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Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Autumn Of My Life

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

The brown of the leaves

Like the brown of my skin

And that of my kin

And no matter what anyone else believes

That colour, in its richness

Is the colour of life

In spite of all the pain, toil and strife

Our strength, my strength,

No one else can ever possess

This brown signifies the establishment of my autumn

My growth into a proud Afrikan wom(b)an

Not very different from a man

But entirely unique in my essence from top to bottom

And yet this manifestation of the self

MY self

Is not entirely welcome

As I am breaking out of the mould

And if am not careful

I will be left alone out in the cold

The red of the leaves

Like the soil of my Motherland Dzimba dze mabwe

Stained by the blood of those who once were

And the tears of She who still grieves

Is a visual proclamation

Of the passion that lies within ME

If I let it burst out of me

I will be subject to society’s condemnation

But in this the autumn of my life

Do I still fear this?

No siree!, I embrace it with a kiss

And face it head on armed with a knife

The knife I call freedom

Freedom to be me

Freedom to just be

Me

And with this knife I will cut through the restraints that are binding me

And be finally free

Free

To love without conditions

To make love with no inhibitions

To fight for my beliefs

And not worry about stupid what ifs

The gold of the leaves

Is the colour of my aura

The light that shines out of me and of this I have never been surer

From now on I will do as I please.

To the music of my ancestors I will dance

To the unspoken jokes in my head

I will throw my head back and laugh

For there’ll be no reason to be sad

This while I dance,

Dance as though I were in a trance

Because this music and these jokes

Much like calligraphy and the care taken with each stroke

I share with the Universe as She takes me out of myself just for this dance

This dance which serves to show me that I am not in Her

But She is within me

Around me

She is everywhere

I am the Universe

The Great Mother

And She is me

This is the autumn of my life

As the leaves fall to the ground and the flowers die

They symbolize the death of the old and pave the way for the newer and truer me

A newer and more beautiful me to adorn the ever strong trunk and branches that remain strong

As the core and foundation should be

Deeply rooted into the ground and in eternal contact with the Great Mother.

As the superficial transforms and falls away

To make way for the other

The other that is the realer and truer me

The other who comes and partakes in spiritual intercourse with the Great Mother

And together they find a harmony

And give birth to an immaculate symphony

That will forever resound in my soul

For that is the ultimate goal

In this, the autumn of my life.

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2013

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Language policy in South Africa and the unfounded fears of a Zulu hegemony

Outside of the urgent need to elevate Afrikan languages from the position (relegated by colonialism and post colonialism) of secondary, useless or primitive in an effort to instill a sense of pride in our us-ness, it is also important that all tertiary institutions on the continent do this too because ensuring that everyone is able to communicate effectively and comfortably is important to the development of Afrikan countries. I fully support this move by the University of KwaZulu Natal and other South Afrikan Universities.

Africa is a Country (Old Site)

Neville Alexander
Given South Africa’s stated commitment to multilingualism, you might not think that a requirement from one of the country’s universities that its students learn an indigenous African language would raise much alarm. Yet alarm has nonetheless been the reaction from a few unexpected quarters to the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s announcement that all first-year students enrolled from next near onwards will be required to develop “some level” of isiZulu proficiency by the time they graduate.

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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Afrikan and The Queer

I Am A Gay African

I Am A Gay African

It is 2013 and we are still having the same conversations and not making any nation building progress. The content of one half of these conversations seeks to separate and cultivate hatred and intolerance while the other half seeks to establish acceptance &/or tolerance, equality, dignity and unity. Queer Afrikans are still not accepted in most Afrikan societies and the justification for this hatred of the other used by homophobic Afrikans often finds its rooting in ignorant and irrational fears, adulterated and bastardized cultural beliefs and religious dogma, mainly in the Christian and Muslim faiths. Because I generally do not believe in organized, monotheistic Abrahamic religion – as they are generally infamous for encouraging hatred/oppression and the exclusion of the other e.g. black people, women and “heathens/kaffirs” – neither do I acknowledge the perceived infallibility of their respective texts of instruction, I will not bother with tackling the issue of religion as a contributing factor to the persistence of homophobia in Afrika. That and it would require an entire post of its own.

When heterosexual Afrika says that homosexuality and transgenderism are unAfrikan I often wonder where they are getting their information from and on what authority? Let us suppose for a second that it is in fact a western import, are the people positing this argument living purely indigenous Afrikan lifestyles? Are their public and personal politics authentically Afrikan I wonder? They are more willing to adopt what can be argued to be harmful imported cultures like consumerism, (in my opinion) capitalism and ecologically detrimental technologies than they are a harmless and allegedly unAfrikan “practice”.

