Posted by: humilityjoy | September 11, 2014

Proverbe Basuto sur l’egoisme / Basutho Proverb on Selfishness



Le lion ne prête pas ses dents à son frère (Proverbe Basuto – Lesotho).  Charité bien ordonnée commence par soi-même.

A lion does not lend his teeth to its brother (Basuto proverb – Lesotho).  Charity begins at home.

Posted by: humilityjoy | September 8, 2014

Why the Name: Cairo?

Map of Egypt

Map of Egypt

Dear all, today, I would like to talk about the city of Cairo, the capital of Egypt.  Have you ever wondered what the name of Africa‘s second most populous city, after Lagos, stood for?

Old Cairo, 1900s, Fustat

Old Cairo, ca early 1900s, Fustat

Well, Cairo’s official name is al-Qāhirah, which means literally: “Place or Camp of Mars“, in reference to the fact that the planet was rising at the time of the city’s foundation as well as, “the Vanquisher“; “the Conqueror“; “the Victorious” or, “the Strong” (al-Qahira) in reference to the much awaited Caliph Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah who arrived from the old Fatimid capital of Mahdia in 973 AD to the city.   “The Victorious” is often quoted as the most popular meaning of the name Cairo.  The Egyptian name for Cairo is said to be: Khere-Ohe, meaning: “The Place of Combat“, supposedly, in reference to a battle which took place between the Gods Seth and Horus. Sometimes the city is informally also referred to as كايرو Kayro [ˈkæjɾo]. It is also called Umm al-Dunya, meaning “the mother of the world“.

Modern-day Cairo

Modern-day Cairo

Cairo is located on the shores of the Nile river, as well as on several adjacent islands in the north of Egypt.  To the west of the city is Giza, and its ancient necropolis of Memphis on the Giza plateau, with its three great pyramids among which the Great Pyramid of Cheops and the Great Sphinx.  The area around present-day Cairo, especially  Memphis, had long been a focal point of Ancient Egypt, its pharaohs, and its rich culture, due to its strategic location upstream from the Nile Delta.  However, the origins of modern-day Cairo are generally traced to a series of settlements in the first millenium, as Memphis’ importance was declining.  In the 4th century AD, the Romans established a fortress town, known as Babylon, along the east bank of the Nile. This fortress remains the oldest structure in the city to this day. Later on, the Caliph al-Mu’izz li Din Allah of the Fatimid dynasty moved his capital from Mahdia in Tunisia to Cairo in 973; and gave the city its present name, al-Qahira (“The Victorious“).  Cairo remained the capital through the end of the Fatimid dynasty 200 years later, and has remained the capital of Egypt through the Ottoman rule, and into the modern era.

The Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza

Indeed, Cairo’s life has been quite victorious.  Egypt is the land of so many rich civilizations: the great Pharaohs of Egypt, the Greeks, Babylonians, RomansMuslims with the introduction of Islam; thus Cairo inherited from this wealth and has been a great melting pot.  Egypt as a whole, and Cairo in particular, is like an open museum with monuments reflecting different periods of the world’s history.  As Africa’s second largest city, Cairo is a vibrant city, with the oldest and largest film and music industries in the Arab world, and the world’s second oldest institution of higher learning, al-Azhar University founded in 969 AD.

Please enjoy this great city, Cairo, the Victorious, and hopefully think of visiting it.

Posted by: humilityjoy | September 1, 2014

“Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

I liked this poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes… although it is a bit bitter, it is a mother advising her son on life.  Enjoy!


Mother to Son

 Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes


Posted by: humilityjoy | August 27, 2014

Adinkra Symbols and the Rich Akan Culture

Adinkra in 1817

Adinkra in 1817

Today, we will talk about Adinkra symbols of the Akan people of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

The Adinkra symbols are believed to originate in Gyaman, a former kingdom in modern day Côte d’Ivoire.  According to an Ashanti (Asante) legend, Adinkra was the name of a king of the Gyaman kingdom, Nana Kofi Adinkra.  King Adinkra was defeated and captured in a battle.  According to the legend, Nana Adinkra wore patterned cloth, which was interpreted as a way of expressing his sorrow on being taken to Kumasi, the capital of Asante.  He was finally killed and his territory was annexed to the kingdom of Asante.  The Asante people, around the 19th century, took to painting of traditional symbols of the Gyamans onto cloth, a tradition which has remained to this day.

