Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Africa is a continent, not a country: water from heaven, a vision

Abstraction of Global Africa

Tonight I just came back from a presentation at my local library; I caught the tail end, and that may have been one of the juicer parts, who can say? The audience was primarily African-American and they were firing questions at the speaker in a hunger to know more about the continent the African part of their heritage came out of.

A question came about a stool on view, similar to the image below. The speaker said it was made as a wooden pillow for women to sleep on, because women in Africa would go to any lengths for beauty.

ashanti-stool.jpg

The young African-American man beside me had his face screwed up, trying to picture how that worked, physically, because these stools are much higher than any neck could stretch. "Look, " I whispered, "I don't want to contradict him, but that's an Ashanti stool from Ghana in West Africa. Those are crocodiles on the base. The crossed crocodiles are from the Adinkra symbol system also used for printing cloth; they symbolize the Ashanti proverb,We share one stomach, yet we fight over food." Then, we smiled and later he sat on it after the program was over.

When the speaker continually referred to Africans as "they," it bugged me, but when he said that women were not equal in power to men in Africa and that's why polygamy existed, I considered whether to stay or leave...whether to speak. I did stick up my hand and stuck my neck out to say, "Africa is a continent, not a country and there is so much variation. There are matriarchial societies with matriarch lineages...also, there are differing ideas of what power is and how it is wielded. Wherever I lived and worked in Africa the women were strong and held their own kind of power. For instance, a man might be a tribal leader, but women were often the community leaders. Equality isn't just about who does the dishes."

Afterwards I spoke with octegenarian Mr. Swink who had spent three weeks in Eastern Africa, and had experienced the transforming love and care there that comes from deep-standing culture. He had been robbed in the seedier side of Niarobi, Kenya, but that had brought out a fierce protective instinct in everyone who had anything to do with him afterwards and the culprits were caught and brought to justice.

"I'm going back," said Mr. Swink. "I have a dream of bringing water from Mt. Kilamanjaro to the Western world and calling it Water from Heaven. Isn't that a beautiful name?"

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  1. What a great story Janet. I did not visit Africa in my traveling days, but I do have friends who live there. It has a very rich history of life, but I think we are just beginning to scratched the surface as far as the wisdom that rests in that part of the world.

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