When we speak of the Afrikaness of sexuality and sexual orientation, I question the logic, or lack thereof, of those who argue that it is not Afrikan because I do not believe that these arguments come from a place of truth. Why? Well other than the fact that there is vast historical evidence available to prove otherwise I am also of this opinion because I am a young, albeit urban, Afrikan; half Zezuru and a quarter Karanga and quarter Matebele; who recently answered a calling from the ancestors to be a healer and spirit medium. I am also bisexual. I am not an exception. There are loads more sangomas * I have encountered over the years from various cultures across the Southern Afrikan region that are queer, from transgender/sexual to homosexual or bisexual. According to my understanding of ubungoma, you are chosen before you are even born to carry this gift and by the time you enter this world, you already have the gift, even if you may not know it. Because I, like many other queers such as myself, was born queer, I did not learn it, inherit it or “contract” it from other queers along the way (as though it’s some sort of infectious disease), and in spite of this, the ancestors chose me. Not only did they choose me out of other heterosexual kin in my clan or lineage but other queer people’s ancestors have chosen them too. If the guardians and custodians of our heritage can accept our natural way of being why do mortals who have long lost their way feel that they have any authority to call us unAfrikan or unnatural? Mind you, these same self proclaimed defenders of all that is Afrikan, the majority of them have long since renounced their ancestry as something evil or primitive and clung to other people’s ancestors brought through the religions imposed on Afrikans over the centuries as a tool for oppressing and subduing the Afrikan. The ancestors of the very same people they accuse of bringing about the “scourge” that is homosexuality to our people.

Sexuality and sexual identity are naught but human constructs aimed at controlling the masses and not only that but it is also becoming more apparent that our understanding and definition of gender and gender roles today is different from those of our ancestors, particularly prior to colonialism. In the South of the Limpopo, a sangoma will be addressed as Gogo* be they male or female and in the North as Sekuru*, again, be they male or female. In South Africa, one is not permitted to let their ancestors walk around “naked” and this means when one communes or communicates with their ancestors, be they male or female, they have to wrap a cloth around their waist if they are not already wearing a long skirt or dress. Also, a sangoma embodies the spirits of their ancestors, both male and female and depending on the dominant ancestor at that time in that moment, they will adopt their personality and mannerisms regardless of their sex or gender or that of the ancestor. Basically, sexuality and sexual identity in the culture of communing with the ancestors is very ambiguous. Of course some sangomas in their human personalities have their own (learnt) prejudices such as homophobia but their ancestors do not bother themselves with these things (well at least the ones I have encountered anyway) so why do self proclaimed gatekeepers of all that is Afrikan?

We say that the reality of homosexuality never existed or was never accepted on the continent and yet we have cultures that even coined words such as “chirambavarume” in Shona or “umazakhela” in isiNdebele for women who never married a man but in most cases, co-habitated with other women “friends”. Anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe in their publication Boy Wives & Female Husbands reported that women in Lesotho engaged in socially sanctioned “long term, erotic relationships,” named motsoalle.In Northern Congo, Azande warriors routinely took on boy-wives between the ages of twelve and twenty, who helped with household tasks and participated in intercrural sex with their older husbands. Among the Dagara in Burkina Faso, homosexual and transgender people were considered to be very spiritually gifted and responsible for maintaining the society’s psychic balance and were believed to be the gatekeepers between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

In a conversation started by a “friend” on facebook a few days ago, the recurring theme was what the law states in a lot of Afrikan countries and democracy i.e. what the majority wants. It is interesting to note that female same sex sexual activity is legal where as male isn’t in quite a few Afrikan countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Seychelles, Sierra Leone to name but a few. In a few more, same sex sexual activity, be it male or female is legal, just not the relationships. However, what is most interesting is that these are not even Afrikan laws but colonial laws that still exist today. Homosexual expression in native Afrika always existed – it manifested itself and was understood and accommodated in different ways in different communities across the continent – and was instead quelled or suppressed by colonialists. Anti – gay legislation is the western import not homosexuality and it is this import that informs and perpetuates contemporary Afrikan homophobia and persecution not authentic indigenous identity and values. We need to know our history and to quote Cameroonian anthropologist Patrick Awondo “Knowing historical truths lets us avoid unhistorical (sic) lies.”

