ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Until repatriation of the diaspora is the law of every African state,

and especially of West African countries, the betrayal will not have been

fully reversed. Just as they sent us away, they must bring us back



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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Once You’ve Been There

By Kalamu ya Salaam


I used to wonder how could one ship load of Portuguese or English be enough to conquer mighty, mighty nations. I don’t wonder any longer. The answer is obvious once you have been there.

But you must be in Ghana, on the coast where the English were, pass through the five walls, the triple gates, walk through the stark, hard stone courtyard of the 15th century Portuguese fort which served as a slave castle — a holding place for the exportation of enslaved Africans. Be there and feel the weight of walls, the thickness of canon, the cold iron of twenty pound (or heavier) shot, descend those steps and shiver listening to the echo of your footsteps in the clammy cavern, hear the waves splintering on the rocks with a poltergeist roar that pounded the last sound of Africa into your ancestors’ woolly heads.

After you have experienced the soft tones of the gentle Ghanaian people, eyes wide, men holding hands, women leaning against each other, everyone touched. After being there, you know.

Once you have been there you will know why, after he secured a toe hold on the coast, we never stood a chance against Tarzan. A thousand spears could never have destroyed a single fort door. And we were just too humane to ever assume that someone would destroy our world. Even today, without airplanes it would be hard to take the fort, especially if the soldiers inside were better armed, ruthless and under the illusion that you were not even human.

And especially if Lord Greystone’s predecessors had collaborators: kings who sold. Merchants, mercenaries, and middle men who directly profiteered off the slave trade. Guides and translators who traitored.

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Our PANAFEST guide now is a young Ghanaian woman named Ivana — yes, a Soviet name. Someone said to her “that’s Russian?” And she said “yes”; but she should have said “Soviet” from when the communists worked in solidarity with the liberation movements. Sure they had their own agenda and were pushing their own philosophy, but they helped when the West refused. Refused even medicine and clothing to the liberation movements. Or worse yet, the West sent aid to emerging states, aid which was a Trojan bomb wrapped in IMF (International Monetary Fund) total tinkering with a country’s economy. Tinkering at the level of a stern pa-pa parceling out fifteen cents daily allowance with a solemn lecture that if you buy any candy, even a penny’s worth, all of the dole will be cut off immediately. And you better not get caught hanging with the wrong crowd.

Structural readjustment is what they call this tinkering. Young college trained economists from the West are the de facto regulators of large sectors of the economy — including the national airline company.

We flew in on a leased, Ghana Airlines jumbo jet. Even though native Ghanaian pilots are available, the terms of the lease dictate that certain experienced (“certain experienced” is a euphemism for “White” or White acculturated) pilots and crew members be used. In the international leagues you don’t even get to choose your own team players — that’s the essence of structural adjustment.

In Cape Coast a young vendor explains that Western clothing is dumped on Ghana as part of IMF trade regulations. African clothing is more expensive than the Western commodities. So generally, the people acquire the cheapest apparel available. Even so you still see a lot of Ghanaians in traditional garb. IMF makes it difficult for Africans to dress in African styles.

Ivana may or may not know about the terms of foreign aid, about the IMF and about the Soviets. Right now she and a fellow guide, also a young woman from Accra, want to see the slave castle. Ivana had tasks to complete and by the time she got to the castle, the dungeon doors were locked. I will ask Ivana later why she has that name.

Ivana was born into a family of priestesses of traditional religion. She does not plan to become a priestess but she explained the whole ritual to Stephanie as we stood in an open square near the fort in downtown Accra. The kings of the area were there enthroned beneath gold encrusted umbrellas. Linguists whom you must speak through to talk to the king — assuming that you can even get that close —  sit holding wooden staffs which are topped with solid gold emblems. I spot the sanfoka symbol atop one of the staffs and know that is the symbol for “return and fetch it.” From a distance of twenty feet or so, even I can see that real gold has a shine that is deeper than glitter. Real gold is impressive, especially when thick and intricately carved. Or so it seems to my untutored eye. Immediately, I reflect on the African American penchant for wearing gold rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

This is the night before we visit the slave castle on Cape Coast which is a long drive outside of Accra. This is our second night in Accra. The first night we went to the Du Bois center for a concert. Actually this is the beginning of the third day because it is shortly after midnight and we have been told that there will be a special ceremony, an atonement ritual in which the chiefs will beg the ancestors for forgiveness because of what some of them did in collaborating with the slavers.

