Humanities 211
Culture(s) & Literature of Africa
(Oral Arts &  Film)
Cora Agatucci

6 October 1998: Learning Resources

Student Writing  Humanities 211 Student Writing
On this web page
author-title table of contents
Critical Reviews
Discussion Papers Praise Poems
more student writing about Africa

Critical Reviews
Chris Buhrig: "Critical Review: HIV, AIDS and Africa" Fall 1998
Chris Shepherd: "Critical Review: The Validity of Christian Missions
    in Sub-Saharan Africa"
Fall 1998
Mary Uhland: [On Imperialistic Travel Writing] Fall 1998
Unsigned by Student Request: "Female Genital Mutilation:
    Is Intervention Necessary?"
Fall 1998

Discussion Papers 
Dawn Hendrix: "The Past to Future Keita" Fall 1998
Heidi Klaus: "Comparison of Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Teachings
with Biblical Psalms and Proverbs" 
Fall 2000
Chris Shepherd: "Things Fall Apart: The Loss
of a Tribe's Livelihood
Fall 1998
Eli Smith: "The Significance of the Griot" Fall 2000
Valerie Verley: "An Effort to Be Made or Abandoned" Fall 1996
Michelle Wallace: "A Journey Through My Glasses" Fall 1998

Praise Poems
Fall 2000 Dialogue #2 Directions: Praise Poem

Andrew [first name only by student request]: "A Praise Song"
Anonymous1 [by student request]: "[Her] African Praise Song" [AKA: fancy obituary]
Anonymous2 [by student request]: "She Who Waits"
Jillian Cook: "Jillian, The Animal Medicine Woman"
Cora [first name only by student request]:  [Untitled]
Laura Dunaway: "In Praise of Laura"
Kevin Dunn: [Untitled]
Dale Elder: "Setribo, the Animalboy"
Jake [first name only by student request]:  "Praise Song"
James Maxey: "Praise James"
Amanda Pacheco: "Praise Song"
Eli Smith: "EAZ, the Spinner of Words"
Cathy Stafford: [Untitled] 
Kendall Voget: [Untitled] 

More Student Writing 
African Cultures & Literatures, Spring 2000:  

Fall 2000 Praise Poems Fall 2000
Dialogue #2: Praise Poem (Directions)

[first name only by student request]

A Praise Song


After the martyr
Troubled Eyes
Mind of Pictures
Heart of Mercy
Whose Fingers dance upon strings
Whose hands guide the pen
Gatherer of Steel


Line 1.    Andrew (My name)
Line 2.    After the martyr (Apparently, one of our great ancestors [also named Andrew?] was hung for a crime for which he was later proved innocent.)
Line 3.    Troubled Eyes  (Born with no muscles above eyes: could not look upwards.)
Line 4.    Frustration (Refers to the fact that [for] whole life, [Andrew? I?]  haven't been able to fully fulfill dreams.)
Line 5.    Mind of Pictures (Colorful vivid imagination, creative)
Line 6.    Heart of Mercy (Forgiving of transgressions)
Line 7.    Whose Fingers dance upon strings (Plays guitar and music)
Line 8.    Whose hands guide the pen (Loves to draw, artist)
Line 9.    Gatherer of Steel (Collects swords and other blades)
Line 10.   Patience (Knowing that soon I will finally be able to use my talent and be what I want to be)

© Held by student: Published first name only with Student Permission, 2000

Anonymous 1
[unsigned by student request]

[Her] African Praise Song[s]
AKA: fancy obituary

A girl born after two boys & alongside one
     dad said as a wish come true for mom.
Lover of all and any animal, to the point where she would each
      none (for many more reasons than one)
Her favorite & most loved--being her best friend & companion
      through counteless days of travel, growth & change.
     (wagging her tail & sporting her smile each step of the way)
Jessi was this friend's name & the endless love was shown
      by an inscription on her skin up until her
      carriage was all but ash.
Up until that day, [she] was surrounded by love &
       energy created through her own private colorful jungle.
Protected, blessed, fortunate, & full
       [her] life was lived only to move onto the next journey.
~ [her name]
    Wandering turtle
    out of place always
 ~ lover of all spirits & beings       
    through all walks of life.
    fortunate on her way
     protected be it may
~ lover of all spirits & beings       

© Held by student: Published anonymously with Student Permission, 2000

Anonymous 2
[unsigned by student request]

She Who Waits

Call: Response:
She who waits
Time goes slow 
All is lost 
This she knows
Hopes for heaven
The other side


Line 1.  She who waits  (The individual's Praise Name)
Line 2.   Time goes slow (Stating that she must wait) 
Line 3.   All is lost (No longer having hope) 
Line 4.   Hopes for heaven (Meeting up again.)
Response:   The other side (Place to reunite.)

© Held by student: Published anonymously with Student Permission, 2000

Jillian Cook
Jillian, Animal medicine woman

Call: Response:
Jillian Animal medicine woman
Born in snow Animal medicine woman
Of Dane and Scot Animal medicine woman
With Wolf I walk Animal medicine woman
Helper of the animals Animal medicine woman


Line 1.   Jillian (The individual's name )
Line 2.   Born in snow (I came into this world early, in a snow bank outside the hospital.)
Line 3.   Of Dane and Scot (I come from Danish and Scottish ancestry.)
Line 4.   With Wolf I walk (My companion and protector and in some ways my spiritual guide is my wolf-hybrid.)
Line 5.   Helper of animals (My social role in life when I have attained my full humanness on my life journey will be Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.) 

© Jillian Cook, 2000

[first name only by student request]


Cora of cora
Driving winds
Green soil
Dedicated souls
Warm touch
Driven hands
Brilliant laughter


Line 1.   Cora of cora (My name and my namesake.  I am named after my maternal great grandmother, a small strong woman.)
Line 2.    Driving winds  (Refers to the amount of traveling that I have done, and have yet to do.  The majority of my travles has been done via car and takes me to the most wonderful places.)
Line 3.    Green soil  (My mother has grown plants since the beginning, her loe for the earth and what it has to offer has transferred to me.  I enjoy touching and seeing things never altered by man.)
Line 4.    Dedicated souls (My family has taught me that accomplishing things I begin, and doing the best that I can is something that will carry me well through my lifetime.)
Line 5.    Warm touch (During my life, I have been accepted and cared for by every family member; I believe this makes a person confidant and able to live a comfortable happy life.  I wish to carry this trait on and touch everyone I care about with warmth.)
Line 6.    Driven hands (My parents and brother [my immediate family] drive the whole country.  They cover hundreds of thousands of miles a year: when the north gets too cold for safe driving, they move to the south and drive some more - this is all work related.)
Line 7.    Brilliant laughter (My appreciation for sunsets and the colors tha the earth contains.  There are as many different colors as there are words.  Laughter combines and calms the colors of the soul.)

© Held by student: Published first name only [ anonymously] with Student Permission, 2000

Laura Dunaway
In Praise of Laura

Call: Response:
Laura  In Praise of Laura
Birth with Jesus Christ   In Praise of Laura
Full head of hair  In Praise of Laura
Tenth sign of the zodiac In Praise of Laura
Hungarian magic In Praise of Laura
Small country community In Praise of Laura
Loveable, Lazy In Praise of Laura
Tragedy of life In Praise of Laura
Service Leadership In Praise of Laura
The commander and the idealist In Praise of Laura


Line 1.   Laura (The individual's name)
Line 2.   Birth with Jesus Christ  (She was born 2 days before the day Jesus was said to have been born.  It was Dec. 23 when she arrived.)
Line 3.   Full head of hair (She was born with an unusual amount of long, dark hair on her head.)
Line 4.   Tenth sign of the zodiac (She is a Capricorn astrologically and this has had a spiritual influence in her life.)
Line 5.   Hungarian magic (Her great, great grandfather was a famous magician of Hungarian ancestry.)
Line 6.   Small country community (Camp Sherman, a little community in Central Oregon, is where she spent a good portion of her childhood.  It is also a place where some of her best memories were created.)
Line 7.   Loveable, Lazy (Her totem is the domestic cat because like the cat she is loveable, lazy and can be a bit frisky at times.) 
Line 8.   Tragedy of life (When two of her pet dogs died, that was the first time she had experienced death and it was a wake up call for her.)
Line 9.   Service Leadership (She has always been socially sensitive to the less fortunate and last year she became a volunteer with Americorp to help those who need it in her community.)
Line 10. The commander and the idealist (Her brother is a year younger than she and they have shared many experiences and they do share some character traits.  He has a commanding nature to him.  Her friend, who is her age, has some shared affinities and character traits with her.  The friend is an idealist.)

© Laura Dunaway, 2000

Kevin Dunn

Kevin Dunn
Older brother of two
Native of Tacoma Washington
Role model to two
Trekked many miles
Friend of twins
Son of Lee and Dunn
Lover of Fishing


Line 1.   Kevin Dunn (My name )
Line 2.   Older brother of two (Oldest boy in the family with two younger brothers Sean and Andrew.)
Line 3.   Native of Tacoma Washington (Lived in Tacoma until I was 10 years old, then moved to Eugene, Oregon.  I had to meet new people and start over again.)
Line 4.    Role model to two (I have to be a role model to my two younger brothers, helping them to follow the correct path.)
Line 5.    Trekked many miles (I have walked or hiked many miles with my father, Boy Scout troop, and my dog.  This activity has brought me peace of mind, friendship, and many great memories.)
Line 6.    Friend of twins (My two best friends are twins who have showed and taught me a lot of different things.) 
Line 7.   Son of Lee and Dunn (I am a son of Janet Lee and John Dunn.)
Line 8.   Lover of Fishing (I have loved the sport of fishing; it consumes many days of my life.)

© Kevin Dunn, 2000

Dale Elder

Setribo, the Animalboy

Possibility of snow
High Desert Basin of Oregon
People of the Alkali
Keeper of the flock


Line 1.   Setribo (Second of three boys.)
Line 2.   Possibility of snow (There was a possibility of snow the winter day I was born.)
Line 3.   High Desert Basin of Oregon (I was born on the High Desert in the Great Basin region of Oregon.)
Line 4.    Haggard  (People working hard and getting nowhere.)
Line 5.    People  of the Alkali (Alkali soil surrounds the area I am from.)
Line 6.    Keeper of the flock (I am an animal tender, an ancestral tradition of my family.)

