Tag: history

Women Warriors: Why Yaa Asantewaa needs to be remembered in Women’s History Month


Women History Month would not be complete without mentioning this Ghanaian heroine. When Queen Mother of Ejusi, Yaa Asantwaa fought against British colonisers she did it in boldness and not fear, with pride and not an inferiority complex. In 1900, a time without ‘womens movements’ and social media, Yaa Asantewaa was determined to fight for her people, for the Asante kingdom (of modern day Ghana) to keep what was rightfully theirs and stop the British from stealing the Golden Stool. Described as embodying the soul of the Asante people, the golden stool is very sacred.

History documents that the War of the Golden Stool aka the Yaa Asantewaa War took place on 28th March 1900. It was the last war between modern day Ghana and her British colonial oppressors. The British were asserting their control and were determined to capture the Asante kingdom along with all it’s riches. The Asante people had fiercely fought the British in previous wars to maintain their sovereignty (as they should have) but the British were persistent in their oppression.

Yaa-Asantewaa
Queen Mother Yaa Asentewaa – Ready for battle

 

Photo: source unknown via Google

The Treaty of Formena (1874) paralysed the Asante Kingdom economically. Historical accounts state the British took advantage of and insinuated internal fights among the Asante people. Multiple successions of the Asantehene (King of Asante) weakened the throne, but in 1888 Kwaku Dua III ascended and later became known as ‘Prempeh I’. By 1891 Prempeh I was able to unite the Asante kingdom, something which the British feared as they were wanted to expand their control before the French and Germans encroached on their plans.

Through various means the British weakened the Asante Kingdom, in 1896 they demanded the Asantehene, Prempe I to pay them in large amounts of Gold as stipulated in the Treaty of Formena. Prempe I could not pay and was exiled by the British from his own kingdom with his family and other important royal members, to Sierra Leone and later to the Seychelles.

The British were not done, they wanted to strip the Asante kingdom of any dignity and demanded the Golden Stool. Before being exiled the chiefs hid the golden, but in 1899 British governor Fredrick Hodgson went to Kumasi to get it but failed. After this latest attempt, in a kingdom that was unravelling from various assaults by the British intent on stealing all the wealth of the Asante kingdom, the remaining despondent chiefs met to decide what to do. It was during that sombre meeting where the famous words of Yaa Asantewaa were spoken and why she has to be remembered in history as one of the greatest heroines of all time

“Now I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king…in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king to be taken away without firing a shot. No European could have dared speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”

Yaa Asentewaa became the leader and mobilising her troops, fought in what was the last war against British colonialism; the war ended in 1901.

Did Yaa Asentewaa’s army win the war?

No. But she stood and fought, in a time when there were no women liberation movements etc. Yaa Asentewaa didn’t just let things happen to her she boldly fought for the freedom of her people in their own land. After defeat she too was also exiled to the Seychelles, where she died in 1921.

Ghana remained under British rule until March 1957 when she became (as commonly documented) the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from European rule

Because of her bravery, the Yaa Asantewaa legacy lives on, documented in history books and critically acclaimed fictional novels.  This Women’s History Month let’s remember women who fought for something greater than themselves and even in ‘defeat’ were still Queens.

 

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Soul of a Nation exhibition reminds us why black artists are important


 

Even though I’m writing this post during Black History Month in the UK, the Soul of a Nation Exhibition at the Tate Modern in London has been on since July. One of the first things I liked – black culture not relegated to Black History Month only. The interest in the exhibition was immense, I managed to go during one of the Uniqlo Tate Lates’ sessions and was glad I booked tickets beforehand.

tate modern pic

 

It was humbling walking through the white rooms of the Tate, transported back in time to the civil rights movement. I felt the fusion of emotions emitted from the vivid photos and colourful paintings. The artwork captured nuances in anguish, joy and triumph  of black people in America up to and around the Civil Rights Movement.

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Permission from the Tate Modern to take pictures of the exhibition.

The riveting exhibition is more than artists being subjective witnesses of a depressing and inspiring period of history. It’s an authentic capture of black history by those who could identify with the subjects emotionally, physically and psychologically (although the exhibition does have work from non-black artists too).

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Permission from the Tate Modern to take pictures of the exhibition. Benny Andrews: Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree

A black narrative by black artists.

It’s not impossible to for a non-black person depict a black narrative. However, expressing a reality that was yours or those of your family can only be most accurate through your own gaze. This gave the exhibition a different level of emotional authenticity that the work of black artists took centre stage. I was reminded that black people were standing firmly behind enemy lines during this period.

malcom soul nation
Permission from the Tate Modern to take pictures of the exhibition.

