Turn of the Century:
By Kiini Ibura Salaam
this is kiini ibura salaam. i'm spending four months in the
south pacific and my father asked me to send a report. this
report includes my initial observations, which makes them not
fact, but opinion [which is all facts are anyway]. it also
includes statements various fijians may have made to me at one
time or another. i don't pretend to know the validity of the
statements as i've only been here for three weeks, but i'm
sharing them with you. as with all that you read, consider the
writer, his/her motives, and his/her perspective, then judge for
yourself. now that all blame has been disclaimed :), on with the
i arrived to nadi,
which is the main tourist center of fiji, three weeks ago. the
two first things i noticed were both men and women with flowers
behind their ears and women wearing medium sized afros. Knowing
i was in a tourist center, i wondered if these floral-clothed
folks weren't dressed for the benefit of foreigners. As i took
the four-hour bus ride to suva, however, i was pleasantly
surprised to see a construction worker with a beautiful flower
tucked behind his ear. he was working on the side of the road,
certainly not concerned about the tourist industry.
here in suva,
capital of fiji and location of the main campus of the
university of the south pacific, i noticed most of the fijian
women wore afros. my host, a university lecturer, says that
angela davis believes the afro started here. whether that's true
or not, it is certainly alive and kicking. upon closer
examination, i saw that the jerry curl is also alive and
kicking. not in a hanging, dripping sort of way, but in a
softening and texturizing sort of way.
any processing done to
the hair seems to be for the purpose of producing a more buoyant
and manageable afro. that said, i have seen a few perms, nothing
as bone straight or lustrous as i am accustomed to in the u.s.,
but perms nonetheless.
as you may have
noticed, what interests me about a country is its people. the
people of fiji come from a number of different cultures. people
of different cultures communicate with each other in english and
often in fijian, but each culture also has its own language.
fijian can be a nationality or an ethnic distinction. ethnic
fijians are what we would consider black. they are brown
skinned, kinky haired, with familiar variations on that theme.
and fijians speak fijian.
[bula means hello or welcome... that's
all i can say, besides na ka, which means thank you.people
speak to me in fijian. I, of course, can't respond, but anywhere
i can fool the people, i'm comfortable.]
there is a large east
indian population here, consisting of hindus and muslims. there
is also a community of mixed race people, european and pacific
islander being the most common. there are also other pacific
islanders: tongans, samoans, cook islanders, and others. now
that i have come to fiji, i have a desire to visit all these
islands. culturally, they seem to influence each other.
did you all know where bora bora was? i never knew. it's in
my first big
challenge in coming here was the rain. it's the rainy season/the
hurricane season. a fact my host pointed out to me before i
booked my ticket. a fact i waved off as insignificant. i thought
i could handle it. i handled brazil's rainy season, how
difficult could it be?
well, you know the statement that eskimos
have thirty million different words for snow. The way it rains
here during the rainy season, fijians should have thirty million
different words for rain. My first three days in suva were
filled with rain: pounding rain, sprinkling rain, showering
rain, streaming rain, barely-there rain, bone-soaking wet rain.
Yes, for three days, i experienced different qualities of rain.
i was sick, i was coughing, i was depressed. there should be
some sun soon, my host said. and she was true to her word. there
is sun now. i've worked out an acceptance of the rain and i feel
grateful for the sun. there hasn't been another three days like
my first three, thank god. my baptism by rain is over.
Fiji is made up of
two big islands and a number of smaller ones. It is beautiful,
lush, fertile. This campus, the suva campus of the university of
the south pacific [usp], must be one of the most beautiful in
the world. there are hills and valleys, and wooden bridges, and
huge ficus trees, and jackfruit trees, and palm trees, and
coconut trees, and many others i am not knowledgeable enough to
name. there are sections of the campus i could photograph and
you would think i was in a rainforest or on a nature hike.
my second challenge
is the mosquitoes. i won't bore you with a description of them.
just know that they're mean and hungry and i've got my battle
before i came, my
host told me that people in fiji dress pretty modestly. and
she's right. it's hot, but people are pretty much covered up.
