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HISTORY & CULTURE

Haunted Places in South Africa

Haunted Places in South Africa Do strange things ever happen to you at night or even during the day? Ever thought about ghosts and all they do? When the word haunted is said, all one thinks about is movies. Thinking that being haunted or haunted places only ends in movies is not true. Are you one who loves thrills and scary goosebumps creeping all over you? Or are you searching for a place that will get your adrenaline pump up? Then these haunted places in South Africa should be your next stop. From ghost stories to haunted houses where you hear screams even during the day to hotels, castles, hospitals, and museums are experiences you will never forget in a hurry when you visit any of these places. The CAPE OF GOOD HOPE is said to be one of the most haunted places in South Africa and the most talked about ghost stories. Oral legend has it that sometime in 1941 a Dutch ship called “The Flying Dutchman” used for trading capsized off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope after surrendering to the storm. According to the legend, The Flying Dutchman is doomed to keep sailing the stormy seas forever and it is said to be a very terrible omen to see The Flying Dutchman while at sea. The ghost nurse at the Somerset Hospital is on to look out for whenever one visits Cape Town. This nurse is said to mysterious with her white eyes and loves assisting patients and then disappear afterward. If you like a ghost pulling your toes while you sleep, if you love that kind of thrill then the Nottingham Road Hotel is for you. The ghost of the hotel is called Charlotte and she is said to be fond of tidying and rearranging flowers and objects in your room. So, whenever you visit this South African hotel and pay for a room, have it at the back of your mind that you automatically signed up to have a roommate that does the cleaning. Interestingly scary right? Residents in Erasmuskloof, Pretoria reports having heard strange noises and often seen ghosts in and around the Erasmus castle. Out of the normal things like moaning at night and lit windows in the abandoned mansion has always been reported too. Shoulder tapping is a thing when you visit Rust en Vreugd (an Iziko Museum) in Cape Town. The shoulder-tapping ghost is said to dwell in the museum.

28 Apr 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Mansa Musa’s Pilgrimage to Mecca

Imagine a man so wealthy that the price of gold in Cairo crashed for twelve years because he paid them a visit! Mansa Musa was a sincere Muslim and the emperor of Mali who went to Mecca for pilgrimage in 1324. He became King of the Mali in 1312. Mansa traveled to Mecca with his wife, camel drivers, officials, soldiers, slaves, and merchants. He stopped at Cairo and the governor was impressed by his entourage and quantity of gold. Mansa gifted the Egyptian court , Cairo with gold. In the end, Mansa had no money so he borrowed money from moneylenders in Cairo to go home.Imagine a man so wealthy that the price of gold crashed for twelve years after he passed through a city! That is the case of Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca. Mansa Musa was a sincere Muslim and the emperor of Mali who went to Mecca for pilgrimage in 1324. He enjoyed traveling to new lands of discovery. Every time he toured, he went with a large convoy and spent his time lavishing gold in the cities he passed through. It always left a good impression on the people.  He was able to do this because Mali was a land blessed with plenty of gold. Many say that he was one of the richest men to ever live. Mansa Musa was born in the year 1280, in the city of Niani, Mali in West Africa. He was declared King of the Mali Empire in 1312. The Mani and Gao kingdoms were under his rule.  His tenure as king was the longest in the whole of Mali. It was a traditional custom that all gold dug in the kingdoms must be given to the king thus he became very wealthy. It took many years of planning before Mansa traveled to Mecca. He went with his wife, camel drivers, officials, soldiers, slaves, and merchants. They all rode with their caravan up north and across the Sahara Desert to Egypt. On this long journey, Mansa stopped at Cairo where he met the governor in the city. The governor was impressed by his entourage and surprised by the quantity of gold they brought with them. Mansa gifted the Egyptian court with so much gold that up till this day, the city still remembers him for his generosity. Despite his kindness, the merchants in the city cheated and overpriced Mansa’s people in the marketplaces. Unfortunately for the people of Cairo, the value of gold depleted because of the vast amount of gold they were gifted. The price of gold crashed for 12 years. The journey to Mecca continued three months after their stay in Cairo. It was a very dangerous expedition with too many tragedies. Some of his crew were killed by hunger and thirst from dryness in the desert while others were attacked by thieves. Finally, after many months, Mansa and his people arrived in Mecca for the holy pilgrimage. They all remained with him until he decided to return home. They were able to retrace their steps from the coast and went back to Egypt. On their way back, the great king Mansa had no money and gold. Mansa borrowed money from moneylenders in Cairo at exorbitant rates in order to make the trip home. Mansa Musa left a legacy on his journey despite his extravagant spending. He introduced Mali and its natural resource to other West African kingdoms, Africa, and other continents. Many merchants were informed of his affluence and traveled to acquire treasures in the Mali Empire. Mansa Musa’s finest remembrance is in his pilgrimage, splendor, and generosity as well as the sizeable mosque he constructed in Timbuktu.  He carried himself with dignity as the ‘King of kings’ of the Mali empire.

16 Jul 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

AFRICA’S MONALISA

What comes to mind when you hear the name Monalisa? A painting by Da Vinci? A Nigerian actress? Does the phrase Africa’s Monalisa ring any bells? Real name “Tutu”, this famous painting by Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu was nicknamed “The African Monalisa” because much like its European counterpart, it was missing for over 20 years before being discovered in a flat in London, and sold for £1.2million. It is but one of the three inspired portraits of the royal princess of Ife, Princess Adetutu Ademiliyu painted by Enwonwu several years ago. Sadly, the other two portraits remain missing. When we hear Monalisa on the news different things come to mind. To some a picture of Leonardo the Vinci’s iconic painting comes to mind while to Nollywood enthusiasts, Monalisa Chinda easily comes to mind. However, do you know that there’s a famous African painting that has been nicknamed “The African Monalisa”?! This Painting is called “Tutu” and was painted by Ben Enwonwu. Much like its European counterpart, the Tutu painting was lost for more than twenty years until it was discovered in a flat in London. The painting gained fame not just because of its beauty but also because of its disappearance. It was just one out of three similar paintings done by Ben Enwonwu and was sold for a record £1.2 million, that’s more than a million pounds. The other pieces are still at large. The portrait depicted the Royal princess of Ife, Princess Adetutu Ademiliyu, and became a symbol of Nigerian reconciliation after the Biafran civil war. It is said that the artist got the inspiration for this painting after meeting the princess. He was enamored by her beauty and decided to paint her. In an interview in 2013, celebrated Nigerian Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told the BBC that replicas of the Tutu were hung in the homes of every middle-class family in Nigeria when she was growing up. Enwonwu is one Nigerian artist that acquired success and fame in his lifetime. His work has influenced many contemporary African artists. He dreamt of a world where African Art was celebrated and that time is here!

16 Jul 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

THE MOST EXPENSIVE AFRICAN PAINTING EVER SOLD!

Every art piece records a story of an era or time in the history of a people. The most expensive African painting ever sold (painted by a woman of course) is called “The Arab Priest,” and it was sold in 2011 for 3.1million pounds, that’s about 4.3million dollars. It was painted by South African painter, sculptor and ceramist, Irma Stern. Her inspiration came from Zanzibar’s Arab community and the faces of the older men she saw there – faces filled with wisdom and full understanding of the pleasures and sufferings of life. Her success has influenced local talent in South Africa These days when a young person expresses the desire to be an artist, a lot of parents sigh and conclude that such a child has been sentenced to a life of poverty. However, art has and will always be present in every culture. Every art piece records a story of an era or time in the history of a people. So how much is art worth? What are the possibilities available to artists? Is there something to inspire them to stay on the path? Well, that's a discussion for another day, for now, let’s look at the most expensive African painting that was ever sold…. here’s a fun fact, it was painted by a woman! The most expensive African painting was sold in 2011 for a whooping sum of £3.1 million, that's about $4.3 million… which is over four million US dollars. It was painted by a South African lady, Irma Stern. She was a painter, sculptor, and ceramist and her success in the world of Art greatly influenced local talent in South Africa. The name of the Art piece that fetched such a mouth-watering sum is called "The Arab priest". It was inspired by her interest in Zanzibar's Arab community and the faces of the older men she found there. In those faces, she said she saw profound wisdom and full understanding of the pleasures of life as well as the 'depths of suffering". The painting was bought by the Qatar Museums Authority as part of the collection for the Orientalist Museum in Doha.

