This is a bit of old news, but it sheds more light on the participation of European nations in slavery… it is about the Dutch part in the slave trade. This may be a hard read for some. Excerpts below are from the article on the Guardian website. For the full article, go to the Guardian.
The aim of a first exhibition on the Dutch slave trade to be shown at the Rijksmuseum, launched on Tuesday by King Willem-Alexander, is not to be “woke” but to be a “blockbuster” telling a truer story of the Golden Age, the director general of the national institution has said.
…The Slavery exhibition, showcasing 140 objects, ranging from two Rembrandt portraits of married and lavishly wealthy owners of enslaved people to a display of ankle chains, examines 10 lives caught up in the Dutch slave trade between the early 17th century and 1863, when the practice was finally made illegal in Suriname and the Antilles.
An audio guide for the exhibition includes the voice and thoughts of a Ma Chichi, a woman born into slavery in 1853, who in turn tells how her grandmother, enslaved in 18th-century Curaçao, urged her to always remember that she was equal to anyone. “She never did what the lords wanted,” Chichi says in the recording dating from 1958, when she was 105 years old.
Valika Smeulders, a curator of the exhibition and the Rijksmuseum’s head of history, said it had been vital to unearth oral history due to the lack of property and written evidence of enslaved people. “[Chichi] talks about her grandmother telling her you are equal to everybody else, you are equal to the children of the master of the house,” she said. “It gives you a female perspective, which is pretty rare, and it gives you the perspective of the people who were so aware of their humanity even though they lived in a system that took all that humanity away from them.”
Documents on show also detail the horrific fate of many of those who resisted. One, Wally, who worked on a sugar plantation called Palmeneribo, Suriname, in 1707 was sentenced to be slowly burned to death, with the stipulation added by the magistrate Cornelis de Huijbert that he was to have his flesh torn off with red hot pincers in the process in order for his death to be “the most painful and protracted possible”.
Dutch traders shipped over 600,000 Africans [as we now know, this number is mosy likely higher] to north and South America and between 660,000 and 1.1 million people around the Indian ocean. Last year King Willem-Alexander apologised for the “excessive violence” of the Dutch colonialists in Indonesia. There remains a live debate in the Netherlands about the treatment of empire and slavery in schools and public places through street names and statues, as there has been in the UK.
… One of the confronting revelations of the exhibition, Smeulders said, was that a richly decorated brass collar donated to the Rijksmuseum in 1881 and engraved with the family crests of the Nassau, Vianden and Dietz families, dated 1689, was likely not to have been a dog collar, as originally thought, but one worn by black enslaved people brought back to the Netherlands as servants. “For the longest time people have not wanted to come to terms with the meaning of those collars,” she said. “They were always described as being dog collars but if you look at the paintings, the ones wearing those collars are never the dogs, they are the men.”
As I read the account of Dr. Robert W. Felkin of a successful C-section in the Bunyoro kingdom, I could not help but realize that in Africa, and particularly in this instance in the Bunyoro kingdomthere was superior anesthetics, antiseptics, and advanced medicine which allowed them, at a time when in Europe this was considered a desperate measure performed only on dying mothers, to successfully deliver both mother and child.
One important oddity in Felkin’s account is the illustration of the native doctor and his assistants and the pregnant mother. Note that in his written account, Felkin said of the woman that, “she was perfectly naked. A band of mbugu or bark cloth fastened her thorax to the bed, another band of cloth fastened down her thighs…” The oddity is in the drawing: why would Felkin draw the native doctor and the assistants all naked, when he stated that the woman was naked? If the native doctor and assistants were all naked, wouldn’t he have stated that also? If he stated that she was naked, that means that, that was already something that stood out, i.e. that in normal days, the woman would be dressed, and for this operation only was she naked. This also implies that the native doctor and assistants were clothed, and only the patient was naked! Lastly, this may mean that either it was not Felkin who drew the image, or that Felikin was so astonished by the superiority of the Bunyoro doctor and assistant, and Bunyoro superior medicine, that he felt the need to present them in some ways as inferior people, savage men. What better way than by drawing them as primitive people all naked?
