Monday, February 28, 2011

Review of the Weekend's Literary Events

@Farida's Reading at the Goethe Institute
Last Friday, under the auspices of the Ghana Writers Project and the Goethe Institute, the Ghana Voices Series organised its first book reading of the year, which saw Farida Bedwei read from her debut novel, The Definition of a Miracle. Her detailed description of scenes and events was palpable as she read different passages to the audience. The lighter side of the story sends guffaws all across the hall. Her description of life in the early and later 90s in Ghana is fresh and the language precise especially for the main character, from whose view point the story was narrated.

There is nothing as interesting as meeting an author and questioning her on her book as the question and answer session proved. I made a purchase which I got autographed; it would be reviewed on this blog in the course of the year.

The Definition of a Miracle would be launched on March 5, 2011 at the PAWA (Pan-African Writers Association) House located near Accra Girls High School at 6 0'clock PM. Hope to see you all there.

@Ehalakasa Poetry TalkParty
Kwasi Amoak
Once again, poets and performers met at the Nubuke Foundation to listen to poetry and songs. Yesterday's event featured Kwasi Amoak, Novisi, Benjamin Akoi-Jackson, Roboan, Nii Lantey, Kyekyeku, Martin, Selasi, Poetra Asantewaa, Rhyme Sonny, Foster Toppar, Nana Yaw Asiedu, 100% and many others. There were great improvisations and collaborations: Roboan, Nii Lantey and Kyekyeku; Selasi and Kyekyeku; Delasi and Kyekyeku.

Foster Toppar
This week's discussion centered around the model for success in Ghana. We sought to find who are the people seen as successful these days; whether it's the rich, the powerful or the religious leaders and the impact of these models of success. The discussion pointed straight at those with money and status, but more importantly to money. Thus, gradually society, we agreed, sees the rich as the most successful individuals irrespective of the letters before their names or how the wealth was acquired. For the impact of this model, the eagerness of the youth to obtain wealth no matter the consequence and would  therefore dabble in numerous negative practices were pointed out.
N. Fredua-Agyeman

With a friend, a drink or both  we invite you to the next gathering on March 13, 2011 at 5 o'clock pm. We seek expression and not perfection, hence come and express yourself. Next meeting's topic for discussion would be
Ghana's Independence: How does our pre-history impact the present and the future? Here, we intend to skip our immediate history of "Independence in 1957", and look beyond that to the roots of our present state.
Nii Lantey and Roboan
Please visit our facebook page and become a member of this fan group as we work to elevate the literary arts in Ghana to the highest level it deserves.

@Citi FM Literary Appreciation
Every Sunday between 8:30pm and 9:30 pm the Ghana Writers Project host a Literary Appreciation on Citi FM. This Sunday's episode hosted Naa Adoley Pappoe, Foster Toppar and Kwasi Amoak. The programme is hosted by Teddy Totimeh and Obed Sarpong, supported by Nana Nyarko Boateng. Click here to join our facebook fan page.

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Dua koro gye mframa a, ebu
Translation: If one tree stands alone against the wind, it breaks; or if one tree alone receives the wind, it breaks.
Usage (Context): There is strength in numbers.
(No. 2054 Page 99 from in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.)
Caveat: The text in red is my own translation. I try to bring it as close to the Original Twi version as much as possible without affecting the meaning. 'Gye' in Twi means 'receives' and not 'against' as used in the authors' translation. However, both versions do not affect the meaning of the proverb.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Featured at Sentinel Nigeria

Five poems of mine have been published in the Fifth Issue of Sentinel Nigeria. These are:
  • The Man and The People
  • Every Piece Shall Go, These Impartial Cleaners
  • Merchants of Menace
  • Private Existence
  • Horrorscope
Click here to read the poems. And while there please take time to explore the rich content the site carries.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Benjamin Kwakye's The Clothes of Nakedness

Today's quotes come from a book I would be reviewing next week The Clothes of Nakedness by Benjamin Kwakye.

If people would spend thinking half the time they spend talking the world would be a better place. If people filtered their thoughts before they spoke, they would not come out with the rubbish we hear these days.
Kojo Ansah, Page 120

...blaming others may blind a man's eyes to his own faults.
Kofi Ntim, 123

...a man is sometimes blind to the thorns on the path he walks. His friends must provide the light to illuminate the path.
Kojo Ansah, 123

Our enemies are like eggs in our backyards. You see, they become powerful if we let them. You can allow an egg to hatch into a chick and watch it grow into an adult hen, strong and ready to peck your corn and defecate over your yard. Or you can prevent all that by dropping the egg on the floor.
Mystique Mysterious, 124

Oh, everyone is a hypocrite to some extent in this world of mass make-believe.
Mystique Mysterious, 132

Rumours must have wings. Once a rumour starts, never mind how absurd it sounds, it has the ability to cover much ground in no time at all so long as it appeals to the imagination. And often you cannot tell who originates it.
Kojo Ansha, 134

Those who fail to live by the iron principle of an eye for an eye are ever susceptible to the snares of those who do; those who welcome with open hearts are ever prone to the guile and machinations of those who are out to devour.
Page 176

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Conversation with Folake Taylor, Author of The Only Way is Up

Adefolake (Folake) Taylor, whose first name means 'spoil me with riches', is an Internal Medicine MD, and the author of a recently published inspirational book that chronicles her life as an immigrant in the US aptly titled The Only Way is Up. Dr Taylor considers herself to be the most optimistic and radiant person you will ever meet. She decided to write this book after observing her husband interact with their daughter and watching a Larry King Live programme that same night on women and self-worth. The MD cum author took time off her busy schedule to talk to ImageNations. ImageNations is grateful to have her here.

