Archive | September, 2017

Pan African Heritage: Angola

29 Sep

In my fifth edition of my series: Pan African Heritage, today I honour our brothers and sisters from Angola.


Angola is a country in Southern Africa. It is the seventh-largest country in Africa and is bordered by Namibia to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Zambia to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to west. The capital and largest city of Angola is Luanda.
The name Angola comes from the Portuguese colonial name Reino de Angola (Kingdom of Angola), appearing as early as Dias de Novais’s 1571 charter. The toponym was derived by the Portuguese from the title ngola held by the kings of Ndongo. Ndongo was a kingdom in the highlands, between the Kwanza and Lukala Rivers, nominally tributary to the king of Kongo but which was seeking greater independence during the 16th century.

There are over 100 distinct ethnic groups and languages/dialects in Angola. The three dominant ethnic groups are the Ovimbundu, Mbundu (better called Ambundu, speaking Kimbundu) and the Bakongo. There are also small numbers of Mestiço (mixed African and European descent) and ethnic white Europeans as well.

Ovimbundu: The largest ethnolinguistic category, the Ovimbundu, were located in west-central Angola, south of Mbundu-inhabited regions. The language of the Ovimbundu is Umbundu.

Mbundu: Just north of Ovimbundu territory lived the Mbundu, the second largest ethnolinguistic category, whose language was Kimbundu

Bakongo: The Kikongo-speaking Bakongo made up an estimated 15 percent of the Angolan population


Angola has an outstanding literary tradition. An important genre has been political poetry, of which the former president Agostinho Neto was a significant representative. The arts, relatively free from censorship, have been an important way to express criticism of the political system. Oral literature is important in many communities, including mermaids in Luandan lore, Ovimbundu trickster tales, and sand graphs and their explication in the east.


Staple ingredients include flour, beans and rice, fish, pork and chicken, various sauces, and vegetables such as sweet potato, tomatoes, onions, and okra. Spices such as garlic are also frequently seen.
Funge is a very common dish. The dish is often eaten with fish, pork, chicken, or beans. Funge de bombo more common in northern Angola, is a paste or porridge of cassava (also called manioc or yuca), made from cassava flour. It is gelatinous in consistency and gray in color. Pirão, yellow in color and similar to polenta, is made from cornflour and is more common in the south. Fubá is the term for the flour that is used to make either funge and pirão. Both foods are often eaten with sauces and juices or with gindungo , a spicy condiment.

Moamba de galinha (or chicken moamba, is chicken with palm paste, okra, garlic and palm oil hash or red palm oil sauce, often served with rice and funge. Both funge and moamba de galinha have been considered the national dish.

Other dishes common in Angolan cuisine include:
Arroz (rice) dishes, including arroz da Ilha (rice with chicken or fish), arroz de garoupa da Ilha, (rice with grouper), and arroz de marisco white rice with seafood, typically prawns, squid, white fish, or lobster).

Cabidela, a dish cooked in blood, served with rice and funge. Frequently chicken (galinha de cabidela, galinha à cabidela), served with vinegar, tomatoes, onion and garlic.

Caldeirada de cabrito, goat meat stew served with rice, a traditional dish for Angolan independence day, November 11.

Fish stews, including caldeirada de peixe, made with “whatever is available” and served with rice, and muzongue , made from whole dried and fresh fish cooked with palm oil, sweet potato, onion, tomato, spinach, and spices, and served with rice, spinach, funje, and farofa; some .
Calulu, dried fish with vegetables, often onions, tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, garlic, palm oil, and gimboa leaves (similar to spinach); often served with rice, funge, palm oil beans, and farofa.

Caruru, a shrimp and okra stew.

Catatos, caterpillar fried with garlic, served with rice; a specialty in Uíge

Various homemade spirits are made, including capatica (made from bananas, a Cuanza Norte specialty), caporoto (made from maize, a Malanje specialty); cazi or caxipembe (made from potato and cassava skin); kimbombo (made from corn), maluva or ocisangua (made with palm tree juice, sometimes described as “palm wine, a Northern Angola specialty), ngonguenha (made from toasted manioc flour), and ualende (made from sugarcane, sweet potato, corn, or fruits, a Bie specialty). Other beverages are Kapuka (homemade vodka), ovingundu (mead made from honey), and Whiskey Kota (homemade whisky).

Popular non-alcoholic drinks include Kissangua, a Southern Angola specialty, a traditional non-alcoholic drink made of cornflour, as been used in indigenous healing rituals

Mongozo is a traditional homemade beer made from palm nuts, a specialty of the Lundas (Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul). Mongozo was brewed by the Chokwe people before the arrival of Europeans.


Pan African Heritage: DRC

28 Sep

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country located in Central Africa. The DRC borders the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east; Zambia and Angola to the south; the Republic of the Congo to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. It is the second-largest country in Africa (largest in Sub-Saharan Africa) by area and eleventh largest in the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a Francophone country.


The culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is extremely diverse, reflecting the great diversity and different customs which exist in the country. Congolese culture combines the influence of tradition to the region, but also combines influences from abroad which arrived during the era of colonization and has continued to have a strong influence, without destroying the individuality of many tribal’ customs.
There are 242 languages spoken in the country, with perhaps a similar number of ethnic groups. Broadly speaking, there are four main population groups:
• Pygmies, the earliest inhabitants of the Congo, are generally hunter-gatherers. Expert in the ways of the forest, where they have resided for thousands of years, they live by trading meat with their taller farming neighbours in exchange for agricultural products. Increasingly, they are assimilating into non-Pygmy society and adopting the latter’s languages and customs.
• Bantus arrived in the Congo in several waves from 2000 BC to 500 AD, mainly from the area in what is now southern Nigeria. They are by far the largest group, and the majority live as subsistence-farmers. They are present in almost every part of the country, and their languages make up three of the DRC’s five officially recognised languages. Among these are Kikongo, Lingala and Tshiluba. Kikongo is spoken by the Kongo people in the far west of the country, both on the coast and inland, and was promoted by the Belgian colonial administration. Elements of Kikongo have survived amongst the descendants of slaves in the Americas—for instance, the language of the Gullah people of South Carolina contains elements of Kikongo. Lingala, spoken in the capital Kinshasa, is increasingly understood throughout the country, as the lingua franca of trade, spoken along the vast Congo river and its many tributaries. Lingala’s status as the language of the national army, as well its use in the lyrics of popular Congolese music, has encouraged its adoption, and it is now the most prominent language in the country. Tshiluba (also known as Chiluba and Luba-Kasai) is spoken in the southeastern Kasai regions.
• Bantus also brought in the fourth of the DRC’s official languages, Kingwana — a Congolese dialect of Swahili. Note that the fifth language, French, is the official language of government, a result of Congo’s colonial relationship with Belgium.
• The northeastern part of the country is inhabited by groups who are believed to have originally come from the southern Sudan region. In general, these are cattle herders and include the Tutsi, possibly the tallest people in the world. These migrants also entered Rwanda and Burundi around the same time, often mixing with the settled groups.


The Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely rich in natural resources. Besides the capital Kinshasa, the two next largest cities Lubumbashi and Mbuji-Mayi are both mining communities. DR Congo’s largest export is raw minerals, with China accepting over 50% of DRC’s exports in 2012.

People gather wild fruit, mushrooms, and honey, as well as hunt and fish. They will often sell these crops at markets or by the roadside. Cattle breeding and the development of large-scale agricultural businesses has been hindered by the recent war and the poor quality of the road system.
Congo’s farmland is the source of a wide variety of crops. These include maize, rice, cassava (manioc), sweet potato, yam, taro, plantain, tomato, pumpkin and varieties of peas and nuts. These foods are eaten throughout the country, but there are also regional dishes. The most important crops for export are coffee and palm oil.

Congolese musicians, like Le Grand Kallé, were extremely influential in pioneering the musical style of “African Rumba”‘, a blend of South American and traditional African musical styles, more often known as Soukous in the years leading up to the independence of the Belgian Congo. Congolese musicians were supported by the Mobutu regime in Zaire during the Cold War, and musicians like Pépé Kallé became incredible popular in the international francophone market into the 1990s.

In the years following independence, the nascent Congolese film industry was held up by many years of war. However, the first Congolese feature film (La Vie est Belle by the celebrated director Mwezé Ngangura) was released in 1987.

The Congolese are known for their art. Traditional art includes masks, wooden statues, art of the Kuba Kingdom, textiles and woven arts. Notable contemporary artists are Chéri Samba or Bodys Isek Kingelez. The best known artists successful inside and outside the country are Lema Kusa (painting), Alfred Liyolo (sculpture), Roger Botembe (painting), Nshole (painting), Henri Kalama Akulez (painting), Mavinga (painting), Freddy Tsimba (sculpture), Claudy Khan (painting). Some are teaching at the Académie de Beaux-Arts de Kinshasa, which is the only arts academy of a university level in Central Africa.


Pan African Heritage: Liberia

27 Sep

In my series titled Pan African heritage, today I pay homage to Liberia. Liberia is unique amongst African states in that it was founded by freed slaves from the American South, bringing with them their own culture and displacing ancient tribes who’d farmed the land and traded with European enclaves in west Africa for centuries.


The culture of Monrovia has two distinct roots, the Southern US heritage of the freed Americo-Liberian slaves and the ancient African descendants of the indigenous people and migratory tribes. Most former Americans belonged to the Masonic Order of Liberia, outlawed since 1980, but originally playing a huge part in the nation’s politics. Settlers brought the skills of embroidery and quilting with them, with both now firmly embedded in the national culture. The haunting slave music and songs of the American South with ancient African rhythms and harmonies blended well with indigenous musical traditions of the region.
The diverse tribal ethnicities making up the population of Liberia today have all added to the richness of cultural life in the country. Christian music is popular, with hymns sung a-capella in the iconic African style. Spirituality and the region’s ancient rituals are reflected in the unusually intricate carving style, and modern Liberian artists are finding fame outside the country. Dance is a valued heritage, with the Liberian National Culture Group giving performances both in the country and overseas based on traditional themes. The gradual integration of all Liberia’s ethnic groups has given rise to a renewed interest in its tribal culture as a reminder of the diverse roots of the new country.

The official language of Liberia is English. There are also more than 16 indigenous languages. Among the most widely studied Liberian languages in schools and universities are Kpelle and Bassa languages and to a lesser extent, Vai. Loma and Mende also have their own unique alphabets but are studied less.

Liberia has its own ancient music and instruments. While Liberian music is part of wider West African music heritage, it is also distinct from its neighbours. There are several different types of drums used in traditional music. Drums are one of the most widely used instruments in many ceremonies both official and nonofficial, weddings, christenings, naming ceremonies, holidays, graduations, etc. Next to drums, beaded gourd rattles called Saasaa are also used in mainstream music by many Liberian singers, musicians, and ensembles across the country.
Songs are sung in both English and all indigenous languages. Other instruments similar to the xylophone include Yomo Gor. Music is a main highlight of Liberian culture not only used as entertainment but to educate society on issues ranging from culture, politics, history to human rights.
Religious music is also popular. Christian music is heavily influenced by its counterpart in United States regardless of region. Islamic nasheeds popular in many countries with Muslim communities are almost unheard of in Liberia. Instead, music for Liberian Muslims are based on Quranic citations, adhan and music related to everyday life called suku. Aside from religious and traditional music, rap and HiLife are widely popular especially with younger Liberians and American music aficionados.

Numerous newspapers, radio stations and TV programs are broadcast and can be heard in the capital Monrovia, coastal cities and towns and countryside. Radio, newspapers and online news articles are the main form of mass communication in Liberia in recent years, surpassing TV stations as the most accessible forms of media to Liberians. Many popular FM radio stations have their headquarters in Monrovia along with several major national newspapers.
Many radio stations are community based operated by joint United Nations and community councils, activists, youth groups, universities and neighbourhood programs. The major radio stations in Liberia are UNMIL Radio, Radio ELWA, Truth Radio, ELBC Radio, and STAR radio. All have programs available to listen to online. There are currently no AM radio stations (which existed before the war) but there are a few shortwave stations. Radio also serves to promote peace, reconciliation and connect the country both rural and urban Liberians through community based apprenticeship programs for youths and young adults.