© Dale Elder, 2000

[first name only by student request]

Praise Song 

Call: Response:
Jake Meow on don dayo
Evolving from snowflake to snowman   Star, Sun, Moon, dayo
A call to travel
ease Cross the sea for many dayo
simplicity ya yo
whose family has been chosen Maka laka Hen Heart
Taka saka fraka tea mart
student of art Tender in the knee
perhaps one day Grandpa Tele Tele, Tele, Tele
Together (a sly kind of laugh):
heee! heee!  heee!  


Line 1.   Jake (my name )
Line 2.   Evolving from snowflake to snowman (meaning that I come from a cold climate and will until I become an old man.) 
Line 3.   A call to travel (because I am a wonder [wanderer?] by heart.)I 
Line 4.   ease (because that's the way I like things to be.) 
Line 5.   simplicity (this is how I always want things to be.) 
Line 6.   whose family has been chosen (because my family has gone through situations that were fully in the hands of the divine power.)
Line 7.   student of art (because I throw pottery on the whell and also enjoy various forms of art.)
Line 8.   perhaps one day Grandpa Tele (because I telemark ski and one day hope to pass on the skill and know how to younger children.)

© Held by student: Published first name only [ anonymously] with Student Permission, 2000

James Maxey

Praise James

Bright shining sun
Wise of places afar
Mountain lion
Believer of herb


Line 1.   James (My name)
Line 2.   Bright shining sun (This is because of my astrological sign.  I am a Leo and he is the ruler of the sun.)  
Line 3.   Wise of places afar  (Because I am from many different places, I have never born born and raised in the same place.)
Line 4.    Mountain lion (The mountains are one of my favorite places to be, and me being Leo the lion makes me a mountain lion.) 
Line 5.    Believer of herb (Because I believe all herb that bears seed on this Mother Earth is a great gift to humankind and creates a positive force between people.) 

© James Maxey, 2000

Amanda Pacheco
Praise Song

Feet before head
Journey Afar
Stubborn Taurus
Leader of Youth
Lover of Dreams


Line 1.   Amanda (The individual's name)
Line 2.   Feet before head (I never think before I do something, or I take action before thinking.)
Line 3.   Journey Afar (I have traveled to place; I have experienced different places.  I traveled to Mexico to visit my family.  I have lived in California in many places.)
Line 4.    Stubborn Taurus (I was born in April and I am a very stubborn person.  Taurus is an animal that is tough and not moving at all.)
Line 5.    Leader of Youth (I am a member of OLI and work with children.)
Line 6.    Lover of Dreams (I wrote this because I like to dream.)

© Amanda Pacheco, 2000

Eli Smith
EAZ, the Spinner of Words

The Sun Behind the Clouds
Quiet Precision that Silences
Shooter of words that beat the arrow
Soaked with Trouble
Speaker of Consequence


Line 1.   EAZ  (Name given because of easy personality and calmness )
Line 2.   The Sun Behind the Clouds  (Creates words that remind others that there is a sun, and a better day, behind the clouds.)
Line 3.   Quiet Precision that Silences  (Words spoken softly that may calm the greatest of storms.)
Line 4.    Shooter of words that beat the arrow  (Can express the words to someone and have it hit the heart faster than any arrow from Cupid's bow.)
Line 5.    Soaked with Trouble (Have many experiences that got me in trouble, but made me wider.)
Line 6.    Speaker of Consequence (Speaks about punishment that I went through, hoping someone will learn from my actions .)

© Eli Smith, 2000

Cathy Stafford

Call: Response:
Woman of 4 daughters Giving woman
Wife of many years   Giving woman
Student of college Giving woman
Seller of cosmetics Giving woman


Line 1.   Woman of 4 daughters  (I have 4 children)
Line 2.   Wife of many years  (Married 7 years.)
Line 3.   Student of college  (Obvious.)
Line 4.    Seller of cosmetics  (Sells Mary Kay.) 

© Cathy Stafford, 2000

Kendall Voget

Last girl
Sunny ~ side ~ up
Bear Creek
Lovingly open


Line 1.   Kendall (The individual's name )
Line 2.   Last girl (Four older sisters and one younger brother.)
Line 3.   Sunny ~ side ~ up (I was going to come out but first until they stuck a huge metal thing inside my mom to turn me around.)
Line 4.    Elephant (I have always felt a strong connection to elephants and could have been one in some other life.)
Line 5.    Bear Creek (My parents built our house next to Bear Creek and it has provided an abundant source of water for my mom's beautiful gardens and ponds.)
Line 6.    Lovingly open (I choose these words to describe my best friend because she opened my eyes to many new optimistic ways of viewing things and her heart is full of love.)

© Kendall Voget, 2000

TOP of this page

Fall 1998 Discussion Papers Fall 2000

Dawn Hendrix
Fall 1998

The Past to Future Keita

[Keita: the Heritage of the Griot, ten years later] Camera focuses on Mabo Keita, a handsome young man, graduating from college with a degree in literature and film. He has a far away look in his eyes. The camera zooms into the audience to Mabo’s aging proud mother and father. The camera zooms back into the back of the crowd to the out of place Hunter of Do and Djeliba, who has not seemed to age. Mabo steps from his peers and accepts the degree. The crowd cheers. Later that night, as Mabo is returning from a party he sees a strange shadow pass his window. Then he hears a sound like the wind rustling the palm leaves. He rises from his bed and goes into the night. Djeliba is waiting.

"Greetings Mabo," says Djeliba in his native Jula language.

"Djeliba is that you? You are looking well. Why have you come so unexpected?" Mabo says in astonishment.

"The world is mysterious. It is time for you to know another truth. You are a man now," Djeliba smiles.

Mabo smiles too. Is this one of the many true stories he has been searching for all these years? Can he become a great man in whom the old traditions still stand yet are mingled with the art/technology of the modern? Can he heal within himself the rupture caused by colonization? Can he recover the Mande cultural inheritance that was seemingly lost? Can Mabo become a man of many truths?

The ideological system of colonization has been a violent destructive force on the world, as we know it. The cruel reality of colonization is its precise history of slavery, murder, violence, rape, and torture of non-European peoples by European nations1 with the motives of sheer greed. This hostile take over was rationalized through the racist ideology that native peoples were inferior savages.   Aime Cesaire describes its damaging effects, ". . .millions of men have been skillfully injected with fear, inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair, and abasement" (qtd. in Fanon 7). Can such a vile legacy ever be overcome?

The effects of colonialism did not end when African countries claimed independence from the colonizer. Two (or more in some cases) cultures clashed and were changed forever. A. Holla states, "Colonialism---which brings new values, new beliefs, foreign languages, alien traditions---cannot be shed like the skin of a snake and then tossed away and forgotten" (par.3). Something is always left behind. Holla goes on to describe the lasting effects of an imposed alien culture as "colonial residue" (par. 3). For example, this "residue" is especially obvious in young Mabo Keita’s life in the film, Keita: The Heritage of the Griot, by the fact that the official language (as sanctioned by the government) is still French all though Burkina Faso is no longer a colony.

As it is not possible to completely eradicate Colonial residue; it is also not plausible that the cultural traditions of Africa, before the colonial intrusion and subjugation of its people, can fully be regained. Entire languages have been wiped out. Villages and ethnic groups have been destroyed and with this destruction certain knowledge has disappeared. Ideas and traditions have been lost in the abyss of time. But it is indisputable that the spirits of tradition have survived. Perhaps, there are ways of accessing the past in which the West is unaware. In the film, Keita: Heritage of the Griot, Djeliba Kouyate has a proverb, "the world is full of mysteries. Not everything can be seen. But everything exists" (Agatucci 78).

Mabo Keita must recreate for himself his own unique image and being. But how will he create that image? He must grab a reality in each hand and do as his ancient ancestors did in the spirit of the blacksmith. To make an iron that is strong enough to hold the two. In Keita: Heritage of the Griot, the magic iron staff is broken in two when the lame ancestor Sundjata tries to stand for the first time. Mabo is like his ancient predecessor in that he is not whole. The long reaching effects of colonial rule have crippled him. It is a seemingly weak but flexible branch of the sun sun tree---imbued with powers of nyama---which the mythic Sundjata uses to walk like a man for the first time (Agatucci 82). Nyama is the magical creative/destructive power also termed occult powers (82). It is the raw material in which the universe is forged. When a person, namely a Griot knows how to control nyama it is creative; it has the power to change. If an inexperienced person handles the nyama force it can be destructive (57). With the concept of nyama, is it possible for Mabo forge his own identity/ story? Chinua Achebe says, "story [is] really the basis if our existence---who we are, what we think we are, what our people say we are, what other people say we are. . ."("If One" 27).

Creative arts such as film making and writing are a few of the ways that truth is being generated. Both these methods reincarnate the art of story telling. Oral story telling is way of communicating knowledge, morals, and lessons (Achebe, "If One" 25). Film and literature are essentially western art forms that have taken on fresh meaning in the context of African artistic expression. African directors and writers have taken European mediums of art and transformed them into an answer for their own needs. They have created images in their own likeness. The novel has been used to write back to the failing empire---voices were none was heard before. In his book of essays, Hopes and Impediments, Achebe warns, ". . . let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend to do unheard things with it" (76).

Director, Dani Kouyate, has used his film Keita to explore problems and possibly generate solutions. He has brought the Griot into the modern age of movies. One Griot, Djeliba Kouyate, can reach a large audience of modern day Africans and perhaps teach and involve people in the stories that are their traditional heritage. It is here that Mabo becomes the many. He symbolizes the choice of a generation to take up the challenge and integrate the Griot’s stories into his modern lifestyle (Reinwald par. 24).

In conclusion, what is the place, if any, of the western based culture in exploring and looking for meaning in the art, film, and literature of Africa? Achebe suggests, "that the European critic of African literature must cultivate the habit of humility appropriate to his limited experience of the African world and purged of the superiority and arrogance which history so insidiously makes him heir to"(Hopes 73). We need to create a space in our selves where judgment is suspended for the "other" if we are truly to become whole beings. It is important to allow room for everyone if we are to truly have a multi-cultural world community.

Alternative Perspectives and Limitations

I live in a world that is economically rich. I can afford to study another people’s culture. I sit on a seat of privilege. I tried to approach this paper and the African works I encountered with an open mind and as Achebe suggests a "humility"(Hopes 73). This humility is not a weakness, but a humble tool to explore a culture rich in many ways. Why do we, as Americans, study these other cultures? Is it because we are lacking a richness of experience in our culture? Are we cultural vampires as well as material resource gluttons?

