Monday, May 30, 2011

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Dubena ankum εkuro a, εbere ani.
Translation: If the tree bark does not heal a sore, it removes the scab.
Usage: Everything has some use, even if it does not live up to expectations.
No. 4316 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

An Update of my Stay at Kwamebikrom

Mazaan River 
I have been absent from the blogging scene for some days now; though, I do check my twitter accounts once in a while. I am still at Kwamebikrom but have been moving around a lot. I have visited three border towns: Oseikojokrom, Pillar 34 and Ahimakrom. Oseikojokrom is the largest of the border towns, though not as active as Elubo, another of the border towns in the Western Region. We walked across the customs checkpoint. We got as far as Mazaan River. And that's about 100m away from the checkpoint. The major mode of transporting people across the border is the motorbike. And they can speed! Our visit occurred a day after a heavy rainstorm and so we saw collapsed school buildings and uprooted trees. We walked deep into the unofficial routes to Cote d'Ivoire. We also met several of them. There was a guy who was riding his motorbike across the border several times. He carried no passenger for all the four times I saw him move in and out. I discussed it with my colleague and said I suspect him only to be told by our 'oboshi' guide that he transports fuel across the border.

Road to the Border (RCI)

At Pillar 34, the fan decreased. This is a small village with no light. However, here the idea of international borders breakdown. Some farmers in this village have landlords who are Ivorians. Thus, their farms are found beyond the borders. We met the Kontihene and spoke with him.

The last border town we have as of now visited is Ahimakrom. This is the last community in the Bia district. It shares boundary with Brong Ahafo region and Cote d'Ivoire. Though here we didn't see the actual border zone. We were only told it was less than a mile away. The work we had to do locked us down.

Devastation after the Rains
I also take GPS positions of various land-use systems to help us ground-truth an existing data. This land-use systems include, amongst others, forest and oil palm. I mentioned these two because of the unique encounters they gave me. I happen to enter the Bia forest on the other side, close to Asanteman. Here we were led by a man into the forest. Yes! I entered the forest. The underground was cool and free from shrubs. I was just scared for the guide told us that there are elephants there. They come to eat their cocoa pods. The forest share boundary with a cocoa farm and the pods attract the elephants. However, he was quick to add that elephants fear humans and that only one person had ever been killed by an elephant and that occurred because the man was overly brave. He would go and lash the elephants when they come to feed on his pods. One day, he was given a kick by one elephant and that was his end. He died instantly with crushed bones. The people there sack the elephants by hitting a cocoa tree with a stick. (We also entered Subim forest, that was on the first day of the work, and there I saw a baby alligator.) I even entered an ancestral grove. I nearly forgot this, but the man who took us into this forest and told us the story scared the hell out of me when he jumped so high that he could almost have been participating in an Olympic game high jump after a twig brushed his leg, the area near the ankle. My colleague and I laughed our eyes out only to meet my fear.

Another Route to RCI (Unofficial)
My fear occurred or the real deal occurred on my way from the forest. I saw an oil-palm farm and wanted to take my GPS waypoint. In taking waypoints one had to be at the middle of the farm to account for the inexactness of the GPS equipment (+/-3m). As I was pushing my way into this oil-palm farm, I saw a huge black cobra (popularly called ɔprεmire). It was so big that I can't compare it with my upper arm. It raised its head and turned, slithering away. Yes! I saw it but in a flash, I had jumped and fled, like lightning, away from this ominous encounter. I lost control of my legs, as if they were fleeing on their own or thinking on their own. They worked independent of my central mind, taking me as far from danger as possible. From my new vantage point, with my heart beating twice as fast, I saw it slowly slithering majestically away. What a beauty and yet what fear! I left that oil-palm farm in search of another. Work must continue no matter what; though not at the cost of my life. 

A Hut at the Edge of the Forest
When we got back to the village we had come to conduct our interview, I told a farmer what I had seen only to be told that they are aware of that snake. It only feeds there on rats and mice and squirrels and also on their fowls. Fowls? And they haven't killed it? They said snakes are fearful, that if you haven't done anything to it it would not bite you, it would slither away. I asked what if you inadvertently step on it. 'It would bite you' they said. And that has always been my point. What if I step on it first. They also said unless they have spiritually sent it to bite you, snakes don't just bite people. I agreed to it, quietly for how could I know if such spiritual task had already not been issued.

Entrance to the Forest
As if that wasn't enough, we saw a smaller version of the cobra on my way into another forest when I was returning from Ahimakrom at a place called Kaase Nkwanta. Here the guide almost killed it; but the serpent wouldn't lie low and be killed. Here it was the snake that was running away and not me. At least I had five more people with me. It quickly climbed an oil-palm tree and disappeared in it. When I asked the guide why cobras or snakes prefer oil-palm trees he told me that is its feeding strategy. When the fruits ripe different animals come to feed and they also serve as food for the snakes. Also because snakes are generally cold-blooded they come out to warm themselves when the sun is high. These two sightings of the ancient enemy reduced my vim for the work drastically. Snakes are not my idea of fun.

I would be rounding things up next week. The work has been interesting and worth the sacrifice. Electricity here is intermittent but then so too is it at East Legon, where the organisation I work for is located. No problem then. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Adufupεde nti na aboa kuntanu annya nim.
Translation: It's because of greed that the hyena did not achieve respect.
Usage: Greedy people are never respected.
No. 2106 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Aminatta Forna Wins Commonwealth Writers Prize Award 2011

After winning the award for Africa Region, Aminatta Forna, author of The Memory of Love, was voted as the overall winner yesterday at a ceremony organised for the winners, in Sydney.