Liberia is renowned for its detailed decorative and ornate masks, large and miniature wood carvings of realistic human faces, famous people, scenes of everyday life and accessories particularly combs, spoons and forks which are often enlarged sculptures. Sculptures are produced in both the countryside and cities. Liberian wood curved sculptures are heavily influenced by ancient history predating modern Liberia, folklore, proverbs, spirituality, rural life and show the artist’s strong observations for grand detail and their connections to the people and objects sculpted. Liberian artists both in the country and diaspora have also gained recognition for various styles of paintings in abstract, perspective and graphic art.

A literary tradition has existed in Liberia for over a century. Liberia had no written tradition until the 19th century. Numerous Liberian authors throughout the years have contributed to the writings of various genres. They have written on folk art, ancient proverbs, everyday life in countryside, city life, religion and observation of their own lives. Culture, tradition, identity, society, taboo subjects, human rights, equality and diversity within Liberia, multiculturalism, Pan-Africanism, colonialism and its reverberating consequences today, post colonial African countries and future of the country have been featured in novels, books, magazines and novelettes since the 19th century.
Poetry is a prominent canon of Liberian literature. Many authors have presented their pose in all poetic styles. Often adding their own unique perspectives, writing styles and observation of the material and spiritual worlds into their books. Liberia’s prominent writers also share a variety of genres that cross several decades.

Liberian cuisine has rice as the staple. Other ingredients include cassava, fish, bananas, citrus fruit, plantains, coconut, okra and sweet potatoes. Heavy stews spiced with habanero and scotch bonnet chillies are popular and eaten with fufu.



Pan African heritage: Zambia

26 Sep

In the third part to my series on Pan African heritage, I would like to focus on Zambia.


Zambia derives its name from the Zambezi River. The river runs across the western and southern border and then forms Victoria Falls and flows into Lake Kariba and on to the Indian Ocean. The capital is Lusaka. Bordering neighbours are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola.
It is a landlocked country with several large freshwater lakes, including Lake Tanganyika, Lake Mweru, Lake Bangweulu, and the largest man-made lake in Africa, Lake Kariba. The terrain consists of high plateaus, large savannas, and hilly areas; the highest altitude is in the Muchinga Mountains, at 6,000 feet (1,828 meters). The Great Rift Valley cuts through the southwest and Victoria Falls, the most visited site in Zambia, is in the South.
There are several game parks in the country; some consider Southern Luangwa to be the best game park on the continent.

The background of the national flag is green, symbolic of the country’s natural beauty, with three vertical stripes in the lower right corner. The three stripes are: red, symbolic of the country’s struggle for freedom; black, representing the racial makeup of the majority population; and orange, symbolic of the country’s copper riches and other mineral wealth. A copper-coloured eagle in the upper right corner symbolises the country’s ability to rise above its problems.

Zambia is a highly diverse country with over 70 ethnic groups. Each cultural group is acknowledged and celebrated each year in colourful festivals.
The total number of languages spoken in Zambia is 73, with the most popular being Nyanja, Bemba, Lozi, Tonga, Luvale, Lunda, and Kaonde. In the Livingstone area, Tonga is the most widely spoken of the local languages, while in Lusaka and eastern Zambia, Nyanja is the most popular, followed by Bemba.


Traditional Zambian music is characterised by a lot of singing and dancing. The instrument that is played more than any other is the drum, and there there are others such as the thumb piano (kalimba, kathandi, or kangombio in some Zambian languages, or mbira in some cultures), and the kilimba (marimba or xylophone). Today, Zambia’s music is a mixture of traditional, African and western and contemporary sounds with influences from Zambia’s different traditional groups, music from other African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa, and music from Jamaica and American genres.

Traditional art was expressed in pottery, basketry, carvings and stools. More materials are being used nowadays, such as metal (copper or wire), plastic and fabrics. Recycled art can be seen especially in tourist markets and curio centres.

The chitenge material is used in dress (particularly traditional dress, or wrapped around the waist like a sarong), but this type of African fabric has recently gained worldwide popularity in African fashion clothing and accessories.

Knysan was not the first

Zambia is noted for its rich wildlife and landscapes, using those resources to promote tourism with the slogan, “the Real Africa.” The most notable landmark is Victoria Falls, known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.” It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and even though it is shared with Zimbabwe, it is a source of great pride for Zambians.

For many years, the saying “Copper is king” was symbolic of the country because copper was the main contributor to the economy.

The main staple is nshima, which is made of maize (corn). “Mealie meal” is dried and pounded corn to which boiling water is added. It is cooked to a consistency of thickened mashed potatoes and is served in large bowls. The diner scoops out a handful, rolls it into a ball and dips it into a relish. The preferred relish is usually a meat—goat, fish, or chicken—and a vegetable, usually rape (collard greens) and tomatoes, onions, or cabbage. In rural areas, where meat is not an option on a regular basis, nshima is served with beans, vegetables, or dried fish. Mealie meal is eaten three times a day, at breakfast as a porridge and as nshima for lunch and dinner. Buns are also popular at breakfast, taken with tea.
Other foods, such as groundnuts (peanuts), sweet potatoes, and cassava, are more seasonal. Fruits are plentiful, including bananas, mangoes, paw paws, and pineapples, which come from the hilly regions.

The eastern part of the country has a climate suitable for the growing of cotton; coffee is grown in the north. Communities near lakes focus on fishing as a major industry, selling their catch all over the country. Zambia is host to a variety of freshwater fish species, including kapenta and bream. In areas where water is scarce, cattle and other domestic animals are raised.


Pan African Heritage: Ghana

25 Sep


In the second part to my series of Pan African heritage, I dedicated this blog to our brothers and sisters of Ghana.

Ghana is located in Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea, between Cote d’Ivoire and Togo. The capital is Accra

As with many ex-colonies in Africa, the official language of Ghana is the colonial language, English. Nine languages have the status of government-sponsored languages: Akan, Dagaare/Wale, Dagbane, Dangme, Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem, Nzema. However, two dialects of Akan, Twi and Fante, although not government-sponsored, are also widely-spoken in Ghana. Hausa is widely used as a lingua franca by Muslims in Ghana.

There are over 100 ethnic groups living in Ghana. The largest are Akan, Moshi-Dagbani, Ewe, and Ga. The Ashanti tribe of the Akan are the largest tribe and one of the few societies in West Africa where lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors. Once famous for the luxury and wealth of their rulers, they are now more well known for their craft-work such as hand-carved stools, fertility dolls, and ‘kente’ cloth.


Family is a very strong bond in Ghana and is the primary source of identity, loyalty and responsibility. Family obligations take precedence over pretty much everything else in life. Individuals achieve recognition and social standing through their extended family.

An interesting cultural variation among the Akan, or Ashanti and Fanti people, is that affiliation within the clan is through women. Mothers have a higher status as in their point of view people get their blood from mothers.

It is important for Ghanaians to maintain dignity, honour, and a good reputation. The entire family shares any loss of honour, which makes the culture a collective one. In order to protect this sense of face there is a need to maintain a sense of harmony; people will act with decorum at all times to ensure they do not cause anyone embarrassment.

Ghanaian society is hierarchical. People are respected because of their age, experience, wealth and/or position. Older people are viewed as wise and are granted respect. In a group one can always see preferential treatment for the eldest member present. With respect comes responsibility and people expect the most senior person to make decisions that are in the best interest of the group.


Approximately 20 million Ghanaians are residents of the Fourth Republic of Ghana. The term ethnic Ghanaian may also be used in some contexts to refer to a locus of ethnic groups native to the Gold Coast. The Republic of Ghana is a natural resource, mineral resource and fossil fuel-rich nation and is home to one of the world’s largest gold and sweet crude oil reserves and they are the second major producers of cocoa in the world.

The Republic of Ghana is an economical powerhouse in West Africa and has one of the biggest economies on the African continent and one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

The Ghanaians established a number of powerful kingdoms from the 10th century AD to the 17th century and the Ghanaians became the dominant military power in the west of Africa. In 1902, the powerful Ghanaian kingdoms had all become a colony of Britain and their powerful kingdoms was renamed Gold Coast following a series of military battles between the Ghanaians and the British. The Ghanaians gained their independence from Britain in 1957, and renamed their sovereign state “Ghana (Warrior King)” due to the fact that pre-historic Republic of Ghana was ruled by warriors. The Republic of Ghana was the first African country to gain independence from European colonisation.


Notable Ghanaian authors include novelists Ayi Kwei Armah (The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born) and J. E. Casely Hayford, author of Osiris Rising. In addition to novels, other literary genres such as theatre and poetry have been well developed at a national level.

Ghanaian music incorporates several distinct types of instruments such as talking drums, the atenteben and koloko lute, the atumpan, and log xylophones used in asonko music. The most well-known genre to come from Ghana is highlife. Highlife originated in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In the 1990s, a new genre of music, hiplife, was created through the combination of highlife, Afro-reggae, dancehall and hiphop. Hiplife is the most popular Ghanaian music, followed by the other genre of Ghanaian music, highlife.

Ghanaian dance is globally well known and performed worldwide. The dances are varied and may involve complex and co-ordinated movement of the arms, torso, hips, feet and head, performed to different Ghanaian music forms for entertainment, celebrating at festivals, and other occasions. Some popular dances include Adowa and Azonto. Other traditional dances from Ghana are Kpanlogo, Klama and Bamaya.

Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) Military Female Sergeant at a GAF military exercise, 2013 in Ghana.

Kente is a Ghanaian ceremonial cloth traditionally used as the national costume. Kente is hand-woven on a horizontal treadle loom in strips measuring about 4 inches wide, which are sewn together into larger pieces of cloth. Cloths come in various colours, sizes and designs, which have different meanings, and are worn on important social occasions. During the 13th century, Ghanaians developed their unique art of adinkra printing.
The traditional costumes of Ghana are not just beautiful. The culture of this country and its ancient heritage influence the folk clothing much. That’s why the designs, fabrics, and patterns aren’t random. They are used by Ghanaians for a long period of time, and therefore, they carry the old knowledge and tradition. At the same time, the national outfit of Ghana looks so bright and festive that it brightens the mood of everyone around.
One of the main clothing crafts in Ghana is the weaving. Locals had wooden looms and produced handmade fabric long before the colonisation of this land. They wove cloth from cotton and raffia fibres (widespread African palm tree). This craft isn’t forgotten even today. Ghanaians still use their traditional looms to make Gonja cloth and kente cloth – national clothing of Ghana is usually made from these fabrics.


Ghanaian smock
The traditional garments of Ghana are the kente cloth and the Ghanaian smock. The smock is made from the fabric called “Gonja cloth”. The kente cloth is originated from Southern Ghana, while the Gonja cloth – from Northern Ghana.
Gonja cloth – thick striped cotton fabric. The cotton is picked, dyed, and woven by hand. Usually, the pattern on this cloth is blue/black and white stripes. Long narrow pieces of fabric (about 4 inches wide) are woven and then sewn together or sold in rolls.
Ghanaian smock (there are other names, for example, “dansika”, “fugu”, “batakari”, etc.) is a garment that resembles a shirt. It is mostly worn by men but there are female versions. Usually, the neckline and sometimes the front part of the smock is embellished with embroidery. The threads used for the embroidery pattern are white or blue&white. The pattern on the fabric itself is a combination of black and white or blue and white stripes of different width. The smock is worn with a kufi cap (a small round skull-cap widely used in Africa) or a red fez hat.

