Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Queen Nanny on Young Street

I could have sworn that I met the unyielding spirit of Queen Nanny just yesterday. I was telling stories to seniors in Toronto, working them up to have a good time singing with me while I told them trickster stories. And I was succeeding until I asked this lady if she might tell me her name to use in my song. So far I 'd had 100 percent success until I stopped in front of this lady and politely said, "Ma'am would you tell me your name please?" "You wouldn't be able to say it." she replied. "OK," I said moving on.

The other ladies on her table said her name aloud. Since I was able to pronounce it, I used it anyway. She did not protest. That was good, I thought. Things went well for the hour. Only a few had dozed off and most of my audience seemed truly entertained. Some of them came up to say thanks as I packed my stuff to leave. Then Queen Nanny came up. She who had studiously refrained from looking directly at me throughout the performance( she had been knitting) , now came toward me. I didn't hear what she said because her voice was small and she had a peculiar Caribbean accent that I wasn't used to. She looked at me with a marked frown and severe lips so I knew she wasn't saying, "great show!"

Usually people from the islands love to hear trickster stories, particularly Anansi stories.
"Pardon me," I said.
"You didn't shake your hips like you were supposed to. I know those things!" She declared with bold accusing eyes.
"Oh, I thought I was telling stories," I said.
But she had turned her walker the other way and was already walking off.

Right then I thought of Queen Nanny, the heroic queen-mother of Jamaican maroons, captured and enslaved off the west coast of Africa with her brothers, (most likely Akans, and perhaps Ashanti) who led her people courageously in their struggle for freedom and independence on a strange land. How had she done it? She must have been a very compelling and charismatic person, forthright and perhaps intimidating such as this woman who had not smiled throughout my presentation but had none-the-less sat through it all.

Did my Africanness - my accent, clothing, stories and songs irritate Queen Nanny, who had been betrayed by other Africans so many years ago? Who is to know? I am a writer and a storyteller; I imagine , I speculate, I make connections, I weave plots.
Is it irritating for people of Caribbean descent when they are mistakened for Africans and vice-versa? Is it irritating for African Americans and African Canadians when they are mistakened for Africans or Caribbean people. Is there some kind of attitude; racism or some kind of 'ism' between different black groups in diaspora? Certainly in Africa there is still much tribalism among closely associated groups and such feelings are often encouraged and manipulated by a few who stand to gain political power.

Here's a poem by Adwoa Badoe: The Ships

It is this interruption which by itself
Has brought us sorrow upon sorrow…
We had wanted our seers to describe the heavens to us
Dresssed up in geometric metaphors, red, white and gold
Constructed in riddles, pictionary,
In-scratched on the rock faces of Gambaga scarp
We pleaded with our prophets to foretell our future lives
Staring in the furnaces of soothsaying blacksmiths
Reading the scattering of fine grey ash
When the smoke was spent and the fire long dead
We yearned for our artists to paint us black
Asymmetrically posed against the myriad forms of nature
Giving sight and color to the wind and the rain
And the cloying smells pervading the unknowable forest
Our desire was for our griots to mold our legends and heroes
From the distant fragmented past to a future among the stars
But this was not to be
Once the ships sailed in to shore

Like a chasm in our souls is the sea which entered life
The emptiness we must embrace if at all we would proceed....
(One foot after another
Chained to these memories
Dangling from iron hooks in the sky)....
To heal the keloid scars of otherness
Which having torn blood asunder
Continues still to direct dissensions
Which long ago robbed Wagadugu
Of her brilliance among the planets!
All this came to be when the ships sailed in to shore
Then they sailed away
Taking you awayfrom us
Leaving us in-te-rrup-ted for five hundred years,
till...“hello there, have we met?
I ‘m sure I know your face from a memorable place”

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