Author Archives: miguelcodinera

Digital Participation: Music – Afrikan Boy

From All Our Names to some of the short stories in The Thing Around Your Neck, our class discussions have not only revolved around experiences in the African continent but also experiences in the diaspora. Afrikan Boy is a perfect example of the interesting culture of Africans overseas. With his good humor, the U.K.-born Nigerian rapper does not shy away from his roots and mixes them with the grime scene he grew up with in England, lending to the genre of “Afro-grime.” Afrikan Boy is able to present themes ranging from battling immigration officers to just being plain Y.A.M. (Young, Ambitious, and Motivated) in a surprisingly catchy way, and if anyone’s looking for some new music, I’d suggest checking him out.

If the importance of yams in Nigeria wasn’t stressed enough in Things Fall Apart…

And here, he samples the legendary Fela Kuti in “Hit Em Up.”

He just released an album as well. It’s on Spotify! (Favorite tracks: Take You There, Border Business, Mr Kunta Kinte, M.I.A)

Afrikan Boy – The ABCD

The ABCD 2

Short Story: Abiku by Jumoke Verissimo

This short story was written by a writer from Lagos, Jumoke Verissimo, who the poetry book I Am Memory under her belt. Abiku is about a previous schoolteacher, Anu, who is pregnant and without a job. She and her de facto husband (Anu became pregnant before marriage), Akin, who no longer has a stable salary, struggle to make ends meet during the economic crisis within Nigeria. To make matters worse, Akin’s brothers constantly come over to their small one-bedroom apartment, burdening Anu with their dirty laundry and their sexual stints with girls. Sick of the monotonous tasks, the neighbors’ racket (Verissimo references their watching of Nollywood films and the characters’ loud, exaggerated performances), and her husband’s constant absence, she falls into a deep sleep where she encounters an alternate life she had dreamed of with Akin. She sees a perfect house and a perfect husband, “Prince,” but is told she is doomed to come back and forth between this world and the real world until “the moment comes.” She is woken up to the violent shouts of people in a power outage, and her refusal to come to terms with her life ends up with a decision to make her “moment” come. I won’t spoil the ending, but I found out that the word “abiku” is a Yoruba word meaning “predestined to death.” I think you can figure it out from there.

Check it out here: http://nigerianstalk.org/2013/07/20/abiku/

The concept of abiku: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiku

Digital Participation: Tsotsi Film Review

Tsotsi

Last night I finally got my hands on a copy of the South African film Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood. I think Professor Green-Simms mentioned this film in class during our discussion of the makeup of South Africa, and I was excited because I had wanted to see it for a while but never got around to it. Well, I finally did, and I was not disappointed.

In sum, the movie centers on Tsotsi, a poor man fromthe slums of Johannesburg, who earns his living stealing from the rich along with his gang of thieves. However, things get crazy when he decides to shoot a rich woman from the suburbs, stealing her car… and her baby in the back seat.

I won’t spoil the ending just in case anyone wants to watch it, but there were many interesting parts I’d like to share that related to our class discussions. First of all, the cinematography was amazing, and Hood showed South Africa in all kinds of lights. From the brown, muskiness of the slums to the blue and white of the shopping malls, the film showed South Africa as it is, a land where the rich and poor live side to side. One shot in particular showed Tsotsi standing on top of a hill of brown grass overlooking the city’s towering skyscrapers during sunset, which was a pretty cool contrast. This chaotic mix of Johannesburg reminded me of Welcome to Our Hillbrow.

Additionally, like in the film Yesterday, the country’s struggle with AIDS has a presence in the film. Signs reading “We are all affected by HIV and AIDS” repeatedly appearedin scenes of the city. At one point, the movie showed a flashback of Tsotsi’s father forbidding him from touching his dying mother, and I feel that AIDS and people’s misunderstanding of it was a subtle message within Tsotsi.

Anyways, the plot was quite interesting and heartfelt. Not only does it show the dark undersides of the poor in Johannesburg but also the human side and background of Tsotsi the thief. The film shows his reasons behind his actions, the strength of the friendships he forms, the beauty of motherhood, and ultimately gives a voice to a man who in the scope of international media would have simply been a desperate South African who stole a car and a baby. Anyone with an interest in cinema should definitely check out this movie (it won an Academy Award in 2006 for Best Foreign Language Film!).

