Sunday, September 28, 2008
Ghana has had a long history with African America. Even though Liberia and Sierra Leone accepted ex-slaves during the 19th century repatriation movement, those experiments have had a checkered history with questionable success. Our own W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the key founders of the NAACP and author of one of the first worldwide bestsellers by a black author, "The Souls of Black Folk" (1903), came here at the end of his life and is buried in Accra. He was invited with open arms by President Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of independent Ghana, after the U.S. restored Du Bois's passport during the McCarthy Era red scare. The opening picture shows the entrance to the W.E.B. DuBois Center, which is directed by Dr. Anne Adams, former professor at Cornel University.
Inside the Centre, celebrating Du Bois's 140th Anniversary
It is also one of the first tourist sites that Gene and I visited on arriving in Ghana. We wanted to pay homage to the legacy of Dr. Du Bois. The museum contains rare photos of Du Bois and his wife Shirley in Ghana. One can see that he was treated royally and visited and honored by Nkrumah frequently. In fact the entire Centre was the Du Bois's home that Nkrumah gave them soon after their arrival. Du Bois's office has his desk and library in it with original copies of the "Souls of Black Folk," and one of his novels, "Darkwater." It was an awesome feeling to see original artifacts of this great man about whom I have studied and about whom I currently teach at UC Davis.
Exhibited Photo of Nkrumah and W.E.B. and Shirley Du Bois at a State function
Photo of Nkrumah Visiting DuBois on his 95th Birthday, the year of his passing
The highlight of our visit to the Du Bois Centre was seeing his tomb and his wife's cremation urn side my side in the mausoleum. Yes, Du Bois died and remains in Ghana.
In fact, as fate would have it, he passed away at 95 years old on the morning of the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. I said an ancestor prayer in the mausoleum and thanked him for his many contributions to our people and world culture. Belinda, the docent, took pictures of Gene and I in Ghanaian stools that line the room.
Halifu in Du Bois Mauseleum
Gene in Du Bois Mauseluem
I left feeling reverence and knew my purpose: like Du Bois, bridging Africa and African America---letting both sides understand their connections in a deeper way. Mine is through culture and the arts. Du Bois’s was through literature and political organizing. Yes, he was also one of the architects of the Pan African Congress that happened between 1919-1945. In fact, the latter world meetings was where the young Kwame Nkrumah first met “the old man.”
Nkrumah, had part of his university education in the United States Lincoln University, the first degree-granting historically black university. One can’t help but feel that his time at Lincoln gave him a particular sensitivity to the plight of African Americans. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why during the Civil Rights Movement he appeared before the UN to lobby for the political situation of African Americans being considered a world human rights issue. Like Du Bois be believed in Pan Africanism, and was one of the key African leaders during the beginning of the African Independence Movement (Ghana was the first independent country in 1957) to promote and establish the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Although history has painted him as a liberator that turned into Ghana's autocratic first President, leading to a coup against him in 1966, Nkrumah is still revered here and has a huge memorial to him in downtown Accra, with his own mausoleum, where his remains rest, which Gene and I also visited.
Gene at Nkrumah Memorial
All of these historic facts linking Nkrumah and Du Bois testify to the long-connections between Ghanaians and African Americans. This relationship set the tone for many American blacks who have moved here, established businesses, started families, and have become citizens.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I am privileged to be teaching in the Department of Dance Studies at the University of Ghana-Legon, thirty-two years after I was here as a young student of dance, auditing courses in what then was called the School of Dance, Music, and Drama. Now, I am a respected Fulbright Senior Lecturer of Dance Studies. This transition over time testifies to a lot of hard work, both in Dance-Theater and academia. I have now merged my study of dance and the humanities, and am proud to be sharing my accumulated knowledge with the wonderfully attentive, and respectful students in the Department of Dance Studies.
Gene at Entrance to the School of Performing Arts
The former Department of Dance, Music, and Drama is now the School of Performing Arts, under the auspices of the Institute of African Studies, which has always been the overarching academic unit, established in the 1961. Professor Kwabena Nketia, the respected ethnomusicologist, started the Music and Related Arts Section of the Institute at the beginning, and it was that unit that involved into the current School, with fully accredited Departments in Dance, Music, and Theatre. This academic program remains a model in the attempts during postcolonial times to regain a sense of cultural integrity and to ensure conservation of indigenous African culture.
Inspiring Campus Statue of African Graduates in front of Balme Libraray
Headed by Professor, Oh! Nii Sowah (a graduate of UC Irvine's MFA in Dance), the Department of Dance Studies consists of a BA, BFA, Diploma, and MFA degrees, serving as a model in all of Africa, regarding degree-granting in traditional indigenous dance and drumming, as well as courses in dance aesthetics and criticism, dance composition, choreography, labonotation, Theatre Management, and Dance Ritual and Arts. I am teaching a graduate course in Dance Ethnology to the MFA graduate students, and Dance History to the Diploma II students. These latter students will be qualified to go on to teach traditional Ghanaian dance and music in the secondary schools.