Did you know that long ago, when Cesarean sections (C-sections) were deemed dangerous in Europe, Africans were safely performing them on the continent? Did you know that there was an extremely high success rate? Both mother and child lived!And no fancy “modern” equipment was used!
Historically, in Europe, when a c-section was performed upon a living woman, it usually resulted in the death of the mother. It was considered an extreme measure, performed only when the mother was already dead or considered to be beyond help. It was a last resort.
Well, imagine Robert W. Felkin’s surprise when he found out that in the great kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara in modern-day Uganda, C-sections were considered routine! Imagine his surprise when the “backwards” people he met successfully delivered both mother and child, and had a very sophisticated surgical technique dating back a long time.
In 1879, the British medical student R W. Felkin who had embarked on a mission led by the Church Missionary Society to Central Africa (probably hoping to rescue the souls of the savage natives) witnessed a C-section in the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. He found out that in the Bunyoro kingdom, this was a routine procedure with extremely high success rates. There, the native healer used banana wine to cleanse his hands and the woman’s abdomen before the surgery. The healer used a midline incision and applied cautery to minimize hemorrhaging. He then massaged the uterus to make it contract, but did not suture it; the abdominal wound was pinned with iron needles (remember that Africans have been masters at iron smelting for centuries) and dressed with a paste prepared from roots. The woman was fully awake during the entire procedure, and recovered well. Felkin recognized that the degree of perfection and precision of the technique implied that it had been in use for a very long time.
His account was received in Europe with shock and skepticism, because after all, if they, Europeans couldn’t do it, how could the ‘backwards’ Africans do it? The account can be found in “The Development of Scientific Medicine in the African Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara” by J.N.P. Davies, Med. Hist. 1959, Jan 3 (1) 45 – 47. Felkin gave a lecture to the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society on January 9th 1884 entitled “Notes on Labour in Central Africa” (Felkin, R.W., Edin. Med. J., 1884, XXIX, 922); it is from this lecture that the following account on c-section delivery in Bunyoro kingdom is taken:
“The patient was a fine healthy-looking young woman of about twenty years of age… The woman lay upon an inclined bed, … She was liberally supplied with banana wine, and was in a state of semi-intoxication. She was perfectly naked. A band of mbugu or bark cloth fastened her thorax to the bed, another band of cloth fastened down her thighs, and a man held her ankles. Another man, standing on her right side, steadied her abdomen.
The operator stood, as I entered the hut, on her left side, holding his knife aloft with his right hand, and muttering an incantation. This being done, he washed his hands and the patient’s abdomen, first with banana wine and then with water.
Then, having uttered a shrill cry, which was taken up by a small crowd assembled outside the hut, he proceeded to make a rapid cut in the middle line, commencing a little above the pubes, and ending just below the umbilicus. The whole abdominal wall and part of the uterine wall were severed by this incision, and the liquor amnii escaped; a few bleeding-points in the abdominal wall were touched with a red-hot iron by an assistant. The operator next rapidly finished the incision in the uterine wall; his assistant held the abdominal walls apart with both hands, and as soon as the uterine wall was divided he hooked it up also with two fingers.
The child was next rapidly removed, and given to another assistant after the cord had been cut, and then the operator, dropping his knife, seized the contracting uterus with both hands and gave it a squeeze or two. He next put his right hand into the uterine cavity through the incision, and with two or three fingers dilated the cervix uteri from within outwards. He then cleared the uterus of clots and the placenta, which had by this time become detached, removing it through the abdominal wound. His assistant endeavoured, but not very successfully, to prevent the escape of the intestines through the wound. The red-hot iron was next used to check some further hemorrhage from the abdominal wound, but I noticed that it was very sparingly applied. All this time the chief “surgeon” was keeping up firm pressure on the uterus, which he continued to do till it was firmly contracted. No sutures were put into the uterine wall.