the last place i traveled to was brazil and they walk around
half naked. the contrast is striking. though there are young
fijian women, they don't stand out as much as the adult and
elderly fijian women [at least not to my eye]. They wear long
floral dresses with an underskirt called a sulu. Men wear sulus
too; for men, the sulus are fitted, often with pockets, reach
about mid-calf and are used for official occasions, dressing up,
school uniforms, or work uniforms. One of my favorite sights so
far is seeing a group of school children, the girls in their
dresses, the boys in their sulus, all with flowers behind the
ear. when it rains, there are many, especially children, who
stay out and get wet. it is the custom of taking a rain bath. i
took one by mistake one day. i was soaked, but it felt good.
i have found fijian
people to be soft spoken... by that i mean low voice levels, not
much shouting. i also found the energy to be very gentle. when i
landed it felt soft, as opposed to chaotic and aggressive [as in
new york, salvador bahia, jamaica]. that does not mean however,
that fijians don't suffer from many social problems. there is a
high incidence of domestic violence [80% of the households],
lots of drinking [i'm a lightweight, i've protested when they
want me to go further than my two/three drink minimum], children
begging on the streets is a new problem [and a strange one in so
lush a land, kind of like looking at homeless in the u.s., so
rich a land], violent crimes are growing. i haven't had much
contact with the street and as a result have only witnessed a
little of the social problems. but i've seen the government
housing, it looks tighter than the projects in new orleans. Five
story metal [?] buildings with laundry hanging off the balconies
and windows. it looks like every doorway is a compartment-like
apartment. i haven't been inside, but it doesn't look like the
residents have much room to flex.
i visited the
museum of fiji. when i went in it was raining. when i came out,
there was a mini river rushing across the driveway... i had to
wade through to get home. anyway, three interesting facts about
fiji. fiji was annexed by britain late in the game. i don't
remember the facts but i believe at the time britain had all the
colonies it could handle. slavery may have been outlawed and/or
was seriously on the decline. sailors had passed by/through fiji
often, but when they started settling, management problems
developed. americans in particular did not follow fijian
law/rule and incited disturbances and threatened to call in the
american marines to 'protect themselves and their property.' as
a last resort, the king/chief of fiji asked britain to annex
them. and so britain did.
the second fact is
that christianity was not forced upon the fijians. i think the
missionaries had by then learned their lesson with force and won
the fijians over with persistence. the fijians converted out of
a sense of politics, thinking it might put them in a better
third, parts of the
fijian society were cannibalistic. communities that worshipped
cannibalistic gods were in turn cannibalistic [mostly for
ceremonial and ritualistic purposes]. those that worshipped more
peaceful gods were not. part of the exhibition detailed an
example of a christian missionary who was cannibalized.
apparently he offended a community who had converted to
christianity. since they couldn't cannibalize him themselves,
they got another community to do it. i can't help seeing the
humor in that.
there were many
interesting things in the museum, exhibitions of HUGE boats,
feats in construction and architecture. an example of some
really elaborate male hairstyles, that included braids, twists,
afros, often all mixed up in one hairstyle.
but for me, coming
from america where our communal conception of colonialism is by
force and blood, the idea that fijians had a choice in the
matter of religion and government throws me for a loop. Granted,
the choice was not really a choice, but a maneuver intended to
protect them from harm, but still, there is a different
historical reality at play here. the fijian community is very
christian, which is different for me. my contemporaries are free
spiritualist and want nothing to do with a church. i saw a
really ironic cartoon. it was simply done with two panels. the
first panel shows european missionaries wearing shoes, and hat,
and long sleeves and dress, holding a bible, pointing at two
native fijians, both wearing nothing but short leaf skirts. It
is dated 1835 and they are demanding that the natives
"cover up." The next panel is 1978, two fijians are
modestly dressed, proudly sporting afros, self righteously
pointing at european tourists who are barely covered in shorts
and bikini tops. Condemning the bare-skinned tourists, the
fijians demand that they "cover up." Life is irony.
Fiji will be one of
the first nations [if not the first] to welcome the new year.
