Ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I have decided to talk about Brazilians of African descent who have influenced their country in some way or fashion. I know this is rare, in a country where the plight of the Blacks is still very dire. Today, we will talk about Marina Silva.
If you were watching the Brazilian elections, you probably saw that it saw the election of the first woman president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff. Most importantly, the 2010 Brazilian presidential election not only saw a woman winning the election, but also a woman deciding the turn of the elections. I am talking about Marina Silva, a Black Brazilian from humble beginnings, who came from a family of rubber tappers, and only learned to read and write at the age of 16, and later became a senator, and then a minister in Brazil under President Lula. Hers is a story like none other! A beautiful story! A story of hardship and overcoming those hardships. Imagine that: a Black woman (in a country where Blacks almost have no say) who was once a maid, and lived by tapping rubber on plantations could become a senator, then a minister under president Lula, and then a presidential candidate, and more the balance maker of the 2010 Brazilian elections! Wow! Wow! Wow! Who said women had no voice? Who said Blacks had no say?
Marina Silva grew up in Rio Branco the western province of Acre in Brazil in the Amazon rainforest. Silva helped create Acre’s first workers’ union, and led demonstrations with Chico Mendes to warn against deforestation and the outplacement of forest communities from their traditional locations. She has become an activist, a senator and a minister, entirely dedicated to securing the largest and richest ecosystem on earth: the Amazon rainforest. Her efforts, courage, and achievements are without comparison.
Hers was the defining moment of the 2010 Brazilian elections! Enjoy Marina Silva TEDX’s speech titled “Everyone can do it!” and feel the need to rise and unleash your inner genius!
I always wondered why the capital of Libya was named Tripoli. The name did not sound so ‘Arabic’ or ‘Berber’ to me… and I always thought that maybe the name had some Italian origin, since Libya was once part of the Roman empire, and later in the 19th/20th centuries an Italian colony.
Tripoli, or Tarabulusin Arabic, is known as Tripoli-of-the-West, to distinguish it from its ancient Phoenician sister city of Tripoli in Lebanon which means Levantine Tripoli or Tripoli of the East. Tripoli, Libya, is affectionately called the Mermaid of the Mediterranean (arusat-el-bahr: bride of the sea) describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings. In reality, Tripoli is a Greek name which means “Three Cities” (Triafor three, Polisfor city) in reference to the Libyan province of Tripolitaine encompassing the three cities of Oea (modern-day Tripoli), Leptis Magna, and Sabratha.
Tripoli is located in the north west of the country. It extends to the edges of the desert, on a rocky piece of land jutting out into the Mediterranean sea, forming a bay. Tripoli was founded in the 7th century BC, by the Phoenicians, who gave it the Libyco-Berber name Oea (or Wy’t), probably built upon a native Berber town. The Phoenicians were probably attracted to the site by its natural harbor, flanked on the western shore by the small, easily defensible peninsula, on which they established their colony. The city was then taken by the rulers of Cyrenaica (a Greek colony on the North African shore, east of Tripoli, halfway to Egypt), although the Carthaginians later wrested it from the Greeks. Around the 2nd century BC, Tripoli belonged to the Romans, who included it in their province of Africa, and gave it the name of Regio Syrtica. Around the beginning of the 3rd century AD, it became known as the Regio Tripolitana, meaning “region of the three cities“, namely Oea, Sabratha and Leptis Magna. It was later raised to the rank of a separate province by Septimius Severus, who was a native of Leptis Magna. Tripoli was later conquered by Muslim dynasties around the 8th century AD; it was temporarily part of the BerberAlmohad empire and of the Hafsids kingdom. Tripoli was included in the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries AD.
With a population over 1.68 million (census before the 2011 NATO attacks on Libya) Tripoli is the largest city, the principal port, and the biggest industrial and commercial city of Libya. It is the heart of government and that of the prestigious university of Tripoli. Due to its long historical importance, Tripoli has a lot of archaelogical sites. Many of these sites (which were already derelict) were bombed by the NATO forces during their intervention in Libya 2011 against the government of Muammar Gaddafi.
True, the city today is very far from its splendid and beautiful self. Tripoli is healing its wounds today, which may take years or decades to heal, but I thought you would enjoy watching this 2010 video of Tripoli, the Mermaid of the Mediterranean!
I decided to make a compilation of some of Lapiro de Mbanga’s words in his interviews. The full interview to Daniel Brown from Freemuse can be found here; for the interview Lapiro gave to Le Messager, click here; and lastly the interview to Phoenix Gauthier can be found on RFI. The video below shows Lapiro de Mbanga’s proudly expressing himself at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2013. Enjoy!!!
About life in prison: … There is no hygiene here and we must share our most intimate moments with the other cellmates. … I should have been taken to hospital for a consultation but my status as a political prisoner has meant I have not been allowed to go once in these two years. I somehow survived the typhoid attack in December by taking the antibiotics my wife Louisette brought me. It’s fortunate she comes every few days. It’s a five-hour round trip from Mbanga, it’s taking a toll on her, too. … I wake at 7 to 8 every morning …. I keep informed about the outside world thanks to TV5 [France’s international station] or Radio France International. I eat, chat with the others in the cell, play Ludo, scrabble, draughts. It’s impossible to compose in such an atmosphere. I need calm, serenity. Here, I cannot concentrate and write the thoughtful songs people expect of me.
We have penal rations twice a day. At 1pm we are given boiled corn and at 5pm there’s rice in some warm water. It’s the same every day. It’s way below minimum requirements. My wife brings me food every two days, I couldn’t survive otherwise.I’ve seen people die of hunger.It happens every day in Cameroonian prisons.
Normally, I should have no contact with the outside world. Telephones are illegal here. I’m speaking to you because we have to scheme like common crooks. In prison there are all kinds of trafficking going on, including this one. You pay guards to turn a blind eye. You know, in Cameroon you can buy everything. This country has been world champion in terms of corruption. It’s everywhere and filters down to here. (Source: Daniel Brown, Freemuse)
On being scared for his life because of his outspokenness:It’s all part of my struggle. If I was the scared type I would never have started singing in 1985. I’m not going to start getting scared after all these years. My struggle has always been to denounce inequalities and danger is part of that mission. The only thing that has changed for me since 1985 is I’m at the head of a family with six children. I can guarantee my own security, but not theirs. I’m scared for them. But I have no choice. If you start such a struggle, somebody must pay. Still, my family is unhappy with such risk taking. That’s why I think if I don’t go into exile after this prison term, I won’t survive very long out there – they’ll kill me. Because it’s obvious people in charge don’t want to be confronted with somebody who stops them from just getting on with things. (Source: Daniel Brown, Freemuse)
On going to exile: For starters, I am not in exile; I am political refugee in the USA. I needed a social security and an insurance for the future of my children; I refuse to manufacture unemployed people full of diplomas who will retire without ever having worked. [Pour commencer, je ne suis pas en exil; je suis réfugié politique aux USA. J’avais besoin d’une sécurité sociale et d’une assurance pour le futur de mes enfants; je refuse de fabriquer des chômeurs bardés de diplômes qui vont aller à la retraite sans avoir jamais travaillé.] (Source: Le Messager 04 April 2013)
About the way he spends his days now in the US: I dedicate myself to my children’s education. I have, during 3 decades, focused my life on my struggle, the fight against social inequalities, forgetting that I was first a head of family. Despite what the Um [Nyobé], Ouandié, Moumié, and all the known and unknown freedom fighters have done, nobody knows what has become of their offspring. For me, it is very serious. It is as if they had fought for nothing. [Je me consacre à l’éducation de mes enfants qui sont ici avec moi. J’ai pendant 3 décennies focalisé ma vie sur mon combat, à savoir la lutte contre les inégalités sociales oubliant que j’étais d’abord un chef de famille. Malgré tout ce que les Um, Ouandié, Moumié et tous les autres combattants connus et inconnus ont fait, personne aujourd’hui ne sait ce que sont devenues leurs progénitures, Pour moi, c’est très grave. C’est comme s’ils ont combattu pour rien …]. (Source: Le Messager 04 April 2013)