My views in this paper on African topics have ultimately been informed only by books and films I have encountered describing African cultures and literatures (And of course by my limited travel in Kenya). Though reaching out for understanding, I have to use my own cultural terms and conceptions. Is it possible to suspend our own cultural lenses while viewing the other? I don’t know if it is completely possible, but it is our duty to try.


1 Colonization is a force that has many victims. The colonizers and their descendants also suffer damage though in a different less immediate way. The colonizer is the victim of his own heartlessness. Through his ignorance and adherence to racist policy the colonist pays tribute to his own inhumanity. In the film, Chocolat, directed by Claire Denis there is a scene in which Protee, the house "boy", is banished from the house because he won’t lower himself to be the madam’s sexual slave. The young daughter, France, has forged a precious innocent relationship with Protee. France cannot understand the violent undercurrents of colonialism that are in effect (nor can she fully know that she is being indoctrinated into the colonial master / servant model of behavior). France cannot understand why her only friend is no longer waiting on her. Protee is working in the generator room. France asks if is it hot. Protee has a blank look on his face as he grabs the hot pipe. France also grabs it and is burned badly. This is a potent visual metaphor. When one is suffering from degradation and inhuman hostility we all suffer. Every one gets burned.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Hopes and Impediments. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

---. "If One Thing Stands, Another Will Stand Beside It: An Interview with Chinua Achebe." Eds. Rob Baker and Ellen Draper. Parabola 17.3 (Fall 1992): 19-27.

Agatucci, Cora, ed."Cultures and Literature of Africa." Course Packet for HUM 211. Central Oregon Community College, fall 1998.

Chocolat. Dir. Clare Denis. Perf. Giulia Boschi, Isaach de Bankole, François Cluzet, Cecile Ducasse, Mireille Perrier. Alain Belmondo et Gerard Crosnier/Marin Karmitz, MK2, 1988. Orion Classics, 1990. [105 min, French with English subtitles].

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1967.

Holla, Alaka. "Post-colonial Residue." Brown University, 1997. < …ndow/post/poldiscourse/holla4.html >.

Keita: The Heritage of the Griot. Dir. Dani Kouyate. Perf. Seydou Boro, Hamed Dicko, Abdoulaye Komboudri, Sotiguy Kouyate, Claire Sanon, Blandine Yameogo. Afix Productions, 1994. [Burkina Faso/France, 94 min., Jula/French with English subtitles].

Reinwald, Brigitte. "Film, Orality and Performance: Keita-L’Heritage Du Griot by
Dani Kouyate." Workshop: Orality and Literacy in African Societies. [Accessed: Oct. 1998.] < >

© Dawn Hendrix, 1998

Heidi Klaus
Fall 2000 

Comparison of Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Teachings
with Biblical Psalms and Proverbs

After living for centuries near one another and after more than four more centuries living in close contact with one another during the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt, it is no wonder that Egyptian and Hebrew poetry and literature share common attributes.  Some scholars biased toward the Egyptians insist that the Egyptians influenced the Hebrews' writing; other scholars biased toward the Hebrews say that it was the Hebrews who influenced the Egyptians.  A more logical conclusion, though, is that after hundreds of years living in such close proximity to one another, both cultures influenced each other.  The similarities between each culture's writing are interesting to study, but the differences are also worth studying.  

The most striking difference when comparing Biblical Proverbs and Amenemope's Wisdom Teachings is that the Wisdom Teachings mention many gods or forces, while the Proverbs mention only one force: Yehovah.  "The one, true Almighty God.  The self existent, Eternal God" ( The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, p. 54).  Chapter Two of the Wisdom Teachings says, "Every temperate man in the temple says, 'Great is the benevolence of Re'" (Hilliard, p. 58; emphasis added).  Chapter Six says, "If he traps by deceptive attestations, [he] will be lassoed by the might of the Moon" (Hilliard, p. 58; emphasis added).  And, "Man propitiates God by the might of Lord"; "Desire, then, to make yourself proper, and take care for the Lord of All."  Chapter Seven says: "Do not set your heart upon seeking riches, for there is no one who can ignore Destiny and Fortune"; "The skiff of the truly temperate man sails on.  When he rises you shall offer to the Aten, saying, 'Grant me prosperity and health'" Hilliard, p. 58; emphasis added).

The focus in the Wisdom Teachings seems to be Me.  How can I get ahead?  How can I please these various gods and forces?  "Do not trample on the furrow of someone else, their good order will be profitable for you" (Hilliard, p. 59; emphasis added).  "Fill yourself with silence, you will find life, and your body shall flourish upon the earth" (Hilliard, p. 58; emphasis added).  There is a strong sense in the Wisdom Teachings of a karmic sort of philosophy.  Cause and effect.  Don't seek out success and it will find you.  Don't harm your neighbors and good fortune will find you.  

The Proverbs have an entirely different emphasis.  The emphasis is not on doing good so that good can bless you--the Proverbs essentially say, "Do good because God says so."  "If thou sayest, Behold we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it?  and shall not He render to every man according to his works?" (Proverbs 24:12; King James version).  In Proverbs, riches are attained by Godly wisdom.  "Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches" (Proverbs 24:3 & 4, King James version).  The Hebrew word for riches used here is "hown" or "own," meaning mighty, strong, ready; and the word used repeatedly in Chapter 24 is "chokmah," meaning skillful, wise to the things of God (New Strong's...Dictionary, pp. 34, 43).  Wisdom here is knowledge of the things of God, and the house that is abundantly filled is the Spirit of the wise man.

Proverbs' words seem much harsher than those of the Wisdom Teachings.  This is because Proverbs deals with a much more serious subject than personal gain or earthly good.  "Withhold not correction from the child: for it thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.  Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shat deliver his soul from hell" (22: 13 & 14, King James version).  Proverbs deals with righteousness and correction for the purpose of spiritual salvation and rescue from certain destruction.

Proverbs 22: 22-23 says, "Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: for the Lord will plead their cause and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them."  Chapter Two of the Wisdom Teachings instructs, "Beware of stealing from a miserable man and of raging against the cripple.  Proceed cautiously before an opponent, and give way to an adversary."  The wording of both passages sounds very similar.  But closer observation of the teaching reveals an important difference:  The Wisdom Teachings are missing the why of the instruction.  Why not oppress the poor or steal from the miserable man?  Who says?  What if I do rage against the cripple?  There is no solid reason given behind these Wisdom Teachings.  Later in the teachings, destiny and fate and the moon are mentioned, as are miscellaneous deities, but there is no single, unchangeable standard measure of Justice.  In Proverbs there is a very clear, repeatedly named reason for obeisance:  God.  God will "spoil the soul" of those who disobey Him.

From my Christian perspective, the Proverbs are clearly superior to the Wisdom Teachings because they satisfy the important "why" questions.  But, as the Igbo proverb goes, "Beside one thing always stands another."  God is my ultimate measuring stick, so clearly the teachings that address God as the one and only measure of righteousness strike a deeper chord with me than Amenemope, who appears to cover his bases with all the various deities and fates.  Also there is the effect of the study of all of God's Word.  "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (II Timothy 3:16, King James version).  A person who believes this cannot find much spiritual value in a work that leaves out the ultimate why--God.

Probably a person without a Christian background would feel that the Wisdom Teachings are superior to Proverbs because they address the many deities of the earth such as the Moon and Aten or Destiny.  Perhaps something has been lost in translation of the Wisdom Teachings in Hilliard's book, as it was in her use of the NIV translation of the Bible.  But with no background in Egyptian Wisdom Teachings, I am unable to recognize the loss.  To get to the true meaning of the scripture, it was necessary to open the closest translation to the Hebrew and Greek scriptures--the King James Version.  And it was necessary to study even closer the word meanings in the original Hebrew.  Admittedly, I don't have access to the original translations of Amenemope!

The important thing here is to read for yourself Amenemope and the Biblical Proverbs.  Keep and open mind and dig deeper.  See which strikes a chord in your soul.  You will see that even if a certain set of values does not become your personal set of values, you will still gain valuable insight into another culture and belief system.

© Heidi Klaus, 2000

Chris Shepherd
Fall 1998

Things Fall Apart: The Loss of a Tribe's Livelihood

In Things Fall Apart we witnessed the destruction of a traditional native culture. More specifically we witnessed the challenge and weakening of Igbo spirituality, as well as the death of the tribe's livelihood. The apparent cause can be found in a seemingly good intended mission acting as a gateway for the intrusion of a foreign government, and its quest to conquer and domesticate a self-sustaining, prosperous culture. Although the Igbo downfall was caused primarily by the invasion of "Christian missionaries," their own religious doctrine and passivity played a significant role in allowing the initial infiltration of an alien religion, and the final dissolution of a once prosperous culture.

It is also critical to consider if this downfall could have been prevented or channeled to produce a positive outcome. History tends to repeat itself within specific cultures, and this is possibly the most valuable tool we can harness to provide us a means of escaping the destruction of the mistakes we have made in the past.

In Things Fall Apart the Igbo village Umuofia fell apart in two distinct fashions. The first aspect of Igbo culture to break down was the village's spirituality, which was led by the arrival of the Christian mission. Second, this mission acted as a channel to allow a new government to infiltrate Umuofia and challenge the laws and customs that held together the former Igbo way of life.

Igbo spirituality weakened in two waves. First Christianity provided answers that the inhabitants of Umuofia and Mbanta were seeking. At the end of Part One Obierika's thoughts are expressed:

Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat in his obi and mourned his friend's calamity. Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities. He remembered his wife's twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? (TFA 87).

The timing of this passage falls in between a thorough account of Igbo customs and the conversion of many Igbo people to Christianity. This transition seems to indicate that there is a representative attitude of doubt and discontentment within Umuofia (and later indicated to be similar in Mbanta). Customs such as throwing away twins and human sacrifice were troubling and no justification could be found within their own religious doctrine. The timeliness of Christianity allowed it to spread because it was the only available option to turn to. The villagers needed answers to explain the uncertainties they were feeling and Christianity was the only plausible option. This attitude is again characterized by Nwoye while he is in Mbanta:

It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it . . . . The hymn about brothers who sat in darkness and fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted his young soul - the question of the twins lying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed. He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul. (TFA 104)

The mission also gained respect and power by flourishing in circumstances that were believed to bring certain death, as prescribed by Igbo spirituality.