As far as democracy is concerned, I think one of the biggest problems democracy faces today, especially in Afrika, is that people do not understand what democracy is meant to achieve. Yes it is supposed to represent the majority but not at the expense of the minority. The minority also has a voice that counts. With that in mind, the present state of things robs Afrikan queers of their rights as human beings to enjoy freedom, citizenship in their homelands and countries of birth and now with all these anti – gay laws being passed on the continent, their right to life. In one conversation recently some argued that they did not have a problem with homosexuals but they believe that if homosexuals want rights they should leave their homes and go to countries whose legislation accepts homosexuality, never mind that these same countries may not be as accepting of immigrants. Basically a lot of Afrikans believe in forcing their queer brothers and sisters, daughters and sons into exile even if they do not wish to leave and they call this democracy. This is especially tragic and infuriating given that for a lot of us less than 50 years ago, under colonial rule, people were forced to leave their home countries because of another form of oppression that did not view “their kind” as equals or completely human.

In addition, is a continued brain drain really what Afrika needs? Even today, the continent continues to lose huge chunks of her resources to the East and West and this is not limited to the natural resources but also includes human resources which in turn has an adverse impact on our socio-economic advancement as individual states and as a continent in the global arena. The outflux of human capital from the continent into the Afrikan diaspora is one that has been bemoaned by many (more so self proclaimed Pan Afrikanists) and yet our states continue to feed into the push factors that force the children of the soil to escape to foreign lands to go and contribute to the further enrichment of our former oppressors simply because we so naively choose to fervently hold onto the hatred they instilled in us through divide and rule as part of ensuring that we will never unite and reclaim our heritage and glory. Homophobia, like patriarchy and tribalism, is yet another red herring that has been planted in our psyche so as to distract us, preventing us from keeping our eye on the ball. Instead of focusing our common energy on the true problems, wrongs and injustices that plague our continent like corruption, genocides, wars, disease, famine, GBV, land, access to food, water and quality education etc, we’re expending it on a victimless crime that shouldn’t even be a crime and fueling division and entrenching oppression.

What Homosexuality Isn’t 

Now, there is a terrible and ridiculous rumour making the rounds stating that homosexuality is contagious or a form of brainwashing. I would like to ease people’s minds by saying that this absolutely false. I can attest to this and tell you unequivocally that I did not “contract” my bisexuality from some “unwholesome homosexual fiend” as I was neither exposed to nor did I fraternize with any (this not taking into account those on the down low as there are many) other homosexuals until my late teens. In fact, in our household, homosexuality was something that hardly ever came up, save for the rare occasions when my very educated and mostly open minded grandfather would express his disgust at the idea of male coupling, and yet I was fantasizing about kissing other girls from a very young age. Actually, I discovered my sexuality and sensuality to thoughts of girls and not boys despite having attended co-ed schools throughout my primary school years.

Some pontificate that homosexuality is unnatural… well of course it’s unnatural, to heterosexual or even asexual people, much the same way heterosexuality is unnatural to queer people. Others still, claim that homosexuality is synonymous with sexual predators and yet if we are to be honest with ourselves, heterosexual sexual predators are more rife than homosexual ones. I am 28 years old and I have been in a lot of queer social and professional spaces and I have never been raped or sexually assaulted or harassed by any queers. I have however been sexually harassed dozens of times and have been sexually assaulted by straight men. I also can count on one hand people I know or have encountered that have been violated by a queer perpetrator but I know scores of people; friends, family, colleagues and clients (both in the gender and child protection sectors I work in) who have been sexually violated by heterosexual people, mostly men.

There is especially a fear by a lot of heterosexual males that they will be “raped” by homosexual men. Perhaps this fear in these men comes from a place, be it conscious or subconscious, where it is to be expected and perhaps even acceptable for women to be violated by men but it is an unfathomable abomination for a man to direct that sort of violence towards another man. I don’t know. All I know is a lot of these men I have heard express this fear are often quiet or nowhere near as vocal when it comes to sexual violence committed against women. The thing people do not take into account is that sexual violence is no more a heterosexual thing than it is a homosexual thing. It is a pervert and socio-path thing and you get those across the spectrum. It is a stupid argument and it just makes you look like an ignorant male chauvinist.