About his rupture with Biya and Fru Ndi: Paul Biya, even if he listens to my songs, does not count on my very short list of friends. So no need to break up with him even though I never voted neither for him, nor for Ahidjo’s party which he hijacked in Bamenda in 1985. Fru Ndi, whom I now call “CHIENMAN” and not Chairman, has ceased to be worthy of my respect, given his multiple reversals and changes. … I cannot be in good terms with an individual who plots against the people, it is as simple as that. [Paul Biya même s’il écoute mes chansons, ne compte pas sur la liste très restreinte de mes amis. Donc pas besoin de rompre avec lui encore que je n’ai jamais voté ni pour lui-même, ni pour le parti de Ahidjo qu’il a détourné à Bamenda en 1985. Fru Ndi que j’appelle désormais “CHIENMAN” et non Chairman, a cessé depuis bien longtemps d’être une personne ayant droit à mon respect, compte tenu de ses multiples virements, revirements et retournements de veste. … Je ne peux pas être en bon terme avec un individu qui complote contre le peuple, c’est aussi simple que cela]. (Source: Le Messager 04 April 2013)
On his dream for Cameroon? I dream of a Cameroon where the power will belong to the people. Where the wealthy will not use the misery of the poor by giving them some rice, fish, beer and 1000 FCFA to stay in power and plunder the country’s resources. [Je rêve d’un Cameroun dont le pouvoir appartiendra au peuple. Où les riches ne vont pas se servir de la misère des pauvres en donnant aux démunis du riz, du poisson, de la bière et 1000f pour aller au pouvoir piller les ressources du pays.] (Source: Le Messager 04 April 2013)
On his struggle: The fight continues. I got out of jail only three months ago. And I need to continue the fight at a greater level. … You have seen my environment. Here in Mbanga, it is 7:30PM and it is already dark everywhere. Without electricity, you can be attacked. Yet, there are people who fight at work all day. And at the end of the day, there is no light, no health, the children cannot go to school.There is no escape. That is my fight, my struggle. It is for that Cameroon that I am fighting. And I want the Americans and Europeans to understand. I come to tell them: thank you for fighting for Lapiro de Mbanga [release] , but there are 20 millions of Lapiro de Mbanga in Cameroon who experience the martyr daily. Wake up and do something. [Le combat continue. Je suis sorti de prison il y a seulement trois mois. Et je dois continuer le combat au niveau des grandes instances. … Vous avez vu mon environnement. Ici à Mbanga il est 19h30 et partout il fait noir. Sans électricité vous pouvez être agressé ici. Pourtant, il y a des gens qui se battent au travail toute la journée. Et, à la fin, il n’y a pas de lumière, ni de santé, les enfants ne peuvent pas aller à l’école. Il n’y a pas d’issue. C’est ça mon combat. C’est pour ce Cameroun-là que je me bats. Et je veux que les Américains et les Européens comprennent. Je viens leur dire par ma voix : merci d’avoir combattu pour Lapiro de Mbanga, mais il y a 20 millions de Lapiro de Mbanga au Cameroun qui subissent le martyr au quotidien. Réveillez-vous et faites quelque chose.] (Source: RFI, P. Gauthier, 12/07/2011)
The current news of Lapiro de Mbanga’s death really took me by surprise. It really saddened me. In the past few months, Cameroon has lost some of its most valiant fighters: Abel Eyinga, Charles Ateba Eyene, and now Lapiro de Mbanga. Lambo Sandjo Pierre Roger, also known as Lapiro de Mbanga, was a freedom fighter for those without voice; he was an outspoken critic of the government ofPaul Biya, and made himself the spoken voice of thousands of Cameroonian who could not speak and whose rights were bent. Ndinga Man, or the guitar man, used music to say what others were afraid to say.