Can you tell us about yourself? What should we know about Folake?
I am a wife, a mother, an MD and for the past year and a half, an author. I was born in the UK and evidently to Nigerian parents, for those who could tell by my first name. I have lived in the UK, Nigeria and for more than a decade, in the United States.

What is about medical doctors and writing? Ngozi Achebe, Dolapo Babalola and then you, in addition to those I know from other countries and others I don’t know.
I didn’t know Ngozi Achebe was a medical doctor even though I have heard of her but Dolapo is a colleague right here in Atlanta and I know her family well. Her book came out recently and I loved it. The first edition of my book, The Only Way is Up, came out in November of 2009 so it’s been a while really. I’m not even officially touring anymore. (Smile). I’m not sure what the connection is but I figure we have a lot to say and most medical doctors are pretty profound people to have the discipline to go through the whole medical process and training all the way to the end. That alone says something about one’s personality. It is not for the faint at heart if I might say.

What is your book, The Only Way is Up, about? 
The Only Way is Up is a motivational book that targets women, immigrants and African Americans mostly but not exclusively. It deals with a lot of issues that are especially concerning about the black community in the United States and I express a lot of views about these issues from the eyes of an outsider and compare with life in Nigeria and the UK. I have a lot of information that is beneficial to women in general and also single women because I was single for a long time. I relate these to my experiences. I also have a section on nutrition, exercise and health as an MD of course. It’s a wealth of information packed into one book and I have been told by men that they wish their spouses had read my book a long time ago and the book is really for everybody. I do have a huge section that just deals with life principles which are not gender specific. All I can say is the taste is in the pudding. My reviews speak for themselves.

What made you want to write this book?
 I decided to put my thoughts down on paper as I watched my husband interact with our daughter who was one year old then. She is three now. It reminded me of my relationship with my father and how pivotal it was to grow up with a strong male figure in my life. It then saddened me to see how many kids growing up now do not have that, especially in America, and even more so in the black community. That same night, the Larry King Live discussion on women and self worth and how that could be the key to success later in life got me even more fired up. I started to type up my first chapter on my blackberry right in that hotel room in San Juan that night. 

What is the main theme of your book?
Empowerment. Motivation. Reinforcing the family unit. Christian values. 

What is it that you want to achieve with this book?
I want to effect change.

The most important changes I want to see are concerning more solid family structures. I want to see better statistics for single parent homes among African Americans. Presently, about 72% of families are single parent homes with the percentages being so much less in a staggering manner among other ethnicities in America.

I want to see better male/ female dynamics in the world as a whole and I did share some of my personal experiences on the road to “I do” but it is not a memoir. You’ll have to stay tuned for that. (Laughing). I’ll be ready for my memoir when I’m seventy-five. I want to catch our young ladies early before they make some of the mistakes we made in our time.

How was the publishing journey like for you? And what about marketing?
I chose to self publish because I live in America, I did not have a mainstream message and I am a minority. Not usually a winning combo for a previously unknown author. I did my own marketing and believe it or not, the internet in general, Google and facebook were and still are my greatest assets. I held several events such as book signings. I have also been on radio interviews, blogs/ blog tours, networking events, etc. 

Has being published changed you? 
I don’t know that it has changed me but I do know it has taught me that I can do anything I set my heart to as I never planned to be a published author. I also know that if there is something that you wish to do, be it a lifelong dream or not, you need to go ahead and do it. The rest of it will fall into place and follow. The skill will be perfected over time but if you let fear take a hold of you and you succumb to doubt, you will never realize your dream. Presently, I am learning the art of writing fiction, a totally new territory to me. But I am loving it. I have even considered an MFA in creative writing and I recently joined the Atlanta chapter of a writers’ group called American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). It was an honor to sit next to a New York Times Bestselling Author at the first meeting. 

How do you feel when someone purchases your book and asks for an autograph?
I am honored. These things are never to be taken for granted. It is truly a blessing from above each time someone wants to listen to what I have to say and they pay for it too. (Smiling).

Where could readers get copies of the book?
My book is available on and several other bookstores, both physical and online. Please follow this link for a comprehensive list:

No. Thank you for having me on, Nana. Much appreciated.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

68. Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana

Title: Tropical Fish
Author: Doreen Baingana
Genre: Linked Short Stories
Publishers: Cassava Republic
Pages: 156
Year of Publication: 2005 (this edition 3008)
Country: Uganda

Tropical Fish is a collection of eight linked short stories about three sisters - Patti, Rosa, and Christine - as they journey through life in the town of Enttebe, Uganda. With the exception of Lost in Los Angeles, all eight stories are set in Uganda and they all deal with the choices they made and where it led them. Even though the story was set in the period after Idi Amin's misrule and the deterioration that was imposing itself on the country, politics was never the object, except in some places where references are made to it such as when an ex all-European school was left to deteriorate and the Seventy-two hours ultimatum given to the Indians in Uganda to leave. However, HIV/AIDS which took over the country after Amin's exit was a major theme and was the theme in one of the stories - and my favourite of the collection - A Thank-You Note.