Kente cloth
Kente cloth is another traditional garment of Ghana. It is a handwoven piece of fabric with very colourful and symbolic patterns. This outfit is mostly worn for special occasions, ceremonies, and celebrations. The garment is very important for Ghanaian culture. First kente appeared about a 400 years ago. It was woven from raffia palm fibres and the tissue structure looked like a basket. At first, kente cloth was used only by royalty but later it became an item for ordinary people. Nowadays, kente cloth is made from cotton, and this clothing fits African climate perfectly.
Kente is a unisex outfit, but men and women drape it in a different way. Men use it as an ancient Greek toga – across one shoulder and around the body. Women wear a two-piece kente: one forms a wrap-around skirt (2 yards long and 45 inches wide piece of fabric) and another one is used as a shawl. A plain-coloured blouse is worn to complete the attire.
The most important feature of a kente cloth is its pattern. There are more than 300 various patterns, and each and every one of them has its name and a unique deeply symbolic meaning. Each pattern has a background – social or political events, achievements of a certain person, wise sayings, and so on.

For example, there’s a pattern called “Fathia Fata Nkrumah”. It is dedicated to the marriage of the first president of the Republic of Ghana and the Egyptian woman Fathia. This marriage was important and symbolic for Ghanaians because it united different nations on the African continent.


But not only the finished pattern has a meaning but every colour of it does. Here is a short list:
▪ red – blood; strong political and spiritual feelings;
▪ pink – calmness, tenderness, and similar qualities;
▪ yellow – yolk of the egg; some fruits and veggies; holy and precious things;
▪ gold – wealth, royalty, etc.;
▪ white – white of the egg; white clay used in some rituals; healing; purity;
▪ maroon – Earth; mother; healing and protection from evil;
▪ purple – Earth; healing;
▪ blue – sky; harmony, peace, good fortune, love;
▪ green – plants; growth and good health;
▪ silver – moon; purity and serenity;
▪ gray – ashes; spiritual cleansing;
▪ black – aging; strong spiritual energy, the spirits of the ancestors.

Pan African Heritage: Rwanda

24 Sep

Knowing our broader heritage.

As we celebrate Heritage Day, in South Africa today, I want to explore and understand our Pan African heritage. With my love for the continent specifically East Africa I would like to write about the people of Rwanda. This was inspired by an Instagram post by my dear friend and colleague, Sheila Nduhukire from Uganda.


The Rwandese.

Alternative Names
Banyarwanda, Banyamulenge, Bafumbira

The Rwandan culture includes not only the population of Rwanda but people in neighbouring states, particularly Congo and Uganda, who speak the Kinyarwanda language. The important ethnic divisions within Rwandan culture between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa are based on perceptions of historical group origins rather than on cultural differences. All three groups speak the same language, practice the same religions, and live interspersed throughout the same territory; they are thus widely considered to share a common culture, despite deep political divisions. The Rwandans in Congo and Uganda include both refugees, who generally maintain a strong identification with the Rwandan national state, and Kinyarwanda speakers who have lived outside Rwanda for generations and therefore have a distinct cultural identity within the wider national culture.

The Language:

Kinyarwanda is the language most widely spoken in Rwanda.Swahili is also useful in some parts of the country especially in Kigali and other towns; it is also used for commerce. According to the 2001 census, Kinyarwanda is spoken by 99% of the population, Swahili 20%, French 8%, and English 5%. Kinyarwanda is a Bantu language spoken by approximately 20,000,000 people, with over 8,000,000 in Rwanda. Kinyarwanda is part of the Bantu sub-group of the central branch of the Niger-Congo language family. It is closely related to Kirundi, the language of Burundi. The Rwanda language is mutually intelligible with Kirundi, which is spoken in neighbouring Burundi.

Music and dance play an important role in the traditions of Rwandan people. Many songs and dances include epics that commemorate excellence and bravery, humorous lyrics, and hunting roots. They are often accompanied by the Inanga, a harp- like instrument used by Rwandan Artists.
The most famous traditional dance is Intore, a highly choreographed routine consisting of three components – the ballet, performed by women; the dance of heroes, performed by men, and the drums. Traditionally, music is transmitted orally with styles varying between the social groups. Drums are of great importance, the royal drummers having enjoyed high status within the court of the mwami. Drummers usually play together in groups of seven or nine.

Rwanda does not have a long history of written literature, but there is a strong oral tradition ranging from poetry to folk stories. In particular the pre-colonial royal court developed traditions of ibitekerezo (epic musical poetry), ubucurabwenge (royal genealogies typically recited at coronation ceremonies), and ibisigo (royal poems). Many of the country’s moral values and details of history have been passed down through the generations. The most famous Rwandan literary figure was Alexis Kagame (1912–1981), who carried out and published research into the oral tradition as well as writing his own poetry

Traditional attire.
The mushanana (plural: mishanana) is the traditional ceremonial dress of women in Rwanda. It consists of a wrapped skirt bunched at the hips and a sash draped over one shoulder, typically worn over a tank top or bustier. The fabric used for the mushanana may be any colour and is often gauzy and lightweight to create a flowing effect. Mushananas are no longer frequently used as daily wear, but rather are worn on formal occasions such as to attend church services, weddings or funerals. They are standard costumes for female dancers in Intore dance troupes.
Mushanana is also worn by the Banyankole women in the Ankole region in western Uganda, currently almost replacing the traditional ekitambi gown.

Know our heritage.


Reporting any form of assault.

18 Sep

We live in a society that violence against women (VAW) has become a norm, we acknowledge the high levels but we have become numb in our reactions. Over the past few months there as been an increased report on VAW crimes. Many are shocked saying that the number have suddenly escalated. The shock is evident but the numbers have always ben high, its just that with the emergence of social media, they are now being publicised.
We have a number of problems that we need to look at.
The fact that VAW has become a norm.
The fact that women are not reporting the crimes and if they do, they withdraw the cases.
The fact that some of our police do not take these crimes seriously and undermine the survivors as well as take them through a second level of victimisation when reporting the crime.
The fact that some police officers work hand in hand with rapists, perpetrators and abusers.
The fact that our society blames the survivors for what has happened to them.