Best Book Winner: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone). According to the judges:
The Memory of Love for its risk taking, elegance and breadth. A poignant story about friendship, betrayal, obsession and second chances – the novel is an immensely powerful portrayal of human resilience. The judges concluded that The Memory of Love delicately delves into the courageous lives of those haunted by the indelible effects of Sierra Leone’s past and yet amid that loss gives us a sense of hope and optimism for their future. Forna has produced a bold, deeply moving and accomplished novel which confirms her place among the most talented writers in literature today.
About Aminatta Forna: Aminatta Forna was born in Glasgow, Scotland and raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Her first book, The Devil that Danced on the Water, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her novel Ancestor Stones was winner of the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Literaturpreis in Germany, was nominated for the International IMPAC Award and selected by the Washington Post as one of the most important books of 2006. Aminatta lives in London.

Best First Book Winner: A Man Melting by Craig Cliff (New Zealand). According to the judges they 
this highly entertaining and thought provoking collection of short stories for their ambition, creativity and craftsmanship. Confidently blending ideas that frequently weave outlandish concepts with everyday incidents, the prose is skilfully peppered with social observations that define the world we live in. The eighteen short stories are truly insightful and amplify many of the absurdities around us, reflecting our own expectations, fears and paranoia on the big questions in life. This book is of the moment, and is rightly at home on a global platform. Cliff is a talent to watch and set to take the literary world by storm.
About Craig Cliff: Craig Cliff was born in Palmerston North, New Zealand. A graduate of Victoria University’s MA in creative writing, his short stories and poetry have been published in New Zealand and Australia. His short story 'Another Language' won the novice section of the 2007 BNZ Katherine Mansfield Awards. Craig lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

Nicholas Hasluck, Chair of the judging panel said:
This year’s winning books demonstrate the irreducible power of the written word at a time of rapid global change and uncertainty. The standard of entries this year has been exceptional, showcasing work with strong insight, spirit and voice introducing readers to unfamiliar worlds.   
Read more about the awards and winners at the Commonwealth Foundation's site.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Wohunu ananse a, ku no, anyε saa a, ɔbεdane ɔkyεmfo a bεka wo
Translation: When you see a spider, kill it; if not it will change into a bird-spider and bite you.
Usage: The bird-spider has a poisonous bite. A warning in a situation when one is suspected of being an enemy but has not yet shown oneself up. Don't deal with those you don't trust.
No. 2817 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Kwamebikrom Visitor

Bicycle Transport
Motorbike transport
Today I bring you a day's life of an inhabitant of Kwamebikrom, a community in the Bia District - 6 km from Essam/Debiso (the district capital) - of the Western Region.

Transportation: The usual transport system between Kwamebikrom, where I am staying and Essam - where we go to eat - is taxi (though I went with a pick-up truck). However, most of the inhabitants have motorbikes and bicycles. These two are the most common form of transportation within the community and between towns.

Phone-Charging Shop
The road leading to the community from Essam is mostly made of laterite. It's fun to drive on with all the 'grrr' sound created when the truck's tires pass on the gravels.

Small Scale Enterprise: There are innovative ways inhabitants of this community are employing to generate income. Electrical power went off on Thursday morning and after running-out my laptop's battery I went in search of a place to charge my battery. After searching for sometime I was introduced to a charging shop. There were numerous phones being charged with a petrol-powered generator.

I looked back to my area at Madina. Where would I get a place to charge my phone if electrical power goes off? This is genuine innovation.

Wealth Measure: Researchers had used the presence of cable TV as a measure of household wealth. It's one of the indicators of wealth, even in developed locations in the country's capital. DSTV, one of the first cable TV, has ridden high amongst all the available cable TVs. And even with the current influx of 'payless' cable TV, the people in the community still opt for the relatively expensive DSTV. This is a money-generating investment as owners charge prospective viewers on major match-days like a Chelsea-Manchester United match or an El-Classico.

All-Purpose Shop
All-Purpose Shops: Regarding small-scale enterprises, there are two multipurpose shops that sell several basic items from Coca-Cola to Hair Products and flip-flops. After a hard day's work we went to this shop for a bottle of coke (the soft-drink) each. The picture on the right shows the lady selling an item to a client. The shop contains canned fishes, liquid soaps, powdered milk, and others.

Yesterday I had a call to meet my boss in Kumasi today. Thus, I am currently in Kumasi and would be going back to the community on Monday or Tuesday. I would be enlisting the services of enumerators, train, finish the questionnaire and get it printed before going back to the Community. Though this work is tedious, I am trying hard to juice-out the fun. My boss took me out to eat and share a drink before flying back to Accra.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