The next day the crazy men actually began to clear part of the forest and to build their house. The inhabitants of Mbanta expected them all to be dead within four days. The First day passed and the second and the third and the fourth, and none of them died. Everyone was puzzled. And then it became known that the white man's fetish had unbelievable power. (TFA 105-6)

Clearly this strengthened the credibility of the new white men and their religion. Furthermore, a major blow was dealt to Igbo religion. Christianity provided an answer to the questions people were feeling about their spirituality: the Igbo religion appeared to be false by default; this is how Igbo spirituality fell apart. The new religion's validity and acceptance, coupled with the void created by the dissolution of Igbo spirituality, left the remaining Igbo believers overpowered by the Christian converts and their new followers.

"Umuofia had indeed changed during the seven years Okonkwo had been in exile. The church had come and led many astray. Not only the low-born and the outcast but sometimes a worthy man had joined it" (TFA 123). "From the very beginning religion and education went hand in hand" (TFA 128). These quotations provide an example of why the mission became so powerful as more converts were added. Schools were not only a place for education; they are also a place to spread propaganda supporting the power(s) controlling them. What had begun as a mission to spread Christianity by Mr. Brown evolved into a passage for a new government that clashed considerably with the existing law in Umuofia. Things Fall Apart acknowledges this by commentary, "...built a court where the District Commissioner judged cases in ignorance" (123), and by example when Obierika recounts to Okonkwo the controversial land dispute resolution (124).

The downfall of Igbo spirituality was the mechanism that triggered the downfall of the Igbo village and livelihood. Although the collapse was primarily caused by three men--Mr. Brown, Rev. James Smith, and the District Commissioner--it was the passivity of Umuofia, as well as the power of the mission's government, that led to the demise of the Igbo way of life. At this point it is critical to consider various ways their livelihood could have been salvaged.

When considering this situation, three relevant processes may have taken place to have a significant, positive change in the fate of Umuofia. The Igbo people, or the mission and the government could have acted in different manners. Another option is that they both could have negotiated a way to co-exist.

Although there is a myriad of possible reactions Umuofia could have taken to the introduction of the Christian mission, only one other realistic option exists. Things fell apart because Umuofia took a passive stance by allowing the religion to stay. When considering preventative measures that could have been taken solely by the Igbo tribe, the only possibility is a resistant position, which denied the mission access to their village. The important question now is if it could have helped better their fate.

It is critical to note here that only speculations can be drawn regarding "possible outcomes" of Umuofia. On page 127 of Things Fall Apart, Mr. Brown explains that his mission is from England, the "head of the church." History has shown us that governments tend to act as a business would: in other words, governments will always act in their self-interest. It is a safe inference to assume that England wanted the mission where it was, and no matter what resistance Umuofia (or Mbanta) targeted toward the mission, they would have been met with greater resistance each time. The logical conclusion is that Umuofia is a victim in the truest sense of the word, and that any attempt to preserve their own way of life would not have been very successful.

It does not seem particularly necessary to consider whether the mission could have acted in a manner that would have yielded a more favorable future for Umuofia. The village was self-sustaining for hundreds of years in the past and unless it was to collapse upon itself there should have been no reason it could not have existed for another hundred years. The mission could have simply left the village undisturbed and prevented its destruction. Again, this would be out of England's best interest, so it would not occur.

Perhaps the only option for the continued prosperity of Umuofia can be examined when a compromised co-existence between the village and the mission is considered. An example of a traditional African culture existing within a modern city is illustrated in the film Keita. Mabo Keita presents us with an image of how the old can be intertwined with the new to form a future where the heritage of the past is kept alive. Could this have happened in Things Fall Apart? Since the agendas of both cultures are so different, it seems less likely that an existence of compromised cultural values could have been reached.

Although this seems to be the most feasible way to prevent the total destruction of Umuofia, it is important to remember that it is impossible for societies to stay static. Our world is growing at an exponential rate and it is inevitable that the boundaries of different cultures will someday overlap; but perhaps it is not really a loss after all. In Chinua Achebe's words:

. . . the world is changing so fast around us, and a lot of it we are not in control of, but what we do control I think we should think about seriously. . . . Where one story stands, bring another one to stand beside it, and if that's a better story, then it should displace the bad one. I think that's the way it should be. If on the other hand, it is necessary to have the two of them side by side, then you don't lose anything. (Interview with Rob Baker and Ellen Draper)

© Chris Shepherd, 1998

Eli Smith
Fall 2000

The Significance of the Griot

I read somewhere that when an old man dies in Africa, a library dies with him.  I think that is true with all cultures where oral tradition is prevalent.  When a culture relies on oral tradition to pass on legends, stories, and proverbs through many generations, the importance of the speaker is very essential to preserve one's culture.  In Western African cultures, griots were depended on by the culture to educate the folks of their history and traditions of the people.  Some of the many facets a griot had were to entertain and teach the moral lessons a culture had to the children.  The griot, a person who was soaked with his culture's wisdom, would also have the duty of preserving one's history and keeping traditions alive.  A Griot, who was not solely restricted to those responsibilities, was also a teacher, poet, musician, and participant in ceremonies that called for naming initiations and installations of chiefs.

Griot, in French, is one of the names for an expert in oral performance.  This definition in itself can tell you that they are, above all, professionals who represent a group in a well-defined social order.  In Mabo and Djeliba's case with the movie Keita: The Heritage of the Griot, Djeliba Kouyate had a loyalty to Mabo Keita.  With Djeliba, who was a griot to Mabo's father, his grandfather, and now to Mabo, we learned that the Kouyates belonged to a caste where their social position was to tutor and counsel the Keitas.  Within the movie, Djeliba's mission was to tutor Mabo of his origin, as well as the meaning of his name.  But for Djeliba to reveal the unfamiliar answer of Mabo's descendents, he must take days to retell this epic story.  This surfaces to be a problem for the reason that it conflicts with Mabo's mainstream education from textbooks.  As the griot continues his story to Mabo, his interest and attendance to his mainstream school decreases until the teacher recognizes it as a problem.  When Mabo's teacher, who is Mr. Fofano, tries to explain to Djeliba that the mainstream education is all that matters, Djeliba, who still does not understand, responds by saying, "My son, knowledge is heavy with sense.  Knowledge is ungraspable, complex.  It might be in the breath of ancestors, in millet, in sand.  It passes from spirit to man, from the man to the spirit" (qtd. in Hum 211 Course Pack: Cultures and Literatures of Africa, page 65).  This statement justifies the theory that the value of knowledge by griots does not come from a textbook and never has.  Djeliba's information comes from wisdom passed down generation from generation that challenges people's assumptions and invites their understanding.  But to some, the assumption of irrelevance comes into play.  When Mr. Fofano tries to explain to Djeliba that the old way has no play in today's society, Djeliba explains that he is only ignorant to two things on earth, one of those being the teaching of the original of Mabo's life by Mr. Fofano.  Mr. Fofano then replies with the assurance that if Mabo put that answer on his test, he would fail.  With the strong ignorance and stubbornness of both Mr. Fofano and Djeliba, and the lack of understanding of a school schedule by Djeliba, Djeliba in the end decides that the best thing to do would be for the bird to watch over Mabo for now.  Instead of assimilating the two cultures, old and new, together, Djeliba bids farewell with his final words to Mabo:  "Always remember that it's an old world and that the future emerges from the past" (qtd. in Hum 211 Course Pack: Cultures and Literatures of Africa, page 70).  

Another role of the griot was to preserve the oral traditions and ensure that the community knew well of its ancestors, as well as the function of the mainstream society.  The person, whom the griot was tutoring or counseling, would use his knowledge and apply it to everyday situations in hopes of making sense.  Griots present a situation from the past by telling stories, something the people can relate to, and teaching them how to apply the moral or lesson in the story to everyday situations.  Or as Cora [Agatucci] stated in the [Hum 211] course pack . . . about griots, "They were educated and wise, and they used their detailed knowledge of history to shed light on present-day dilemmas" (page 76).  These griots would remember and transmit the collective wisdom of the culture, which was sometimes utilized into spoken, sung, or drummed words.  Songs, dance and poetry were also used to convey cultural responsibility, customs, discipline, philosophy, and history to people of all ages.  Djeliba had this obligation to Mabo and some of the things that were taught were proverbs, history, and philosophy.  Such Mande proverbs stated are when Djeliba says, "An empty belly has no ear," and "Eat . . . you can't run and scratch your foot at the same time" (qtd. in Hum 211 Course Pack: Cultures and Literatures of Africa, page 58), to an eager Mabo, who wants to hear the story in its entirety with no breaks.  The history that was taught to Mabo had to do with his ancestry, which would in return help Mabo gain an understanding of where his name originated.  So with the epic tale of Sundjata, Mabo's distant ancestor, Djeliba brings the old world into Mabo's life so Mabo can emerge as a better person in the future.  One piece of philosophy that Djeliba states in the movie is when he speaks to Mabo one last time before he leaves.  [As quoted o]n page 70 of the course pack, Djeliba states: "Do you know why the hunter always beats the lions in stories?  It is because it's the hunter who tells the stories.  If the lion told the stories, he would occasionally win."  This proverb explains that you have to create your own story, or hear the story from a[nother] person involved.  In this case, Djeliba represents the hunter who is telling the story, and the meaning is not a matter of win or lose, but the presence of fact and experience.  Another way to explain this proverb would be to look at Custer's last stand.  If the white people continued to tell the story, it would be considered a massacre, but when people heard the same story from Indians, everybody gained a whole new perspective on the situation as a whole.  With this newfound outlook on life, Mabo is told that this piece of information is valuable, for it will help become confident in the future.

Griots were in service for everybody, work for everybody, and are willing to explain the origin of somebody whenever time is willing.  In my culture, Indians were quite similar.  Both cultures, African and Indian, had no written history [of their own] prior to the 18th century.  both used oral tradition history to educate and tell history of local people, and describe the creation of earth, man, and the animals.  I do not think that my culture called them [a special name like] griots though.  Most people who passed down the tradition were likely to be storytellers: elderly people.  From all of the knowledge I have gained about my Warm Springs culture, I have attained none of it in textbooks.  I have talked with elders who have lived the history.  They have written an image in my mind of glorious unity and elaborate systems of order.  Not only are they historians, they have become a kind of genealogist, telling me about my ancestors, like who they were and what they were known for in the tribe.  Their words are potent with my history and tradition of my people, and for some, elders are the only path to take for understanding.  These walking libraries produce a rich, eloquent bridge to the past that helps us all acquire a perception of today's mainstream society.

