Jun
26

Claim No Easy Victories

Given how little is available about or on Cabral, the edited collection by Firoze Manji and Bill Fletcher Jr (2013) is a welcome addition. The book is titled "Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral", with 38 chapters and seven sections (many chapters are brief), including a chapter by the late Samir Amin. In the notes below I focus on Cabral more than the commentaries and reflections offered in the book.

"To understand the role of culture as a fundamental part of the resistance of the oppressed, it is important to analyse it in relation to the different social categories present at any given time in the society concerned - culture, not as an abstract receptacle, but as a dynamic synthesis of the historical reality (material and spiritual) of a human group at any given time. In Cabral's words: 'Culture, whatever its ideological or idealistic characteristics may be, is an essential part of the historical process. It has the capacity (or responsibility) to develop and nourish those elements that will ensure the continuity of history and at the same time determine how society will progress or regress.'" (p. 70)

"[Cabral:] 'The return to the roots is not and cannot itself signify an act of struggle against foreign domination (colonialist/racist) but neither does it mean a return to tradition. It is a practical response to a concrete and historical need that results from the implacable contradiction between a colonized or (neocolonial) society and the colonial power, between the exploited masses and the foreign classes.' For him the "return to the roots" phenomenon can only be realized if the African petit bourgeoisie get directly involved in the daily struggle of the popular masses. As he said, "the masses reject both the domination of foreign culture and foreign exploitation. The cultural struggle, therefore, also has to be political, with the aim of creating an environment conducive to the free cultural expression of the oppressed. This can only be possible if the people retake control of their own development." (p. 71)

[Cabral] "Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children... We do not fall back on cliches or merely harp on the struggle against imperialism and colonialism in theoretical terms, but rather we point out concrete things... Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell them no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, or failures. Claim no easy victories..." (p. 109)

"One of the most important points Cabral consistently made is the need for vigorous and bold reappraisal and assessment of the strengths of both the philosophy and political praxis of modern social movements: [Cabral] 'We base our struggle on the concrete realities of our country. We appreciate the experiences and achievements of other peoples and we study them. But revolution or national liberation is like a dress which must fit to each individual's body. Naturally, there are certain general or universal laws, even scientific laws, for any condition, but the liberation struggle has to be developed according to the specific conditions of each country'." (p. 129)

[Cabral] "I vow that I shall give my life, all my energy, all my courage, all the ability that I have as a man to the service of my people in Guinea and Cape Verde until the day I die. I shall make my contribution, as far as possible, to the service of humanity, for the improvement in the lives of people in the world. This is my task." (p. 217)

"Cabral was very exercised by the matter of culture. Colonialism did a lot of damage to the culture of the colonised. Indeed, part of the strategy of the coloniser to ensure the subjugation of the colonised was to deny the humanity of the latter. And given that one of the singular manifestations of our humanity is the culture that we create and transmit through successive generations to our progeny, it is obvious that to deny our humanity is to deny that Africans have any legacy of monuments, ideological and physical institutions, processes and practices that can justifiably be regarded as our contribution to the world's summit of civilization. To our colonisers, our music was noise, our dance was obscenity, our religion was fetish, we did not have literature, philosophy was beyond our ken, and, most of all, we were a people without history." (p. 355-356)

"We can all use a reminder of this dimension of Cabral's humanism. [Cabral] 'We talk a lot about Africa, but we in our Party must remember that before being Africans we are men, human beings, who belong to the world. We cannot therefore allow any interest of our people to be restricted or thwarted because of our condition as Africans. We must put the interests of our people higher, in the context of the interests of mankind in general, and then we can put them in the context of the interests of Africa in general.'" (p. 358)

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Oct
02

Wax & Gold

Levine's Wax & Gold (1965) is one the 'classics' of Ethiopian studies in the socio-anthropological realm. Much ink has been spilled about his work (including the author himself added a Preface to the 1972 to explain his change of views), much work has also been inspired that draws on the wax and gold concept that Levine describes and employs. 