There are a lot more areas of concern but I would like to focus on these five.
The centre for the study of violence and reconciliation, (CSVR) issue a report in partnership with OxfamSA on the high level of VAW in South Africa. The report was named: VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN SOUTH AFRICA: A COUNTRY IN CRISIS. This research contributes towards explaining the high prevalence of VAW in South Africa, and presents recommendations to inform interventions by women, government departments and the wider society for addressing VAW. It does so from the experiences and perceptions of survivors of VAW, a perspective that is under-explored. The report also suggests that attempts at tackling VAW in South Africa should not be looked at in isolation from other structural and social problems.

The fact that many cases still go unreported is a major issue. Many of the reasons are as follows:
Many do not know that they have the right to report and open a case and get a protection order.
Many fear the abuser.
Many are financially dependent on the abuser and fear that by reporting the crime, they will not survive on their own.
Many fear intimidation
Many are coerced by family members and friends not to press charges.

There have been many cases reported where the police have bene at fault. I can personally write on two cases where this has happened. In my previous blogs I have written on the Hillbrow police station, when were called in regarding a rape case. They deployed six male officers to the scene and on arrival, the police found the perpetrator and let him go, they denied the survivor medical treatment and told her to sleep it off. On many discussions with the station regarding the conduct of their officers, I was told that the matter will be handled internally. My source on the inside revealed that nothing happened and the matter was pushed under the carpet.

Another case was the Moffatview police station where a survivor went in to report the crime and the women police officer in charge questioned why she was with a Nigerian man, as the accused was Nigerian. She then refused to open the case and as the survivor was adamant she waited 90 minutes and the women was forced to open the case. The investigators in that case did not follow protocol and the case was taken off the roll, we had the case reopened with help from officers from the high court. This has so many levels of misconduct from not following protocol and opening the case at the request of the survivor, her xenophobic attitude to the crime and that the investigating officer did not follow proper procedures in the case. We later discovered that the accused brother and employer had paid off the investigators and had called the medical doctor who had examined her. The medical doctor confirmed that she had received an anonymous phone call from a women asking that she, the medical doctor, change her statement in terms of the medical findings. The anonymous women asked that the doctor report stating that in her findings, there as no level of trauma but that the sexual encounter could have been consensual.

These are just two cases and there are many more.

As we continue to campaign about breaking the stigma attached to VAW, we need to call out all forms of misconduct that are happening at our police sestina and courts.
Our police minster Mr Fikile Mbalula, has confirmed that he is rolling out a new strategy in terms of police handling such cases. Although tis is not the first time that our police have promised to stand with NGO’s and work towards combatting abuse, we will support this decision We need to ensure that police stations who do not follow protocol should be held accountable.
Through POWA, we are working with a legal team, who will be addressing cases where women have felt that they received secondary victimisation from police and the courts.
For more information on this contact: 011 6424345

Things to remember when reporting a case:

What happened to you, is not your fault.
What you were wearing has nothing to do with the fact that you were violated.
You did not ask to be raped or abused.
You have the right to open a case and receive a case number. If a police officer refuses to open a case or blames you or makes you feel uncomfortable, get that persons name and badge number and report them immediately.
If an investigating officer tells you tat you should not continue with your case as the procedure is long and painful, immediately request another officer. Nobody has the right to determine if you are strong enough to handle a court case. The investigating officers should be reported.
If the crime happened in your home, keep the evidence., such as broken glass, anything that may have his finger prints or DNA on.

When do you not report a crime?
NEVER. All crimes should be reported no matter what the circumstances are.

For more information visit

Rape Trauma Syndrome

17 Sep

Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that often affects rape survivors. Not all survivors experience RTS as different women respond to trauma in different ways. Some women will experience many severe RTS symptoms; others may have a a few or none at all. All rape survivors need to be believed, taken seriously and supported, regardless of whether they experience RTS or not.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding rape and the effects. RTS does not make your crazy. The symptoms can be very powerful and distressing. If you are a survivor you may fear that you are going mad. If you are supporting a friend or family ember who has ben raped, you may find the survivors behaviour puzzling or upsetting. However, the fact is that the symptoms of RTS are a normal reaction to a traumatic experience and they will fade over time if treated with care and support.

What influences how you react to rape?

A survivors response to rape including whether and how long she experiences RTS depends on many factors, including:

Whether she knew or trusted the rapist.
Whether her friends and family are supportive and patient or blaming and unhelpful.
How the police and justice system treat her.
Her age and previous life experiences
Her cultural and religious backgrounds

Is it possible to forget about a rape?

Many rape survivors may lose or suppress their memory of part or all of the rape. Some women find that they can remember before and after, but not the rape itself. The memories will resurface later and the survivor will need to face them.
If the rape survivor is very young, she may not consciously recognise that she has been raped until a month or even years later. This usually occurs when another event such as a sexual relationship or another trauma, triggers the memories.
Once the memory resurfaced, a survivor can never forget the rape but will need to learn how to live with it. Recovery from rape takes time. The survivor must allow herself to remember the ordeal and make efforts to work though the experience.

Physical symptoms of RTS.

SHOCK: Usually. More immediate response; may include numbness, chills, confusion, trembling, nauseated sometimes vomiting.
PHYSICAL ILLNESS: The stress may weaken the immune system and make her more vulnerable to other illnesses. If the rapist did to use a condom, the survivor has a strong possibility of of catching any illness and std’s from him.
PAIN IN THE BODY: This may be as a result of the injuries caused by the rapist or simply a physical reaction to her emotional pain.
CARDIOVASCULAR PROBLEMS: These include heart palpitations, breathlessness, tightens or pain in the chest and high bled pressure.
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS: These include loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, dryness in the mouth
EXAGGERATED STARTLED RESPONSE: A sudden reaction to noise or movement.

Cognitive symptoms of RTS.

FEELINGS OR FLASHBACKS: Re-living the trauma of the rape in your head.

Emotional symptoms of RTS:


Does It change over time?