Homosexuality or transgenderism do not contribute to the moral degradation of society. Society itself does. Last I checked majority of television and radio programming, music, main stream literature, religious doctrine, legislation and policies and educational structures are very heteronormative and cisnormative and humanity and her societies have been well on their way to moral degradation long before Senzo and Jason’s controversial kiss on Generations a couple of years ago or homosexual couples in New York started signing marriage certificates the same as straight people. The differences between heterosexual members of society and queer members of society only go as far as the sex and gender of our chosen partners otherwise the same rules apply to us. Murder is still murder, the sky is still blue, we love the same way and for some God is the same God you worship and for others like me, our ancestors are the messengers of Umdali*. Heck! We even have sex in more or less the same ways. I am bisexual remember, I know what I am talking about *wink*. However, a lot of people don’t see or appreciate this. They will still scream the Armageddon of human morals at the hands of “homos”. It is heart breaking that we live in societies where it is more acceptable for a husband to beat his wife, a man to rape his neighbour in order to “cure” her of being lesbian, a pastor to sexually assault female members of his congregation in the name of God than it is for a law abiding, compassionate and hardworking woman/man to be queer and yet the former is more unnatural than the latter is. To most people, the former does not represent a threat to the moral fibre of society and yet the latter does. If you think the state sanctioned murder of your gay nephew or lesbian neighbour or trans colleague who has not hurt or violated anyone else is right and just then it is your own moral fibre that should be questioned, not ours.

What Homophobia Is 

First and foremost, homophobia is a message of hatred, deprivation and exclusion, plain and simple. You can try and defend it and explain it whichever what way you please but at the end of the day it is just plain hateful. Homophobia is also unnatural. It is taught and learnt and seeing as we are trying to do away with all things unnatural, I suggest we start with that and leave the natural be i.e. being queer.

Homophobia is also a remnant of a time long gone by when it is was vital to encourage population growth be it in a family, a village or kingdom due to systems such as agriculturalization, pastoralism,  expansion and occupation. We are presently living in a world where it is again no longer necessary to churn out as many babies as possible. Instead we live in a world where we are faced with overpopulation, hunger, famine, global climatic change and economic melt downs. So no, homosexuality will not bring about the extinction of the human race. Heterosexuals (and modern science) will make sure that human production continues with no interruptions.

People ask us “why all the noise?” Why we don’t just go about our “gayness” quietly and stop making a song and dance of it. The answer is simple: until I can legally fall in love in my Motherland, until I can legally give my girlfriend a kiss in public, until men stop raping us in order to “correct” us or until they stop beating us and killing us for being queer and until communities and governments stop baying for our blood as though we have actually harmed anyone just by being gay we will continue to make a big deal about it. We will shout and march until we realise as Afrikans that homosexuality really doesn’t seek to eliminate or replace heterosexuality and that it is in fact heterosexuality that seeks to eliminate homosexuality. We really need to check ourselves and the things we stand for and against based on falsehoods and ignorance. Being queer is neither unnatural nor unAfrikan, the sooner we realise this the better it will be for all of us.

*Sangoma – Traditional healer & spirit medium

*Gogo – Grandmother/ elder

*Sekuru – Grandfather/ elder

*Umdali – Creator

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2013

 

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From Womb to Tomb. For Better or Worse

1.

 

Those eyes

So brown,

No!

Almost hazel

Yes, hazel

So beautiful

That boyish smile

That brings into union those which are the windows to one’s soul

To form a doorway

To one’s sacred god self

How can any woman resist

Let alone me

A naïve little girl

The first son to my adoring parents

How am I to resist your smooth charm?

When in my virtuous purity

I so desperately need to express my femininity

The femininity in me that I am too afraid to know

The sensuality I am too afraid to explore

Because although I am a girl

I may as well be my parents’ first son

I can do no wrong

I have never thought myself pretty or attractive

Even though everyone else thinks so

Perhaps it is my caramel skin

Or my dark, curly, soft hair

Or the brown freckles on my nose and cheeks?

Is it my wide toothy smile

Or perhaps my hourglass figure?

Is it my long slender fingers?

Or maybe it’s my pointy nose?

Perhaps it’s a combination of all those things.

I can’t know because whatever it is, I don’t see it myself

He stares at me

Makes as if to reach for my luxurious afro

But I guess he changes his mind because he drops his hand to his side

Before he reaches it

He smiles at me and shakes his head

There’s that disarming smile again

I am trembling

And my face is burning

Can he somehow see through my skirt?

Can he see the wetness between my thighs?

Is it dripping down my legs?

My face gets even redder and hotter

What does he think of me?

I fidget and ask him if he wants a pamphlet

He takes one

Slowly and lightly strokes my fingers as he does so

She steps up next to me & introduces herself

I wish was as confident as she is

She’s a real woman my sister

Has an easy way with men

But of course she does

She’s a real woman

Her smile

Her laugh

Her gestures

So inviting

So seductive

So un-me and yet…

All me

On the inside

She tells him I am single

Tells him I like him

I want to die

But then he tells her he likes me too

He wants to get to know me

My heart skips a beat

Before it breaks out into song

***

2.