In addition to the art work, there were also televised speeches by prominent people of the movement including writer and activist Angela Davis. A Black Panther Party member, she came to national prominence after being sacked from her teaching post at the University of California due to her claimed communist associations. Her passion for prisoners’ rights goes back to the 1970 free the ‘Soledad Brothers’ campaign, which led to her own imprisonment. This caused a catalyst of events, most notably the ‘Free Angela Davis’ campaign, which helped drive her acquittal in 1972.

Through the Soul of a Nation exhibition…

I appreciated the tenacity of black people, who created a movement renowned globally without the use of social media and so profound that I and many others are still writing about it in 2017.

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Permission from the Tate Modern to take pictures of the exhibition.

I appreciated the courage of black people, harnessing the strength to smile thorough oppression.

I appreciated the intellect black people exhibited when navigating a system that was setup to destroy them.

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Permission from the Tate Modern to take pictures of the exhibition.

And of course, when there seemed to be no hope, when it looked like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, I appreciated the fact that black people didn’t stop, many fought literally until death, for freedom, for equality, to be considered human.

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Carolyn Mims: Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free 1972.

Sadly, the exhibition ends on 22nd October, so if you’re in London whatever your race, I recommend it! Remember black history is world history so it’s for everyone!

soul of a nation
Image: Barkley Hendricks: Icon For My Superman (Superman Never Saved Any Black People) Bobby Seale 1969

 

After the exhibition we were (of course) carefully led by the way the exhibition was laid out, to the dedicated shop. This was actually quite a nice surprise because there was so much black literature, some titles I’d heard of and others I hadn’t. It was like being in a sweet shop but it was a book shop lol.

 

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Ghana’s art scene is taking shape


 It’s been 59 years to the day since Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonial rule. Currently there are many issues affecting the country, which will probably reach boiling point during what will be a hotly contested election in November.

Despite all the politics, the country is basking in its burgeoning contemporary art scene. Gallery 1957 is opening in the country’s capital Accra, marking independence day, by showcasing a history of Ghanaian art and the work of current contemporary artists. The Ghanaian art scene has been struggling for decades, requiring funding, but those within the industry, like Creative Director of Gallery 1957, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, are passionate about providing Ghanaian artists, like Serge Attukwei Clottey, an environment where they can produce and showcase their creations, while earning a living from their art.

 

Ghana art, African art, ghanaian artists
Passionate about African art: Gallery 1957 Creative Director, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim.

 Pic via Okayafrica: Artwork: Ibrahim Mahama. Photo: Alice McCool

Creatives in the diaspora are also drawing on their heritage for inspiration. Ghanaian-American animator Abdul Ndadi created a cartoon, who’s main character, a young African girl called Orisha takes on adventures.

The cartoon has a Pan-African feel, covering Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Gambia and Guinea; from the characters, storylines to the music. It aims to show children a different narrative to what they usually see and provide black children with an additional character they can physically identify with.

“As an artist I felt a responsibility, even in a small way, to have an image of a beautiful African girl our youth could identify with, doing cool things. The main reason my main character is female is because not only do black women deal with the problem of racism, they also have the added burden of sexism as well.” – Abdul Ndadi 

The cartoon has already had audiences at various festivals, including the 2015 Cannes Short Film Corner and the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in Japan. Check out an interview with Abdul Ndadi at OkayAfrica and a snippet of Orisha’s Journey below.

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Featured image collage: Serge Attukwei Clottey courtesy of Gallery 1957 and Abdul Ndadi.

Natural hair – a fashion statement, a phase, a normality?


“Fight for your rights!” – a slogan that the black people (and other minority groups) wherever they reside in the world can relate to. It seems like controversy is just part of black culture?

Even hair.

Known as the crowning glory for women and men, hair is also wrapped up into this notion called beauty – which the majority of us are intrigued by. Consciously or sub-consciously.  However, like most things associated with ‘beauty’ the emphasis is usually disproportionately projected onto women.

Black people (women more than men) seem to have a love hate relationship with Afro hair; a subject which provokes fascination (from others) and discussion.

Afro hair has a chequered history, a controversial present and unwritten future. Who knows if we’ll be having the same conversation in 5 years time?

At one point Afro hair was seen as the epitome of black identity and defying white oppression.

