Between Paradise and Heaven

Chris

Chris

Land of Africa’s highest mountain, Tanzania and the snows capped Mount Kilimanjaro have inspired authors like Ernest Hemingway and many avid climbers. Today Chris, a Chaga man whose ethnic group has always lived on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, is now living in the pretty town of Echuca in regional Victoria. After 20 years spent in Echuca, Chris tells us more about the first 18 years of his life in his native country, Tanzania.

Tanzania is home for more than 125 ethnic groups and the Chaga tribe is one of the largest groups near Mount Kilimanjaro. Their staple food is mainly banana, which is used in the banana beer called Mbege and many of their local dishes. They are also known for implementing successful agricultural methods with extensive irrigation systems, terracing and continuous organic fertilization practised for thousands of years.

Originally from the picturesque region of the Chaga, Chris was born and grew up in the vibrant city of Dar es Salaam where his father migrated leaving the town of Moshi to get into business in the economic heart of Tanzania. Literally named ‘the residence of peace’, Dar es Salaam is the largest city of Tanzania where Chris’ Sri Lankan maternal family arrived as expatriates sent by the British government to work in the main railway company, Tazara. Chris stills holds pleasant memories of growing up on Dar es Salaam as he portrays it a place where many diverse cultures inhabit the city, “not only you can find Tanzanians but Chinese, Japanese, Americans, Italians, Greeks and Scandinavians giving me the opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world and inspiring me to discover other places and languages.

Mount Kilimanjaro, the dormant volcanic mountain seen from the Moshi Municipality, Tanzania © Wikipedia

Mount Kilimanjaro, the dormant volcanic mountain seen from the Moshi Municipality, Tanzania. The mountain has three volcanic cones, “Kibo”, “Mawenzi”, and “Shira” © Wikipedia

Chris also stresses the beauty of Dar es Salaam’s surroundings with pristine and secluded beaches located “at your doorstep. Additionly, he feels that the country is as unique as the cosmopolitan and resort-like Dar es Salaam. He tells that not only is it the land of the highest mountain in Africa but Tanzania has the most beautiful national reserves such as Serengeti, Ngorongo and Gombe Stream National Park “where you can see the wilderness and watch animals in their true habitat.

The history of the country also reveals the cultural diversity of the Tanzania as it is the combination of the name Tanganyika meaning ‘sail in the wilderness’ in Swahili and the name Zanzibar derived from Persian meaning ‘the coast of black people’. Tanzania became independent by kicking out the British in 1962 and their first president, Julius Nyerere, nicknamed Baba wa Taifa (meaning Father of the Nation) played an important role in unifying Tanganyika to the Zanzibar archipelago.

Culturally speaking, Chris tells that Zanzibaris have been greatly influenced by the Arabs. The island used to be run by Arab traders involved in slave and spices trade. Chris reminds us that Zanzibari was also a holding area of slaves coming from many ports of Africa. Today the Arab culture is entrenched in Zanzibar as Arabic words have been integrated into their Swahili language. Interestingly, Zanzibar remains an autonomous island where Zanzibaris used to pay respect to their Sultan, who was then replaced by the President of Zanzibar after the Independence.

It was in 1990 that Chris enrolled at the then Monash University to study Business Management for four years. His then girlfriend, who became his wife, invited him to discover Echuca for a weekend and as Chris expressed it he “fell in love with the town. He has now formed his family in Echuca, a town that he proudly calls ‘home’ and where “everyone knows who you are and Echuca inhabitants are genuinely interested in where you come from. After many years growing up between the paradisiacal beaches and heaven-like skies of Tanzania, what is important for Chris is also to inspire and share with his family “my origins, my background, knowing where and what I grew up with. I want my children to know the good and the not-so-good parts of things. I want them to also know my privilege growing up in the raw beauty of Tanzania and as the first boy of the family.

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The African Diaspora Experience

Natasha Mashakada

Natasha Mashakada

This month Natasha Mashakada is back on Far From Africa to share her reflection on the African diaspora experience in Australia. Natasha is actively involved in activities promoting social justice and empowerment of the socially disadvantaged, marginalised and stigmatised. With Zambian and Zimbabwean origins with heritage from the Ndebele and Shona groups, her name Natasha means ‘Thank you’ in Bemba (Zambian language) and she also carries the Ndebele/Zulu name Mbali meaning ‘Flower’. In this article, Natasha, who was born in the United Kingdom, lived in Zimbabwe and has been living in Australia for more than 6 years, shares deep insights on the meaning of African Australian identity.