Since I'm going through it before all of you, that makes me 'avant
garde.' I'll say happy new year early. Here in Fiji we will be
eating a TON of food... smoked root vegetables [the likes of
which I've never seen before] cooked underground (called a lovo),
a ton of barbecued meats and various coconut flavored seafood.
and of course lots of liquor, song and dance.
about small creatures:
I spent last week
at a summer house. The house is surrounded by lush vegetation,
walking distance from a lovely beach. The week was characterized
by me negotiating the various harmless animals that inhabited
the house and grounds. At night, the mosquitoes came out and
tore us to pieces. The geckoes also came out at night, crawled
out of the walls and roamed all over the ceiling. Their skin was
translucent. They look like albino cave lizards, no color, could
be blind. They made clicking sounds that almost sounded like
someone knocking on a door.
At night, when we turned the porch
light on, bugs were attracted to the light. So were the geckoes.
There would be about twenty of them, crawling on the ceiling
near the light. I would rush into the house, terrified one would
drop on me. It's good luck when they fall on you, my host
assured me. Uh-huh, I said. I woke at dawn one morning to see a
crew of them clustered on the wall. I watched them for a while.
Made my hypothesis that they had crawled out of two odd
wood-rimmed holes in the wall. I had never seen so many on the
wall before, maybe the ceiling, but not the wall. I must have
caught them on part of their slow journey back home. I drifted
off to sleep again. When I opened my eyes an hour later, they
The ants were busy
all day. I think ants are horrifying and I praise god that they
are so small. They are single-minded and ruthless. They don't
mourn their dead, they just reroute their path and continue
their task. The worse thing about ants, besides their quick
response to a dropped grain of sugar or a spilled bit of juice,
is their lack of compassion for other insects.
I actually feel
sorry for the cockroaches that fall on their backs and can't get
up. If they are sick and dying slowly, the ants don't wait for
them to die. They march right up and start working on a leg or
two. If a bug is maimed and trapped on the ground, it better
hope an ant doesn't find it. Because if it does, any hope for
future salvation is over. I saw a fallen bee with a nice round
body. Huge in comparison to an ant. No matter, a team of ants
worked together to haul this treasure away. They carried it
along the window sill, dropped it off, then tried to force it
through their ant hole. When it didn't fit, I saw them milling
about. I didn't know what they were going to do about the
dilemma. My guess: they were chomping the still-dying bee in
There was a huge
brown moth that rested, perfectly still, in the exact same
position on the window sill for two days. It's body was an
aerodynamic wonder. Sharply curved wings, carefully carved body.
By mistake, I hit the window shade and rustled it awake. Then it
flew around the light, making me paranoid that it was going to
brush up against me. I woke one morning and shook out my sheet.
As I was folding it, I noticed a brown fleck on the sheets... a
roach leg! Then I found another, and another. I tried to
convince myself it wasn't a cockroach, but another bug. One with
better p.r. But then I found chips of the body. Hard, shiny fat
crescents. I didn't want to think about it and flicked it to the
Cracks in the tub often weren't cracks, but rather worms.
There was one odd worm. It seemed to be attached to a leaf
shaped cocoon and it valiantly dragged its load all the way
across the bathroom tiles. I always wondered where these
creatures were going and how would they know when they got
My favorite by far
were the frogs. When it rained, they would peek out from their
cool resting place under the concrete porch. Then they would
leave the shelter and head for some destination. As I sat on the
back porch, it looked like they were headed for high ground. It
is a strangely beautiful sight. Big frogs and little, hopping,
then sitting still. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Then hopping
again. In this way making a slow journey to their secret rain
When I watched from inside, it looked quite magical. The
grass would be still. Then rain would fall. Then before I knew
it, the lawn would be alive with the slow movement of frogs.
on Fiji #2
Turn of the
Century: December 1999
i found myself faltering in the past few
weeks knowing that i had agreed to write another report on fiji.
because i am leaving next week saturday, this will be my final
fiji report. however, i don't feel equipped to make a
"final" statement on fiji after two short months.
there's so much i still don't know/understand... so let's
consider it "my last words for now."
i didn't have a very fijian time in fiji.
that is to say, although i've befriended, bonded with, shared
space and time with people who are fijian by nationality, i
haven't spent much time with people who are fijian by
"race" (black people). those fijians i have spent time
with were outside of the context of the fijian community. this
is not a problem for me b/c as a traveler i take things as they
come. rather than decide ahead of time what type of experience
i'm going to have, i go with the flow and do what's most
comfortable. so here are more accounts of the experiences that
crossed my path.
i climbed a mountain. we have mountains in
the u.s. lots of them. but i never climb them. i'm not very
athletic nor am i attracted to communing with nature [though i
do need trees around... this is becoming more about myself than
about fiji . . .]. but somehow, when you travel, you find
yourself doing things that are accessible to you in your town .
