I really enjoyed this week’s BBC Photojournal on the harvesting of cloves in Tanzania. I did not know that so much was involved in getting that tiny spice that I often add to my sauces. Harvesting the flower buds, drying them, and then taking them to weighing stations is not an easy labor, for that spice to find its way into plates around the world, food, drinks, cosmetics, wine, and medicine. The photojournal focuses on the harvest of cloves on the archipelago of Zanzibar in Tanzania, and particularly on Pemba island. Zanzibar was once known as the Spice islands, and was once the world’s largest producer of cloves. Next time you use that tiny spice, remember Zanzibar. Enjoy BBC Photojournal on the harvesting of cloves!
One cannot blame a bug you crushed for smelling bad (Ovimbundu proverb – Angola). – When one has wronged someone, one can expect a trial.
On ne peut reprocher à la punaise que tu écrases de sentir mauvais (Proverbe Ovimbundu – Angola). – Quand on a fait du tort à quelqu’un, on peut s’attendre à un procès.
Podemos culpar o bug que você esmagar sentir mal (Provérbio Ovimbundu – Angola). Quando alguém o ofendeu alguém, podemos esperar um julgamento.
I often wondered where the name of Luanda, the capital and largest city of Angola, came from. After the African Cup of Nations was organized in Angola in 2010, I had started thinking about it: was it a Kimbundu word, or Umbundu, or Kikongo? or did it have Portuguese roots?
Well, it turns out that, on 25 January 1576, Portuguese explorer Paulo Dias de Novais founded Luanda under the name of “São Paulo da Assumpção de Loanda”. When he arrived on the Ilha do Cabo (Cape Island), he found an indigenous population, the Axi-Iwanda people, a subgroup of the Ambundu people which were tributary to the Kongo Empire. The island was an important location to collect zimbo, shells used as currency by the Kongo king before the arrival of Portuguese in the area. Novais established a Portuguese settlement of about 700 people: 350 soldiers, missionaries, merchants, and officials, and families, to first gain control of the currency, before establishing himself on the mainland, opposite the island. They started to use the name of the Axi-Iwanda inhabitants as a name for the island and the town, spelling it first “Loanda“, then “Luanda“.
In 1618, the Portuguese built the fortress of Fortaleza São Pedro da Barra, and they subsequently built two more in 1634 and 1765: Fortaleza de São Miguel and Forte de São Francisco do Penedo , respectively. Of these, the Fortaleza de São Miguel is the best preserved. In 1622, Queen Nzingha had an audience with the Portuguese governor in Luanda (this was before she became queen). The city of Luanda has been the administrative center of the colony of Angola since 1627, except from 1641 to 1648 when it was under the control of the Dutch Company of West Indies. From 1550 to 1836, Luanda was an important center for slave trade to Brazil. When Angola became an actual Portuguese colony, the city was divided between white neighborhoods and indigenous ones, as was tradition in almost all European colonies. The white colonialists lived in huge villas with servants, while the local populations lived in huts. The majority of the local population present in Luanda were Ambundu and Bakongo. The colonial army would constantly guard the entrance to the European neighborhoods.
After the slave trade was abolished in 1836, Angola’s ports were then opened to foreign shipping in 1844. By 1850, Luanda was one of the greatest and most developed Portuguese cities in the vast Portuguese Empire outside Continental Portugal, full of trading companies, exporting palm and peanut oil, wax, copal, timber, ivory, cotton, coffee, and cocoa, among many other products. Maize, tobacco, dried meat, and cassava flour were also produced locally. In 1889, Governor Brito Capelo inaugurated an aqueduct which supplied the city with water, laying the foundation for major growth. After the establishment of the republican regime in Portugal in 1910, colonialism entered a new phase. The new Portuguese government started building schools in Angola. The first high school, Liceu Central de Luanda, was created in 1919. During the authoritarian Estado Novo years, Luanda was also used as a penitentiary colony, used to host convicted criminals.
A few months after independence from Portugal in 1975, with Agostinho Neto becoming Angola’s first president, civil war broke in the country when the city of Luanda was attacked by the FNLA forces supported by Portuguese mercenaries. This assault was pushed back by the governmental army (MPLA) supported by Cubans in the battle of Kifangondo. Throughout the years, the civil war forced many people across the country to seek refuge in Luanda. After the death of Jonas Savimbi, UNITA‘s leader in 2002, a ceasefire was reached, and Angola finally arose from over 25 years of civil war.
