CROSSROADS: MIGRATION, LANGUAGE, AND LITERATURE IN AFRICA

Thursday, February 25 - Saturday, February 27, 2010
A Rutgers University Symposium
 
 
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ABSTRACTS
 
 
 
     
 
 
 
 
Panel 1: Intra-African Articulations
 
Loren Kruger (University of Chicago)
"Improvising cosmopolitans: performance, migration and urban renewal in Johannesburg"
 

In the dead of night an artist paints pedestrian crossings across an otherwise dangerous inner city street and writes in them slogans like ‘to cross is to transact’ and ‘these are bridgeable divides’; by day, informal crossing guards transform these slogans into actions to compel intransigent taxi drivers to pause for pedestrians. Two local white men, urged by black immigrants to turn back at the inner threshold of the city that the locals inhabit, turn the process of documenting the immigrants’ journeys into an opportunity to lead other locals back into the inner city they had abandoned. A consortium of local and international artists, artisans, architects, planners, informal guides and their apprentices create a festival that combines art, performance, manufacture, and social mobilization to animate work and play and what might be called a drama of hospitality linking locals and migrants in the inner city.

The agents I mention here include the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), the Joubert Park Project, Trinity Session, the and their activities Cascoland, Hillbrow/Daker/ Hillbrow, and Ekhaya [At Home]. Artists and activists involved in these events have harnessed public and private resources in projects that seek to combine beautification and planning, play and productivity, and imaginative performance and acts of urban civility in a city that has been notorious for violent crime, past and present ugliness and a pervasive indifference to civility. These events are formal in so far as they include the choreography of particular acts and actions in specific sites and productive in so far as they work together with planners to effect new spatial practices and in time the urban forms that accommodate them. They are significant because they aspire to be more than ephemeral; they attempt to change the built environment and the social as well as aesthetic experience of participants in urban life, and to include as participants migrants who have settled into the inner city. These events take place on the borderlines between consecrated places and sites of everyday labor, between extraordinary acts and ordinary activity, between subjunctive or invented dramas, and indicative or consequential acts that produce material changes, in particular in the structure and use of urban built environments,

While events like these cannot by themselves change policy or behavior on the street, they acknowledge the value of migrants’ contribution to the social as well as artistic improvising of cosmopolitan agency and what I have called the “drama of hospitality.” The “drama of hospitality” includes both planned and unplanned interaction between locals and migrants but focuses above all on the borders between planned, scripted, choreographed events and the improvised spatial practices that emerge around such events.

 
Ghirmai Negash (Ohio University)
“Images of African Intellectuals at a Crossroads in Haile’s Tebereh’s Shop”
 
Tebereh’s Shop (2003) is a remarkable novel written in Tigrinya, an important Horn of Africa literary language spoken in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It was written by Beyene Haile, an Eritrean novelist-cum-painter-cum-sculptor, who, though less known outside Africa, is regarded by his critics as one of the continent’s major writers, contemporarily publishing in indigenous languages. The novel deals with the role of African intellectuals in the trajectory of nation-building, and is framed within the context of political and economic adversity created by war and domestic repression. Published three years after the end of the 1998-2000 border conflict between the neighboring countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the Eritrean government’s subsequent deferral of the constitution, closure of the free press, and the detention of its political opponents, the novel paints a highly controversial image of intellectuals caught at a crossroads, while, at the same time, charting a newly-fangled and brilliant, even where it is romantic, task for them.
 
Cécile B. Vigouroux (Simon Fraser University)
“New linguistic Diasporas and the emergence of local power: the case of the Congolese migrants in Cape Town”
 
In this presentation I wish to discuss some dynamics of language vitality in a diasporic population of Congolese (DRC) migrants in Cape Town. I argue that relocation to a new geographic space triggers new sociolinguistic reconfigurations at both the micro scale of speakers’ language repertoires and the macro scale of the group. These reconfigurations can be associated with new language stratifications that suggest a contextually based redefinition of notions such as ‘global’ and ‘non-global’ languages.

