First off, here is Imuhagh, a track from Imarhan, a fairly young, Tuareg band from Algeria, very reminiscent of the original desert blues. Music traditions they blend with pan-African rhythms and melodies. Imarhan means ‘people I care about.’ Listen to more of their music on their site.
And then take a listen to Iza Ngomso, from the other end of the continent - South Africa, sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir. This was released live in Carnegie Hall in 2014, and is composed by Christopher Tin. I first heard it sung by a choral group of young people led by a South African teenager, powerful voices and absolutely sublime singing! Goosebumps-inducing. SGW come quite close to replicating that experience. Just kidding :) I love the Soweto Gospel Choir - enjoy!
Ishango - the Ishango bone is a bone tool, the fibula, one of the forearm bones of a baboon. It's been dated to roughly 18-20,000 years BP, in the Upper Palaeolithic era, well before the advent of agriculture. It was discovered by a Belgian geologist in 1960, in what was then known as Belgian Congo, near the Congo-Uganda border in an area called Ishango from which it takes its name.
The bone has a quartz tip embedded at one end and groups of notches down its length. At first, it was thought these were tally marks. But then, it was observed the marks were too well-organised to be just tallies. They were divided into three columns, related to each other in slightly more complex ways than first anticipated.
The left column has four groups of notches – 19, 17, 13, and 11. They are the four prime numbers between 10 and 20 and add up to 60. The right column has groups of 9, 19, 21, and 11, also adding up to 60. The central column starts with 3 notches, then doubles to 6, then 4 notches and doubles to eight, then has 10 notches which is halved to 5. They don’t really look or feel random. Some inklings of addition, multiplication and division can be surmised. Prime numbers as well? Just imagine!
Ancestral humans were counting and multiplying and dreaming of primes before they could grow a single ear of wheat! Wouldn’t surprise me if that were proved true. If they could make the kind of art they did nearly 80,000 years ago, if they could use cosmetics and jewellery for adornment and/or camouflage, then their imaginations had taken off already, it’s not such a large leap to numbers.
Besides, if they lived in tribal groups, then some kind of roll-call was probably necessary to make sure everyone was where he/she was supposed to be. And I can so totally imagine the mums toting up the number of fruits required for their kids so they could give out equal shares, no breakouts of sibling squabbles please! (‘Here’s one for you, Gnat, Cat and Bat, stop bothering your eldest sister this instant!’) But of course, the Ishango bone goes much beyond just counting.
Some scientists have theorised that this bone instrument is a six month lunar calendar. A natural extrapolation being that it was a woman’s way to track her menstrual cycle. Some others have dismissed this view. Yet others have proposed it was used to construct some sort of numeral system, or a slide rule type instrument. A second companion Ishango bone also exists, with a total of 90 notches on its surfaces. This has not been analysed to the same extent, partly because it is not in the same state of preservation.
However complex or simple the explanation of the notches may be, what seems quite indisputable is that the Ishango bones prove Africa to be the cradle of mathematical thought. Not Sumer, not Mesopotamia, not Ancient India, not even Ancient Egypt in North Africa. But way deeper, way earlier than that – in sub-Saharan Africa. Homo sapiens – the Thinking Man, well, he thought up numbers before he thought of planting seeds, and he thought that way sitting in the heart of Africa.
~ Thank you for watching! ~
Books n Stuff
Yusuf Idris – I’ve talked about this author from Egypt before over here.
Frances David Imbuga (1947-2012) – was a writer, awarded playwright, poet, teacher and scholar from Kenya. He was born in 1947, the second generation of East African writers after the pioneers who created a space for the African voices in literature. Imbuga developed and extended that space. He explored themes of gender equality and justice and respect for a black identity through his plays and political satire. Read more about him here.
And here is a poem called Ibadan by John Pepper Clark (1935- ), a famous Nigerian poet –
running splash of rust
and gold – flung and scattered
among seven hills like broken
china in the sun.
Ibadan is a well-known city in south-western Nigeria, one of the most populous in Africa overall, a trade and cultural hub for more than a century. It is also the location of the University of Ibadan, the premier institute of higher education in Nigeria and West Africa, one of the oldest. Clark is himself an alumnus, so were Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo and so also is Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature.
The poem was part of my syllabus at school. I visited Ibadan only once and I can still remember thinking how brilliantly John Pepper Clark has evoked the exact image of the city in such a tiny wordcount. And something that occurred to me on rereading this time is the allusion of that 'scattered among seven hills' - what other city sits on seven hills? yep - Rome. Is that a coincidence? I think...vehemently not! John Pepper Clark knew what he was doing for sure, even if it has taken his slowpoke fan a few decades to read deep enough. Respect!
Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018