A Thank You Note is an epistolary short story from Rosa to his boyfriend telling him how she is faring with the disease and whether he was also doing well. Through this story we learn of how the disease is contracted, spread and how people intentionally and unintentionally pass it on. The letter also shows the ignorance of the people on the disease, referring to it as a slim disease due to the eating away of the muscles and flesh of sufferers. In this reflective epistle Rosa shows how fast the disease could spread by showing the promiscuity linkage, as one boy contracts it from his 'Sugar Mummy' (a rich and usually older woman who befriends a young man for sexual gratification) and gives it to his girlfriend, who also passes it on when she cheats on him and on and on it goes and ends in death. This story would be much appreciated if the devastation the disease caused is known to readers. Whole villages were wiped off as if it had just emerged from wars leaving infected children and their grandparents.

The story begins with Green Stones as the youngest of the three daughters admires her mother's jewellery purchased by her husband anytime he arrives from his numerous travels. However, Taata, as the father was called, was to die from drinking. We weren't told why he began drinking; but the excessive imbibing of liquor led to his dismissal from work and finally to his death so that the children became the burden of their mother, Maama. The stories in this anthology seem to be a casual collection of everyday life written to preserve a memory. They flutter across the mind as one flips through the pages.

The title story Tropical Fish is the story of Christine, before she left for the US, and her newly found boyfriend, Peter, an expatriate who exports tropical fish. The story is about the 'high-risk' teenage life of sex, drinking, and abortion. Peter and Christine met and dated almost instantly. They started having sex in Peter's huge white house located in a plush hill top residential area. Christine got pregnant but would not tell Peter because he might think she wants his money.

The stories are narrated by the girls or from their point of view and in each story one of the three girls is the main character even though the others might be present. Through the stories we follow the girls as they go through secondary school and suffer hunger in Hunger, with one contracting AIDS (in A Thank-You Note) and falling off and others travel outside the country (in Lost in Los Angeles) only to return to a civil service that is non-existent (in Questions of Home). The girls' story is an archetypal story of teenagers: men, love letters, secondary school, sex, and others. Christine, the youngest is a carefree, easy-going but an independent fellow with the marriage-is-not-necessary trait, which has become idiosyncratic to many of the latest portrayal of 'independent, carrier-focused' women in recent novels. Maama, a 'traditional mother' who is bent on her old ways wants Christine to marry. But she wouldn't hear any of this threatening to leave home if she persisted. Yet, sex had been and was part of her life; including having it with total strangers when she was in Los Angeles. Patti, the eldest, was a born-again Christian who sees the frivolous life of her sister as a sin. She lived and tended her mother and their vegetable garden. Rosa was the middle daughter whose loose life in secondary school led her to contract AIDS. Though her death was not recorded in any of the stories, it was referred to by Christine when her mother asked her to marry.

One feature of this collection, which I loved, was the use of the local words. Though I did not understand any of them, and for some of them the definition was provided right after the word, it never worried me or my understanding. This deliberate use of local words always give local flavour to such novels. It makes the country folks of the writer feel a part of the story; that it was written with them in mind. However, I don't see it as a substitute for audience targeting. Like I said, I enjoyed it and know that there are others out there who would do same.
Green Stones
First Kiss
Doreen Baingana
A Thank-You Note
Tropical Fish
Lost in Los Angeles
Questions of Home

Brief Bio: Doreen Baingana grew up in Entebbe, Uganda, and now divides her time between Uganda and the United States. Her collection, Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, a collection of linked short stories that explore the coming of age of three African sisters, won the Commonwealth Prize for First Book, Africa Region, 2006 and was a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Prize for Debut Fiction in 2006. (Source)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reviews, Statistics and Women

VIDA, a Women Literary Organisation which was founded in August 2009 "to address the need for female writers of literature to engage in conversations regarding the critical reception of women’s creative writing in our current culture" has conducted a fascinating research into the gender distribution of book reviews and articles. Their findings have generated a wave of discussion on the gender biasness in literary circles or the less emphasis placed on women writings. Available statistics from big publishing houses such as Atlantic, Boston Review, Granta, London Review of Books, Harper, New Republic, New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, New York Review of Books, according to VIDA, show skewness in representation against women, even though "women write and women read". 

Source: VIDA
Some responses even suggests that since women form a larger percentage of the reading public there should be a greater representation of women in these studies. The question therefore is why this skewness then? Why are women under represented. It cannot be because men write more than women neither can it be because men read more than women. And on the side of the quality of the write, I cannot argue for or against it for I have read beautiful novels from both sexes. What then is the cause? Below are a few of the graphs (in pie chart format) showing the figures.

But is there really a deliberate attempt by these reviewers or media outlets to suppress women writing? Could this really be the case? Arguments of this nature would rage as long as there are divisions and groupings in this world. For instance, Africans do question the representation of their literary outputs whenever discussions of world literature is mentioned. In fact, since the institution of the Nobel Prize in Literature Africa's representation could be counted on one's single hand. And it is still a wonder why Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God, these three commonly referred to as the Africa Trilogy, has not won the award yet. But this is a discussion for another time.

I don't want to believe that there is a deliberate attempt to highlight only men literature or, alternatively, suppress women writings. As a book blogger I don't choose a book based on gender. Gender has never influenced the kind of books I read and or review on my blog. I choose a book which is either on my challenge list, have been recommended by a fellow blogger or reader or one which would interest me. On no occasion has gender played a role in determining the books I read. However, a brief look at my gender ratio since I began reviewing books on this blog would lend credence to VIDA's findings. Am I then a sexist by nature, unconsciously? 

