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Category Archives: Esoteria

When Afrikans Can’t Even Be Afrikan in Afrika

Written by Doreen Gaura for Africa on the Blog

 

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On the 5th of December, 2013, Judge Azhar Cachalia of the South African Supreme  Court  of Appeals made a unanimous judgement where he ordered the reinstatement of Johanna Mmoledi, a section chef sacked by the Kievits Kroon Country Estate, near Pretoria, in 2007.

This judgement was met with mixed reactions with some people (the minority judging from comments on online news publications) celebrating this judgement and the rest of the people being highly critical of the judgement. It is worth mentioning that the majority of the negative responses to the judgement came from non brown (black) commenters who, to say the least, found it to be ridiculous which I in turn found very offensive.

For centuries Afrikans have been at the mercy of the dictates of others outside of ourselves and we have been forced to give up a lot, not least of all our identities and beliefs and this case and the responses to the verdict are proof of this. We have had to defend, on the battle field, in the churches, in the classrooms, at the ballots and everywhere else imaginable our identities and even today, we continue to be forced to do so, and in our own land no less.

A year ago, I attended a traditional ceremony hosted by a friend and colleague of mine who happens to be a sangoma, at her house in predominantly white suburb Observatory in Cape Town, South Africa and to say that her mostly white neighbours were not pleased is an understatement of note. Despite the fact that she had followed all the dictates of etiquette and sent out communication well in advance to all her neighbours notifying them that she would be having this ceremony as well as notified the police in the area of the event who in turn gave her the green light and a curfew of midnight and yet her neighbours kept knocking on the door every half hour (before midnight) asking us when we would be done and if we could keep it down;  i.e. the drumming, singing and dancing. It is interesting to note that when my friend (who hardly entertains anyway) throws a less traditional affair which is more in line with western culture and has more or less similar levels of “noise” they never complain.

What is very apparent in these two scenarios is that it is still considered unacceptable for us to be truly ourselves in the land of our birth and that of our ancestors and we are expected to seek permission and validation from white “Afrikans” as to what parts of our identities and heritage get to survive and which ones should be done away with. In addition to this, based on the comments at the bottom of the article published in the Mail & Guardian  reporting the ruling, it is very clear that there persists the ideology of white supremacy and notion that the only and best ways of knowing and doing are the western (read white)ways. In the one comment a man exhibits his ignorance and bigotry by infantilising traditional healers by referring to them as “naïve” as well as by stereotyping traditional leaders through his hard accusation suggesting that butchering children is what all traditional healers do:

“It’s no wonder we have one of the world’s highest export of trained medical personal, who would want to be campared to some naieve person with some animal bones and children’s body parts!”

 Another frustrating thing about all this is that people know very little to nothing at all about Afrikan traditional spiritualities and yet are so dismissive of it to the point of discrimination never mind that a significant proportion of the population of the continent and most especially South Africa, identify, utilise and venerate this part of our heritage in one shape of form. Several commenters to the article substantiated their disdain by comparing the duration of the western medicine course and the traditional medicine course with one commenter saying:

“Surely the honourable judge cannot get away with dissing the medical profession so easily? Qualified doctors spend the better part of a decade learning their trade – how can a five-week “course” of traditional healing be considered an equivalent when it comes to the issue of a sick note?” 

Again this highlights just how little people know or understand of indigenous cultures and processes and yet they want to come out being very superior and dismissive despite their gross levels of ignorance on the subject.

Others still argued that Mmoledi should have been a little more considerate of her employer’s needs but the same can be said for the employer. He does not need to believe in what she believes but he needs to be considerate of the fact she does, if for nothing else but for her Constitutional right to do so and for staff wellness on the part of the employer. One needs to be aware and respectful of the fact that they live in Afrika and that there are certain things that they may not comprehend but must respect nevertheless because not only are they revered but they are also borne of the continent and precede all else that exists in post colonial Afrika.