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Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we work and call home. I would like to pay my respects to the Elders both past and present. I make this acknowledgement virtually as I believe this is important for all communities in Australia to do as they gather. In particular, the people of the African diaspora in Australia reading this, I make this general acknowledgement with you all.

Defining African Diaspora

© Natasha Mashakada

© Natasha Mashakada

I find the term ‘African diaspora’ has a variation of definitions which can be contested. The term itself emerged in the 1950’s which was based on internationally held racist ideologies of Black inferiority. As people of African descent, we are continually in the process of redefining our global notion of Blackness and refusing to perpetrate any concepts of Black inferiority. The term is undergoing significant changes towards a process of creating a globalised solidarity among people of African descent and building literature to examine the globalised Black experiences. Basically the term African Diaspora is a key symbol for the roots of Black identity and experiences on a global scale.

In the context of people of African descent in Australia, I particularly like the term as it acknowledges the cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity among Africans and the different paths and life experiences as migrants and/or as refugees or asylum seekers. So I reason to view this term as a means to empower Africans here in Australia by building a wider sense of community that is not defined by religion, culture and so forth.

The African Diaspora Experience

As people of the African diaspora in Australia, it means we are able to identify and sharpen our analysis of the challenges faced amongst the African diaspora in Australia. The African diaspora has and will always have a significant contribution towards social, political and economic changes in the systems that perpetrate oppression.  We are collectively able to challenge the shortcomings and failures of the multicultural policies in Australia and even perhaps internationally that have undermined and denied our humanity. Further to that, this means that it requires decolonialization activity; which challenges the systems that continue to entrap, oppress, discriminate and marginalise people in society in policies and other institutions in society; therefore pinpointing a political intent.

This may seemingly feel quite overwhelming but in reality it means being conscious of the personal or perhaps even better the collective challenges impacting people of the African diaspora. It also urges us to interrogate the powerful Eurocentric fundamentalisms on other diasporic communities, particularly in Australia. We are encouraged to take action in capturing the untold experiences and/or reiterating the challenges and possible positive experiences in which the African diaspora in Australia and the global communities.

© Natasha Mashakada

© Natasha Mashakada

Being identified as an African-Australian is rarely used to reference to Africans by the wider society nor amongst Africans themselves. I believe that the term of identification for Africans living in Australia as ‘African-Australian’ will emerge as a norm in the discourse of identity and belonging in Australia. Some if not most Africans find the term challenging to assimilate as their national identity as the question of what is home can be a internal as well as external conflict as daily experiences and encounters challenge the sense of belonging and identity.

I hope that this would not create animosity but community. We are in an ever-changing environment and change is not only inevitable but essential. A new terminology of identification is not what is being argued here but essentially illuminating the issues surrounding identity, belonging, recognition and accommodation of cultural and linguistic differences in Australia, in particular focus to the African diaspora in Australia. It is also highlighting the colonial and neo-colonial imaginaries underpinning the current definitions of African diasporic identities.

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I believe there is a need for more understanding of African diaspora cultures and identities in Australia. There is an acknowledgement of a battle experienced by the peoples of the African diaspora, including myself, in the configuration of our identity and belonging in Western world. The African diasporic experience should be acknowledged as complex and continually changing as other factors such as cultural and linguistic attributes and as well as country of origin and migration and settlement experiences encompass the diversity of African diaspora in Australia.

As people of the African diaspora in Australia, whether we identify or define ourselves on the basis of our country of origin and/or the language spoken, it is necessary that we are conscious of the current limitations embedded in the mainstream normative conceptions of Australian identity. It is not about replacing your cultural heritage to assimilate to Anglo-Australian norms and cultural values, but it is the need to challenge the current notion of citizenship and national identity in order to uncover the beliefs and values underlying the political and public discourses on race and anti-racism in Australia.

© Natasha Mashakada

© Natasha Mashakada

Thank you to Natasha for sharing her beautiful words and art work.

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The Djiboutian

Far From Africa titled its first post back in 2013 Where is the Gambia? And after two years of publishing, today’s post could be titled Where is Djibouti? There are two plausible theories to explain the name of Djibouti and its capital city, Djibouti City. Some claim that it can be traced to the Afar word Gabouti meaning ‘a kind of doormat made from palm fibre’. Others would say that it comes from the Land of Tehuti after the name of the Ancient Egyptian god of the moon and knowledge.