 

He is charming

Hypnotizing

He is beautiful

Older

Much older

And worldly

He is irresistible

& yet…

Here I am

Resisting

His kisses are no longer sweet

His touch no longer tender

His voice no longer gentle

My moans have turned into screams

My glee into terror

My beautiful moment into a horror show

My wetness into desert

Wait!

I start to feel the wetness again

But this time it’s blood

“Are you sure you said no?” she asks

“But what else did you think he wanted? He is not a boy but a man” she says

“Don’t worry, you don’t fall pregnant from your first time” she adds

First time?

Is one’s first time meant to be stolen?

Ripped out from one’s tight grip?

Is it meant to hurt, defile and destroy?

Am I overreacting?

Is she right? Am I a prude?

Yes, she’s right.

After all sex is what real women do

I am a woman now

Soon to be a mother

And yet… still a girl

***

3.

 

Your eyes

Your beautiful and open smile

I get it

It makes sense

Who can resist you?

But… at the same time

Who could ever hurt you?

I never thought you strong

It took your leaving for me to see your strength

To know you

To know myself

To know true love

The love you searched for since my conception

The love you never found

The search for which you have continued

Even long after you’ve been gone

Every day you had to fight

Fight for love

His love

Mine

Fight with the limitless love you had for us both

His heart was made of stone

Not meant to feel

But to hurt

Hurt you

Hurt me

Hurt everyone

It continued to hurt you

While his smile continued to charm

Give you false hope

Not for yourself

But for me

His touch never again got tender

His words never softer

His kisses never sweeter

He continued to rape and pillage

Even long after he had defeated your body

You were a child

& he a man

A man you loved

For so long but oh so wrong

No matter how much he hurt you

No matter how much he hurt your children

You still loved him

Because that is all you knew to do

Love

Your strength was also your weakness

Your sacrifice your betrayal

You had done what couldn’t be undone all those years ago

& yet you fought to the death

To make that wrong right

The wrong done to you not by you

You were stronger than you thought

You are stronger still, than you realize

You are a warrior

Your love continues to be your greatest weapon

It is powerful

It is eternal

It continues to achieve the things you set out to do before you left

It took you leaving for me to see it

To feel it

It shields me

It nourishes me

It guides me

And all I can hope for is to love the way you love

Not fearlessly

But courageously

Not foolishly but relentlessly

Not selfishly but sacrificially

Because although I did not know, neither did I understand, all the wars you had to fight back then

I know and understand them now

Although I did not know just how much hatred and evil you had to take in back then

I now know how much love you gave back out

Anger, violence, fear, betrayal and evil surround my creation

But love, kindness, selflessness, forgiveness, strength and perseverance my germination & growth

It is those things that I will hold on to

The things I will nurture and grow

The things I will fight to keep alive within me

Because although the things he brought into my existence are a part of me

I will not let them survive or find a home within me

It is the things that you brought into my existence that are the legacy that you left me

The legacy I want to hold on to

And when all is said and done

And we have reached the end of this journey

I will come before you

And offer this legacy back up to you

In thanks and in love

Not as the child you left

But as the woman you hoped I would grow into

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2013

 

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I am Afrikan! But What Does it Mean to be Afrikan? (Part 2)

In the past few months I have had to sort through some of the internal debates I had been having with myself on certain issues which in the whole look at interrogating our Afrikan identities, both as sub cultures and as a whole geographic culture. There is a plethora of sub themes to this of course that I will not get into here. In the first part I have already addressed the neo sub culture known as Afropolitanism and in this part I want to tackle the issue of language as an identity marker of Afrikaness that was addressed by one of my favourite Afrikan women writers and bloggers, Spectra Speaks.

In her post, Spectra unpacks the issue of Afrikan vernacular languages being used as the bar to determine one’s Afrikaness. She points out that Afrikaness is defined by a plethora of things and just because one does not speak an Afrikan language, it does not make them any less Afrikan than those that do. She also unpacks the reasons as to why some Afrikans today cannot speak their mother tongues. It is a well argued and balanced article and I certainly get where she is coming from. In fact, I can relate as I am an Afrikan, born and raised and still resides in Afrika and I speak and write better English than I do my vernacular languages Shona and Zimbabwean isiNdebele. My default setting is English. I dream in English, express myself best in English and when I phahla (communicate/pray to the emissaries of the Creator, my ancestors as I find myself on the path of ubungoma* ) I struggle with keeping to Shona or isiNdebele and often find myself reverting back to English.