It is funny how a lot of white Afrikans identify as such and yet continue to disregard and undermine fundamental aspects of indigenous heritage and when they do recognise them it is usually in a disrespectful and self serving manner. They love Afrikan “art”, the Afrikan drums, dress etc; even to the extent of capitalising on and profiting from them by starting businesses around indigenous Afrikan effects and yet they refuse to accept that the physical and aesthetic are inextricably linked to the spiritual that they are so quick to dismiss.

When people purchase Kananga masks of the Dogon while on vacation in Mali they do not take into account that in a lot of cultures these same “artefacts” actually symbolise people’s ancestors or spirits; or when people go to (mostly white owned) restaurants with an “African” theme they do not realise that the very same mbirafeaturing in the “Afrikan music” they are grooving to, is more than just an instrument but is in fact believed to be a spirit by the Shona peoples of Zimbabwe; and yet the same people will vehemently protest a Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court finding in favour of the recognition of the legitimacy of ubungoma and its equality in status to the more modern and Western forms of medicine.

People need o take cognisance of the fact that the Judge Cachalia did not in his ruling demand that people (employers) believe in indigenous belief systems but instead said that people must at the very least acknowledge and respect them which to me is a very fair and just judgement indeed.

 

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Rise of the Ancients: With the Silence of the Dead Comes the Night

With the silence of the dead comes the night

Thick and heavy

It blinds the eyes

Muzzles the mouth

And suffocates the lungs

All is still

As it should be

For it is night time

The animals of the day retire

To make way for the creatures of the night

With the silence of the dead comes the night

The eyes cease to see

And the ears to hear

The heart slows down to a mellow beat

To lull the body to sleep

The mind shifts to crossover to the chambers of the night

With the silence of the dead comes the night

 

To make way for the creatures of the night

We retire to the safety of sleep

Hoping to remain oblivious and unscathed

By those creatures that come to life at dusk

We pray to white Jesus to keep us safe

And for dawn to hurry back to us

For the sun has once again escaped

To make way for the creatures of the night

And so it is for most

But for those who carry with them the spirits of the ancients

For it is in the dead silence of the night

That the dead come to life

For it is when we sleep that we do not shut out our grandmothers and grandfathers

It is then the mind shifts to crossover

To make way for the ancients of our past

 

Their voices start out as whispers

And for as long as we ignore them

Louder they will grow

Until all that can be heard is a loud buzz

The voices all talk at the same time

They speak a language long forgotten

And no longer loved

They yearn to be heard by their children

To give them comfort through the hard times

The voices come as eerie loud shrills

For they mourn

For their children who continue to suffer

And live in anguish

They mourn for themselves

For they have been abandoned by their children

They yearn to be heard by their children

 

Their faces are distorted

Morphed into something horrific

As they struggle to come back into the light of our minds and hearts

Out of the dark depths of hell we have pushed them to

Their faces are abominable

As they contort to ram through the barricades

That the colonisers and missionaries erected in our minds

Painstakingly implanted to keep them out

Their faces are ghastly

As they push past the white faces

Faces of the white saints we replaced them with

They are fearsome in their blackness

Against the white backdrop of purity and divinity

Their faces are distorted

Morphed into something horrific

Through their mournful cries

And through their anger

As we fight to push them back

Into the dark depths of hell

Back into the night

 

When dawn breaks

We scramble to seek refuge in the light of whiteness

In the magnificent buildings built atop the tombs of our ancestors

We kneel before the altar of the white man

And seek deliverance from the demons of black hell

That haunt us through out the night

Tormenting us to the point of madness

Speaking heretic primitive tongues

Beckoning us

Their black hands grabbing desperately and fiercely at us

Trying to ply us away from the whiteness of God

Into the darkness of blackness

Pulling us further away from pearls and white gates

From the paradise promised us

As reward for our loyalty to whiteness

 

But oh Lord white Jesus

Begotten son of Pope Alexander XI

These black monsters now chase us during the day

They drive us mad

Constantly speaking

Shouting

Screaming

We no longer comb our hair

We rip off our clothes

Why do they tear us from God so?