16 Jul 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

5 Most Influential African Authors

Today we will look at some African literary giants whose works continue to inspire the new generation of writers. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is an Activist and East Africa’s leading novelist. His novels and essays range from fictional to social and political criticisms. Chinua Achebe, the Patriarch of the African Novel, influenced conversations through his book “Thing’s Fall Apart” which sold millions of copies around the world. Chimamanda Adichie is an internationally acclaimed author and a voice of feminism in Nigeria and around the world. Ama Ata Aidoo, known as the Master of narration and one-time Ghanaian Minister of Education, is known as a believer in the African identity. Mariama Ba, an Author, and feminist, has through her writings portrayed the immense contributions of the African woman. Click to read more. Africa has produced its fair share of bestselling artists whose works have influenced generations and inspired a new generation of contemporary writers. In no particular order let’s have a look at some African artists who have left a mark on the world of literature or influenced the society of their time.   NGUGI WA THIONG’O Ngugi Wa Thiong’o's story is an inspiring tale of activism via literature. His work which included novels, short stories, and essays covered themes from fictional to social criticism. He is considered East Africa's leading novelist. As a student, he attended the African writer's conference held at his university where he asked Chinua Achebe to read the manuscripts of his novel Weep Not Child and The River Between. He later published these novels with Chinua Achebe as its advisory editor. The book Weep not Child became the first novel in English to be published by an East African writer. His Second book The River Between which was based on the Mau Mau uprising was on Kenya's national secondary school syllabus. As a professor at the University of Nairobi, he was the force behind a conversation to abolish the English department at the University. As a result of the political statements in his play Ngaahika Ndeenda, he was imprisoned by the government. While in the prison he wrote his novel Devil on the Cross on the tissue paper he was given in the cell. He has won several awards and in March 2021 his book The perfect Nine became the first work written in an African language to be longlisted for the International Booker Prize. CHINUA ACHEBE Known as the patriarch of the African Novel, Chinua Achebe remains the most read African author in the world. His groundbreaking novel Things Fall Apart, painted a clear picture of the clash between African culture and the teachings of the white missionaries. It was a massive success and has sold millions of copies around the world. He was a strong critic of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Which he felt portrayed Africa as a land of Savages. Most of his work questioned how the West views Africa as well as how Africa views itself. CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an acclaimed Nigerian author whose work has attained international recognition. Her work based mostly on the events in the Nigerian civil war shot her into international fame.  She has become a voice for the Feminist movement in Nigeria and around the world with her publication of A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions in 2017 as well as her essay We Should All Be Feminists. AMA ATA AIDOO Ama Ata Aidoo is a Ghanian author. Known as the master of narration her works focused on the tension between African and western world views. During her stint as the Minister of education under the Government of Jerry Rawlings, she attempted to make education in Ghana free for all but resigned when she observed that it was unattainable. She believes in a distinctly African identity and has heavily criticized those literate Africans who profess love for their country but are seduced by the benefits of the west. She received the 1992 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Book (Africa) for her Novel Changes. In 2017 she launched the Ama Ata Aidoo Centre for Creative Writing. MARIAMA BA Mariama Ba was a Senegalese author and feminist. Growing up in a period when girls faced numerous obstacles to gaining higher education, through the insistence of her father she was given a chance at education. This greatly influenced her writing.  Her work focused on the immense contributions African women have made and continue to make in building society. She did not like the tag “Feminist” as she felt it was too loaded with western values and went against the tradition of Senegalese women. According to her, female African writers have a special task which is to present the position of women in Africa in all its aspects.  

15 Jul 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Locked Away from Civilization: The Koma People

The Koma tribe is an ethnic group found in the northern part of Adamawa, a state in Nigeria. These people live in an area filled with hills in the Alantika mountains ( Alantika means ‘’Allah hasn’t yet arrived’’ in the Kanuri language)very close to the border between the people of Cameroon and Nigeria. Thier society is matrilineal. Fathers have been known to give out their wives/daughters to visitors as a sign of friendship. Killing of twins was considered sane to the Koma tribe because they believed twins were evil and an abomination.Ever met anyone who doesn’t know what a mobile phone is? Or one who doesn’t know what the internet is all about? Let's take a trip to the northern part of the country Nigeria. The Koma tribe is an ethnic group found in the northern part of Adamawa, a state in Nigeria. These people live in an area filled with hills in the Alantika mountains(Alantikameans ‘’Allah hasn’t yet arrived’’ in the Kanuri language)very close to the border between the people of Cameroon and Nigeria. The Koma people are known to be very primitive because of their way of life and their pagan religion. Despite being surrounded by Islamic societies, the Koma people hold their ancient traditions and religious practice. They still wear a one-piece garment that covers just the genitals and the buttocks partially and fresh leaves too. A deviation from the normal African culture and belief where inheritance is via the paternal lineage (where you inherit things from your father’s side), the Koma people customarily inherit from the maternal side (they inherit from the mother’s side). It's surprising right??  There’s this popular belief that in a tribe in Africa, the man gives out his wife/daughters to visitors and friends. Well!! Welcome to the Koma tribe, where the men/fathers give out their wives/daughters to visitors/ friends as a sign of friendship or acceptance. The Koma people are known for this particular act. According to them, it brings peace and unity to the tribe as a man is bound to share everything he has. The killing of twin children that was stopped so many years ago in Africa did not affect the Koma people. Until recent times, the Koma tribe was known for the killing of twins. To them, it was regarded as evil and an abomination. They bury the twin children alive and the mothers of these twins are seen as people with misfortune. It will be of interest to note that these ancient practices are subtly practiced even to date. The Komas are lovely people with an average population of about 400 people. They engage in the rearing of animals. Today Koma tribe is part of the seven districts of the Jada local government in the Adamawa state of Nigeria.

14 Jul 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Popular Street Foods in Africa

One of the delights on the streets of Africa is street food! African street food is not only enjoyable and spicy, but it is rich in style, diversity, and history. Chichinga is the Ghanaian ‘Suya’. It is hot and spicy meat marinated with peanut paste. Sardines are deep-fried and served with chips or bread. Forodhani also known as ‘Zanzibar pizza’ is a combo of egg or meat, mayo, and vegetables wrapped in thin dough and fried. Koshary and Taameya is an Ancient Egyptian street meal and is a mix of pasta, rice, peas, onions, lentils, and garlic. Mozambican Prawns is a rich seafood meal Grilled or fried with French spices like ‘Matata’ and peri-peri sauce. One of the delights on the streets of Africa is street food! African street food is not only enjoyable and spicy, but it is rich in style, diversity, and history. There are more than enough options but we want to highlight the popular mouthwatering, finger-licking, sumptuous street food delicacies you can choose from across the 54 countries in the continent. Before you get hungry with your thoughts, let's get to it!    Chichinga: This is Ghana’s most favored street food. It has won the hearts of many because of its yummy beef and sausage kebabs. Chichinga is widely known as ‘Suya’ in many West African states. It is hot and spicy meat marinated with peanut paste. In its preparation, the spices used are chili, ginger, and garlic. It could be grilled crispy or succulent or both. It is recommended that this meat be roasted to medium; until its no longer pink. The best meat to use is chicken breasts or sirloin steak.   Spicy Sardines: The Moroccan dish is popular because Morroco is the largest exporter of sardines in the world! It is served as fish and chips. In its making, spices are thrown into the sardines together with olive oil, cumin, lemon juice, and chili. The sardines are deeply fried and served with chips or bread. In Morroco markets or as they call it, ‘Morocco souks’, the traders sell different kinds of bread. The most loved bread is ‘Beghrir’. This bread is similar to crumpets. Another popular bread is ‘harsha’. It is a buttered bread made with semolina. There is also ‘rghaif’ bread. This one is layered, flaky, and flat.   Forodhani: This dish is Zanzibari’s best street food, also known as ‘Zanzibar pizza’. It is a combo of egg or meat, mayo, and vegetables. This mixture is then wrapped in thin dough and fried. You’re likely to find it in night markets in Stone Town.     Koshary and Taameya: The Ancient Egyptian street meal, Koshary is a mix of pasta, rice, peas, onions, lentils, and garlic. Taameya is served anytime in the day but is mostly eaten as breakfast. It is made of fava beans, cooked on a pot. Koshary and Taameya are usually eaten together. is usually eaten with it. This meal is very filling because it contains lots of carbohydrates.   Mozambican Prawns: Anyone who has visited Mozambique knows this street food. The taste of these prawns was inspired by the Portuguese during colonial times.  This amazing seafood is grilled or fried with French spices like ‘Matata’ and peri-peri sauce. It is usually served with rice, French fries, and peanut sauce.   Street foods are prepared and sold on-site by the natives and what better way to experience African culture and the people!

14 Jul 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Unique Burial Practices in Africa

In Africa, death is seen as the most important stage of human life, thus requiring special and expensive burial rites. An unusual people in East Africa, the Chewa people of Malawi use the water poured down the throat of a corpse to cook for the community because they believe death is unnatural. When a man dies, some Igbo communities usually suspect his wife of murder. Hence, she is forced to sleep in a room with his corpse. Another Igbo custom requires children to buy two cows to honor dead parents. In Bikpakpaam, Ghana, men are buried facing the sunrise, while women face the sunset  Africa is a land of deep spirituality and religiosity, and it places a lot of importance on the various stages of human life; birth, puberty, marriage, parenthood, and death. Each stage is welcomed with celebration and sometimes initiation into certain secret societies or a simple conversation with those that have passed through that stage. In most African societies, death is regarded as the most important stage; requiring the conduction of special rites to make sure that the spirit of the dead is honored and ushered into the afterlife properly. In Africa, death is not the ultimate end, but the beginning of a new life with others that have gone before. The dead are believed to watch over the community, keeping them safe from evil. Thus, in some African societies, the burial rites a family is expected to perform are so elaborate and expensive that in some cases the dead are kept in the mortuary for years while the family acquires the funds. This makes one wonder what the case would be if refrigeration was never invented. Here are some unique burial practices you will find only on the African continent:   The Chewa People and the Feast from the Dead: In East Africa, primarily Malawi, live a tribe of people known as the Chewas. In the Chewa communities, burial is a communal affair; thus when one person dies, the entire community is expected to attend the burial. During the burial ceremony, the dead body is taken to a holy place where it is cleansed. This involves washing the body and cutting its throat open. Water is then poured inside the body through the cut in the throat and the body is squeezed, pushing the water down the throat, into the stomach, and out through the anus. This process is continued until the water comes out clean. The water is then used to prepare food that will be eaten by the entire community. You may wonder “why would they do something so bizarre?” The reason is this; the Chewas believe that death is unnatural and that when it happens someone had a hand in it through witchcraft. The food is expected to exonerate the innocent and kill the guilty.   The Igbo Water Drinking and Cow Buying Customs: The Igbos found in the West African country of Nigeria are similar to the Chewas in one way; when a male tribe member especially a young one dies, his relatives tend to get suspicious, and this suspicion sometimes falls on the wife. Some Igbo communities will require the wife of the deceased to spend the night in the same room with her husband’s corpse the night before the burial. If she survives the night, the body will be washed and she will be forced to drink the water, and then all the hair on her body will be shaved. In another Igbo community, the children of deceased parents are expected to buy two cows one for the mother and one for the father, to be given to the elders in the village. Failing to do this, the next generation will be expected to bear the burden and this could go on for generations with the number of cows increasing by two. According to the custom, a child who refuses to pay respect to their parents in this way will suffer dire consequences if he dares to eat the meat of a cow at someone else’s burial.   The Ghanaian Chief Mourner Custom: In some Ghanaian tribes, the deceased’s body belongs to the family; the extended family, not the spouse or children. The extended family gets to decide amongst themselves the identity of the chief mourner. This is a highly coveted position because he (it is never a she) will control all the funeral arrangements and most importantly decide who inherits the deceased’s property. Hence the body is a prized possession and people are prepared to sue their family members to ensure nobody moves the body. In the Bikpakpaam tribe in Ghana, the village women wash the body of the deceased whilst the village priest calls on the spirits of ancestors to determine the cause of death. The men are buried with their heads in facing the sunrise so they don’t forget that farming starts at daybreak, while the women are buried facing the sunset so that they don't forget that when evening comes, they must do their chores and prepare supper. Africa’s uniqueness will never cease to amaze, shock and awe. It is indeed a special continent with no rivals when it comes to doing the most spectacular things.

