George Washington Quote

November 30, 2016

I am currently finishing up the research phase for my 4th book and I came across this quote from George Washington:

“For my own part, I shall not undertake to say where the Line between Great Britain and the Colonies should be drawn, but I am clearly of opinion that one ought to be drawn; & our Rights clearly ascertaind. I could wish, I own, that the dispute had been left to Posterity to determine, but the Crisis is arrivd when we must assert our Rights, or Submit to every Imposition that can be heap’d upon us; till custom and use, will make us as tame, & abject Slaves, as the Blacks we Rule over with such arbitrary Sway.” Source

The part that “triggers” the creativity for this soon-t0-be book is not the derogatory way he describes the enslaved people who made him wealthy but the phrase “we rule over with such arbitrary sway”. Arbitrary means what it means and when coupled with enslavement, it says a whole lot about the white privilege of the colonial era and what that white privilege gave birth to…Manifest Destiny.

What does this quote mean to you?

Gospel

March 4, 2016

i.

discordant
never/
polyrhythmic
like life
we were/
in the beginning/
many feet make many sounds

we took the tree
and made it talk/
a jungle of sounds
we produced
everyone for miles around
heard it
gravitated towards it

then strangers came
chanting like gregor
tolling the bell
like igor

creating a cacophony
a frankenstein sound
that we ran from/
the reverberation of our feet
and the clamor of our pursuers
disturbed the serenity of the forest
forever

ii.

our feet were forced
to wade in the water
and the god the strangers proclaimed
didn’t trouble the waters
enough

we moaned
a sound as new to us
as the clang of metal when we shifted
as the strangely accented voices
ordering us to stop the dirges

but we couldn’t stop
even after the ship docked
even after survival dictated
that we scale down our humanity.

Out of our misery grew the gospel.

 

Excerpted from my first book, In the Whirlwind.

©2006 Tichaona Munhamo Chinyelu

Land of Lincoln (They Say)

January 1, 2013

They say that Illinois is the land of Lincoln
And that Springfield is the heart of that land.

They say that Lincoln was ugly, morose and awkward
And that despite his character flaws he should be honored
For keeping the country together
For freeing Africans from chattel slavery.

They say, they say, they say
Until I can’t help being sickened.

Yes, Lincoln signed his name on a document
That nominally ended the American version of slavery
Once and for all

But he took a long and winding road to get there
And part of that road included a path off the beaten trail
Called the american colonization society
A society that didn’t want to participate any longer
In sucking the blood from Africans
A society that just wanted us to recross the Middle Passage
And take our black asses on home.

Lincoln found out that wasn’t feasible
the day he took office
and southern state after southern state
seceded from the union.

See, president after president
from the first to the fifteenth
consistently passed the buck on the question of slavery.
None of them had the werewithal
to disrupt the economy of the country
by dismantling slavery.

Northern mills manufactured the cotton
Produced from Africans enslaved on the plantations.
Coffee drinkers had their coffee sweetened
With the sugar produced from Africans enslaved
On the plantations.
No president could conceive the building of this country
Shouldn’t have to rely on the whip, the dogs, the blood soaked earth
The all-encompassing misery of African people
To make this country’s destiny manifest.

But they say that Lincoln had the courage of his convictions
And they say his convictions were inherent in the words
Of the declaration of independence.
They say he was The Great Emancipator

Lincoln signing his name on a piece of paper
Couldn’t stop Northern whites from rioting
Because they had to go to war
To free Africans.

Lincoln signing his name on a piece of paper
Couldn’t stop the South from beating the North
In battle after battle.

Lincoln signing his name on a piece of paper
Was a strategic move
To break the South economically.
If the South didn’t have the revenue produced by Africans
They wouldn’t be able to keep up with the cost of war.
That was the real reason behind Sherman’s march to the sea.

So on this day
When they have closed downtown Springfield
For the grand opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
When they say that Illinois is the Land of Lincoln
And Springfield is the heart of that land
After I get up from praying to the porcelain god
And rinse my mouth out
I take up my pen
And try to give you the real deal.

 

Excerpted from my book, In the Whirlwind

 

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.

View all my reviews

I was all set to give Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez a half nod when I remembered a survey type of conversation I participated in a few years back. The questions we [a bunch of writers loosely connected through an online writing board] were asked was this: if we lived as slaves in America, what type of slave would we be: the house negro or the Harriet Tubman/Nat Turner type. Most of the responses centered on being Black Moses and Turner.  The pollster said that she herself wasn’t sure. Her response made me think especially because I was one of those cleaving to the Tubman dynamic. All enslaved Africans didn’t adhere to flight/fight mode. What of those who bore the genocidal nature of chattel slavery silently? What of those whose names we don’t know because the only worthy thing they did was to survive? With this book, Wench, we find the story of four such characters – Lizzie, Rennie, Sweet and Mawu – some of whom possess the inclination to flee. The four women are brought together over a series of summers in the decade or so before the Civil War when their “owners” vacation at Tawawa House in Tawawa Springs, Ohio – a free state. [A brief history note – due to the continual presence of slaveholders and their slaves, the hotel started losing money. The hotel, the land and surrounding acreage was sold and very shortly thereafter became Wilberforce University, now the oldest African-American private university in the US]

The series of events that the four slave mistresses (and their male companions – both enslaved and free) experience during the course of a series of summers testifies to the will to survive – a will with a contrary existence in a society which thrived off negation of that selfsame will. My change of heart (from that initial half nod to one more affirming) came as I delved deeper into the book. Of particular interest was the main character, Lizzie [named Eliza but renamed Lizzie by her owner’s wife after he moved her into the big house].  She commits actions that a surface reading of would have one labeling her as a collaborator in her own oppression – not to say anything of the harm her actions inflict on other characters. However, as I read further, I realized that life under slavery wasn’t so black and white (no pun intended). It is quite effective the way in which Perkins-Valdez leads the reader into a deeper understanding of the nature of slavery to the point of saying maybe – maybe I would have been like Eliza – concerned most of all about my children – wondering what the “Master” would do to them if I broke and run. Maybe, falling into human puppy love with the person convinced he owns you and having sex with him was considered a workable exchange for learning to read – and subsequently reading stolen newspapers to those who share your bondage. Maybe. Just maybe. That maybe moves slightly in direction of potentiality when I read in the author’s note following the end of the novel that “it is believed that the children of the unions between the slave women and the slaveholders were among the early students at [Wilberforce]”.