Griots were a link to the past.  Their increasing, almost unattainable knowledge brought to light ancient solutions that alleviated modern-day dilemmas.  These designated chroniclers were respected well in their society because of their hard work and dedication to their culture.  Without these people, cultures would have been masked by a written tradition [not their own], possibly losing some or all of their culture.  This oral tradition protects the history and philosophy of each culture assuring the people that their stories are unpolluted with the mainstream society's views.

© Eli Smith, 2000

Valerie Verley
Fall 1996

An Effort to Be Made or Abandoned

The many African texts and materials experienced during the course of HUM 211, African Culture and Literature, open a path to a greater understanding of a country most Americans know little about. As in all introductory classes the material covers a huge amount of time and area which seems to introduce the cultures of Africa and then illustrate how difficult it is for Africans to overcome the devastating effects of colonization. Even though this is a vast amount of information, I would not expect less. It would be advantageous if our society valued other cultures enough to offer a 3 term sequence of African literature and culture at this level, but this school does not seem to have that option, so the students here should consider themselves lucky to have a taste of what African nations offer. It was not too many years ago that this type of course was not available.

The maps and timelines provided at the beginning of the course open students' eyes to the vastness, uniqueness and diversity of the continent and peoples of Africa. It is a continent with over 750 ethnic groups that has been colonized by most major European nations. Some, like Cameroon, have been invaded by several European countries. These maps also provide a glimpse at the reasons why Europeans felt they needed to "civilize the savages." Since many of the African nations contain a wealth of natural resources, like gold and ivory..., simple European greed launched the colonization of Africa. The timeline details many African occurrences, as well as the [Atlantic] slave trade that continued into the middle of the 19th century. Overall these maps and timelines set the scene for the barrage of African texts and materials that follow in this course.

The handouts "Shakespeare in the Bush" and a "Cultural Account of an American Ceremony" allow students to begin the realization that their means of processing information are particular to their own culture and that others may think differently. The comparison of French and African Cinderella folktales allows students to realize that similarities exist. Both of these stories have the basic storyline of Cinderella, who lives with a mean stepmother and spineless father, but differ in the way that a rescue of Cinderella and Nomi occurs. The African version allows Nomi to be an active agent in her rescue, while others must rescue the [Western] Cinderella from her impoverished and hopeless life. These stories lead into the Praise Poems that show how important the issue of self is to Africans.

The praise poems highlight societies that celebrate their uniqueness as humans, while they also function to keep an oral history. The Dogon praise poem "Arm and Hand" applauds the very thing that makes them human, such as the "Fingers, each with three phalanges," while the Zulu keep the history of Shaka, the Warrior King, as a praise poem that they memorize and pass from one member to another orally. This type of art is foreign to American students since they seldom praise themselves (unless they are writing a resume) or keep their histories orally. It seems as though, if it is not written down in Western society, it does not exist.

The film Yeelen continues to present a culture that relies heavily upon an oral tradition. Cisse, the filmmaker, takes viewers into the secret societies of the Komo cult with Nianankoro as a guide whose quest takes him through West African cultures and folklore. This film functions as a vehicle that enlightens western society to the complex nature of the African cultures that it examines. Yeelen also shows the non-linear way of thinking these African cultures use to process their way of thinking. Throughout this film western viewers learn that African cultures contain many hidden nuances that westerners have previously been able to ignore and therefore [westerners have] discount[ed] the value of these cultures. With the complexities of these cultures partially exposed by this film, the introduction of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe shows how destructive colonialism is for a country that has been totally under-estimated and misunderstood.

Things Fall Apart illustrates to western readers the devastating effects of colonialism from a male perspective. Achebe suggests, with the missionary character of Mr. Brown, that colonialism could have been less destructive if the missionaries had only taken the time and energy to understand the culture they invaded. Mr. Smith, the character who did not investigate the culture he worked so hard to annihilate, highlights the devastating effects of his kind in Africa. Okonkwo, the protagonist in this novel, is not able to live past the end of the novel, which may signify the cultural genocide felt by the African cultures who were "civilized" by the western world. The film Afrique, Je Te Plumerai continues to show the effects of colonization.

Afrique, Je Te Plumerai, a film set in Cameroon, portrays a society that works its way from an oral based to a literate based culture in order to compete with the Europeans who colonized their country. Teno offers some hope if his countrymen are willing to embrace their own culturally significant expressions while they compete with foreigners for economic equivalence. Although he shows that the destructive concrete streets of the cities contribute to cultural genocide, he also gives his viewers hope when he films the happy children who are the future of the country. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga also shows the devastating effects of colonization while it offers hope for the future.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga juxtaposes the traditional Shona world of Zimbabwe against the missionary world of westernized society from a female perspective. The main characters of Tambu and Nyasha detail the traditional roles their culture forces upon them and the pressure exerted on them by the knowledge available through the missionary schools. Nyasha, who spends several years in England, suffers from the pressure of the two worlds and is ultimately crushed by it, while Tambu is better able to balance the pressure from the two worlds and will ultimately survive. It seems as though Dangarembga suggests that her culture will survive if they are able to follow the path set in place by Tambu. They must appreciate their heritage while they assimilate the knowledge and customs of western society. The South African short stories also display the struggle African nations face as they work their way through colonialism while holding on to their own cultures.

"Snapshots of a Wedding" by Bessie Head illustrates this struggle as "Kegoletile seems to go through a secret conflict during the year he prepares for his future married life with Neo" (African Short Stories 146). Neo is the character who excels in the western school system and offers Kegoletile the brightest economic future. However, Mathata, the character who better represents traditional values, draws Kegoletile to her even though she does not find success in the western school schema. It seems as though Kegoletile wavers between the "old" world and the mix of the "new" and "old" worlds. He ultimately chooses Neo, who represents the mix of old and new. Perhaps Head suggests that this is how South Africa will survive its struggle. They will need to honor their own cultures while assimilating the new culture so that they can compete in a new environment. The South African protest arts also reflect the struggle to overcome the effects of colonization.

The speeches of Nelson Mandela, the songs by Johnny Clegg, and the poetry of Jeremy Cronin function to help South Africa reclaim the importance of its people and its culture during Apartheid. Mandela, Clegg, and Cronin talk about a nation that needs its people to make a commitment and fight for their freedom. Mandela leads his people away from racialist laws, while Cronin reminds his readers of their "unbreakable resolve" and Clegg implores [South] Africans to stay and make a commitment to their culture and country: to work to hold their nation together under the weight of tremendous opposition. Their efforts work because they are able to [help] defeat Apartheid and now their people must pick up the pieces in order to survive. The novel Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid further illustrates the struggle and the possible outcome for those who are strong enough to survive.

Annie John offers a bittersweet outcome to the struggle colonialism presents to Antigua. Although Annie survives her mental breakdown, caused by the assimilation of a foreign culture, she leaves her homeland unable to return. Hers is a psychological battle that she wins, but loses at the same time. She retains her mental health at the cost of her culture.

Overall, the selections for this course seem to follow a linear pattern suited to western audiences. It moves from an introduction that portrays diverse and complex cultures foreign to westerners, to the atrocities committed under colonization, to the fight for freedom and the tragedies that occur to the minds of a people who attempt to hold onto their cultural identity while competing for economic advancement. It seems to also present outcomes that result from varying degrees of cultural genocide. Although this course offers a massive amount of information that is difficult to absorb, it is a necessary beginning that must continue. Western students need a course of this type so that they will begin to understand that their culture is not the only right culture. Different cultures exist worldwide and their differences do not constitute better or worse. This course attempts to show westerners how devastating ethnocentrism is for other cultures. It seems as though it is imperative that humankind learns to appreciate the differences that exist between cultures so that we may all advance into the 21st century.

© Valerie Verley, 1996

Michelle Wallace
Fall 1998

A Journey Through My Glasses

As I have walked along this journey into African cultures, literature, their history, traditions, rituals, dance, orature and films, I have found many cross-cultural differences as well as universal elements we share. There have been many things I have learned in this class that have forced me to almost think like an African, read like an African, feel as an African; and yet I know that I am still seeing through filtered lenses of my own reality and perceptions. In the following pages, I will attempt to lead you through my eyes, still a student mind you, of what I have learned about the cultural traditions and literatures of Africa.

One of the first contrasts I noted from African culture and my own culture, was the importance of ancestry and heritage. In Keita: The Heritage Of The Griot, we saw a dramatization of the Sundjata history and within this story we were shown a griot, Djeliba Kouyate, who mysteriously shows up at a young boy's home, Mabo Keita, to tell him of his ancestor Sundjata Keita. Within this epic story we see Mabo becoming very interested in learning of his ancestry, while at the same time he becomes disinterested in his school and daily studies. Conflict arises and Djeliba is resigned to leave, but not before he has young Mabo enthralled in his story of where he came from. At one point, Djeliba asks Mabo's schoolteacher if he knew what his name meant. When Mr. Fofano replies, "No", Djeliba says, "Pity you don't know. What can you teach to children without knowing your own origin?" (Course Packet, pg. 75).

This reminds me of how different I have been taught in school and raised at home. I was adopted as a baby, therefore my genealogy is unknown, and in school we were taught through a curriculum that was somewhat disinterested in personal history, but rather more interested in American history as a whole. I ask myself why in my culture, which is truly my own, have I forgotten that there are many internal, as well as external forces, that shape me and are always constant. I suppose it is a disturbing as well as comforting thought to know this. To thoroughly examine this part of my existence, is impossible because of the fact that I don't have access to my ancestry. But I know there are ways to learn about the cultures and traditions that my ancestors might have been engaged in, and this is something that has always made me uncomfortable, until now. I give credit to Dani Kouyate, the director of Keita for painting, through his eyes, an important portrait of a young child's heritage while living and learning in a modern, westernized society.