Yes, it the initial period after the survivor has acknowledged what has happened to her. This is the period of extreme shock and anxiety. This phase can last from a few days to even years, depending the severity of the rape and what treatment and support she might receive.

For more information please contact

African Feminist Ancestors: The Market Women of Lome, Togo.

15 Sep


In Lomé, Togo, Ewe market women undertook similar types of political action and resistance as their Nigerian and Ghanaian counterparts. However, the Ewe herstory is little known. Between 1932 and 1933, the market women were provoked into action by a vacuum of power created by a political stalemate between three male-dominated political groupings that were incapable of resolving the impasse created by new taxes.

Following the defeat of Germany in 1918 at the end of World War I, Togo, then a German protectorate, was divided between France and Britain. The larger portion of the country, including the capital, Lomé, was placed under French colonial control. The three male political groupings were the French administration under the leadership of the Governor De Guise, the Conseil des Notables and the Duawo. The Conseil des Notables was the local council system created by the French administration. It consisted of 30 leading men and chiefs and aimed to legitimise the ‘democratic’ voice of the indigenous population. The Duawo was set up to act as an intermediary between the Conseil and the general population.  The period was thus characterised by a struggle for urban political authority by these three groups.

Under the French administration and in the context of the Great Depression, high tax burdens were severely straining the poorest classes. The market space was primarily the domain of women. However, the colonial authority began to encroach on the market space itself, trying to control and reorganise women’s operations. This included changing the cycle of the market from four to five days and threatening to license market stalls and introduce income taxation from which market women had been exempt.

To understand the context of the women’s revolt, it is important to look at the actions of the political groupings.  The French administration ordered the introduction of the new system of taxation.  A petition from members of the Conseil had no effect.  The much ‘younger’ Duawo then went over the Governor’s head and wrote a letter to the minister of colonies raising the possibility of unrest.  This increased tensions amongst the political power players.  Despite this, the new income tax policy came into effect on 2 January 1933, and collectors began to implement it. Instead of heeding the demands of Duawo, the authorities arrested two of its leaders in an attempt to stem potential unrest.
The women’s revolt came in the wake of the failure of the male authorities to protect women’s interests and concerns.  Within an hour of the arrest of the two leaders of Duawo, as if from nowhere, market women (some with children) converged on the city from the various markets in and outside it, finally congregating outside the prison. Marching, dancing and singing, the women chastised and threatened the French authorities and their African collaborators. The protestors (three to five thousand people, 80 per cent of whom were women) prepared themselves for an all-night vigil, moving from the prison to the Palais du Gouvernement (government headquarters). The tone of the protest became more menacing and stones crashed through the windows of the palace, resulting in the police firing blanks into the air.  As the threat of bloodshed increased, the Governor authorised the release of the prisoners, which effectively ensured that the crowd dispersed with their leaders.

Although the protest was immediately successful in securing both the release of the two Duawo leaders and the suspension of tax increases, the Ewe women recognised that their power was marginal in comparison with the evolving French colonial state. Calm reigned for several days before numerous violent incidents began against local women and men. The violence and looting also angered the women, who saw it as their responsibility to oversee the purification of a city polluted by violence and death.
The final straw was the trial and sentencing of those involved in the violence and those participating in Duawo. In court briefs, guilt was ascribed to entire villages and neighbourhoods, so that not only individuals but also entire ‘collectives’ were punished for their roles in the violence. Men and women were collectively made to pay thousands of francs in fines and subjected to many thousands of days of forced labour.
Once again, women reverted to their indigenous references and symbols of moral authority. During the wave of protests in Lomé in 1933, women marchers also invented several songs and chants. The leaders among the market women’s community sustained the overall cohesion of the protest. Displays of vulgarity typically were used not against the French but against other Africans considered to be complicit with the colonial powers.

Women’s action in these instances were in response to what they considered the failure of the political authorities to take effective action to address the women’s economic concerns, restore peace and security.  The marketplace, believed to be home to many spirits, had been desecrated and many women viewed the threat of taxation as the underlying cause of voudoun (spirit) anger. They felt that a curse had been placed, and thus a cleansing ceremony was required.  Failure to appease the voudoun (spirit) was unthinkable.
Despite the women’s traditional week-long cleansing ceremony, there was still considerable tension and sadness. The repeal of the new taxes, coupled with the cleansing ceremony, was not enough to appease the voudoun (spirit).  The women felt that looked to the French who they considered to be the true offenders to provide further appeasement.  Thus, when a few months later the commandant de Lomé, Fréau, proposed the renovation of a park in the centre of the city, many local residents interpreted the gesture as an effort at reconciliation.

Understanding the women’s revolt
One of the most significant aspects of the Ewe women’s revolt is that there were no previous records of women’s individual or collective confrontation of power in Lomé.  Thus, women in many ways were considered adverse to collective social action, yet, the moment women’s economic power and self-determination was threatened, the women organised themselves and resolved to close all markets in the capital until their demands were met.
Another key factor is the political resolve evident in the actions of the women in the face of the inability of competing power groups to protect their rights and interests.
Finally, the women’s response when considering the overall well-being and once again the use of religious and cultural symbolism to direct and disrupt processes of patriarchal power is admirable, and illustrative of the importance of context, moment and also applicability of strategies for social change. Rooted in women’s power to shame and embarrass, women demonstrated that this authority vastly outweighed the direct political leverage they sought via male dominated leadership structures of both the Duawo and the Conseil. This is a clear example of how a women’s movement used traditional cultural practices, like voudoun, as a vehicle of protest and as a means to claim their own political authority.

Over a period of several decades, Ewe women in the flourishing market communities solidified commercial ties and cemented their role as familial providers. Cyclical market schedules were responsible for the daily revenue that placed food on the table, while a tax-free status facilitated accumulation for other provisions. At the same time the patterns that developed became identifiable with women, especially cross-border-trading Ewe women. Their economic roles carried over into their gender and religious identity. They began to feel entitled to certain structures—elements such as free border passage, favourable customs treatment, and tax-free status. In revisiting these cultural and gendered actions, Ewe women’s political authority was dynamic, threatening and highly successful on many levels.