Tsotsi_w1

Sexual Preference Versus Identity

From international headlines to our readings in class, the excessive homophobia across many African countries has been made aware to many parts of the world. However, within African society itself, the concept of homosexuality is often absconded. Moreover, the title of Jude Dibia’s novel, Walking with Shadows, is quite apt for the situation of underground LGBTQ community on the African continent. In fact, Adrian is rarely confronted with the fact that he is “gay”, with characters choosing to circle around the word instead. The concept of gay as an identity is something that Adrian and his close ones struggle with throughout the passages we have read.

After Adrian is outed by his co-worker, he is asked by his supervisor to take a short leave from work until people can get over the shock of certain rumors about him. But when Adrian asks him about the content of the rumors, his supervisor has a hard time dictating to him the office’s fear of Adrian being gay. He only describes the accusations as ones regarding his “sexual preferences” and Adrian’s supposed accosting of a bodyguard. In this case, Adrian’s gay identity is reduced to a mere lustful choice.

The scene in which Adrian is flogged by Pastor Matthew at the hands of his brother Chiedu is another example of Africa’s denial of gay identity. Pastor Matthew cites the Biblical story of the evil people of Sodom and Gomorrah who succumbed to promiscuity, and states that it is the devil’s temptation that has caused Adrian to want relationships with other men. Once again, and this time through imported Christianity, we see Adrian’s self-identification as a gay man diminished to the idea of sex. But at the end of the novel, Adrian and even his ex-wife Ada overcome this trope, seeing “gay” as part of a person’s being rather than a purely sexual desire. We can only hope that Nigeria and the rest of Africa will one day come to this perspective.

Not-So-Traditional Oral Tradition

In class we talked about how Dog Days creates vignettes of everyday life in Yaounde and how much of the story is told in the “language of the streets.” Unlike in Memory of Love where most main characters are doctors, professors, and nurses, Dog Days brings storytelling back down to the level of the most ordinary people: a bartender, a cigarette vendor, a mother working a fritter stand. Most interestingly, the way in which Dog Days is told is most reflective of traditional oral storytelling in Africa.

Just like Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart, Patrice Nganang presents us with a narrative of everyday life that holds an almost omnipotent perspective. And while Achebe described the ins and outs of the village of Umuofia from an unknown distant perspective, Nganang keeps an eye on the whole of Yaounde in the form of our main character, the roaming dog Mboudjak. In this way, the experiences of everyone within the area is able to be told from the high observer standpoint that is so common in traditional African folktales.

Even further, Dog Days’ inclusion of occult stories only reminds us more of Africa’s oral folktales. Just as people told tales through word of mouth, Mboudjak hears the strange rumors surrounding the Yaounde from the mouths of Yaounde residents themselves, relating them back to us, the readers. The stories are strange, ranging from rumors of chautiers that sell human meat to the existence of sorcerers that can steal a man’s genitals just by shaking his hand. In the context of Dog Days, one can see these rumors are created from distress, addressing the social problems in Cameroon, just as oral folktales addressed the social problems in everyday life. As these rumors fly, Mboudjak sees how the dark grip of poverty on the country is forcing people to attack those who succeed, such as the successful restauranteur or the men who shake hands. In a powerless situation, Nganang shows how the oppressed (even a dog) can find power in story.

Adrian and Kai: Is War Uncurable?

Often times, the most painful damages of war occur in the decades that follow the conflict. In Scottish-Sierra Leonean author Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love, the wounds of warfare are ever-present in the people of the capital Freetown. Inevitably, one of the main themes of the story is suffering, but Forna shows that the ways in which people suffer in the story the typical African trope of harm by bullets and bombs. Many of the town’s citizens suffer from not only physical wounds but also from post-traumatic stress disorder. And with the concept of healing and saving, The Memory of Love shows the complexities of what it takes to save an ailing person. Forna manifests these concepts in the contrast between the characters of Adrian and Kai.

Adrian is a psychologist hailing from Britain, acting as the mental healer of the story. And while most medical treatments in Africa at the time were concentrated on healing physical illnesses, Adrian focused on illnesses of the mind. Kai, on the other hand, acts as the physical healer of the story. The fact is that he takes care of people’s immediate problems, i.e. severed limbs and stillbirths, however gruesome they are. As an African surgeon, Kai represents the ugly truth of war, doubting Adrian’s ability to help people.

