A Quote from Bernard Dadié from ‘The Lines of Our Hands’

Les lignes de la main
Les lignes de la main / The Lines of the hand

Les lignes de nos mains sont des lignes de Vie, de Destin, de Coeur, d’Amour. De douces chaînes qui nous lient les uns aux autres, Les vivants aux morts.

The lines of our hands Are life lines Destiny lines, Heart lines, Love lines. Soft chains Which bind us One to the other, The living to the dead.

Bernard Dadié in ‘Les lignes de nos mains’ published in La Ronde des Jours, Edition Pierre Seghers, 1956. The English translation is by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com. [Note: punctuation was added to write in one line the first sentence].

So long to an African Literary Genius: Bernard Dadié

Bernard Dadie
Bernard Dadié

It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of the great Ivorian writer Bernard Binlin Dadié. Bernard Dadié was a Baobab of African literature, and he was 103 years of age at the time of his passing. On his 100th-year birthday, he had complained of not being able to write as much anymore, given that he still had so much to say! Dadié was a literary virtuoso who brilliantly explored many genres from poetry, to fiction, to theater.

Many have wondered what was the secret of his longevity, and “his children always thought that Dadié was able to surmount all those obstacles and live so long because he was deeply in love with his wife,” said Serge Bilé [« Ses enfants ont toujours pensé qu’il a pu traverser toutes ces épreuves et vivre si longtemps car il était amoureux de sa femme » Jeune Afrique] writer, journalist, and whose mother was a cousin of Assamala Dadié (Dadié’s wife).

Map of Cote d'Ivoire
Map of  Côte d’Ivoire

Dadié was born in Assinie, Côte d’Ivoire, and attended the local Catholic school in Grand Bassam and then the Ecole William Ponty. He worked for the French government in Dakar, Senegal. Upon returning to his homeland in 1947, he became part of its movement for independence: he denounced colonialism and neo-colonialism. Before Côte d’Ivoire‘s independence in 1960, he was detained for sixteen months for taking part in demonstrations that opposed the French colonial government.

Bernard Dadie_Climbie
Climbié by Bernard Dadié

Climbié, his most well-known novel was published in 1956, and was the first Ivorian fiction. With his theater piece The cities (Les Villes), played in Abidjan in April 1934, Dadié gave Francophone Africa its first drama piece. I am sure there were others played in the olden ancestral days, but this was the first one written in  Molière’s language. He was also the first to win the great literary price of Black Africa (le grand prix littéraire de l’Afrique noire) twice in 1965 with Boss of New York (Patron de New York, Présence Africaine, 1964), and The City where No One Dies (La Ville où nul ne meurt, Présence Africaine, 1969) in 1968. His other big novels are:  Le Pagne noir – Contes africains (1955), Un Nègre à Paris (Présence Africaine, 1959), Les voix dans le vent (1970), Monsieur Thôgô-Gnini (1970) ou les poèmes du recueil La rondes des jours (1956). In recent years, his poem “Dry Your Tears Afrika” (“Seche Tes Pleurs” de Bernard Binlin Dadié / “Dry your Tears Afrika” by Bernard B. Dadié) was set to music by American composer John Williams for the Steven Spielberg movie Amistad. Lastly, a street bears his name in Abidjan.

Bernard Dadie_Le Pagne noir
Le Pagne Noir – Contes Africains by Bernard Dadié

Among many other senior positions, starting in 1957, he held the post of Minister of Culture in the government of Côte d’Ivoire from 1977 to 1986. As a twist on fate, next week will come out in Côte d’Ivoire, a book titled 100 writers pay tribute to Dadié (100 écrivains rendent hommage à Dadié) in the Éburnie éditions. Bernard Dadié is the symbol of Côte d’Ivoire‘s deep and rich culture, marking a literary resistance to colonialism and neo-colonialism, and a strong love for his people, continent, and race

I live you here with the link to his poem “I Thank you God” which we had published a while back: “Je vous Remercie Mon Dieu” de Bernard B. Dadie / “I Thank You God” from Bernard Binlin Dadie. Yes, we thank God for his son Bernard Dadié who has graced this earth and shown us the way, revived our pride, and dried our tears (“Seche Tes Pleurs” de Bernard Binlin Dadié / “Dry your Tears Afrika” by Bernard B. Dadié). I would like to tell all those who mourn him, that the fierce spirit of Bernard Dadié lives on, and we are his legacy which we should uphold.

Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II’s stolen hair to be returned by UK

Tewodros_II_-_2
Emperor Tewodros II

Last week we talked about Germany returning artifacts stolen from a Namibian freedom fighter back to Namibia. This week, it is the UK which have decided to return the stolen hair of Emperor Tewodros II back to Ethiopia. I hope the Ethiopian government will not just take it at face value, but perform some DNA test of this hair to ensure that it is indeed that of Emperor Tewodros II (Looted Ethiopian Treasures in UK could be returned on Loan). The thing that bothered me about the article below, is that these museums say that they will return stolen artifacts only based on official specific written requests: most of the times when the British looted the different kingdoms, Benin City (Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground) in Nigeria or Maqdala in Ethiopia, there were no survivors or very few among the locals. In the case of Maqdala in 1868, it is said that 15 elephants and 200 mules were needed to cart away all the loot from Maqdala.How could anyone have an inventory of all the things they stole? This is just another way of keeping all the loot, and never returning it to their rightful owners. Below are parts of the article; for the full article, go to  The BBC:

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Ethiopia_Crown looted
A crown from the Maqdala exhibition at the V&A in south-west London – looted in 1868. (Source: V&A Museum)

A British museum [National Army Museum] is to return a lock of hair that the Ethiopian government considers a national treasure.

It was cut from the head of Emperor Tewodros II, who killed himself rather than be taken prisoner by the British during their 1868 invasion of Ethiopia. …

Strands of Emperor Tewodros II’s hair were given to the National Army Museum in London 60 years ago. …

The museum told the BBC it had decided not to make photographs of the hair public out of respect, because the matter was “too sensitive”. The remains are described as two pieces “no bigger than the size of a two-pence coin”.

Tewodros II_Departure of British expeditionary force from Magdala 1868
Departure of the British expeditionary forces from Maqdala with the loot – Illustrated London News 1868

The National Army Museum has now agreed to return the artefact, but says it is not returning any other items of African origin.

It’s definitely not a precedent,” a spokesperson for the museum told the BBC.

That’s the only one that’s been requested. They have to be formal, written requests to the director with a case“. …

The move has reignited demands for the UK to return all the looted artefacts on display in British museums. …

FESPACO 2019: 50-year Anniversary of the African Film Festival

FESPACO 2019_1
FESPACO 2019 (featuring Maimouna N’Diaye – 2015 winner of Best Actress in a leading role)

2019 marks the 50th year anniversary of the FESPACO.  As a reminder, the FESPACO (Festival Panafricain du cinema et de la television de Ouagadougou) is the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, and is the largest African film festival, held biennally in Ouagadougou, the capital of  Burkina Faso. First established in 1969, and boasting some of Africa’s greatest writers and filmmakers (like Ousmane Sembene), the FESPACO offers a chance for African filmmakers and professionals to showcase their work, exchange ideas, and meet other filmmakers, and sponsors. Filmmakers from around the continent come together in Ouagadougou which is transformed into the Hollywood or the Cannes of the continent for this 8-day celebration. This year’s FESPACO ran from February 23 to March 2nd.

Golden Stallion of Yennenga
The Golden Stallion of Yennenga

To mark the 50th-year edition, a particular focus was set on reflecting on the collective memory and future of the pan-African cinema. Films from 16 African countries were vying for the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, a prize named after the story of a 12th century beautiful princess who is considered the mother of the Mossi people, Princess Yennenga.

The Golden Stallion of Yennenga 2019 was awarded to the movie “The Mercy of the Jungle” directed by Joel Karekezi of Rwanda. “The Mercy of the Jungle” shows the arduous road trip taken by foot of two soldiers lost in the jungle during the time of the Democratic Republic of Congo wars. It beat out 19 other candidates to get the Golden Stallion of Yennenga.  Marc Zinga, a Belgian, also took best actor for his role in “The Mercy of the Jungle.”

Rwanda_Joel Karekezi FESPACO 2019
Joel Karekezi, winner of the 2019 Golden Stallion of Yennenga (Fraternite Matin)

Second prize went to “Karma”, a drama by Egyptian director Khaled Youssef, while third place was awarded to Tunisian Ben Hohmound, who directed “Fatwa”, another drama.

This year also, women have complained about the fact that in 50 years, not a single woman has won the top prize at FESPACO. This highlights a problem of gender equality for film directors. South African actress Xolile Tshabalala, who featured in “Miraculous Weapons”, directed by Jean-Pierre Bekolo, a Cameroonian asked, “can it be that in 50 years, there hasn’t been a single woman capable of telling a great story to win the Fespaco?” Burkinabe director Apolline Traore said that any award had to be earned, not considered a token gesture, but admitted that there is a problem in gender equality for directors. “There’s no equality for the craft of a woman director, not just in Africa, but in the world,” she said.  Traore won a special prize on Friday for her film, “Desrances”.

Germany Returns Artifacts Stolen From a Namibian Freedom Fighter

Namibia_Hendrik Witbooi
Chief Hendrik Witbooi

At last, Germany is returning artifacts back to Namibia which it had stolen some 126 years ago from a Namibian freedom fighter, Hendrik Witbooi. This is a good step forward, as they also returned the human remains of people they had killed via committing a genocide, last August. As a flashback, the First Genocide of the 20th Century was committed by Germany on the Nama and Herero people of Namibia. During that time, it is estimated that Germany wiped out at least 75% of the Herero and 50% of the Nama population (the Namibian genocide or the Herero and Namaqua genocide). The skulls and bones of the people they decimated had been sent to Germany to study the racial superiority of Europeans. To that effect, tens of thousands of Nama and Herero people were murdered. There are thought to be hundreds of Namibian skulls in Germany and last August about 25 remains were handed back. Their descendants are still waiting today for an apology from the German government, as well as reparations. Skulls from Germany’s other African colonies, including modern day Cameroon, Tanzania, Rwanda and Togo, were also used in these now discredited studies.

Below is the article from Artnet News.

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Presentation of cultural objects of robbery
A bible and a whip from the estate of Hendrik Witbooi. (Getty images)

The German city of Stuttgart will return artifacts looted from the country’s colony in what is now Namibia on March 1 during a ceremony with Namibian president Hage Geingob.

German state minister for science Theresia Bauer will travel to Namibia to hand over a whip and bible from the collection of Stuttgart’s Linden Museum that once belonged to Namibian national hero Hendrik Witbooi, a leader in the fight for independence against the German colonizers during the Nama-Herero uprising.

“The restitution of these objects is for us the beginning of a reappraisal of German-Namibian colonial history,” Bauer said in a statement published on the Linden Museum website.

The ceremony is taking place in Witbooi’s hometown of Gibeon, where a museum is being built and will eventually house the items. In the meantime they will be safeguarded by the state. 

Herero_chained
Chained Herero men

German soldiers stole the artifacts during an attack on Witbooi’s stronghold of Hornkranz in 1893. Colonial troops in former German southwestern Africa launched a brutal crackdown on Witbooi’s people after the leader refused to sign a protection treaty to cede territory to the colonizers. In response, German troops ransacked the village, took livestock, burnt huts, and looted possessions.

Both the whip and bible were donated to the Linden Museum in 1902, according to the German art magazine Monopol.

The German imperial empire colonized parts of Namibia from 1884 to 1915. Germany officially [recognized] the Nama-Herero genocide in 2004, in which an estimated 65,000 members of the Nama and Herero tribes were murdered in response to the uprising.

Herero
Survivors of the Herero genocide

In November 2018, the Minister President of Baden-Württemberg said that the German state “is aware of its historical responsibility and is ready to take action. Sending an important message and signaling an important step in the process of reconciliation.”

Today Witbooi is revered as a national hero in Namibia and one of the most important chiefs of the Nama tribes. He is honored by numerous monuments across the country and his portrait is printed on numerous paper bills.

France urged to change heritage law and return looted art to Africa

Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century)
Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century) – exposed at the MET

France, like so many European countries, is being urged to return looted art to Africa. Below is the article. For the full article, go to the Guardian.

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A report commissioned by Emmanuel Macron will call for thousands of African artworks in French museums taken without consent during the colonial period to be returned to the continent.

Unless it could be proven that objects were obtained legitimately, they should be returned to Africa permanently, not on long-term loan, said the authors of the report, the Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and the French historian Bénédicte Savoy.

They have recommended changing French law to allow the restitution of cultural works to Africa, after Macron announced that he wanted it to begin within five years.

… “I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is in France,” the French president said last year in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. “There are historical explanations for this but there is no valid, lasting and unconditional justification. African heritage cannot be only in private collections and European museums – it must be showcased in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos and Cotonou. This will be one of my priorities.” [Politicians always make promises, but never deliver. Let’s wait and see if Macron can do anything. In 2015, Francois Hollande, then French President Acknowledged French Genocide in Cameroon while in visit in Cameroon, without ever apologizing!]