Traditionally, the literature has focused on the attrition and loss of heritage languages among the migrants, attributing these processes to pressure from the host population. Little attention has been directed to social dynamics that can promote the adoption by the migrants of one of their own national languages as their new lingua franca. In the case of the Congolese migrants in Cape Town, many have adopted Lingala at the expense of other national lingua francas such as Swahili or Kikongo. One of the reasons for this evolution is undoubtedly the need for membership in a wide mutual-support network. However, to answer the question of why Lingala but not another language, one must consider broader social, historical, and political dynamics, in which Lingala emerges as the vernacular of the DRC’s capital and as the primary language of urban and popular culture. I argue that the emergence of new diasporas fosters the emergence of new linguistic diasporas that are not necessarily associated with global power.
 
Panel 2: Ancient Relations, New Articulations
 
Nicholas Faraclas (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras)
“Linguistic Evidence for the Impact of Prehistoric Eastward African Migrations and Diasporas on More Recent Movements of African Peoples and on African, Indo-Pacific, and World History”
 

One of the most promising recent tendencies in African migration and diaspora studies has been the expansion of our research agendas from our traditional preoccupation with population movements in West Africa and the Atlantic Basin during the era of the European colonial slave trade, to include a new and refreshing interest in the displacement of peoples in East Africa and the Indian Ocean Basin that resulted from the eastward slave trade over the past few millennia. While this trend is to be applauded, this broadened focus does not yet extend far enough in space and time to reveal some of the most significant impacts that African migrations and diasporas have had, not only in shaping modern African, Indo-Pacific, and world history, but also in defining the contours of African migrations in both East and West Africa as well as African diasporas in both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans over the past three thousand years. In this paper, linguistic evidence is used to demonstrate the significant role that prehistoric eastward African migrations and diasporas have played both in providing the historical context for and in determining the nature of the more recent eastward and westward migrations and diasporas that have managed to capture our attention thus far. The evidence presented helps us to answer such questions as: 1) To what extent had previous diasporas of African peoples, their languages and their cultures influenced the cultural and linguistic fabric of the Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic before the onset of the more recent migrations and diasporas that accompanied the eastward and westward slave trade from Africa? 2) Linguistically and culturally, how deep was the diversity: a) among the slaves traded eastward to the rest of the Indian Ocean Basin, b) among slaves traded north- and westward to the rest of the Atlantic Basin, and c) between these two diasporas?

 

Beverly Mack (University of Kansas)
“Muslim Women Teaching Muslim Women: A 19th C Model for 21st C American Muslimahs"

 

Nana Asma’u (1793-1864) was a quadrilingual Qadiriyya scholar, poet, and teacher whose reputation for erudition, piety, and activism was renowned throughout the Maghreb and Sahel. As a daughter of 19th C West African jihad leader Shehu Usman ‘Dan Fodiyo, Asma’u was actively involved in the war effort, and was a close advisor to her father, her brother, and his chief aide. Her works were not published until almost the 21st C, but her legend has long been familiar to the women of her native northern Nigeria. In the 20th C whenever Muslim women in northern Nigeria wanted to do something they measured their aims against the example of Asma’u; the question was never “Will my husband let me?” but always, “Would Asma’u have needed permission?”. Asma’u organized women more than 150 years ago in West Africa to educate, guide, and provide social welfare activities. That women’s organization was called the ‘Yan Taru, or The Group.

More than a century, a continent, and a language away, at the end of the 20th C in Pittsburgh, PA, Muslim women of the local Qadiriyya community learned of Nana Ama’u’s legacy and decided that they should establish a contemporary, American ‘Yan Taru organization. Following the 1997 publication of Asma’u’s works in English, they procured permission to post Asma’u’s works on their new web site. Their mission statement explains that they aim “To provide services to women and children through establishing an organization that facilitates Education, Entrepreneurship, Social Welfare and Community Outreach in accordance with the Koran, the Sunnah, and the methodology of Shaykh Uthman ibn Fuduye (1754-1817 CE).” They view Nana Asma’u as a role model who provides a means of helping Muslim women to benefit themselves and their communities “without compromising our religion or dignity.”