. . going to markets, spending weekends with other families, and
climbing mountains. climbing mount kirababa [pronounced
korumbamba, fijian "b" is pronounced "mb"] i
learned some things.
trees are useful. when the earth starts to
incline at a 45 degree angle, a tree is your best friend. you
grab onto it and hoist yourself up. but you must test the trees
before you pull on them, they could be rotting and thus soft and
thus of no use... or they could be unstable and when you pull on
it, it could fall and you fall with it... or some evil climber
could have left gum on it... or there may be a slug or any other
creature in nature clinging to its bark... so you tread
carefully, check out the tree before you hold onto, but when you
do, don't let go until you've regained your balance [sounds like
instructions for life]
i also learned about the power of the bou-tay.
going down these steep inclines. when you are too frightened to
run and jump and step. you can squat, sit on your butt, stretch
your legs forward and scoot down. your butt anchors you, grounds
you, keeps you safe when there are steep ravines dropping off on
both sides of you.
i learned that if you keep going you usually
make it [although your legs might be trembling and your heart
might be pounding a war dance in your throat]. and if you should
make a mistake and step into some black mud at the bottom of the
hill, and this mud should suck your flip flop off your foot and
you should be forced to dig through this mud knowing full well
it is probably swarming with bacteria and vermin, then you'll
probably be desensitized to the dirt and bugs by the time you're
really climbing. by then, climbing a mountain barefoot won't
seem like such an insane idea.
the view at the top was amazing. it's the
highest peak in the city of suva. nothing spoiled the view. i
saw a black slug. i saw a leaf with the most intricate patterns
i've ever seen. i got sunburnt. i enjoyed the shade of trees and
the beautiful leaf-filtered sunlight. i swam in a natural
freshwater pool, i drank out of a creek and tried not to think
of little swimmy things that were probably enjoying the creek
water along with me.
fiji was a british colony so their english is
based on british english. their accents are softer than brits
(thank god) and much more attractive. since i've been here, i'm
very concious of how "round" i speak. i feel like a
southern hick. they pronounce almost every syllable [often they
pronounce it differently, so that i have to ask twice what they
just said]. it's been really funny walking up to someone and
asking them something and they just stare at me. it's one thing
to adjust to another type of english, but when strange sounds
fly out of the mouth of someone who looks just like you, you're
a little taken aback. you kind of need to regroup. i usually
smile good naturedly while they regroup... i can be good natured
about this because (besides the fact that i have no choice, if
they can't understand me, they can't understand me) i've had
worse trouble when trying to speak another language. waiting for
someone to adjust to your accent is a lot easier than trying to
ask for something in spanish or portuguese. especially if it's
something i really need, especially when i don't know the right
word or sentence structure to use.
once while shopping i pointed to this dress
and i said, 'this doesn't look like cotton.' 'what?' my friend
said. and i repeated myself. and she repeated herself. and i
repeated myself. and she finally figured out that i had said
'cotton,' and i finally figured out that i *hadn't* said
'cotton' at all. i said: ka-un. i did not pronounce the two
"t"s at all. and my 'o's were no longer 'o's. oh god,
i said to myself, i can't speak!
other linguistic differences cause confusion.
for example, if you say, "you're not going to wear that
dress?" they say "yes." meaning, "yes,
you're right, i'm not going to wear that dress." whereas
americans say "no." as in, "no, i'm not going to
wear that dress." there are the usual charming differences
in word usage... "you gang" instead of "you
guys." you "reckon" instead of you
"think." "canvas" or "runners"
instead of "sneakers" or "tennis." and there
is a colloquial slang that the middle class folks use to tell
jokes in. it employs broken english, exaggerated accents, and
grammatically "incorrect" phrasing, similar to middle
class black americans' use of ebonics.