I am often asked, be it here in South Africa or back home in Zimbabwe, if I have ever lived in the United Kingdom or the United States as I have what I can best describe as an Afropolitan accent. I have just recently returned from a trip to Zimbabwe and while there a few fellow Zimbabweans asked me where I am from. This reality of my life is due to various factors throughout my upbringing which include my families (both natural and adopted), some of the schools I attended, my social circles and probably television as well. I have never consciously worked at developing this accent and if anything, any effort to manipulate my accent has occurred in recent years where I have found myself trying to make myself sound less “foreign” and more “Afrikan”.

However, in spite of all of this, I am inclined to disagree a little with Spectra. I believe that language is a very important and necessary identifier. This is not to say of course that we should then use it as an excuse to ostracize each other but I feel that we as Afrikans should acknowledge language as a very important aspect of our identity that needs to be preserved. I feel that making excuses for ourselves, especially as adults, is unacceptable especially if we have not made any feasible effort to learn that very important part of our identity.

I appreciate that our knowledge and command of global/western languages is important to our survival in this world that is increasingly getting smaller and smaller but this should not come at the expense of our own languages that have as much a right to survive and participate in the world as any other language. Spectra rightly acknowledged the important role that languages play in preserving what little has survived of our true history on the continent but I feel that she did not do justice to this. A huge chunk of our history was either distorted, stolen or completely erased and the very little that remains is mainly kept in the tradition of oral instruction.  The few secrets left are often found in the stories, proverbs and idioms that are often passed down from generation to generation orally and are often, or the impact thereof, lost when translated or over simplified in text which is also often translated.

For some Afrikans, the knowledge of languages like English or French is a sign of empowerment and makes them an equal deserving of respect. Why can our command of Afrikan languages not be as equally empowering? Upon starting on the book African Women Writing on Resistance edited by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Pauline Dongala, Omotayo Jolaosho and Anne Serafin recently, I was very disappointed to come across this piece by an Afrikan woman writer writing on “resistance”:

I remember crossing the border from Canada into the United States by car a couple of years ago. Since I was not Canadian, I was required to go through passport control, fill out forms and be finger printed and photographed as part of the US-VISIT security program. The officer who processed me, a white man, was patronizing and insulting. He spoke with exaggerated slowness, despite my Canadian accent, Western clothing and obvious ability to speak English…. Inside, I was fuming – ready to whip out degrees and a resume, thus proving my worth as an articulate educated woman of colour.

She qualifies herself and her right to respect based on her Canadian accent, her Western education and Western sense of style. Some might defend her and say that it is because she was in the U.S. and I will counter that by saying that I am sure that were she here on the continent she would still feel entitled to respect on the same grounds. Perhaps more entitled than the traditionally educated and traditionally clad Swazi woman with an excellent command of siSwati. My point is Afrikans are more ostracized, even by fellow Afrikans, for not speaking English or French or not adopting the appropriate accent than they are for not speaking vernacular. Afrikans will more readily ridicule a fellow Afrikan for speaking poor English than they will for speaking poor Chichewa. Poor English is often associated with stupidity and poor chiZezuru with affluence and progress. If knowledge and a good command of one’s vernacular language is good enough for the Japanese, the Italians and the English why is it not good enough for the Igbo, the Karanga or the Masai or any other Afrikan?  Why are we fighting for the right to not know our own languages while retaining the right to identify as “proud” Afrikans instead of fighting for the survival of our native languages as an integral part of our identity as peoples who have for centuries lived in a world that has tried to beat, chain, institutionalize and preach the Afrikan out of us?

Language is also a very important bridge between us and our ancestors. Of course, because they are spirits, they can understand us still, in whatever language we communicate to them and they will also adjust their messaging accordingly but this often times takes away from the weight and the depth of the message or the lesson. Communication is by no means one dimensional and the messages from the ancestors are very important to our quest to realizing an empowered future as Afrikans so when they are dumbed down, their value is in turn diminished.

In his poem Lament of the Images, Nigerian writer Ben Okri speaks of forgotten tongues. The tongues of our ancestry which were expressed in a multidimensional and interconnected fashion. The disconnection of which, has resulted in the Afrikan losing a significant part of their identity because they no longer understand their own language, no longer see its importance and subsequently no longer know how to fully communicate their value, worth and identity to anyone they wish to address or anyone who dares to listen.

A lot of things mean infinitely more or have a much bigger impact in our vernacular languages, not because our vernacular languages are anymore special than anyone else’s but because when we speak them we speak from our whole, from the sum of all our parts and not just from parts of ourselves i.e. the mind or the heart. I invite fellow Afrikans who find themselves in a similar situation (to mine and to Spectra’s) to not be content with justifying and defending the reasons they do not speak “Afrikan” but instead seek to rectify the situation imposed on them by colonialism, slavery and migration by learning their native tongues and doing a better job of teaching them to their children than some of our parents and schools did.

