What it was like, for me,
from my perspective,
didn’t survive; wasn’t deemed
worthy of documentation.

My vagina was turned
into a conduit for colonialism.

Colonialism went in
and when it came out,
I was pretty much erased.
Any remnant of remembrance
was converted to Christianity
and I ended up dying

so far from my home
so far from the people
who, despite letting me languish
a whole year and then some,
still would not have slept
on my grave.

This is their perimeter of peace.
This is why it’s personal
and why I, Pocahontas,
permute my personality
for the poet.

The poor Indians would have had less
reason to complain
that the English took away their land
if they had received it
by way of portion
with their daughters.

A sprightly lover is the most prevailing missionary.

If a Moor may be washed white
in three generations
surely an Indian
might have been blanched
in two.

Next page

Cento sourced from The Westover Manuscripts

Faces and Masks Cento

December 3, 2015

I don’t normally incorporate poetic forms in my work but having come across the form of the cento, I thought that sounds interesting. I flipped through several books to pick the words that would form the basis of the piece. The lyricism of Eduardo Galeono’s trilogy Memory of Fire fired my imagination the most for this exercise and so I went with Faces and Masks, the 2nd volume in the series. Here is my attempt at a cento:

 

Ever since dawn
the ground has been steaming
pleading for a drink
while the living seek shade
and fan themselves.

Hidalgo spent the night with his eyes
fixed on the ceiling of the cell
saying goodbye:

my father didn’t put me among the rich
or the generals or those who have money
or claim to have it.

my father put me with the poor
because i am poor.

At the edge of the village of Morón
a common grave
swallows the bones of a poet
who until yesterday
had a guitar
and a name.

His unshrouded body
ends up in the earth;
his couplets, also naked,
also plebeian,
abide in the winds.

On the street
someone plucks
lamentations
from a guitar.

Homeschooling Journey 1

February 5, 2015

My son loves mythology. I have invested quite a few dollars and I don’t know how much energy in meeting his mythological needs. From D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths to D’Aulaires’s Book of Norse Myths, it seemed as if we had gone around the world of myths but one day, during a geography lesson, he realized we had been missing a continent or two and that the world wasn’t actually represented by the two books mentioned above. So we went looking for myths that reflect the fact that the world actually consists of seven continents (or six for this purpose). We also went looking for the types of mythological figures who have power like Zeus yet who also shared my son’s pigmentation. A Google search yielded results that can be seen here.

In the process of researching African myths, specifically, we found the following statement on mythencyclopedia.com to be  true:

The line between legend and history is often blurred.

The path toward a deeper understanding of what that statement means led to a detour into the difference between epic and myth.

Odysseus is an epic that tells us about the mythology of a portion of the ancient Greek world as retold by Homer. It tells us (or maybe just me) that Odysseus was a jerk of the variety that upholds the opinion of the minority over that of the majority. (Didn’t his crew implore him to head home but he overruled them? The opinions of the working class seemed not to hold much sway in ancient Greece.)

Sundiata, an Epic of old Mali, “yes, he was born from a Buffalo Woman, yes, he was crippled during when he was little but he still didn’t have any powers like Poseidon. Poseidon could part the waters like Jesus!”

The Epic of Askia Mohammed: I didn’t even bring this one into our fluid classroom. Something about the following passage made it something I did not want to pass onto my son as “epic”:

As he approaches the prayer skin of his uncle,
He reins his horse.

He unslung his lance, and pierced his uncle with it until the
lance touched the prayer skin.

Until the spear went all the way to the prayer skin.

[Mamar Kassaye decides to atone for the killing of his uncle by making a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1497. On his way, he forces many people to accept Islam.]

In each village where he stopped during the day, for example, this place,

If he arrives in mid-afternoon, he stops there and spends the night.

Early in the morning, they pillage and they go on to the next village, for example, Libore.

The cavalier who goes there traces on the ground for the people the plan for the mosque.

Once the plan for the foundation is traced,
The people build the mosque.

It is at that time,
Mamar Kassaye comes to dismount from his horse.

He makes the people—

They teach them verses from the Koran relating to prayer.
They teach them prayers from the Koran.
Any villages that refuse, he destroys the village, burns it, and
moves on.

 

Let me just take a moment and repeat that last line:

Any villages that refuse, he destroys the village, burns it, and

moves on.

Any African-centered student of African history knows what that means. For those of you who are not an African-centered student of African history what that means is the imposition of Islam over traditional African cultures and religions. As evidenced from “any villages that refuse, he destroys the village, burns it…”, the imposition was undoubtedly as violent as Christopher Columbus’ voyages and my family doesn’t celebrate Columbus Day.