Me’ad, a Djiboutian living in Melbourne talks about his country and how in such a small country there is a vast and rich culture. Despite the desert-like appearance of Djibouti, he portrays the country as a potential tourism destination offering a variety of landscapes from the breathtaking rugged mountains of the north to the incredible white landscape of the salt lake Assal and the beautiful beaches on the Red Sea.

Lake Assal, Djibouti

Lake Assal, Djibouti © Salt News

When asking Me’ad where Djibouti is, he laughingly responds “I stopped telling people that I am from Djibouti and I just say I am from the Horn of Africa.” He also describes his country as “a small country between Somalia and Ethiopia on the coast of the Red Sea.”

Me'ad © 22/06/2015

Me’ad © 22/06/2015

Comfortably proud of his African and Djiboutian identity, his name Me’ad coincidentally is an Arabic word meaning ‘appointment’ and a Somali name literally signifying “lots of rain drops” as a time of prosperity. He tells that growing up in Djibouti was very interesting thanks to the mix of cultures. This mix initially came from Yemeni traders due to Djibouti’s proximity to the Middle East, the Afar ethnic group from the northern lands of Djibouti, the French and Somali people. Strategically, the French kept Djibouti under their administration to counteract the British influence in the region. Me’ad has very fond memories of the strong sense of community that existed  and still exists in Djibouti as “we were very much supported and protected by my family in Djibouti and in Somalia.”

Somali people speak a more literary and classical Somali and are more connected to the Somali culture. The Somali (as an ethnic group) of Djibouti were more influenced by the West and other cultures through the French, the Arabs and other local ethnic groups. On 27 July 1977, Djibouti gained its independence and the 9 year-old Me’ad still remembers the excitement at that time. He particularly recalls the popular emergence of a Somali band with patriotic songs that he saw the concert of in Djibouti.

Proud Djiboutian with a passion for music and arts, Me’ad shares with Far From Africa his anthology of Somali and Afar music through the following extracts.

“This song is titled ‘Hooyooy La’aanta’ (without mother – the importance of maternal love) is interpreted by a famous and one of the best Somali singers, Mohamed Souleiman Tubeh. His debut started in Djibouti in the late 50s before he went to Somalia.  I like this song because of all the affection I have for my mother.”

“This a video of traditional Somali dance. It revives memories of my childhood as it was a way to socialise and we often attended this kind of spectacle. It was very funny to see adults seducing each other.”

“This is traditional Afar dance. I grew up in a multicultural suburb of Djibouti City and some of my neighbours were Afar. Sharing this video is a way for me to pay tribute to some of my Afar childhood friends and my nieces and nephews who are Afar too.”

This song is extracted from a theatre play titled ‘Gar caadawe iyo caashaq’ and it is the first play I saw in my life in 1973 when I was 5.”

http://somali-music.com/audios/3021/reerkiinan-hodanka-ah-baxsan-and-xasan-adan-samatar-greatest-hits.html

He describes this music as very rhythmic with lyrics on patriotism or on various topics going from societal issues to honesty and unity. “The language that singers use is very metaphoric making the lyrics very poetic. I don’t know how they do it!” Today, Djiboutians still appreciate Somali and Djiboutian music as well as folk dances and young people tend to listen to the modern version of those songs.

After being in Australia for almost 20 years, Me’ad now works in democracy advocacy and policy, another passion of his. He believes that good governance and electoral system are “critical to help a country develop and change. It is the foundational basis for effective and successful development projects and societal change.”

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Mozambique Revealed Through Television

Famous for its spicy Piri Piri sauce, Mozambique is relatively unknown for its beauty and cultural wealth. To discover this coastal country facing the large island of Madagascar, Dr. Victor Igreja agreed to speak with Far From Africa about his country. Although a member of the Commonwealth, Mozambique, like Angola and a few West African countries, is part of the lusophone world (Portuguese-speaking countries).The country’s name also tells a less known rich history. On the northern coast of Mozambique lies the UNESCO World Heritage site of the island of Mozambique. Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama in 1498, the island was a major port for Arab traders and carried the name of the then sultan Musa Al Big or Mossa Al Bique.