Adinkra work, 1825

Adinkra work, 1825

The arrival of the adinkra in Akan culture seems to date as far back as 1817, when the English T.E. Bowdich collected a piece of adinkra cotton cloth from the city of Kumasi.  The patterns on it were printed using carved calabash stamps and a vegetable-based dye.  The cloth featured fifteen stamped symbols, including nsroma (stars), dono ntoasuo (double Dono drums), and diamonds, and is currently hosted at the British Museum in London.

Sankofa symbol

Sankofa symbol

Adinkra symbols are visual representation of concepts and aphorism developed by the Akan people of Ghana.  Adinkra symbols are extensively used in fabrics, pottery, logos, and advertising.  They can also be found on architectural buildings, as well as on traditional Akan gold weights, and sculptures as well as stools used for traditional rituals.  The adinkra symbols are not just decorative objects, or drawings, but actual messages conveying ancient traditional wisdom relevant to aspects of life or the environment.  A lot of the Adinkra symbols have meanings linked to proverbs, such as the sankofa symbol.  Sankofa, in the Twi language, translates in English to ” reach back and get it” (santo return; koto go; fato look, to seek and take) or the Adinkra symbol of a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back, or of a stylised heart shape.  It is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”  Other Adinkra symbols depict historical events, human behavior and attitudes, animal behavior, plant life, and objects’ shapes.

Adinkra means ‘goodbye’ or ‘farewell’ in the Twi language of the Akan ethnic group, to which the Asante belong.  No wonder the Akan people, and particularly the Asante, wore clothes decorated with Adinkra symbols mostly for funerals as a way to show their sorrow, and to bid farewell to the deceased.

Some Adinkra symbols

Some Adinkra symbols

Adinkra cloths were traditionally only worn by royalty and spiritual leaders for funerals and special occasions.  They were also hand printed on undyed, red, dark brown, or black hand-woven cotton fabric depending on the occasion and the wearer’s status.  Today, adinkra is worn by anyone, women, men or children, and it is frequently mass-produced on brighter colored fabrics.  The 3 most important funerary Adinkra are: the dark – brown (kuntunkuni), the brick – red (kobene), and the black (brisi).  There are however, other forms of which cannot be properly called mourning cloth. Their bright and light backgrounds classify them as Kwasiada Adinkra or Sunday Adinkra meaning fancy clothes which cannot be suitable for funerary contents but appropriate for most festive occasions or even daily wear.

Adinkra symbols and their meaning

Adinkra symbols and their meaning

The center of traditional production of adinkra cloth is Ntonso, 20 km northwest of Kumasi, the city where the Englishman was first given it in 1817.  Dark Adinkra aduro pigment for the stamping is made in Ntonso, by soaking, pulverizing, and boiling the inner bark and roots of the badie tree (Bridelia ferruginea) in water over a wood fire.  Once the dark color is released, the mixture is strained, and then boiled for several more hours until it thickens.  The stamps are carved out of the bottom of a calabash piece, and measure on average 5 to 8 cm2.

Enjoy the video below on Adinkra, and the articles on, Adinkra in Ntonso with gorgeous images of the process of making Adinkra stamps and clothes, and lastly GhanaCulture.

Le Baobab / The baobab tree

Le Baobab / The baobab tree

Coupes-tu l’arbre qui t’a sauvé le jour ou tu as fui le buffle? (Proverbe Bambala – République Démocratique du Congo (RDC)).

Do you cut the tree that saved you the day you were running away from the buffalo? (Bambala proverb – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)).

Posted by: humilityjoy | August 18, 2014

Lion and Baboon





BABOON, it is said, once worked bamboos, sitting on the edge of a precipice, and Lion stole upon him.  Baboon, however, had fixed some round, glistening, eyelike plates on the back of his head.  When, therefore, Lion crept upon him, he thought, when Baboon was looking at him, that he sat with his back towards him, and crept with all his might upon him.  When, however, Baboon turned his back towards him, Lion thought that he was seen, and bid himself.  Thus, when Baboon looked at him, he crept upon him.*  When he was near him Baboon looked up, and Lion continued to creep upon him. Baboon said (aside), “Whilst I am looking at him he steals upon me, whilst my hollow eyes are on him.”
When at last Lion sprung at him, he lay (quickly) down upon his face, and Lion jumped over him, falling down the precipice, and was dashed to pieces.