Benin_Fon statue symbolizing Behanzin Man shark
Fon statue symbolizing King Behanzin, the Man-Shark by Sossa Dede (c. 1890) – currently exposed at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris

The extent to which France, Britain and Germany looted Africa of its artefacts during colonialism is not known, but according to the report, which will be released this Friday, about 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage currently lies outside the continent.

The report’s authors travelled to Mali, Senegal, Cameroon and Benin and looked through the works held by the Musée du quai Branly, a museum focused on non-European cultures in Paris, and found that about 46,000 of its 90,000 African works were “acquired” between 1885 and 1960 and may have to be returned.

… To start with, they [the researchers] have recommended that palace doors, thrones and statues stolen from Abomey be returned – something the modern-day country of Benin has long requested [especially given that Béhanzin, the King of Dahomey, was one of the last African Resistant to French Colonization, and had been deported to Martinique and then Algeria – Deportation of African Heads of States]….

Europe’s Largest Museums to “Loan” Looted Benin (Nigerian) Artifacts back to Nigeria

Queen from Benin kingdom
Cast Bronze figurine from Benin City at the MET museum

Unbelievable! I had to share this article about European museums loaning looted African artifacts back to Africans. It sounds so mind-boggling! How can someone steal from you, steal your cultural work, the work of your ancestors, your sweat, and then several years later loan it back to you, not even return it? and they call that progress! For the entire article, go to  Europe’s Largest Museums Will Loan Looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria and What do you know about Africa’s looted art treasures.

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Major museums across Europe have agreed to loan important artifacts back to Nigeria for a new museum the country plans to open in 2021. The African nation’s Royal Museum will house a rotating display of artifacts, including the Benin bronzes that were looted during the Benin Expedition of 1897. The agreement marks a significant step after years of negotiations among European institutions and Nigerian authorities.

Art from Benin kingdom (18th century)
Benin City art exposed at the MET Museum, NYC

… Together, museum leaders from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Britain agreed to facilitate a display at the planned institution within three years. Further specifics—including which objects will be loaned over what period of time—have yet to be confirmed.

… The objects in question were looted by the British army during a so-called “punitive expedition” in 1897. The army took around 4,000 intricate sculptures, including bronze works now known as the Benin bronzes, from the king’s palace in the former Kingdom of Benin.

A century later, the vast majority of these bronzes have ended up in some of the world’s most important museums, including the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. …

Benin City-Cast_brass_plaques_from_Benin_City_at_British_Museum-1024x721
Cast brass plaques from Benin City at the British Museum. Photo: Andreas Praefcke

“Dances of Yesterday” (Danses d’Hier) by Antoine Abel

Seychelles_Antoine Abel_Livre
Antoine Abel, Seychelles’ most prominent author

One of Seychelles’ most acclaimed and prolific author is the writer Antoine Abel, who had been an ambassador of the indigenous culture of the island nation. He is considered by many as the father of Seychelles’ literature, and had an extensive career writing novels, short stories, poetry and plays in FrenchEnglish, and Creole. Most of his work dealt with the folklore of the Seychelles, and the natural environment of the islands, in which he wove in colorful personalities and histories inspired from the local culture. Descending from a family of slaves, he is the first Seychellois writer to expose to wide world to the literary gems of the country.

Below is one of his poems, ‘Dances d’hier‘ translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com. Enjoy the poem below, and also check out The Seychelles Ministry for Youth Sports and Culture which ‘remembers Antoine Abel.’

 

 

Danses d’hier

J’entends encore les staccatos
Le prolongement des sons des tam-tams
Des tam-tams du temps jadis

Alors les collines s’enflamment
Dans la nuit sèche
Les pieds des danseurs
Se baignent dans la fine poussière
De latérite
Et leurs pas scandent sauvagement
Un rythme endiablé

J’entends encore les notes rapides
La voix étouffée du « commandeur »
Se modulant dans l’air tiède du soir.

Alors les échines s’arc-boutent
Les unes aux autres
Et les hanches roulent comme des houles
Les ventres des danseuses voluptueuses
Ondulent lascivement…
Et des voix confuses s’interpellent
Impudemment.

Je perçois toujours les staccatos
Les grondements des “grosses caisses”
Par delà les années de mon enfance …
Je les porte en moi
Comme des stigmates.

Dances of Yesterday

I still hear the staccatos
The extension of the sounds of the drums
The drums from the old days

Then the hills ignite (flare)
In the dry night
The dancers’ feet
bathe in the fine dust
of laterite
And their steps wildly chant
A frenzied rhythm

I still hear the quick notes
The muffled voice of the « commander »
Modulating in the warm evening air.