01 Jul 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

CARE-TAKERS OF THE LAND: THE BATAMMARIBA PEOPLE

To experience the fullness of the African continent one has to explore the serenity of its scenery, its finely blended layers of culture, its intriguing people, and their histories. One of such is the mystical and cosmic Batammariba people of western Africa whose cultures are deeply intertwined with spiritual intricacies originating from their foundation and land. Batammariba means " Those who are the real architects of the Earth". Found in Benin, they migrated from Northwest Burkina Faso and refer to themselves as caretakers of the land gifted them by the Underground gods and are thus famous for this belief.There's more to Africa than the myopic and one-sided view the world mostly has of it. To experience the fullness of the African continent one has to explore the serenity of its scenery, its finely blended layers of culture, its intriguing people, and their histories. One of such is the mystical and cosmic Batammariba people of western Africa whose cultures are deeply intertwined with spirituality intricacies originating from their foundation and land. They are also known as the Tammari, Ottamari, or Somba (Naked) people. Found in The Benin Republic and neighboring regions of Togo they speak the Ditammari, an Oti-Volta language of the Gur family, and are Agronomic herdsmen. The name Batammariba means “those who are the real architects of the Earth”.  They are unique people with the strangest of beliefs and traditions. The  Batammariba people are well-known for their belief that their land filled with spiritual essence was gifted to them by the gods of the underground making them caretakers of the land. Their connection to the land and the underground is solid as they believe themselves offspring of an invisible underground serpent. They see themselves as true caretakers of the land given them by the underground domains of dead spirits whom they revere greatly and owe their utmost devotion and being.  Their settlement was possible through the intercession of Babietiba(one of the first settlers from an influential group of foragers acting as a middle man between the spirit realm and the humans). He dialogued with the forces under the underground and introduced them to the Batammariba people as the “true owners of the regions”. The ancestors of the new settlers swore allegiances to these forces promising total devotion and respect for the lands they had been granted. The pact was thus enacted and the new settlers were allowed to form a community in the region, building houses and cultivating the soil. Thus, they have a strong affinity for their land and feel a great sense of responsibility in caring for it and protecting it from invaders. Their beliefs have earned them a listing as “The koutammakou landscape," The land of the Batammaribas in UNESCO World’s Culture Heritage Site. The landscape is famous for its houses known as the "Tata Simba’’ (Takienta) which is a two-floored fortified mud house, with some having flat roofs.   Ceremonial rituals and initiations were done seasonally to commune and renew the covenant with the forces. This has disposed the Batammariba people to reject external influences deeming such interferences as channels that might infringe upon the existing pact with the forces. The resistance though has enabled them to retain their ancient cultures and homestead grounds which has made them a symbol of fascination and interest to the world today. The knowledge of the requirements and processes for meetings centered around initiation, funeral rites, festivals, etc were free-flowing and almost inborn as it was inculcated into the younger generation from a very tender age. This successful transmission of undiluted knowledge was a major pillar of the Batammariba people. They were taught to be brave, intuitive, and loyal to the underground forces who had incarnated into animals, rocks, and trees as transitory mediums.  The leadership authority figure of the clan was strictly allocated to the fetish priests through a narrow selection process. Ritual centers and temples were sacred places restricted especially to strangers. Earthen cone altars housed the spirit of their ancestors and animals. The worship of a supreme Deity known as Kuiye is common amongst other deities. Somba men are historically known for their ancient penis elongation techniques practiced during male initiations. The women are famous for their traditional antelope headdresses. The traditional dressing is a simple loincloth for men and sarongs for women. Polygamy is popular amongst them. The Batammariba people are a true Free spirit as they strongly kick against acts that seem like a form of domination and servitude. Towing a different path in contrast to many African tribes they abhor the monarchy system and do not practice it. They love to roam free but understand the essence of the family as they always stick together and are clannish despite several migrations from the Northwest regions of Burkina Faso in the 16th century reflected in their non – homogeneous demography. The Takyenta is the traditional dwelling of the Batammariba people. These are beautiful medieval structured fortresses built of mud. Labor-intensive and time-consuming but spectacular, the upper floor serves as living rooms, safe from wild animals and invaders.  The medieval traditional mud houses have become a national symbol of Togo.

30 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

The Sweet Sixteen Party of the Mende tribe

"Sweet sixteen," birthday parties, and "High School Prom," are a big deal and some of the most trending coming of age or rites of passage for teens. In African history, its significance is weighty as they were a condition for acceptance into adult society and a regulatory system. In Mende tribe, Sierra Leone, girls aged 13 -16 commence their initiation process into womanhood through the Sande society. The society is headed by the Sowei, the highest-ranking leaders who are custodians of the sacred knowledge of the Guardian deity; the Sowei female water spirit. During the rites, the Ndoli sowei lead various rituals and dances are performed.“Sweet sixteen,” birthday parties,  “Debuts,”  and “High School Prom,” are a big deal and some of the most trending coming of age or rites of passage for teens in many societies. In today’s world, becoming an adult is one thing most young persons can’t wait for. They wouldn’t wait to hop on a bus leaving their childhood behind, in memory lane forever. The Rite of passage is a ceremony or ritual where an individual leaves one group to enter another. A transition period where the new state is final and irrevocable. In African history, the significance of rites of passage for teenagers is weighty as they were a condition for acceptance into adult society. This is so because It was a transition period where Values are impacted into the young people for the benefit of society. The Mende people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, West Africa.  In Mende tradition, girls at the onset of puberty age (13 -16) commence their initiation process into womanhood through the Sande society. It is called a Society because members are mandated not to divulge secrets of the society to outsiders. Sande is the guardian of women; it provides them their self-identity. The initiation process is headed by the Sowei, the highest-ranking leaders. They are the custodian of sacred knowledge of the Sande Society and the Sowei female water spirit; the Guardian deity of the Sande society. The color of Sande is white signifying purity and cleanliness. The Ligba Wa, Ligba wulo, Gonde and nyaha assist the Sowei. The initiation process begins with a celebration by the girl’s parents. Her mother ensures she is well fed for the future ordeal and emphasizes obedience to the elderly women to make her family proud. At dawn, she is sent off amongst other girls with a Sowie. They are taken to a secluded location. This is separation, the first stage of initiation. The second stage involves several rituals and preparation of the girls. This is the liminality stage as the girls have left their childhood, in-wait to becoming women.  Womanhood training, preparing her for domestic, marriage, sex, and family life is a major part of the female initiation process. The girls in training are called Mbogdoni. The Sande believes their rite of passages makes a woman out of a child, and every woman into a wife. Ndoli jowei ’the dancing Sowei’ is the principal spirit for celebration and chief dance instructor, girls are often awoken in the middle of the night to practice cultural dances for hours until they are exhausted. The relevance of these rites could be compared to today’s contemporary society practice of being subjected to undergo years of education, several tests, interviews, stressful screenings, accreditations and, codes of conduct before getting a job. In much the same manner, rites of passages were preparations for real life. Hence the essence of the strenuous physical activity was to build their stamina and make them tough women. After 1-3 days of tutoring the girls are circumcised (yaya ghegbi) by the Sowei, held in place by the Ligba. The Ndoli Jowei and Sande women without dancing go into town waving leaves to announce the successful initiation of the girls and renew the food supply. The incorporation stage is the last stage of the initiation; introduction into society and the Gani celebration. The ceremonial attire of the new members includes been dressed in white, painted with white clay, and animal fat called Wojeh. Helmet masks are specially crafted for each girl by the village's master woodcarver. The masquerade dance performances of the Sowei women accompanying the new initiates symbolize the Sande guardian spirit channeled into an embodiment of the spirit god Ngafa. It also symbolizes female prestige, beauty, and their significant placement in society.   Today, female circumcision is viewed negatively in Africa because it has no beneficial effect but rather health repercussions in most cases including; fistula stresses, traumatic disorders, risk of excessive bleeding, and infections. Anti-female- circumcision campaigns are ongoing. However, Rites of passage play a vital role in a person’s life and in society as individuals are prepared for different stages of adulthood, and also become part of a society that abounds with many experiences and insight providing advice, encouragement, and even sanctions. There are suggestions for modifications of these rites to reflect modern-acceptable practices. The regulatory role and impact of rites of passages in Africa have birthed a moral and culturally inclined society.