Graduate Students Peforming "Bawa" Dance at the opening Convocation of the Fall 2008 Semester
I have turned the Dance History course into one exclusively on the history of African American Dance, a course I currently teach at UC Davis, known as AAS 15 - The History of Black Dance. It is a unique opportunity to teach young Ghanaian students, who are a part of the worldwide Hip Hop Generation and influenced by African American pop culture, the realities of how dance and music sustained African Americans during various historical periods, including, slavery, the minstrel and vaudeville stages, early attempts at creative dance, today's concert black dance, and contemporary black social dance. It is a unique opportunity to add historical substance to an often-superficially adoption of "cool" American popular dance and music. I will be sharing more details of this experience on this blog.
W.E.B. Du Bois Road on campus, with a Hip-Hop Event posted
All dance students have practical courses in the various traditional dances of the Ghana and the theory courses that give them a thorough background in Dance as an academic discipline. There is lots of time for spontaneous happenings, and drumming can be heard throughout the grounds. I'm in my element!!
Dance Class in the Deaprtment of Dance Studies
Nii Yartey & Me
Nii Yartey is a Lecturer in the deaprtment, and a Founding Member of the Ghana Dance Ensemble. He was at the university when I was here 32 years ago. Nii is the former Artistic Director of the National Dance Company of the National Theatre, and the current Artistic Director of the Noyam African Dance Institute in Ghana. He has taught for several dance departments in the US, and focuses artistically on the development a contemporary African choreography, based in traditional dance. I hope to work with his company while I'm here in Ghana.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I stand at the entrance to Elmina Castle, one the oldest European castles, originally built as a trading post by the Portuguese, but destined to hold human cargo and do business in the most lucrative trade of all, human beings---the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Elmina is a small town that is swarming with tourists to see the castle that was originally called St. George of the Mines, because of the gold mines all along what the Europeans called the Cold Coast, now modern Ghana.
It is a sobering experience to venture across this portal and to be taken back in time by the continuing spiritual vibrations lingering within the walls of this and the neighboring Cape Coast Castle (together known as the Twin Castles). When Gene and I went into the dungeons and holding cells, and the walking corridors, I chanted and prayed for the tortured souls who passed this way long ago, and who became the ancestors of Africans in the Americas. I wore ceremonial white to commemorate the ancestral spirits that must be acknowledged and given homage. Elmina, more than Cape Coast, was overly commercialized with African youth swarming around the tourists, including us, selling jewelry and seashells. Upon exiting the Elmina Castle, one young enterprising Fante boy gave Gene a small conch shell, reading “To my American Father, Gene.” The youth have really learned their hustle around the slave castle tourism, connecting little emotionally to the horrifying history that looms over their town. Yet, this kind of pilgrimage is very necessary for most African Americans.
As I walked through into the Castle, I passed some Ghanaian sisters dressed in traditional cloth, and one of them called me “Obruni” (white), as she exited the castle. My light brown skin meant “white” to her, even with my braids and traditionally made Yoruba wrap and top. This is the reality of the “one drop” rule: in America one drop of black blood, means you “black,” but here in Africa, one drop of European blood, often means you are “white.” However, I challenged her, yelling back that I was black American, and that my grandmother was her color. She basically apologized, saying, “Yes, you are an American black, you are my sister.” African folk are educable about who we are as Diasporans and our connection to them. This incident was a perfect metaphor for the realities of time and space that both created and distanced the branches of the black world from each other. That this incident would take place at the entrance to one of the oldest slave castles of West African was prophetic.
Tourists in the Courtyard of Elmina Castle
Gene Standing in the Male Dungeon---African Men were piled in this room naked, waiting to be taken through The Door of No Return.
Cape Coast Castle
The Door of No Return---Yet we come back now, different---yet redeeming our Ancestors
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
We celebrated Gene's Birthday on August 21st in Ghana at the Labadi Beach Hotel. I treated him to a high quality dinner with beautiful surroundings. We hired a taxi-driver for the evening, a luxury that one can afford here that is so deserving of an individual like Gene (as he has directed me to write---smile).
This photo was taken at a U.S. Embassy event at the home of the Cultural Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. Sarpei Nunoo is the Cultural Affairs Specialist who has truly helped us make our adjustments to Ghana. He is a wonderful, efficient, and helpful person.
Harriet & Kweku having been living in Ghana for seven years, building their homestead on several acres of land in the Akwemu area in the Central Region of Ghana. They invited us for a weekend and introduced us to Volta Lake region that you see in the photos of the last post. They are soon to open their bed & breakfast and Black Lion internet cafe on their property in that region. It was a 2 1/2 hour tro-tro ride to get there, a truly local experience.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Canoeing on Lake Volta----We've known rivers...
Lake Volta is one of the largest manmade lakes in the world, created by the Volta Dam that is the main source of electrical power for Ghana. We are standing near the Volta Hotel overlooking the Lake.