Born in the village of Mbanga, just north west of Douala, Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo started his career under the name of Pastor Sandjo Lapiro in the late 70s when his disks were made in Nigeria. He later adopted the stage name of LAPIRO, part of his name LAmbo PIerre ROger, of Mbanga his birthplace. In 1986, he collaborated with his fellow countryman Toto Guillaume (from Kassav), and came out with Pas argent No Love, and then No Make Erreur. He chose to sing in Pidgin, mixed in with some English, French, and Douala, for all his countrymen to understand, and to articulate all the daily injustices he witnessed. The Jamaican Jimmy Cliff praised Lapiro’s qualities on the album’s back cover, and hoped to see him go international. Lapiro’s strong stance, without any deference against the authorities, gained him an immense popularity just like the Nigerian artist Fela.
His songs echoed the struggle for democracy in Cameroon. For the past 25 years, Lapiro’s songs – No Make Erreur, Pas argent no love, Kop Nie, Mimba We, Na You, Ndinga Man contre-attaque : na wou go pay ? – often flirted with censorship and provoked the ire of officials. Like he said of the president who did not want to leave power, Day di go mandat di bole… But it was his 2008 composition Constitution Constipée which really brought Lapiro face to face with the country’s repressive justice system, and landed him three years in the country’s jails. This protest song denounced the amendment of the constitutional clause, which limited presidential mandates to two non-renewable seven year terms. As usual his lyrics mixed in humour and anger in calling for Biya to step down, since the pacho (old man) is daya (tired) and has outlived his usefulness. The song was banned from airwaves; but since “impossible n’est pas camerounais” it was leaked out, and became the anthem for the youths and workers’ protests against the steep rise of the cost of living in the February 2008 riots. Lapiro was arrested and thrown to jail for inciting violence and arson. He spent the next three years ‘rotting’ in jails in Douala as a political prisoner in the worst conditions ever: sleeping on the floor in the rain, sharing the cell with 50 or more others, eating one meal a day, not having access to proper health care, etc. It is believed that he was only granted his freedom in 2011 because he was on the verge of death. In 2012, he sought and was granted political asylum in the USA. He arrived with his family in September of 2012. Lapiro joined his ancestors last night…
All said and done, Lapiro was really the idol of the downtrodden and forgotten people, the sauvetteurs and the bayam selams; he was the voice of the voiceless. Many believe the opposition leader John Fru Ndi would have never had the “aura” he had in the 90s without Lapiro. Truly Lapiro sang for the people, talked about the youth’s shattered dreams, the division, the tribalism, the corruption, the decadence, and the ills of the country. Cameroon has once again lost one of his great sons. This makes me want to ask Bob Marley’s question: How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? It really hurts, but we should remember Lapiro, our ambassador, as the outspoken critics, the voice of those without voice, and the “complice of the contre man” as he said himself. Ndinga Man, rest in peace! Enjoy No Make Erreur!!!
EVERY evening Jackal went to the Man’s* kraal. He crept through the sliding door and stole a fat young lamb. This, clever Jackal did several times in succession. Man set a wip for him at the door. Jackal went again and zip-there he was caught around the body by the noose. He swung and swayed high in the air and couldn’t touch ground. The day began to dawn and Jackal became uneasy.
On a stone kopje, Monkey sat. When it became light he could see the whole affair, and descended hastily for the purpose of mocking Jackal. He went and sat on the wall. “Ha, ha, good morning. So there you are hanging now, eventually caught.”
“What? I, caught? I am simply swinging for my pleasure; it is enjoyable.”