12th Caine Prize Shortlist

I know this has been long in coming... The shortlist for the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing was been announced on Monday 9 May. The Caine Prize, widely known as the ‘African Booker’ and regarded as Africa’s leading literary award, is now in its twelfth year. The chair of judges, the award-winning Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, said 
choosing a shortlist out of nearly 130 entries was not an easy task – one made more difficult and yet more enjoyable by the varied tastes of the judges – but we have arrived at a list of five stories that excel in quality and ambition. Together they represent a portrait of today’s African short story: its wit and intelligence, its concerns and preoccupations. 
Selected from 126 entries from 17 African countries, the shortlist is once again a reflection of the Caine Prize’s pan-African reach.  The winner of the £10,000 prize is to be announced at a celebratory dinner at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on Monday 11 July. The 2011 shortlist comprises: 
  • NoViolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) ‘Hitting Budapest’ from ‘The Boston Review’  Vol 35, no. 6 - Nov/Dec 2010  
  • Beatrice Lamwaka (Uganda) ‘Butterfly dreams’ from ‘Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories from Uganda’ published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, Nottingham, 2010 
  • Tim Keegan (South Africa) ‘What Molly Knew’ from ‘Bad Company’ published by Pan Macmillan SA, 2008 
  • Lauri Kubuitsile (Botswana) ‘In the spirit of McPhineas Lata’ from ‘The Bed Book of Short Stories’ published by Modjaji Books, SA, 2010 
  • David Medalie (South Africa) ‘The Mistress’s Dog’ from ‘The Mistress’s Dog: Short stories  1996-2010’ published by Picador Africa, 2010 
As always the stories are available to read online on our website. Read more here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Working and Reading from Kwamebikrom in the Bia District of the Western Region, Ghana

Yesterday I travelled to Kwamebikrom to fine-tune my questionnaire and carry-out a research on agricultural intensification in the Bia District, a research that would take me three weeks - minimum - to complete the first phase. Consequently, I would be here - Bia and Juaboso districts - for at least three weeks. Internet connection is not fast but would blog and show pictures whenever possible. As most of you know I work as an Agricultural Economist and it is that which has brought me here. I am having all the fun, breathing in all the fresh air devoid of 'big-town' pollution. It's always enjoyable being close to nature. However, people in this community are eagerly and adopting 'town-life'. The sun is low, the feels like it's going to rain. Bia is home to two forest reserves: the Bia and Krokosue Forest Reserves. More information here. I won't report on easily accessible information, which I possibly might have not seen myself. All my information to you would be actual experiences. Today, we went to the Chief's house to formally introduce ourselves. The Chief's name is Nana Kwame Bih III. He is a nice man and speaks calmly, stammers sometimes. He's made his services available to us. From there, I worked on my questionnaire and my colleague anthropologist went to talk to the people. In the afternoon, we went to Essam - the district capital - to eat. I usually do not take okra but the woman - not asking - serve us with okra and palm nut soup and banku (from corn dough, if you aren't a Ghanaian). So, I have taken my first okra in so many years. There is a small Guest House in the community. And that's where I am lodged and would be for the next three or four days.

Tomorrow I would be testing my questionnaire, fine-tune it again on Friday and start with the GPS data points collection of land use types. Saturday and Sunday would be used for training of enumerators. Actual household data collection would begin on Monday.

Whilst working, I would be reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood in my free times. In addition to this, I - absurdly, because I don't read that much in three weeks back in Accra - brought three novels and a travelogue to be read. I regularly would be updating you on my reading and my activities here with time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two Years of Promoting African Literature

I started blogging in September 2008 with the objective of posting my poems for discussion. What I learnt from this is that people found it hard to objectively critique works, thinking that the author would be hurt. Well, what I did was to dedicate the blog to Haiku. Thinking about it later, I realised that it is too self-serving to post only my poems on the blog. Then on May 11, 2009, I set myself a goal to read only African Writers (fiction and non-fiction) and to promote literary works by Africans. This stems from the fact that most of my readings had been of western, non-African authored books. And it was time to balance the scales.

With this goal came my entry into the Ghanaian literary scene. I had been writing for ten years before making this decision, but it was more of working on the periphery, doing my own thing without learning from others or meeting other writers to share ideas and works. However, my first official post on this blog was a poem of mine titled From New York to Chorkor - an Optimal Time Path. I posted this poem because I had not read any novel to review, neither had I any idea of how I was going to promote African Literature. As fate would have it, Nana Nyarko Boateng, a poet I had seen on youtube and searched for on facebook, invited me to the book reading of a newly launched book by the Ghanaian writer, Ayesha Haruna-Attah, titled Harmattan Rain.  As the first book-reading I attended, I didn't know what to expect. I blogged about the event here on June 16, 2009. Even though, it was about the event, I took it as my first book review, a quasi-review. Before that I had written 'Musings from No Easy Walk by Nelson Mandela'. Working and reading, I saw that if the blog is to be active I needed other subject matters to blog about, so I added social, political and literary articles and its combinations. The first article was on a social issue dealing with the perennial flooding in Accra titled Notes from Our Actions.

During this period, I started buying African-authored books. I was also contacting friends like Martin Egblewogbe and Nana Nyarko Boateng, on the best way to writing book reviews and it wasn't until July 6, 2009 that I would write my first book review. My first book review, senso stricto, was Amma Darko's Not Without Flowers. That year, 2009, I reviewed a total of 24 African authored books covering authors such as Ayi Kwei Armah, Chimamanda Adichie, Chinua Achebe, Camynta Baezie, Kojo Laing, Martin Egblewogbe, Henry Ajumeze, Buchi Emecheta, J.M. Coetzee, Marilyn Heward-Mills and Ben Okri. I also reviewed books about Africa and Africans but not written by African such as V.S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River and David Rooney's Kwame Nkrumah, Vision and Tragedy.

To make the blog lively and to bring the authors closer to my readers, as best as I could, I introduced interviews. My first interview was with Martin Egblewogbe, author of Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God - an eclectic collection of mind-boggling short stories.

The transformation has continued with time and today May 11, 2011, ImageNations is considered one of the foremost blogs on African literature. The blog was listed as one of the best 40 blogs for African Studies students. Through this blog, I have met and interviewed some wonderful authors, met a lot of readers and have inspired others to go into book blogging. Gradually, my objective of promoting African Literature, and vision of transforming this blog into the first stop for materials on African authors are being achieved. I have been contacted by several e-zines who would want me to write for them but for the lack of time I would have accepted them all.