25 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Different Ways to Say Hello in West Africa

Everywhere, people have unique ways of greeting each other. Africa, thanks to its thousands of tribes has some of the most unique greetings, with hand-shaking being the most common. But, while it's taboo to shake hands with the left hand in Burkina Faso, it's prohibited to persons in mourning in the Gambia In Senegal, men shake hands, and women curtsy while Kanuri men in Niger say hello by shaking closed fists at the head of the other person while saying wooshay, wooshay (hello, hello). The Bambara of Mali says n ice (hello) while Yoruba men prostrate before the elderly.   People all over the world have unique ways of greeting each other. Some groups; stick their tongues out at each other, bump their noses together, rub foreheads and noses together, bow, clap hands, sniff one another’s faces, etcetera. Most of these forms of greeting depend on the relationship between the greeters; intimate greetings such as sniffing the other person’s face are usually reserved for family and friends. Africa is an entire world on its own, given the thousands of tribes that call it home. These tribes have words in their languages which they use to say hello to each other, and usually, traditional gestures accompany these words of greeting. Among these tribes, some gestures are considered taboo and are taught to members from childhood. Here are some of the different ways countries and tribes in West Africa say hello. In Senegal, the various tribes including the Wolof, Bambari, and Soninke regard greeting as a kind of ritual that involves lengthy inquiries into the health and family of the other person. Saying a quick hello is seen as a sign of rudeness. The men shake hands while the women curtsy by bending down a little on one knee. In the Wolof language, jam nga fanane means good morning while jam nga yendoo is used to say hello in the afternoon.   The Ghanaian culture also calls for elaborate greetings that express interest in the well-being of the other party. They also shake hands, with both parties sometimes snapping their thumbs and middle fingers together. One interesting aspect of Ghanaian greetings is the greeting of several people in one location. Their custom demands that you commence the hand-shaking custom with the persons on the right side of the room, moving from right to left. Take a moment to imagine entering a room through a door on the left side, and having to walk to the right side of the room to begin the greeting ritual. If on entering a room you fail to greet the people present, all eyes will remain on you until you come to your senses. While shaking hands, the Twi-speaking tribes like the Ashanti say “mema wo akye” meaning good morning, or “agoo” which means hello.   The different tribes in Nigeria use their individual languages to say hello or good morning. The Yorubas greet each other by saying “ekaro” which means good morning; the Igbos say “ututu oma”, while the Hausas say “sannu” meaning hello or ina kwana which means “how are you”. Men of the Yoruba tribe while greeting the elderly prostrate on the ground with their heads raised up, while the women kneel with one or both knees. Igbo men slap their hands together before shaking and usually hold onto each other’s hands during the entire duration of the greeting.   In Burkina Faso, among the Mossi and Dyula tribes, the shaking of hands is a common form of greeting, but the act can only be done with the right hand. It is taboo to shake hands with the left hand. While shaking hands, the Mossi say “ne y yibeogo” while the Dyula say “i ni sogoma” meaning good morning. When the hands of a person of authority is shaken, the other person also grips the right upper arm of such person as a sign of respect   The Senufo, Bambara, and Dioula tribes of Mali all have hand-shaking customs that are practiced by both sexes. According to their custom, when someone enters a room, that person is, as a sign of respect, expected to shake the hands of all the older persons within, starting with the oldest. In Mali, you are expected to greet everyone you meet, even if they speak a different language. You are expected to greet them in your language while they reply in theirs. For instance, one person may say bonjour (French for good day) while the other person perhaps of the Bambara tribe replies i ni ce (which means hello)   In Gambia, though it is customary to shake hands in greeting, tradition prohibits shaking the hands of persons who are in mourning. Like most African countries and tribes influenced by Islam, Muslims in Gambia greet each other with the Arabic phrase assalamualaikum (peace be with you) and receive the reply walaikum assalam (peace be with you also)   A person from the Kanuri tribe in the Republic of the Niger shakes his closed fist at the head of the person he is greeting while saying “wooshay, wooshay” (hello, hello”) in a loud voice.

23 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Amador: The Slave King

Africa has many beautiful Island countries one of which is Sao Tome and Principe is an island country found in The Gulf of Guinea off the western equatorial coast of central Africa . Sao Tome was discovered in 1471. Amador Veira, a Slave descent of the Angolars was born on the Island. Fighting for freedom, in 1595 he led a major slave revolt and Anticolonial fight, crowning himself "Rei Amador, liberator of all the black people". The revolt lasted for weeks but Amador was betrayed by a friend. On August 14, 1595, the Portuguese executed Amador placing his heart on a pillow. AMADOR: THE SLAVE KING It is not surprising that many people in the world today do not know that the Continent of Africa is blessed with its own Islands Nations.  Yes, Africa has many beautiful Island countries with captivating sunset beaches! The Islands Countries of Africa number 6 out of the 54 Countries of the Continent. They include Sao Tome and Principe, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, etc.   These are all enchanting islands one should put on his or her bucket list.  Asides from the beauty, tranquility and, overwhelming aura of nature on these islands the histories and stories of these countries are simply amazing as well, evoking a wide range of emotions with it. The history of Sao Tome and Principe will not be complete without the story of Amador the self-proclaimed Slave king. Amid Sao Tome and Principe's revolution and fight for independence Amador, a heroic Slave rebel rose as a Voice in his generation chanting Freedom! Sao Tome and Principe are located in the Gulf of Guinea off the western equatorial coast of central Africa. It had been discovered uninhabited by The Portuguese in 1471. They had settled on the island establishing it as Portuguese overseas territory. Slaves especially from the mainlands of West Africa were imported to work on their sugar plantations during the Slave trade. In the 16th Century Africans in Diaspora and the entire African Continent were engrossed in a fight for equality and the abolishment of Slavery. The shores of the Islands of Sao Tome and Principe were not left behind as several Movements in the regions spearheaded their fight, supported by well-meaning Foreign entities and individuals across the Globe.   Amador Veira, also known as Rei Amador was such a force for the cry of liberty. He was born on the Islands but descended from the Angolars. According to tales on the Island the Angolars were said to be slaves bought from the Mainland of Angola who survived a shipwreck along the south coast of the islands hence they populated the densely forested south of the Island. Other versions said they were slaves who escaped from their masters at the time when the Islands were discovered and most tales even carried that they were already on the Islands having migrated to it from the Mainland before the arrival of the Portuguese. One thing was certain, however, that the Angolars occupied the south of the islands far from the plantations, and under Amador had been able to establish an independent nation known as Kilombo. The word was linked to the term Kimbundu, a popular language in Angola. The Kilombo nation created by African slaves fought against Slavery and Amador Veira was a part and leader of the community at the time. The story of the Angolars and their Sovereign nation in Sao Tome and Principe are a huge part of the life of Rei Amador as the drive for independence and self -determination were a core culture of the community he grew. There were series of conflicts between both parties as the Portuguese militia did not relent in enslaving the people. They fought and punished these runaway slaves whenever they were caught. During the late 16th century, the sugar industry in Sao Tome began to dwindle creating instability, tension, and dissections amongst the Europeans. On July 9, 1595, Amador Veira took advantage of the instability in the region. He mobilized his community consisting of Angolars and other African Slaves, leading them to embark on a famous Slave revolt. He had two other prominent slaves Domingo and Lazaro assisting him. They attacked churches, burning down plantations and sugar mills in protest. Amador and his 5000 men strong army raised a flag in front of the Europeans declaring Amador as king of São Tomé and Príncipe, crowning himself “Rei Amador, liberator of all the black people".   The revolt lasted for weeks with the Portuguese fighting back.  It resulted in the death of over 200 slaves including Lazaro. Amador was betrayed by one of his friends and was arrested. The Portuguese government offered clemency to over 4000 slaves who surrendered.   On August 14, 1595, the Portuguese executed Amador placing his heart on a pillow. Amador’s slave revolt and the anti-colonial fight were one of the greatest slave revolutions in Africa’s history. He was proclaimed a National Hero after the Country gained its independence in 1975. He is still hugely celebrated today in the beautiful island country.

