“Souffrance d’Amour” / “Love Suffering” by Ben Decca

Ben Decca (Source: KamerLyrics.net)

For this year’s Valentine, we will introduce you to “Souffrance d’Amour” by the Cameroonian singer Ben Decca. The song, “Souffrance d’Amour” translated as “Love suffering” tells of a love so deep, so strong between two people, but which does not work. So it is, in the words of Ben Decca himself, “proof that two people can go their separate ways and remain in love despite everything. “Souffrance d’Amour” is a shout-out to people who give themselves entirely to the other with sincerity and loyalty, but unfortunately, in general they receive the opposite of what they put in… sad reality…” [“Souffrance d’Amour” est la preuve que deux personnes peuvent se quitter et demeurer amoureuses l’une de l’autre malgré tout. Souffrance d’Amour” est une dédicace aux personnes qui se donnent à l’autre entièrement avec sincérité et loyauté, hélas en général ils reçoivent l’opposé de ce qu’ils ont misé… triste réalité…]. “To love is to forget oneself and to think only of the one we love” [Aimer c’est s’oublier soi-meme, et ne penser qu’a celui qu’on aime…”]

For those who do not know him, Ben Decca, he is the ultimate crooner of Cameroon… You could think of a Luther Vandross type… His career spans over 40 years of constantly amazing music. He is a pure talent, and hails from a family of musicians, with 3 younger siblings who are also renowned singers  Grâce Decca, Dora Decca, and Isaac Decca, and nephew to the great Cameroonian legend Eboa Lotin, and great grandson to Lobe Lobe Rameau one of the pioneers of Makossa in Cameroon. His work has been the legendary, and he has lightened to lives of so many of us lovers of life, given life to our feelings of joy, pain, grace, hurt,…. Kudos to the great, and only Ben Decca.

When the Kongo King wrote to the King of Portugal against Slavery

Mbanza Kongo, capital of the Kingdom of Kongo, in 1745

King Mvemba a Nzinga, most commonly known as Afonso I of Kongo, or Nzinga Mbemba, was a Kongo king who ruled over the Kongo Empire from 1509 to late 1542 or 1543. He wrote a letter in 1526 to the Portuguese king decrying the capture of his subjects to be taken as slaves in the transatlantic slave trade. The Portuguese were also assisting brigands in Kongo and illegally purchasing free people as slaves. This letter contradicts the story that African kings sold their own into slavery, as has been re-told countless times in history books; moreover, this is also similar to Queen Nzingha‘s stance against slavery a century later; she fought almost 40 years against the Portuguese for the freedom of her people.  Afonso I of Kongo wrote:

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“Each day the traders are kidnapping our people – children of this country, sons of our nobles and vassals, even people of our own family. This corruption and depravity are so widespread that our land is entirely depopulated. We need in this kingdom only priests and schoolteachers, and no merchandise, unless it is wine and flour for Mass. It is our wish that this Kingdom not be a place for the trade or transport of slaves.”
Many of our subjects eagerly lust after Portuguese merchandise that your subjects have brought into our domains. To satisfy this inordinate appetite, they seize many of our black free subjects…. They sell them. After having taken these prisoners [to the coast] secretly or at night….. As soon as the captives are in the hands of white men they are branded with a red-hot iron.

Afonso was also concerned about the depopulation of his kingdom through the exportation of his own citizens into slavery. The king of Portugal responded to Afonso’s concerns, writing that because the Kongo purchased their slaves from outside of the kingdom and converted them to Christianity and then intermarried with them, the kingdom probably maintained a high population and probably was not affected by the missing subjects. To lessen Afonso’s concerns, the king [of Portugal] suggested sending two men to a designated point in the city to monitor who was being traded and who could object to any sale involving a subject of Afonso’s kingdom. The king of Portugal then wrote that if he were to cease the slave trade from the inside of the Kongo, he would still require provisions from Afonso, such as wheat and wine.