* ubungoma is the Zulu term for the calling to become a traditional healer and spirit medium. One is born with it and not into it

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2013

 

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I am Afrikan! But What Does it Mean to be Afrikan? (Part 1)

This Is New Africa

This Is New Africa

In a lot of ways I suppose I can be described as an Afropolitan and I suppose in some ways I do identify as one. However, this does not dismiss the fact that I am struggling with what or how I really feel about certain aspects of it and that these aspects have caused some form of disdain within me. A few weeks ago, Minna Salami, an Afrikan woman writer/ blogger I admire and respect so much, posted a piece titled Can Africans have multiple subcultures? A response to “Exorcising Afropolitanism” on her blog Ms.Afropolitan and that, along with the conversations that took place beneath the post, is what inspired this post.

In many ways Afropolitanism is a wonderful thing and a necessary stage of evolution for the peoples of Afrika. It has brought about in the young people of Afrika a resurgence of their sense of pride in their identities and their origins, a little reminiscent of the start of contemporary Pan Afrikanism on the continent in the 40s. It is particularly popular amongst the young Afrikans in the diaspora and in a way they were the ones that coined the term, much like Pan – Afrikanism was popularised by Afrikans overseas around the beginning of the 20th century.

This pride, that has mostly been facilitated by Afropolitanism in recent years, is expressed in Afrikan pop culture today; in the music, in the visual and performing arts, in fashion and design, literature and socio-political activism, although the latter is not as popular among the, according to my own observations, mostly apathetic youth. It is because this pride finds rooting in the fact that Afrikaness has become a pop culture and a brand that I battle with completely embracing Afropolitanism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is all great. Not only are we exhibiting pride in who we are and demanding recognition as equals in the global arena but we are also demanding that we participate and that we ourselves be the ones to bring what Afrika has to offer to the global table. My problem is that although we are doing this, we are not redefining how we participate or changing the narrative of what and who the Afrikan is in the least or rather in a way that I consider ideal. We are not really, or better yet, not always demanding equality and recognition based on who we were and who we can be in relation to our forebears but rather we are demanding recognition for our ability to be like the Westerner – as if to say “we are not the other because we can be just like you”.

Historically, what has been considered the brown person’s “greatest and only” contribution to the post modern state has mostly been in music and sport. This of course is something that we should continue to be proud of but it is not the only thing we are good for. A lot of people agree with me on this and we see this in articles on young brown achievers (mostly in the diaspora) and that is wonderful but what I find problematic is that we are calling for recognition of brown achievement only in spheres of influence that are not necessarily recognised as historically or culturally Afrikan like playing the violin or chess or in modern science and neglecting to call for, not just the recognition of the individuals themselves but the discipline i.e. why are we not calling for the international recognition of the central Afrikan kora as an indication of excellence for instance along with the individual that has mastered it?

A couple of months ago, people were hoping for the first “black” pope and my question is, why aren’t we calling for the recognition of Afrikan or Aboriginal Australian or Native American traditional spiritualities and their respective leaders? I mean, we recognise the Dalai Lama of Tibet so why can’t our spiritual leaders also receive the same respect and recognition? People the world over, including in Afrika, celebrated America’s first “black” president, even those of us who hail from countries in Afrika where Barack Obama would not be classified as “black”, while very few question when America will know its first Apache or Cherokee president just by way of example. I find it worrying that as a historically oppressed people who have experienced colonialism on the continent (and in South Africa apartheid) and in the Americas, slavery, we will celebrate our complicity in the continued oppression and marginalisation of the indigenous peoples of America.

In spite of this resurgence in Afrikan pride and the tidal wave that is Afropolitanism, I still come across a lot of young Afrikans who believe that prior to our encounter with the colonisers and slavers, we really were primitive savages with no form of civilization to speak of and we therefore should be grateful, to a certain degree for colonisation. We will widely recognise every other religion and faith on the planet except the faith of our ancestors. Instead, we, at best, dismiss it as backward and primitive and at worst we regard it as evil and demonic and call for its eradication. A lot of young Afrikans on the continent believe that Afrikans did not know God before the bible or the Q’uran reached our shores. I am all for freedom of worship and respect people’s religions but the moment people decide to ignorantly attack their indigenous beliefs and their respective practitioners, well, I get really riled up. To quote Ancesrtal Voices: Esoteric Knowledge

Since 9/11 ‘religious tolerance’ has become a key phrase in the mainstream, emphasising the need for respect of other faiths even if we do not share them. But does this apply to all? African spirituality despite being the oldest spiritual thought and expression known to humanity, is the least acknowledged and the most disregarded by society.

