Books


 

In 1998 when I was planning my pilgrimage to West Africa, I was warned against visiting Mauritania. It was explained to me that slavery against the “Black” African population was still practised there by the “White” Arabs and I could therefore put my self at risk. The fear was not so much my abduction and enslavement, but certainly blatant discrimination in a hostile environment where I would have no protection by (or from) the law. Needless to say, I avoided Mauritania.  

I subsequently read a book by Samuel Cotton entitled: Silent Terror: A Journey into Contemporary African Slavery”. Published in 1999, it highlighted his research into the dynamics of modern day slavery in Mauritania and Sudan. I recently read “Slave: My True Story” by Mende Nazer, a horrifying autobiography of her 1993 abduction and enslavement in Sudan at age 12, and her flight to freedom 7 years later while working for a Sudanese diplomat in London England.

I have also read a number of articles on the issue of child slavery in West Africa today. While the system of slavery in Mauritania and Sudan is based primarily on historical and traditional social systems, the phenomenon of child slavery in West African countries is based on poverty. Parents sell their children into slavery for a few dollars and false promises that they will only be working part-time, taken care of and sent to school. It’s ironic that I had visited Ghana during my pilgrimage and toured a number of the slave castles along the coast. I even visited the slave castle in the Kormance Region, where it is very likely that my ancestor(s) were housed before being shipped off to Jamaica as slaves. Today, Ghana is one of the West African countries that has a serious problem with child slavery.   

I would like to share an indepth report from last month on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation website (CBC.ca), concerning this issues of modern day slavery and child trafficking in West Africa. The link is here. There are links to the 3 articles penned by David Gutnick which discusses these topics in detail. You will also find links to previous CBC articles and other resource materials about modern day slavery. 

Here is a another link to a case study and other articles by the BBC World Service pertaining to Article 4 of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Freedom From Slavery”

The challenge now becomes: “now that we know, what are we going to do or can do about it?”  Suggestions are welcomed.              

 

Here are some of the jewels from Africa that has enriched my life:

My favourite online African magazine, The African Executive. Here are 2 of this month’s articles that may be of interest:   

Tribalism in Africa: A Western Creation? 

Is Democracy Working in Africa? 

Blogs:

Africa Beat: political and economic development by an Afro-optimist;

Blog Africa: wide variety of African blogs; 

Le Pangolin: French blogger from Senegal;

Ore’s Notes: Nigerian woman living in Lagos;

Poefrika: a weblog of creative African-inspired writing; 

What an African Woman Thinks: one of my favourites. This blogger in Kenya really personalizes the fears and aspirations of those who are currently experiencing the events in that country. A must read!

Books:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born and Why Are We So Blest both by Ayi Kwei Armah

Weep Not, Child by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

God’s Bit’s of Wood by Sembene Ousmane

Death and the King’s Horsemen; Madmen and Specialists. Both are by Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka

Long Walk To Freedom. The autobiography of Nelson Mandela

The Wretched Of The Earth by Frantz Fanon

Civilization and Barbarism by Cheikh Anta Diop

West Africa Traditional Religion by T.N.O. Quarcoopome  

Music:

Femi Kuti: Nigerian Afrobeat and Jazz artist.

Angelique Kidjo: Beninese singer and songwriter who performs a variety of afrostyles.

Salif Keita: Albino Malian singer and songwriter with a sweet voice that fits well with his buoyant beats. 

Youssou N’Dour: Senegalese musician who is a modern day Griot.

Miriam Makeba: South African singer, actress, anti-Apartheid activist who was at one time married to Stokley Carmichael.

Hugh Masekela: South Africa Jazz composer and musician, known for his skillz on the trumpet.

Interactive

A Day in the Life of Africa: On February 28th 2002, 100 photojournalists captured the essense of Africa in a 24 hour period. Enter the Gallery at this site and click on each of the 10 Timezones to enjoy some of the magnificent photos.This effort was to raise funds and awareness of the AIDS-HIV crisis on the continent. A photo book is available for sale with proceeds going to Africa AIDS Education Fund.      

 

As I have been following the current news events out of Africa, it is disturbing to see all the images of chaos, death, disease, greed, genocide and corruption. Is that all there is or is that only what is being fed to us? I have always believed that western society’s (and the global) view of those of African descent starts, is influenced and perpetuated by these negative media images from the Motherland. I also believe that these images have an effect on how “we” see ourselves here in the Diaspora.

Africa is indeed resource rich. However, despite the dismal news reports and negative images, Africa has much more to offer the world other than it’s material resources, that is being raped and stolen for the benefit of former neocolonial regimes and to enrich their propped up African overseers! One of the resources we don’t utilize enough as people of African descent, are the many voices that are available to be “mined” for our benefit. There are cultural, political, econimic, artistic, literary and spiritual gems of experiences, knowledge, beliefs, values, insights and opinions, which are available to help bring clarity and strength to our being. The continent is rich in books, films, magazines, music, websites and blogs, etc., which are the invaluable jewels that their best and brightest have to offer the world.  

For this month’s carnival, let’s share and exchange some of the priceless resources from the Motherland that have enriched and brought joy to our lives. Create a post on your page with African based web links, as well as book, music, magazine, movie and blog lists, etc., and submit a link to Afrospear@hotmail.com by this Sunday 10th February. I will compile the links and publish the carnival on Monday the 11th. 