The long-term consequences of this protest were many. The protest was indicative of the complex and evolving role of women within the wider social and political power networks in the city of Lomé. It was a key part of their move from a position of cultural-social power exerted by recourse to vodoun to what could be loosely described as moral guardianship. What is certain is that even today, in their own way, the major market women of Lomé still ‘own’ the city.

African Feminist Forum: Kikuyu Women In The ‘Thuku’ Revolt

14 Sep

Kikuyu Women In The ‘Thuku’ Revolt


There has been considerable scholarly focus on the nature of women’s participation in nationalist struggles. The importance of this focus is to recognise women’s political agency and not relegate women to supporting roles in what tend to be understood as men’s political struggles.
The colonial literature has presented two caricatures of African women’s involvement in nationalist struggles: women as ignorant peasants threatened into feeding resistance fighters; or urban prostitutes, stripped of tribal affiliation, with nothing to lose. The reality, however, is more complicated.
This excerpt highlights a particular moment of anti-colonial mobilisation among Kikuyu women in Kenya. It is important to point out that this mobilisation did not suddenly happen; rather Kikuyu women’s had always exercised a degree of political agency in their communities. Along with men, Kikuyu women were adversely affected by colonial legislation depriving them of land, particularly as women performed most of the agricultural labour for the overpopulated reserves on which they lived, and were often used as seasonal workers on coffee plantations, too. Being forced to perform this communal labour and to pay taxes according to the laws of 1910 and 1934, greatly troubled women.

The women’s revolt started after the arrest of Harry Thuku, one of the founders of the Young Kikuyu Association (later renamed the East African Association, EAA) in 1921. Thuku was outspoken about the range of injustices attributed to the colonial government and, as a result, mobilised support not only in Kenya but also among influential and sympathetic people in England. Thuku was particularly vocal about the government’s doubling of the hut and poll taxes,  reduction in African wages, oppression by tribal police and forced labour of women and children especially.
It was this last grievance that particularly led women to support Thuku. African chiefs were ordered by the colonial authorities to seek out women and girls to work on European plantations, whose owners deliberately ignored the documented evidence of the indignities suffered by these women and girls. Gross abuses ensued: women were beaten, detained away from their homes and sexually molested by tribal retainers, as a result of which a large number were impregnated.

At a meeting in February 1922, Thuku told his followers to refuse to pay taxes and to stop working on government projects. By this time, his ideas constituted a direct challenge to colonial rule, and he was arrested. After Thuku’s arrest, the EAA called a general strike, mobilising a crowd of more than 7,000—mostly men—to march to the police station to secure his release. Only 150 women attended this march. When the crowd was requested to disperse, the women became angry because they felt the men were capitulating to the authorities.

In an act of traditional symbolism, one of the women in the crowd pulled her skirt above her shoulders while at the same time ululating and heaping verbal scorn on the men, implying that the women would do what the men should have. Others followed. By raising their skirts, the women were offering to exchange dress with the men and take their trousers —a symbol of manhood. It was a well-understood insult. The symbolism was effective in taunting the men and signalling the women’s repudiation of their authority, and the women’s challenge and the sound of their ululations stopped the larger crowd from dispersing. In the ensuing agitation, the crowd lunged forward, the police opened fire, and 21 people, four women, were killed. Many others were injured.

Although short-lived and unsuccessful in releasing Thuku, this incident was a strong testimony to the latent political dynamism and determination of Kikuyu women to defend their rights. The women had used a ritual practice to score a political point; an exclusively female institution had challenged both traditional male monopoly on political power and colonial authority. The bravery and ingenuity of the women was enshrined in the Kanyegenyuri song that inspired later female militancy. Their actions also showed that while the women did not wield as much power as men, they had the critical capacity to mobilise themselves quickly and over a wide area, and had the institutions and traditions to deploy when necessary.
Some speculate that the unity shown by the Kikuyu women at this point may have been as a result of ‘oathing.’ Oathing was a practice that involved members swearing their allegiance to the nationalist cause. It undoubtedly raised women’s levels of political consciousness and helped create the discipline and unity required to spearhead the attempt to rescue Thuku. The EAA was apparently the first organisation to oath women. While a step in the direction of treating women as equals, paradoxically, the organisation was at the same time denying women membership.

There is ample evidence of Kikuyu women coming together in succeeding decades to protect their interests, including by organising strikes and trying to better their work conditions. In 1934, thousands marched on the Meru administrative station and demanded that corpses buried under the Native Authority Ordinance be exhumed, because the burials had caused a drought. The informal action of women during this period included vocal protest, as they sang scurrilous songs about chiefs, retainers who were forcibly obtaining them for labour, and the government’s policies.

In 1938, a number went to Nairobi to object to the planting of grass ‘wash-stops.’ The following year, a group looted an Indian shop whose owner, they felt, was not giving them a fair price for their agricultural produce. In the same year, another group demanded the sacrifice of a sheep from an old man whose son had killed a man, which they believed was causing a poor harvest.
Yet another instance of protest, known as the ‘revolt of the women’, occurred between 1947 and 1948. It involved the women of Fort Hall and focused on the government’s soil conservation scheme. The women, who had been doing the bulk of land terracing work, refused to participate any longer, and their boycott brought the project to a standstill. The District Commissioner found it impossible to believe that the women had acted on their own and concluded that they must have been spurred on by a clique of young urban men intent on sabotaging the administration.31 His opinion was common among Europeans.
Such ventures into the political arena by Kikuyu women are all the more remarkable because, as a group, women in Kenya had largely been excluded from modern education and from any formal participation in the colonial political system. They confronted an informal coalition of African and British male attitudes. At an institutional level, Kikiyu women became frustrated with the fact that their activism was reduced to supporting men. In 1930, they split from the EAA and formed their own association, the Mumbi Central Association. When conditions demanded it, then, Kikiyu women showed that they had a strong political voice.