a bizarre aside: a rotuban friend who went to
school with all sorts of people said that some of the fijian
guys in his high school would slit the skin on their penis and
insert round balls about the size of a peewee marble. they would
push the ball back along the shaft and let the cut heal. he said
it wasn't that difficult to do so they would do it in the
bathroom at school. the most he'd seen was one guy who had five
[each ball must be inserted at a different point in time, not
all five in one sitting]. the purpose: to give a woman more
pleasure during sex. apparently, b/c of the network of nerves,
it is a lot more difficult to take them out than to put them in.
unfortunately, i can not relay any first-hand experience in this
matter. maybe if i stayed another month. :)
boys in fiji are circumcized at a later date
than boys in the u.s. the circumcision is done between the ages
of 6 and 8. traditionally it was done with bamboo to a large
group at once so that the boys could share the pain. many men
have painful memories of the experience. it is customary after
circumcision to take a sea bath. as you drive along the coast,
you may see young boys with sulus [cloth used for wrap skirts]
tied around their necks. they are holding the cloth away from
their bodies and gingerly tiptoeing towards or away from the
sea. you sigh, with the knowledge of the circumcision they have
on the front page of the paper yesterday was
a story reporting on a young girl committing suicide because she
didn't pass her form 4 exams. instead of grades (1st grade, 2nd
grade, 12th grade) in fiji they have forms [form 4, form 5, form
6]. i think form 7 is the highest, but i could be wrong. at the
end of certain forms, you are giving an exam. if you pass the
exam, you can stay at the school. if you fail, you are kicked
out. and you either find another school or find something else
to do with your time. these exams also decide whether you'll go
to university or technical school or get a job. as one
australian national observed, this system (based on the british
education system) seems to be geared at weeding people out so
that they won't have too many educated people on their hands.
the less educated people you have, the less skilled jobs the
country has to fill. in small places, there are few resources
and few skilled jobs. everyone else must find something else to
sugar cane and tourism are fiji's biggest
industries. as you drive down the highway, you pass rows and
rows and rows and rows and fields and fields and fields and
fields of cane. it's everywhere. new cane, old cane. cane, cane,
cane. i had noticed narrow tracks on the side of the road from
time to time and wondered what kind of train could function on
such narrow tracks. during a recent trip to the west coast i saw
what the tracks were used for. those tracks transport cane from
the fields to the crushing factories. the cars hook together
as needed and crawl down the track LOADED with chopped sugar
also, all over fiji, including all over the
city of suva, there are loads of fruit trees. also papaya plants
and taro [a leafy root vegetable] and other root vegetable
plants. these plants feed parts of the population. as an article
i read said, the people who plant the land, aren't necessarily
the people who own the land. and the people who eat the crops
aren't necessarily the people who own the land. this article
suggested that this usage of land is rarely considered when
western economic teams come to make assessments of fiji. they
often don't even recognize the plants as they look like they
could be decorative.
in addition to sharing land for planting,
some fijians share land for living. one man i recently met,
inherited a family with his land. when he bought a house
surrounded by lots of land, there was a tin house on it. in the
tin house lived a man and his family. they kept the property for
the previous owner. so he came with the house. the landowner
now, not only employs the man, but built him a wooden house,
expects to help solve economic and family problems, pay school
fees, and provide various other services. he says he has this
type of fluid, familiar relationship also with the woman who
washes clothing for him and others. and as he drives from his
house outside the city, into the city, he picks up laborers and
neighbors who may need a ride.
this man recently took me to the village of
nabua. it is a fertile valley. small, friendly town. he took me
to the house of friends. apparently, this family is very poor
and had nowhere to live. they found an abandoned house and moved
in. the father of the family cultivated the land around it and
renovated the house. the indian owner of the home, who moved to
california, is happy with the agreement as his property is not
only being looked after, but improved.
when you drive into the gravel driveway,
there is a pond with lilypads and fish. the father has planted
banana trees and other fruit trees around the house. he's made a
mosaic footpath with stones leading up to the house. across the
road, between the house and the beach, is a tangle of trees.