In many ways, this was a book of its time - similar to other ethnographic type works that emerged in the early decades within the discipline of anthropology. Levine has sections on history, coming of age, adulthood, roles, marriage, individualism, social organizations, psycho-social analysis; all of which focusing on the Amhara. This post won't delve into the content, but instead share his points on the idea of wax and gold:

  • "The apparent, figurative meaning of the words is called "wax"; their more or less hidden actual significance is the "gold"." (p. 5)
  • "This terminology is derived from the work of the goldsmith, who constructs a clay mold around a form created in wax and then, draining the wax, pours the molten gold into that form." (p. 5)
  • The chief delight of Ethiopic poetry is to attain a maximum of thought within a minimum of words. This effect is reached, as we have seen, through subtle allusions and plays on words." (p. 7)
  • "... wax and gold is so important in Amharic that some Amhara maintain that one does not properly speak the language unless he is well versed in the art of exploiting its numerous ambiguities." (p. 8)
  • "Just as the Amhara tends to be tight-lipped and evasive when confronted with questions he does not feel like answering, so he finds pleasure in stubbornly withholding his meaning from his audience through employing figures and allusions which no one can understand. This may be understood as a passive form of oral aggression." (p. 230)
  • "Unless there is some overwhelming personal advantage to be obtained from providing information, the Amhara tend to give answers - when they do not pretend not to understand the question - in terms so ambiguous as to be worthless" (p. 251). 

The 'wax and gold' tradition is one wherein ambiguity is praised as it conveys one's linguistic and intellectual abilities to speak with brevity and offer multiple meanings at once. Literal, straight forward viewed as simplistic and lacking of intellect, whereas the use of 'wax and gold' in communication conveys complexity and intellect.

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Mar
24

Culture and Imperialism

 Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) is a foundational text in critical studies, as of this writing was cited nearly 70,000 times. In 1993 Said wrote Culture and Imperialism, which broadens the view, broadens the literature, and engages more literature from the liberation activists and writers, but is cited less (at of this writing nearly 30,000; which still makes it an extremely well read and cited book). The book is longer than Orientalism, at 492 pages (in my Vintage print), which is expected given the wider scope. From a development studies perspective, the connection might appear limited, as the book focuses largely on literature. However, I think this is essential reading and it challenges how people are portrayed, critically analyzes language, justifications made for 'intervention', and offers great insight for anyone reading (or writing) reports (which are often plagued with horrendous orientalist and colonialist attitudes).

From the Introduction, contextualizing this book in relation to Orientalism:

"What I left out of Orientalism was that response to western dominance which culminated in the great movements of decolnization all across the Third World. Along with armed resistance in places as diverse as nineteenth century Algeria, Ireland, and Indonesia, there also went considerable efforts in cultural resistance almost everywhere, the assertions of nationalist identities, and, in the political realm, the creation of associations and parties whose common goal was self-determination and national independence. Never was it the case that imperial encounter pitted an active Western intruder against a supine or inert non-Western native; there was always some form of active resistance, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the resistance finally won out." (p. xiv)

"Readers of this book will quickly discover that narrative is crucial to my argument here, my basic point being that stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history. The main battle in imperialism is over land, of course; but when it came to who owned the land, who had the right to settle and work on it, who kept it going, who won it back, and who now plans its future - these issues were reflected, contested, and even for a time decided in narrative." (p. xv)

From the text:

"As I shall be using the term, 'imperialism' means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; 'colonialism', which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory... In our time, direct colonialism has largely ended; imperialism, as we shall see, lingers where it has always been, in a kind of general cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideological, economic, and social practices." (p. 8-9)

"The slow and often bitterly disputed recovery of geographical territory which is at the heart of decolonization is preceded – as empire had been - by the charting of cultural territory. After the period of 'primary resistance', literally fighting against outside intrusion, there comes the period of secondary, that is, ideological resistance, when efforts are made to reconstitute a 'shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures of the colonial system', as Basil Davidson puts it. This in turn makes possible the establishment of new and independent states." (p. 268)