So far I have reviewed 65 African Books and interviewed 19 authors. My review of Healers by Ayi Kwei Armah was published in the peer-reviewed journal The Criterion, A Journal for English. My interview with Nana Awere Damoah was published in the Business and Financial Times and another with Tendai Huchu was published in The Standard in Zimbabwe. I introduced Reading Challenges to push me on this journey and eliminate procrastination. The first challenge was Top 100 Books to be read in five years. Books in this challenge includes non-African authored novels. I did this because my knowledge on Literary Fiction was limited and I needed this to enhance my reviews. The next challenge was the Africa Reading Challenge, which is aimed at reading books from different parts of Africa. Africa is made up of 54 countries; however, if one is not careful one would only be reading books from a few of such countries as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. Conscious effort is required to read wide, even in Africa. The third and final challenge is the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa Region Winners Reading Challenge.

Though I have reviewed several non-African-authored books, the focus would continue to be on African writers. ImageNations would continue to promote African Literature and hope to be around for a very long time. However, this blog would not have been successful without my readers. Thank you all for reading and commenting. The first comment I received was from Abena Serwaa of Ramblings of a Procrastinator in Accra. She was the one who introduced me to Chimamanda; thanks Abena.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

80. Searching by Nawal El Saadawi

Title: Searching
Author: Nawal El Saadawi
Translator: Shirley Eber
Original Language: Arabic
Genre: Novella/Women Issues/Politics
Publisher: Zed Books
Pages: 114
Published: 1968 (English, 1991)
Country: Egypt

Searching, by Nawal El Saadawi, is a story about a woman in search of her vision and purpose in life - for that something she was created to discover - and for his boyfriend who had suddenly disappeared in a politically corrupt, myopic, shambolic and patriarchal state. Fouada is a trained Chemist. She works on nothing at the Ministry of Biochemistry. And this sinecure work is depressing her, pushing her off her vision. Fouada thinks that 'she could not live and die without the world changing at all' but the Ministry is doing nothing to help her contribute or discover something new in terms of laboratory research. Fouada meets Farid 'every Tuesday, at eight in the evening in that small restaurant when the weather was warm, or at his house on cold winter nights' except that this Tuesday Farid did not appear nor would he ever appear. Devastated by his absence and the silence of the telephone and, consequently, the absence of any apologies or reasons, Fouada becomes depressed.

Through her depression, the story of Fouada's life - her fears, her past and her visions are told: her hatred, her love, and her ambivalence towards her father, her vision to add something to the world, and her fears of what might have happened to Farid and even to her state of mind. Through this simple story, Nawal El Saadawi, portrayed the plight of women (and men) in Egypt and the lack of vision of the state. For instance, Fouada was described as hardworking even when she was doing nothing at her workplace. To worsen the situation, Saati - the landlord of an apartment she later hired to establish her own laboratory - told her he would hire her to work with him. There, there would be less to do.

As Fouada searched 'for Farid amongst the people she encountered' in buses on the streets, her frustrations and depression built up. She realised that she knew nothing about Farid - none of his relatives, his parents, the work he did and many more. The only connection between the two is the phone, his apartment and the restaurant. Every phone reminded her of Farid. The five-digit number was virtually sitting on her fingertips ready to be punched. Every thought she thought was linked with or was said by Farid. Things reached a crescendo when the restaurant was broken down by the municipality because the owner lost money and left the place. In its place was to be built a wall with the municipal's name on it. Thus, one of the connections between Fouada and Farid was broken to be replaced by the 'state'. Was Farid real? Was he a person she had met and known? Was he a phantom? As her search for him turned up nothing, she became disillusioned and isolated, bordering on mental breakdown. She questioned her mentality and the reality of Farid: 'maybe he was an illusion, a dream?' Finally, Fouada's source of encouragement, of financial support - her mother - also died.

As is characteristic of the Arab Women writers I have read, men were not spared in this short piece. Fouada's loathing for her father was palpable. I almost stopped reading, when I thought the pedantic and trite use of male characters was going too far; though the prose was excellent. Besides, though not the caricatured features of men but the inherent lordly nature they pose was seemingly real and not necessarily trite even in the twenty-first century. About Fouada's father, Nawal writes:
Her father was dead and she had perhaps been a little happy when he died, although not for any particular reason; her father had been nothing particular in her life. He was simply a father, but she was happy, because she felt that her mother was happy. Some days later, she heard her say that he hadn't been much use. She was totally convinced of her words. Of what use had her father been.
She continues
Her father flooded the bathroom when he took a bath, soaked the living-room when he left the bathroom, threw his dirty clothes everywhere, raised his gruff voice from time to time, coughed and spat a lot, and blew his nose loudly. His handkerchief was very large and always filthy. Her mother put it in boiling water and said to her: 'That's to get rid of germs.' ... That day, the teacher had asked the class: 'where are these things (germs) to be found, girls?' ... 'Do you know where germs are found, Fouada?' Fouada got to her feet, head above the other girls, and said in a loud, confident voice, 'Yes, miss. Germs are found in my father's handkerchief.' (Page 14)
And in this vein all the men, except Farid whose representation is more symbolic of the subtle fights against the government than a real character, were described. Both the Director at the Ministry and Saati - her landlord - were portly with grave descriptions. When Fouada saw the Director emerging from the car, she first saw
the pointed, black tip of a man's shoe, attached to a short thin grey-clad leg, then a large, white, conical head with a small, smooth patch in the centre, reflecting the sunlight like a mirror; square, grey shoulders emerged next, followed by the second, short, thin leg ... This body, emerging limb by limb, reminded her of a birth she had seen when she was a child. ... She saw the body laboriously climb the stairs. On each step, it paused, as if to catch its breath, and jerked its neck back. The large head swayed as if it would fall ... (Page 8/9)
Seeing Saati through the pin-hole in the door, Fouada saw his
Portly body was leaning against the window supported by legs that were thin, like those of a large bird. His eyes - now like a frog's, she thought - darted behind the thick glasses. It seemed to her that before her was a strange type of unknown terrestrial reptile - that might be dangerous. (Page 82)
At a subliminal we could reduce all the characters into symbols. The caricatured men are the overlords, the dictators and their laws that coil around the young and stifle progress. Couldn't young Fouada and Farid themselves represent the youth whose energy and vibrancy do not permit them to sit and partake in the rot of the society? Or the rusty old Ministry itself a representation of a nation that is fast losing its grandeur to corruption and laziness? Could this be the interpretation of Saadawi's novella?