Today, Luanda is the siege of the country’s principal companies: Angola Telecom, Unitel, Endiama, Sonangol, Linhas Aéreas de Angola, and Odebrecht Angola (Brazilian company). Back in 1972, it was already called the “Paris of Africa.” Manufacturing is big in the city. Petroleum found in nearby off-shore deposits is refined in the city. Luanda has an excellent natural harbor. The city also has a thriving building industry, an effect of the nationwide economic boom experienced since 2002, when political stability returned with the end of the civil war. Large investments, along with strong economic growth, have made Luanda one of the fastest growing cities of Africa, and of the world. Surrounded by beautiful beaches, and rich through its culture, Luanda is truly an African pearl. Please enjoy this video of one of the jewels of Africa, Luanda.
I healed him, and he runs away when I come (Basuto Proverb – Lesotho, South Africa). – Such ingratitude!
Un mort arrive au paradis et demande à St Pierre : “pourquoi il y a beaucoup d’horloges ici ” ? St Pierre lui dit : “chaque horloge répresente une personne et chaque fois qu’elle ment sur la terre, çà tourne. Regardes celle de la Vierge Marie , elle est sur 00h car elle n’a jamais menti. Celle de simon est sur 03h car il a rénié Jesus 3 fois”. Le mort lui dit : “Mais où est celle de N’zuéba ?” St Pierre lui répond : l’horloge de N’zuéba-là, Jesus a pris pour faire ventilateur, tellement çà tournait.
A dead man arrives in paradise and asks St Peter: “Why are there clocks here?” St Peter tells him: “every clock represents a person, and each time that person lies on earth, it turns. Look at that of the Virgin Mary, it is on 00h because she never lied. That of Simon is on 03h, because he denied Jesus 3 times.” The dead then asks: “but where is N’Zueba’s clock?” St Peter replies: “N’Zueba’s clock, Jesus took it to use as a fan, as it was turning so much.”
Here is a story from: Ethiopian Folktales. You can read the full story there.
Once there was a very beautiful Afar girl and one young man fell madly in love with her. So he sent people to her father’s house to ask for her hand in marriage.
But her father said, “I’ll only bestow my daughter if he gives me all his wealth, his camels, his cows, everything.”
So they went back and said, “Look, her father’s asking for the impossible. He wants all your wealth.”
The young man said, “That’s OK. She’s everything in this world. You can take all my animals.”
And he married the girl.
But he had nothing to feed her and therefore he had to become a hunter and he fed her.
Then one day her father decided to go and visit his son-in-law and daughter and he came over to their house. Of course a guest has to eat, so she brought in her father and made him sit down and she started boiling water hoping her husband would soon come in with the kill, but all the water in the pot boiled away. So she put in more water, but it too boiled away. She filled it again and it boiled away. By this time she was desperate and she looked out of their hut and saw another man walk by with a bush buck he had just killed.
So she went to him and said, “Look mister, I have an unexpected guest and my husband, who is a hunter, has gone out, so please give me one of the legs of the bush buck so I can feed my guest. When my husband comes back, I’ll repay you in kind.”
And he said, “No way. I’ve got enough meat for myself, therefore I don’t want the leg of meat that your husband is going to bring. But since you are so beautiful, I want to make love to you.”
She said, “OK, but the guest is in my house right now, so go and come back after dark.”
So she took the leg of meat and went in and started cooking it. Then her husband came, having killed a zebra, so there was plenty of meat and he gave it to her and he sat down and started eating with his father-in-law.
When it became dark the other hunter came and he threw a pebble on to the roof so that she would come out. But she just sat down and went on cooking the zebra meat. He threw a second pebble, but she pretended not to notice. Then he threw a third pebble and she burst out laughing.
Her father turned round and said, “What are you laughing at?”
She said, “I’m laughing at three fools.”
Her father said, “What do you mean?”
She said, “I’m laughing at three fools. The first fool is my husband, who gave away all his wealth for the sake of a woman. The second fool is my father, who took away all the wealth of his child, his son-in-law, then comes to have a meal and where does he expect the meat to come from? And the third fool is the man outside who gave me a leg of his bush buck and expects me to make love with him.”