This paper examines the women who began the American ‘Yan Taru movement in Pittsburgh, its sister organizations in San Diego and Atlanta, and the organization’s role in the lives of its members, who are guided in 21st C America by a 19th C West African mentor. It outlines the organization’s history and offers examples of the services the modern ‘Yan Taru provide for the community, including advice on child care, health issues, and charity work, as well as guidance on scholarly and religious activities. The religious scholarship, leadership, and activism of these organizations and the extent to which they are youth-focused suggests that the voices of the young Muslimahs who comprise contemporary ‘Yan Taru communities will have significant impact on the evolution of American Islam in the 21st century.

 
Fallou Ngom (Boston University)
“Ajami Sources of Knowledge and Contemporary Scholarship on Islamic Africa”
 
In this 21st century, lessons from travel narratives and theory-driven approaches of previous centuries on Africa underscore the need for more data-driven inquiries informed not solely by colonial archives and oral narratives, but by the largely overlooked body of written records in African languages with non-Roman scripts such as Ajami found throughout Islamic Sudanic Africa, where orality and literacy have been interwoven for centuries. Although Ajami is one of the oldest and most widespread forms of literature in Sudanic Africa, its true significance in the intellectual history and heritage of Islamic Africa remains largely underexplored. While the most celebrated intellectual literary tradition in Sudanic Africa is that of Timbuktu, little attention has been given to other centers of learning that thrived in other parts of Africa in which Hausa, Fulfulde, Wolof, Kanuri scholars and others developed rich Arabic and Ajami literary traditions. The Ajami literatures that emerged—satirical, polemical and protest poetry; biographies, eulogies, and genealogies; talismanic resources and medical manuals; and historical records, speeches, and codes of conduct, among others—represent an untapped mine of fresh insights on Islamic Africa that have never been fully appreciated. Using a few Wolofal (Wolof Ajami) data from Senegambia, this paper examines the unique potential of Ajami sources of knowledge in unearthing local perspectives and improving the quality and depth of contemporary scholarship on Islamic Africa.
 
Panel 3: The South Asian Corridor
 
Savita Nair (Furman University)
“Re-Mapping Identities: India, East Africa, and a new historical geography”
 
For the “Crossroads” symposium, I will discuss various interconnections between the people and institutions of eastern Africa and western India, with a focus on Indian migration over the past century and a half. As a South Asianist, I focus on East Africa Indians whose social, economic, and political worlds traverse lands and seas. Home is extended and connected to sites in India and East Africa; and, thus, we must reconsider the historical geography of those spaces. Distinctive networks, multiple homes and habits, and commercial exchanges link people and places on both sides of the northwestern Indian Ocean. What are the fault lines between migrants in terms of identity, investment, and interaction with East Africa, with India? In my case, "re-mapping " is to re-conceptualize place with the cultural and regional identities that have been made and marked by movements, settlements, and shared predicaments. I suggest that scholars must think about Ahmedabad and Kampala, for instance, as a newly drawn region of historical significance, as a space where “circular mobilities” have greatly shaped both sites in precisely the ways that this symposium seeks to address. For example, how can scholars trace the sociolinguistic origins of “duka” or the eating of sam(b)osas without examining the interactions that gave rise to such phenomena? I will draw upon my own research and other secondary sources that place India and Africa in the same intellectual and interactive frame.
 
Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi (Uppsala University, Sweden)
“South Asian Linguistic and Literary Presence in Eastern Africa”
 

Most Eastern Africans of South Asian origin regard themselves as North(west) Indians. Monolingualism is almost unknown among them. This phenomenon has two linguistic aspects, viz. multilingualism and diversity. The various subgroups of these ‘Indians’ however are not based on their community language, or ‘nationality’, but rather on their religious and denominational differences or affiliations.