The same goes for Mansa Musa and his economy-devastating trip to Mecca. This, despite, a caravan which included

60,000 men, 12,000 slaves who each carried four-pounds of gold bars, heralds dressed in silks who bore gold staffs, organized horses and handled bags… 80 camels, which varying reports claim carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust each

 

(This did yield mini-units on camels, the masons of mali and the Festival in the Desert).

Disclaimer: All text in this post attributed to author’s son is strictly the author’s interpretation of facial expressions, body language, etc., of said son and, as such, constitutes a work of fiction unless otherwise indicated. Disclaimer dictated by the author’s interpretation of said son’s response to post.

 

 

This year I started homeschooling my ten year old son. I won’t go into the whycomes…in this post at least. The other day I took him on the first stage of what I call our Boston Underground Railroad tour. Looking at the list of houses on the site, I determined the William Ingersoll Bowditch house was the best (read closest) option on a wintery day. So off we went.

My son in front of the William Ingersoll Bowditch house.

There was no plaque or anything to reference the house’s history, as you can see. Even given the fact that black history is marginalized, I still felt disappointed by the lack of recognition but as usual, I turned it into a teaching moment.

Questions I asked my son:

1. Why do you think there is no plaque or recognition?

His response? “I don’t know.”

Me: I’m not asking you what you know. I’m asking you what you think.

*crickets*

Since there was nothing to see that tied to the history, we left. The next stop will be the Mount Auburn Cemetery

Even though I love that the fact that it is no way, shape or form landlocked, Boston has never been my favorite place to live. I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly why. We (the city and I) have simply been at odds. Despite that fact, I currently reside in Greater Boston; in the small city of Cambridge, aka Moscow on the Charles. The “Moscow” aspect is a Cold War reference designed to indicate Cambridge’s radicalism – as if the Cambridge Police Department is full of leftists.

But I digress.

Since I have committed to be here, it kinda behooves me to have a historical understanding of the place where I am raising my son. I came across A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 while rummaging through an actual, physical bookstore. I immediately added it to my pile and carried it to the checkout aisle.

Several days ago, I started reading it. I have to admit that I am learning things I never knew; such as the fact that the currently prestigious Back Bay section of Boston used to be known as the Receiving Basin and said Basin

[…] became polluted quickly since sewers continued to drain into the area and, because of the dam system, tides no longer washed it out twice daily. In the 1830’s two railroad lines were built across the Back Bay on low embankments and trestle bridges that extended over the mudflat. These lines further reduced water flow in the Receiving Basin, which further increased pollution.

It was the prodigious proposal to fill and populate the Receiving Basin  that is most commonly referred to as the Back Bay landfill project.

And then this:

[… ] A City Council-commissioned report described the dire condition of the Back Bay. ‘(It is) one of nuisance, offensive and injurious to the large and increasing population residing upon it…The Back Bay at this hour is nothing less than a great cesspool, into which is daily deposited all the filth of a large and constantly increasing population.’ Trash and refuse were thrown into the bay from the Mill Dam, and wharf rats scurried in, out, and across the seawall. ‘Every west wind sends its (the Back Bay’s) pestilential exhalations across the entire city… (and) a greenish scum, many yards wide, stretches along the shores of the basin…while the surface of the water beyond is seen bubbling like a cauldron, with the noxious gases that are exploding from the corrupting mass below.’

Back Bay Boston, 1850’s (aka then)

 

Back Bay from Prudential Center, Boston MA

Stephen Puleo does an effective job of describing some of the blood girding the transformation of the Back Bay. However, having almost reached the halfway mark, I have to say it is, effectively, an Eurocentric take the history. The struggle the Irish had in Boston is mentioned enough to be described as significant (if there wasn’t a population of work-hungry Irish, drunken roustabout Irish and children of Irish women with stalwart Catholic beliefs) there would’ve been no workers to fill in the Back Bay to make it the exclusive neighborhood it is today.

Now I understand that the Irish built the Back Bay of Boston in the same way I understand that the Chinese built the railroads. However, while the Irish were doing that, what were the black people of Boston doing? If it is truly a history of ‘the rise of an american metropolis’, then it has to include all members of that metropolis who contributed to its rise.  Did Black people not contribute to the rise of Boston? According to this book, Black people didn’t, not even as footnotes. Of course, I am barely at the halfway mark but still, the absence is obvious enough to be mentioned.

I can, and do, appreciate the irony (appropriateness?) of a currently exclusive neighborhood being built on pestilence. However, the lack of inclusiveness is such that it renders such appreciation pale and anemic.