At only 114 pages, this novella packs  a lot within its pages. Recommended for all.
Brief Bio: Nawal El Saadawi - Egyptian novelist, doctor and militant writer on Arab women's problems and their struggle for liberation - was born in the village of Kafr Tahla. Refusing to accept the limitations imposed by both religious and colonial oppression on most women of rural origin, she qualified as a doctor in 1955 from University of Cairo and rose to become Director of Public Health. Since she began to write, her books have concentrated on women. In 1972, her first work of non-fiction, Women and Sex, evoked the antagonism of highly placed political and theological authorities, dismissing her. Later, in 1980 as a culmination of the long war she had fought for Egyptian women's social and intellectual freedom - an activity that had closed all avenues of official jobs to her - she was imprisoned under the Sadat regime. She has since devoted her time to being a writer, journalist and worldwide speaker on women's issues. (More here)

ImageNations Rating: 5.5 out of 6.0

Monday, May 09, 2011

79. The Secret Destiny of America by Manly P. Hall

My penchant for asking questions, for seeking the news behind the news have led me to reading many varied and 'beyond the borders' books. And The Secret Destiny of America by Manly P. Hall is one of such books, the kind many referred to as Conspiracy Theories. A word created to prevent people from asking questions and seeking answers. Suddenly gone, were the days when seekers of truth and knowledge were called philosophers, like Plato, Socrates, Kant and many others. Today, asking such questions lead to the label 'Conspiracy Theorists'. Where there are no conspiracies there would be no theories to formulate. In fact, I have had friends questioned my objectivity in criticising that which sound illogical to me. In my language we say that the person who loves you is the one that criticises you the most. At least the import of this is quite clear. Why shouldn't I question why rebels in Libya were able to set up a Central Bank just before the uprising? why shouldn't I questioned the interest of the French in Cote d'Ivoire? is it because they love the people? Just that? why should I take it as absolute truth - one beyond questioning - the reasons why certain individuals were calling on the president of the United States to show his birth certificate? What interest do they have in asking for it? Why shouldn't I seek the reason why Building 7 collapsed even though no plane passed through it during the abominable 9/11? Why shouldn't I question why some people's lives seem to be worth more than others? 

There is a politics of words which is gradually entrapping us, making us fearful to act. For instance, if I care about the common man I am a Communist or, mildly, a Socialist. But if I think about my self, seeking ways to enrich myself even if it is at the expense of my brother, my country, my continent, my world, my ecosystem, my very survival, I am a capitalist. Today being a Capitalist is synonymous to being Rational. Governments are afraid of formulating policies that helps society at large for fear of being tagged Socialist. Obama was tagged a socialist when he implemented the TARP - Troubled Asset Relief Program. In fact people are not afraid of helping one another, they are afraid of names.

The Secret Destiny of America is a book consisting of two previously published books: The Secret Destiny of America (1944) and America's Assignment with Destiny (1951). The first part tells of how America was used as a platform to launch an ideal state, a form of utopia, where freedoms are respected and from where democracy - something the ancient keepers of knowledge has been working at - would begin to spread. In all these we see the 'spiritual' side of this destiny. Names of individuals who helped in the realisation of this dream were mentioned. Here the true nature of the man Francis Bacon and Christopher Columbus were unveiled. However, behind all these are the workings of a secret societies, the Freemasons and earlier ones. From Egyt to Greece, Aztecs to the Mayas, and then to America, Hall connects the dots. Sounding warnings and proposing theories that reminds me greatly of Ayi Kwei Armah, Hall writes
Competition is natural to the ignorant; and cooperation is natural to the wise. (Page 44)
Lack of cooperation would make the building of a man of nobility would be impossible.
We can not hope to build a nobility of man upon the sterility of a narrow, competitive, materialistic educational policy.
 In this book, Hall - who himself was a Mason - elaborately writes of how America is to lead the way and the qualities required to do this. For instance, he stated that 
The Mayas were not a warlike people, and there is no support for popular belief that they were by nature cruel or barbaric. (Page 87)
and then
It is believed that the Mayas hold the world record for continued peace. They flourished as a great nation five hundred years without war with other tribes or internal strife. (Page 87)
And how could a nation such as this have lived without wars when we are told that from war cometh peace? When the very people supposedly chosen to lead dabble themselves in Wars? Hall continues
The Mayan nation was a collective commonwealth living under an advanced form of socialized order. They possessed all goods in common, and shared equally in the benefits of their production. They possessed no money or monetary symbol of any kind; and it has been suggested that this lack of currency was in part responsible for their five hundred years of peace. ... There seems to have been no poverty, and little if any crime. No buildings have been found which suggest prisons or other places of confinement. (Page 88)
And how much truer could this be? What are the causes of all these strife we have with us presently? Yet, one could not ask questions without being labelled. Unlike Jim Marris's Rule by Secrecy which considers Secret Societies as a clandestine organisation with world dominance as the key, Hall shows how philosophers and selfless individuals, working in the inner chambers of these organisations, work to put the world in order. To create the kind of world talked about by Plato and practiced by the great Egyptian Kings. 

The second book America's Assignment with Destiny was less interesting but equally educative and answered most of my questions. In the Foreword, Manly writes:
The light of the ancient Vedas is slowly but surely illuminating the whole world. The vision of man's noble destiny and the sacred sciences which made it possible the realization of that vision have been guarded and served by "the silent Ones of the earth". (Page 145)
He went on to say that we are gradually heading towards peace. At that point I had a problem: Could peace be achieved through military might, through covet operations, wars, motivated coups, organised and carried-out coups? If such visions are noble why aren't countries allowed to willingly adapt and adopt them? Again, I also perceived that Manly's utopian world would only be attained through capitalism and if so how could this lead to peace if the Mayas engaged in peace for 500 years because of the lack of a capitalist system? However, Manly provided some answers:
Progress is not bound inevitably to any nation or people. Social and political structures are instruments for the advancement of the Great Work only to the degree that they keep the faith. If ambition or selfishness breaks the bond, the privilege of guardianship is forfeited. This does not mean that the project fails; rather, that which fails the project loses the privilege of leadership. The Plan then passes to the keeping of other groups and other ages. (Page 148)
Reading further, Manly clearly shows that selfishness, materialism, personal ambitions, impedes the Great Plan but does not destroy the plan. If the oil that moves the country chosen to lead the world into peace is sales of military accoutrement and equipments, how could peace be attained? The shedding of blood to these countries would mean economic growth, so long as the war is not within its borders.

This is an interesting book. In it we learn the history of the United States from a different perspectives. Not the usual history book but one that offers a lot of things to think about. If you are not offended by the Occult and Secret Societies, you might enjoy it. However, if you believe in the lay-man history and believe in whatever you are told, please pass it by. This is book is not for you.

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Wonnim owuo a, hwε nna.
Translation: If you don't know death, then look at sleep.
Usage: If you can't see the original, then you can at least study something similar. Usually this is said to people who are taking early signs of bad events lightly.
No. 4386 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al. 
Caveat: texts in red are my own explanation.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Love, MadaGhana, A New Poetry Anthology by Crystal Tettey

The literary scene in Ghana is currently buzzing. Usually, one expects the older generation to lead the way but in their absence, in their inability to point the way or nurture the younger generation, the latter has taken the stage by thrust, redefining literature in their own unique way.

A new and fantastic collection of poetry, Love, MadaGhana by Crystal Tetteyhas just been published and launched. In this collection, the artist pays homage to the rich heritages of her double origins: Madagascar and Ghana, hence the title Love, MadaGhana. The book aims at celebrating diversity via Madagascar and Ghana. Love, MadaGhana is full of imagery that inspires, elevates and colours the imagination. The launch took place on Friday, April 29 2011 at the Highgate Hotel in Accra, Ghana

About the Poet: Crystal Fanantenana Ranaivo-Tettey is a member of EhaLaKasa; a group of Spoken Word artists whose emphasis is on performing Poetry for positive social transformation. She is a Poet, Singer and Human Rights Advocate. Crystal is fluent in 3 international languages English, French and Russian. 

Her performances include features at Eha-Lakasa Poetry Mega Fiesta 2010, Bless The Mic – BTM: Ghana editions, Ghana Goes 2010 (an event dedicated by artists to the Ghanaian national team via football-themed performances), the Eha-Lakasa Poetry Slam 2009, and an NT1 Poetry Gala dubbed The Wordsmiths 2008 (a night of Contemporary Poetry and Music). 

She was also the Opening Act at DECIBELS (a concert organized by Canoe Magazine and featuring International Acts Nneka, Gena West, Bibie Brew and Efya). 
She starred in the 2007 DWIB Leukemia Trust Fundraiser Play/Adaptation of the animation “The prince of Egypt”, where she played the role of Yocheved.

Some of her published works can be found in “An Anthology of Contemporary Ghanaian Poems” (Woeli Publishing Services, 2004), “Face to Face - Poems and Short Stories about a Virus” (Goethe Institut, Woeli Publishing Services, 2004) and in “Sun and Snow Anthology”, Rhythm Foundation/project (funds raised towards developing the Dixcove hospital located outside Takoradi in Ghana), 2010. 

will be available from Monday, 9th May 2011 at Smoothies, Osu, Nubuke Foundation, Goethe Institute and the Silverbird Lifestyle store, Accra MallPlans are in place to get copies to the University of Ghana, Legon Bookshop.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Manly P. Hall's The Secret Destiny of America

I would be reviewing this book over the weekend. Manly P. Hall writes about the influence of Secret Societies on the rise of America and the destiny that America has in the wider scheme of things. Himself a Mason, Manly writes with the conviction of one who knows and not just knows but deeply knows. He minces no words.

Competition is natural to the ignorant; and cooperation is natural to the wise. Obeying the pattern established by the gods, the divine kings bound themselves into the common league to obey its laws, preserve peace, and punish any whose ambition might impel them to tyranny or conquest. (Page 44)

Wise men are naturally endowed with the qualities of rulership, but they have had little if any voice in the rulership of the world; their voices have been heard only after the men themselves were dead. Plato lives thus today, and his words have a greater vitality in this century than they did in his time in ancient Athens. (Page 50)

We cannot hope to build a nobility of man upon the sterility of a narrow, competitive, materialistic educational policy. The ignorance of man has been his undoing. Only wisdom can restore him to his divine estate. (Page 51)

"The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible." (Page 82)

[G]ood things must be brought about slowly and opportunely if they are to survive public inertia and opposition. (Page 117)

No human being who is moved to action through wrong motivations, or misuses the privileges of his times, can be regarded as educated, regardless of the amount of formal schooling he has received. (Page 138)

The Greek law giver Solon declared that in the ideal State laws are few and simple, because they have been derived from certainties. In the corrupt State, laws are many and confused, because they have been derived from uncertainties. These corrupt laws are like the web of a spider which catches small insects but permits the stronger creatures to break through and escape. (Page 138)

The half-truth is the most dangerous form of lie, because it can be defended in part by incontestable logic. Wherever the body of learning is broken up, the fragments become partial truths. We live in a day of partial truths; and until we remedy the condition we must suffer the inevitable consequences of division. (Page 139)

According to the Ancients, religion, philosophy, and science are the three parts of essential learning. Not one of these parts is capable if separated from the rest, of assuring the security of the human state. A government based upon one or even two of these parts must ultimately degenerate into a tyranny, either of men or of opinion. (Page 139)

Modern scholars have accepted, without proper reflection, a fabrication of lies fashioned to deceive and to prevent the recognition of facts detrimental, even dangerous, to the ulterior motives of powerful  interests. (Page 186)

For eighteen years that he filled this office (as Grand Inquisitor), Torquemada averaged ten thousand executions annually. (Page 230)

The theory of freedom could be preserved by Secret Societies, but the practice of freedom required the cooperation of an enlightened people dedicated to a lofty ethical standard. (Page 240)

Wherever religious inducements are personal and selfish or the devotee is encouraged to advance his own growth without consideration for others, there is something wrong with the policy of the sect. (Page 241)

Education can be conferred by schools and universities, but enlightenment must still result from internal growth. Without proper development of his superphysical resources, the individual cannot protect his physical rights and privileges. (Page 241)

Progress of society always demands that the human being as a person be in advance of the institutions which he creates. When leadership passes to the keeping of external enterprises, the person becomes a slave to his own project. (Page 241)

Personal ambitions, liberated by the new code of freedom, immediately began to dream of supremacy. A vast concept, highly competitive in principle and highly destructive in practice, perpetuated most of the instruments of the old tyranny. (Page 242)

Having overcome the despotism of entrenched classes, humanity discovered the despotism in itself. It was faced with the unhappy realization that tyrannical systems are only symbols of those tyrannical instincts which exist in all creatures until they are overcome by enlightened understanding. (Page 242)

The great tree of knowledge, which is knowledge, with its twelve branches, is for the healing of the nations. Who shall say that it has revealed the fullness of its benefits? (Page 244)

The forces opposing the essential progress of humanity are always embodiments of the three great enemies: ignorance, superstition, and fear. ... Ignorance is the state of insufficient knowledge. The concept is relative, but sufficient knowledge is that which is superior to whatever circumstances may prevail. Superstition is addiction to that which is untrue. The prevailing superstition is the acceptance of materialism, an acceptance which is indefensible and undemonstrable. Fear is man's anxiety over the consequences of his own actions, becoming the victim of the collective conduct of his own kind. (Page 245)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

dry earth

dry earth* 
the shriveled life line 
of a worm

*Published in Frogpond 32:2 Spring/Summer edition 2009. I keep a Haiku blog here. Visit me there if you are interested in Haiku.

Monday, May 02, 2011

78. Fela, This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore

Title: Fela, This Bitch of a Life
Author: Carlos Moore
Genre: Biography
Publisher: Cassava Republic
Pages: 343
Year of Publication: 1982 (this edition, 2010)
Country: Nigeria (of Subject), Cuba (of author)

Fela, This Bitch of a Life is a biographical autobiography of one of Africa's most talented, philosophical and no-nonsense musician, Fela Ransome-Kuti (later Fela Anikulapo-Kuti or simply Fela Kuti) - a musical genius whose music ring true today as it did during their time of composition. Biographical in the sense that the author is Carlos Moore and autobiographical because Fela speaks in the first person, I.

Written in the first person - in the speech of Fela - Carlos Moore, a man who himself had been exiled from his country by criticising the government's race policies, treats us to a deeper, fractal, ever-controversial, sometimes contradictory mind of Fela. Fela, during the period when his life was at risk from the governments of Nigeria, called upon Moore to write down his life's works, his thoughts and his beliefs. In effect, Fela wanted to preserve his life before he dies, especially since he was thinking of 'cancelling his life'. Published in 1982, it was not until 1997 that Fela died and within this period a lot of incidences occurred that Moore has added in an epilogue.