Eastern Africans of Asian/Oriental origins (including those who identify themselves as Arabs and Shirazi in some social contexts) constitute about 1% of the total population of Eastern Africa. Their history, economic status and intellectual efforts have been well-documented together with their earlier political involvement and dominant role vis à vis their later (political) isolation and significant marginalization; but their linguistic, literary and social/cultural importance to the societies of Eastern Africa has not been studied satisfactorily. This applies to all the Oriental donor groups and languages except for Arabs and Arabic, and it is particularly so in the case of the Indic languages, the second major Oriental cultural contributor in Eastern Africa.

Swahili, a Bantu language, is the most widespread African language south of the Sahara, and about 40% of its current vocabulary is of non-Bantu origin. Most of the earlier non-Bantu borrowings in Swahili are from Persian and Arabic, the Greek and Latin respectively of the languages of Muslims in many parts of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe; and on the East African littoral the Swahili are a good example of an Afro-Islamic culture that has blended well Arab-Islamic, Persian and north-western and southern Indian elements.

Arabic is by far the largest Oriental contributor to Swahili language, literature and culture in general; the lesser Oriental contributors are Persian, the Indo-Aryan languages (Cutchi/Kachhchhi, Gujarati, Hindi and Sanskrit), Turkish, and Indonesian in descending order of importance.

Only a few East Africans of Indian origin write Swahili poetry, and none who writes prose fiction in Swahili – their literary language is English in which an increasing number of them in diaspora are writing personal or family narratives. Up to the end of the nineteenth century there was very little Indian, and almost no Persian, intellectual work conducted in East Africa. Both Oriental and European cultures have influenced Swahili societies through long and intensive contacts resulting in linguistic, literary and other cultural borrowings and adaptations. Oriental items have been entering for more than two millennia now, and European items (other than a few Greek and Latin early indirect loans) started only with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498, but mostly in the second half of the twentieth century.

The main conclusions drawn in this presentation are: 1) that South Asian (Indian/Indic) linguistic and cultural loans in Eastern Africa are not satisfactorily documented, and further research is needed to assess their currency in modern usage, and their socio-cultural importance in Eastern Africa; 2) that Indic elements are of high frequency and are found in all areas of daily activity such as language, literature, music, drama, architecture, cuisine and dress; 3) that contrary to earlier assumptions, Indic (and Persian) loans in Swahili occur also as verbs, adjectives and adverbs; 4) that most of the Indian loans in Swahili are from Cutchi/Sindhi and Gujarati, rather than from Hindi; 5) that traditional Swahili culture is an Afro-Oriental member of the North-Western Indian Ocean civilisation at large, spread along the Rim of the Indian Ocean.

 
Amardeep Singh (Lehigh University)
“The Meaning of ‘Race’ in East Africa: M.G. Vassanji and Mahmood Mamdani”
 
Mahmood Mamdani and M.G. Vassanji are two of the most influential expatriate "Indo-African" writers and intellectuals who moved to North America in the early 1970s. Mamdani came to the U.S. after a brief stay in England after Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians in 1971. Vassanji left Kenya of his own right, and came to the U.S. for education before settling in Canada. However, both writers, in their works, have explored the complex and ambiguous relationship between local African communities and the Indo-African community settled in East Africa during the latter years of the British colonial era and in the early years after independence. Mamdani's 1973 memoir, "From Exile to Refugee," his most personal account of the expulsion to date, explores the events leading up to the expulsion, the unfolding of the expulsion itself, and finally the weeks spent in refugee camps in London following the departure from Uganda. Mamdani's narrative, though little read today, has had a large, if oblique, influence on the popular conception of the Ugandan tragedy, owing to Mira Nair's use of material apparently derived from it in her 1991 film, "Mississippi Masala." For its part, Vassanji's 2003 novel, "The In-Between World of Vikram Lall," explores the Indo-African community's ambiguous status vis a vis whites and black Africans in Kenya during the Mau Mau era. Both Mamdani and Vassanji are sensitive to the economic factors contributing to what they both ultimately see as a profound human tragedy, though Vassanji in particular is also attentive to the problematic construction of "race" in the east African context in the latter years of the colonial era.
 