So the moral is: (i) men are foolish over women and wealth; (ii) wealth is necessary for people to live well besides love.
Celebrated every two years by the Bamoun people (also spelled Bamun, Bamoum, Bamum) of the Noun region of Cameroon, the Nguon festival is over 600 years old. It is a true display of the rich culture and tradition of the Bamoun people. The Nguon festivities are spread over 7 days, with each day marked by several activities such as traditional dances, ritual ceremonies, conferences, and great food showcasing the richness of the Bamoun culture.
During the Nguon, the Bamoun people gather to express their ideas and grievances. The pinnacle of the festivities occurs when the King is deposed, judged on his governance and achievements for the last two years and eventually reinstated. Talk about an example of democracy! The Nguon thus allows the king to connect with his people; it is a time when the distinctions and hereditary privilege classes cease to exist.
So why the name Nguon, you might ask? Well, the Nguon is the name of a species of locust whose large presence in the fields announced the period of harvest of millet, maize and other cereals. It is a celebration of the harvest, of good times. That is the reason why this centuries’ old festival was always held during the harvest period, usually in late July, or early August. In the old days, it was celebrated once a year, but since 1996, it has become a biennial celebration. On the first day of the celebration, all the lights at the King’s palace are turned off. Slowly, the owners of the Nguon enter into the royal court, in total darkness accompanied by the sound of drums, giving it a mystical touch.
It was all started in 1394 by Nchare Yen, the founder of the Bamoun kingdom (this will be for another day). After Nchare Yen established his kingdom on the shores of the Noun River, he befriended Mfo Mokup, a neighboring king who had a secret society called Nguon, which ensured the supply and equitable distribution of food across his kingdom (like Joseph in Egypt in the Bible). Every year, during the harvest period, the Nguon owners (members of the secret society) roamed the village to ensure that villagers brought their harvest to the king’s palace; in turn, the king redistributed the products of the harvest to all his subjects across the kingdom. Any surplus was stored in an attic in preparation for hard times. The gathering ended in 3 days of celebration known as the Nguon festival.
Upon seeing this, King Nchare Yen adopted this governing method whereby Nguon owners would not only travel throughout the kingdom to ensure good food supply, but would also gather all of the people’s grievances, and detect abuses committed in the name of the King. Their responsibility was thus to keep the king aware of any problems, and in touch with his constituency. During colonial times, the French did not appreciate this way of governing, as it gave too much power to the local King; so they banned the Nguon in 1924 after deposing Sultan Njoya. It was fully restored by his successor Sultan Njimoluh Njoya after Cameroon’s independence. Since 1996, the current monarch, Sultan Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, has made it a biennial celebration, and transformed it into an international event attracting tourists from around the world.
According to His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya the Nguon is the “cultural identity of the Bamoum”. It is a celebration of the people’s warmth, and joy at sharing their cultural heritage. It is extremely beautiful to see people celebrate their culture that way, dressed in full attire: the warriors demonstrating their skills, reenacting centuries’ old traditions, telling centuries’ old stories, great music, great dancers, delicious food, the women dressed like true African queens, and the euphoric ambiance. The blog My African Chronicles has great pictures of the event two years ago.
The Elmina Castle is one of the 30 slave forts along the coasts of Ghana. It was built in 1482 by Portuguese traders on the site of a town called Amankwa or Amankwakurom. It was the first European slave-trading post in all of sub-saharan Africa. The Portuguese gave it the name of São Jorge da Mina, or St. George’s of the mine, or simply “Elmina” (the mine). At four storeys high, it was one of the most imposing coastal forts, and for many years the largest one. It was originally build by the Portuguese as a warehouse to protect the gold trade, but later it became the center of the Dutch slave trade, after its capture by the Dutch in 1637. The British attacked the city in 1782, but it remained in Dutch hands until 1872, when the Dutch Gold Coast was sold to the British.
Slaves were typically captured inland, and then brought to the fort on an arduous journey that often lasted many days. Half of all captives did not even make it to the coast. Once at the fort, the slaves would wait, often for a long period of time ranging from 3-9 months, until a ship arrived. Imagine waiting in crammed conditions, packed in cells like sardines for 3 or more months!
