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.

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