23 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

The Shark-king; The undefeated in spirit

In the archives of Africa's history are records of gallant kings and queens who led their people to achieve greatness. One such king in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin Republic) is king Behanzin known as the Shark King born in 1845. Named Ahokponou Nyakaja Honsinyenli at birth, he ruled between1889-1894. Having an army of 15,000 men and 5000 Amazon women, he grew his kingdom into a powerhouse adamantly resisting European invasion. His motto was ''the angry shark will terrorize its enemy'' He was the last independent ruler of Dahomey and was exiled to Martinique.Royalty today mostly seems like a historical edifice or relic of an ancient world.  In ancient times, when royalty (the worlds of kings and queens, and princes, castles, and kingdoms) dominated every human settlement and made every critical decision, it was a grand affair to be born with blue blood, to be a royal. In the archives of Africa’s history are records of gallant kings and queens who led their people to achieve greatness. Yet, many of them remain unknown or are fading away.  The records and feats of these African royalties are worth re-visiting as valuable life lessons of valor, grandiose, resilience, and boldness can be drawn from the characters of these African heroes. One such king in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (located in present day Benin Republic) is king Behanzin also known as the Shark King.  He caused the French to tremble because of the greatness and strength of his kingdom, one of the strongest militaries and trade empires on the western coast. King Behanzin (Gbehanzin), Hosse Bowelle son of Glele de roi’ from a descendant of kings ruled between 1889-1894. He was the last independent reigning king of Dahomey. Born in 1845 under the name Ahokponou Nyakaja Honsinyenli on the Abomey plateau he was named king after his father’s passing on the 3oth of Dec 1889.  He immediately changed his name from kondo to Behanzin Aidjere. The Dahomeans have monuments of all their kings erected with imagery peculiar to each king. The shark Metaphor was strictly Behanzins's as his name meant the ''the egg of the world'' or ''son of the shark''. He was regarded as a "King shark'' who guarded the coast of the Dahomean empire against their enemies, his motto was ''the angry shark will terrorize its enemy’’. Sharks are known for their strength and sea prowess. Behanzin was likened to it, courageous, fierce and undaunted, protector and defender of his homeland resisting invasion. An egg held by a hand, two coconut palm trees as well as his famous smoking pipes were other symbols of Behanzin.  Ascending to the throne in a time where European troops were taking over territories in the region was tough timing for the Shark king. He didn’t quite share his predecessors already established negotiating policies with the French who treated the people with indignation. He was deemed hostile by the French who tried to portray him as a king ruling his subjugates with a fist of iron Behanzin had turned down an offer to meet a French envoy in charge of the region, Jean Bayol. He had ascribed his indisposition to a clash of the scheduled meet with his religious rituals and ceremonial functions. Also, he had renounced the treaty with France made by his Father, allocating the French with the city of Cotonou, and attempted a policy of isolating Europeans from its territories. His stance was viewed as disrespect, insubordination, and an impetus for war. This was only the beginning of wars with the French. In 1892 the French declared war on Behanzin. The French claimed the Dahomean people were savages and made elaborate mention of human sacrifices offered to the gods and the ancestors. The French justified their acts thus.   Behanzin had in its Militia, allied western forces especially German interactions that supplied him with riffles and the feared Dahomean Amazon women. King Behanzin was the master of his kingdom with an army of 15,000 men and 5000 amazon women. After a two-year battle between 1892-1894, the Shark king voluntarily surrendered to the French army led by General Alfed-Amedee’ Dodds on the requirement of being able to travel and speak with the French king who he considered an equal. He was exiled to Martinique but was no ordinary commoner as he was accompanied by four of his wives, children, and other relatives and treated like royalty. His son Ouanilo recorded huge academic success in Fort-de-France and his daughters had children. They were later moved to Algeria in 1906 after 12 years of exile but he died shortly after from pneumonia on dec, 10th 1906. His son had his remains returned home in 1928. His sculptures are housed in the Musee Quai, Branly with deliberations ongoing for their return. King Behanzin was a true African king whose fame and resilience went far beyond its shores.

21 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Did Cesarean Sections Start in Africa?

The popular cesarean section started from the kingdom of Bunyaoro Kitara in Uganda, even before the rest of the world mastered the craft. A Cesarean section is the incision of a pregnant woman's abdomen when a vaginal delivery would put the baby and the mother in danger. According to Robert W. Felkin who documented this procedure in 1879, the CS procedure is as old as time in the African culture and it was done without any fatality but was still considered as a desperate measure in Europe. During the whole CS process, the woman didn’t moan or cry, she was comfortable after the operation and she was breastfeeding her newborn after two hours.There are many things about the African continent that remains hidden from the world and even the African people in particular. When it comes to contemporary medical practices, one will be so eager and fast to write off the African continent because it is believed that the medical practice was imported or brought into the continent by the colonial masters. It will surprise you to know that even before the Europeans and the rest of the world fully mastered how to conduct the Caesarian section, Africans were conducting the procedure. A Caesarian section is a surgical procedure where the baby is delivered through an incision in the pregnant woman’s abdomen. This is mostly because the vaginal delivery would put the baby or the mother at risk. Africans have long been conducting Caesarian Sections and have always been successful in them all. The Caesarian section procedure is believed to be as old as time in the African society and it was first noticed in Africa by a European Robert W. Felkin who documented this procedure in 1879 because he was captivated by the process. According to him, the kingdom of Bunyaoro Kitara in Uganda did this procedure without any fatality. At that time, Europeans considered it to be used only in desperate situations, and even when carried out, nearly 100% of European women operated on were lost. In Africa, when a baby cannot be delivered through the vagina, the midwives will give the mother a lot of banana wine. The wine served as a sedative to let the mother sleep through the process as she lay naked on an inclined bed. A band of bark cloth is used to fasten her to the bed through her chest, and thighs while a man held her ankles down. Before anything is been done on the woman, the operator has to first wash his hands and the woman’s abdomen with wine and then with water and then an incantation is made and this incantation is said by him and the crowd watching the process, then he goes ahead to make a rapid cut in the middle line of the abdomen, the whole abdominal wall and part of the walls of the uterus will be severed by the incision and the water that surrounds the baby is shot out. A red-hot iron is been placed at the bleeding points to stop them from bleeding and been infected in any way by the assistant and then the operator cuts more into the womb as another assistant separates the abdominal walls with his hand and the child is rapidly removed and given to another assistant where the umbilical cord is been cut off. After all the cleaning process is done, the edges of the wound are brought together using seven well-polished iron pins and they are fastened by strings made from the barkcloth. Two roots are then chewed into a paste and then plastered over the wound and a warm banana leaf is placed on the paste. During the whole process, the woman/mother didn’t moan or cry, she was comfortable after the operation and she was breastfeeding her newborn after two hours. Notice that this process is also similar to the process being used by doctors in the present day.

17 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

The Sharo Festival

The Sharo festival is practiced by the Fulani tribe in northern West Africa. It is a test of manhood where potential husbands exhibit bravery by flogging each other publicly in a bid to win a maiden’s hand in marriage. The opening of the ceremony starts with the Sharo dance. The festival is held during important events like chieftaincy coronations, sports, and sometimes when a wife delivers her first male child. Many people find this practice barbaric as it inflicts bodily wounds. The Sharo festival is still celebrated by Fulani's and remains mandatory for men with exception to elites. The Sharo festival is a predominant cultural practice of the Fulani, an ethnic group and tribe in northern parts of West Africa. It is a test of manhood that urges potential husbands to exhibit bravery by flogging each other publicly in a bid to win a young woman’s hand in marriage. Sharo means “flogged”. The Nomadic Fulani’s are by nature, proud troopers with, courage, discipline, and hard work, thus the young men endure ruthless flogging on their back or to demonstrate that courage in willingness for marriage. This ceremony is held twice a year and could go on for a week. The event center is usually in the market, village square, and other open spaces. The opening of the ceremony starts with the Sharo dance to demonstrate that the young man is old enough and mature to marry. The contestant uses a whip to flogs his opponent and his opponent must endure the pain without moaning, wincing, jumping, or crying unless he would be booed as a coward by the audience. The contestant being flogged at the time recites chants with arms akimbo while dancing, laughing, and screaming for more in ridicule of his opponent. A referee ensures that the rules are followed and that the strokes are strictly administered. The weaker suitor gets eliminated from the competition until there is a rightful husband. The winner can now pick any woman of his choice to marry and if he can endure more pain in another competition, he can marry as many wives as he wants according to Islamic law.  Building up to the main event,  there is a lot of preparation as respectable rulers and chiefs from different parts of the country come to honor the occasion. Before the suitors are welcomed into the venue, dancers will perform and tricksters will showcase their unsurpassed acts. Families of the contestants watch with fear hoping that their son emerges as a winner as it could be daunting and shameful if they lose. The Sharo tradition is also held during important events like chieftaincy coronations, sports, and sometimes when a wife delivers her first male child. The later demonstrations are usually horse riding, young maiden dances, local poets, pulsating drum beats, partying, and trade, making the ceremony colorful. When the competition is over, contestants have several deep wounds and scars on their bodies as a sign of strength, a true test of manliness.  Many people find this practice barbaric due to the heavy infliction of bodily wounds.  Their criticisms may not be far-fetched because flogging is torture. A case has been recorded of a young man who lost his life due to this cruel flogging.  The cane had hit the back of his head instead of his back despite the rules and referee conducting. The Sharo festival is still celebrated by Fulani's to this day and it remains a mandatory show of adulthood for men except for the elites and upper-class aristocrats.  

