Notions of Africa – In The Candid Corner
I went back to Africa recently. Though it was not a physical trip back to my motherland of Africa, for the first time, I felt a real and certain affinity to that dark continent. I saw my motherland through the minds of a family that lives in Kentville in Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. While attending my daughter’s graduation at Acadia University, I stayed with the Noahs. (Pronounced as Nowahs) They are both scientists who received their education back in Africa. It was a distinct pleasure being with Japheth and Gertrude Noah. I felt a certain bond of ancestry. Beyond a shadow of doubt, I sense that there was common blood flowing through our veins. My “brother” Japheth was born in the Western part of Uganda. He was of the Bunora tribe before the English came and his family converted to Christianity. Coming from a family of seven, his father was a pastor in the Anglican Church. His father and uncles got education from the English. His grandfather wasthe village chief who had to give up that status after converting to Christianity because of the conflict of values. Having received his elementary education, he skipped three years at the secondary level. He was offered a scholarship to study in Egypt and graduated at the top of his class. He moved on to Oxford University where he was a junior fellow before graduating with a Masters, majoring in chemistry.His wife, my sister Gertrude, was born in Zambia. She spent most of her time in Bahla in Lusaka, the capital. She descended from the “Mamweh” tribe from the northern province. Her father was a policemen who moved from town to town. In the African traditions he was a polygamist. She went to elementary school and high school in Lusaka. She obtained her Bachelors degree from the University of Zambia in Lusaka. She chose to study chemistry at a time when there were no issues of gender as it relates to the study of ccience. She continued her education in Canada to whichshe migrated for the purpose of advancing herself. The Noahs have since established a successful business in Canada. They have fond memories of Africa and we reflected on some notions of the continent.In Uganda the two main languages of communication are Swahili and English. But the over forty tribes in Uganda have their unique languages by which they communicate. In Zambia where Gertrude was born there are 75 different languages. The diverse languages make it difficult for different tribes to converse among themselves.Myths quashedQuestioned about the dancing traditions of Africa, the Noahs spoke of dance in the African tradition. They confirmed that there are no notions of women gyrating or dancing in the streets in skimpy costumes. They however spoke of dances that mark significant events and aspects of the life and culture of the society. For example when girls reach puberty there is certain kind of dance. There are dances at funerals and weddings. Japheth spoke of the warlike dance that is done when someone dies at a young age and a dance of celebration when an older person dies. In the former, the men dance spears. Gertrude spoke of dances to mark puberty for girls. Of course, the males are initiated in a special ceremony of manhood. The Noahs spoke of family in the West as being different from the African experience. They miss notions of family that transcend husband and wife and children but embrace the extended members. When Japheth left, Uganda was going through much turmoil and political changes. In fact, it was the timeof the overthrow of Idi Amin. He reflects that though there is some semblance of democracy today, he regrets that the situation is still volatile. It is his assessment that while he and many of his colleagues would loveto go back, being well-received is a real fear and disappointment. He is confident that overseas Africans like he and his wife have much to offer that could assist in developing their homeland which they still love passionately. Gertrude recalls that when she left Zambia, it was the top copper producing country in Africa and it was peaceful, stable and prosperous. In her assessment there was nothing pushing her out of her birthplace. Her coming to Canada was to study and improve herself. Through the Africa associations in Nova Scotia, they get opportunity to keep contact and discuss developments back home. While “in the safety of the Noahs” home we shared cou cou, which I cooked with fried salmon. Gertrude prepared “Seama” which is made with the white corn flour and mixed in a similar manner minus the okra. We reflected on traces of Africanisms in language, mannerisms and general customs that link us to that great continent which was unfortunately “underdeveloped” by Europe. The Noahs of Kentville offered us a unique opportunity to go back to some notions of Africa of which we shouldall be proud.
• Matthew D. Farley is an educator, secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forumon Education and a social commentator;email [email protected]