ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
I am the seed of dungeons / afloat in euro-isms longing a romanticized Africaness / in my desperateness to ease the the pain of memories of loss
Writings of Runoko Rashidi
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By Ayodele Nginga
brother Runoko visited the dungeons he said the ancestors say we must though it cuts at the souls of those still connected by conscious thread those who can not forget it is not that they will not they can not forget sewn to the ancestors waking in the night to their cries some of us remember some of us are of memory suffering from pain before our birth that we can not shake cannot let go in amnesia can not stop bleeding from wounds that are visible and deepening daily we remember and we weep praying the balm of humanity to ease the seeping madness growing in the infection of the separation from the body of us-ness the traumatic malaise of this is ness I am the seed of dungeons afloat in euro-isms longing a romanticized Africaness in my desperateness to ease the the pain of memories of loss the trauma of right now in the kitchen not melting in the pot of barreled crabs dreaming of passages seeing rituals of release become murderous i search for us scattered and bleeding in place of remembering i am of oceans afloat in longing shall i anchor my dreams on apologies proffered by wolves to sheep in chess games where pawns seem to win at great cost hooked fish and dreams of Malcolm make me wary and uneasy as I walk battle lines that smell of dungeons where the Ancestors still cry and hope on Elegwa for the 13th The lost of Shabazz in the desert to re-member
bringing consciousness back.
Note from Ayodele Nzinga
There are dungeons along the coast of Africa. Dungeons in Ghana, Benin, and Senegal, and Oyster Cove held captured Africans. Africans from as far away as Chad, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso were chained and walked barefoot to dungeons like Cape Coast, Elmina or Christianbourg in Ghana where they would be transformed to commodities. These Africans, destined for the Middle Passage, spent their last days on African soil in these places. These places are tourist attractions often referred to as castles or memorials. I however can conceive of no more descriptive word than dungeons. The poem was evoked by a travel report [see below] from African scholar Runoko Rahshidi who is traveling in Ghana. In his report he expresses his dis-ease in the presentation of these places. His report is somber and touches in me a particular melancholy seated in blood memory. It occurs to me that the world is replete with dungeons and the smell of these places in their entirety is present in my day to day existence. There are those who remember and there are those who have forgotten. In the Ife system of Yoruba, Elegwa is the trickster, I am attracted to the mythology that surrounds Elegwa. The god who waited patiently for Obatala’s (The Chief Orisha’s) attention and was rewarded by becoming the messenger through whom petitions must be sent to Obatala. North American Africans are referred to as the Lost tribe of Shabazz, the 13th tribe. “North American African” is a phrase I heard first from Marvin X. It made immediate sense to me. It also makes sense to me that we are a tribe of Africans, the North American kind. Separated from Africa and original origin but bound by the experience of Ancestors traversing the middle passage; a new source of origin. We are the lost tribe. The seed of dungeons. Runoko says “It is never pleasant to go to these places and it is never easy. They are places of memory and they are places of horror. But we must go to these places. We must continue to go. The souls of our Ancestors demand that we go”
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Runoko in Ghana
Travel Writing by Runoko Rashidi
Today in Ghana my tour group visited the Elmina and Cape Coast Dungeons. It was quite an experience and more than a bit controversial, even in terms as what to call these structures. Most people call them castles. I have been taught to refer to them as dungeons. These were the places where the captured Africans were held before they were put on the floating coffins called slave ships and taken across the Atlantic Ocean to the Western Hemisphere.
The controversy actually surfaced yesterday when we stopped on our journey from Kumasi to Cape Coast. Along the way we stopped at a river where the captured Africans were able to take a last bath before the final march to the dungeons themselves. We were told that these Africans came from as far away as Chad, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. They were shackled and chained together–men, women, and children–and marched barefoot to the coast.
This particular spotthe Assin Manso Slave River (Donkosuo) where captives of the Trans Atlantic slave trade had their last bathis actually a memorial center. Our guide told us something about the history of the site and then took us to the river itself. I found his presentation a little disturbing because he kept referring to the captive Africans as “slaves.” After it was all over I sent him a message saying that “the captives were not slaves; they were people.” It seems that we may have had some difference of opinion as to the distinction between the two. These were captured African people who, in the greatest crime humanity has seen, were systematically turned into commodities and merchandise.
And then there was the commercial aspect to it. On a brick wall at the memorial a number of names of individuals and organizations were inscribed. The inscriptions were in black ink and we were told that we could have our names added to the list for a fee of $100.00. I realize that money is needed to maintain the memorial but it seemed like the $100.00 appeal had the effect of lessening what we would have liked to have perceived as the sacred nature of the place.
And then there was the attitude of some of the local people. It seemed to some of us that the locals were not terribly respectful. Some were having rather loud conversations while we were trying to listen to the guide. Some others were talking on cell phones. And some others tended to laugh from time to time and, in general, seemed rather frivolous. So we left the River more than a little unsettled and we wondered if the local people had any real knowledge and appreciation of the Trans-Atlantic trade.
As I understand it, there are three main dungeons in Ghana. They are Christianbourg, Cape Coast, and Elmina. Elmina, built by the Portuguese in the 15th century, was the first of the two dungeons that we visited today. It is large and imposing. It held hundreds of African men and African women at a time. At the center of the dungeon is the Portuguese (and later the Dutch) church. We saw where the captives were tortured and where the European governors of the dungeon selected the captive women they wanted to rape.
Then we went to Cape Coast dungeon. We saw where the people were branded with hot irons. And in came a large group of African-American tourists. Some of them where young people And they were even more disrespectful than the local people that we saw the day before at the River. We had to actually ask them to be quiet so that we could listen to our guides. It was as if they had no clue about where they were. I am doubtful if Jewish visitors to the Nazi death camps in Poland ever laugh. Is African humanity any less important? It was all very depressing.
At Cape Coast we went into both the huge men’s dungeon and then the women’s dungeon. We walked through the Door of No Return and then came back through the Door of Return. But is was not joyful. And then we said a prayer. I don’t remember the exact words but it was something about healing and being one Africa.
And so there you have it. That was my day in Ghana. I guess that it is easy to pick up that I am not much in the mood to try to be eloquent.
I have been to these dungeons, now, in Ghana, Benin, and Senegal, and Oyster Cove in Tasmania. The latter is where the last full-blood Aboriginal Tasmanians were held before they died. It is a kind of concentration camp.
It is never pleasant to go to these places and it is never easy. They are places of memory and they are places of horror. But we must go to these places. We must continue to go. The souls of our Ancestors demand that we go.
In love of in Africa, Brother Runoko, winding down my trip in Ghana
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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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.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 6 August 2008