ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
As a child I remember her carrying a pathos even more magnified by what
she called herself, Omkhana we Chimbwa, Daughter of Dogs. A person
without people allowed, imbibing the merest sliver of life.
Blue Eyed Dolls in Africa
By Betty Wamalwa Muragori
There are dolls in my past, two of them. I found them lurking menacingly in my subconscious. Those dolls had made their journey to Africa to unsettle an unsuspecting black-eyed little girl. They remind me of those Hollywood movies in which childrens beloved toys turn into monsters and pursue their child owners in the darkness of night. Both the dolls were blond and blue-eyed.
Kinky haired babe, think again.
Thats what they said to me in their silence. It was these dolls that revealed the texture of my hair. I was kinky haired. My hair grows in tight little corkscrews. It certainly was not blond. One time I got to experience what it was like to have a mane of hanging, swinging blond hair. It was quite by accident. I was helping my mother husk green maize cobs. I looked at the silky blond tussles and gathered a handful and put them on my head. My mother laughed with me as I swung golden locks out of my eyes like a white girl.
But lets tell the stories of those dolls.
The first doll surfaced in my first week of primary school. I was six years old. The second one featured at my first birthday party. It wasnt my own party. It was my friend Dianas birthday party. The very first one that I had ever been to. It all happened in the same year. The year I like to call The Year of the Dolls.
So back to the second doll story. The first week of primary school. It was only 3 years after independence and the mzungus who had not fled were still making plans to flee the country. African children of the soon-to-be bourgeois were taking over their places in schools. Whilst their parents took over their jobs, homes, businesses and farms. There wasnt going to be a Zimbabwe situation. Where a President looking for a reason to reinvent the heady freedom fight days casually threw out the white farming community and brought the country to its knees.
The fleeing mzungus in my country made it unnecessary for Africans to get nasty en-mass by forcibly taking back their land like they are doing in Zimbabwe today. Still there were a few incidents that I overheard the grown ups talk about. A muzugu or muindi had had their land or home taken away by so and so, a minister in the new government who could not be refused. There was always a sense of victory and sometimes a mumbled serves them right. We dont talk about that in public. In that uniquely Kenyan way we swept that uncomfortable thing under the carpet. Too late we have found that it is your secrets that will kill you.
Story One: The First Doll
I would like to say that I decided to write my memoirs because I have lived a memorable life full of lessons for the young, but that would be a lie. I havent reached a place to know what happens. The truth is that my memoirs decided that I should write them. They decided that it was time. All of you who know about giving birth know that when the time comes for the baby to be born, the baby must be born. No amount of gritting of teeth and holding on will make much difference. Besides I have had a title for the book for years. As usual I had announced the title to everyone ages ago. Unabashedly I created expectation which I ignored until now. The title? Blue Eyed Dolls in Africa, My Memoirs. The picture on the cover was already fully formed. (I hope it is the one I have in the end.) A broken toy doll with blond hair, blinking blue eyes. A fat baby doll, beheaded. Its body and head separated. Grotesque but beckoning the browser to buy. So intriguing for those with a taste for the macabre!
The memoir style suits me. I can go on diverting here to tell one story, leaving it to tell another, doing whatever I want to do with my story really. I havent decided whether the memoirs will be a true story or just a story which could be true. Lets not venture into philosophical conundrums by asking what is truth anyway?
But how rude of me? You dont know whom you are talking to? My name is Sitawa. I like to think of myself as Sitawa the Third. I was named after my fathers mother and my mothers grandmother, who both had the same name. As you figured I am a self made woman. I crafted my own title from those two fore-mothers who only relate with each other upwards through me, when their blood finally mingled. They are my kin who doubled up us my guardian angels when I was a young child in trouble. I dont know much about Sitawa my great-grandmother except that she was my mothers grandmother. I know lots about Sitawa my grandmother, my fathers mother. From knowing her until she died when I was 9 years old and from the stories about her from my father, a natural story teller.
What was she like? Even as a child I couldnt miss her strangeness. My grandmother Sitawa did not look like my people. She looked foreign, exotic even, a real African, the type photographed by westerners in their romance with old vanishing Africa. She had what I like to call Masaai ears. The ear lobes had been stretched so that they dangled. My peoples ears are whole. She wore beaded ornaments in her ears, around her neck. Brass and other metal ornaments were worn on her wrists and ankles. Another thing, she had a hole below her lower lip in which she sometimes wore a small wooden plug. I found out why she looked this way when as an adult I went to a district called West Pokot in north-west Kenya for the first time. And there she was walking around in many of the Pokot women.
Her people must have come from people who neighbored the Pokot. And in that quintessential old African way, they intermingled with little distinction. Over the years ethnic groups that neighbored would swap dress, traditions, practices and relations with ease. My self image was shaken. Here I was looking at people whom I thought of as unknown strangers. I had in fact come on a great adventure to discover them, to separate myth from fact. Were they really warlike people? Or cattle rustlers who could spear you for your cows. Now I realized that all the time there was a relationship with me, through my beloved Sitawa.