Elmina, like other West African slave fortresses, housed luxury suites for the Europeans in the upper levels. The slaves were kept in cramped and filthy cells below, each cell often housing as many as 200-600 people at a time, without enough space to even lie down. Staircases led directly from the spacious governor’s chambers on the third level to the women’s cells below, making it easy for him to select personal concubines from amongst the women to “service him” every night.
There was also a discipline cell for “freedom fighters” : those who disobeyed were shut in this cell until they suffocated or starved to death. Ironically, Elmina also held Christian church services for the Europeans, on the second floor of the castle.
On the seaboard side of the castle was the Door of No Return, the infamous portal through which slaves boarded the ships that would take them on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic ocean known as the Middle Passage. At Elmina, the door of no return was a child-size window that slaves squeezed through to board the ship.
By the 18th century, at least 30,000 slaves on their way to the Americas had passed through Elmina each year. That is 30,000 slaves each year for at least 250 years: about 7.5 millions! Appalling!!
Today, Elmina’s economy is sustained by tourism and fishing. Elmina Castle is preserved as a Ghanaian national museum and the monument was designated as a World Heritage Monument under UNESCO in 1979. It is a place of pilgrimage for many African Americans seeking to connect with their long lost heritage. Enjoy the video below which is very educational!
I am going to start a series on reclaiming our history. I will be talking about slave forts across Africa. There were over 30 slave forts in Ghana only. How many in other countries? We will find out through this exercise. These fortified trading posts were built between 1482 and early 1800s by Portuguese, British, Swedish, English, Danish, Dutch, and French traders that plied the African coast. Initially, they had come in search of gold (in Ghana), ivory (in Ivory Coast), pepper (along the Pepper Coast) and then later, they discovered cheap labor: thus was born the slave trade. There was intense rivalry between those European powers for the control of the West African coast from Senegal, to as far south as Angola.
It is estimated that over 20 million Africans were sold into slavery during the Atlantic slave trade; this does not account for those who died during the trip aboard the ship (about 1/3), and those who were killed during the capture. Slaves were taken to North America, the Caribbeans, and Brazil. Moreover, this is an estimate for the transatlantic slave trade only, but did you know that slaves were also taken by Arabic sailors from the East Coast of Africa, to places like Saudi Arabia and as far as India?
The Portuguese began dealing in black slaves from Africa in the 15th century. Initially, they purchased slaves from Islamic traders, who had established inland trading routes to the sub-Sahara region. Later, as the Portuguese explored the coast of Africa, they came upon the Senegal River, and found that they could purchase slaves directly from Africans. The European slave trading activity moved south along the African coast over time, as far south as Angola. On the east coast of Africa and in the Indian Ocean region, slaves were also taken from Mozambique, Zanzibar and Madagascar. Many of the slaves were from the interior of Africa, having been taken captive as a result of tribal wars, or else having been kidnapped by black slave traders engaged in the business of trading slaves for European goods. These slaves would be marched to the coast to be sold, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles. Many perished along the way. The captured Africans were held in forts or slave castles along the coast. They remained there for months crammed in horrible conditions inside dungeons for months before being shipped on board European merchant ships chained at the wrists and legs with irons, to North America, Brazil, and the West Indies.
African rulers were instrumental in the slave trade, as they exchanged prisoners of war (rarely their own people) for firearms which in turn allowed them to expand their territories. The slave trade had a profound effect on the economy and politics of Africa, leading in many cases to an increase in tension and violence, as many kingdoms were expanding.
The slave trade was responsible for major disruption to the people of Africa. Women and men were taken young, in their most productive years, thus damaging African economies. The physical experience of slavery was painful, traumatic and long-lasting. We know this from the written evidence of several freed slaves. Captivity marked the beginning of a dehumanizing process that affected European attitudes towards African people. Can you imagine losing 1/3 or more of your active population? It is hard to fathom what crippling effect that will have on any country’s progress. That is why, in upcoming months, I will be talking and trying to identify slave forts in Africa, in an attempt to reclaim our history. I know this is a touchy subject, but it is history: the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the joyous. It is important to know history in order to be able to claim the future fully, without any baggage.