In 2009, I read and reviewed a total of 27 novels and 8 of these were women, as shown in the diagram below.
2009 Book Reviews
Strangely enough, the ratio was the same in 2010. Though I read 30 books in 2010, three of which were short story anthologies from various writers and were thus not included in any of the sex. 
2010 Book Reviews
However, in 2011, there is an almost equal number of female and male authored books. Again, I have not set out to equilibrate the skewed distribution.
2011 Book Reviews (includes what I am currently reading. Date: 21.02.2011)
Besides, since I started interviewing authors on this blog, I have interviewed more women writers than men as shown in the figure below. 

ImageNations Interviews as at 21.02.2011

Thus, is there really a motive behind VIDA's findings? What do you, as a book blogger, look for or what influences your choice of books to review? Do you plan to balance the sexes? Do you read what comes to you? What does your own statistics look like?

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Dua a εbεbere ama yεn ate bi adi no, yεnsosɔ ogya ngu ase
Translation: The tree which will bear fruit for us to pick some and eat, we don't light fire underneath it.
Usage: You don't harm someone who helps you.
(No. 2024, Page 98 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Boakyewaa Glover's Circles to be adapted to TV

For sometime now most books have been adapted television; Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibilities and Emma and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre amongst them. Whereas some television adaptation of books have been successful others have not been so. As of now I have not as yet heard of any Ghanaian novel which has been adapted to television, in the form of a series. I might be absolutely wrong, hence if there is any please let me know.

However, this is about to change. I was watching ETV Ghana when I saw the advert calling on people to audition at the ETV premises for the TV adaptation on Boakyewaa Glover's Circles. After a few search I read the announcement on the author's website:
On Sunday, February 6th, I finalized a contract with ETV Ghana to adapt CIRCLES into a TV show. The show will be produced by ETV, scripted by me and will begin airing June 2011. My book is coming to TV, y’all! (Source)
The auditions are set to begin on February 26, 2011. I have not as yet read this novel, launched on 21st May of last year, but if I get to reading it I would let you know. In the mean time, I want to ask you all: Books and TV Series, which one do you love? There is a trailer on her website.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Quotes for Friday From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Since December I have been trying to update my blog daily, though strictly weekends are excluded, and I have enjoyed it. Searching for topics to talk about that would inspire reading has been tasking but also fun. Quotes and Proverbs have become constant features in this effort. Whereas the proverbs are local with translations, the proverbs are from books I have read and reviewed. Today's quotes comes exclusively from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Mrs. Bennet

When a woman have five grown up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.
Mrs. Bennet

A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.
Mr. Darcy

I admire the activity of your benevolence, but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required.
Miss Marry Bennet

Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.
Mr. Darcy

Intricate characters are the most amusing
Miss Elizabeth Bennet

Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility.
Mr. Darcy

The power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfections of the performance.
Mr. Darcy

Thursday, February 17, 2011

67. Upon Reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Readers of this blog know that I read different novels but promote extensively only African-authored novels. They also know that I have a challenge to read a list of 100 novels in five years, of which I am only fourteen percent through and in the third year. Consequently, I embarked upon a compulsive book buying some two Saturdays ago. And Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was one of twenty-three books purchased. Let me inform my readers that henceforth most of my readings would be geared towards meeting my challenges.

Pride and Prejudice (1813) is my first Austen novel and the second English Classic I have read this year following from Hardy's Jude the Obscure. Pride and Prejudice is a story set in the early nineteenth England in the town of Hertfordshire where five sisters lived, each with a different aspiration and disposition. Jane is servile, humble, quick to agree and forgive and almost never judges. Elizabeth, around whom the majority of the story is told is the thinking and cautious type. She does not easily submit to rules without questioning them. Mary is almost a recluse and played a minor role in the novel. Always learning, one can easily judge her to be suffering from an inferiority complex. The two others: Lydia and Catherine (or Kitty) are frivolous - acting without thinking of the effects of their actions.

Jane met Mr. Bingley and there was a spark but the proud Darcy was to extinguish it and later ignite it after he himself had had a prejudicial run-in with Elizabeth. Elizabeth saw Darcy as a proud man who hates to laugh and Darcy saw her as of low class. Darcy sees everything with a sexist mind:
A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.
However, Darcy was to change and all was to settle with the passage of time and self awareness. Then there is the 'horrid' Mr. Wickham who at first was adjudged lovely and polite and out-going until he eloped with Lydia.

In this interconnected love story, Austen portrayed the life of the society as it existed then. With Napoleon's war as the backdrop we see how Darcy changes from being the proud man to one acceptable by all of society - humbling himself to everybody though he is 'a ten thousand pounds a year' and owns a beautiful stretch of estate at Pemberley.

One cannot talk about this novel without mentioning the obnoxious, impossible Mrs Bennet who would do everything to marry her daughters off even if to men as unscrupulous as Mr. Wickham. Mrs Bennet's love to see all her daughters marry saw her doing things that gets under the reader's skin. Such excessive obsequiousness, which at least to her results from the would be loss of her home at the death of Mr. Bennet, was also a character she shared with Mr. Collins, whose worship of Lady Catherine - Darcy's supercilious auntie - almost borders on idolatry. These were the two characters I hated most. According to Mrs Bennet
It is a truth universally acknowledge, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Though Pride and Prejudice is one of the most read and widely loved English Classics, I realised that I had to stretch my imagination a bit to grasp what was happening. However, there were places that came easily to me such as the general need to marry as exhibited by the ladies in the novel including Miss Lucas who married Mr Collins knowing very well that she doesn't love him. In the story also, we see the gradual transformation of roles and perceptions exhibited by Elizabeth and Darcy. Whereas Elizabeth represented the transformation in women from being 'accept-all' to exhibiting choice in her refusal of Mr. Collins and initial refusal of Mr. Darcy, Darcy himself represented the transformation from the 'rich and proud' ideology to 'rich and humble'.

