The Critical Eye

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

What's in a name? (Africa)

A friend of mine has been hounding me for about a year and a half to watch a movie called Sankofa. She insisted that I needed to watch it. She believed that my sensibilities would grasp the depth of the message meant by the film-maker. She stated that there were several people she had shown it to who didn't get it - much to her frustration.

So, after finally acquiring a copy, she handed it to me last week, just in time for the weekend. Actually, she handed it to someone else - her boss - who felt it necessary to try to hijack this shipment that was meant for me. After a few threatening phone calls, the Sankofa DVD was delivered to my office.

Not intending to have anything too heavy, we sat down to watch the Sankofa DVD Saturday night. We usually pick a light hearted movie for Saturday nights, well, as we learned, Sankofa is far from that. It is the journey of a modern day woman who returns to the past to experience slavery on a plantation. The cinematography leaves much to be desired, however, the critical components of this movie build like the crescendo of an engrossing symphony. Once started, you will be forced to chase it to its end.

The rape, abuse, physical and emotional assault that follows is reminiscent of slave movies already seen. However, Sankofa carries through it an underlying message of identity and heritage that is subtle yet loud in its depiction. It is a story told from the perspective of Africans having never lost their identity in the midst of slavery. Those who sought to carry their traditions and heritage through generations. Their strength, found in communal traditions, acts of initiation and refusal to assimilate, empowered them. What culminates, I will not reveal, as I encourage everyone to watch it for themselves.

Sankofa's underlying tone shows the calculated method with which generations of Africans systematically lost their identity and took on slave names. Sankofa displays an intimacy with Africa to which the movie Roots, alludes. It careens full speed to a cataclysmic end that can be the only conclusion to a life of sadism, death, lies, abandonment, cruelty, hatred, terrorism and despair. In the midst of this, remains this component of a name. What is in a name?

Mine is Soneka Kamuhuza. A very distinct name. Well it's unique for this hemisphere, a dime-a-dozen in Zambezi, Zambia. I once rode a bus in Zambia, somebody called out to a Soneka, and half the bus answered. That burst my bubble. See, among the Lunda, Soneka is about as common as John is to the English. In America, I'm about as unique as Barack Obama. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. In Sankofa, I realized that the allegory was in the identifiable characteristics of strong African connections being countered by a terroristic effort to break that very bond.

To be named Toby, Henry, Mark as opposed to Kwame, Tesu, Ade was the beginning of the slavery brainwashing process. In essence the most critical part of the integration process was to lose your name. The slave would be beaten until he accepted his slave name. It would be his disconnection from who he was, his acceptance into who he was to become. So for over four hundred years the perpetuation of dissolution and separation has been perfected to what is now seen in African-American culture; Jones, Yokum, Sisko, Todd, to name a few.

A generation of people exist as if adrift at sea, with no port in sight. The slave masters game plan has come to pass. The very connection that Sankofa bridles with in its energetic scenes; the volcanic aspiration of self that Sankofa pulsates, is now lost. The silent fart of a distressed identity emits slowly from the bowels of a festering cultural myopia, all held together by a society with the runs. These frequent bathroom trips only help to highlight the stench that now emits from what is left of our hard earned freedom.

Somewhere, in the midst of all this cultural atrophy, I believe Sankofa rises as if to remind the many African-Americans who remain adrift. "Look East. Look to where the sun rises each morning. Remember a land where the sun is seen first each day by your people. A land that your ancestors called home. A land where they were free. Africa, mother Africa."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

It's just Salmon!

It was my wife's birthday this past Saturday and so as is tradition in our house, we celebrated the whole weekend. My daughter had a grand plan for her mother's breakfast in bed Saturday morning. So as she and I drove back from our first day of celebration Friday night, she announced that we did not have all the ingredients for the gourmet breakfast. Ever the dutiful father, I redirected and headed to the local supermarket for the much needed ingredients.

As my daughter navigated us through the store, she would occasionally grab a recognizable item and either toss it into the cart or shake her head as if disappointed. We finally found ourselves at the fish counter and she pointed triumphantly at Salmon. This was her grand ingredient, smoked Salmon. Not any type of Salmon, but the Alaskan kind. The Discovery channel, swimming upstream, being caught by bears kind, yes, that kind.

Never having been keen on Salmon as a food source, I have not purchased it. My girls on the other hand, enjoy Salmon burgers on occasion. So as we selected the Salmon, I noticed a pattern, the price. The price to weight ratio for the Salmon was extremely intriguing. It felt like I was holding a piece of paper napkin and yet the price said $8.99. Azheni's insistence on Salmon as a key ingredient swayed me to invest in this daylight robbery. In this case SuperFresh Supermarket was robbing me at night, so it was nightlight robbery.

The next morning as I helped prepare the breakfast, I discovered that I had invested in four slivers of smoked Salmon, for the grand price of $8.99. That's almost two bottles of cheap wine, a case of beer, two chickens (not Purdue), or four loaves of bread. Now for $8.99 for parts of a fish, I reckon the particular fish should have swam from Norway to Alaska, navigated its way up an electrical dam, given some fishermen directions, stopped in Canada to give a concert and then committed Harakiri in a gesture of honorable death.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Wanna Be A Man

I wanna be a man
Not just any man
But one who can walk in the halls of my ancestors
head held high, shoulders straight, proud face,
with an enduring smile
A man whose legacy permeates the ages
whose name brings joy and respect
remembrance in stories
I wanna be a man
Not just any man
But one who breaks the cycle of abuse,
neglect, pain and suffering that has become
the imprint of my yesterday
The defined steps that I once embraced
inevitable and claimed as necessary
with ugly rights of passage that have
indelibly become my swan song
I wanna be a man
Not just any man
But a man that exemplifies good values, stoic morals,
emulates humility and speaks truth
A man that reviles deceit and lies, stealing and cheating,
anger and pain
One that can stand on a hill, survey his land
A man in whose legacy lives the inheritance
of a generation
I wanna be a man
Not just any man
But a man with wind in his back
and pep in his step
A man whose words resonate with the delivery of saints
The verses of servants and the countenance of God
One that can hear the murmurs of Isaiah's prophecy
The lamentations of David's lyrics
A man that delivers his sermons on a podium of grace
I wanna be a man
Not just any man
But a man of value, teaming with purpose
A man whose life shouts "Glory!'
Resounding echos of success on the pages of life
One whose chapters are filled with substance
A page turner in the library of family history
I wanna be that man
Lord, make me a man