To take a break from the hypocrisy and sideshow that is the current state of US politics, I decided to exercise my brain by reading old articles and books. People wonder how I could spend so much time on the internet, but there is so much to learn and every website leads you to another. I may never leave my computer if I do indeed sign up for StumbleUpon which has beckoned me for some time.
One great source for interesting articles is the digitized books by Google. Another, especially when you still have institutional access to educational sites, is JSTOR. I studied anthropology in college, in addition to biology, which led me on to medicine, so I have a fascination with the knowledge (or lack thereof) of antiquity. Here are some of my reads:
THE TYPICAL NEGRO
“The typical Negro is a rare variety even among the Negroes” – Winwood Reade in Savage Africa, published in 1864 (hey, I did say OLD books and articles didn’t I?)
I totally agree with this statement especially as certain people who shall remain nameless seem to have an obsession over who looks African, is African, is mixed and by what percentage, undsoweiter, which always makes me wonder what does “an African” look like. Specifically, what is the hair texture of a true African woman? I swear people try to rob me of my heritage because my hair doesn’t fit their expectation of what a pure African person’s hair should look like. whatever
So how did the ethnologists of years past come up with the (mis)representation of the “typical Negro”?
Oscar Peschel’s explanation in Races of Mankind (published 1876):
“The Negro was the ideal of everything barbarous and beastlike. They endeavored to deny him any capability of improvement, and even disputed his position as a man. The Negro was said to have an oval skull, a flat forehead, snoutlike jaws, swollen lips, a broad flat nose, short crimped hair, falsely called wool, long arms, meager thighs, and flat feet. No single tribe, however, possesses all these deformities.”
Rolling my eyes. Of course you need to mis-represent people as thus if you want to cruelly enslave your fellow human beings without having one iota of sympathy or empathy. Deformities really? Ah, what greed does to man.
WEST AFRICAN MEMORY
I found the following entry by George W. Ellis in Negro Culture in West Africa published in 1914 to be so true even to this day, and funny because it’s true.
“Persons coming from abroad find Africa very slow; they have determined to do many things; they criticise everything and everybody, and ask why Africans do not move about briskly. After having been in Africa for years they find that their plans do not materialize. In a little while they cease to criticise, and later they take on the African movement.”
You don’t have to be a European in West Africa to feel this way. I know many friends and family members who may have grown up at home, lived many years abroad, and return home whether on vacation or for a project or presumably for good, and feel very exasperated by the pace of things – but if they stay there long enough, they learn to go with the flow.
I don’t necessarily agree with the following though:
“…just as the climate of West Africa … enfeebles the body … its effect upon the memory is so noticeably bad that you often hear persons apologizing for having acquired a ‘West African memory.'”
Gee, if the West African climate can make a European who has been there for a few years “go dumb”, what then is the implication of the mind and intellect of the African who has lived there for centuries?
On a sidenote, I need to read more about Miss Mary Kingsley. I keep reading about her all over the place as a missionary who made valuable contributions to the understanding of African people and their cultures.
DASH ME , DASH YOU…
I thought this phrase was English until coming across an interesting entry by John M. Sarbah in The Gold Coast When Edward IV. Was King to be found in the Journal of the Royal African Society, Volume 3, # 10, pages 194 – 197 published in January 1904. First, I will note that Mr. Sarbah was a Ghanaian lawyer and activist who wrote prolifically, mostly about his people – the Fante of Ghana (or Gold Coast as it was then known).
He wrote that in 1553, the first Englishman to trade on the coast of Guinea by name of Thomas Windham made his third voyage there and noted in his journal the peculiar use of the term “to dash“. Apparently, it came from the Fante and meant to give or receive gifts. As in “for services rendered to the early voyagers the inhabitants expected something by way of thanks, and said Dasi (give thanks), for the African way to give thanks is to offer a present to one’s benefactor”.
So nerd that I am, I looked in both the Oxford Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and couldn’t find this meaning of “dash” that I took for granted was the Queen’s English. You learn something new everyday, I tell you! And, now I understand why “Dash me something small” is a phrase I constantly hear from random Ghanaians when they think they’ve done something for you, like hail a taxi for you when you clearly were doing that yourself…or did I look confused?
See, web browsing never ends! I just mentally prepare myself as a lot of these old books and articles are prejudiced, racist, and chauvinistic as determined by the times in which they were written despite the authors viewing themselves as progressive and enlightened. But it’s all good. We learn from our mistakes…or one would hope.
Now, I wonder if I can safely write “surfing internet” on my CV or resume under hobbies as I begin my job search which sadly should have begun a few months ago, sigh! It doesn’t sound as exciting as mountain bike riding, or playing the piano, but that’s what I do!