The assistant who had held the abdominal walls now slipped his hands to each extremity of the wound, and a porous grass mat was placed over the wound and secured there. The bands which fastened the woman down were cut, and she was gently turned to the edge of the bed, and then over into the arms of assistants, so that the fluid in the abdominal cavity could drain away on to the floor. She was then replaced in her former position, and the mat having been removed, the edges of the wound, i.e. the peritoneum, were brought into close apposition, seven thin iron spikes, well-polished, like acupressure needles, being used for the purpose, and fastened by string made from bark cloth. A paste prepared by chewing two different roots and spitting the pulp into a bowl was then thickly plastered over the wound, a banana leaf warmed over the fire being placed on the top of that, and, finally, a firm bandage of mbugu cloth completed the operation.
Until the pins were placed in position the patient had uttered no cry, and an hour after the operation she appeared to be quite comfortable. … The child was placed to the breast two hours after the operation, … The wound was dressed on the third morning, and one pin was then removed. Three more were removed on the fifth day, and the rest on the sixth. At each dressing fresh pulp was applied, and a little pus which had formed was removed by a sponge formed of pulp. A firm bandage was applied after each dressing. Eleven days after the operation the wound was entirely healed, and the woman seemed quite comfortable. …”
So as you think again of medicine in Africa, think of successful c-sections performed in the Bunyorokingdom in the 1800s (and probably long before then), and the long traditions and advanced medical training that allowed for such degree of sophistication and precision. This marked the turning point for modern (European) medicine in c-section, and led to the increased success rates we see today. It is however conveniently left out of history books!
This week more history has been made for Africa at the Olympics. Records have been broken and Africans have responded present with strength.
Tunisia, with Ahmed Hafnaouioffered the African continent its first medal of the games, by winning gold in the 400m freestyle swimming. Then, Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi won silver in the Men’s 58kg Taekwondo.
Burkina Faso got its first ever medal since the creation of the Olympic games. Hugues Fabrice Zango won the bronze medal in the Men’s triplejump. It was really good to watch him, and I am proud for this son of the land of Thomas Sankara. Moreover, he won his medal, Burkina Faso’s medal on the 61st anniversary of the country’s independence (as you know most Francophone countries are not really independent from France because of the FCFA, but this is a story for another day).
NamibiaChristine Mboma came back from behind to win silver in the Women’s 200m in front of some of the world’s best. Now remember that Christine Mboma and her compatriot Beatrice Masilingi were barred from running their favorite distance, 400m, just a month ago, and had to all of sudden readjust to run 200m. They were declared ineligible for the longer race because of a genetic condition that raises their testosterone levels. South African Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion in the 800m (2016 and 2012), is the most famous DSD (difference in sexual development) athlete who has been stopped from running in Tokyo. All three 800m medallists at the 2016 Rio Olympics – Semenya, Burundi’s silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba and Kenyan bronze winner Margaret Wambui – were DSD athletes… I am not sure I understand the whole issue, because for me, I wonder how one can be born female and then one day some organization tells them that they are not female. I find it hard to fathom. So let’s see what will happen. Mboma is the first Namibian female to win an olympic medal… she is following in the tracks of the great Namibian athlete Frankie Fredericks (Frankie Fredericks: Sprinting to the Finish for Namibia).
Blessing Oborududu of Nigeria won Silver in the Women’s freestyle 68kg. Ese Brume did not disappoint and won Nigeria’s first medal of the Tokyo Olympic Games, taking bronze in the women’s long jump.
Ethiopia Selemon Barega gave Ethiopia its first Men’s 10,000m gold since Kenenisa Bekele in 2008. Lamecha Girma won silver in the Men’s 3000m steeplechase. Gudaf Tsegay won bronze in the Women’s 5000m race, while Letesenbet Gidey won the bronze medal in Women’s 10000m.