Rare Footage from Queen Ranavalona III’s Time

Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar

I found this really good video on the story of the last monarch of the Kingdom of Madagascar, Queen Ranavalona III. It is a short documentary, very well done with footage from those years… As you can see the queen had a gentle nature, and calm resolve around her. She was also beautiful and fashionable. A tiny note, in the video, it is said that Princess  Marie-Louise Razafinkeriefo, heiress to the queen, was the daughter of Ranavalona III’s sister. In reality, Marie-Louise was the grand-daughter of the Queen’s sister Princess Rasendranoro, and was born in exile. Her mother was Princess Razafinandriamanitra, a daughter of Princess Rasendranoro and a niece of Ranavalona III. Please enjoy!

Queen Ranavalona III’s Belongings Returning Home to Madagascar

Queen Ranavalona III in full regalia, standing beside a throne table on which are the Royal crown and sceptre, ca 1890 – 1895

Last December, there was an auction in England of Queen Ranavalona III, the Last Monarch of the Kingdom of Madagascar photographs, letters, and fashion belongings. These were collected by Clara Herbert, who worked for the Madagascan royal family from the late 1890s to the 1920s, and were passed down through her family, and ended up in the attic of a house in Surrey. Auctioneer Kerry Taylor pieced together Ranavalona’s story from the box of photographs, postcards, souvenirs, receipts and diaries and sold them on auction. The government of Madagascar was able to purchase a lot of it. I was quite moved because this is part of the history and pride of Madagascar, and I am glad the government of Madagascar worked to have it returned. Enjoy! Excerpts below are from an article from The Guardian.

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An archive of fashion, photographs and letters telling the remarkable story of the last queen of Madagascar will return home after it was bought at auction by the island’s government.

The jumble of ephemera, along with an ornate 19th-century dress, all relates to the life of Queen Ranavalona III, who was dethroned by the French and exiled to Algiers.

Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar

… The president of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, said: “Madagascar attaches great importance to the acquisition of these royal items as part of the reappropriation of Malagasy national history and cultural heritage. They will be installed in the newly reopened, restored Queen’s palace, where they will be displayed to the general public.

… Taylor [the auctioneer] said she was delighted the archive was heading to Madagascar. … “The queen and princess were separated during their lifetimes from their people and it gives me enormous satisfaction to know that this collection will soon be on its way home where it will be fully appreciated, admired and cared for in perpetuity.”

Queen Ranavalona III, the Last Monarch of the Kingdom of Madagascar

Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar

Today we will talk about the last queen of the Kingdom of Madagascar, Queen Ranavalona III. She reigned from July 30, 1883 to February 28, 1897. Like many African kings and queens of the late 1800s and early 1900, she was deposed by the European colonizer, in this case the French, and sent into exile first on the island of Reunion, and then later in Algeria (just like the King of Dahomey, Béhanzin) where she died, never to see her native Madagascar again.

Map of modern-day Madagascar

Who was Ranavalona III? Well, as her name goes, she was the third Malagasy queen with the name Ranavalona. She became queen after the death of her grand-aunt, queen Ranavalona II. Ranavalona III was born Princess Razafindrahety in 1861. She was raised as a protestant, and taught by instructors from the London Missionary Society. Upon completion of her education, she married nobleman Ratrimo, but he died under suspicious circumstances in May 1883, just 2 months after Queen Ranavalona II’s passing. Rumor had it that the prime minister Rainilaiarivony had poisoned her husband, Ratrimo so as not to relinquish power. The young princess then ascended the throne of Madagascar at the tender age of 22, on July 13, 1883. It is said that she was chosen over her older sister, Rasendranoro, because of her conciliatory nature which the prime minister and other members of the Andriana looked for.

Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony of Madagascar

At the time of Ranavalona III’s ascension, Madagascar was navigating a shift from absolute rule (power in the hands of the king/queen) to constitutional monarchy. Under the new system, true authority was vested in the prime minister: in this case, Rainilaiarivony, who secured his grasp on power by marrying the newly crowned—and recently widowed—queen. In accordance with tradition, Rainilaiarivony had previously wed both of Ranavalona III’s predecessors, Ranavalona II and Rasoherina. Lucky man, wouldn’t you think? One man married to 3 successive queens! Probably the only one in history (this will be the story for another day)! Rainilaiarivony largely oversaw the day-to-day governance of the kingdom and managed its foreign affairs.

Illustration of France implanting its protectorate on Madagascar

As a queen, Ranavalona III inherited a kingdom which was assaulted by the French who wanted her country to be part of their protectorate. Throughout her reign, she tried to strengthen trade and diplomatic relations with the United States and Great Britain, in an effort to keep the French at bay. In 1886, the queen solicited U.S. intervention to help protect Madagascar from the French but was ignored. She, like many kings and queens of Africa back then, was probably not aware of the scramble for Africa, and the Berlin Conference (Selection from the 1885 Berlin Conference Final Act, The Berlin Conference 1884 – 1885 – Final Act (Continuation)), where Europeans allocated areas of the continent to themselves. She was forced to sign a treaty that gave France a certain control of Madagascar in order to prevent war, but the French wanted full control over Madagascar and did not back down. Ranavalona III successfully kept the French at bay until 1896 when the French declared Madagascar as their colony. Repeat French attacks on coastal port towns and an assault on the capital city of Antananarivo ultimately led to the capture of the royal palace in 1895, ending the sovereignty and political autonomy of the century-old kingdom (French Colonial Treaty in Madagascar : 18 January 1896).

Queen Ranavalona III

The newly installed French colonial government promptly exiled prime minister Rainilaiarivony to Algiers, Algeria. Ranavalona and her court were initially permitted to remain in Madagascar as symbolic figureheads, but the outbreak of a popular resistance movement – the menalamba rebellion – and discovery of anti-French political intrigues at court led the French to exile the queen to the island of Réunion on February 27, 1897.

Queen Ranavalona III with her grandniece Marie-Louise ca 1905 in exile in Algiers, Algeria

Rainilaiarivony died that same year in Algiers, and shortly thereafter Ranavalona was relocated to a villa in Algiers, along with several members of her family. Despite Ranavalona’s repeated requests, she was never permitted to return home to Madagascar. Like many African kings and queens, she was deported (Deportation of African Heads of States). She died of an embolism at her villa in Algiers on May 3, 1917 at the age of 55. Her remains were buried in Algiers but were disinterred 21 years later and shipped to Madagascar, where they were placed within the tomb of Queen Rasoherina on the grounds of the Rova of Antananarivo (Rova de Manjakamiadana). you remember Queen Ranavalona III, remember that she was a queen who fought against the foreign invasion to the best of her ability, but above all remember that all she wanted was the independence of her people and culture.

Who/What did we Celebrate in Africa in 2020 ?

Even though 2020 was quite a “different” year for a lot of people, there were still a lot of things to celebrate in Africa. Let’s do a review of some of the things we celebrated this year in 2020! There are many more, of course, but I selected 10. Enjoy!