Then the backs bridge
One with the other
And the hips roll like swells
The bellies of the voluptuous dancers
Wave sensually…
And confused voices call out
Impudently.

I still perceive the staccatos
The rumblings of the “big drums”
Beyond the years of my childhood…
I carry them in me
Like stigmas.

Praising an African King: Lobengula’s Praise Poem

Senegal_Wolof griot 1890
Wolof griot from Senegal, ca 1890

Last month, we talked about the griot tradition of West Africa. This African tradition of long lineages of storytellers, historians, and history repositories of the society, extends beyond West Africa, to all over the continent. For the Ndebele of Zimbabwe, the griot is known as the imbongi.

Below is a praise poem celebrating the Ndebele King Lobengula. The poem was recited in Ndebele by imbongi (griot/poet) Mtshede Ndhovu to T.J. Hemans around c.1970. Mtshede Ndhlovu was born when Mzilikazi (Lobengula’s father) was still on the throne, that is, before 1868, making him some 105 years old. His son, Bova Ndhlovu, acted as interpreter, assisting Hemans with the translation.

For the entire poem, with the Ndebele version, please check out African Poems .

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Lobengula1
King Lobengula of Matabeleland

Praise Poem for Lobengula

It roared like a calf. (1)
He who has books is at the river crossing. (2)
The cumulus cloud which rains from overcast sky. (3)
The words of a mountain, King of Mgabi Ndwandwe. (4)
The bird that builds with its beak pointing to a pool of water,
some say catch it some say leave it that it the way it builds. (5)
The black lion of Mabindela.
Grass does not burn in the Kalahari, some burns and bends. (6)
He was furious and then the tribes and commissioners were angry. (7)
Spoor of the leopard that disappears in rivers. (8)
The bush buck that strikes with its hooves and damaged the stones. (9)
Watch him, the destroyer, because he destroyed the commoners. (10)
He who is food they feed from for many many years,
when he dies where will they feed from,
they will eat jackals and roots.
He whose majesty is like that of his father Matshobana.
Cattle have popularity, they are lowing and attract afar.
He whose path is winding like that of ants.
The small bird of the spear, so small it can sit on the spear.

Praises Given to the Kings of the Amandebele,
T.J. Hemans,
Nada X, 3 (n.p., 1971).

Zimbabwe_Rudd_Concession between Cecil Rhodes and Lobengula 1880s
The Ruud Concession

(1) This praise-poem was recorded c.1970, when a new war for Zimbabwe was in progress. Lobengula is contrasted with Mzilikazi for failing to protect the nation. He is a calf compared to a bull and his roaring is not impressive.

(2) Lobengula signed the Rudd Concession in 30 October 1888, granting mining rights to the British South African Company. He assumed the miners would accept his kingship, but it was soon evident that the BSA were coming as colonizers. He who has books is Charles Rudd, the treaty bearer, and the river crossing is the Limpopo, the southern border to Ndebele territory.

(3) A reference to Lobengula’s responsibility as rainmaker. Later in praise [line] 12, he comes food they feed from.

(4) Unlike Mzilikazi, Lobengula drew his legitimacy as chief from his ancestry. See also praises 6 and 13.

(5) Lobengula’s succession was controversial, and his performance as king was disputed.

(6) Mzilikazi was called the tall grass in the Kalahari desert that will burn with men’s leather loin cloths (praise 6). Lobengula is the grass that does not burn.

Shaka-Zulu
King Shaka of the Zulu people

(7) The signing of the Rudd Concession led to anger on all sides, culminating the war of 1893.

(8) Lobengula’s policies were difficult to follow. See also praise 15, where his course is winding like that of ants.

(9) Again, this contrasts with Mzilikazithe bush buck that steps carefully on the rocks, implying diplomatic skills such as wariness.

(10) Mzilikazi’s victories, starting with Shaka, were against enemies of stature. Lobengula is credited with no military virtues and his anger is directed at commoners.

A TEDx Talk on the Griot Tradition of West Africa

Sibo Bangoura is a griot from Guinea, West Africa, now living in Australia. In this TEDx talk, he shares the traditions of his musical heritage with people from all over the world. While playing the Kora, a musical instrument from West Africa, Sibo sang a traditional West African song, Nan Fulie, about the importance of the Griot people – the West African musicians, storytellers, custodians and teachers of tradition through music and dance. Enjoy!