What is Africa to Me? When Chinua Achebe is Wrong!

What is Africa to Me? When Chinua Achebe is Wrong!

In my current research for a book chapter, I’m investigating Chinua Achebe’s interpretation of African traditional humanism and African traditional religion (s). In reading his important work,  “The Education of a British-Protected Child,” Achebe articulates an  important statement about African pre-colonial past and achievement, and Black Existence and Dignity:

“I do not see that it is necessary for any people to prove to another that they build cathedrals or pyramids before they can be entitled to peace and safety. Flowing from that, it is not necessary for black people to invent a great fictitious pas in order to justify their human existence and dignity today. What they must do is recover what belongs to them–their story– and tell it themselves.”–Chinua Achebe, “The Education of a British-Protected Child”

Africad

Generally, I agree with the general intent of Chinua’s powerful statement above. Accordingly, I do not have to tell a racist that my ancestors had built great civilizations in precolonial Africa to prove my humanity as a black person. To put this simply, “I created therefore I am.” Chinua would reject this premise in the Cartesian logic.

Hence, we must separate black personhood and black achievement. They belong to two different categories or spheres. In the same line of thought, black dignity should not be dependent on racial achievement or heritage. In other words, Black lives matter regardless of the education, social standing, and wealth of black people. Black personhood is linked categorically and naturally to black existence, and that black dignity is premised on black existence. Black existence Is!

On the other hand, Chinua’s declaration has compelled me to reconsider a few more things. There are many problems with his articulated position. First, what if the process of recovering what rightfully belongs to them (the African people or the black Diaspora) involves the telling of their historical (pre-colonial) past–Isn’t that a belonging?–and the defense or vindication of their past achievements. Secondly, what if the process of recovering what rightfully belongs to them also entails their claim of entitlement of their historical accomplishments in global history?

Telling the collective story of a people could be construed as an attempt to teach and reteach others about what has been forgotten or intentionally ignored by others–such as the contributions of the people in question to universal civilizations and modernity.

For example, why should any black person be ashamed to affirm that W.E. B. Du Bois was the first African American of Haitian descent to receive a PhD from Harvard University? And the same Du Bois is a founding father of modern sociology? If our past is great and awesome, why not celebrating and making it known to the world?

 

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New Book on Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life

Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life by Philippe Girard

Well, the controversial French historian Philippe Girard’s new biography on Toussaint Louverture, Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life (Basic Books, 2016), will be released in November. Girard’s interpretation and analysis of Haitian History–both colonial (Saint-Domingue) and contemporary (Haiti)– often departs from the traditional interpretation and what we Haitian scholars and students of Haitian history know about our own history and our own people, and the Haitian experience. In his scholarship, he often undermines African-Haitian self-determination, subjectivity, and our commitment “to live free or die.”

I hope this new book will shift the discourse and tell a more just historical account about the life and experiences of the enslaved African people in Saint-Domingue-Haiti, and their unrelenting commitment to revolutionary freedom, decolonization, radical humanism, and total independence. Let’s also hope in this new work, Prof. Girard upholds the integrity of our historical past, and not undermine the great achievements of revolutionary Haiti in the human narrative of freedom and universal civilization, and more particularly, the enduring contributions of Toussaint Louverture in the struggle against slavery and racism, for human emancipation, human rights, and African-Haitian dignity.

Toussaint

Description

“Toussaint Louverture’s life was one of hardship, triumph, and contradiction. He was born a slave on Saint-Domingue yet earned his freedom and established himself as a small-scale planter. He even purchased slaves of his own.

Philippe Girard shows how Louverture transformed himself from lowly freedman into revolutionary hero as the mastermind of the bloody slave revolt of 1791. By 1801, Louverture was governor of the colony where he had once been a slave. But his lifelong quest to be accepted as a member of the colonial elite ended in despair: he spent the last year of his life in a French prison cell. His example nevertheless inspired anticolonial and black nationalist movements well into the twentieth century.

Based on voluminous primary-source research, conducted in archives across the world and in multiple languages, Toussaint Louverture is the definitive biography of one of the most influential men in history.”

http://www.amazon.com/Toussaint-Louverture…/…/ref=sr_1_sc_2…

Vodou Books Discounted Order Forms/Flyers

Hello, Friends:  Attached are the discounted flyers and order forms for both books:  Vodou in Haitian Memory: The Idea and Representation of Vodou in Haitian Imagination (Lexington Books, May 2016) by Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon Cleophat,  and Vodou in the Haitian Experience: A Black Atlantic Perspective (Lexington Books, May 2016) by Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon Cleophat.

With this flyer and order form , you can purchase both texts at a substantial discounted price. Click on the individual link below to download the form. It is in the PDF format.

Please circulate widely!

