Friday, October 30, 2009


Sisi ni watu wa Afrika
Penda Afrika
Tunai penda Afrika
We are an African people
Love Africa
We love Africa

Excerpt from Penda Afrika composed by Charles Roach (activist lawyer)

Sisi ni watu wa Afrika, we are an African people. The words of the song composed by activist and Pan African lawyer Charles Roach are written in Kiswahili and English. Kiswahili, spoken in some eastern and central African countries (e.g. Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is the most widely spoken African language; one of the reasons it is used during the Kwanzaa celebrations. Penda Afrika was composed by Roach for the annual Nakumbuka observances on November 11th, as one of several songs to remember and commemorate our ancestors who perished during the Maafa (slavery and the Middle Passage.) Many of us, Africans in the Diaspora, will name ourselves anything but African. This denying of heritage and identity is a direct result of the almost five hundred years of the European enslavement of Africans. During those years the enslaving Europeans designed a system that caused many of the enslaved Africans to lose the basis of their collective identity. They were separated from their family and communities, then their names, languages, stories, songs, family structures, even their understanding of God -- the things that contributed to African identity -- were brutally erased. Then, over several generations many of the descendants of those enslaved Africans were made to believe in, protect and even demand White supremacy. They were brainwashed into loving and revering Europe and European culture more than life itself. They were also taught that Africans had contributed nothing to the world, had no culture or any history before Europeans invaded the continent.

To counter the effects of these several centuries and generations of indoctrination/miseducation, it is vital that we know our history. Thankfully there has been continued African resistance to this attack on our sense of self since the first Africans were kidnapped and enslaved. There were always people who resisted. Some of these freedom fighters are well known; many others are not as well known. It is also important that Africans in the Diaspora forge relationships with our brothers and sisters from the African continent to understand who we are as a people.

On Sunday, July 19th I was invited to an event that was hosted by a group of people who are working to make those connections. The members of the St John the Beloved Spiritual Baptist Church hosted Nana Yaa Asantewaa II, Queen Mother of Ejisu and her entourage at a Recognition and Appreciation Service. Some the members of the church had travelled to Ghana in 2007 where they met the Queen Mother and members of her community. Along with other groups they raised money to contribute to the well being of the Ejisu community and to the creation of a life size sculpture of Nana Yaa Asantewaa, great grand mother of Nana Yaa Asantewaa II. Some members of the church were present at the recent unveiling of the life size sculpture of Nana Yaa Asantewaa making the relationship between these two African communities (Diasporic and continental) even more significant.

Nana Yaa Asantewaa is of great historic significance not only in Ghana but to all Africans. She is an African freedom fighter who led her people in resistance to the oppression of the colonizing British. Following the scramble for Africa where members of 14 white tribes decided to carve up the African continent to colonize and exploit the people living in those places (Ethiopia being the sole African country they were unsuccessful in colonizing) the British tried to subdue the Ashanti nation of Ghana. In the first Ashanti/British war in 1823, the British were soundly thrashed by the Ashanti warriors. Keeping in mind that there was no invasion of Britain by the Ashanti or any other African nation, the British were at an advantage because they could keep importing soldiers from a country where people lived in virtual peace while the Ashanti and other African nations were in a constant state of turmoil with Europeans invading their territories, slaughtering, kidnapping and enslaving their citizens. The British driven to extreme greed by the knowledge of gold in the Ashanti Empire (which they later named the Gold Coast) attacked the Ashanti in 1826, 1873, 1893-1894 and 1895-1896. In 1896, the British government annexed the territories of the Ashanti after the 24 year old Asantehene (king) Prempeh I, supposedly directed his people not to resist, which is hardly surprising since by this time the Ashanti had been resisting British attacks for 73 years. In 1900 not only did the British exile the kidnapped Asantehene to the Seychelles islands, the British governor demanded that he be allowed to sit on the sacred Golden Stool of the Ashanti, which not even the Asantehene was allowed to sit on. This was the final insult and after the meeting with the governor when some of the chiefs of the Ashanti were reluctant to fight the British to rescue their king, Nana Yaa Asantewaa took matters into her own hands.

In her now famous speech she reportedly said: “Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields."

