Monday, 9 April 2018

H is for...History-Heavy...and...Hakuna Matata!


is for


Here is Mariem Hassan (1958-2015), a Sahrawi singer and activist from the Western Sahara, with Haiyu. Mariam sang usually in Hassaniya, a dialect of Arabic spoken in Mauritania and Western Sahara, and sometimes in Spanish as her country was previously colonised by Spain. Sovereignty over Western Sahara is contested by Morocco and its status remains unresolved. Sad that she passed away so untimely.






And Hakuna Matata, which in Swahili means no worries! Lyrics by Tim Rice, music composed by Elton John, wildly (um...is that a bad pun?) popular track from The Lion King, 1994 animated Disney film, nominated and awarded various gongs and accolades. Apart from that phrase, there is really nothing else that is African about this song. But as you’ll see, I’m bending the rules a bit for H, oh not the A-Z rules, the ‘Africa rules’ rule –







HistoryThe history of Africa is rich and deep, this is where all stories and histories really begin. Africa is where the first humans evolved, where they first walked upright and walked out to people the rest of Earth. Here is where the tallest man-made structures stood for 3800 years before being overtaken by others elsewhere. Here was the first global library (Egypt, 3rd century BCE), the first jewellery (Morocco, approx. 110,000 years BP) the first rock art (South Africa 77,000 years BP). Going back even deeper, the oldest stone tools (Kenya, 3.3 million years BP) ever used, the first use of technology, even before man was properly himself. For millennia kingdoms and empires rose here and faded away, people lived and farmed, adopted new technologies, built canals and boats, created art and celebrated festivals.

But this be the thing, the very strange thing – most historical accounts of the world took no account of this, right upto mid-20th century. The outside world remained ignorant, Africa was the ‘dark’ continent. African history was viewed through a Western/Eastern, White/Black prism of racial prejudice, and also, dismissed by the scholarly snobbery of documented vs undocumented. As much of the African tradition rests on oral transmission, it was largely ignored. No written sources=no history! Q.E.D. Whatever sketchy bits were written, they were written by outsiders – from the foreign explorers’ and colonisers’ perspectives. Dismissive and ethnocentric are the two words that immediately spring to mind. 

In writing the history of a large part of Africa, the only sources used were from outside the continent, and the final product gave a picture not so much of the paths actually taken by the African peoples as of those that the authors thought they must have taken. Since the European Middle Ages were often used as a yardstick, modes of production, social relations and political institutions were visualized only by reference to the European past. In fact, there was a refusal to see Africans as the creators of original cultures which flowered and survived over the centuries in patterns of their own making and which historians are unable to grasp unless they forgo their prejudices and rethink their approach.
Amadou Mahtar M’bow, Director General, UNESCO 
in Preface to Vol I, General History of Africa.


Fortunately, that approach did change somewhere down the line and the huge job to involve Africans in the documenting of their own history was initiated by UNESCO. It took a leetle time, from 1964 to 1981, involved some 230 historians, two-thirds majority African, and has been published in 8 volumes. Available for download and/or purchase in different languages at the UNESCO site in English, Arabic, Portuguese and also some major African languages. A total treasure trove!


HarmattanThe Harmattan is a north-easterly trade wind in West Africa that blows from the Sahara over the Sahel and into the Gulf of Guinea from November to March. It coincides with the dry season further south, and brings a pall of dust – known as the Harmattan haze - that can hang over villages and cities for days together. It creates desert like conditions right in the grasslands, very dry with wild fluctuations in temperatures, it scatters the cloud cover and makes itself generally unpleasant to farming folk because of the risk of spontaneous bush fires.  Harmattan also gives it name to the season.

The haze is a major issue for travellers – motorists and flights. Personally, my travelling there was restricted to the summer months when skies are clear mostly, so I don’t remember being inconvenienced by it. And what’s a detour when you are 11? or 16? :)  But I’ve known many who had to curtail plans, were delayed, or found themselves rerouted to a different airport altogether. It happened with monotonous frequency, and I’m sure still does. Not fun if you're in a hurry.

From the Safaris


shoe-Horning… -  I could have written about so many Africa-born authors here – Taha Hussein, for example, the intellectual giant behind the Renaissance of Egypt, North Africa and the wider Arab world, or Bessie Head, or Tendai Huchu, or Abdelilah Hamdouchi, or …, or …, or… 

So. Why am I shoe-horning someone who’s not even from this continent? especially after the previous discussion of how the Africans must reclaim the narrative and not let non-Africans hijack it.  Hemingway is still my entry here because… The Green Hills of Africa is a riveting read, even for a person who is firmly opposed to all bloodsports. Because The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and The Snows of Kilimanjaro are two of the best shorts set in Africa. Hemingway may have been a terribly flawed human being, but what a fantastic writer!