Flag of Namibia
  1. As you remember, Germany committed the First Genocide of the 20th Century in Namibia. It took them over a century to even acknowledge it. Over the past few years, they have been returning skulls of the Herero they killed, and memorabilia from Herero freedom fighters [Germany Returns Skulls of Namibians Genocide Victims, Germany Returns Artifacts Stolen From a Namibian Freedom Fighter, Have Germans finally acknowledged the Namibian Genocide?]. This year, Namibia rejected a German offer of compensation of 10 million Euros for the genocide. I applaud the strength of the Namibian government for refusing this offer which is a spat from the German:  Such an insult! Germany have almost eradicated an entire race, and to this day, Namibia is struggling because of this. And they give 10 million Euros10 millions Euros for torturing, killing, raping, destroying, displacing for years? [Namibia Rightfully Rejects 10 million Euros Compensation for Genocide]
  2. King Leopold II
    At the end of June, the King of Belgium “expressed his deepest regrets;”  it took over 100 years for a Belgian King to finally “express his deepest regrets” for Belgium’s colonial past in Congo. As we recall, King Leopold II of Belgium perpetrated a genocide in Congo.  Leopold II took Congo, a country at least 10 times the size of Belgium, as his private property and killed millions of Congolese. It is said that he must have executed and maimed over 15 million people! Not sure what this king wants… deepest regrets is not equal to apology or recognition… so although this is a first in over 100 years, it will not cut it! [Belgian King Expresses ‘Deepest Regrets’ for Colonial Past in Congo, Lumumba’s Children Ask Belgian King for their Father’s Remains]
  3. Metche Waterfalls in Cameroon was the site of French genocide there
    France returned skulls of Algerian fighters in August, as a first step towards recognition of their wrongdoings (genocide) in Algeria. What is it with these people and skulls is beyond me! As a flashback, Algeria obtained its independence from France after 7 years of a bloody war with France. During that time, France perpetrated a genocide in Algeria… For the first time, a French president, Emmanuel Macron, acknowledged that the colonization of Algeria was a “crime against humanity.” We are now awaiting for recognition of France’s crimes against humanity in Cameroon, and Madagascar, and countless others [French President Acknowledges French Genocide in Cameroon, Fossi Jacob: A Cameroonian Hero and France’s Genocide in Cameroon].
  4. In Tanzania, Saniniu Laizer, a small-scale miner, became an overnight millionaire in June when he found and sold two rough Tanzanite stones valued at $3.4 millions, and then sold another gem in August for $2 millions. This was the biggest ever found in Tanzania, not sure for the world. These are major records!
  5. Flag of South Africa
    Black South Africans who fought in World War II were finally recognized! This is great… but at the same time sad… why did it take 80 years for their recognition? We all know that African soldiers were key to the liberation of France during World War II, and yet when it came time for the parade on the Bastille, their uniforms were given to their white counterparts for the parade… after all, it should not be read in the annals of history that Africans liberated France! [Thiaroye: A French Massacre in Senegal, ‘Thiaroye Massacre’ by Ousmane Sembene]
  6. There is strong excitement to the countdown to the African trade. The trading phase under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) by 54 of the 55 countries in Africa, and initially set to begin in July 2020, but now will start on January 1, 2021 [Nigeria signs African Free Trade Area Agreement]. This is a big news for the African continent as it will now allow for free trade across the continent, increasing trade among countries which should have always traded between themselves. This is what was envisioned by Kwame Nkrumah, all the independence fathers, and more recently by Muammar Kadhafi (Africans and the Trap of Democracy) at the AU.
  7. Angelique Kidjo (Source: World Music Central)
    The world-renowned singer singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo from Benin kicked off the year 2020 with a monumental performance at the 62nd Grammy Awards in January. She snatched her 4th Grammy award for Best World Album, and rocked the Los Angeles Staples Center. As always (I have had the honor of attending one of her concerts), she brought the true spirit of Africa to the stage as she told all that African music is the bedrock of all music.
  8. Amid the strong racial justice movements that rocked the world this year, the country of Benin has decided to renovate the fort of Ouidah, in Ouidah which was a key city in the slave trade for many centuries; this is a bid to promote tourism in the country, and to honour the suffering and celebrate the overcoming Africans who were captured and inhumanely shipped abroad from the main port of this coastal town [Benin restores the Fort of Ouidah]. Similarly, Somalia has also made a move to culturally reinforce its lands as it signed in February an education and heritage support deal with UNESCO aimed at strengthening efforts to preserve the country’s culture, education, and history.
  9. Djaili Amadou Amal (Source: Wikipedia)
    This year, there was a good news for African writers. Cameroon’s Djaïli Amadou Amal won this year’s prestigious French Literary Award Goncourt des Lycéens for her novel ‘Les Impatientes‘ — inspired by her personal experiences in a South Sahel patriarchal society; later that week in December she won the Choix Goncourt de l’Orient. Two African authors were shortlisted for the Booker Prize of fiction: Ethiopian Maaza Mengiste, and Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie whose novel ‘Half of a Yellow Sun‘ — set during her the Biafra civil war, was voted the best book to have won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in its 25-year history.
  10. Master KG and Nomcebo Kizode in Jerusalema (Africanews.com)
    Jerusalema”, the South African song by DJ Master KG featuring Nomcebo Kizode has taken over the world and has gone viral on social media…  Jerusalema has become a global phenomenon, even inspiring its own dance challenge. What is even more amazing, is the hit took over the world, and is a Gospel song which talks about God always being close, saving us, and never letting go of us.. The Gospel hit has undoubtedly marked Africa as the soundtrack of the year [South Africa National Heritage Day, The story behind Master KG’s ‘Jerusalema,’ one of the most …].