The English Classics is worth reading as one enjoys the flow of words paused by punctuations. Thus, if one follows the pauses properly, one realises that they are fun to read. The book left off with several frayed seams and many authors have taken the advantage of this, writing different variants of this Austen novel.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ehalakasa TalkParty: Redefining Ghana's Literary Scene through Words and Songs

Every other Sunday, a group of dedicated poets, spoken word artistes, inspired musicians, instrument players and lovers of the art meet at Nubuke Foundation to participate in a program dubbed the Ehalakasa TalkParty. This biweekly music-poetry-performance show, organised by the Writers Project of Ghana and GGG Channels, has come to define the art scene of Accra. Here we seek not perfection but expression for as our motto goes it lives in us. We believe that every person has art in him which need to harnessed.

Our first meeting for the new year, February 13, 2011, saw performers and artistes of varied background coming to either perform or listen. 

Nubuke Foundation & Kofi
The backdrop acrylic-on-canvass was done by the owner of Nubuke Foundation, Ghana's famous artist who works in several media, Kofi Setordji. Kofi (right with grey hair talking to Naa as Kyekyeku similes on), as he wants to be called by all irrespective of age, is affable and kind and through this act of kindness has given us this space and the equipment to use for our programs. As we say at each program free is not cheap.

The Performers

The picture on the left shows Kyekyeku on guitar, DK on drums, Shaka on his Djembe, and a participant, who was just moved to join this sudden improvisation, on the bass guitar.

This is all what the arts is about. If you are in Ghana and you really want to feel what William Wordsworth defined as the 'spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings' please make your way to the Nubuke Foundation behind the new Mensvic Hotel.

Jah-wi on the mike, Shaka on the Djembe and Kyekyeku on guitar. Jah-wi is a mysterious lyricist. His most popular song nkranpaen (someone who is bony) would not leave you alone. He has a beautiful way of singing.

At Ehalakasa we are one big family. None is bigger than the other. An artist could call another artist and soon a song would composed and ready to be spilled. In fact, if you forget your beat at home, worry not Jah-wi would give any beat you want and Kyekyeku would provide the guitar beats.

Nii Lantey on drums (picture on the right). He is a poet and spoken word artist and performs in Ga, English and Twi. His favourite instrument is the drums as you can see. Here, he and Kyekyeku are stringing things together. Very lovely tunes are produced.

Nii Lantey has a several songs but one that would blow your mind is sanya sɔɔ.

Universality of the Arts
We have had performers and artistes from various countries. There is Henry Ajumeze, whose collection of poems titled Dimples on the Sand was reviewed here, coming all the way from Nigeria; Shaka is from Burkina Faso and Roboan is from Mexico. Roboan sings in Spanish, English and French and could play the flute, guitar and sing in a single performance.

This Sunday we had two Japanese: a singer (Hatsumi) and a poet. The picture to the left shows the Japanese poet reading to the audience The Family.

The Bar
There is a user-contributed bar. Thus, the cost of entering this place is to bring a friend, a drink or both. At the bar is Sir Black, the man who wears nothing but black. Come and meet him with his deep thoughts and impressive 'vibes' as a spoken word artist who has performed in many countries. After the first session we break to the bar where participants interacts with each and share drinks. Friendship bonds are formed and life-time friends made. I have known a lot of people just being here.

To reinvigorate the program we have re-introduced the Talk session: for about twenty minutes we discuss topical issue. The topic for last week was:
Youth Power, Internet Power: Are popular street demonstrations a legitimate means of bringing about political change?
In so doing we linked it to the recent happenings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan and the rest. The discussion was hot and intense. The flow of unadulterated energy, knowledge and zeal is palpable. Another thing we have introduced is the proverb session. A participant willingly gives a proverb in a local language, translate it directly into English and provides the context within which it could be used.

When I first joined this group, in 2009, I was shy. I remember my first poetry reading. I shivered! That was the first time I am reading to the an audience. I felt my bones chattering. Yet, a year and half on, I host part part of the program. This is what Ehalakasa is all about. Because Ehalakasa! It Lives in Us.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa Region Shortlist

The Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa Region Shortlist has been announced. I got this information from Accra Books and Things who also led me to Africa is a Country, where the list have been posted. In the Best Book category there are six books: 4 from South Africa, 1 from Nigeria and another 1 from Sierra Leone. In the First Best Book category there are again 6 books equally shared between Nigeria and South Africa. 

Hey! What are the writers in the other countries doing? Is this indicative of the dearth of excellent writers in the remaining fifty-two countries? 

Africa Best Book:
  1. The Memory of Love by Aminata Forna (Sierra Leone)
  2. Men of the South by Sukiswa Wanner (South Africa)
  3. The Unseen Leopard by Bridget Pitt (South Africa)
  4. Oil on Water by Helon Habila (Nigeria)
  5. Blood at Bay by Sue Rabie (South Africa)
  6. Banquet at Brabazan by Patricia Schonstein (South Africa)
Africa Best First Book:
  1. Happiness is a Four Letter Word by Cynthia Jele (South Africa)
  2. Bitter Leaf by Chioma Okereke (Nigeria)
  3. The Fossil Artist by Graeme Friedman (South Africa)
  4. Colour Blind by Uzoma Uponi (Nigeria)
  5. Voice of America by E.C. Osondu (Nigeria)
  6. Wall of Days by Alastair Bruce (South Africa)
The announcement of the winners would mean that my Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa Region Reading Challenge would increase by two books. Like fractals, this is possibly a challenge that would not end, or whose end is a function of when organisers would stop awarding writers, at least for the African Region. And I hope it does not end.