Our widely accepted alleged lack of contribution to the history of the world is barely being challenged in this new “we are Afrikan” “This is New Afrika (TINA)” fever that has taken us over and question is “what exactly is it that we are trying to achieve here with all this awesomeness around us?” As a people who for the last few centuries have been taught that we were nothing but uncivilized savages and barbarians surely this should not be the case in our demand for respect and recognition. For a long time it was believed that we were lesser and today, in more subtle ways, the same message is still being conveyed. Western science and the foreign religions all supported this belief. The belief that we are not completely human and that we are as good as mules to be exploited to the fullest by the more “superior” other. We have been taught to feel ashamed of our physical, social and cultural identities. Told that they were things in desperate need of remedying. This remedy? To aspire as far as possible to “elevate” ourselves to the level of other more superior cultures and races. We have challenged this of course but the narrative has not been about our competitiveness based on the identities of our ancestors prior to the forced assimilation but based on our ability to assimilate post the indoctrination.

We shun our traditions and call them harmful primitive and uncivilized, and this in the absence of historically common place prompting or encouragement from our oppressors. It is now a voluntary action on our part. When we do embrace them, we only embrace the commodified and bastardized (sometimes harmful) cultures and traditions the same way as the visitor does because we are now the visitors ourselves. Practices and beliefs that defined us in ancient times are now just as exotic to us as they are to the visitor that is enticed by the “beauty” of certain aspects of the other. But of course we are. Why wouldn’t we be? We have arrived after all. We are now included in the inner circle of whiteness and we have proven our right to be so. We will, as outsiders and “foreigners”, group our hundreds of cultures and merge them into one that is called Afrikan. Afrikan music, Afrikan print, Afrikan art, Afrikan language, Afrikan culture, Afrikan woman, Afrikan man. It is all one big village after all and we are all the same. We have created this homogenized product (not to be mistaken with united) that is to be pimped off to the world, including the peoples of Afrika themselves as a brand but this time we are doing it ourselves. Viva la revolucion! (tongue lodged firmly in cheek).

 

As if that’s not enough there does not appear to be a desire to really understand, respect, value or embody this culture, its origins or its journey into the future. Caucasians on the whole, even in their progressiveness and modernity, wear their whiteness with pride. They wear their “supremacy” and their privilege with pride. It is so embedded in them that it has practically become a part of their DNA. Even with the pan cultural or neo liberal, who may feel uncomfortable with certain aspects of their realities or may envy certain attributes in other people’s realities, one thing that remains certain is that they never truly feel shame or hatred towards their whiteness. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not! However, why do we not do that with our us-ness. Why is it so important to us to qualify ourselves by demanding a right to “white” pride and denouncing our right to “black” pride?

We define our success using their standards of measurement, be they modern or post modern. Our grasp of western forms of education puts us above others but never our grasp of our own forms of education. We no longer recognise or accept different ways of doing, knowing and being that exist outside of western formal structures. We will judge each other harsher for our inability to articulate ourselves in western languages than we do for our inability to articulate ourselves in our native tongues. In fact, the latter is more often applauded than ridiculed. We will take pride in the size, grandeur and location of our homes than we do in our family relations. We personalise wealth and limit it to the nuclear family and term that progress while doing away with recognising that family goes beyond the nuclear and family wealth is not just reserved for the nuclear. We focus more on the duration of our life spans than the positive impact on others that we make in our life times however long or short they may be.

Sure, we need to look towards the future, modernise and keep up with the times but at what and whose expense? Can we truly demand an equal share of the pie when we don’t really believe that we deserve it as we are? Can we really consider ourselves a formidable force to be reckoned with if we are just but trees without roots? We are convinced that we need to let go of the past and catch up with the rest of the world in the future and yet the rest of the world knows exactly what their past is, how it informs their present and how it will define their future and their role therein. Surviving monarchies in the west not only continue to exist but continue to be respected and yet the surviving  monarchies on the continent are held up for public scrutiny or completely ignored. I believe that as a group of peoples that have been taught to hate ourselves we desperately need to love ourselves first, find pride in where we come from and the contribution we have made to civilization and the modern world before we can seek to position ourselves at the global table. Until we do this, I believe that whatever or however many places we secure at said table, we will always be bottom feeders, be it explicitly or implicitly. Pride in ourselves is great and always welcome, but it is what informs and inspires that pride that is paramount. Afropolitanism can either make or break us and so I believe we must proceed with caution.

 

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2013

 

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