The POV his main characters inhabit feels scandalous now, but that was the reality of the world and of men like Hemingway, the residual baggage of centuries. Africans were not afforded any respect or dignity in the 1930’s, racism was a way of life on the continent. This is a fact. This injustice is part of its history, we cannot wish it away, we cannot rewrite or ‘unread’ the stories. The past cannot be edited away, we can only draw lessons from it and avoid repeating those mistakes as we go forward. Whatever one might feel about Hemingway’s views and lifestyle, his writing is sublime. 


Aig Higo (1942-) born in mid-Western Nigeria, and an alumnus of the University of Ibadan. Teacher, and later the head of Nigerian operations of Heinemann. Wrote/contributed to various journals including Black Orpheus and Transition. Not part of my school syllabi, came across his poetry much later while I was in Cairo. Here is a poem of his I like, and the title matches the letter of the day, but that is purely a coincidence!

Hidesong
        I struck tomorrow square in the face
Yesterday groaned and said,
        ‘Please mind your steps today.’
    I left them swimming with today.
       
        Hidesong
        Birdsong
        Unto my soul
        What funeral pyre rejects your bones?
        My spider soul is spinning
        Spinning
     Spinning endlessly.

Scarabwise I tow my days along
Alone I tow my death along.







Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018

26 comments:

  1. We lose too many talented people like Mariem Hassan. Simultaneously the world is both diminished and richer for them having been in it.
    On the dismissive/ethnocentric path I recently read A Corkscrew is Most Useful The Travellers of Empire: Nicholas Murray and can only concur.
    Thank you for yet another jam packed post.

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    1. Thanks much for the book reco I'll look out for it - sounds most interesting!

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  2. Hari OM
    Oh that Harmattan; got stuck in it a couple of times. As for history..."No written sources=no history!"... that the fact that history as it is presented to the world is mostly written by victors and conquerers. It is being redressed, gradually. Another "H"umongous post, Nilanjana and a fine indeed. &*> YAM xx

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    1. Thankfully it is being righted - better late than never.

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  3. Hi Nila - I love this and I watched the 'Safari's' too - so good - another reason to go back and re-read, listen and learn from all your suggestions, writings, etc ... delightful - wonderful post - cheers Hilary

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it - the safari is a great way to relive the experience :)

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  4. I feel like the world still dismisses Africa too much. I just feel like it gets overlooked a lot. At least, that's how I feel as an American. I try to push myself to experience new (to me) cultures and that includes the various parts of Africa. (That's another thing that people do is lump all of Africa together).
    kingmengi.wordpress.com

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    1. Quite true - Africa is lumped together in spite of its huge diversity - cultures in the north are quite different from the west, which is again very dissimilar from south or east. Nobody would think of the same generalisations of South America or Europe which are actually smaller.

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  5. Is this where I have to admit I still haven't seen The Lion King? I do, however, know the song :) Love the sound of Mariem Hassan even though I have no idea what she is singing about.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings - Movie Monsters

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    1. No shame in not watching Lion King :) from what I can make out, adults only watched it if they had kiddie audiences to cater to...Mariem is singing about liberation of her country...

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  6. When my son was little. I had to listen to Lion King almost every day. I know that song all too well.

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  7. Hakuna Matata to you - hey, it's not a bad song if it makes folks think about Africa. Heavy History abounds. And Elephants should appear in every post - every letter of the alphabet relates. Humongous is such a good word. Happy Monday!

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    1. Elephants seem to be doing better than some other species I think, good many sightings.
      Happy week and Hakuna Matata!

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  8. Hidesong is such a hopeless sort of poem. But so good at picturing that feeling, dragging it all along to the grave.

    And the song, lovely.

    http://findingeliza.com/

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    1. It captures the hopelessness brilliantly, doesn't it?

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  9. Another post rich with treasures. Thank you for the link to the work of the UNESCO project - so glad to hear of its existence. Hakuna Matata is a wonderful expression.

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    1. That UNESCO project has resulted in a most wonderful resource!

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  10. Beautiful music. Sad that she was lost too early. It is unfortunate that most of what the world hears about Africa has come from outsiders. Glad they have been working to rectify that. Thanks for letting us know about the timing of Harmattan - those dust storms must get strong. Great post, Nila!

    Emily In Ecuador | Hammock Time on Puerto Lopez Beach

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    1. It's not just the storms - the aftermath hangs around for days too :) not a happy travel situation.

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  11. Love your jam-packed with info blog post! Sang Hakunah Matata a LOT when my girls were young. I agree with you the history of Africa is rich and vibrant. Glad the true history will be told and saved for future generations.

    JQ Rose

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  12. Africa is very underappreciated! And you can break the rules anytime! Great job on your theme!

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    1. Breaking the rules just once for Ernest - all rest strictly as per rules :-) Truly Africa is under appreciated...

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  13. 'The past cannot be edited away, we can only draw lessons from it and avoid repeating those mistakes as we go forward'. A powerful statement, but I am so afraid that humankind very seldom learns from mistakes of the past - history keeps on repeating itself.

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    1. We are really slow learners! but I'm always hopeful...we'll get there someday.

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