Dr. Victor Igreja

Dr. Victor Igreja

Victor Igreja currently lives in Brisbane and there is no better person to talk about Mozambique than a native man who is a Doctor in Medical Anthropology at the University of Queensland. Victor hails from the central Mozambican province of Manica, once the centre of the Ancient Kingdom of Manica. Its common border with Zimbabwe made the province open to diverse cultural influences, particularly “from the Shonas of Zimbabwe” stresses Victor. To contrast with the long coast line (almost 3,000 kilometers) on the Indian Ocean, Victor describes Manica as “very hilly and some parts of the province have more links with Zimbabwe than to Mozambique. Thus many people have some understanding of English”. The influences aren’t limited to neighbouring Africans or Europeans or Arabs to some extent. Under the Portuguese, Indians were brought from Goa and Durban to Mozambique 100 years ago. This brief Mozambican mosaic gives a little glimpse of the culinary diversity of the country. However, if you were to probe Victor about his tribal heritage, he proudly answers “I feel I am Mozambican”.

Before explaining what it means to be a proud Mozambican, Victor reminds us that the country had experienced civil war between 1976 and 1992, “I grew up in a country at war, and the civil war affected deeply rural areas. In the city where I was living with my family we experienced the indirect effects of the war. We could not go out of the capital city, Maputo; we used to hear the sound of heavy weapons; we spent weeks and months without electricity; we were deprived of water and the hygienic problems were constant. Yet in spite of the chaos, we tried to live a life of normality. I did my primary, secondary and university studies in Maputo with the support of family and friends”.

Although a short civil war broke out in 2013 that lasted until September 2014, Dr. Igreja affirms that what unites Mozambicans is “the desire for a perpetual peace. People show solidarity to each other”. He continues that as Mozambicans “we are very easy going; we easily make new relationships no matter whether the person is poor or rich, we appreciate being with each other. People are very creative to the extent that someone in the country invented the first local television with a wooden “screen”. This television is so powerful because it is the audience that creates the images, and the images can be very empowering, therapeutic and inspire models for future life”.

To further explain what this wooden ‘television’ is, we have to understand that after the war Mozambique was and is still in the process of reconstructing the country once ravaged by violence and illnesses. Some healers in the North of Mozambique introduced this television into their healing practices for the former culprits of violent acts to recover from war violence. As shown in the below picture, the television is a wooden frame, the size of a 17-inch laptop screen, through which patients actively engage with what Dr. Igreja calls ‘extravisual experiences’. This healing practice implies patient’s imagination to create images and talk through them. These images, only visible to them, denounce their evildoings during war time. Dr. Igreja underlines that “the introduction of the notion of television in the work of diviners [healers] was well received by the people because through television people can negotiate the terms of their healing process in ways that they could not do with other methods of healing giving that the healers working with other methods of healing have a lot of power”.

Healing sessions using the television in Mozambique © Dr. Victor Igreja

Healing sessions using the television in Mozambique © Dr. Victor Igreja

After completing his PhD in Holland, Victor arrived with his family in Brisbane in 2009 to take up an academic position at the University of Queensland. Doctor in Medical Anthropology, he explains that his research revolves around “understanding how culture, political and economic systems shape people’s perceptions and experiences of disease and illness as well as how they respond to experiences of ill health”. His research work extended to another lusophone country, East Timor, to research how people remember their experiences of violence and trauma during the Indonesian occupation, as well as to his new home country, Australia, on problems of family violence.

The Mozambican community in Australia is certainly small and Victor feels that unlike Mozambicans who are curious about foreigners, Queenslanders are shy and have no curiosity to hear from or share with overseas people. Although different, Queenslanders and Mozambicans both enjoy and pursue a very easy going lifestyle. “Life is unfolding well [in Brisbane]. I have many friends, although the majority are foreigners. Brisbane is a great place to raise children and everyone is friendly here”. Victor’s love and work for his native country bring him back to Mozambique every year but the serious instability and the elusive democracy impedes him and his family to think about resettling there.

The Medical Anthropologist will carry on his support for Mozambique through his work and wishes with all his heart that Mozambicans will not give up their struggle for a better future. The research must go on, Doctor!

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The Land of Honest People

In the heart of West Africa a landlocked country is found at the crossroad of 6 nations. Between hostile Saharian lands and dense fertile forests live the upright people of Burkina Faso. Despite the strong and menacing neighbouring Mali Empire (from circa 1200) and French colonial rule until 1960, Burkina Faso is a country that has maintained its traditions and respect for their Mossi ancestors and their Emperors. The Burkinabè community in Australia is hardly visible, yet out of the few Burkinabès living in Melbourne, Far From Africa meets with Bertin who has been living here for 15 years. Still very attached and proud of his home country, Bertin tells us how Burkinabès make the best of a situation.