But thats how she looked. What was she really like? My father told me a story that for me explains her. He says that even on the eve of independence, Sitawa refused to believe all the talk of freedom. Ahh, Ndala, how can Africans talk of getting rid of the British. Even if they manage are you sure Africans can rule themselves? You would name her a skeptic, a cynic perhaps. But she wasnt. Many years later I came to learn of the life my grandmother had lived. Widowed twice, in a community in which being a widow was akin to admitting to being a congenital husband killer, her life had been hard. It was her fault her two husbands died.
In punishment she was allotted a diminutive existence that made her fret with anxiety when more living than her measure showed up. Her happy grandchildren playing and laughing in abandon made her watch and wait for days for the calamity that must surely follow. In mitigation she offered up her misery like some supplication to ward off the misfortune that was sure to follow. As a child I remember her carrying a pathos even more magnified by what she called herself, Omkhana we Chimbwa, Daughter of Dogs. A person without people allowed, imbibing the merest sliver of life.
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So let me begin by telling you the story behind the title, Blue eyed dolls in Africa. Theres more to it besides being a lovely title that promises clinical insight into post-colonial angst in Africa. And no I dont collect dolls, but you would expect me to. This is the story of me and the first doll.
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I was six years old when I first saw a real live doll. It belonged to the little blond girl whose real name was Susan in my new class in standard one in K primary school. I wanted that doll. Its eyes blinked and it cried Mama, Mama I had to know why and how. Where did the sound come from? So I took it home with me that day. Technically I stole the doll, I went into Susans school bag without permission, I took it without telling her and I took it home. I didnt tell my mother that I had it either.
The next day I returned it and handed it back to Susan with a calm,
Here is your toll.
Heavy mother tongue interference in evidence. I was an earnest little girl simply returning the accoutrements of a successful scientific experiment to a fellow avid researcher. Where I come from the T sound becomes a D and vise versa. P, and B are also interchanged. We have real problems with W interestingly because when you think about it, it is pronounced with a series of Ds and Bs. I was yet to acquire the posh upper class English accent that I have today, that always makes foreigners ask me where I went to school.
Innocent of the consequences of my actions I was surprised when Susan burst into tears clutching her doll and ran away.
I did not expect what followed. The abiding image I remember is of me standing with many tall white adults looking down on me with opprobrium. I was in discomfort. I was being accused of being a thief and being lectured at as if I were a half wit. My mother was there and a weeping golden haired Susan, clutching the hand of her mother. Never steal again, the headmaster Mr. Asher sternly warned me. I couldnt understand them. What were they on about? Couldnt they understand that I could not be a thief? I only took the doll to find out how it could cry, how its legs and arms could move like that, whether it was real, how it could exist. The thoughts stayed in my head, unspoken. I stood silent looking from face to face overwhelmed.
Can you imagine my horror when I met Susan in first form in my new secondary school? The first thing she said to me was,
I hope you wont steal anything from me again.
No send-up. We were still too young to know irony or sarcasm, described by my secondary school teacher, Mrs. Hopkins as the lowest form of wit.
No I wont I assured her.
I was relieved when she left that school shortly afterwards. This part of my memoirs is true.
posted 8 June 2007
Betty Wamalwa Muragori is especially interested in how Africans are constructing new identities as they redefine their place in the world. She believes in the power of words. She has a BSc degree from the University of Nairobi and MA in Environment from Clark University in Worcester Mass. USA. Currently Betty works for an international conservation organization in Nairobi, Kenya.
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Robert L. Carter and Foreword by John Hope Franklin
Robert Lee Carter (March 11, 1917 January 3, 2012) insisted on using the research of the psychologist Kenneth B. Clark to attack segregated schools, a daring courtroom tactic in the eyes of some civil rights lawyers. Experiments by Mr. Clark and his wife, Mamie, showed that black children suffered in their learning and development by being segregated. Mr. Clarks testimony proved crucial in persuading the court to act, Mr. Carter wrote in a 2004 book, A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights. As chief deputy to the imposing Mr. Marshall, who was to become the first black Supreme Court justice, Mr. Carter labored for years in his shadow.
In the privacy of legal conferences, Mr. Carter was seen as the house radical, always urging his colleagues to push legal and constitutional positions to the limits.
He recalled that Mr. Marshall had encouraged him to play the gadfly:
I was younger and more radical than many of the people Thurgood would have in, I guess. But hed never let them shut me up. Robert Lee Carter was born in Caryville, in the Florida Panhandle . . . .
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
“Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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By Philip Jenkins
Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religionsall are in the Bible, and all occur with a far greater frequency than in the Quran. But fanaticism is no more hard-wired in Christianity than it is in Islam. In Laying Down the Sword, one of Americas best scholars of religion (The Economist) explores how religions grow past their bloody origins, and delivers a fearless examination of the most violent verses of the Bible and an urgent call to read them anew in pursuit of a richer, more genuine faith. Christians cannot engage with neighbors and critics of other traditionsnor enjoy the deepest, most mature embodiment of their own faithuntil they confront the texts of terror in their heritage. Philip Jenkins identifies the holy amnesia that, while allowing scriptural religions to grow and adapt, has demanded a nearly wholesale suppression of the Bibles most aggressive passages, leaving them dangerously dormant for extremists to revive in times of conflict.
Jenkins lays bare the whole Bible, without compromise or apology, and equips us with tools for reading even the most unsettling texts, from the slaughter of the Canaanites to the alarming rhetoric of the book of Revelation. Teaching Genocide
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 19 June 2012