Her speech apparently galvanized the men into action and Nana Yaa Asantewaa led her people in the final Ashanti/British war which ended in 1901. Nana Yaa Asantewaa is one of my sheroes and it was a truly amazing experience to meet her descendant and namesake in Toronto. Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Nanny of the Maroons, Harriet Tubman, the women of Buxton village (Guyana), Fannie Lou Hamer, Sherona Hall and many other freedom fighting African women ancestors are an inspiration and we must remember them and their fighting spirit that has contributed to how we can resist oppression today as a people.

Although many of our ancestors were taken out of West and Central Africa, Kiswahili is the language of choice for many in the Diaspora who decide to learn an African language. Jina langu ni Murphy Browne. Sisi ni watu wa Afrika.

Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive

He landed at Canada’s door
Free African he was for sure
In the sixteen hundreds sailing on ships
Mathieu DaCosta first to arrive!
Oh Yo Yo Mathieu What a mystery
Oh Yo Yo Mathieu How in history
Speaking Mi’kmaq and French
With an accent
Oh Yo Yo Mathieu How you do that?

From Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive by Itah Sadu (published 2009)

Mathieu DaCosta is documented as the first African to arrive in Canada in the 1600s. This part of Canada’s history is not well known because it is not part of the history that is taught in our schools. Itah Sadu, author, story teller and co-owner of the Bathurst Street bookstore A Different Booklist is changing that with her most recent children’s book Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive. On Friday, October 23 rd, Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive was launched at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE.) The room was packed (standing room only) with well-wishers and fans. The book is based on the life of Mathieu DaCosta an African man who was an explorer and interpreter for at least two European groups of colonizers. DaCosta spoke Dutch, French, Portuguese and Mi’kmaq and played an important role in the settlement of Canada. He facilitated dialogue between the Europeans and some of the Native people of Canada (Mi’kmaq.) Speaking Mi’kmaq and French, With an accent, Oh Yo Yo Mathieu How you do that?

The beautifully illustrated book comes with a calypso on CD that will have children and their parents singing about Mathieu DaCosta. It was sheer genius that Sadu thought of making the words of this children’s story the lyrics of a calypso. As children have a natural tendency to respond to music, they can learn faster through rhymes and customized songs. Studies have been done that indicate songs encourage mental development in children. It has been observed that children learning music are more likely to read better. Rhymes have the ability to support higher level of thinking in children because the rhythm helps children recognize sequences and patterns. This contributes to the memory of the children who learn through music and pre-school teachers are trained to create an environment rich with songs, dance and action to engage the attention of their students and inspire them to learn. Moving to music comes naturally to children and they respond to sounds without thinking which helps them to learn about timing, coordination and rhythm. Some children in kindergarten who may not have learnt their alphabet or numbers before starting school can have a boost in self confidence when they realise that they can memorize the lyrics of a song and move to music and they are successful at an activity in class. Children will have fun learning history, while dancing to calypso music. Oh Yo Yo Mathieu What a mystery, Oh Yo Yo Mathieu How in history.

Although the Mathieu Da Costa Challenge was launched in 1996 as an annual writing and artwork contest to encourage students to explore how diversity has shaped Canada’s history it did not help to include Mathieu Da Costa in the history curriculum. His name is seldom to be found in history books all around! But now he is in calypso, they will know him more!

This children’s book has been published at just the right time because Marlene Jennings, Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Notre Dame de GrĂ¢ce-Lachine, has introduced legislation (private member’s bill in February 2008) to have the first Monday in February proclaimed Mathieu Da Costa Day in Canada. I think that she should seize this opportunity and give every MP a copy of Mathieu DaCosta: First To Arrive. The infectious rhythm of the calypso would soon have them all humming, singing even dancing and eventually provide overwhelming support for Jennings’ Bill C-272. We can all play a part by urging our Member of Parliament to support An Act to establish Mathieu Da Costa Day (Mathieu Da Costa Day Act.) Every Canadian needs to know that we did not just arrive in the 1960s and later. In the sixteen hundreds sailing on ships! Mathieu DaCosta first to arrive!

The words and rhythm of the calypso that accompanies the book Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive are easy to learn even for those of us who are no longer children. I learnt the words and rhythm in less than 24 hours and was happy to sing the calypso and demonstrate the art of calypso dancing for the 25 women who attended the Women Speaking Up class at CUPE Ontario Fall School on Sunday, October 25. Move to the right Mathieu! Roll the waves Mathieu! Come on board, get down low, roll the waves Mathieu!