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 –
History - The 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!
Harmattan - The 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!
I struck tomorrow square in the face
Yesterday groaned and said,
‘Please mind your steps today.’
I left them swimming with today.
Unto my soul
What funeral pyre rejects your bones?
My spider soul is spinning
Scarabwise I tow my days along
Alone I tow my death along.
Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018