*Whilst Baboon did this, Lion came close upon him.

South African Folk Tales, by James A. Honey, 1910, Baker & Taylor Company.

Posted by: humilityjoy | August 17, 2014

Proverbe Wolof sur le Travail / Wolof Proverb on Work

Abeille et Miel

Abeille et Miel / Bee and Honey

Celui qui veut le miel, doit avoir le courage d’affronter les abeilles (Proverbe Wolof – Sénégal).

Whoever wants honey, should have to courage to face the bees (Wolof Proverb – Senegal)

Posted by: humilityjoy | August 12, 2014

Fasilides Castle: a Pure Gem of Ethiopia’s Rich History

Map of Ethiopia

Map of Ethiopia

Throughout human history, every great empire has had great builders and phenomenal architectural fits: The Romans with Emperor Titus who built the Colosseum, the Inca builders of Machu Picchu, the Egyptian pharaohs with the great sphinx of Giza and the great pyramids, the first emperor of China and the Ming dynasty with the Great Wall of China.  However, few today know of the Abyssinian builder Fasilides and his work.

Ethiopian Emperor Fasilides is one of most remarkable rulers of Abyssinia, the ancient name of Ethiopia.  A member of the Solomonic dynasty, emperor Fasilides ruled over Abyssinia from 1632 to 1667.  He founded the city of Gondar in 1636 which became the capital of Abyssinia, in the northwestern part of Ethiopia.  He was known as Alam Sagad or ‘To whom the world bows.’  Today, thousands bow to his work, and his footprints have marked the history of Ethiopia forever.

Fasilides' Castle

Fasilides’ Castle

Among the buildings he constructed there are the beginnings of the complex later known as Fasil Ghebbi, as well as some of the earliest of Gondar’s famous 44 churches: Adababay Iyasus, Adababay Tekle Haymanot, Atatami Mikael, Gimjabet Maryam, Fit Mikael, and Fit Abbo.  Fasilides is also credited with building seven stone bridges in Ethiopia.  Sebara Dildiy (broken bridge in Amharic) was one of two stone bridges built over the Blue Nile River during Fasilides reign.  Sebara Dildiy was later repaired during Emperor Menelik II‘s reign in 1901.  Emperor Fasilides also built the Cathedral Church of St Mary of Zion at Axum.  Fasilides’ church is known today as the “Old Cathedral” and stands next to a newer cathedral built by Emperor Haile Selassie.

Fasilides' Bath

Fasilides’ Bath

When King Fasilides made Gondar the seat of his empire in 1636, he constructed a palace that would eventually sprawl into a large complex, as succeessors added their own buildings to the compound.  Set in the heart of what is now one of Ethiopia’s largest cities, the palace complex is a mixture of beautifully-preserved period architecture with European and Moorish influences, and rambling ruins.  Interestingly, Fasilides’ Castle itself is the best-preserved, with its lower halls, reservoirs and steam-baths, remains of kitchens and stables, and even enclosures for leopards and lions that used to grace the grounds.  The castle is located near the city center.  Its structure is purely made of stone.  Today, Fasilides baths are used for baptism during the Timkat festival, the epiphany, in late January; they are only filled with water for the festival.  The castle can be found in Gondar, Amhara regionFasilides’ Castle is definitely a representation of Ethiopia’s great and rich history.



Singe / Monkey

On ne lave pas la figure du singe, c’est dangereux (Proverbe Mongo/Bangala – Republique Democratique du Congo (RDC)). –  N’aidez pas les ingrats.

Do not wash the monkey’s face, it is dangerous (Mongo/Bangala proverb – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)). –  Do not help ingrates.

Posted by: humilityjoy | August 6, 2014

Rudyard Kipling ‘If’

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

I know Rudyard Kipling is not an African, but I always liked his poem ‘If‘.  I first read it in secondary school, and to me it has always represented a way of living life without being too frazzled.  This symbolizes a way of living, that we should all aspire to.  Kipling apparently wrote it as advice to his son.  There is so much stoicism in it.  Enjoy!!


By Rudyard Kipling

(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:


If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:


If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

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