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Joseph & Cleophat Vodou in the Haitian Experience International Flyer2

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Joseph & Cleophat Vodou in Haitian Memory International Flyer1

Vodou, I Remember: My New Books on Haitian Vodou

Hello, Friends: Please allow me to share my two new books with you, which are published by Lexington Books (2016). Dr. Nixon Cleophat and I edited both volumes on Haitian Vodou:  Vodou in the Haitian Experience: A Black Atlantic Perspective , and Vodou in Haitian Memory: The Idea and Representation of Vodou in Haitian Imagination. Both texts can be ordered on the publisher’s website, amazon.com, or any online bookstore.

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Description

One glaring lacuna in studies of Haitian Vodou is the scarcity of works exploring the connection between the religion and its main roots, traditional Yoruba religion. Discussions of Vodou very often seem to present the religion in vacuo, as a sui generis phenomenon that arose in Saint-Domingue and evolved in Haiti, with no antecedents. What is sorely needed then is more comparative studies of Haitian Vodou that would examine its connections to traditional Yoruba religion and thus illuminate certain aspects of its mythology, belief system, practices, and rituals. This book seeks to bridge these gaps.

Vodou in the Haitian Experience studies comparatively the connections and relationships between Vodou and African traditional religions such as Yoruba religion and Egyptian religion. Such studies might enhance our understanding of the religion, and the connections between Africa and its Diaspora through shared religious patterns and practices. The general reader should be mindful of the transnational and transcultural perspectives of Vodou, as well as the cultural, socio-economic, and political context which gave birth to different visions and ideas of Vodou.

The chapters in this collection tell a story about the dynamics of the Vodou faith and the rich ways Vodou has molded the Haitian narrative and psyche. The contributors of this book examine this constructed narrative from a multicultural voice that engages critically the discipline of ethnomusicology, drama, performance, art, anthropology, ethnography, economics, literature, intellectual history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, religion, and theology. Vodou is also studied from multiple theoretical approaches including queer, feminist theory, critical race theory, Marxism, postcolonial criticism, postmodernism, and psychoanalysis.

Table of Contents
Introduction: Contemporary and Transnational Vodou, and the African Perspective
Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon Cleophat
Part I. Vodou, Anthropology, Art, Performance, and the Black Diaspora

  1. Roots / Routes / Rasin: Rural Vodou and the Sacred Tree as Metaphor for the Multiplicity of Styles in Folkloric Dance and Mizik Rasin

Ann E. Mazzocca

  1. Circling the Cosmogram: Vodou Aesthetics, Feminism, and Queer Art in the

Second-Generation Haitian Dyaspora
Kantara Souffrant

  1. Dancing Difference and Disruption: Vodou Liturgy and Little Haiti on the Hill in “Seven Guitars”

Barbara Lewis

  1. Decoding Dress: Vodou, Cloth and Colonial Resistance in Pre- and Postrevolutionary Haiti

Charlotte Hammond
Part II. Vodou and African Traditional Religions

  1. The African Origin of Haitian Vodou: From the Nile Valley to the Haitian Valleys

Patrick Delices

  1. New World/Old World Vodun , Creolité, and the Alter-Renaissance

Bronwyn Mills

  1. The vibratory art of Haiti: a Yoruba heritage

Patricia Marie-Emmanuelle Donatien

  1. Ethnographic Interpretations of Traditional African Religious Practices and Haitian Vodou Ceremonial Rites in Zora Neale Hurston’s (1938) Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Maya Deren’s (1983) Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti

Tammie Jenkins

  1. Oversouls and Egregores in Haitian Vodou

Patricia Scheu (Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo)

  1. Arabian Religion, Islam and Haitian Vodou:

The “Recent African Single-Origin Hypothesis” and the Comparison of World Religions
Benjamin Hebblethwaite and Michel Weber

vodoub

Description

Throughout Haitian history—from 17th century colonial Saint-Domingue to 21st century postcolonial Haiti—arguably, the Afro-Haitian religion of Vodou has been represented as an “unsettling faith” and a “cultural paradox,” as expressed in various forms and modes of Haitian thought and life including literature, history, law, politics, painting, music, and art. Competing voices and conflicting ideas of Vodou have emerged from each of these cultural symbols and intellectual expressions. The Vodouist discourse has not only pervaded every aspect of the Haitian life and experience, it has defined the Haitian cosmology and worldview. Further, the Vodou faith has had a momentous impact on the evolution of Haitian intellectual, aesthetic, and literary imagination; comparatively, Vodou has shaped Haitian social ethics, sexual and gender identity, and theological discourse such as in the intellectual works and poetic imagination of Jean Price-Mars, Dantes Bellegarde, Jacques Roumain, Jacques Stephen Alexis, etc. Similarly, Vodou has shaped the discourse on the intersections of memory, trauma, history, collective redemption, and Haitian diasporic identity in Haitian women’s writings such as in the fiction of Edwidge Danticat, Myriam Chancy, etc.