Fela's musical career span over three decades. It began as Highlife Jazz, which was a mix of James Brown-like rhythms and Jazz. However, it was not until he met a girl named Sandra who introduced him to the struggle of the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X's autobiography in the US that Fela became political in his music, which led to the birth of his popular rhythms Afro Beats. Speaking through his songs for the masses and against corrupt governments of Nigeria, both civilian and military, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti - a man whose name translates as He who emanates greats (Fela), who has control over death (Anikulapo) and who cannot be killed by man (Kuti) - identified himself with the bourgeoisies: living with them and experiencing whatever they were experiencing. And why would a man who could have got anything he wanted live such a life? This was how enigmatic the man was. His elder and younger brothers were both medical doctors, his sister a head nurse in a private hospital, and his mother - Fumilayo - was perhaps the first African woman to visit the iron-curtain countries of USSR, East Berlin, and China and the first woman to drive an automobile in Nigeria. She was influential politically, organising women into groups to stress for their rights. And his father was a Reverend and a disciplinarian. Yet, Fela, believing he was an Abiku - or a twice born - chose to fight for the masses. 

Fighting corrupt governments with songs like ITT (International Thief Thief); VIP (Vagabonds in Power); Zombie; Mr Follow Follow; Sorrows, Tears and Blood; Unknown Soldier; Stalemate, this musician of world fame sang songs devoid of euphemisms and metaphors that laced the songs of his mentor, James Brown, and his contemporary, Bob Marley. He received his most nefarious crackdown at the hands of his own Yoruba man, the former president of Nigeria - Olusengu Obasanjo. His communal compound, Kalakuta Republic, which housed all his bandsmen and women and people who straggled in in search of a place to sleep and be free, was raided several times. The greatest of these raids took place in February 1977 when most of his bands women - dancers and singers - were raped, beaten, broken, battered, and his mother was thrown out of the window. This was to later lead to Fumilayo's death. Fela's fight against government corruption is similar to that of his cousin, the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka as written in his memoir You Must Set Forth At Dawn.

All these broke not the man. However, his resolve dropped a fervour and the artiste became slightly delusional and resorted to consulting spirits, when his mother died. Having always seen his mother as perhaps, the purveyor of his life-force, Fela became what the three thousand parental strokes and the uncountable police brutalities couldn't do to him. The man became broken.

One unique thing about Fela is that, his anti-establishment ideas, his fights for the common good of the common man, against the corruption of the day was not a way to gain popularity and earn profits. He was against the large music corporations who take music, commercialise it into a profiteering enterprise. He opposed this to his death and even when he lay in cold penury he rejected a multi-million dollar contract, seeing his mission as one of empowerment. 

The edition I have is one that contains the 'black pages'. And as such I enjoyed Fela's conversations with his spirit mother. In this biography cum autobiography, we are treated to interviews with all his wives who remained with him even at the point where he was not able to look after them the best way that he had. And here what one feels is a far cry from the usual prose of women who write against polygamous marriage.

Carlos Moore's writing of Fela's biography is unique. The text are sparse and simulates how the musician, perhaps, speaks. In fact, Fela, when alive referred to the book as 'my book' and not 'the book about me'. As one read it one feels like he is the musician, for the texts are devoid of literary stylistics but presents the words  just as they had been spoken. The whole book reads like one great interview with Fela on several topics. Nothing is written in complex sentences as we don't speak in such winding and inverted way. Replete with the 'f' word and more, this is a highly recommended book for those who are not offended by these words.
Carlos Moore, author
Brief Bio: Carlos Moore was born and raised in Cuba but banished for three decades from his native land as a result of his opposition to the racial policies of the Castro regime. He holds two PhDs in Human Sciences and in Ethnology. He is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Graduate Studies and Research of the University of West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica.

Fluent in give languages - Spanish, French, English Portuguese and Creole), he went on to specialise in African, Latin-American and Caribbean affairs. His expertise is in the impact of race dynamics on society and on international affairs. Moore was involved with the initial phase of the Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture of 1977 (FESTAC), working in Lagos, Nigeria, where he came into contact with legendary pan-Africanist and musical genius, Fela Kuti, whose biography (This Bitch of a Life) he wrote in 1982. (More Here)

ImageNations: 5.5 out of 6.0

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Adeε hia ɔdεnkyεm a, ɔdidi nsuo mu na ɔnnidi kwaeε mu.
Translation: When the crocodile is hard-pressed, it eats in the water and not in the forest.
Usage: However difficult the conditions are you don't act beyond your domain.
No. 1734 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Great Novel: Should Writers Quest for it?

Most writers are always known for a particular book no matter the number of books they write. So when we mention George Orwell, we think of 1984 (and sometimes Animal Farm), when Chinua Achebe is mentioned everybody thinks of Things Fall Apart (even though I believe Arrow of God, the last of the African Trilogy, is his best novel), When Chimamanda is mentioned, the novel is Half of a Yellow Sun. Alan Paton, though wrote several books, is known basically for Cry, the Beloved Country.

Whenever a writer's first book happens to be accepted by the critics as a great book, it is almost always the case that the writer is unable to match this earlier success. It is in the quest to better Catch-22, that Heller wrote the Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man, describing his frustrations* in an attempt to achieve the success that Catch-22 brought. However, some writers like Jonathan Franzen has achieved this feat. His second novel, Freedom, has followed the success of Corrections. I am leaving out those who write in series like J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter Series.

The question this weekend is: Should writers write in quest of a great novel or a masterpiece? And for those who have achieved one in their writing career, whilst alive, should they work with the aim to better this? Wouldn't this put the writer under severe and unnecessary pressure? Couldn't it even lead to writers' block or whatever it is they call that inability to think and write? How should this person approach writing?
*Haven't yet read this novel. Statement here is based on what the blurb says.
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