I will be straight-forward enough to say that through my perceptions, Africans in their traditional beliefs and ethics, are very passionate about what I may consider, supernatural, or mystical powers. For instance, as I read about the Igbo traditions in Things Fall Apart, "Rivers, streams, lakes, and rain had life-sustaining qualities, and symbolized purity, cleanliness, coolness, freshness, fertility, and longevity....With water, the Igbo washed away evil and uncleanness" (xxxiv). This is interesting to me, since personally this is believable in a spiritual way, but I may not live my life by this. For example, in Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo was punished by Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess for beating his wife during the Week of Peace. Chinua Achebe has written, "We live in peace with our fellows to honour our great goddess of the earth without whose blessing our crops will not grow. You have committed a great evil" (Ch. 4, pg. 22). Now keep in mind that the society my culture is submersed in would not condone the beating of ones' wife at any rate, but not because it would affect the whole community and our economic standing, but because it is not acceptable morally.

Another example we are given of spiritual characters through Achebe's eyes, would be the obanje, which is depicted as "one of those wicked children who, when they died, entered their mother's wombs to be born again" (Ch. 9, pg. 55). The obanje was characterized through Ezinma, the child of Ekwefi, Okonwko's second wife. Enzinma was supposed to have been delivered from her evil ways reinforcing that she would not again die, because she had dug up her iyi-uwa, "a special stone that forms the link between an ogbanje and the spirit world. The child would eventually die if the iyi-uwa were not discovered and destroyed." (Glossary, liii).

This part of the story was very interesting for me to imagine being the mother of an ogbanje or even one myself, and how fun it almost would be to be submerged within a cultural society that believed in such forces of a spiritual world? I would even go so far to say that Igbo traditions that center around these superstitious, supernatural powers are enticing to me, since the reality I live in is constantly questioning its limitations and own powers. Already, I am one of those people who are very superstitious on a daily basis, such as not purposely killing a bug for fear of being visited by them after they are reincarnated as a virus that may attack my body. I know, this sounds far-fetched and crazy, yes, but not much different than that of an Igbo villager who is running around screaming in frantic frenzy, because some man dressed up in a scary mask is chasing them. Maybe that is not an equal comparison of superstitions among cultures, but they still remain. So as a whole, this passion for a supernatural power is universal in my personal culture as well as in an African culture. For some reason, the unknown is easier to believe and have faith in, than what is the obvious and known.

The last element of difference and comparative which was significant to me and that I would like to address, would be an Africans way of expressing themselves. Keep in mind that I am addressing "Africans", only by which the cultures I have studied so far, with the help of Achebe, Kouyate, and Grace Nichols. The most wonderful part of African culture that I have seen is their way of sharing stories through dance, drums, song, and poetry. In I Is a Long-Memoried Woman, I was enthralled with the way a story was being told through rhythm and dance, motion and poetry. It was beautiful to see, and moving to hear. Throughout this dramatization based upon Grace Nichols poetry, I was learning about the history, suffering, pride, tradition, pain, joy of being an African woman and her long journey from her true culture, to oppression, and later to what seemed empowerment. The story was subtly told through movement and some words, but mainly it was a visual quest that entertained my senses.

I must say that halfway within this journey through African cultures and literatures, I find myself liking the African culture more than my own. They have no fear of movement and song. It is integrated within their culture, through everyday rituals and tasks. "Sound is everywhere noticed, admired, shaped-e.g., postal workers in Ghana cancel stamps in deliberate rhythm." (Course Packet, pg. 62) Africans oral traditions are intriguing to me and I can’t help but admire and envy their ability to free their souls through expression. I am caught within my society, to act in an orderly fashion, and unfortunately if I acted upon impulse to break out into a crazy rhythm of free-flowing dance, I would probably be given some strange looks, of course depending on where I was.

There have been many boundaries I have had to overcome while learning about the traditions, beliefs, heritage, and cultures of Africa. These cross-cultural challenges have helped instill in me my own belief in valuing what is important to other people, even if I could not quite imagine it myself. Most of all these challenges have helped give me a sense of universal identity. When I say this, I mean that through learning about Africa, even though there were many obvious differences that I noted, there were many universal elements as well, such as superstition and knowledge about heritage. My sojourn through this other fascinating culture has left me feeling a little closer to the unknown, and at times I was glad to take off the filtered glasses, even if for a little while.

© Michelle Wallace, 1998

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Fall 1998 Critical Reviews Fall 1998

Chris Buhrig

Critical Review: HIV, AIDS and Africa

I had originally intended to find literature on how devastating the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) epidemic has become in Africa and where AIDS originated. There is, of course, a lot of literature on the AIDS epidemic in Africa. There are several articles suggesting how AIDS originated in Africa, materials showing how AIDS is spreading rapidly across the continent, infecting thousands, and eventually killing. Through my research on this topic, I found something more interesting. I found articles proposing that AIDS did not necessarily originate in Africa, and that AIDS cases in Africa are being exaggerated. After reading these articles, I began to question myself, "why is it so important to propose that the continent of Africa is responsible for the AIDS epidemic, and why would AIDS cases in Africa be exaggerated?" This question led me back to one of our course goals, which was to identify unanswered questions, controversial claims, topics worthy of further research, and to consider alternative viewpoints (Course packet, Hum. 211). It is not my intention to provide materials that prove AIDS did not originate in Africa, and that AIDS is not a serious problem for several countries in Africa. I intend only to reveal that there are alternative viewpoints as to how devastating AIDS really is in Africa, and that the possibility exists that AIDS may have originated in some place other than Africa.


Chirimuuta, R.C., and R.J. Chirimuuta. AIDS, Africa and Racism. 2nd ed. London: Free Association Books, 1989. I was not able to find this book, but I did locate a book review from: Hoogvelt, Ankie. Monthly Review 40 (September 1988): 57-61. I decided to include this book in the critical review, because I belive it is a great source for further reseach on the topic: AIDS and Africa. I did not want to leave it out simply because I could not locate the book. Richard and Rosalind Chirimuuta are suggesting that the overdiagnosis of AIDS in Africa has been the result of errors in data collection, interpretation, and in data reporting. Their book is a review of the scientific literature on AIDS in Africa. This book does not suggest that AIDS in Africa is not a problem, rather the authors point out that the facts have been overstated. Much of the book questions the quality of the statistical evidence gathered by different researchers, and points out the contradictions within the medical field.

Bond, George C., John Krensike, Ida Susser, and Joan Vincent, eds. AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. Westview Press, 1997. <> This article that I retrieved over the internet, discusses the how racism-in their opinion- is the basis for determining the AIDS epidemic began in Africa. The authors suggest that when you "examine the scientific literature supporting an African origin, the evidence is contradictory, insubstantial or unsound." In this paper, the authors review the scientific literature, and basically dispute most of the evidence that has been written proclaiming the AIDS epidemic began in Africa. The authors believe that if there are incorrect assumptions about the source and the nature of the African AIDS epidemic, this will inevitably lead to inappropriate programs for containment and control. They also blame the World Health Organization for diverting funds and research from other programs to study AIDS, while these other disease epidemics are killing many more people than AIDS. This article was very detailed and listed many sources. It gets a bit confusing with some scientific terms. But, the article is well worth reading if one has any doubts that there is racial motivation behind the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

"Good Cause." [Exaggeration of AIDS disease cases and need for increased spending.] National Review 20 July 1992. <!xrn_1> Infotrac article A12504432. This National Review article is an editorial revealing how the AIDS cause is overshadowing the disease itself. The article tells how the number of AIDS cases in Africa are fewer than 150,000 - as of 1992. This is a high number, but substantially lower than was anticipated. I felt that this was a good article to highlight the point the Chiruumta's were making in their book. AIDS cases in Africa are being exaggerated. The article is relatively short and does not provide any references, but I felt it was still a sufficient article.

Mullis, Kary B., Phillip E. Johnson, and Charles A. Thomas, Jr. "Dissenting on AIDS: The Case Against the HIV-Causes Hypothesis." The San Diego Union-Tribune 15 May 1994. <> This article shows us a different point on the AIDS virus and HIV. Today most people assume that HIV causes AIDS. This article proposes that the decision to say HIV causes AIDS was more political, rather than scientific. This article goes through seven major points on why the possibility exists that HIV and AIDS may not be related. At the end of the article, the authors suggest that billions of dollars have been wasted studying the relationship of HIV and AIDS. I felt this was a very worthy article. It was very easy to read and to follow the points they were making.

After researching this topic (HIV/ AIDS/ and Africa), I also question the validity of the research that has been done regarding the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It can be overwhelming to read the many articles published (mostly by the "rethinking AIDS homepage") that take the position AIDS and racism have more in common than AIDS and Africa. After reading these articles you must question how are the researchers coming up with the numbers they have for how devastating the AIDS epidemic is in Africa? Many of these articles and books proclaim that it is an array of old diseases that are killing Africans, not AIDS. For myself, it is hard to believe there has been billions of dollars and many years worth of research based on nothing more than speculation, when it comes to finding a real answers about AIDS. But at the same time, I must remind myself that the scientific community is not immune to racism. It must be noted there is a lot of information regarding the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and during the recent week of AIDS awareness, there were many reports that AIDS in Africa is more devastating today than it has ever been, especially for children. I believe this project was a very valuable learning experience. I still don't have a clear idea how devastating AIDS in Africa really is, but I guess that was my goal in doing this research. I wanted to find some alternative answers, and I did.

© Chris Buhrig, 1998

Chris Shepherd

Critical Review: The Validity of Christian Missions in Sub-Saharan Africa


During this course we have been presented a great deal of literature and film which portrays various African societies before, during, and after colonization; one aspect of colonization was the presence of Christian missions. I have chosen to examine the validity of these missions. I am using the term validity here in the sense of acting in a manner congruent with that of Christianity, rather than with political, personal, or social motives.

It seems obvious enough that there are a myriad of benefits in general when observing history, I specifically chose this subject because it has relevant applications to the way I live day to day. A case can be made that all people who consciously make decisions to adhere to one lifestyle or another are missionaries of their own lifestyles… we all have certain ideals that we feel are universal. Considering this I have chosen to examine the work of Christian missionaries because we both theoretically are of the same belief. By researching the effects these missionaries had on their surroundings I have been able to pick out seemingly positive characteristics of my life which I now have a different perspective of.

The materials I chose to research provide alternative perspectives to the subject of Christian missions in Africa. I feel they are good sources because their interpretations of history are not blatantly extremist (with some exception to Heathenization of Christianity in African Society), and they all provide positive solutions (or would-be solutions) for the area of mission work they perceive to be harmful.