The chapters in this collection tell a story about the dynamics of the Vodou faith and the rich ways Vodou has molded the Haitian narrative and psyche. The contributors of this book examine this constructed narrative from a multicultural voice that engages critically the discipline of ethnomusicology, drama, performance, art, anthropology, ethnography, economics, literature, intellectual history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, religion, and theology. Vodou is also studied from multiple theoretical approaches including queer, feminist theory, critical race theory, Marxism, postcolonial criticism, postmodernism, and psychoanalysis.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Towards New Visions and New Approaches to the Vodou Religion
Celucien L. Joseph and Nixon Cleophat

Part I: Vodou, Modernity, Resistance, and Haitian Cultural Identity and Nationalism
Chapter One: James Theodore Holly, Fabre Geffrard, and the Construction of a “Civilized’ Haiti”
Brandon R. Byrd
Chapter Two: Oath To Our Ancestors: The Flag of Haiti is Rooted in Vodou
Patrick Delices

Part II. Vodou, Vodouphobia, and Haitian Male Intellectuals and Cultural Critics
Chapter Three: The Role of Vodou in the Religious Philosophy of Jean Price-Mars
Celucien L. Joseph
Chapter Four: Jacques Stephen Alexis, Haitian Vodou and Medicine: Between Cure and Care
Shallum Pierre

Part III. Vodou, Christian Theology, and Collective Redemption
Chapter Five: Haitian Vodou: The Ethics of Social Sin & the Praxis of Liberation
Nixon S. Cleophat
Chapter Six: Vodouphobia and Afrophobic Discourse in Haitian Thought: An Analysis of Dantès Bellegarde’s Religious Sensibility
Celucien L. Joseph
Chapter Seven: Haitian Vodou, a Politico-Realist Theology of Survival: Resistance in the Face of Colonial Violence and Social Suffering
Nixon S. Cleophat

Part IV. Vodou, Memory, Trauma, and Haitian Women Intellectuals and Cultural Critics
Chapter Eight: Vodou Symbolism and “Poto Mitan:” Women in Edwidge Danticat’s Work
Myriam Moïse
Chapter Nine: Writing from lòt bò dlo: Vodou Aesthetics and Poetics in Edwidge Danticat and Myriam Chancy
Anne Brüske and Wiebke Beushausen
Chapter Ten: The Economics of Vodou: Haitian Women, Entrepreneurship, and Empowerment
Crystal Andrea Felima

Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme”: When Religious Beliefs Collide, and “Things Fall Apart”

“Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs.” —Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart” (1958)
 
Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme”:
When Religious Beliefs Collide, and “Things Fall Apart”
I guess that I have not succeeded in convincing my students in my literature class–in which we have read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the most influential novel in the Anglophone Africa, written by Chinua Achebe in 1958– that the Igbo people of Nigeria are monotheists just like the Christians, Muslims, and Jews, they “worship” one God. Those how have written their final essay on the subject of religion in the novel or have done a comparative analysis of African traditional religion and Christianity as their subject of research have emphasized that the Africans are polytheists and believe in strange religious customs and traditions. (Not all of my students made that claim, but most of them do.)
Interestingly, in the story itself, there’s an important debate on the very nature of God in African theology, as well as what is deemed religious; this conversation about faith occurs between an important Igbo character and intellectual named Akunna and the British missionary named Mr. Brown who, along with the colonial administrators, came to “civilize” and “Christianize” the Igbo people. According to Akunna, Mr. Brown misses the mark and misinterprets both the nature of religion and the nature of God in Afrian religious tradition. Consider the following conversation:
“You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,” said Akunna on one of Mr. Brown’s visits. “We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.”
“There are no other gods,” said Mr. Brown. “Chukwu is the only God and all others are false. You carve a piece of wood–like that one” (he pointed at the rafters from which Akunna’s carved Ikenga hung), “and you call it a god. But it is still a piece of wood.” The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all minor gods were. But He made them from His messengers so that we could approach Him through them. It is like yourself. You are the head of your church.”
“No,” protested Mr. Brown. “The head of my church is God Himself.”
“I know, said Akunna, “but there must be head in this world among them. Somebody like yourself must be the head here.”
“The head of my church in that sense is in England.”
“That is exactly what I am saying. The head of your church is in your country. He has sent you here as his messenger. And you have also appointed your own messengers and servants. Or let me take another example, the Disctrict Commissioner. He is sent by your King.”
“They have a queen,” said the interpreter on his own account.
“Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu. He appoints the smaller gods to help Him because His work is too great for one person. “
“You should not think of Him as a person,” said Mr. Brown. “It is because you do so that you imagine He must need helpers. And the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created.”
“That is not so. We make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to we go to Chukwu. It is the right to do so. We approach a great man through his servants. But when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope. We appear to pay greater attention to the little gods but that is not so. We worry them more because we afraid to worry their Master. Our fathers knew that Chukwu was the Overlord and that is why many of them gave their children the name Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme.”
“You said one interesting thing,” said Mr. Brown. “You are afraid of Chukwu. In my religion Chukwu i a loving Father and need not be feared by those who do His will.”
“But we must fear HIm when we are not doing His will,” said Akunna.” And who is to tell His Will? It is too great to be known.” (Things Fall Apart, 178-281)
For Chinua Achebe, Christian missionaries from Western countries who have set their foot on the “dark soil” of the “Black Continent,”  have misinterpeted African traditional religion (s) and, as a result, misunderstood the African people, their culture, cosmology,  and worldview. Achebe has underscored this phenomenon as one of the major failures of (historic) colonial Christianity in colonial Africa in the project of mission civilatrice and christian evangelism. Sometimes, the real enemy is within. Unhealthy religious ideology just like cultural supremacy can be an arrogant thing, especially in the case that when one’s religious confession or piety becomes the very hindrance that blocks communication and defers understanding between people of different religious persuasion. Arrogant faith could be the most dangerous weapon that destroys faith itself, and hinders  interreligious dialogue and religious conversion.
I wish my students would have read the passage noted above more critically and responsibly. Indeed, Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme.”