Afro hair is making a comeback; most recently displayed on high fashion Western catwalks and photo shoots. Last year W Magazine’s spread, featuring models with natural hair caused waves on social media.

w mag collage
W magazine

In recent years, natural Afro hair has been stretched, pulled and debated more openly. Some may argue that it’s becoming more ‘acceptable’ now.

natural hair in fashion, natural hair in fashion
Fashion bible: W Magazine – Fashion shoot

 

In south/Latin American countries where being of African descent is usually something to be ashamed of and hidden, people are starting to embrace their African heritage. In another bold fashion step, Jourdan Dunn is on the February issue of Vogue Brasil (with an Afro wig); a country who has struggled to accept her African heritage and subscribed to European beauty standards for decades, despite reportedly having the second largest black population in the world.

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Despite the preference for straight hair among most races over the years, curly/afro hair is met with fascination, curiosity, approval and disdain. In the video below, un-ruly.com spoke to women about how they feel when asked the question many naturals dread, “can I touch your hair?”. This video was inspired by Saartjie Baartman, an African woman who was displayed across Britain by Hendrik Cezar between 1810 and 1814, because she looked ‘different’ (to the Europeans who displayed her, like an artifact in a museum).

Whether its here today or gone tomorrow, it seems natural hair still ignites controversy. We can’t forget when pop singer Zendaya Coleman was accused of “probably smelling like weed”, by a TV presenter when she wore a dreadlock hairstyle to last years Oscars. 

Zendaya hair, Zendaya dreadlocks

Either way, natural hair is here to stay; and there are afro naturals all over the world who are embracing their natural hair. To them this is more than a fashion statement, its a normality!

Courtesy of ‘Black Girl with Long Hair’…Naturals living in the Caribbean/USA…

natural hair in the caribbean

….living in Europe

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….living in Africa / USA

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Brixton protest: The revolution roars on


Brixton protest! The 25th April 2015 was a pleasant, sunny Saturday afternoon, with a familiar inner city backdrop of red double decker buses and high street chain stores. Brixton High Street was the stage and Reclaim Brixton protest, was the name. After weeks of warning in local press, the people took to the streets in planned protest. Angry at various aspects of gentrification, including selling of social housing land to private developers and rising rents for local independent business as demand for retail space in the area increases, the protesters made their presence known!

Reclaim Brixton
Sitting pretty on the Victoria Line.

Brixton protest

As I walked between two prominent landmarks, Lambeth Town Hall and McDonalds, with a couple of shopping bags in my hand, I saw the mass crowd at the junction, literally stopping traffic by walking in the middle of the road. Chanting, waving banners and blasting ‘old skool’ garage music from a ghetto blaster, they swayed along in solidarity, upset about the demise of Brixton’s heritage and culture. For a protest located in what I thought was a majority minority area; from the slide lines I noticed the sparse sprinkling of ethnic groups within the crowd.

What do you think about that?

Reclaim Brixton protest

Unofficially known as the black capital of the UK, some of Brixton’s older residents who have been allowed to come since the 1940’s have taken advantage of how much a property in Brixton can sell for and cashed in by moving out, with some emigrating back to their home countries. As usual there are always those who are left behind, the children of these immigrants and generations of white families who have also lived in the area for many years.

Brixton gentrification

Brixton anti-gentrification protest

There has always been a fight for social housing (as in other areas of London), but now that Lambeth council is apparently selling land to private developers, there is less social housing to go around and those in the middle are being squeezed out. These ‘middle men/women/families’ have incomes which are too high for them to be entitled to social housing, but too low for them to afford renting privately or get a mortgage. Time (and money) waits for no man; as the big chains such as Starbucks, Wahaca and Costa move in (and pay high rents), landlords see pound signs and of course what to increase rents for existing businesses (apparently triple rent increases are due to be enforced). If you are a global company such as Starbucks, paying high price for a place on one of London’s ‘up and coming’ high streets isn’t going to cripple you, but if you are an independent business it could push you to the brink of extinction.

“Change is the only constant in life” and whether we like it or not, Brixton is moving in a different direction. Over £250 million is to be invested in Brixton ‘Town Centre’ including, ‘Pop Brixton’ a new community campus for small local businesses and community organisations. With a similar blueprint to Boxpark in Shoreditch, Pop Brixton will be created from low-cost, shipping containers, and there have been promises that the rents will be ‘affordable’. Pop Brixton will have its grand opening on the 22nd May 2015.

Pop Brixton
Image is everything: Pop Brixton – Picture: Carl Turner Architects.

I’m sure every Brixton resident wants to see the area improve but not at the expense of the African-Caribbean culture and history, which has made Brixton one of the most famous areas in London.

Can gentrification and the African-Caribbean culture co-exist?

What this space!

Future Brixton
The reality is real: Pop Brixton – Picture: Carl Turner Architects.

Remember the good old days? Brixton Market 1961

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Quotes for the month


May 2015

Henry Ford quotes, Ford cars
Henry Ford (Founder of Ford Motor Company; 1863-1947)

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt (Former First Lady of the US; 1884-1962).

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde (Irish Playwright, 1854-1900).

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. Rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” – J.K Rowling (Author; 1965 – present).

Maya Angelou African quotes
Maya Angelou on #Africa (American author and poet; 4th April 1928 – 28th May 2014).

“Taking risk is not about throwing caution to the wind, it’s about freeing the decisions you make from the fear of their outcomes” – Danny Boyle (Film director, October 1956-present)

“Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.” – Demosthenes (Greek orator and statesman, 384–322 BC)

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives or the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”. –  Charles Darwin (English scientist; 1809 – 1882).

“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.” – George Allen (American football coach; April 1918 – December 1990).

“I learned that good judgment comes from experience and that experience grows out of mistakes.” – Omar Bradley (US Army general WWII; February 12, 1893 – April 8, 1981).

‘Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success’. – Henry Ford (Founder of the Ford Motor Company; 1863 – 1947)


April 2015

“Temptations, unlike opportunities, will always give you many second chances.” – O.A. Battista (Canadian-American chemist and author; 1917 – October 1995)

ambition and confidence


March 2015

“Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” – Norman Cousins (American political journalist; 1915–1990)

“The greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity or power, but self-rejection.” Henri Nouwen (Dutch writer; 1935–1996).

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”  Jonathan Safran Foer (American writer; February 1977 – present).

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius (Roman emperor & Stoic philosopher; 121-180AD).

“Perfection is the enemy of greatness.” – Janelle Monáe (Singer, December 1985-present)

Janelle Monáe - Singer (Google images)
Janelle Monáe – Singer (Google images)

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams (American Cartoonist; 1957–present).

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour.”  – Truman Capote (American author, 1924 – August 25, 1984).

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” – Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister during World War II; 1874 – 1965)

“Only through curiosity can we discover opportunities, and only by gambling can we take advantage of them.” – Clarence Birdseye (American entrepreneur and naturalist, 1886 –1956)

“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.” – Robert Collier (American writer; 1885 –1950).


October 2014

“Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.” – Barbara Jordan (Civil rights leader & first African-American elected to the Texas Senate; February 1936 – January 1996).

“You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree. You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself.” – Malcolm X  (American civil rights activist; May 1925 – February 1965) 

“Without courage, you cannot practice any of the other virtues.” – Maya Angelou (American author and poet; 4th April 1928 – 28th May 2014).

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time” – Maya Angelou (American author and poet; 4th April 1928 – 28th May 2014) .

The late, but never forgotten Maya Angelou Google images
The late, but never forgotten Maya Angelou.
Google images

Interview with James Arthur Baldwin (American novelist; 1924 – 1987)

The Paris review, 1984: The Art of Fiction No. 78

Q: As your experience about writing accrues, what would you say increases with knowledge?

A: “You learn how little you know. It becomes much more difficult because the hardest thing in the world is simplicity”.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass (American social reformer, orator and writer; 1818 -1895).

“I have observed this in my experience of slavery, that whenever my condition was improved, instead of increasing my contentment; it only increased my desire to be free, and set me thinking of plans to gain my freedom.” – Frederick Douglass (American social reformer, orator and writer; 1818 -1895)

“Tomorrow, our seeds will grow. All we need is dedication”. – Lauryn Hill (American singer/songwriter; May 26, 1975 – present)

“Travel is the only thing you buy, that makes you richer.” – Unknown

“The only limit is the one you put on yourself”– Unknown 

“With God your best moments will often follow the worst times.” – Word 4 Today publication 

“It’s always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela (The first black president of South Africa; July 1918- December 2013).

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (American civil rights activist; January 1929 – April 1968).

“It is easy to romanticize poverty, to see poor people as inherently lacking agency and will. It is easy to strip them of human dignity, to reduce them to objects of pity. This has never been clearer than in the view of Africa from the American media, in which we are shown poverty and conflicts without any context.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian Author; September 1977 – present)

Quotes about Africa
Haile Selassie (Former Emperor of Ethiopia July 1892 – August 1975)

Black History Month – done and dusted for another year


November is here and we are saying goodbye to another Black History Month (BHM), but I wonder if it’s fit for purpose? Does there need to be a specific month were people cram in hundreds of years of history, and then end it with the subconscious cliché of ‘same time, next year?’ I’ve had this discussion with friends and strangers; initially I thought BHM was important but I’m not sure anymore.

Continue reading “Black History Month – done and dusted for another year”