Nyang, Sulayman S. Islam, Christianity, and African Identity. Brattleboro, VT: Amana Books, 1990. This book provides a detailed theory of African identity and the effects of both Islam and Christian infiltration. A major strength of this book is the sound reasoning and the depth of research that went into it. The author keeps from becoming too extreme in his thesis and provides ample evidence for those thesis. The section concerning African identity speaks primarily on how European colonialism has shaped the general identity of Africa from a contemporary African perspective. Nyang asserts that African identity is generally defined negatively as that of an oppressed race, instead of an identity of "a common genetic heritage." It is argued that the loss of traditional identity was a result of depersonalization, defined as the result of the original African personality being replaced with a more western one. Depersonalization resulted from Christianity being taught within a sphere of European social values. Naturally the medium for this type of education was missionary schools.

The section concerning the arrival and spread of Christianity is curiously titled "The Western Conquest and African Society." In this chapter Nyang points out that the original introduction of Christianity was independent of political ties and also failed. The second wave of Christian missionaries had more of a business-like relationship with the European colonizers. With the help of European militaries, missionaries were able to reach areas of Africa that were at a previous time unreachable. The colonizing countries also benefited by missionary schools teaching an intertwined doctrine of Christianity and contemporary western social values. Aside from the depersonalization of native Africans, Nyang also states that there were four other influences on African life by the missions. These were the written preservation of native languages, an improved intellectual life, the cultural homogeneity of Christian converts, and the development of technological and ontological thought… I am skeptical as to the benefit of these influences. As a conclusion to this subject Nyang presents a solution in lieu of the past and in hope of the future; that is that Christianity is allowed to become "Africanized" to allow for the preservation of a traditional African heritage.

This is incredibly relevant to my subject because Christianity was shaped to appear as something that it was not. Christianity is not defined by social or political norms, it is self-defining. In the past Christianity has adapted to Middle Eastern, European, and American social structures; it is the author's contention, as well as my own, that it should have been allowed to conform to the traditional African way of life.

Akande, Ola. "Heathenization of Christianity in African Society." USA Today (Magazine) May 1998, 66. This article is a critique from the perspective of a pastor. I felt it was a good source because it provides an alternate perspective from most critiques on Christian missions in Africa. A major strength of the paper is that it provides an example of traditional African values, followed by a critique of both the pagan aspects of African religion and the misconceptions of Christianity. Although the paper is understandably biased, the second half develops an extremely fundamental attack on the heathen practices of African religion. I would say that the first half of this paper is very useful, but the second half takes an extreme stand that clouds the truth of Christianity.

The article begins by giving a characterization of African society including family customs, heathen practices, and religious doctrine. Following this Akande examines the interaction of African religion and Christianity. Naturally the paper begins a discussion of the incompatibility of these two religions from a Christian perspective. Granted the discussion is very biased, Akande is not so far as to be unfair. He asserts the importance of preserving African artifacts to help preserve and understand traditional African religion. Furthermore, the importance of a self-defining religion is characterized: "The churches of the West can have no definition of Christianity of their own. Neither can African Christians have a definition of Christianity other than one that emphasizes faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God…"

This paper reiterates the fundamental message of Islam, Christianity, and African Identity that Christianity does not contain a preference of social norms, and that it is a religion which speaks to individual redemption transforming into social change, rather than social change transforming into personal redemption.

Mugambi, J.N.K. "African Churches in Social Transformation." Journal of International Affairs 50.1 (Summer 1996): 194. This paper sets out to examine the role of the church in South Africa as well as critique the role it played in transforming the social and political foundations in Africa. A major strength of this paper is that it is written from a fairly neutral position; it does not contain biased undertones within the discussion. I feel the paper could have been stronger if more concrete examples were cited in relation to some of the opinions argued (namely the arguments of the church bringing major social change during early colonization). The underlying thesis of the paper is that missions, in general, have had a growing involvement with the various colonies/countries they reside in. Mugambi asserts that missions were originally self-sustaining and free from partisan ties. In his opinion, missions existed entirely independently of European colonization during the early arrivals. It is pointed out that missions were actually punished for starting or assisting in the creation of independent African churches, which taught Africans to be culturally self-confident. The paper argues that colonial governments justified their claims to African territory by early missionary success in converting native Africans to Christianity. So by either "design or accident," the church was directly involved in the social and political transformation of Africa. It is at this point that missions lost their political innocence. Missions created schools teaching westernized values and religion in return for grants provided by the colonial governments for health services, agriculture, etc. The paper continues in a discussion of the present day involvement of the church in Africa. Perhaps the most dignified remark of the paper was:

There were missionaries who were racial bigots and colonial bullies, but there were also others who were excellent pastors, counselors and teachers. Some were businessmen, and others were diplomats. Thus both the negative and the positive influences must be acknowledged in a balanced assessment of the missionary impact in tropical Africa.


I feel I have gained a more accurate conception of the history of the church's involvement in the social and political transformation of Africa. More importantly though, I have seen the effects of greed and how it can infiltrate into nearly every aspect of our lives. It seems as though the key concept in this case is compromise. Even if the early missions were established in accordance to the doctrine they live by, it is obvious that there was a compromise of Christian ideals to further the success of the missions. In my opinion this is where the true spirituality of African Christianity dissipated, that is the love for God was replaced by the love for the mission. This is crucial for an accurate understanding of African history because it allows us a glimpse into the general motive of the colonizing forces (missions and governments)… namely to expand at all cost, even that of spirituality and identity.

Other subjects have been raised as a result of this study. Most interesting to me is the roles of schools. In early African colonies schools were the direct medium for transposing native people into westernized subjects/servants. What does this say about education today? I believe that our schools do teach principals such as obedience to authority, and democratic principals as universal truths. In no way am I advocating the illegitimacy of schools or their faculties because schools are made of us, people, Americans… we have all been molded to this way of life. I believe it is important for each of us to consider how our own ideals have been subconsciously crafted by the society we live in.

I feel the original research question has been answered. The answer is not black and white, but it seems that nearly all answers to complicated questions have a grayish hue. Originally, missions were established in Africa to spread a religion that these missionaries perceived as truth. Eventually a less dignified relationship began between missions and colonial governments in order to successfully branch to larger areas of Africa. History, in this case, contains a lesson directly applicable to my life. That is to recognize my ideals in their entirety, and not compromise them without careful consideration to the indirect consequences that will follow. An expansive perception is the key to living freely and conscientiously.

© Chris Shepherd, 1998

Mary Uhland

[On Imperialistic Travel Writing]

My research topic questions include: How did European exploration and accounts of those explorations impact imperialistic public policy in inflaming/rationalizing further imperialistic intentions, and how did this ultimately affect colonial attitudes and policy in Africa?

I have chosen this topic because of my interest in the propensity of contemporary American media to present Africa as superfluous. This seems to result in misrepresentation and generates misinformed attitudes in the viewing public toward race and culture. This gave rise to the question of the origin of such cultural misrepresentation, and the possible sociological and psychological determiners behind the phenomenon. I then considered the romanticism of European exploration in Africa during the 18th century, and found that travel writing provided the majority of information that influenced the European general public’s perception of Africa. This fact then raised the question of how such attitudes influenced imperialist public policy, and thus, sociological interactions in colonial Africa.

The topic is relevant to Hum211 course goals in that it pursues further knowledge in the area of the possible causes and effects of European and American colonialism in Africa. It also presents more historical factors that affect current international relations between African and non-African nations. It may provide a richer understanding of the subtext of African literature, orature and culture. This deeper understanding may then also provide a means by which my fellow students and I may be more critical when interpreting non-African and African media presentations of African politics and culture.

The below listed resources are relevant to my main research questions: How did European exploration and accounts of those explorations affect imperialistic public policy in inflaming/rationalizing further European imperialistic intentions in Africa, and how did this ultimately affect colonial attitudes and policy?

McEwan, Cheryl. "Paradise or Pandemonium? West African Landscapes in the Travel Accounts of Victorian Women." Journal of Historical Geography 22.1 (1996): 68-83. McEwan analyzes four 19th century British women travel writers’ geographical descriptions of African landscapes to determine how these images were influenced or challenged by the British myth of the "Dark Continent." Further, McEwan argues that two factors, the developing British ideology of imperialism and the romanticism of the concepts of "wilderness" and "sanctuary," influenced these landscape descriptions. This analysis is relevant to my main research questions: How did European exploration and accounts of those explorations affect imperialistic public policy in inflaming/rationalizing further imperialistic intentions, and how did this ultimately affect colonial attitudes and policy in Africa? McEwan’s analysis of the works of Mary Kingsley, Elizabeth Melville, Zelie Colvile and Constance Larymore revealed the possible extent to which these non-academic, popular accounts contributed to public perceptions of Africa as a "Land of Death," "chaotic" and in need of order. And, finally, demonstrated the romantic lure of an edenic continent ripe for cultivation. Though, the analysis adequately explores the regional and temporal contexts influencing the four authors’ geographical descriptions, it does not directly address the relationship between their accounts, and the actual development and resultant imperialistic public policy. However, McEwan’s evidence regarding the influence on British perceptions of Africa and the broad popular interest in explorer’s travel accounts suggest a correlation between public imperialistic perception and imperialistic policy.

Bennett, Norman R. African & Europe from Roman Times to the Present. London: Africana Publishing Company, A Division of Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1975. Bennett presents a fairly comprehensive analysis of the cultural and political history of Africa from before European contact, to contact with European explorers, to the conquering of Africa, and the subsequent colonization and establishment of colonial policy. The final third of his book encompasses the African response to those events. His analysis of European explorers provides good insight into the reciprocal relationship between exploratory accounts and European jingoistic fervor which fueled European imperialism in Africa. In his section on European exploration in Africa, Bennett offers fairly objective analysis of historical events, and suggest, that, though there was economic incentive in colonizing Africa, Europe may have been driven predominantly by national pride as a result of on-going inter-European friction due to dramatically shifting balances in power at that time. Although the book was written over twenty years ago, the information appears to be accurate. However, Bennett is not African and his section on the African response encompasses an outsider’s view of historical events such as the rebellions or African participation in the colonial education system. I feel that, on the whole, Africa & Europe is a well-rounded overview of European imperialism in Africa. Students studying Africa may find this a valuable resource for general reference encompassing, not just sub-Saharan Africa, but the continent.

