

Here are some of the topics presented –

Deforestation (in Africa)

Participatory Mapping ( Drawing of accurate maps for Africa)

Lake Chad 

African Elephant and Human Interaction    

South African Cars

Conservation of Kenyan Wildlife Reserves   

***

 

Black Panther – Hidden Messages and Why You Probably Should Know about the Oliphant

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La Chanson de Roland  – 11th C French Poem

When I read La Chanson de Roland, as usual, I was lost in a whirlwind of unfamiliarity and confusion over why this middle age French poem matters. While the protagonist of the poem needed to blow an ivory tusk (Oliphant) for the French king Charlemagne to come to his army’s rescue, simply because the Moors, (their opponents) had gained an upper hand over the French army, Roland delayed blowing the Oliphant due to his pride and disillusionment of singlehanded victory over the Moors. Roland finally blew the Oliphant but, rather unfortunately, he does it too late. He loses his own life and his army with him.

The Oliphant is a horn made from the ivory obtained from predominantly male elephants found in Southern Africa and parts of Asia. By extension, the Oliphant represents masculine fervor, conquest, and hegemony. This post will dwell mainly on the Oliphant’s representation of male dominance and how it is overturned in the Black Panther movie.

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Roland and the Oliphant in La Chanson de Roland

The political tyranny of Killmonger leads to a division of sorts that leaves Wakanda in two divisive wedges. Though Okoye swears her allegiance to the throne, she ends up fighting on the side of T’challa though technically Killmonger is the current king (occupant of the throne Okoye swears loyalty to).  This act on the part of Okoye causes a battle that resides on sexual factions. The battle is between the male and female sexes in the kingdom. Okoye, the commander in chief of Wakanda’s army of women, Shuri and Nakia, all women, against the insurgents, Killmonger and his new aide and right-hand man, Wakabi, and the army of cloth wearing men fighters.

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Okoye and the army of Women

The scene with the summoning of the kingdom’s store of rhinos which Wakabi gathers by blowing the Oliphant is representative of the exertion of masculine control. Of all the animals to opt for defense, why the rhino? The rhino is sturdy, towering and strong, it is symbolic of what a warrior should be. The rhino is the personification of Wakabi and is summoned to help the men’s army win the battle yet, the irony of the situation leaves viewers shocked because the indefatigable rhino suddenly freezes in his tracks when it sees Okoye. In addition, it licks her face, crumbles at her gaze and finally bows at her feet. Needless to say, this freezing of the rhino is vaguely reminiscent of how T’challa freezes in the opening scenes when he sees Nakia. These parallel scenes show a lack or at least an exaggeration of the seemingly impermeable nature of the male species.

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Wakabi and the Rhino both bow to Okoye

A few comparisons between Roland of La Chanson de Roland and Black Panther’s Wakabi are –

*In both situations, the male actors needed to blow an Oliphant to save their situations.

*Both actors, ie Wakabi and Roland display some disillusionment, Wakabi’s at the mere thought that Wakanda needed a new King with more revolutionary ideas and Roland’s, the fact that he thought he could conquer the Moors single-handedly without the help of Charlemagne the French king.

*Both scenes in both works of art revolve around war or battle and actually take place on a battlefield.

*Both characters blowing the Oliphants are male.

*The Oliphant is used as a means to an end, in both scenarios, the horn is blown as a recourse.

***

 

Book Review, Bell Hooks – Feminism Is for Everybody (Work in Progress)

Capture d_écran 2018-05-24 à 4.57.59 PM Dr. Negash assigned this book in our 7000 writing class and like any flustered grad student, I decided that I’d read an article or two about it and read the real book later. The one thing that made me come back to this book outside of course my professor’s swearing by it, is the confusion that surrounds this concept of Feminism. Whether you are indifferent, repulsed or simply really wondering what these Feminists are about, it comes as no surprise to me especially because recently, I shift uncomfortably in my seat when I read posts online while feeling increasingly anxious to call myself Feminist or engage in the distracting conversation that surrounds Feminism. Reading this book has been both an enriching and tedious experience and this post’s main aim is to demystify Feminism with the help of this amazing writer, Bell Hooks, while attempting to keep readers on track and constantly reminded of the concept’s core motivations ( the elimination of sexism ) as well as the introduction of all the many fundamental and motivating factors for the naissance of this movement. (In plain language, it is a lot to take in, but while reading, keep main ideas in mind, main ideas like the fact that Feminsim isn’t anti-male therefore trends like #MenAreTrash do not equal Feminism) I will highlight the core ideas Bell Hooks presents based on the sequence they’re presented in, in addition to connecting theory with examples from society.

What is the Aim of Feminism?

Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression ;the movement isn’t anti- male, rather it addresses sexism; which implies that all of us, male and female have been socialized to accept sexist thought and action from birth. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men; the patriarchy’s other synonym is institutionalized sexism;- a system that males benefit more from because of the assumption that they are superior to females and should rule over us….

In feminism, men will find the hope of their release from the patriarchy that holds them bondage too. A vision of mutuality is the ethos that must shape our interactions. – Paraphrase from Bell Hooks

For the purposes of this post, I’d state that this conversation revolves mainly around the theme of heterosexual relationships.

Half the time, the connotation of oppression is this vision of a person in chains. The truth though, is that oppression can still happen in subtle ways through the policing of bodies and the indirect or direct compulsion placed on individuals to conform to what is ‘right’ or ‘acceptable’. Your dressing as a female can be policed, your personal sexual reproductive choices can be policed, your conduct at work or at home can be policed, examples are endless. Women can be as sexist as men and this manifests itself in a myriad of ways including your baby brother or another male waiting for you to get home to clean a sink full of plates because mom or some female told him it was your job/role to do ‘those’ things around the house simply because you are the female. Faux feminists present essentially as women who are sexist knowingly or unknowingly. Those women that feed into the idea of pleasing the patriarchy. My mom has told me over and over again about the need to exercise, not for the sake of my health, but because men don’t like hanging bellies. 🙂 My mom has my interests at heart but is unknowingly placing it in my mind that my fitness goals need to be out of the need to look appealing. To who though? Though men have their unique struggles, this post is mainly to demystify Feminism because often, it is seen as an anti-male train and remains daunting and antagonistic in the eyes of society. Bell Hooks suggests that we all become feminists, not literally label ourselves feminist while actively engaging but to at least have a basic understanding that though idealistic, aiming for the elimination of sexism can help everyone including men find the hope of their release from the oppressive tag of ‘masculinity‘.

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Feminists are not angry

 

That type of oppressive masculinity that tells men not to cry because they are men. Needless to say, crying is a human phenomenon. That norm that suggests to women to feel less ‘feminine’ if they are unable to cook three square meals or that voice that tells a man who does most ‘womanly duties’ around the house that he isn’t man enough or the other perception he has of not being ‘man enough’ if he’s unable to financially provide or if rather, unfortunately, his partner earns more than he does.

Sexism conditions us to act in certain ways only due to our sex and from that point, it places oppressive expectations such as the ones mentioned which limits individuality or in this specific context, favors one sex ( the male sex ) over the female sex.

Summary

Feminism isn’t anti male; it is rather anti – sexism

Feminism wants to eliminate sexism which is the lifeblood of the patriarchy

The patriarchy’s other name is institutionalized sexism

The patriarchy favors one sex over the other; which means both sexes are affected by sexism yet one (male) benefits more from the system than the other

If we all become feminist aka subscribe to the idea of eliminating sexism, men can also benefit through the elimination of their own unique and imposed struggles that society thrusts upon them ie not being ‘men enough’