Who/What did we say goodbye to in Africa in 2020?

President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana (Source: thecable.ng)

Well, 2020 has been quite a year… when 2020 started, nobody could have told me that there would be a “global pandemic” and I would have believed it, that there will be a confinement and I would have believed, that people will be having “virtual parties” and I would have believed, or that people would have been walking around faceless i.e. masked and I would have believed. What a year! For sure, 2020 is going out, and there will be no other 2020. So let us remember 2020 in Africa, and remember the people, situations, and more that we said goodbye to.

Pierre Nkurunziza during a community event (Source: PressHerald.com)
  1. President J.J. Rawlings, former President of Ghana joined his ancestors this past November. The Ghanaian president J.J. Rawlings has a strong place in history as an influential, courageous, tough-talking, bold, impactful leader and charismatic Statesman who left deep impressions on the political landscapes of his country and, indeed, Africa. Just like the Ghana of today owes a lot to Kwame Nkrumah the father of its independence, the Ghana of today owes a lot to J.J. Rawlings, the father of its economic stability and face-lift. There were a lot of tributes, and I found so much similarities between the words of Rawlings and some that I have echoed here on his blog, J.J. Rawlings in His Own Words: African Identity, Betrayal, and More.
  2. President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi left us this past June: Pierre Nkurunziza: So Long to the President who said ‘NO’ to the ICC, UN, WHO, BBC, and VOA. This president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was not a “traditional” president in his white marble castle, but was seen rather as a simple man, a man of the people, a man like the people he served, very religious and patriotic. Pierre Nkurunziza: Some of His Achievements for Burundi.
  3. Amadou Toumani Toure – ATT (Souce: Blackfacts.com
    The soldier of democracy, the former president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), also changed plane this year: GoodBye to Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) -Former President of Mali. As I said earlier, this was a man of integrity! Some may call him a realist. When then president Traoré asked the army to keep firing at the Malian people, he stood up and said ‘NO’. He took power, and steered the country towards its first democratic elections. Then he stepped down. Later, he won the presidential election with a coalition, and served 2 terms. When in 2012 there was a coup against him, he resigned, and left the office. Others in Africa should copy a page from ATT’s book.
  4. We said goodbye to the world-renowned Cameroonian/French saxophonist Manu Dibango. So Long Manu Dibango: Your Saxophone will Enlighten our Lives. His saxophone, big voice, and laughter brought joy, and influenced world-renowned musicians such as  Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, and more. As for me, I remember “Bienvenu, Welcome to Cameroon” and his collaboration with Fela Kuti as my favorites.
  5. This year we said goodbye to Mory Kante : the Electrifying Griot from Guinea. Often known as the “electronic griot” because he modernized local traditional instruments such as his kora which he electrified, and fused African music with styles and instruments from Western pop. His 1987 hit “Ye Ke Ye Ke” is a hit I still dance to. If you ever come across a kora, or listen to Ye Ke Ye Ke remember the electrifying griot Mory Kante and the great musical century-long traditions dating back to the Ghana Empire, Ancient Kingdom of Africa.
  6. Zindzi Mandela (Source: Timeslive.co.za)
    In July, Zindzi Mandela: the daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela passed away. As well, as being remembered by her family and loved ones, the world remembers her as the young woman who read Nelson Mandela‘s letter of rejection in 1985. Reading that letter required a lot of courage, determination and strength to defy the apartheid regime and stand in front of a full stadium thirsty for words of encouragement, and hope from their leaders to keep facing the injustices of an inhumane regime.