17 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

One Tribe, Four Languages

Africa is known as the birthplace of thousands of languages, Amongst the many tribes that make up Africa, we have the Senufos who speak 4 languages. Though classified as one of the 60 ethnic groups in the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Senufos are found in 5 other countries, numbering over 3,000,000. They speak Palaka, Dyimini, Senari, and Suppire languages. The local dialects within each language group differ slightly but are understood by all. They are a deeply spiritual people; their gods, Maleeo (Ancient Mother) and Kolotyolo (Creator God) are worshipped in secret societies; Poro for men and Sande for women. These societies transmit the histories of the tribe.   Far and wide, Africa is known to be the birthplace of thousands of languages and these languages are spoken by different ethnic groups, tribes, villages, etc. However, even for Africa, it is peculiar for the people of one tribe to speak more than one language, let alone four. This is the spectacular case of the Senufo Tribe. The Senufo Tribe is but one of the over 60 ethnic groups that make up the coastal country of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, a country popularly referred to as Ivory Coast because of the main trade that took place along its coast; the sale of ivory derived from the tusks of African Forest Elephants. The Senufo Tribe, alternatively spelled Senoufo is a tribe of over three million (3, 000, 000) people whose reach extends beyond the borders of Cote d’Ivoire, across West Africa, into Mali, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and to a lesser extent, Liberia. The Senufos have one of the most obscure origins of any tribe in Africa. They emerged into public focus sometime in the 15th to 16th centuries in the Kénédougou Kingdom in present-day Mali, but are believed to have been in existence for thousands of years.  There are no oral traditions or accounts of the Senufo that date beyond the 15th century. These may have been lost due to the death of the transmitters of such oral traditions in the course of countless wars experienced by the tribe in the mid to late 1800s at the hands of Daoula Ba Traoré an evil dictator who in an attempt to compel the people of Kénédougou Kingdom to convert to Islam succeeded in murdering them and destroying their villages. The violence and deaths experienced by the Senufo caused them to migrate to a new territory in present-day Burkina Faso, and then Cote d’Ivoire. In this way, the Senufos spread through the African continent. Senufo is an awe-inspiring tribe, whose people speak not 1, not 2, not 3 but 4! languages across the various countries they occupy. Though the speakers of these four distinct languages are Senufo, they identify themselves based on their languages: Palaka, Dyimini, Senari, and Suppire. So, the speakers of the Palaka language call themselves Palaka, the speakers of the Senari language call themselves Senari, and so on. Their reason for this is to avoid losing their identity and individuality by being lumped in with the entire Senufo group. Even more awe-inspiring is the fact that within each of the four language groups are different local dialects that vary slightly from each other, but which are understood by the group. Amazing right? Like so many other African societies, the Senufo are agriculturalists and they primarily grow cereals (corn, millet, sorghum, and rice). They live and work together in small extended family groups all around the village, in homes made with brick and mud. Interestingly, though the Senufos run a patriarchal system in their families and government; whereby the men are the heads of the households and also the political leaders of the villages, inheritance, and succession are based on maternal lineage. This means that members of the Senufo tribe in tracing their ancestry do so through their mothers’ family line and not their fathers’. The Senufos are deeply spiritual people and their daily lives involve the performance of religious rituals aimed at appeasing and showing respect to the ancestral spirits around them. This is because they regard all things such as plants, stones, animals, crafts, weather, etc. as being alive and having spirits that live within them. In addition to worshipping these ancestral spirits, the Senufo also have their gods and deities such as Maleeo (Ancient Mother) and Kolotyolo (Creator God), both of whom represent a single deity with a dual nature. The religious practices of the tribe are carried out as a group in secret societies: the Poro society for the men and the Sande society for the women. The main job of the secret societies is to guarantee and maintain a good relationship between the Senufo and their ancestors. They are also in charge of the all-important job of memorizing and transmitting the histories, genealogies, and knowledge of the Senufo People This amazing tribe is a laudable example of the communal and cooperative lifestyle of Africans be they on the African continent or elsewhere. Their rich and diverse languages make them an impressive example of what makes Africa special

08 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Iron Lady of The Senegambian Dynasty

Losing her dad at age 16 was the first blow and losing her elder sister was another blow. On the 1st of October 1846, Ndaté became the queen of the Waalo kingdom in the Wolof empire. As stubborn as always, Queen Ndaté stood against the French over free passage through her lands. She collected 60 oxen from the 160 oxen that belonged to a French resident of St. Louis as tax for passage through her land. The French retaliated in 1855 when General Faidherbe attacked the Waalo people with an army of over 1500 men and defeated the Queen. In 1860, Queen Ndaté died. She remains a symbol of resistance in Senegal to date.Once upon a kingdom, there was a queen called Ndaté Yalla Mbodj who was born into the royal powerful family of the controversial king Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj and queen Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mbodj in the year 1810. Ndaté was the youngest of all the daughters the king and queen had. Ndaté had a beautiful elder sister that was so loved by men in the kingdom. Her sister always had expensive pearls around her neck and waist, which made men drool over her every time but she later got married to the Emir of Trarza.   Before Ndaté became the queen of the Waalo kingdom of the Wolof empire, her father the king ruled the kingdom with all dignity and power. He died when Ndaté was just 16 years old and her elder sister took over the throne of rulership of the kingdom. Ndaté was later married out to her cousin Brak Yerim Mbanyik Tigereleh Mbodj. This marriage was only an arranged political marriage to advance Tedyek power and the marriage was later dissolved. Her sister who was the Queen of the empire had an awesome reign and the kingdom flourished during her reign. She met death in 1846 and the mantle fell on Queen Ndate to continue her legacy.   Women could easily ascend a throne during this era because women had the same rights and privileges as men so by 1 October 1846, Ndaté was crowned the Lingeer (Queen) of the Waalo kingdom. A year into her reign as queen of the Waalo kingdom, she stood against the French over free passage through her lands by the Sarakoles (this is a West African Mande-speaking ethnic group found in the east side of Senegal and its capital Dakar) who supplied the cattle to the island of Saint-Louis (a French colony). In Queen Ndate's opinion, the French were to pay homage to the land on which their goods passed. Queen Ndaté known for her stubbornness, stopped and collected 60 oxen from the 160 oxen which a French resident of Saint-Louis bought from the Sarakoles. This upset the French and they threatened the Queen but she wasn’t moved by their threats but saw the threats as a challenge to her sovereignty and the sovereignty of the people of Waalo. She wrote the French governor on 18 June 1847 in the following terms:   We have wronged no one. Waalo belongs to us, that is why we give guarantee the passage of livestock in our country. For this reason, we charge one-tenth and we shall never accept any other thing. Saint-Louis belongs to the Governor, Cayor to the Damel, Djollof to the Bourba, Fouta to the Almamy, and Walo to the Brak. Each of these chiefs governs his country the way he deems fit. – Ndaté Yalla Mbodj (18 June 1847)   In 1855, the General decided to attack the people of Waalo with an army of over 1500 men, because the queen placed a ban on all trading activities in the backwaters. The brave army of the queen was not able to withstand the army of the French this time. The queen was able to fight off the Arabs that led to the creation of Senegambia but was not able to battle the French as they came in large numbers with a total of over 1500 army and 400 horsemen under the command of the French General. General Faidherbe defeated the queen and gained control of Waalo. Queen Ndaté Yalla Mbodj died in 1860 and she remains a symbol of resistance in Senegal. A statue of the queen can be found in Dagana and a primary school bears her name, as well as one of the taxi boats that run from Dakar to Rufisque.

07 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Umoja: The Village Without Men

Umoja is a settlement of over 47 women and 200 children created as a sanctuary for women who have gone through domestic violence . Founded by a woman called Rebecca Lolosoli in 1990 , the village of UMOJA UASO is located close to the town of Archers Post in Samburu County, 380km away from Nairobi, Kenya. The village is made up of huts (Manyata huts) that are built from the mixture of earth and cow dung and the village is fenced around with thorns and barbed wire for security reasons. The only men found in the village are young boys born and raised there. At maturity they are sent out of the village as well.What would your reaction be if you found a village made up of only children and no adult to provide and take care of them? What will you do if you found another village that had only men? Now hold that thought( not your breathe) because you are about to be exposed to a village that has just women in it, a village where no man is allowed in. Interesting right? Now here is the full story. Close to the town of Archers Post in Samburu County is a village called UMOJA UASO . It is located 380km away from the capital of Nairobi, Kenya and was founded in 1990. Umoja is a village, owned and occupied by just women, and it is also seen as a sanctuary for women who have gone through domestic violence. The population of Umoja’s women has expanded so much, accommodating women escaping rape and child marriage. As at 2015 there were 47 women and 200 children in the village So who started the village of Umoja? Rebecca Lolosoli is the founder of this village. She didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to create a village for herself and other women. Rebecca was once a Samburu citizen who found herself in an abusive marriage where she got beaten and abused regularly.  Not only was she beaten by her husband, she got beaten by other men of Samburu for trying to speak to other women in the village about their rights as individuals. This continued to the extent that she was admitted to the hospital for treatment.  After the treatment, Rebecca came up with the idea of creating a village for women. She sold the idea to all the women who had gone through the same issues of domestic violence and they bought the idea. That was how the village was created. You will be wondering what this village will look like without men being available to build it . It will surprise you to know that the women were so strong-willed that they built the village themselves. The Umoja village is made up of huts called Manyata huts and these types of huts were made with mixtures of earth and cow dung on an abandoned grassland. For Security,the whole village is surrounded by a fence of thorns and barbed wire. So how do the women have children when men are not allowed into the village? Well, men are only allowed to come in for sexual services and after that is done, they are thrown out of the village, they are not allowed to live there. Only men who were born and  raised in the village are allowed to stay but they get thrown out too when they get to a certain age.