Like Accra Books and Things, most of these writers are new to me especially the South African authors. I hope to expand my readings and enrich my mind with these readings.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fear and Favour: Fallouts from Reading South Africa's Literature

Some people have everything; some people have nothing; some people have hopes and dreams; some people have ways and means - Robert (Bob) Nesta Marley
Like life, Literature is marked by epochs. Such epochal categorisations are important if one wants to understand the culture that influenced or shaped the general body of thought of painters, writers, sculptors, musicians and the literati in general. For instance English Literature could roughly be categorised as being of or belonging to the Elizabethan Era, Jacobean Literature, Augustan Literature, Romantic Movement, Victorian age, Modernism, Post Modernism and other such categorisation. Though my reading of South African Literature is limited and so I cannot describe myself as a cognoscente of South African Literature nor even expert in chicken Literature – all that I am is a simple reader who does not, perhaps, qualify even as a bibliophile – for the purpose of this article, let’s say South Africa’s Literary oeuvre could be classed into three main epochs: pre-apartheid, apartheid and post-apartheid literature, using the year 1948 and 1994 as the demarcation between among these epochs. These choices, which represent the year in which apartheid was officially introduced and ended, respectively, in South Africa, are very arbitrary as the change from one era to the other is not quite a discrete event but one that overlaps, losing its colour as it progresses but retaining some of its elements so much so that one is able to see taints of the initial colour, like that paper chromatography experiment we carried out in science class.

Most of my readings of SA literature can easily be placed into the apartheid category including but not limited to Bessie Head, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Nelson Mandela – his earlier collection of letters and essays – Andre Brink and Alan Paton. Common to all these books (fiction and non-fiction) is the issue of the oppression of native black South Africans. In fact Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, addresses ‘the problem of race relations...’ and is considered as ‘the single most important novel in twentieth century’.

For centuries, native South Africans were extremely discriminated against, intentionally maligned and systematically pushed into poverty so that they remain as a source of cheap labour to be used to amass wealth. They were denied of education because they were deemed not to be fit enough for it; besides they would begin to demand for more if they became educated. During this period, the very land that makes one a native of a place and which act as the source of livelihood, providing food and shelter for the people, were taken from them. They were chased off their lands through deception, thievery and force. And the natives became landless. How a native could remain a native without the very thing that makes him one beats my imagination. Then in 1948, the year in which Paton’s most celebrated work was published, apartheid was instituted and the torture moved from mere discrimination to legally-binding segregation, punishable by law if not enforced. So that natural acts like inter-racial marriages became anathemised.

Then the struggle against apartheid began (by both blacks and those whites who saw the stupidity of this system of governance the National Party had instituted and in fact these included many writers of the day) and, needless to say, several blacks were killed and whites too; it was through such demonstrations that Sharpeville meandered its way into SA's history. However, the greatest effects of apartheid is not the numbers that died (as some individuals have argued that 'only 21,000 people died') but the mental torture that the living went through; the destruction of self-confidence; the building up of inferiority complexes; the consequences of being hopelessly poor, have nowhere to go, and seeing your children suffer into death. These are the greatest effects of the regime.

Then in 1990 Mandela was released after twenty-seven years in prison. Hope was coming back to a hopeless country, the sun was shining upon a darkened land. And God, the one through whose words apartheid was religiously enforced but chose to remain quiet while the people he loves suffered indescribably, was finally twitching the corners of his mouth to the people of South Africa.

And Mandela became president in 1994. And people became happy. At least even without any amendment to the constitution by this act alone apartheid became shattered. Things would therefore change, or so they (the oppressed blacks and their white supporters) thought. Then the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, with emphasis on reconciliation. This great man, Nelson Mandela, with a golden heart, a heart that is incomparable to any chose to forgive the perpetrators of such atrocious acts, though some enforcers were sentenced with some currently serving an over two-hundred year jail term. Yet, those who wrote the law and forced others to implement them are free men, calling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a circus.

Call me vindictive; call me any other name that you might want but I do not think forgiveness was required so soon when the perpetrators had hardly regretted their crime. For does it take a moment for one to regret an institutionalised hegemony specially created to benefit him? Yet, that was what was decided: forgiveness. And anytime I read a novel that captures the lives of natives before and during the apartheid regime, I cannot help but feel that that decision was a rushed one. The Nuremberg Trials showed no reconciliation or forgiveness! Perpetrators were virtually stolen and killed by Jewish Intelligence, why must we? To receive pats on our backs? To show we are more humane than they are?