  7. This past November as well, Mamadou Tandja, the former President of Niger changed his plane of existence. Did you know that France’s nuclear power is funded by the uranium of Niger? and that Niger gets nothing for it? Tandja was the president who asked that the French nuclear company Areva start to pay something to Niger. During his terms, the relationship with Areva, which had enjoyed a de facto four decade monopoly in the country, worsened as he sought to curb the power of French influence by striking a deal with Sino-U in 2007 to develop a uranium mine, resulting in competition for Areva. As you can guess, he was deposed in a coup. Remember The 11 Components of the French Colonial Tax in Africa which gives France monopole over riches, mines, in a country? So long brother!
  8. Flag of Mali
    Flag of Mali
    In August, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK), president of Mali, was booted out of office: Bye Bye IBK: Mali Coup. This was a coup d’etat in Mali, and the Malian people rejoiced… but then as always France and its croonies ADO forced the Malian military leaders to promise to reinstate a civilian government and hold elections within a relatively short time frame. As always, France is there to bring back Africans into slavery… no wonder they can stay confined when they get 500 billions for free from African countries [The 11 Components of the French Colonial Tax in AfricaFCFA: France’s Colonial Tax on Africa, Africa is funding Europe!]. Is France Trying to (re) Colonize Africa?
  9. Flag of Zimbabwe
    Flag of Zimbabwe
    In September, common sense left the government of Zimbabwe, when it decided to compensate white farmers the hefty sum of 3.5 billion dollars… within 12 months, when the country is currently on life support and there is no money in its coffers [Is Zimbabwe the New Haiti?]! This is outrageous! When the economy is in shambles, how can the government agree to this? Did these white farmers ever compensate the Africans after independence in 1980 for using their lands for a century, for abusing them off their lands? And for all the years of economic embargo forced on the country? Then in September, Zimbabwe agreed to return seized land to foreigners. What is funny is that the government has been doing this in hopes of having the embargo removed, but the country is still under serious economic embargoes. Don’t they learn from history? Zimbabwe is indeed the new Haiti!
  10. Flag of Mozambique
    Peace in northern Mozambique seems to have become evasive, ever since that 15 billion dollars contract with the French firm Total for the oil in Cabo Delgado, and the discovery of one of the largest oil, diamonds, rubies in the world there. Tell me it is not connected? Now they want us to believe that there is islamist insurgency in Mozambique of all places!… And now Pope Francis has money to help the people and children of Mozambique who have been displaced by conflict! … Why did the Vatican not help the government of Samora Machel back then? why the people of Mozambique? Those diamonds and riches are really Africa’s downfall! Just a look at the banks financing the project reminds you of the Berlin conference of 1884 [Selection from the 1885 Berlin Conference Final Act]: 19 commercial bank facilities among which UK Export Finance (UKEF), the Export Import Bank of the United States, Italy’s SACE, the Netherlands’ Atradius, the Export Credit Insurance Corporation of South Africa, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, and the Export-Import Bank of Thailand [Reuters].

J.J. Rawlings in His Own Words: African Identity, Betrayal, and More

President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana (Source: thecable.ng)

In the video below, you will hear J.J. Rawlings talk about the issues I always talk about on this blog: the loss of the African soul to westernization, the danger of traitors within our ranks, and more importantly the dangers of globalization. I think people should really pay attention to all he has to say about betrayal, African identity, and also about the manipulations of the people by the triumvirate that is the multinationals, the media, and the intelligence.

Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah, First President of Ghana

On betrayal, Jerry Rawlings said, “Something that is worse than an enemy is a traitor.” This is very reminiscent of the speech Amilcar Cabral gave at the funeral of Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah on May 13, 1972, which I translated to English here on Afrolegends, “The Cancer of Betrayal” by Amilcar Cabral. J.J. adds, “As bad as an enemy can be, … something worse than an enemy is a traitor.”

On African identity, Rawlings affirmed, “In the process of trying to modernize, we [Africans] have ended up being westernized. … When I wanted to even name my children African names, heroic names, … the catholic church said no… they will have to be catholic names … [which] are European names.“… “I have a right to my identity, don’t take away my identity!

Christianize me if you may, but don’t westernize me!” He talks about the issues of African identity, which is powerfully shown in the poem ‘My Name’ by Magoleng wa Selepe.

On globalization, “The world is manipulated by the multinational corporations, the media, and the intelligence apparatus, … they work as a triumvirate and they are neatly sandwiched… in between the governed people and the governors… the sooner we begin to return, restore, some sense of morality in business ethics, in politics, in the media, intelligence apparatus, …” apply the same morality to all, especially when talking about globalization, applying the same moral standards to all.

When Benin City was Compared to Amsterdam, and much Bigger …

Benin City in 1897
Benin City in 1897

In the 15th century, a Dutch traveler visited the great Benin City, in West Africa, located in modern-day Nigeria, in Edo State. This man was visibly stunned by the beauty and the discipline of the people he met. The city he talks about, Benin City, was so much bigger than Amsterdam, the Dutch capital… and so much cleaner… As you read, please note the wealth of the Benin Kingdom, the well-ordered hierarchy, and lastly note the pride and discipline of the people of Benin City. Also note the mention of the great renowned Benin bronzed sculpting on the pillars. No wonder the British could not help but loot the city [Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground] because greed and jealousy had the better of them. Below is his account:

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The town seems to be very great. When you enter into it, you go into a great broad street, not paved, which seems to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes street in Amsterdam….

Benin City around 1600
Benin City around 1600

The king’s palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince’s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam. They are supported by wooden pillars encased with copper, where their victories are depicted, and which are carefully kept very clean.

The town is composed of thirty main streets, very straight and 120 feet wide, apart from an infinity of small intersecting streets. The houses are close to one another, arranged in good order. These people are in no way inferior to the Dutch as regards cleanliness; they wash and scrub their houses so well that they are polished and shining like a looking-glass.”

Source: “How Europe under-developed Africa,” by Walter Rodney, Howard Univ. Press, 1981, p. 69

 

“Jébalè / Jebale” by Elolongue Epanya Yondo

Douala_Wouri River_2_Djebale
Wouri river and the Djebale island seen on the other side

I share here a poem by the Cameroonian poet Elolongue Epanya Yondo about his beautiful native island of Jebale, Cameroon. Note that Elolongue Epanya is the uncle of another great Senegalese-Cameroonian poet David M. Diop known for his amazing poem “Afrique / Africa“. Jebale (Jébalè or Djebale) is an island on the Wouri River, in Douala, Cameroon. It is also one of the places whose kings signed on 15 July 1884, a treaty of protectorate with German merchants from the firm Jantzen & Thormählen, thereby agreeing to the infamous Germano – Duala Treaty signed 3 days earlier on 12 July 1884 by King Bell and others. In 1884, Jebale was then known as Jibarret.

Douala_Wouri River
View of Jebale and the Wouri river, Douala, Cameroon

As you read Yondo’s words, you can imagine the beauty of his homeland, this island, Jebale, on the Wouri river. Jebale is known as the “emerald island, flamboyant jewel” on the Wouri estuary, on the coast of Cameroon. The author cites well-known coastal rivers of Cameroon, the Bimbia creek, the Sanaga River, the  Dibamba river, the Kwa-Kwa river, and also notes other islands of the Littoral, Malimba and Suellaba. In this poem, the author anchors his words in the rich tradition of the coastal Sawa people as he cites the Miengu and the Mbeatoe, those big shrimps known as Camarões which led to the name of the country Cameroun via the Wouri RiverRio dos Camarões. For those who have visited Jebale, it is indeed an emerald island, mostly known as a small fishing village; however in the eye of Elolongue Epanya Yondo, it is his love, the one he cannot wait to come back to, from exile. Enjoy!