02 Jun 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

5 Most Fascinating Pre-colonial Kings

Meet some of Africa's most fascinating pre-colonial kings: Sunjata Keita was born in the 11th Century to a Maghan (chief) and defeated King Sumaworo of Soso . Ewuare the Great was born in the 15th Century to Oba Ohen and named Ogun at birth. Although he was banished by the king, years later he returned and ceased the throne in a coup. Sunni Ali was born into the Sonyi Dynasty that ruled the kingdom of Gao. In 1464 he became the Sii (king) of Gao. He created the Songhai Empire. Toure was a general in Sunni Ali’s army. When Ali died, Toure overthrew Sunni Baru in a bloody battle, earning himself the title “Askia”. Burja who was a merchant became the Sarki (king) of Kano in 1438, and the most powerful king in the Hausa Kingdom. Centuries ago, long before the Western world ever knew that there was more to the planet than what they had seen, in a time when Europeans still believed the world was flat and were scared to venture too far for fear of falling over the edge, kingdoms and empires dominated the African continent. Kings reigned supreme and the African people flourished. The pre-colonial kings of Africa ruled over vast areas that sometimes, numbered hundreds of thousands of square miles, and were perceived as gods by their thousands of subjects. Their kingdoms may be gone but their history remains.   THE GREAT SUNJATA KEITA: THE LION KING OF THE MALI EMPIRE Keita was a king whose birth was foretold by diviners and whose extraordinary reign caused a poem to be written about him. Sunjata was born in the 11th Century to the chief of a village in the Mande tribe named Maghan Konfara (maghan means chief). Konfara, a polygamist was told by his fortune-tellers that he would one day father a great hero. When Sunjata was born, he was crippled, but he taught himself to walk over many years, becoming a hunter and a leader of his peers. After the death of Konfora, threats from her co-wives and their children caused Sunjata’s mother, to flee the palace with her children, to the kingdom of Mema, where Sunjata’s bravery and determination made him a favorite of the King. When the chiefdoms of the Mande tribe were conquered by Sumaworo Kante of the Soso kingdom, the Mande people remembered the prophecy and begged Sunjata to return and save them. When Sunjata left Mema, the king gave him an army which he joined with the Mande forces. After series of battles, Sunjata and his army defeated Sumaworo and his allies at the Battle of Kirina. Sunjata then unified all the Mande chiefdoms, and the newly formed kingdom was called the Mali Empire. Sunjata became the first Mansa (king) of the Mali Empire and he went on to conquer neighboring kingdoms, expanding the empire, which at its zenith covered the entire area occupied by the modern-day countries of Mali, Senegal, Niger, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, and The Gambia.   EWUARE THE GREAT - KING OF THE BENIN EMPIRE In the 15th Century, in the place, today known as Edo State, Nigeria, a third son named Ogun was born to Oba Ohen. At the time of his birth, the authority of the Oba was limited by a council of chiefs known as the Uzama who were responsible for appointing the Oba of Benin. When Oba Ohen died, there arose a terrible dispute on the issue of who will become the next Oba. The Oba’s second son Orobiru won the favor of the Uzama and on being appointed Oba, he banished his brothers. Ogun returned several years after the death of Oba Orobiru to find that another of his brothers Prince Uwaifaikun had ascended the throne. Ogun staged a coup against his brother and in the course of the coup, Uwaifaikun was accidentally killed by his supporters. Ogun ascended the throne and renamed himself Ewuare, meaning “trouble has ceased”. During his reign, Ewuare rebuilt the city and conquered over 200 neighbouring cities. He reduced the powers of the Uzama by removing their role as kingmakers. Instead, he established a system of succession whereby the first son of the Oba would inherit the throne. He also established several communal festivals and ceremonies and promoted Benin art. Before his death, he renamed the city Edo and was given the honorary title of Ogidigan (the Great)   SUNNI ALI BER - FIRST KING OF THE SONGHAI EMPIRE Sunni Ali was born into a line of rulers known as the Sonyi Dynasty who ruled the kingdom of Gao, and in 1464 he became the Sii of Gao after the death of Sii Sulayman Dama. Sunni was a military leader and under his command, the Gao troops defeated invaders and conquered new territories. His army included foot soldiers and horsemen and he attacked his opponents by land and water. As Sii, Sunni absorbed the territories of the Mali Empire becoming ruler of the largest West African Empire to ever exist. He named his vast kingdom the Songhai Empire and ascended the throne as its first king.   MUHAMMAD TOURE aka ASKIA THE GREAT - THE FORCEFUL KING OF SONGHAI Muhammad Toure was a general in the army of Sunni Ali, and his military might made him a favorite of Ali's, who made him governor of one of the conquered territories. When Ali died, Toure challenged Ali’s son and successor Sunni Baru for the throne claiming that Baru was not a devout Muslim and that he, Toure was entitled to the throne because of his achievements. Toure overthrew Baru in a bloody battle, earning himself the title “Askia” which means “forceful one.” Askia expanded the Songhai Empire to the north, east, and west, conquering several kingdoms. He set up a stronger government and introduced new trade policies and a system of taxation. In 1946, Askia went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and there, he met the Caliph of Egypt and was appointed Caliph of Western Sudan by him. In 1528, Askia became blind and was deposed and exiled by his son.   ABDULLAHI DAN KANAJEJI aka ABDULLAHI BURJA - THE 18TH SARKI OF KANO Abdullahi Burja was a merchant and military commander who became the Sarki (king) of the Hausa state of Kano in 1438. By making alliances with powerful kingdoms and establishing new trade routes for the merchants in his city, Burjah made Kano the most prosperous kingdom in the region of present-day Northern Nigeria, becoming the most powerful king in the Hausa Kingdom. He introduced the use of camels by Kano merchants, and led his army to the south of his kingdom, establishing trade routes and capturing thousands of prisoners. He equipped his army with iron helmets and amour. Burjah's policies enhanced trade, making Kano one of the richest kingdoms in the region and helped spread the Hausa culture and language. The kings of pre-colonial Africa commanded great armies and exercised influence over many. They remain a symbol of Africa’s greatness and potential.

31 May 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

THE WAR THAT WAS LOST BECAUSE OF TREES

Centuries ago, stories of wars and kings protecting their kingdom were not uncommon. Born in 1845, king Benhanzin known as The Shark King was the ruler of The Dahomey Kingdom. Kingship was strongly intertwined with religious significance. The Dahomeans had strong beliefs in their sacred trees which they believed protected them from attacks. When the king rejected a European convoy on religious grounds it worsened existing conflicts between both parties culminating in the battle of the Queme valley in 1884. The French Europeans deployed cutting down the sacred trees as a form of psychological warfare. This weakened the morale of the Dahomean army and the king surrendered himself with his head held up high in Jan 1984.Centuries ago, stories of wars and kings protecting their kingdom and people were not uncommon. Africa too had more than enough of its fair share of royalty and wars. Africa does nothing on a small scale, even kingship in the continent was a spectacular affair. African culture is deeply rooted in intense awe and reverence for kings. Kingship or rulership in turn was strongly intertwined with religious significance as kings usually attain a demi-god status. Thus, before wars were started and even during battles the king and the people relied strongly on the protection of their gods. One such decisive battle was the battle of the Queme Valley in 1894, between the African Dahomey kingdom and the French. Dahomey is in the present-day Benin Republic.  Born in 1845, king Benhanzin also known as The Shark King was the ruler of the military and trade Power House kingdom. Upon ascending the throne after his father’s death in 1889, the 45-year-old Benhanzine came face to face with the growing European invasion and colonization of Africa. The Berlin conference of 1884 had already established a partitioning pattern that allocated ‘’Behanzine’s territory’’ to the French. Though he was no fan of this invasion he had to manage the situation as a king. He tried to implement the Ouida Agreement of October 1890, which recognized France as the protectorate over Porto- Novo in exchange for an annual rent of 20,000 Francs. Several conflicts ensued between the Indomitable Dahomean king and the French.  Benhanzin renounced treaties made by his father and refused an audience with the French envoy in charge of the region, Jean Bayol on religious grounds; rituals, and ceremonial functions he had to attend to. He was known for not taking lightly the religious culture of his kingdom as he had a reputation that assigned him command of supernatural forces. He subsequently attacked the French in 1890 outside Cotonou which resulted in many casualties on both sides. Benhanzin had in his militia German affiliations, an army of 15,000 men and 5,000 dreaded Amazon women. In 1892 Jean Bayol, now Colonial Governor sent French troops led by Colonel Doods to invade Dahomey. Amidst the several war tactics used in the conquest of the Dahomean kingdom was the use of psychological warfare. These are war strategies aimed at demoralizing the opponent’s army and have been in use for decades. It’s no secret that Royalty in Africa is usually tied with the priestly office, annual customs, ancestral worship, sacred places, things, and beliefs.  One of such was the sacred trees in the Oueme and Zou, revered and believed to be the homes of the spirit of the ancestors that protected them. It was an abomination to cut down such trees. Folk traditions carry tales of great misfortunes befalling anyone that dared to cut these trees. The French shared no such beliefs and exploited it as a means of psychological warfare by cutting down most of the sacred trees in the Oueme and Zou. They advanced from the Oueme valley up towards striking distances of Abomey. The move was unexpected as the Dahomeans were not expecting an attack from behind, having strong beliefs in the power of the Sacred Trees. With the trees gone, the fighting morale of the soldiers and even of the ''Shark King'’ diminished greatly especially when he saw his people falling in mass to the superior weaponry of the French. In Jan, 15th 1984,  with their Spirits diminished but not entirely broken, a defiant King Benhanzin voluntarily surrendered himself to the French army. He reiterated his heartbreak over the loss of lives of his people and his resolute decision to speak with the French king on behalf of his homeland. An illusion the French were not even willing to consider. No treaties or national surrender agreements were signed. He was so feared and was exiled to Martinique and Algeria till his death in 1906. Agile-Agbo, a distant relative of Benhanzin was appointed to succeed him by the French, but it was clear that the reign of the kings of Dahomey was over. Agoli fell out with the French was exiled in Feb 1990 but allowed under restrictions to return in 1910 to perform ancestral obligations. After 60 years of colonization, the country re-gained its independence in 1960  King Behanzine may have been defeated in battle but even in the face of defeat, he held his head up resilient to the end.

26 May 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

Are Tattoos Part of African Culture?