When Terreblanche, the AWB's (Afrikaaner Resistance Movement) leader, was murdered last year, this is what a member of the party, Margarite Dreyer said:

It is not that we don't like blacks. It's just that we want to be apart from them. We have our God and our ways, and they have their ancestors and the things that are important to them. God did not want us to be mixed like this. It is not a coincidence that Oom Gene (Terreblanche) died at Easter. He died so that we may be saved - so that God will give us our own homeland at last, so that Afrikaners would be alone, like the people of Israel.(Source)

I believe the AWB, a party with a Swastika-like emblem (shown above), should have been banned a long time ago. For Margarite to have said this is an affront to the present democratic dispensation and the forgiveness shown them after their cruelty; it is indicative of a group that has no remorse and would re-institutionalise this system at the least opportunity. They congregate to preach their Apartheid ideas, preaching them to their children, so that soon there would be a group of individuals demanding and fighting for their independence within South Africa. If they want to be alone, they could always leave to their home country, wherever that is. South Africa was not promised them by any God: not Buddha, not Jehovah God, not Allah, not Krishna, or even Confucius. It was given by the ancestors to South Africans - blacks and whites who are willing to respect each other and live in harmony, live as men of conscience must live - none enslaving the other, none threatening to eliminate the other.

Any time I read about the past I can help but question the present, what is being done? What needs to be done? After these settlers disrupted the natives' communal way of life, after black South Africans have been battered, beaten, and sometimes bludgeoned, after black South Africans have been treated as less than dogs or logs, with no feelings, after they have been psychologically, spiritually, physically and emotionally tortured, it takes more than mere forgiveness for construction. What the people need is a concerted and commitment by government to improve their lot. For what had taken years to destroy would not get fixed if left in the hands of time or evolution.

If almost two decades after apartheid black South Africans still wallow in poverty, are still landless because we are afraid of being tagged with names like that which have been bestowed upon the likes of Mugabe, then we have failed as a people and as a government. For what beneficiaries of apartheid want is a lethargic society, so they could enjoy the bounty of their harvest, of their kill, of their illegally amassed wealth, in peace. There are times when good name is not better than riches, when one’s actions would be denounced today only to be heralded and worshipped by posterity. For until there is a concerted effort to rebuild the minds of South Africans through equal distribution of resources the mental Apartheid that exists would forever remain even though, visibly, none should be discriminated against. All that the west and its allies (including Israel which supported the apartheid regime) want is to see the status quo remain. After all, the ANC was a terrorist organisation (see here, here, and there) on the CIA’s list. Even as at 2008, a decade after he had left office as a president, Mandela was officially a persona non-grata in the United States, the cradle of democracy (or perhaps demon-crazy). So we need not conscientiously play into their hands just to gain their applause and their pats. What we need to do is the equalisation of resources as Vilfredo Pareto perceived it and if that would not come naturally, it would have to be enforced. Besides, the effects of un-equal resource allocation are there for all to see. Some called it xenophobia, others called it irresponsible behaviour; some affected countries labelled it betrayal, but it stems from the government's inability or rather unwillingness to work to correct centuries-old problem; the failure of the system to correct the established thought.

As it stands now, resources are skewed and the literature written in this post-apartheid era might not be any different from that which pervaded and dominated the pre-apartheid and apartheid era. It is only when the theme of the majority writers changes drastically from the heart-wrenching, difficult-to-fathom, easy-to-weep-over, theme of the apartheid era that we can say we have arrived.
Our weakness is our eagerness to forgive even before the perpetrators have forgotten their crime. Jews never forgave, and Americans never do. Why are we so quick to forgive? (my facebook update of 23.10.2010)

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Sε ɔdehye anko a, akoa dwane
Translation: If the royal does not go into battle, the slave runs away
Usage: If a leader does not give a good example, his followers will desert him. From my understanding, this proverb has been used to mean that if those who stand to benefit from an action does not lead the people, the followers there only to help would do worse by deserting him. This proverb has roots in the period when a Chief/King is supposed to lead his people into battle. I believe that if the American and British people had known this proverb they would have insisted that George Walker Bush and Tony Blair would follow their men into battle. And if every blood-thirsty leader do this, I believe the lust for war would decline. Currently, in Ghana there are stories that the opposition presidential candidate has made statements that could incite people to violence in the coming election. According to the tapes, he said they would match the current government boot for boot and that 'all die be die'... thus, there is no difference in deaths. I hope when the time comes and he is calling on the people to fight, his children, wife, family and he himself would lead the people. In effect I hope he would lead by deeds and not by words.
(No. 1781, Page 88 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.)
Caveat: In the 'Usage' I have added my personal understanding of the proverb.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Quotes for Friday

Enjoy the following quotes from books I have recently read.

A cooperative of any kind in South Africa would cause a riot of hysteria among the white population - their wealth and privilege are dependent on the poverty and distress of black people. 

I would propose that mankind will one day be ruled by men who are God and not greedy, power-hungry politicians.

When a person is said to have died he is not dead, he is merely transformed, the breath of life having left this covering of flesh and migrated to another land which shines more gloriously than the sun. 

There is only one thing that has power completely, and it is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and that is love. 

But when a black man gets power, when he gets money, he is a great man if he is not corrupt. ... He seeks power and money to put right what is wrong, and when he gets them, why, he enjoys the power and the money.

I have only one fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.

... the counsellors of a broken tribe have counsel for many things, but none for the matter of a broken tribe. 

... they were feeding an old man with milk, and pretending that he would one day grow into a boy. 

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much. 

There is not much talking now. A silence falls upon them all. This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country. Sadness and fear and hate, how they well up in the heart and mind, whenever one opens the pages of these messengers of doom. Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

66. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, A Review

Title: Cry, the Beloved Country
Author: Alan Paton
Genre: Fiction/Racialism
Publishers: Vintage
Pages: 240
Year of First Publication: 1948 (this edition, 2002)
Country: South Africa

Alan Paton's famous work, Cry, the Beloved Country, address interracial prejudices that existed during pre-apartheid South Africa. Though the novel was published in the very year the National Party instituted apartheid, it tells of the problems which existed before apartheid. It could be taken as the 'events' that led to the institution of apartheid.