Adrian’s character, more reserved than Kai, also seems to manifest the internalization of suffering. His repression of secrets like his failing marriage mirrors his patients’ repression of painful experiences. Kai’s outgoingness mirrors the manifestation of his patients’ obvious, external pain. Moreover, these two healers clash in their ideas of saving people, and at one point Kai feels that Adrian’s psychology work is useless because the people of Freetown are so disillusioned by war. And Adrian later realizes this: “People here don’t need therapy so much as hope.” (320) The difference between the two doctors seems to show Forna’s spin on the “white savior in Africa” and the real concept of suffering. In all, albeit a pessimistic perspective, Adrian and Kai show that sometimes healers can’t truly heal the sick, no matter if they come from the outside or within their own country.

Mother and Child: the Death of Democracy

If director Raoul Peck wanted to cater the film “Lumumba” to Western audiences, it probably would have opened with a slight foreshadowing of his eventual assassination. Instead, the film begins with two white men dragging the dead Congolese leader through the dirt and hacking his body to pieces. With Lumumba’s gruesome death already revealed, the film should have been nothing but a biographical account of the events leading up to Lumumba’s death. However, as the film progresses, we see that rather than focusing on the death of a man, Peck chooses to subtly focus on the death of a country. One of the best examples is Peck’s portrayal of Lumumba’s wife and daughters.

Throughout the movie, Lumumba’s wife and his daughter seem to play the role of peace, love, and unity. As Lumumba’s family unit, they ground him down in a world of sleepless nights. The wife tells her husband to stop working so hard, scolding him for sleeping at his desk. The young daughter consoles her father as he stresses over maintaining his country, and she is even unaware of what a “president” is. Lumumba’s wife and daughter seem to represent the majority of the Congolese people, normal and detached from the political violence surrounding them.

But as Patrice runs into challenges running an independent Republic of the Congo, so do his wife and new daughter. Later on, his wife becomes very ill after giving birth to a new child. This could be Peck’s representation of the troubles of giving birth to a new nation. Moreover, the baby is taken by the Belgians to Switzerland “for safety” from the DRC’s political turmoil. There, she soon dies, just as Lumumba’s dream of a truly independent Congo slowly dies, being taken away from him by foreign actors and put into the hands of the corrupt Mobutu Sese Seko.

Achebe’s Painting of Colonialism through the Misters

From its title and synopsis, “Things Fall Apart” looks to be the usual story of white men swiftly conquering an African society by surprise. Chinua Achebe’s actual story was not the case. I found it interesting that Achebe portrayed colonialism as a gradual, multi-dimensional process rather than a sudden defeat. This process can be seen as Achebe progressively introduces missionary characters addressed as “Mr.,” a Western title.

The first “Mr.” to appear in the book is a Mr. Kiaga, an African convert from a distant clan who leads the Christian mission in Mbanta. Under the new Christian faith, osu, or outcasts, were suddenly seen as equals. This confuses both the villagers and us readers, especially with the display of an African man as a main missionary figure.

After Okonkwo’s return to Umuofia, we encounter Mr. Brown, a white missionary. His mission stresses inclusiveness and equality, and under his supervision, Christianity becomes a safe haven and opportunity for the villagers previously punished or ostracized by the clan’s traditions. The prospect of social elevation and abolishment of customs such as mutilating dead children and leaving twins to die puts colonialism in a positive light.

However, Achebe’s stance on colonialism becomes clear when Mr. Brown is replaced by another white missionary named Mr. Smith. Achebe describes this “Mr.” as one who “saw things in black and white. And black was evil.” (184) This portrayal of the European missionary is what we as readers expected from the beginning. Unlike Mr. Brown, Mr. Smith is the foreigner who is highly critical of the Ibo people’s past traditions.

White missionaries do eventually beat down the traditions and beliefs of the Umuofia clan, but not without inner conflict among the clan members. Okonkwo, the protagonist who is difficult to sympathize with, angrily defends his clan’s traditions. Conversely, the “misters,” who range from benevolent to brutal, show the spread of Christianity as both a positive and negative force. Ultimately, I believe that Achebe’s goal was not to show how unfair the colonial force was. Instead, he stressed the internal conflict and made readers feel as the villagers did: torn between the promise of a new system and the ruthless destruction of their cultural tradition.