Even though it is video taped, this is not simply a staged event. It is in a poor part of town. There are no politicians around making speeches. There is no Christian preacher beginning with a prayer to “our lord”.

What is here are hundreds of poor Ghanaians watching as their chiefs announce the purpose of this gathering. A bull is led out, later a goat. They will be sacrificed. Three different sets of drummers.

Other than the chiefs and the priestesses, no one is dressed up. People wear whatever they wore yesterday, whatever they will wear later today. Whatever they will wear tomorrow.

They stand in the dirt. Some laugh in the background. Some are somber as they watch the ceremony. And as they watch us, their American brothers and sisters.

Although the event was impressive, it really was not for the benefit of the diaspora. This was a necessary step toward facing up to the painful negative realities of our history. No concerted effort was made to make sure that all of the diaspora attendees to PANAFEST were brought to the ceremony. It was not held in the national stadium or the national theatre. In fact there was not even a bus to bring us to this field in the poor part of town.

This was a step that the continent needed to take. I watched from a distance and understood that although it was specifically about the slave trade, this purification ritual was not about me as a “diaspora survivor/descendent” of that trade. This was about those who had collaborated in sending me away.

What was most interesting to me is that this was the traditional chiefs speaking to the masses and not the contemporary elected officials speaking to the educated. I knew that the traditional chiefs needed to atone, but I question why weren’t the “contemporary chiefs” also present to assure the people and themselves that they would not fall victim to a recurrence of this historic collaboration.

Until repatriation of the diaspora is the law of every African state, and especially of West African countries, the betrayal will not have been fully reversed. Just as they sent us away, they must bring us back, otherwise our return will be seen as a threat and resentments will abound. The reintegration of the family that was torn asunder is no simple task. In fact it is emotionally taxing. Sometimes, like when I am standing there, one a.m. in the morning watching “them” slit the throat of a sacrificial bull, I find pause and wonder just how much I want to return if this is what I am returning to.

Part of me is in the crowd of simple people, looking at the chiefs, listening to the words, looking at us, watching the ritual and trying to sort it all out. At least five or six people say to me in broken English, welcome home brother. Unlike the chiefs, the poor people intuitively know that our positions are interchangeable. It could have been them in the dungeon, and now returning centuries later ignorant of the mother tongue, a stranger in my motherland.

Part of me is with the dispassionate observation of the media cameras angling for a better or more dramatic shot, taking it all in indiscriminately without any filter other than the consciousness of Tarzan the video director dictating what should be observed and remembered and what did not matter. Stephanie and Nia did not bring their cameras because they thought this was going to be a sacred ceremony. They were very disappointed when they saw the media video equipment. The world has changed so rapidly, Africa’s growing pains are illuminated, and everything takes place within the public glare. Africa has no privacy.

Tarzan spends most of his time looking at the chiefs, observing the rituals, talking  to an interpreter who explains what’s going on. Very little of Tarzan’s footage is of the people. Nobody translates what they are saying to each other.

And there is another tortured part of me on that killing ground, my throat slit. Even though I do not want to think it, I have had enough experience with Black political leaders to know that not only would they sell us out, but they will even fake elaborate rituals of seeming sincerity if they think that is what it will take to maintain their power. I try not to make a judgment about these men whom I never met.

At one point there is a delay. I find out later that Ivana told Stephanie the purification ritual required the participation of the women but the chiefs had not involved the women from the beginning of the program, even though the priestesses were there dressed in white.