Panel 4: The Middle Eastern Corridor
 
Hailu Habtu (University of Addis, Ethiopia)
“Ge’ez (classical Ethiopic) as Origin and Destination of Texts”
 
The paper will discuss the role of Ge’ez as origin and destination of texts in general, and focus on a few interesting sample passages.

Ge’ez as a written language goes back to pre-Christian times. As Ethiopia’s literary language until the beginning of the twentieth century, it served as the depository of previous texts, mostly religious, over the millennia. The Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Book of Hermas, and the Ascension of Elijah have been preserved in their entirety only in Ge’ez, from which they have been translated into various languages. Ge’ez has also been a destination language for texts like the Physiologus, the History of the Jews from Greek, and histories of the world by Joseph of Nikkiu, and Girgis bin Amid from Arabic, just to mention a couple of texts.
 
Hagar Salamon (Harry S Truman Research Inst. for the Advancement of Peace)
“Narrating the Secret of Slavery: Voices of Ex-Slaves from Ethiopia Now Living in Israel”
 

More than twenty years have passed since my discovery of slavery among the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews). Prior to their immigration to Israel, the Beta Israel lived in northwestern Ethiopia in approximately 500 small villages scattered across a vast, predominantly Christian territory. Like other groups living in their vicinity, they owned slaves referred to as Barya. The term Barya was juxtaposed with the term Chewa – which designates a free human being assumed to be educated and civilized. During the pre-abolition period, Barya were generally purchased at local markets, but heroic Chewa tales of kidnapping and stealing slaves also prevail. Although I was writing on the prevalence of slavery back in Ethiopia, the recognition that I must hear the slaves' own voices came only gradually. Their former masters had referred to them as mute beings devoid of human subjectivity – as “cows, except that they talk.” The Chewa construction of the Barya seemed to envelop them in a kind of mist that rendered them inaccessible, and which for a long while, blurred my ability to conceive of them as potential partners in a dialogue.

When the Beta Israel left for Israel, Chewa and Barya came together. Some of the Barya had already been freed. Others still lived as slaves with their masters, who brought them along in the guise of family members – hoping that they would continue to serve them in the new land. The fact that this group of immigrants included a sub-group of Jewish slaves, however, remained virtually unknown outside the Ethiopian community in Israel. The transplantation of this entire community of masters and slaves to a new cultural context created a singular situation: as I had learned over time from the stories of both Chewa and Barya, the relations between masters and slaves had been subject to change even back in Ethiopia. Yet nothing had prepared either the masters or the slaves for the transformation that occurred in their lives following their arrival in Israel – which radically altered the power relations within the community. Many aspects of the overarching distinctions that had separated the Barya from the Chewa in Ethiopia were erased, while the remaining differences became meaningless outside the community. Moreover, the life they had suddenly been parachuted into drastically altered their situation, and provided a new context and perspective from which they could look back upon their former lives. It was this sudden, total and irreversible process that provided a unique opportunity to access first-hand testimonies about contemporary slavery. In my presentation I will reveal and discuss the complexity of the research by focusing on three different voices struggling with the secret of their life stories.

 
Chouki El Hamel (Arizona State University)
“Constructing a Diaspora: The Gnawa Black West Africans in Morocco”
 
The Gnawa are a diasporic culture and one finds artistic and spiritual parallels between the Gnawa order and other spiritual black groups in Africa: the Stambouli in Tunisia, the Sambani in Libya, and the Bilali in Algeria. Outside Africa, one can also see a parallel as in the case of the Candomble in Salvador, Brazil, and the Vodoun religion practiced in Caribbean countries. The similarities in the artistic, spiritual, and scriptural representations seem to reflect a shared experience of many African diasporic groups. As in these other spiritual traditions, the belief in possession and trance is crucial to Gnawa religious life and their music has served a patterned function in this belief, intrinsically linked to the Gnawa religious rituals and to their specific historic and cultural memories. This paper will reconstruct the forgotten past of the Gnawa who over many generations, productively negotiated their forced presence in Morocco to create acceptance and group solidarity.

 

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