Rotberg, Robert I. Joseph Thomson and the Exploration of Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Rotberg’s biography recounts the experiences of the Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson. The author contends that, though Thomson came relatively late to the exploration of Africa, he made significant geographical and cultural discoveries for British interests. An enthusiastic participant and supporter of British imperialism, Thomson influenced policy in Kenya and Nigeria. Rotberg believes that Thomson was an exception to the traditional European explorer in that he was a pacifist committed to conflict resolution. The author claims that the explorer respected Africans and African cultures, and believed that Africans should be accorded equal status. Rotberg’s accounts of the intense coverage of Thomson’s activities and philosophy by newspapers were avidly followed by the general public, and that this influenced colonial policy in that it mitigated some of the harsher methods by which the British implemented policy. Though not highly academic in style, Rotberg’s biography is well-written and interesting. If this source is accurate, it provides insight into the power of the explorer to color and influence popular perceptions of Africa. It is an account from the perspective of the non-African, but it gives rise to the possibility of a correlation between the travel writing of explorers, and public/imperialistic responses.

In conclusion, I have gained a richer understanding of European and American imperialistic attitudes toward non-European nations and cultures throughout the world which continue to this day. I came to understand this through explicit and implicit information. Often tone and word choice is subtle and, though information may be presented as objective or sympathetic, there is often a patronizing undercurrent. The facts are the facts, though, and I feel that I am much better able to view non-African interpretations critically, and I hope that other students may find these resources beneficial as tools by which they too may view the media’s presentations.

I was surprised especially at the evidence that suggests how easily masses of people are influenced by exaggeration and "tall tales." Even more amazing is how the media, once it becomes aware of particular interests, has always and continues to serve information tailored to titillate under the guise of dispassionate information. It appears to be a symbiotic relationship pursuing some sort of adventure wish fulfillment.

Finally, my research has contributed to a better understanding of colonialism and neo-colonialism. It has especially added to my capacity to be sensitive to the underlying currents of modern African literature such as the novels Things Fall Apart and Nervous Conditions. Though tempered by time and distance, much of the 19th century imperialistic attitudes have not changed. At least now I feel I am better prepared and educated as a consumer of information.

© Mary Uhland, 1998

by student request

Female Genital Mutilation: Is Intervention Necessary?

At this exact moment at least one female infant, daughter, or woman is screaming and writhing in pain at the mercy of an antique tradition. I am speaking of female genital mutilation (FGM) or as some may call it, female circumcision. There are different practices and alterations of FGM that are used while fullfilling this age-long custom, and today I will share some of these with you. I will also explore a bit of the history surrounding FGM, and just a few of the reasons why it began, why it continues, and some of the controversy surrounding this ancient ritual. Most of the information I have gathered deal with practices in Sudan and Sierra Leone. This procedure is not limited to just parts of Africa (28 countries within), but is also practiced in sectors of the world such as the Middle East, Asia, parts of Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

For the most part, after researching this topic, I am greatly concerned about the worldwide intervention to stop this procedure. Human rights activists and other organizations against FGM such as the World Health Organization and Amnesty International, not to mention various feminist groups and a major section of the medical community across our nation as well as overseas, would love to see this tradition banned entirely. After consuming myself within this practice, after hours of reading and empathizing, I have to say that there is only one answer to this question of whether to intervene or allow FGM to be exercised. That is, we cannot intervene and overthrow a custom that is carried out according to another culture’s belief, for that could be deemed as a bit ethnocentric, yes? Yet as humanitarians we cannot continue to let women and children who are unaware of the physical and psychological consequences they are agreeing to (that is, if they are agreeing), take part in this form of mutilation. Something must be done.

Lancaster, John. "Egypt Will Permit Female Circumcision." The Oregonian 25 June 1997, A03. Lancaster reviews the ruling in Egypt that reversed the ban on female genital mutilation. Staunch supporters of this tradition sued to overturn the ban, which was set in 1996, after CNN broadcast footage of a hysterical 13 year old girl being circumcised by a Cairo barber. Again, the opposition warned "girls who are not circumcised when young have a sharp temperament and bad habits." Lancaster also quotes a cleric, "The judge returned to Islam, and he recognized that" the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed "ordered Muslims to do this operation." Yet many Muslim scholars have announced that this ritual has no foundation in the Islamic religion, and followers in Saudi Arabia and Iran are not practicing female circumcision. This article gives us one angle as to why FGM is practiced (Islamic tradition) and how it does not really hold up when considering Muslims as a whole. It also shows how some cultures within Africa may emphatically believe in a ritual that is not agreed upon as a whole, thus there is conflict. Lancaster covered the basic facts of the story, yet it would have been interesting to hear how this new ruling affected the opposing women in Egypt or if any even commented. Lancaster also stated how this ruling was to be appealed to the Egyptian Supreme Court. Six months later, it was.

Ghalwash, Mae. "Egyptian Court Upholds Female Circumcision Ban." The Oregonian 29 Dec. 1997, A05. According to Ghalwash, the Egyptian Supreme Court upheld a Health Ministry decision banning government-certified doctors and health workers from performing female circumcision, exceptions made only if a gynecologist approves for health-related reasons. The Muslim proponents of this procedure never provided enough evidence to support the claim that their religion requires female circumcision.

Lightfoot-Klein, Hanny. Prisoners of Ritual. New York/London: Haworth, 1989. Lightfoot-Klein wrote this travelogue-type journal after she spent six years travelling across Africa studying the ceremony and operation of female genital mutilation. She spent much of the time living with families in Africa, interviewing physicians, gynecologists, mid-wives, women and children who undertook this ritual, and even husbands to these wives. Lightfoot-Klein explains five main types of circumcision, but I will just highlight the three that are most commonly practiced. Modified sunna (sunna meaning "tradition" is Arab), is the partial or total excision of the body of the clitoris. Clitoridectomy/excision is the removal of part or all of the clitoris as well as all or part of the labia minora. Infibulation/pharaonic circumcision consists of clitoridectomy and excision of the labia minora as well as inner layers of the labia majora, whereby the raw edges are then sewn together with cat gut or made to adhere by means of thorns such as acacia (p.33). Lightfoot also gives us rationale as to why this painful procedure is performed, most of the time without anesthestics. Besides custom being the reason why approximately 2 million females a year are circumcised, there are mythological reasons that justify the need to circumcise. The Dogon and Bambara of Mali believe that the male and female possess twin souls, the boy’s "female soul" is in the prepuce, the female element of the genitals, and the girl’s "male soul" is in the clitoris, the male element (p. 38). Yorubans practice excision as a form of contraception, believing that sperm may enter into a nursing mother’s milk and cause harm to the child. Areas in Sudan and Ethiopia believe that if the female genitalia is not removed, they will dangle between the legs like a man’s. Many people of Nigeria have been known to express that should the baby’s head touch the clitoris during delivery, such a baby would die (p.39). The most common reasons for FGM being practiced in a place like Sudan, is to desensitize the female and make it so that she is not promiscuous and disruptive caused by insatiable sexual desires. It is also to be believed that men of Sudan will not have a woman in marriage or are not even attracted to a woman who remains uncircumcised. Yet Hanny Lightfoot-Klein was sure to note that through most of her interviews with men, she found that they indeed were repulsed at the sight of circumcised genitalia on a woman. I thought that Prisoners of Ritual was an excellent book that was interesting to me because of the different angles she took and although she was obviously disturbed by the procedure of female genital mutilation, Lightfoot-Klein also has a strong value in preserving a culture and custom. Despite all the horrific images of what she saw on her travels, and the reality of what FGM is, does, and leaves behind, she puts it best, "I looked for villains in this conundrum, and I found none. I found instead men and women entrapped in an antiquated ritual, dating heaven only knows how far back into history, unable to free themselves from its centuries-old enmeshment, all of them its prisoners" (p.x).

"Sierra Leone: The Childbirth Picture Books Teach to Stop FGM." WIN News 22.4 (Autumn 1996): 49. This article from WIN News was interesting because they were obviously advocates against FGM and their solution was education for women and children in Sierra Leone through using the Childbirth Picture Book (CBPB). The CBPB is published in multiple languages addressing families and community health workers worldwide with 34 full-page drawings so that it can be read aloud for illiterate people. The CBPB was developed by Fran P. Hosken and used to educate girls and women about the damage done by excision and infibulation. This article was really interesting because these activists actually had some type of solution formally written out to teach the "victims" of this tradition, what they might not know before they are initiated. "The rule of absolute secrecy is still enforced by the secret women’s societies called BONDO who are in charge of the activities for which they get large payments. No information was given on what actually takes place at the "initiation" nor was the terrible ordeal the young women suffer even mentioned……the belief in evil spirits, supernatural powers and witchcraft is very strong all over Sierra Leone" (p.51). The article goes on to summarize the questionnaire that they sent with the books so that they could evaluate the books effectivenes and test the influence of the CBPB on a population that still firmly believes in the necessity of FGM. The most interesting part of this article was the actual accounts they had from women who responded to the CBPB and every single one rejected the practice. Many of these women didn’t realize that taking 15 minutes to urinate is unnatural, and frequent hemorrhaging, or damage done to their child during labor is not normal either. All can be accounted to FGM. The CBPBs are specially designed to dispel myths such as the need for excision in order to be desirable for marriage. The only thing I would have liked to read in this article is for the Childbirth Picture Book to reach other countries in Africa like Sudan and Kenya.

As we know, culture is a constant that is ever-changing and adapting to fit within the realm of technology, education, and time. Through my research of this fascinating custom still being practiced on millions of women, children, and infants annually, I have found that there is nothing more sacred than one’s own belief in a custom, system of belief, or religion. Yet an integral factor in life that we deal with daily is humanity and our general well-being, that is mentally, spiritually, and physically. Female genital mutilation is a practice that indeed we can say is antiquated. It is supported by cultures whose entire belief system’s rest upon centuries-old myths. This is unfortunate and to some, an ignorant and often deadly culture to live in. Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of miscarriage and pregnancy-related deaths in the world, in large part because of infections, scarring and other damage brought on by mutilations. Again, we cannot assume that banning or prohibiting a ritual is going to do anything but perhaps cause these culture groups to step out and express their frustration at being forced out of this custom that they have practiced for centuries. Indeed, it is education that will form the foundation for change and with change will follow physical, spiritual and cultural growth.

Published anonymously with Student Permission

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