Seri Jeni:

It was after this [the removal of the population from areas where they supported the freedom fighters]  that one of my children joined the struggle. What happened was that she woke up early in the morning and got ready the various things he used to sell. Then she changed into a denim dress, underneath which she wore a jersey and she put her brother’s baby on her back, saying that she was going to the township. She left the keep and then gave her little brother the baby. She said, “Bye-bye, we shall meet again some day.”

At the end of the day, as it grew dark, I asked my other children where she was. The little boy said she had told him that she was going to the shopping centre but that as she left, she had said, “Bye-bye, we shall meet some day.” She never returned.

I did not sleep that night. I felt very worried and powerless. THe following morning I told my husband that our child had disappeared and he said that I should have told him before, so that he could have reported it. After a week some men arrived to say that their son wanted to marry my daughter. My husband was very annoyed because he thought that meant that they knew where my daughter was. He wanted to beat them but my brother-in-law stopped him.

After that the police regularly came to my house to ask about my daughter. They said that we were looking for a child who was long dead. They said that they had seen her go and that she had been killed immediately.

This was untrue. She went and fought in the war. It was a painful to think about. When a person was killed, the security forces hung the dead body on a chopper and every time this happened, I thought it could be my daughter. I had no happiness for thinking about my child. Each time I heard that comrades had been killed in such and such a place, I thought she could be one of them. I was very worried. She was my fourth born child and she had been very interested in the war and had often gone to the base: many children did. They simply told the guards on the keep gate that they were going to the township. It was three years before I heard about my daughter again.

Excerpted from Mothers of the Revolution:

Mothers of the Revolution tells of the war experiences of thirty Zimbabwean women. Many people suffered and died during Zimbabwe’s war of liberation and many accounts of that struggle have already been written. But the story of the women, the wives and the mothers who remain behind, has not yet been told.

Related Links:

Mothers of the Revolution (Saying Yes)

The book @ Amazon

Mississippi in Africa
Mississippi in Africa by Alan Huffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mississippi in Africa details the extremely fascinating story of enslaved black people who were repatriated back to Africa in the early to mid 19th century and who, eventually, became the “founders” of the country known as Liberia. In 1836, one Isaac Ross, a plantation owner in Mississippi, died. In his will, he specified that the humans he held in bondage should be freed and passage would be paid for their relocation to Africa, if they so chose. By 1849, 200 of the 225 enslaved had emigrated to Liberia. Huffman details the histories of these settlers, as they are known, as they transition into becoming Americo-Liberians.

One of the more stunning premises in the book is that a prime cause of the Liberian Civil War was the undemocratic control of Liberia’s economic, military and political infrastructure, etc by the the Americo-Liberians. However, as unsettled as I was by that assertion, I could not deny the fact that they were very oriented toward America and American culture. They built houses in Liberia that were replicas of the ones they built their former owners. Their names were (and continue to be) of European origin. Upon declaring themselves free from the American Colonization Society in 1847, the Americo-Liberians did the same thing the fighters of the American Revolution did – declare themselves free from tyranny while holding people in bondage (the ward system).

It seems so predictable a behavior that I am left wondering how it is that the family of Fela Kuti, whose ancestors were also repatriated, managed to re-integrate into African society so successfully that they are integral to an understanding of modern Nigeria.

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Rigoberta Menchu

March 2, 2011

Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Biography:

Rigoberta Menchú Tum (born 9 January 1959, Laj Chimel, El Quiché, Guatemala) is an indigenous Guatemalan, of the K’iche’ ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country. She received the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize and Prince of Asturias Award in 1998. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders. Later, American anthropologist David Stoll visited Guatemala and uncovered evidence that some of the claims presented in Menchú’s Nobel Prize-winning testimonial were inaccurate or false.

Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She has also become a figure in indigenous political parties and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007.

In 2009 she was involved in the newly founded party Winaq.(source)

 

Books:

image

These interviews – conducted in Spanish, a language she has spoken for only three years – center on her role as a Quiche woman. Born in the mountains of Guatemala into the Quiche, one of twenty-three mestizo groups, Rigoberta Menchu tells the story of the Quiche fight to keep the Guatemalan gov’t and big-business people from stealing any more of their land: "This is my testimony. I didn’t learn it from a book and I didn’t learn it alone… My personal experience is the reality of a whole people."

 

                                                                                                                                                                                             imagePart memoir, part political manifesto, this impassioned testimony by the Guatemalan Maya human-rights activist and winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize is a stirring sequel to her 1984 autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchu.