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First published in Burkina Faso,

PO Box 14 BP 219 Ouagadougou 14

Email: princel999t@gmail.com

© 2018 by Prince Lamourd Thiobiany

All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission from the author, nor may any part of this book be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or other, without written permission from the author.

A catalogue record of this book is available from the National Library of France

ISBN 978-2-9554416-2-6 (print)

ISBN 978-29554416-3-3 (e-book)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Cover and book design by Robert Harris
(email: roberth@cwjamaica.com)

Contents

Foreword

Preface

Acknowledgements

The week before the Journey

1 We’re Stronger than Colonization’s Grip

2 Family and Community

3 Marriage and our Traditions

4 Spirituality and the Invisible World

5 Dance, Music and Ritual Ceremonies

6 Our Relationship with Mother Nature

7 The Richness of Cultural Diversity

8 Our Food Culture and its Lessons for Life

9 A Past We Must Not Forget

10 Political and Cultural Battles

11 Our Blueprint should be Our Backbone

12 Traditional and Modern Scientific Knowledge

13 How Africans and Blacks should be Perceived

14 The Issues of Poverty and Conflict

15 Exploring Our African Leadership Concepts

16 The Last Day

Foreword

Before the Fires I was Black relates the amazing story of our beloved continent of Africa and its African descendants. What is so different about this book is that Lamourd Thiobiany tells the story in a way that will stir your emotions.

We should all remember that Africa – with its diverse landscapes, environments, and cultures – can again become the most prominent continent in the world. Yet Lamourd Thiobiany issues a caution – this will happen only if the best of our traditions are embedded in our values and strategies to confront the many challenges ahead of us.

As we all know, we need to review our past to properly design our future. To this end, this book also discusses the myriad ways that foreign invasions have affected African and Black societies, and how we must accelerate the healing process – because we were burnt, as suggested by the subtitle of this book. The author, in conversation with his three children, essentially talks about our healing process by taking the reader all over Africa, to look at our complex, intricate cultures. He also expounds on the invisible world that many Africans use for their spiritual, cultural and economic strength.

In a nutshell, the author has created through this book a library of knowledge for the benefit of future generations. He has discussed in depth salient features of our socio-cultural, political and economic environment. He also describes our physical environment in poetic terms, suggestive of his love of our continent, and his mission to help Africans rebuild the continent.

I not only encourage every African, and every person of African descent, to read this book, I also encourage anyone interested in Africa to read this wonderful book. It will help you to understand us.

SNOWY KHOZA, PHD (BRANDEIS, USA); EXEC MBA (UCT)
EXECUTIVE CHAIRPERSON BIGEN AFRICA SERVICES (PTY) LTD

Preface

The lessons learned from our past will help us to build a better future. That is a major theme of this book.

I am of the strong opinion that Africans and other Blacks should celebrate our resilience and resistance despite the number of fires that we have endured and the trials that we are still experiencing! I maintain that victory is in sight! Africa will become a great force in the world yet again.

Persons of senior age, such as me, therefore need to make a concerted effort to transmit the best of our African values to the younger generations. By doing this, we are taking the fire away from the skins of our children and grandchildren – and allowing them to use that fire to carry a torch of pride into the future.

Acknowledgements

This book is a dream that has finally come to fruition. It took me several years to express the challenges comprehensively and coherently and to highlight the opportunities that are in store for Africans and persons of African descent throughout the world.

I would like to thank my entire family for the African values that I inherited. Those values have enriched my life enormously. I would also like to thank my friends from every corner of the globe, because their views have allowed me to put my African heritage into perspective.

I am also grateful to the poet Dr Angela Ramsay for the excellent editing of the book, and to Robert Harris for the immaculate book design.

The week before the Journey image

The first time Hounteni heard a lion roar was around midnight in the Maasai Park in Kenya. The roar was so loud, raw and majestic it ripped through the trees like a storm. Nothing like the sound of the roar he had heard on television, no, the television simply could not capture anything even close to the power of that roar. Hounteni had been lying in a tent, wondering how near the lion was, and refusing to sleep until silence transformed itself into a long sigh over the Park.

He had been fourteen then. Now he was eighteen in an African megalopolis, where he could see a dense crowd of skyscrapers in the distance. Here there were no sounds of lions, no birdsong, no rush of unclothed winds sweeping through a park.

He could only hear the beating of his heart, and the shout of the headlines on the blue screen of his phone about a hefty problem, so hefty it seemed that no one could mould it into a good shape.

He was feeling his young African manhood. He was proud, because his parents had built that pride into him. They had spoken to him about the importance of his posture and walk, and he was walking now with the dignity expected of him, even though he was upset by the newspaper headlines. He was wondering if Africa would or could ever root its development into the values of its past.

He called his sisters, Talar and Pala. Five minutes later, the three sat on a garden bench just outside their home. Talar was twenty-one years of age, thoughtful and reflective, with so much grace in her facial expressions that her friends nicknamed her ‘Empress’. Fifteen-year-old Pala was livelier in temperament, and a bit impulsive. She liked to play music and to dance.

‘So, Talar,’ began Hounteni, ‘What’s your take on Africa, after seeing today’s headlines?’

‘My friends and I often speak about the future of Africa and the role of the Black community worldwide, because our own future depends on it,’ said Talar. ‘Even if you don’t live in Africa, the way people perceive Africa will affect you. We’re hopeful for the continent but sometimes we feel very down. We have intense debates sometimes!’

Pala said, ‘All my life I have been hearing about problems. I want to know what we can do five years down the line to make some real changes.’

‘Pala,’ teased her older sister, ‘Five years seems a lot to you who was born just yesterday. It could take a decade or more to start to see real change.’

Hounteni said, ‘You know, you can make a very good start in five years, if you have a great strategy and know how to plan for the future.’

‘As long as we know where we are going and that major changes might take longer,’ insisted Talar.

‘True,’ said Hounteni. ‘Talar, I like your point that how Africa is viewed by the rest of the world affects how they see us. But I don’t quite know what to do. The task seems so large.’

‘China and India have also gone through similar challenges when they were in the same situation, but they found their way!’ said Talar.

‘Why don’t we ask Daddy to talk with us?’ said Hounteni, ‘He is a very proud African, has done so much, and has travelled throughout Africa and all over the world!’

‘Yes! That’s a good idea. He speaks to everyone to get their views, it does not matter what race, religion, or the nationality of the person,’ added Talar. ‘He has learned a lot of things and has become a mountain of knowledge. Remember that he has also won continental awards.’

‘You know,’ said Pala, ‘I remember our Geography teacher said that young people should speak to people like him, because no school curriculum in the world can teach children everything.’

‘And here he is in our very own home!’ said Hounteni.

‘Sure, but he’s always so busy,’ sighed Talar. ‘I think he is writing an article even now on engineering. You would never think he is retired!’

‘I’m going to ask him to talk to us,’ said Hounteni. He immediately got up and ran inside to where his father sat reading an article on a computer tablet and writing brief notes on a writing pad. He often scoured the web to learn of new advances in technology.

‘Hounteni!’ Yaldia smiled at his son. “You look as though you have something heavy on your mind!’

Hounteni told him of the conversation he had just had with his sisters.

The father patted a place beside him on the settee for his son to sit beside him, ‘You know, I have been meaning to have a long talk with you three about Africa for some time!’

‘Daddy, I want to know more about the great things in Africa and also more about why “things fall apart,” as Chinua Achebe said. And Daddy,’ he paused, ‘Sometimes I feel like a cultural hybrid, as though my roots are slipping from under me.’

Yaldia got up and looked outside the window for about half a minute before returning to sit beside Hounteni, ‘So you want your African roots to be deepened and strengthened. Well, son, I have a proposal. You and your sisters should be prepared to spend 16 evenings of your summer vacation with me. Your mind will be greatly expanded after those evenings of conversation. How does that sound?’

Hounteni saw the wisdom that seemed to be etched in every line of the sixty-one-year-old face of his father. ‘Sounds great. Thanks, Daddy!’

Hounteni was so excited that he walked quickly back to the garden to tell his sisters the good news.

CHAPTER 1 image

We’re Stronger Than Colonlization’s Grip

The next week, when the family sat together, Yaldia said, ‘You know, children, I can understand why you are often not really comfortable in today’s world. I have felt that way myself. But thanks to my parents and my experiences, I fully understand and respect my roots, which have shaped who I am today. If you know your roots, your spirit will be fed, but if you ignore them, your spirit will be starved and misled.’

‘To grasp what is happening,’ Yaldia continued, ‘You will need to travel in three worlds and understand things that are not always easily explainable. Children, these three worlds are the present, the past, and the future. Of course, you now find yourself in the present. In the past you find your Ancestors and your elders, and in the future you will be with your friends and family of your generation in addition to generations older and younger than yourself. You will always be accompanied by your Ancestors. They never leave you.’

‘Very interesting, Daddy!’ Hounteni wrinkled his brow. ‘But what you are saying sounds complicated! How can I travel in three worlds and be accompanied by people who are no longer here and who I cannot see?’

‘And how can we travel in three worlds without moving from this place?’ asked Talar.

Their father laughed. ‘There’s a famous proverb that says, When the wise man points his finger to the moon, the idiot looks at the finger rather than the moon. But you’re intelligent enough to look at the moon, I know. And your schooling will help you understand more. But I also see you are worried about what you missed by attending the “White man’s school”. You have missed listening and understanding the sound of the wind, the waterfalls and water flows, the songs of birds. You missed the messages brought by animals from the bush, the movement of tree leaves, and the dances of grass. You cannot understand these powers with only the knowledge you gain from today’s school, with its four walls, far removed from the pulse of life! It is our traditional African way of life that teaches you the secrets of interpreting sounds and gestures from Mother Nature!’

‘Okay, Daddy, we would like to hear more about this trip to three worlds,’ Pala said.

‘Good! It is a long, passionate story that I will tell you. Apart from travelling in the three worlds I mentioned, you will also travel from country to country all over Africa to understand what Africans have in common, the similarities in our behaviours and the positives and negatives in our conduct. You will also travel out of Africa to gauge the long walk ahead for our African youth and children. We must help them to take that walk.

‘You will realise that we have lost a great part of our souls and that there have been several foreign fires that have burned and are still burning the land in our continent, bringing disaster to our hearts and the lives of those who live in our communities! We will travel together in seen and unseen worlds to better understand where we stand today, and what you, the young generation, should do to achieve a better future for Africa.

‘When I was a boy, I listened to stories and legends told by our elders that were told to them by their Ancestors. We boys sat on the ground around a wood fire under the stars. When the moon was bright enough, we had sufficient “electric” light to see our fathers and grandfathers passionately transmitting their knowledge to us, using special gestures. In the brightness of moonlight, we squeezed ourselves in a circle and listened carefully, so captivated by what we heard that we even forgot the insect bites and the hardness of the ground,’ Yaldia looked at his children sitting in soft chairs. ‘Very different from the comfortable living room you’re now sitting in! But this is your world, and I do understand that.’

Talar said ‘You and Mummy work very hard so that we may live in very comfortable conditions. We appreciate that. We also know that many children and young people don’t have our opportunities.’

Yaldia nodded. ‘I am happy you are becoming so aware of that, Talar. The long story I am going to tell you is also about the reality in which I and the generations before me lived, and how so few of us had the opportunity to make the changes that might have improved our living conditions. It is a story about seizing all the positive opportunities around us, while still rooting our behaviour in our African cultural heritage. The journey we are going to undertake will not only be filled with direct prescriptions, but also subtle ideas. Why? In our world as Africans, we do not need to say everything outright! We just need to lay down the basis of a story, and the mind uses that information to evolve and revolve in the direction of other worlds!’

‘Oh! Looks like we’re going to hear some philosophy, Daddy!’ Pala said.

‘Not really, Pala,’ said Yaldia. ‘I will take you through an imaginative, interesting world. You do not need to be a philosopher to understand the rhythm of the story. Yes, stories have a rhythm you can feel! You will understand the rhythm as we continue the journey together. I will touch on themes, expand on certain ideas to become almost like an African orchestral piece.’

‘Oh, like using the kora, kalimba, the balafon, the talking drum …,’ said Pala, moving as though hearing vibrant music.’

‘Indeed, Pala! You need to know that today is a great day for me. I see the excitement in your eyes, how interested you are to undertake the journey to the world of our Ancestors to better understand our culture and move towards a brighter future. And who knows? Our future may be the future of the world! Why not? This continent is the homeland of humankind! I asked you to do some research on African civilizations. What did you come up with?’

‘Daddy,’ Hounteni said enthusiastically. ‘It was fascinating. Africa has given to the world more than the Egyptian civilization, which Greece took much of its learning from. Africa has given the world the Mali Empire, Axum Empire and Ethiopian Empire that were there hundreds of years ago.’

‘Don’t forget the Benin Empire,’ said Pala urgently.

‘And others,’ Yaldia smiled. ‘Learn as much as you can about them. These empires were quite sophisticated, some of them with quite elaborate administrative systems. And in my opinion, we do not know quite how much these civilizations contributed to the ancient Egyptian Nubian civilization. It has been argued that the foundation of all today’s civilization is from Africa, including communication, the features of which were recently discovered in South Africa. That is why our story will take us all over the world, children – from the ground up to the sky as we move above the clouds in “steel birds”. But remember, the real meaning of our journey will be how it affects our minds. So listen, and tell me at the end of the story what you think could be the future of this continent.’

The three young people, their eyes brightened with curiosity, looked as though they were excited and prepared to take the remarkable journey with their father as the guide.

Yaldia looked at his children with pride before starting his story. ‘As you know, Africa is an old continent with thousands of societies, cultures and different environments – from the forests to the savannah and deserts. Our traditional societies all have something in common – a respect for Mother Nature and the value of the relationship between her and humans. Africa is a land of recorded stories of resistance to many foreign aggressions, from violent take-overs to smoother transitions. But even the smoother transitions are intrusions, inserting disturbing behaviours into the culture. We have been subject to world views, prejudices, and values alien to us. These new values have sprouted from infancy into adulthood in our cities, far away from the remote small villages located on river banks under the gentle shadows of deep forests, or in the open areas of the Sahel or at the top of the Atlas mountains. These new values have shrivelled up the roots of our Ancestors, at least where the younger generation is concerned. Indeed, there is a cacophony of incompatible values where the ancient and sacred sounds of our ancestral drums seem to be pushed farther and farther away from the lives of young people like you who live in urban areas.

‘Therefore it is understandable why your mind cannot be at peace, Hounteni, particularly when you hear so many opinions from those who pretend to know us better than we know ourselves. These people try to sell to the world the “incapability and incompetency” of Blacks to plan, and work towards, a better future for themselves. Yet, my children, two profound questions to be asked are: What future are we talking about? How should we craft the future that we desire? Have we been asked if the so-called modern development introduced in our villages and kingdoms with the spear of colonial violence is one that the children of this continent can be comfortable with? This development is now spreading across our land through the influence of the West. We have to ask other hard questions. Is this a development that excludes our cultural values and ingenious knowledge that was built with patience millennia ago and crystallized in the minds of our wise elders and faithful kings?

‘Children, Africa needs to change, and to do so it needs to haul itself out of the destructive roots of colonialism. Scholars such as Walter Rodney have written about how much of the economic wealth of Africa was transferred to Europe during the period of colonization, disrupting our very way of life and creating wars and poor nutrition, if not outright hunger. During our 16 day journey, I will emphasize what colonialism did to our minds, and how we can regain the pride of Africa through wise and peaceful means, using the lessons from our history before the colonizers came, and also merging these concepts with the best information that we can retrieve today. Much of what I will be telling you is by the way of stories, which will root the information deeper in your minds and in those of your friends and your children and grandchildren, so that they will understand from where we came.

‘When the White men came during the colonial period, they couldn’t understand this different way of seeing things. They did not want to accept that we are not reading the same book they’re reading, we’re not listening to the same music, and we do not have the same cosmogony! The incapacity of the colonials to understand the differences in approaches and perspectives was crystallized in a famous pejorative saying of a French colon: “Africans are so unpredictable that they are able to sell their bed in the daytime, forgetting that the night will come.”’

‘Wow, what an insult,’ said Hounteni.

‘We should have made it clear to this colon in some way that he undermined our way of thinking!’ said Pala.

‘He was certainly small minded,’ added Talar, her head held high.

‘I understand how you are feeling,’ said Yaldia. ‘This colon was completely ignorant of our practices that serve as a safety net. One of these practices is to act from a collective perspective! Traditional thinking and action, fortunately, is not based on one mindset alone, on an individual’s selfish decisions.’

‘Colonization created upheaval to our means of exchange, taxation, land sharing and the educational system. Now one of the best ways to get information about this period is to speak to older people who saw the changes with their very eyes several decades ago, such as during World War II. Do you remember when we had the opportunity to welcome your grandmother, an eighty-year-old lady, when she came here on a trip?’ asked Yaldia.

‘Yes, we do,’ said Talar, ‘It was a great time for us, Daddy. We were so happy to have her with us for two weeks! I was so impressed that she came all the way from Fada in Burkina Faso on a two-day trip of nearly 2000 kilometres to visit us. And she told us so many stories.’

‘Ah, these older people have so many stories,’ Yaldia said. ‘They hold so much history in them. You saw how, for days, I chatted with her, as I wanted to learn from her how people felt about the colonial intrusion in their lives and how it influenced the functioning of the old knowledge systems.’

‘So you learned a lot from her?’ asked Pala.

‘I certainly did! It was good to get an account from someone who experienced the colonial system in the 1940s. There was a sad expression on her face as she talked about this period – showing how she still remembers the suffering of her community as foreign rulers tried to forcefully impose their values on her and her people. Despite the fact that she lived in a royal family which afforded her some protection against the injustices of the colonial system, she felt the injustices of that period deeply in her heart. As a way to allay her pains in remembering this aggression, she sometimes moved the conversation to stories such as the introduction of foreign currency, which brought a lot of confusion in traditional Gourmantché communities.’

‘Please tell us this story,’ begged Pala, as she bounced up and down on her seat.

Yaldia laughed, surprised by the sudden enthusiasm of his younger daughter.

‘Your Grandma told me, “We found it confusing when we first had to deal with this foreign money brought into our country by the Whites. We did not know how to give the right change during cash transactions. We had so many headaches when attempting to sell our goods! The coins and notes were the objects of so much curiosity, you couldn’t believe it!”

‘I asked her, “But at that time you also had your own money, so what was the problem?”

‘“Basically, then, we were using more of a barter system,” she said. “We used to have a high yield of millet. We could exchange the millet for the milk brought by the Fulani herders. The white people’s money was full of writing we couldn’t understand, and the colour of the notes seemed to be all the same. Merchants couldn’t distinguish one from another and were even giving back an amount of change larger than the money received for the goods sold!”

‘I said to her, “I can see that people were confounded by new means of exchange for goods and services. I guess it wasn’t everyone who wanted to use the Whites’ money at that time.”

‘“My son,” she told me, “A lot of people couldn’t even afford a coin! If poverty was measured by the amount of money people had at that time, we can say that people were extremely poor. The new money was so rare, yet of high value in this new life. Our granaries were full so we were not in need of food, but some of us couldn’t even see or touch this money.”

‘“I heard that you had to pay taxes to the White man. So how did you manage if you did not have money?”

‘“That was a huge problem for so many families!” she shook her head with the memory. “Paying annual taxes, the so called lilougli, has always been a burdensome subject, a headache for the people.” What she also explained, children, was that according to the colonial rules, all adults had to pay an annual tax to the administration – from 2 FCFA – Financial Community of Africa (less than a dollar) to 90 FCFA ($US 0,225) depending on your social status. She also said that even the head of a polygamous family had to pay this amount for each adult member listed on the family card. At that time, even a cent was quite difficult to get, so you can imagine what an enormous challenge it was for heads of large families to get the correct sum of money to be paid as taxes to the colonial government! It often happened that many heads of families were not able to pay the money requested by the Whites. In these cases, they were arrested, tied like animals, and beaten in public under the sun. Some poor people were even obliged to promise their daughter to a man with more money just to be able to pay the taxes. Some people went to influential family members such as brothers and uncles to implore them for money to save them from being jailed or humiliated. Some even went to the extreme of hanging themselves to avoid the shame.

‘After listening to your Grandma, I was reminded of a legend I heard in Central Africa. A poor man was obliged to run away from his home to avoid being arrested by colonial guards because he couldn’t pay his annual taxes. He ran to the surrounding hills and when night came he hid in a cave. While sitting in the cave holding his head in his hands, he thought how the guards might abuse his family who had remained in the village. He was between a rock and a hard place – thinking whether he should surrender or stay where he was and leave his family to suffer the fury of the colonial powers. Rest eluded him in the cave and he was nearly ready to return home when he saw something shining in the dark. First he thought it was something unnatural and felt that he had to apologize to the spirits for disturbing them. With great respect, he said. “Oh! Spirits of this place, forgive me for offending you with my unauthorized presence. I am really in trouble, and I had to run from the village to hide here. Otherwise I would be arrested by the White guards and humiliated in front of my children and wives for not having paid the taxes!” After a long moment of complete silence without any reaction from the shining spirit, the man continued speaking: “I beg your protection. Kindly take care of me! If you and my Ancestors do not help me to find a solution to this nightmare of paying the requested amount of money, the guards will finish me and my family!”

‘The light remained in the same place. The man wondered how he could run away from the violence of White men and then end up in front of a mysterious shining white light without any way of escape! This day was really dramatic and unusual, he thought. Finally, around midnight, as the light was still observable and had not moved, he decided to courageously approach the light and implore this mysterious spirit to protect him. He thought, Even if something happens to me, it could not be worse than my current situation in which, as a man, I am really ashamed to run away and expose my family to the mercy of colonial administration.

‘He walked slowly towards the light, which was still not moving; it was just shining at him. He was desperate, thinking he might end his life in this cave to avoid the ridicule of the villagers. He reached the light, hesitated and asked permission from God and his Ancestors to touch it. When his hands touched the source of the light, it felt like a stone with a relatively smooth surface. He took it carefully with both hands, and found that it weighed the same as a heavy stone. He brought it back to his place and waited for the sunlight to identify what kind of a mysterious shining stone he had found in this dark cave. The rest of his night was full of mixed dreams of hope and despair about the potential help he could get from this miraculous stone. When he woke from a fitful bout of sleep, the morning light allowed him to see the golden colour of the stone! Could it be gold? he asked, suddenly fully alert. He thanked all his Ancestors and God for this great help and ran down to the village in excitement.

‘He proudly walked into the colonial administration office, and spoke to the guard at the commandant’s office. “I have come to pay the taxes,” the man said. “Could you take the equivalent of what I owe you from this gold stone and free my family forever from all persecutions?”

‘A fat white commandant emerged from his office with a big smile after having seen the gold stone in the poor man’s hands. He said: “How are you, sir? You want to see me? That is no problem. Come in!”

‘“I want to pay your taxes for many years for me and my family,” The man stood upright with confidence before the commandant who started to demonstrate respect to him based on the wealth he now held in his hands.

‘“No problem, my good man. That’s an excellent idea! Let me do some calculations.” The commandant invited the man to kindly have a seat. “Now,” he said with a cunning smile, “Where did you discover this gold stone?”

Yaldia paused for effect. ‘Children, this story illustrates the magnitude of the hardship borne by local populations to fulfil the financial requirements of colonial and post-independence administrations. These taxes were an easy source of income that ensured the maintenance of the colonial administrators’ luxurious lifestyles. The local population sometimes actually used the administrators’ penchant for luxury to threaten them, as in the case of a commandant who asked the people of Gulmu to stop growing crops in the town because they attracted mosquitoes. Well, the people told them that if they stopped growing maize and vegetables around their compounds, they would no longer be able to pay the lilougli, the administration’s annual tax. In light of this serious threat, the administrator rescinded his decision and asked the people to “please do your business as usual”. Receiving financial contributions from the people was more important than battling health hazards!

‘The introduction of taxes has been a source of misunderstanding between the White colonials and the people. Taxes have contributed to an increase in poverty, particularly in rural areas – at least in the French-dominated regions throughout Africa.

‘Our traditional system asked people to bring a part of their production to support the administrative system of the ruling chieftaincy – but they were never asked for money. With the emergence and domination of foreign systems, activities are undertaken based solely on economic criteria, thereby destroying or threatening the cultural and moral fabric of traditional societies. A huge amount of labour was needed to build the infrastructure to boost the economies of the colonizers. During the colonial era, people were taken out of their villages and towns every day to construct roads and train rails, to pave roads, to dig channels, and to build administration buildings and the houses of its officers. Under the sun, in heavy rain, and always subject to the fury of the guards, men and women spent the energy of their youth building the economies of France, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries. Under the whip of the colonial administration, they worked tireless days and nights cutting hard pan, providing blocks and tree trunks for the construction of bridges and houses, and shipping cotton, groundnuts, timbers, and minerals to the metropolis.

‘So the relationship between local populations and the present-day political administrations has always been one of violence and exploitation. In their anxiety to develop Western economic systems, the administration could only marginalize the value of traditional systems. Conquering the minds of the people was a challenge to which churches and missionary agents devoted all their energies on the pretext of saving the souls of Africans. That is why the strategy of conquering the continent was based on the use of guns and the name of Jesus and was upheld by the Bible. Soldiers and missionary agents were part of the same army, and fought for the same objective – to impose at all costs changes on the continent of Africa and in the minds of African people in order to better the interests of the Western world! Throughout Africa, Black people were seen as wild, savage, and evil. The strategic approach was clear: uproot traditional thinking in order to dismantle their societies, and disseminate the Western vision of peaceful life under the threat of gunfire. The colonizers knew the strength of thousands of years of cultural heritage and its potential harm for their strategic plans; that is why the colonial and postcolonial administration systems came with a governance package for various sectors, such as security, agriculture and health.

COLONIALISM ALSO DISRUPTED OUR COMMUNITY AND FAMILY relationships,’ said Yaldia. ‘An example is the individual allocation of plots of land in towns. People from the same family were allocated a piece of communal land by the government for the purpose of building their houses. This was in complete contradiction and conflict with traditional rules. I still remember the day when the Caterpillar – a huge machine – started destroying the houses of the compound of our families, a compound which had many heads of families. The destruction was done for the purpose of plotting and paving a new road. It was planned that a road would pass through this ancient compound, and we were asked by the colonial administration at quite short notice to move to the other side where your grandfather’s compound now stands. Actually, he just had enough time to quickly build a new house and move our goods there before this machine came in to destroy the house where we were born. The sound of this tall, long destroyer is still in my mind, going back and forth with its repetitive movements. I felt in my heart every hit to the walls as a step in the destruction of our ancestral communication with other family members. Every step that erased the walls of the royal family’s premises further opened the new road – symbolizing the intrusion of modernism. Though I was just a child, I saw this yellow machine as one of the changes that disregarded our way of life.

‘The paving of new roads was part of the underground economic, cultural, and societal tragedies that were instituted by the colonials and which continue to affect our people. The intrusive new roads represented commercial values over any other value. These commercial values in effect divided and dislocated families, who subsequently experienced enormous levels of stress. I have been in many other places in this continent and witnessed the extent of hopelessness in the eyes of the people watching their ancestral homes being demolished. These people were given no moral and psychological support. In the case of polygamous families, this intervention created complex situations leading to complex questions. How is a communal plot divided between numerous family members? How do you accommodate, without conflicts, more than ten people on a plot that was intended for a much smaller family? In many cases, only one plot was given to the head of family. Of course, each of the wives and children hoped to be in an advantageous position to inherit the land or receive a substantial allocation of the land after the sale. Fundamentally, these issues of land ownership and related economic benefits were brought about by centuries or decades of Western colonization. Giving land a commercial value further colonized the minds of the local people by injecting the concepts of capitalism and individualism into traditional societies. This ran counter to the culture, where land was considered a communal resource not subject to commercial transactions.

‘These laws were brought and imposed by colonials who wanted to bury forever our old, proven rules and values. The laws are reinforced by judges and lawyers covering their black hair with an artificial white wig, a practice inherited from the colonial period. How did this happen? But colonialism was not just about roads – it was about a system reshaping the mind. And the best way to do that was through the educational process. In other words, the colonizers aimed to colonize our very minds.’

‘Are there any solutions to this, Daddy?’ asked Talar.

‘Our cousins from the Guadeloupe and Salome Islands use traditional rules for land and sea management systems to conserve their resources and preserve the land of their Ancestors against the great appetites of foreign business. A land ownership system is used to protect the rich biodiversity of the fauna and flora, whereas the trend now in the urban areas is to destroy communal land systems, replacing them with systems which in reality do not fit into the thinking and behaviour of Africans. Interestingly, in the Samoan Islands, all the land belongs to the community, and the state can only rent it. Even the private sector cannot purchase land that the community prefers to keep open for leasing. This communal system has generated additional income for the members of the community and promotes an equitable sharing of the country’s wealth. So you see, children, that good governance puts in measures that allows local populations to have a genuine input in the management of natural resources.

‘This type of community empowerment for land distribution and usage was developed in the past by Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. His goal after the independence was to enforce traditional communal property that local people could benefit from in the long run. In 2005 and 2006, I observed several demonstrations by members of the Gan community in Accra who claimed property rights over the land that had been leased to the government. Some of these demonstrations were over the building of hotels and resorts along the coast without the full involvement of the communities.

‘The lease for most of the lands currently being used by government may lapse in a few years time, and in accordance with the law, the state may need to renegotiate the leases with the Gan community. The income that could be generated from this renegotiation could help to reduce poverty, if effective traditional governance is applied.

‘We must look at these African best-practices with respect to all aspects of life. Effective improvement of living conditions in Africa demands sound strategic planning and implementation at both the national and community levels.’

‘We remember that you are proposing mixed methods: taking the best from the traditions and contemporary methods,’ said Hounteni.

‘Yes son. Your generation more than ours should understand that tradition is a foundation of sound knowledge to be conserved by Africans if we want to emerge as a sustainable economic power in the coming decades. Ironically, even the Europeans who had reconfigured our minds to think that there is no value to respecting our traditions, are now giving increased recognition to our cultural values, especially when that recognition paves the road for economic growth. But now we must look at our minds, and that also means removing the colonial weeds from our educational system. We must keep the good, and remove the bad.’

OUR TRADITIONAL EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM WAS DISRUPTED,’ SAID Yaldia. ‘People from our generation, who have experienced colonial domination, were moved by force from our traditional educational systems. Our education included legends and their lessons for the future, but after we were colonized, we were taught to reject our customs. So we lost the opportunity to experience ceremonies and initiations that bonded the younger generations to the soul of our societies and to the beat of our surrounding environment. We were even told in the new “walled schools” that our Ancestors were from the West! Strangely dressed teachers told us to accept these ancestors called Les Gaulois, who were Celtic tribes that had inhabited France, Belgium, Luxembourg and a few other European nations. Before being enrolled in school, none of us had heard about these Ancestors whose name was given to us in a strange language.

‘Our parents and grandparents had never told us that our Ancestors were from Europe! These Gaulois had never been mentioned in the legends of our communities. Our parents only had memories of the sudden violent invasions of the descendants of these so-called Ancestors, descendants who destroyed without reason what our people had built up in communities for thousands of years. These “lost Ancestors” were announced in villages and kingdoms of the continent by the sound of machine guns, the flow of blood, and cries from children and women. Bringing nothing but tragedy.

‘But with wisdom, courage, and optimism borne from the flourishing resilience of our savannahs and forests, African communities have survived, and the names of these strange foreign Ancestors have mostly gone, falling out of our minds like polluted raindrops that cannot be absorbed by the shiny, oily, vibrant leaves of a strong tree. Some descendants of these “forced Ancestors” do persist, however. They have committed themselves to keeping alive the flame of enduring aggression – conquering our minds, reducing the strength of our resistance. I remember how disturbed and shocked you were when you heard, in this twenty-first century, people like the scientist James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner, who stated in England’s the Sunday Times that genetically, Blacks are less intelligent than Whites!

‘We couldn’t believe it!”’ responded the three young people almost in unison.

‘In fact,’ Talar asserted, ‘All over the world, Africans are showing everyone they have first-class brains. Mummy was telling me of a book by Amy Chua that discussed how well some ethnic minorities do at universities in the States. She wrote about the high grades that Nigerians receive at American universities, including the Ivy League universities.’ Talar had looked up the book on the web. It was called The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.

‘I have noticed myself that African students tend to do very well at universities abroad,’ said Hounteni. ‘I think we should spread the word!’

‘There is a book and a movie called Hidden Figures,’ said Talar. ‘They talk about a female mathematician at the National Aeronautics Space Association, the famous NASA in the United States. Her name is Katherine Johnson. This African-American lady’s meticulous calculations allowed the United States in the 1960s to catch up in the space race.’

‘Katherine Johnson correctly calculated the flight trajectories which sent John Glenn into orbit!’ added Hounteni, ‘And by the way, Dr Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, who was born in Ghana, is not only a robotics Engineer at NASA, but also the leader of a team involved in designing robots for NASA missions.’

‘One of the greatest geniuses in the United States now has Haitian heritage,’ said Pala. ‘Her name is Mabour Loiseau. When she was eight she could speak several languages including Arabic and Mandarin. She could play several instruments and was already doing college level algebra.’

‘There are millions of cases that speak to our intellect that need to come out in the open,’ said Yaldia. ‘We have done well for decades, even centuries. That will be one of the responsibilities of you young people.’

‘Imagine a Nobel Prize winner having such a closed mind!’ Pala still could not get over Watson’s fallacious assumption.

‘You know, there are people today who cannot budge from the old colonial times,’ said Yaldia. ‘They still miss the time when colons observed their Black employees from their balconies, ridiculing their extraordinary behaviour. The term colon was of course synonymous with invader and colonial civil servant. The Blacks were living in a colonized culture made up of rules, standards, and goods that were completely new to them. They were forced to endure the harsh treatment of their “masters” at a level where it was quite impossible for them to reach their potential in anything!

‘We have survived on this continent for millennia due to our traditional wisdoms, and the useful information that anyone is able to learn is closely linked to the environment in which he or she is living. If you were to take a foreigner from another continent into the deep forest of the Congo River Basin where Pygmy communities have been living for centuries, he would appear very strange to the local inhabitants. That person would be fascinated by the level of knowledge that these Pygmies have about their environment, the clever way in which they solve their problems, find food and medicines from Mother Nature. They do this naturally because they live in a close interrelationship with the spirits of their Ancestors. Their elegant movements under the canopies of ancient, tall forest trees are like the movements of fish in water. They travel on unmapped roads without being lost. They work and live in harmony with Nature to reduce the pressure on Nature’s resources. This way of living remains a mystery to most foreigners.’

‘Whooh! You’re a poet, Daddy’, smiled Hounteni. ‘I could actually imagine the Pygmies moving under the trees as you spoke.’

‘And I could see Mother Nature in her tranquillity,’ added Talar.

‘Good!’ said Yaldia. ‘If you’re really interested, I’m happy.’ He continued. ‘The colonizers, placed the emphasis on the individual rather than on the community, and through this strategy, foreign domination took hold, controlling how we saw our future. The colonizers placed children in “White” schools as a strategic move to perpetuate the White system – it was not a philanthropic gesture. The purpose of schooling African boys and girls was to negate traditional education and put in place new rules and values. It was a way to weaken if not to destroy the culture of the African society and to design the future of the community so that it would be devoted to Western civilizations. Hundreds of children were taken out of their families to go to school and college under full-boarding systems. The aim was to develop in them the White man’s cultural reflexes and perspectives.’

‘How did they do that, Daddy?’ asked Hounteni.

‘From the first day that these children entered the new premises in secondary schools and regional universities, they were provided with coffee, milk, wheat bread made with refined white flour, jam, and various tasty Western dishes for breakfast,’ replied Yaldia. ‘During lunch, they got macaroni, rice, or bulgur with bread and sardines or corned beef. For dinner they could have potatoes, rice, or macaroni. I remember there was a weekly menu on the bulletin board in the refectory. Actually, we needed a month to become familiarized with certain dishes. Most of us ate the corned beef and the famous Moroccan couscous for the first time in the College refectory. Our taste buds got accustomed to apples, grapes and oranges. In those days, it was a luxury to have such food, and none of our families could afford it.