Will you not save us from these horrors of black hell

From these demons who were once our mothers and fathers

That never knew God until you reached our shores

They come at us

Claiming us

Will you not save us and take us to white heaven

Have we not served your children faithfully

Have we not handed over our wealth and inheritance

Why must you allow this black hell to torment us

We destroyed our shrines

And discarded the beliefs of our forebears for you and you forsake us

Will you not save us from these terrors of black hell

 

© This work is the intellectual property of Doreen Gaura/ Ray 04/12/13

 

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Positionality and Privilege in Spirituality: I am a Healer

Written by HeJin Kim

Which is a very loaded statement; not in the least because the word “healer”, in English has all sorts of new age connotations, but mostly because of my own positionality. More accurate would be to say that I am iSangoma, which would be confusing to anyone who doesn’t know what that is (basically anyone who is not from Southern Africa and/or doesn’t speak a Nguni language.) The problem is that there are two ways for me to look at it: personal and political… though the two aren’t separate (it would be easier if it was), the old saying “the personal is political” might be somewhat retro, but it still applies in many of its interpretations.

But let me start in a more linear way to explain what I’m trying to explain. I am iSangoma, I am also Korean (South-Korean… and a Korean adoptee, specifically), and as I write this, I’ve been living in Cape Town for the last four years. iZangoma are traditional Zulu healers, though it is hard to really translate it; its etymology lies in the word ngoma which in various places in Southern Africa means drum, and in others refers to a song. Still, that doesn’t explain much, and nowadays the word iSangoma is used in South African English to refer to any traditional healer, from any of the many of the indigenous cultural groups in the country. The easiest way to explain it is that such traditional healers are “called” by their ancestors to take up the profession of a healer, this calling is innate to a person – meaning, you either have it or you don’t – and presents itself as a period of illness, then you find a healer who will initiate you, and Bob’s your uncle.

I could spin an interesting story,  about how I found out about my calling, how I’ve suffered, how I’ve been shown the iSangoma who initiated me, and describe all the personal hardships that the initiation entails; but I’m not going to. I understand the interest in the story, especially with the unusual factor of not being a black South African; but that’s just the thing, that simple fact means that telling the story isn’t, and shouldn’t be, so simple. I am asked often why and how I became iSangoma, and in some cases this is done in the context of “are you a valid iSangoma?” or am I being a new-age hippie; the story of my calling and initiation would answer that, but not in the right way, I feel.

Whether me being iSangoma is valid or not would be a nice discussion, on a spiritual level, but in essence is mostly relevant to myself and those patients I treat. But on a broader political level, it needs to be criticised in the context of post-colonialism and cultural appropriation. I have been questioned regarding my initiation by other (black) iiZangoma, and by other black people in general, and I don’t mind; in fact I think it is important that they do. They rightfully question why I entered something that is so intrinsically linked to their culture. It doesn’t offend me, rather it gives me hope. Too often we forgo questioning cultural appropriation. At its best, it is justified in the spirit of a some sort of utopian “nobody owns spirituality”, and “we are celebrating a culture”; at its worst it is exotification. In the context of a post-colonial world where white privilege endures, whether they are the minority or majority, it if needs to be questioned further; is such cultural appropriation simply a new form of (spiritual) colonialism?

I am actually urging people to critically look at me and what I do and say; wait, correction, I am urging people of colour, and specifically those black people whose culture I have entered, to criticise and analyse me – don’t really give a damn what the rest of the people think. Whatever I feel and believe on a spiritual level does not ever mean that it should simply be accepted. Being a person of colour has been brought forward by some friends of mine as a reason why my situation is different, and perhaps to a certain extent it is, however, racial dynamics are different depending on context and locality and being in South Africa means that being of East Asian heritage is quite different than in other places. I think it is also too simplistic to say being a person of colour precludes any possibility for cultural appropriation.

I have accepted a calling to be initiated, and was resistant at first. The whole thing didn’t make sense to me; why should I be iSangoma? It would make more sense to be Manshin – a Korean spiritual healer – but then on a personal/spiritual level it wasn’t at all about choice. I have, however, learned – and am still learning – the fine line that is my responsibility to walk, and talking about the political issues at hand is critical.

