Listen to Sona Jobarte. She is from Gambia in West Africa, from a griot family, a musician and a multi-instrumentalist, but renowned as a virtuoso kora player. (I know you are like what on earth is kora now? Shhh...come back tomorrow!) Click her name for her website.
Incidentally, Gainako is a song celebrating the cowherds of the Fulani people, originally a nomadic, cattle-rearing tribe found all through the Sahel from Guinea Bissau to Sudan. They migrate south of the Sahel with their cattle herds as far as the banks of the river Benue in search of pasture in the dry season. Fulani tribeswomen coming to my mother’s porch with calabashes upon their heads to sell fresh milk is a childhood memory. Fulani traditions have seeped into Malian music, the Fulani are a major ethnic group in Mali and Northern Nigeria both, and perhaps that is why it feels like big time déjà vu to me in the most wonderful way when I come across music from Mali.
From the West to the East - Jambo! is Swahili for Hello, the common greeting in East Africa. Here is a peppy number from Kenya titled Jambo Bwana or Hello Mister -
Jewellery and adornment - Traditionally, personal adornment in Africa was achieved in four different ways – scarification, body painting, jewellery and beadwork. However, these were not only decorative, but also served as identity markers, badges of honour and spiritual purposes. There are rules about who can wear what, tribes have special patterns exclusive to each, and hierarchical exclusivity within the tribe too, depending on the status and gender of the wearer.
Scarification has faded with increasing urbanisation and modern lifestyles. Very few of my classmates had undergone scarification, for example, even in the 70’s, but many of their older relatives had. However, I understand it has its adherents, more in the rural areas than the cities, even though several African governments have introduced laws against it.
As with all permanent marks and cuttings, whether scarification, tattoos or piercings, my own view is a resounding NO for children, and a ‘do as you please with your body’ for adults. Leave the children alone, for heavens’ sake! let them decide for themselves when they are of an age to make an informed and reasoned decision, don’t pierce their ears (Indians, I'm looking at you!) or cut their faces the minute they are born. Okay, rant over. Back to… um…what was the topic now? Oh yes, jewellery.
In a cave in Taforalt in Eastern Morocco, archaeologists have found what are believed to the first ornaments fashioned by Man – beads made of Nassarius shells, perforated so that they could be strung together, painted with red ochre to make them even more decorative. These shells have been found in layers, the first discoveries were dated to 82,000 years ago. And then when they dug deeper there were even more, from around 110,000 years ago. That’s some serious weight of history for a fingernail sized shell!
Till the Cave of Pigeons was found, that’s what it’s called – Grottes des Pigeons, the oldest known beads were located in the Blombos Cave, an archaeological site around 300 km away from Cape Town at the other end of the continent. These beads were dated to around 72000 years BP. It supports the theory that similar, independent settlements evolved at the same time in different places on the continent. By the time people migrated out of Africa into Arabia and the rest of the world, there were different cultures dotted all over the continent.
Jewellery has come a long way since the first men/women fashioned those beads out of marine shells. From the Nassarius shells to others. And a whole gamut of locally produced materials, gathering up imported and homegrown skills of metal working and glass making and stone prospecting into its ambit.
African jewellery was fashioned out of horsehair, wood, stone, animal bone/ivory, whatever was available at hand. Rare materials were prized - such as corals and cowry, difficult to get inland and therefore worn by the nobility.
The first Europeans reached the Cape in late 15th century, at which time glass making at Venice had reached the peak of its excellence and beauty – tiny beads made there were brought by the Europeans into Africa and they were as prized as gold and used sometimes to trade for slaves. These glass beads displaced the beads Africans had used for centuries – shells, ivory, even fish vertebrae - and ruled supreme. Even at present many tribes in Africa use coloured beadwork. Jewellery has always served a manifold purpose here - fashion accessory, portable investment, prestige statement, id card, spiritual protection.
Present use can be broadly broken down threeways – in the North, the Berber tribes use silver jewellery of typical patterns and motifs. As these peoples are conservative followers of Islam, and the Prophet himself did not like gold but preferred silver, they use silver jewellery rather than gold. In West Africa, a location of major gold mines, heavy gold jewellery was traditionally worn. Many African tribes wear elaborate beadwork jewellery, tribes living in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa developed specific designs which distinguish one tribe from another. Both men and women wear beadwork as decoration and as an identity badge.
From the Safaris
~ Thank you for watching! ~
Books n Stuff
Elnathan John (1982 - ) is a young writer from Nigeria. His short stories have been twice shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. He was born in Kaduna in Northern Nigeria and educated in Zaria, from where he got a degree in Law. His short fiction has been published in many journals, and his first novel Born on a Tuesday, was published in 2015 in Nigeria and in 2016 again in USA. It was shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria Literature Prize and has garnered worldwide praise for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of life of an ordinary boy during the rise of radical Islam. Definitely another one to include in the TBR!
Antonio Jacinto (1924-1991) – was a poet from Angola, born in Luanda to parents of Portuguese descent. His poetry was rooted in political protest against the Portuguese colonisers, and because of his militancy, he was arrested and exiled to Cape Verde in 1961, the same year as the publication of his first book of poems. His imprisonment received global attention, and due to international pressure, he was transferred to Lisbon on parole. He returned to Angola in 1973 and at independence in 1975 joined President Agostino Neto’s (who was also a poet, incidentally) cabinet where he served in different capacities, retiring from political life in 1990.
Here is an excerpt from a poem by Jacinto –
This is not yet my poem
the poem of my soul and of my blood
I still lack knowledge and power to write my poem
the great poem I already feel turning inside me…
My poem goes to market works in the kitchen
goes to the workbench
fills the tavern and the gaol
is poor ragged and dirty
lives in benighted ignorance
my poem knows nothing of itself
nor how to plead…
Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018