Uganda Joshua Cheptegei, the World champion and world record holder, ran a controlled race to take the men’s 5000m gold; last week, he had also won silver in the Men’s 10,000m. Jacob Kiplimo won the bronze medal in the Men’s 10,000m race. Peruth Chemutai became the first Ugandan woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal on Wednesday – triumphing in the Women’s 3,000m steeplechase.
Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon, who had been training with legends like marathon world record holderEliud Kipchogethwarted World champion’s Sifan Hassan’s plans of winning a distance treble in Tokyo by retaining the women’s 1500m title by pulling ahead after the bell and winning gold. Her compatriot Peres Jepchirchir won the women’s marathon, defeating world record holder Brigid Kosgei in the closing stages and winning in 2h27min20s, and Kosgei had to settle for silver. Hellen Obiritook home silver in Women’s 5,000m, while Hyvin Kiyeng won bronze in Women’s3000m steeplechase. The men’s 800m gold went to Emmanuel Kipkurui Korir of Kenya, and his teammate Ferguson Rotich took silver. Timothy Cheruiyot took silver in the Men’s 1500m, while Compatriot Benjamin Kiven took bronze in the men’s 3000m steeplechase. Eliud Kipchoge successfully defended his olympic title at the marathon; he is only the 3rd person in the history of the games to win successive marathons.
South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker won gold, and broke the Women’s 200m world record for breaststroke on Friday. This earned her a call from the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, to congratulate her on her victory. Schoenmaker had previously won silver in the Women’s 100m breastrokes, while Bianca Buitendag took silver in surfing,
Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali triumphed in the Olympic Men’s 3,000m steeplechase – ending Kenya’s 41-year unbeaten run on the distance.
Egypt’s Giana Farouk (Lotfy) won bronze in the Women’s kumite karate. Seif Eissa, Hedaya Malak, and Mohammed Elsayed Elsayed all won bronze medals in the Men’s 80kg taekwondo, Women’s 67kg taekwondo and Men’s 67kg Greco-Roman wrestling respectively.
Ruth Gbagbiof Cote d’Ivoire won bronze in the Women’s 67kg Taekwondo. She had won Bronze also in Rio 2016. Ghana also took home bronze in the Men’s Feather (52-57kg) boxing with Samuel Takyi.
Lastly, Team Botswana (Isaac Makwala, Baboloki Thebe, Zibane Ngozi, Bayapo Ndori) surprised everyone by giving a beautiful performance and winning the bronze amidst some of the world’s bests in the Men’s 4x400m relay.
Overall, it was a good game… As we turn the page of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics which took place in 2021, we do hope that the Paris 2024 Olympics will be better for Africa, and that the world will be in a better place.
There has been so much loss this year that I thought to introduce you to the “Bangou Requiem,” a poem written by the Cameroonian poet and author Etienne Noumé. Bangou (pronounce Ban-gu in English) is a town in the Western province of Cameroon, and is part of the Bamiléké grassfields. Noumé’s description of his loss is so profound, and uses typical Bamileke imagery, “My body is numb… the palms have dried under the moonlight“, “My sun went down“, my joy, my everything, “…blown away by the wind.” It is hard to lose someone dear, especially one’s child. In Bamileke culture, the parent is supposed to bury his child and not the contrary, so you can imagine the heart wrenching pain… that numbs you. “The palms have dried under the moonlight“… think about it for a minute: … can a palm dry under the moonlight?… this is Bamileke imagery for you. “My reddened pot burst” my hope blown away in an instant, without any notice, the impossible has happened. This here is a Bangou Requiem, “Chant Funebre Bangou” by Etienne Noumé, first published in Angoisse quotidienne, Le Flambeau, Yaoundé, re-published in Anthologie Africaine: Poésie Vol2, Jacques Chevrier, Collection Monde Noir Poche, 1988, and translated to English by Dr. Y.Afrolegends.com . Enjoy!