Apart from being ambushed by one friend, I’ve tended to hold off discussing it too much in the public sphere. The only thing I have realised is the fact that I needed to acknowledge the personal stake, the validity (to a certain extent) in some places, in order to respect those who were gracious enough to accept me into their spiritual and cultural realm (i. e. the people who initiated me, and opened themselves up for criticism as much as I have been opened up to it).

Above all, my own positionality is important, and something anyone engaging in spiritual practices that are not their own, needs to acknowledge. I have a privileged position in this context, and discrimination towards black iiZangoma is something I don’t face to the extent they face it, black iiZangoma are often stereotyped as backward, anti-Christian, etc. all too often. My own context means that I don’t have to face this, as I don’t live and practice in the same context.

For the most part, I’ve learned that it is a continuing journey, and a constant struggle to find the balance; it is the same struggle anyone with any privilege must endure. And often, it is about learning when to shut up.

* HeJin Kim, apart from wondering why she writes this in the third person, is a blogger and an activist. She is a Korean adoptee who wastes what little spare time she has getting lost on the internet, and ends up writing about issues of race, gender, sexuality, and her troubles as an overworked NGO worker. Check out her blog at http://universityofbrokenglass.wordpress.com

 

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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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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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My Afrikan Feminism

I am a woman of Afrikan origin who embraces and celebrates the knowledge that, like all women, she is a personification of the Goddess and that she is a part of a sisterhood that has been celebrated and venerated in a past age but is, in the present age, oppressed and is weakened but not defeated. Accosted but not destroyed. When asked to define Afrikan feminism I say that Afrika is one big beautiful calabash filled with different and magnificent colours, shapes and sizes of stones, seeds, sands, waters and flora. I am one of those and I know that although I am an individual I am also a part of a whole. A family of creation. My core feels deeply and widely because it is not just my pain and sorrow or elation I feel when I feel but it is the feelings of the other occupants of this bag, however different they maybe from me. My feminism comes in when I identify with my warrior self. She whose quest is not to conquer and destroy, but to empower the members of her community – in its entirety and diversity – but especially the members of the sisterhood. Those who know what I know but have forgotten over time and space. Her quest is to remind them that they have the power to choose, not just to survive but to live and manifest the Goddess in them. It is not about getting them to walk my path – because mine is set out just for me – but to find their own set out just for them individually and choose to walk them. I seek not to teach them the ways of others but to teach them to find their own way as others have, whatever those ways may be.

This continent, our Mother, tells a story of beauty, of love, of hatred, of freedom, of oppression, of joy, of sorrow, of anger, of spirituality, of faith, of wisdom, of knowledge, of science, of magic, of tears, of laughter, of music, of dance, of passion, of sexuality, of sensuality, of death, of unity, of conflict, of family, of friendship, of loyalty, of acceptance, of hospitality, of rejection, of animosity, of hunger, of plenty, of abundance, of wealth, of generosity, of theft, of sacrifice, of loyalty, of betrayal, of envy, of jealousy, of pride, of heaven, of hell, of destruction, of creation but most of all, a story of strength and resilience, a story of survival. A story of Life. A story that cannot be told by one person or told only once or told in just one way or in just one voice. Hers is a never ending story.

They call Her the “dark continent” and tell stories of desolation and destruction but no light has ever shone brighter than the light that She shines and that is why She remains the most coveted in the world. She represents each and every woman born to Her and we represent Her. She is the beginning and She shall be the end, whenever She chooses it to be so. This is the story of the Afrikan woman. The Afrikan feminist. For as long as we continue to wear the shackles around us, the shackles around our minds and our bodies, She too shall She continue to wear the shackles around Herself; In solidarity and in mourning. No one can tell Afrika who She is and no one can tell you who you are. No one but yourself. Not the ram of patriarchy nor the serpent of matriarchy. Just you. My feminism is not to tell you who you should be but to tell you, and them, who I am. To pave the way for you to do the same if you so choose and hopefully I will inspire you to make the choice to choose for yourself too sister. That is my Afrikan Feminism.

© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2012

 

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