The Mossi Empire

Bertin Burkina Faso

Bertin © Marion Cabanes – 7/04/2015

Bertin who is a proud Mossi man tells that prior to the arrival of French Catholic missionaries, there was a governing structure in place. There were the chiefs of a village and the super chiefs, also called kings, who managed up to 3 villages. In the Mossi tradition, kings ruled over parts of provinces (called cantons) who were themselves ruled by Mogho Naba, ‘the king of the kings’ in Mossi language, and also known as the Mossi Emperor surrounded by his Ministers. All kings are the advisors of the Emperor and this latter never misses an opportunity to consult all the ethnic groups.

The establishment of the Mossi empire dates back to about 1100 and their origins take them back to Lake Chad in Central Africa. The empire ruled in the region for over 500 years. He explains that “the Mossi warriors went in search of new lands to colonise and travelled along the coast of Benin, Togo and Ghana. In the center of Ghana they found lush lands. Their leader settled down in the region which gave birth to the Ashanti ethnic group of Ghana. But because their war technique is that brothers should be separated to rule over new lands, the leader’s young brother kept on travelling across the Volta river to found the Mossi Empire in modern-day Burkina Faso.”

Bertin adds that the lineage and links between the Ashanti and Mossi are still very strong until nowadays. “Every six years, the Mossi and Ashanti Emperors make the pilgrimage to meet his brother in those verdant forests between the two kingdoms as a symbol of fraternity and respect to their common ancestors.” The Mossi society is very organised and strategic when it comes to avoid conflicts. Bertin underlines “the word ‘cousin’ does not exist, we are all brothers.” In today’s politics, the Mossi Emperor is the main guardian of the peace for all Burkinabès.

Burkina’s Eden

Bertin’s native province of Kouritenga isn’t far from Benin, Togo and Ghana and he says “bush rangers were present and banditry was very high in the region. People lived off orchards full of mango trees, guava trees, etc.”  History tells that the Mossi resisted invasions and other menacing kingdoms. Like other West African countries, the Mossi Emperor had always rejected and threatened Catholic missionaries who wished to settle in the country.

Unusually, in the 1800’s the king of Kouritenga for the first time welcomed the French Catholic missionaries, he then converted himself to Christianity. Bertin continues “modern agriculture was then taught by the missionaries to the king as a thankful gesture.” The ripple effects of the teachings didn’t stop there, “the king forced all nobles, elites and to the extent of his people to practice agriculture. He also decided that all arrested criminals were condemned to agricultural work on the king’s lands. After satisfactory completion of the sentence, the king would grant them a plot of land, seeds and a wife.” Not only was agriculture a noble practice but the king took from the missionaries’ knowledge what his province needed to bring justice, order and increase trade with the neighbouring countries.

Family Trees

Nobility and agriculture are inherent to Bertin’s family. He has great admiration for his grand-father, a super chief of 5 villages, “who used to have vast orchards. He was the first Catechist in the country and it is because of this admiration for my grand-father that I became an Agronomist.” Grandson of a super chief, Bertin describes how hard his childhood and upbringing were in the Mossi culture. “They want to give you the teachings of life and toughen your life to develop your independence and survival instinct. At the age of 4, I was living with his uncles. At 7, I was in a boarding school and then lived with my parents until I turned 10.”  He remembers leaving the family house at nights to sleep in a traditional hut.

Once he mastered life principles and knowledge of agriculture, he worked for 8 years with the NGO Plan International on agriculture, microcredit, livestock and forestry development projects. At Plan he met an Australian woman as passionate as him about development who convinced him to move to Australia. Without a word of English, this son of a super chief had to leave his noble responsibilities to his brothers to raise a family and pursue his career in agronomic research in New South Wales and Victoria. Although he is a qualified and experienced engineer with versatile knowledge from agronomics to construction, he struggled to find an Agronomist role after years of research work. He says “Australia is doing what Burkina Faso did many years ago. I wish I could extend my knowledge in hydraulics to contribute to finding sustainable solutions for local and international projects.”

Needing to support his family, this upright Burkinabè accepted a permanent contract in public transport 3 years ago and work as a Consultant for International NGOs on the side. Melburnians, if one day you go aboard with Bertin, greet him with a friendly ‘Bonjour!’, seat back and enjoy the journey!

Fun Fact! The name Burkina Faso was given to the country in 1984 by the then President Thomas Sankara. The name is the combination of two main languages in the country. Burkina from the Mossi language means ‘men of honour’ or ‘of integrity’ and Faso in Dioula language means ‘Fatherland’.

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