"One of the first tasks of the culture of resistance was to reclaim, rename and reinhabit the land. And with that came a whole set of further assertions, recoveries, identifications, all of them quite literally grounded in this poetically projected base. The search for authenticity, for a more congenial national origin than that provided by colonial history, for a new pantheon of heroes and (occasionally) heroines, myths, and religions - there too are made possible by a sense of the land reappropriated by its people." (p. 290)

"Fanon foresaw this turn of events. His notion was that unless national consciousness at its moment of success was somehow changed into a social consciousness, the future would hold not liberation but an extension of imperialism. His theory of violence is not meant to answer the appeals of a native chafing under the paternalistic surveillance of a European policeman and, in a sense, preferring the services of a native officer in his place: On the contrary, it first represents colonialism as a totalizing system nourished in the same way" (p. 343).

"In Fanon's world change can come about only when the native, like Lukacs's alienated worker, decides that colonization must end - in other words, there must be an epistemological revolution. Only then can there be movement. At this point enters violence, 'a cleansing force,' which pits colonizer against colonized directly" (p. 347)

"The most disheartening thing about the media — aside from their sheepishly following the government policy model, mobilizing for war right from the start — was their trafficking in 'expert' Middle East lore, supposedly well informed about Arabs. All roads lead to the bazaar; Arabs only understand force; brutality and violence are part of Arab civilization; Islam is an intolerant, segregationist, 'medieval', fanatic, cruel, anti-women religion." (p. 379-380)

"For two generations the United States has sided in the Middle East mostly with tyranny and injustice. No struggle for democracy, or women's rights, or secularism and the rights of minorities has the United States officially supported. Instead one administration after another has propped up compliant and unpopular clients, and turned away from the efforts of small peoples to liberate themselves from military occupation, while subsidizing their enemies. The United States has prompted unlimited militarism and (along with France, Britain, China, Germany, and others) engaged in vast arms sales everywhere in the region" (p. 386)

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Mar
19

The Global Majlis

Career diplomat and current State Minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari wrote "The Global Majlis" (arabic 2015, translation 2016) as an "intellectual autobiography". The book draws on reflections from his work in Syria, Lebanon, France and the US, as well as in Qatar (published by HBKU press). Culture emerges as a key thread throughout the book, as it does in the thought and work of the author; he describes in the Forward: "I tackle the issue of distinctive cultural character versus universal cultural character in the context of culture and development. I describe how my perception of literature and the arts has evolved. I talk about the public space as a place for public discussion, beginning with the majlis tradition in our countries and extending to new media trends" (p. viii). A few interesting notes:

"The politician's role is to build on what is positive and inspire hope among people." (p. 9)

"We should not be tricked by the might of the machine behind globalised culture. Cultures are quintessentially local, and they cannot be eliminated unless the societies that produce them disappear. Yet at the same time, local cultures do not exist in isolation from historical shifts. They are not rigid and cannot afford to be so; in order to survive and thrive, cultures must accommodate changes and developments without losing their essential characteristics" (p. 14)

"Isolationism and retreating into one's identity because of globalisation's hegemony is in the end a crude expression of a culture of fear, and of a stale perception of what constitutes culture." (p. 140)

"Education in my view should emphasize tolerance, refinement and enlightenment. It should seek to help young people to go beyond instinct and natural capability, by developing their skills and talents to be able to change themselves and reform their society to be prosperous, upstanding and harmonious. The Quran reminds us 'God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves', and the instrument of bringing about this change is education and the educational institution." (p. 149)

"I was raised in a culture that does not understand education to be limited to the attainment of degrees, no matter how vaunted those degrees are and how much they help one find employment. Education in our culture and tradition is a duty for all those who want to follow the path of truth, and an endless sea in whose waters we should cleanse ourselves for as long as we live. I believe that seeking knowledge is akin to the dynamism of life in its progress and decline, or the sea in its ebb and flow. We elevate ourselves and increase the value of our symbolic capital by reading and learning, and we retreat and impoverish ourselves by being content with what we already know." (p 150-151) 

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