This poem was published in Paris on February 25th 1972, in revue Présence Africaine, numéro 84 (4e trimestre 1972), re-published in Anthologie Africaine: Poésie Vol2, Jacques Chevrier, Collection Monde Noir Poche, 1988, and translated to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com .

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Jebale by Elolongue Epanya Yondo

Jébalè’

A mon neveu David Morsamba Diop.

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Joyau flamboyant au confluent

De la gorge altière du Wouri

Je me souviens

De tes nattes verdoyantes

Fouettant en cascade

L’haleine salée du littoral

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Terre dont le souffle

Des Miengu et des Mamy-Wata

Féconde le cycle des Mbéatoè

Enigmatiques hommes d’eau

Qui sèment l’abondance

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Je cherche dans les fissures du temps

Dans la gueule écumante

de la baie du Biafra

tous les replis d’eau

qui mangèrent goutte à goutte

un chapelet d’îles

jaillies des entrailles de l’océan

comme des gerbes de nénuphars

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Je cherche dans l’écume poreuse

Les cônes bleu-gris

Dont la beauté effervescente

Arrachait des soupirs

          De lame de fond a l’océan

          Tombé en pâmoison

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Je cherche le chemin du retour

Du maquis de mon long exil

A travers l’île des buffles

Que fixait hier

La pointe multicolore de Suellaba

Je cherche sur tes flancs

Le point de repère de l’estuaire subjugué

Lançant à l’assaut de l’esprit gardien

De la crique du Bimbia

A l’île Malimba

Du Wouri coiffé de palétuviers

A la Dibamba des grandes profondeurs

De la Sanaga hydre immense

A la bouche silencieuse de la Kwa-Kwa…

Des gueules d’eau déchaînées

Et des bras de mers insaisissables

Pour pénétrer ton mystère

Consacrant ta légende des légendes

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Terre première de mon enfance

Dont le sel fermente ma mémoire

Je grave ton image impérissable

Sur la grève qui se moire

Au miroir d’un ballet lumineux

Du flux et du reflux

Qui propagent ton nom

Par la voix claire des clapotis.

Jebale’ 

To my nephew David Morsamba Diop.

Jebale my emerald island

Flamboyant jewel at the confluence

Of the haughty Wouri gorge

I remember

Your green braids

Whipping in cascade

The salted breath of the coast

Jebale my emerald island

Land whose breath

Of the Miengu and the Mamy-Wata

Fertilizes the cycle of the Mbeatoe

Enigmatic men of water

Who sow abundance

Jebale my emerald island

I search through the cracks of time

In the foaming mouth

Of the Biafra bay

All the folds of water

Which ate drop by drop

A rosary of islands

Sprung from the bowels of the ocean

Like sheaves of water lilies

Jebale my emerald island

I search in the porous foam

The gray-blue cones

Whose effervescent beauty

Drew out sighs

          Of groundswell from the ocean

          Fallen into a swoon

Jebale my emerald island

I am looking for the way back

From the maquis of my long exile

Through the buffalo island

That set yesterday

The multicolored tip of Suellaba point

I am looking on your sides

For the landmark of the subjugated estuary

Launching the assault of the guardian spirit

From the Bimbia creek

To the Malimba island

Of the Wouri dressed with mangroves

To the great depths of the Dibamba

To the Sanaga immense hydra

To the silent mouth of the Kwa-Kwa…

Ramps of water

And the elusive arms of the sea

To penetrate your mystery

Consecrating your legend of legends

Jebale my emerald island

First land of my childhood

Whose salt ferments my memory

I engrave your imperishable image

On the shore which shines

In the mirror of a luminous ballet

Of ebb and flow

Which spread your name

By the clear voice of the ripples.