Bury Me at The Marketplace

Sharing narratives

I am inspired by travelling narratives, by moving stories, and by forms that take root from a place of communal sharing than individual enjoyment. I am a student in the literatures, and have found that novels and other books constantly require retraction from community—in that you would have to go sit lonesome on a bench or in your room quietly to read—perhaps making this a core reason why most people, in my country (?), don’t read. In most of our cultures, the art of storytelling is communal, inclusive, and accessible.

I am inspired by narratives that boast their own dialects, that burst with local intonations, and by stories that move with the rhythms of their music. The English literature departments in postcolonial Africa are a point of contention—the term ‘English’ points not only to a language, but to a culture and geographical space. Most of my people would not take easily to a novel that opens with a scene on the banks of the Thames River… This is why my academic research thus far has solely focused on literatures that speak of our own landscapes, cultures, languages, and traditions.

I am moved by the idea of travelling narratives, of newly packaged forms and styles that are accessible to all that traverse its landscapes. Literature has mostly been an elitist art form, perhaps the most inclusive and aristocratic, mostly enjoyed in closed halls of high brow entertainment. I am excited by the notion of breaking down those barriers and setting stories free; liberating narratives to reach spaces previously unthought-of. I find worth in depleting the traditional literary form; tradition is a dying hallmark of culture. Culture is fluid and malleable in the 21st century.

I am happy to reveal that I am officially shooting a documentary on South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile’s lifework. I am not satisfied with investing energy and time with researching his work and sealing it in libraries of the ivory tower. His story is one that must be released from the exact traditions which he sought to be liberated from. His story must be packaged to move in unsuspected places. It must be, like his very life, a travelling narrative. It must move to the rhythms of his Setswana, his jazz, his mbaqanga, and dance freely to the baseline of Johnny Dyani the maestro (they collaborated in 1977 at FESTAC, Nigeria).

Narratives of our own people should be liberated from the high pillars of air-conditioned libraries; stories must be accessible and inclusive, as opposed to Exclusive (Books) to all whose character and cultures it speaks of; literary forms must find their ways into taxis, street corners, chisa nyamas, parties, and general meeting points. Storytelling is dependent on an audience, and on a communal appreciation from various positioned listeners. Let us fervently take up the challenge to evolve our various art forms for the benefit of those whom they are intended to speak, mostly of, but also to.

Sharing stories

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Modern Life: Spiritually and Morally Bankrupt

Somalia

How did human beings get to a place of sheer neglect and unaccountability for our actions? How did we get to a state of disregard for human life? How did we achieve this unconscious living? How did we become agents and cogs in the larger wheel of a cruel capitalist society? How are we so content with allowing events to happen to us, always, instead of us happening to events? How did we neglect the essence of humanity, the human, and the humane?

When I grew up I saw fragile and limp bodies of Somalis suffering a criminal human condition of famine. Waking up to impoverished environments of disease and hunger; losing every inkling of energy with every breath; witnessing your body turn against itself for survival; having your body be a desert that only takes but never gives… I saw these images again on TV 20 years later, last night. Famine is a ravenous crime against humanity. It is not even a disease, it is a (un)human condition that points to a larger unhuman monster that ravishes the fabric of our inert goodness.

Living consciously means living to be in service of others, truly, courageously, and infinitely. In my mother tongue, and in those of various other African languages, the word “motho”, or person, signifies a quantified being who is equipped with “botho” and “setho”; that is, equipped with humanity and a culture of human interaction. In my own lifetime we could have never put food in our mouths while the mouths of our neighbours are empty without any promise of food in sight.  In fact, we lived by the proverb, also part of our “setjo”, or tradition, that “molomo o o jang o roga o mongwe”; which loosely translates into “a mouth with food curses the one without”.

In light of this matter that has deviated us from our moral obligations towards other humans, our humanity, and humaneness; I cannot help but think of the word “neighbour” in our languages, “moagishane”: moagishane is those who “aga”, or build, together. It is a wise understanding that when I build for self only, that is how problems rear their ugly heads. When we build together we open possibilities of communal living and mutual respect and devotion: we honour the divine and integrity afforded to us in our capacity as selves and higher selves.

Capitalism has divided and divorced us from who we are. There is no place for individuality in the process of building, or “agishana”, together. There is no place for egos and conspicuous consumption in the face of poverty and famine. This cannot possibly be a path to personal growth and the growth of our “neighbours”. We are on a wretched journey that yields no fruits. Self-interest goes against a life of servitude, where true treasures lie. The treasures that we are chasing now lead to an empty grave of an empty life.

Let us remember the tenacity and wholly commitment of our parents to our communities. “Motho ke motho ka batho”, you cannot enjoy wealth by yourself, it is lonely at the top, as the saying goes. Our morals are in famine, we are in a spiritual wasteland, our futures and the future of this world we are building are ravished by an insatiable monster. Our energies towards building in this course are going to waste. We are to blame for the famine in our neighbourhoods. We are to blame for the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of our former selves full of “botho”. And we can no longer wait for the projected goodness of another to save our own.

The baggage of language also has to be stripped. This is not modern but savage...

The baggage of language also has to be stripped. This is not modern but savage…

Against the backdrop of the lovely and calm touristy mountains of Cape Town, this is the human savagery that is happening in the township of Lwandle today: human evictions from the outskirts of the city to further wastelands out of sight of precious tourists of the beautiful city. This happened throughout the history of colonialism and apartheid: evicting blacks to make space for whites. Today we are evicting the poor to make place for the rich. The poor victims are inadvertently and inevitably black. Always. Just like in Somalia. Coincidence? I think not…

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