Have you ever wondered how tattoos are viewed in different parts of the continent? Do you think tattoos are not African and a culture borrowed from the west? Well, in Middle East Africa the oldest tattoo was found in Egypt on an Egyptian mummy, Amunet dating near 2000 BCE. In North Africa, their tattoos looked like doodles or graffiti on the face. To these people, it was a gift from Allah. While in Sub-Saharan Africa they used a technique called skin scarification to make tattoos. The artist uses a sharp blade to create dot-like shapes. Today in Africa, a technique of scar formation called cicatrization is used locally. In this technique, the artist cuts the skin deep and rubs ash or soot into the tear. In today's world, tattoos are as expressive as a piercing or haircut. Many Gen Z’s and Millennials are aware of the refined tattoo techniques and trend but only a few know about the African tattoo practice. In many African cultures, tattoos are a symbol of purity, a religious ritual, a standard of beauty, and social acceptance. Tattoos were a way of defense against spirits, fight against diseases. It was also used as an identity within groups and tribes or a reflection of character traits like bravery, and social status. Tattoo culture in Africa holds plenty of surprises. For the curious, young minds, here is how tattoos are viewed in different parts of the continent;   Middle East Africa: Africa holds a rich past of tattoos. They started with very simple designs. It was as precise as a pair of straight lines on the arms, legs, and belly button area. The oldest tattoo was found in Egypt on an Egyptian mummy, Amunet dating near 2000 BCE. Amunet was a priestess for the Goddess, Hathor and her tattoo were a dot-and-dash on her navel area. It was said that the Egyptian tattoos symbolized fertility and idol worship.   North Africa: In these parts of Africa, Islam forbade tattoos and called it self-harm. It was only the nomadic tribes like the Berber women who still wore tattoos and their designs were complex facials. They looked like doodles or graffiti on the face. For the people who accepted this art, it was a gift from Allah. Overall, there are myth histories of tattoos in North Africa. For some indigenes in the modern-day, it is an outlet for rebellion.   Sub-Saharan Africa: The tattooing technique in Sub-Sahra is called skin scarification. Remember Black Panther? Yes, that style of body art.  The artist uses a sharp blade to create dot-like patterns to form a particular shape. Although this method is prone to infections, it was believed to ward off evil. Today in Africa, a technique of scar formation is called cicatrization. The artist cuts the skin deep and then rubs ash or soot into the tear causing the wound to bulge up. Apart from this unique style, normal tattoos are still very much a trend. If you visit your hometown today, you’ll still see ancient tattoo styles that your grandma or Pa can testify to!

25 May 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

THE MOST FEARED WOMEN IN HISTORY:THE DAHOMEAN AMAZONS

In African history, the story of these brave female warriors can never be forgotten. It is important to tell the African story about a nation that took pride in the strength of women and exploited it to birth a formidable army- The Dahomean Amazons! They were a team of feared warriors initiated by King Houegbadja in the Dahomean kingdom, located in the Present-day Benin Republic. It was an army of only women and they instilled terror wherever they went because they were brave and deadly. They were not allowed to marry and have children but were influential, commanding great respect.In African history, the story of the brave female warriors can never be forgotten. In a time where women are seemingly fighting for prominence in government, politics, and recognition in other areas it is important to tell the African story and about a nation that took pride in the strength of women and exploited it to birth a formidable army- The Dahomean Amazons! This was an all-female army of the Dahomean kingdom.     The Dahomean kingdom (located in the present-day Benin republic)came into dominance from the 17th century after conquering the cities of Allada and whydah. It was founded by the Fon people in 1625 and ruled by King Houegbadja as one of its earliest kings. King Houegbadja is said to have created the fighting group as a corps of elephant hunters and his daughter Queen Hangbe subsequently established it as royal female bodyguard infantry. The women were called Mino or Minon by the Fon people meaning "our mothers". They were called Dahomean Amazons by the Europeans due to their warrior –prowess in much the same fashion as the greek mythological Amazons. The Dahomean women called themselves ahosi (king's wives) or Mino as they were all legally married to the king giving up the pleasures of normal married life and having children. They were dedicated to the cause of war. Recruitment into the Dahomean ranks began from the early age of 8. Free-born girls and women of the Dahomean kingdom who wanted to become a part of the warriors as well as female slaves from conquered cities were drafted into the army. Fathers and husbands who noticed stubborn traits amongst their females usually complained to the king and the females were involuntarily drafted into the army so that such traits could be horned for war. The training for the women included series of intense physical combats and exercises till they were highly efficient and could kill the enemy with their bare hands. Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh, a leader of the Amazons, rumored to be the wife of one of the Dahomean kings was said to have killed a French soldier by ripping out his throat with her teeth when she ran out of arms. The women grew indifferent to pain and could survive under extreme physical conditions. The fame of the deadly and brave Dahomean Amazons spread across Western- Africa and beyond, thus they were greatly feared. The army had a semi-sacred status, which was entangled with the Fon belief in Vodun, these made the women to be held in high esteem. They were high ranking in society having command, influence, and great wealth. Their inputs in the politics and strategies of the kingdom were constantly sought.   As the kingdom’s fame rose in military and trade so did the number of the Dahomean Amazons.  Great importance was accorded it and It grew into a 6000 strong army unit of all women. It made for one-third of the Dahomean army. Increasing European intrusion into West Africa and the first and second Franco- Dahomean war under king Benhazine led to the diminishing number of Amazon women. The conquering of the Dahomean kingdom in Jan 1984 after a decisive battle at Adegun under King Benhazin the last independent ruler of the kingdom further led to the disbandment of the Amazon women as the kingdom became a French protectorate. There were many written records by French Soldiers citing the courage and audacity of the Dahomean amazons who fought gallantly till the end.   Moving on with life as is the African way of having a resilient and undefeated spirit, some of the women married and had children, while others remained single. Re-adjusting to civil life was no easy adaptation for the women as they were recorded as having difficulties living as normal people. There were many reports of encounters with the former fighters in the mid-nineteenth century who were now old but carrying on with traditional roles of women in their societies such as farming, cotton spinning, etc. Around 2019, Lupita Nyong’o was said to have interviewed one of them who was still alive.  A woman identified as Nawi was said to be the last survivor of the Dahomey Amazons with several movies and documentaries (2018) of the great Dahomean Amazons centered on her story. Today the story is the epitome of Strength and female power for African women and the continent.  

24 May 2021
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HISTORY & CULTURE

The Wife Stealing Festival

Somewhere in Africa, is a tribe whose custom allows a wife to get stolen. Wodaabes are Fula-speaking nomads found in Niger, Cameroon, Congo, and the Central African Republic. They adopted Islam in the 16th Century but still cling to their old customs. At their annual Geerewol Festival, the men wear make-up, paint their lips, shave their front hairs, braid the back, and dance the “yaake” dance, while the women judge. The festival lasts 7 days, after which a woman can be stolen by a man. If she is already married, she will divorce her husband because polygamy is taboo. Could you have ever imagined that somewhere in the world, there is a tribe whose custom allows one man to “steal” the wife of another at a festival and there is nothing the other man can do if his wife is willing to get stolen? Your imagination may never have taken you so far but thankfully you can do more than imagine because such a tribe does exist and it is called the Wodaabe tribe. The Wodaabes are a tribe of cattle and donkey herders, and merchants who trace their ancestry to the Fulani ethnic group. As herders, the Wodaabe tribe has engaged in extensive migration in the course of herding their cattle and so can be found across the African continent in Niger, Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. But, they are predominantly found in the French-speaking country of the Republic of Niger and speak their native language called Fula. The Wodaabes are nomads and they travel over long distances on foot. The incredibly rich customs of the Wodaabe people allow them to wear elaborate and colorful traditional attires and engage in festivals that connect them to their past and traditional way of life. Interestingly, though the Wodaabe people adopted Islam in the 16th century they continue to cling to their pre-Islamic customs and traditions. And these customs form the bedrock of their traditional festivals. Among the fascinating festivals of the Wodaabe people is the Geerewol Festival. This festival is conducted immediately after the rainy season. It is an incredibly communal affair, bringing members from across and beyond Niger for the annual ceremony. The Geerowol “wife stealing” Festival is at its simplest description to non-members of the Wodaabe tribe who do not realize its cultural import a kind of male fashion parade where the men wear make-up and dance while the women watch and judge their performances. The Festival is in fact a traditional mating ritual that allows the men to show their beauty, skills, and stamina, and the women to select their husbands or sexual partners. In the hours leading up to the festival, the eligible men of the tribe prepare themselves by putting on a lot of make-up to accentuate their beauty: dark eye-liner to make the whiteness of their eyes more noticeable, dark lip paint to make their teeth appear whiter, ochre powder and white paint on their faces to make them more attractive, and on their noses to make them appear longer and straighter. They braid their hairs after shaving the front to make their foreheads more prominent and wear their ceremonial robes accessorized with jewelry and feathers. When it is time to begin, the leader of the tribe shouts out a call to the people in their Fula language, asking them to begin singing their native hymn. The men participating in the ceremony stand next to each other in a line, facing the sun; then they begin to chant, sing, and dance, swaying their bodies and arms forward and to their sides, opening their eyes as widely as they can to show their whiteness and at the same time grinning for the same purpose. While the men are dancing, the older men and women cheer them on. This ceremonial dance is called “yaake” The Wodaabe men prepare for days before the festival to increase their stamina. The festival lasts for seven days and each day the men dance for hours from noon until night at which time a bonfire is lit. On the last day, the judges who are women of high status pick the winner of the dance. The man picked by a judge also gets the privilege of having sex with her, and if she consents, divorce her husband and marry him. These options are available to the females of the tribe, who each pick the man that impressed them the most by simply pointing at him. Though the tradition of the Wodaabe people allows them to have multiple sexual partners, it is taboo for a man or woman to have more than one wife or husband. In most cases, husbands prevent their wives from participating in the festival to prevent them from being “stolen” away. Just when you think you know all there is to know about Africa, you encounter tribes with practices that blow your mind. And in case you need to be told, this is not an outdated custom, it takes place every year.    

21 May 2021