In this novel we follow Stephen Kumalo whose brother (John Kumalo), sister (Gertrude) and son (Absalom Kumalo) had all left their home village of Ndotsheni to Johannesburg in search of employment. Earlier he had received a letter concerning the negative ways Gertrude had fallen into: brewing local alcohol and prostituting. Soon this simple search for a sister turns into a complex labyrinthine search for a son. In the big city of Johannesburg, Absalom had morphed from a country boy into a criminal whose quest for survival had led him into committing several crimes including armed robbery and violence. During one of such robberies, after he had been released from the Reformatory school, he, unintentionally, shot and killed Arthur Jarvis, a speaker, fighter and believer of equal rights. On the issue of education and the issue of what is permissible and what is not, Arthur writes
It was permissible to leave native education to those who wanted to develop it. It was permissible to doubt its benefits. But is no longer permissible in the light of what we know. Partly because it made possible industrial development, and partly because it happened in spite of us, there is now a large urbanized native population. Now society has always, for reasons of self-interest if for no other, educated its children so that they grow up law-abiding, with socialized aims and purposes. There is no other way it can be done. Yet we continue to leave the education of our native urban society to those few Europeans who feel strongly about it, and to deny opportunities and money for its expansion. That is not permissible. For reasons of self-interest alone, it is dangerous. (Page 126/127)
Paton's argument is a humanistic one and through articles and letters, he shows how important it was for the natives (black South Africans) and the general population when the former receives education. Yet, there were those who were afraid of having educated natives amongst them.
Some say the that the earth has bounty enough for all, and that more for one does not mean less for another, that the advance of one does not mean the decline of another. They say that poor-paid labour means a poor nation, and that better-paid labour means greater markets and greater scope for industry and manufacture. And others say that this is a danger, for better-paid labour will not only buy more but will also read more, think more, ask more, and will not be content to be fore ever voiceless and inferior. (Page 71)
The novel shows the negative effects of a society whose resources are unequally distributed; it shows what happens when one group of individuals is strategically prevented from accessing certain basic facilities like freedom and education. There is also the internal struggle and conflicting opinions. The title, Cry, the Beloved Country, is itself filled with conflict and struggle. For this country is a 'beloved' one yet the author refrained from using the possessive 'my' to show a closer affinity but rather chose to use the impersonal definite article 'the', as if in a way distancing himself from the negative fallouts of what is happening.

The story is poetically written. There are no inverted commas (" " or ' ') to mark direct speeches - they are marked by dashes (-), which slowed the reading for me but never intruded upon its appreciation. In fact the slow reading impressed the story into my thought. Touching on the author's poetic sensibilities, one can quote one of the three passages in which the title was taken from
There is not much talking now. A silence falls upon them all. This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country. Sadness and fear and hate, how they well up in the heart and mind, whenever one opens the pages of these messengers of doom. Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart. (Page 67)
And such beautiful poetic lines are scattered in this novel. Though the novel exposes the immorality that has gripped the society, the dual economies that were coming up as a direct result of strategic discrimination, it also portends hope, that the sun would pour down on the earth. The village of Ndotsheni, where the Kumalos came from, was perhaps created as a metaphor or symbol for the life of natives. For the land was unproductive and desolate. Nothing was done to save it and it was gradually being eaten up until Arthur's father, Mr Jarvis, read his son's articles and realised how a part of the general problem he was; how his own actions contributed in an indirect way to his son's death for he himself had acquired huge hectares of land in Ndotsheni and through his actions the land has become desolate and unproductive leading the young Absalom seeking better livelihood elsewhere, leading to the death of his son, Arthur, who had also gone to work in Johannesburg. However, the metaphor is more revealing from the following passage:
Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also. For it is dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret. (Page 236)
Thus, we are hopeful that as long as dawns come, emancipation would also come.

This is an excellent novel written with love at its centre, with understanding and appreciation of life. It also shows that no one is far from being evil for there were bad whites as much as there were bad blacks. Besides, as Kumalo journeyed into Johannesburg he met benevolent individuals, both black and white, such as Rev Msimangu, who gave Kumalo his life's saving, and the white lawyer who took the case as a pro Deo

Note that because Kumalo from whose point of view a larger portion of the story was told, is a Reverend and because of Paton's Christian upbringing, there are several biblical references. This does not affect the reading as the novel is not a moral critique novel but one that sought equality through a humanist interventions.
Alan Paton
Brief Bio: Alan Paton (Jan 11, 1903 - April 12, 1988) was born in Pietermaritzburg (currently Kwa-Zulu Natal Province). He attended Maritzburg College and Natal University College, passing out with a degree in Physics. He taught at the Ixopo High School for Whites Students. In 1953, he formed the Liberal Party Party but was banned by the introduction of Prohibition of Political Interference Bill in 1968.

His writings include: Cry, the Beloved Country (1948); Lost in the Stars (1950); Too Late Phalarope (1953); The Land and People of South Africa (1955); South Africa in Transition (1956). Journey Continued: An Autobiography was published in 1988, a year later Save the Beloved Country was published. A poetry collection, Songs of South Africa: A Collection of Poems, was posthumously published in 1995. (Source)

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