When the men finally got around to asking the women to participate, the women first said “no.” After giving them a piece of their mind, the elder sisters relented and the ritual went on.

Like, I said, even when they are sincere, sometimes politicians are still only thinking about themselves. Perhaps, like that bull kicking in the dust long after its throat had been slit and its blood had been gathered in a pan, and used in the ceremony; maybe, like that bull whose carcass was carted off on a flatbed wagon drawn to the field by two young boys, a cart whose two wheel flaps had pictures of a brown Jesus on them; perhaps like that bull, like that goat, perhaps I was simply being used as a sacrificial vehicle to assuage the guilt of these traditional politicians.

It may sound totally cynical to view myself in this way, but the truth is, at some point it crossed my mind.

            The truth is that Black politicians have a history of selling us out.

            The truth is that I was in the dungeon, thanks in part to the chiefs.

            The truth is it will take more than the slaughter of one bull and one goat to account for that.

Source: Kalamu ya Salaam. Tarzan Can Not Return to Africa, But I Can — PanaFest 1994

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Guarding the Flame of Life

New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran ‘Julio’ Green

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02_My_Story,_My_Song.mp3 (24503 KB)

(Kalamu reading “My Story, My Song”

Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

Track List 1.  Congo Square (9:01) 2.  My Story, My Song (20:50) 3.  Danny Banjo (4:32) 4.  Miles Davis (10:26) 5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03) 6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13) 7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53) 8.  Intro (3:59) 9.  The Whole History (3:14) 10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39) 11.  Waving At Ra (1:40) 12.  Landing (1:21) 13.  Good Luck (:04)

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music website > writing website > daily blog > twitter > facebook >

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Chiefs in Cape Coast, Ghana  /  Grand Durbar Parade

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Cape Coast Castle. A Collection of Poems By Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang

Forts and Castles of Ghana by Albert van Dantzig

Dr Robert Lee passes on

Dentist Championed African-American Community In Ghana

Dr. Robert Lee Interview

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#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 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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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

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 Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s 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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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America

By Peter Edelman

If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.

The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood


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Allah, Liberty, and Love

The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom

By Irshad Manji

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.

What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?

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The New New Deal

The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era

By Michael Grunwald

Time senior correspondent Michael Grunwald tells the secret history of the stimulus bill, the purest distillation of Change We Can Believe In, a microcosm of Obama’s policy successes and political failures. Though it is reviled by the right and rejected by the left, it really is a new New Deal, larger than FDR’s and just as transformative. It prevented an imminent depression, while jump-starting Obama’s long-term agenda. The stimulus is pouring $90 billion into clean energy, reinventing the way America is powered and fueled; it includes unprecedented investments in renewables, efficiency, electric cars, a smarter grid, cleaner coal, and more. It’s carrying health care into the digital era. Its Race to the Top initiative may be the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It produced the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, a broadband initiative reminiscent of rural electrification, and an overhaul of the New Deal’s unemployment insurance system. It’s revamping the way government addresses homelessness, fixes infrastructure, and spends money.

Grunwald reveals how Republicans have obscured these achievements through obstruction and distortion. The stimulus launched a genuine national comeback. It also saved millions of jobs, while creating legacies that could rival the Hoover Dam: the world’s largest wind farm, a new U.S. battery industry, a new high-speed rail network, the world’s highest-speed Internet network.  Its main legacy, like the New Deal’s, will be change.

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Pictures and Progress

Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Edited by Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith

Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography’s power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or “snapshots,” highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update  15 July 2012




Home  Kalamu ya Salaam Table   Transitional Writings on Africa  The African World

Related files:  Haile Gerima in Ghana   Criticisms of the Disapora  The Whole of Ourselves   The Forts and Castles of Ghana   What’s Your Name?  Once You’ve Been There 

Foreign Exchange   Myths About Black History   Miriam in Ghana  Pilgrimage  to Ghana  Miriam in Ghana  Pilgrimage  to Ghana  Randolph Visits Ghana