I remember watching a couple of the Sherlock Holmes movies when I was a kid. I never thought much of them as the story lines didn’t really hold my interest, plus they were shown in “black and white”. I do remember though the line Sherlock Holmes gave his sidekick, Dr. Watson when he was ready to solve the case and explain how he came to his conclusions. He made it all seem so obvious after he proclaimed: “elementary my dear Watson, elementary,” and then broke it all down. I would wonder why Watson, being a learn-ed “Doctor”, hadn’t figured it out also and would ask the detective dumb questions. hmmmmm

This week another Dr. Watson garnered media attention, not for asking dumb questions, but for making “dumb” comments. Dr. James Watson, biologist, geneticist, Chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and 1962 Nobel laureate in science, made some controversial statements regarding “Race” in an interview he gave to The Sunday Times. The interviewer shared these beliefs of Dr. Watson’s in the article:

“He says that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so”.   

This is not the first or only time the “good doctor” has made controversial statements, especially regarding race. During a lecture tour in 2000 he hypothesized that there were scientific links between skin colour and sexual prowess, specifically that “dark-skinned people have stronger libidos”. He has also hypothesized that if you could detect babies with “gay genes” pre-natally, women should then have the right to abort the baby “because women want to have grandchildren, period.” He also agreed with what he refers to as the “unpopular but by no means unfounded” theory of ex-Harvard president Larry Summers, who lectured that the low representation of tenured female scientists at universities might be due to, among other things, “the innate differences between the sexes”. Due to the furor caused by his latest comments, he has had to cancel a book tour, scheduled lectures and he has also been suspended from his administrative duties at the Laboratory.

So here’s the deal. I believe the issue isn’t so much with the statements he made…. but that he made them publicly! He simply stated what is the widely held belief among those in the dominant “white” society. It is not the first time (nor the last) that science has been utilized to assert the inferiority of the so-called “Black Race”. Scientists are forever coming up with hypotheses and theories either contending that “whites” and/or “Europeans” and their culture is superior to everyone elses, or that “Blacks” and/or “Africans” and their culture are inferior to all others. However, because it is no longer “socially acceptable” nor “politically correct” to make such assertions publicly, “the rule” now is to do it within private (i.e. where Black people aren’t allowed) confines of the backrooms, the social clubs, the boardrooms, the executive offices… hell even in the bathroom…. but never, never out in the open and certainly not to the media! If you break this rule…. you are on your own!

Dr. Watson has made the usual apologies, claimed the statements don’t reflect what he meant, “and there is no scientific basis for such a belief.” Interestingly he also stated: “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said.”

“Elementary my dear Watson, elementary…. you’re a racist.”  

Over the past year, I have read three books concerning the meaning of life. Interestingly, (for me anyway), two took a more psychoanalytical approach in answering this question, while the third was Christian based. I will summarize what each determined was the answer to this timeless endeavor, in the order in which I read the books.

 

1. The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck: This theme of this book surprised me as I was under the impression (due to the title), that this was a religious based book. Although it had an underlying spiritual element, it took a psychoanalytical based approach and argued that the meaning of life could be understood by accepting these truths:

·        Life is difficult and contains a series of problems.

·        Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve these problems.

·        It is in the whole process of how we meet and solve these problems, that life has it’s meaning.

·        How we meet the challenges of dealing with these problems is the basis of how we grow mentally and spiritually.

·        The tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.

·        The set of tools that is referred to as “discipline”, are “techniques of suffering”: which are the means by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work them through and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process.

·        There are four tools which make up the “techniques of suffering”: delaying gratification; acceptance of responsibility; dedication to truth; and balancing.

·        Psychoanalysis is essential in assisting someone in mastering one or more of these four tools.

 

2. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren: This book looked at the question from a Christian perspective. According to the author, we were all created by God for a purpose- His purpose…. and “it is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny.”  Consequently, there are five purposes to our life:

1.      To bring enjoyment to God.

2.      To be a part of the family of God.

3.      To be like Christ.

4.      To serve God.

5.      To serve others.

 

3. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl: This book is based on the experiences of the author, a psychiatrist, who survived a number of Nazi death camps. Within this backdrop, he argues that how we choose to deal with experiences, especially  “unavoidable” atrocities and sufferings, is the determining factor of whether we will live (survive) or die. From his experiences during WWII, he concluded that those who had survived the concentration camps, had the will to live through those horrible times, were those who found a deeper, even a spiritual “meaning” to what they were going through. He went on to develop a psychoanalytical “meaning-centered” form of therapy called Logotherapy. According to logotherapy, we can discover the meaning of life in three different ways:

1.      By achievement or accomplishment.

2.      By experiencing something or encountering someone.

3.      By the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering.

 

All three books were a good read and I recommend them all. Being a Christian, the second book had more of a lasting impression on me and my understanding of the meaning…. “purpose”…. of my life. However all three books gave me a deeper insight of how I live my life, the choices I make, the reasons I may make one choice rather than another, and more importantly, also an insight into what makes others “tick”.   

I just bought a new set of books and my reading list is getting crazy. My wife is starting to comment on when will I get time to read all these books I’ve been buying, especially with a baby on the way in August. I’ve been spending a lot of time blogging over at AfroSpear and have neglected my reading and posting on this site.

As you can see I have transformed the look and feel of this page. It’s almost like a cleansing. I am now committing some time and effort to get into my reading list and post here more often. Here is my planned reading list:

Religious

  1. The God Delusion.  Richard Dawkins
  2. Epicenter.  Joel C. Rosenberg
  3. The Jesus I Never Knew.  Philip Yancey

 Psychology

  1. Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.  Robert Cialdini
  2. Social Intelligence.  Daniel Goldman

 Afrocentric

  1. The Bluest Eyes.  Toni Morrison
  2. A Long Way Home.  Ishmael Beah
  3. Slave.  Mende Nazer
  4. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth
  5. Infidel.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  6. An Ordinary Man.  Paul Rusesabagina
  7. The Assassination of the Black Male Image.  Earl O. Hutchinson
  8. The Slave Community.  John W. Blassingame.

What are you currently reading and what do you plan to read in the next while?

Asa.    

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