“You fibber. You are caught in the wip.”
“If you but realized how nice it was to swing and sway like this, you wouldn’t hesitate. Come, try it a little. You feel so healthy and strong for the day, and you never tire afterwards.”
“No, I won’t. You are caught.”
After a while Jackal convinced Monkey. He sprang from the kraal wall, and freeing Jackal, adjusted the noose around his own body.
Jackal quickly let go and began to laugh, as Monkey was now swinging high in the air.
“Ha, ha, ha,” he laughed. “Now Monkey is in the wip.”
“Jackal, free me,” he screamed.
“There, Man is coming,” shouted Jackal.
“Jackal, free me of this, or I’ll break your playthings.”
“No, there Man is coming with his gun; you rest a while in the noose.”
“Jackal, quickly make me free.”
“No, here’s Man already, and he’s got his gun. Good morning.” And with these parting words he ran away as fast as he could. Man came and saw Monkey in the wip.
“So, so, Monkey, now you are caught. You are the fellow who has been stealing my lambs, hey? ”
“No, Man, no,” screamed Monkey, ” not I, but Jackal.”
“No, I know you; you aren’t too good for that.”
“No, Boer, no, not I, but Jackal,” Monkey stammered.
“Oh, I know you. Just wait a little,” and Man, raising his gun, aimed and shot poor Monkey dead.
South African Folk Tales, by James A. Honey, 1910, Baker & Taylor Company. (* I replaced ‘Boer’ by ‘Man’, for generality).
8 March celebrates the International Women’s Day. I thought of sharing with you, this poem by the great panafricanist Marcus Garvey published on February 28, 1927. To Garvey, the African Woman is the Mother of all Women, the Mother of Beauty, the Mother of Health, the Mother of Wisdom. All can refer to her as “Mother.” And she is the African Man’s Wife. Enjoy!!!
The Black Woman
By Marcus Garvey
Black queen of beauty, thou hast given color to the world! Among other women thou art royal and the fairest! Like the brightest of jewels in the regal diadem, Shin’st thou, Goddess of Africa, Nature’s purest emblem!
Black men worship at thy virginal shrine of truest love, Because in thine eyes are virtue’s steady and holy mark, As we see in no other, clothed in silk or fine linen, From ancient Venus, the Goddess, to mythical Helen.
When Africa stood at the head of the elder nations, The Gods used to travel from foreign lands to look at thee On couch of costly Eastern materials, all perfumed, Reclined thee, as in thy path flow’rs were strewn-sweetest that bloomed.
Thy transcendent marvelous beauty made the whole world mad, Bringing Solomon to tears as he viewed thy comeliness; Anthony and the elder Ceasars wept at thy royal feet, Preferring death than to leave thy presence, their foes to meet.
You, in all ages, have attracted the adoring world, And caused many a bloody banner to be unfurled You have sat upon exalted and lofty eminence, To see a world fight in your ancient African defense.
Today you have been dethroned, through the weakness of your men, While, in frenzy, those who of yore craved your smiles and your hand- Those who were all monsters and could not with love approach you- Have insulted your pride and now attack your good virtue.
Because of disunion you became mother of the world, Giving tinge of robust color to five continents, Making a greater world of millions of colored races, Whose claim to beauty is reflected through our black faces.
From the handsome Indian to European brunette, There is a claim for that credit of their sunny beauty That no one can e’er to take from thee, 0 Queen of all women Who have borne trials and troubles and racial burden.
Once more we shall, in Africa, fight and conquer for you, Restoring the pearly crown that proud Queen Sheba did wear Yea, it may mean blood, it may mean death; but still we shall fight, Bearing our banners to Vict’ry, men of Africa’s might.
Superior Angels look like you in Heaven above, For thou art fairest, queen of the seasons, queen of our love No condition shall make us ever in life desert thee, Sweet Goddess of the ever green land and placid blue sea.