The Dysfunctional Mind and Miseducation of the Haitian Intellectual

Theme: “The Dysfunctional Mind and Miseducation of the Haitian Public Intellectual”

To follow up with my previous post on the crisis of the Haitian public intellectual, I’m presently working on a short piece on the dysfunctional mind and miseducation of the Haitian public intellectual. Allow me to share with you a few paragraph drafts I have written so far:

“When your goal is to please certain academic and intellectual circles in France, Canada, or even those in the GREAT United States of America, you won’t give a crap about the suffering masses and underclass in Haiti or in the Haitian Diaspora. This intellectual conundrum has deep roots in the neocolonial education and academic elitism of the Haitian public intellectual that aim chiefly at achieving certain selfish objectives such as the appropriation of one’s thought, research, and action to promote and sustain certain elitist programs, traditions, schools of thought, institutions–which in themselves are potentially hindering the progress and emancipation of the Haitian people and the Haitian masses. While some values are worth preserving and disseminating, some do not promote the common good and the total emancipation of the poor, the exploited, and the oppressed.To put simply, there’s a profound disconnection between the values of the Haitian intellectual and the values of the Haitian public and the masses. We may even pronounce that the values which the Haitian intellectual acquired in the intellectual formation also contributed to his dysfunctional and miseducation of the mind. The whole process of intellectual formation is both life-threatening (in the intellectual sense) and devastating (in terms of the relationship between the Haitian public intellectual and the Haitian underclass and the oppressed majority); what is more destructive about this miseducation process is the very failure of the Haitian public intellectual to undo the bad “habits of the mind,” to reject unhealthy values, to decolonize the process of the (his) mind, and to deconstruct what is presented as good and beautiful for the Haitian people.

In order for the Haitian public intellectual to practice decolonization (Frantz Fanon) and conscientization (Paulo Freire), he himself has to be affirm that he is the problem (W.E. B. Du Bois has asked that question at the turn of the twentieth-century in his famous book, “The Souls of Black Folk” [1903]: “What does it mean to be a problem?”), and that he lives in a continuous “mental trap,” that is the state of the will and the mind is in bondage. The mind of the Haitian public intellectual is severely damaged…The Haitian public intellectual must love and serve the people who are the life-force, and the central subjects and agents of his intellectual and academic discourse and achievement. We’re not the protagonists and champions of our work and discourse; the people are and should be.”

 

Buy a Book to Feed the Poor in Haiti!

Theme: Buy a Book to Feed the Poor in Haiti!
 
Hello, faithful friends and readers: I would like to extend this opportunity to you to help me provide food for the people of Port-Margot, Haiti. This special offer begins today, Sunday, April 10, and expires Monday, May 9, 2016.
 
When you buy any of my books via amazon.com (as listed below), you will help me  provide food (rice, beans, non-perishable food, etc) to 500 families in Port-Margot.
 
 
 
3. God Loves Haiti (2015) by Celucien L. Joseph
 
 
 
This offer ends on Monday, May 9, 2016. To learn more on how to feed the poor and the hungry in Port-Margot in this coming mission trip in June, please click on the link below:
 
* We understand there are both  temporary and permanent needs. This food project falls under the temporary relief. In fact, through the HOC for Leadership Training, Development, and Social Transformation, we’re trying to help contribute to sustaining and permanent growth of Haiti, particularly in the town of Port-Margot (Corail), Haiti. To learn more about this project, click on the link below: https://hopefortodayoutreach.org/hope-outreach-center…/