when you enter, you see that the father has cut a path through
the trees and lines it with stones. the sand is nicely raked and
there are circular paths that lead nowhere, other paths lead to
benches, and one path leads to the beach [unfortunately this
coast is suffering erosion, if something isn't done, the land
will be devoured by the sea, bit by bit].
the edges of the shaded property have been
lined with interesting pieces of collected driftwood. under the
shade of trees it is cool. a delicious breeze blows through. as
we are talking, i look up to see the father bringing a plate
loaded with pineapple slices and bananas. this moment is so
luxuriously perfect. my host comments that the difficulty of
this family's poverty is lessened by the bounty of the land. i
am inclinded to agree. i've never spent much time in the
country. in simple houses surrounded by fruit trees. maybe a
weekend, but i always run back to the city. in this moment, i
found myself wondering what it would be like to spend a month or
two here. then jamaica kincaid's words come to mind.
while here, i read jamaica kincaid's "a
small place." it is about antigua, the clash of citizen and
tourist, what it's like to live in such a small place. and she
talks about the beauty of the place as a prison. the constancy
of the place as a trap. and she states that tourists are ugly
people. and that everyone is a native somewhere and everyone has
the capacity to be a tourist. and that tourists travel to escape
the dull monotony of their lives. and that natives hate
tourists, not because tourists are bad people, but because most
of them can't afford to be tourists. they are trapped in their
dull monotonous lives and can't escape, not even for two short
weeks. she goes on to say, that natives also hate tourists, b/c
tourists somehow get pleasure from the dull monotonous lives of
this pounded through my head as we were driving away
from the family's house in nabua. the son stopped us and gave us
a huge load of bananas. "i'm sick of eating these," he
said, "i get rid of them every chance i get."
an aside for single folks: everyone's married
here! o.k., not everyone, but about 50% of everyone. the young
ones, the old ones, the middle aged ones. the ones flirting with
you, the ones kissing your friend in the bar, the ones who are
nice to you, the ones with the sexy bodies, they're all married!
and as i was told during my first weeks here, when people get
bored, they have affairs. and when people have affairs, other
people gossip about it, constantly. i'd have to say, gossip is
like a number one fijian sport.
i've heard so many stories about
so many people, before i meet them, i know half their history.
and, i'm told, people memorize license plates and later say, 'i
saw you driving DT982. i didn't know you had a new landcruiser!'
or something to that effect. it is a small place. addresses
aren't as important as names. i was lost in a taxi, and the
driver kept asking me the name of the owner of the house. i
didn't know it, all i had was the address. we drove up and down
the street, there were barely any house numbers anywhere. when
we finally found the house, we drove into the driveway and the
taxi driver said, 'oh, he's a lawyer, you should have told me.
richard ________.' no privacy, nothing you do is secret.
i recently met a fijian who greeted me in
fijian. i responded. then he asked me something else in fijian.
i said, i'm not fijian. so he switched to english. "i was
just asking what villiage you are from." "I'm from the
u.s." i replied. "so then your village would be?"
"new york," a friend said. "no," i said,
"new orleans." i have always been adamant about saying
i'm from new orleans. after i say i'm from new orleans, someone
might ask me a question about new orleans in recent times, and i
have to say, 'well, i live in new york.' and if i say, i live in
new york, they may ask me a question about growing up in new
york or a native new yorker and i have to say, 'well, i'm from
just as i thought i was complicating things, i
learned this about fiji: when fijians say they are from a
certain village, it means the village where their family is
registered. it's possible that they've never been there. it's
possible that they were born somewhere else and live somewhere
else, but that is their village and the people of those village
are those they identify with. land rights are connected to this
system of identification, as are voting rights and political
representation. "there is some village in africa where my
family is from," i said. "lots of new orleanians are
descended from senegal, but we really don't know."
"same here," he said, "we presume we come from
africa somewhere, but we don't know." only the fijian
coming was a self-selected migration that had nothing to do with
european forces. these migrants became fijian and established a
fijian culture before contact with the europeans. but it all
remains a mystery.
there's more, of course. there's always more,
but it's lunch time and i'm hungry. i'll go get a curry wrap
from the shop and go home to work on a collage. my final word on
fiji for now is that it is a good place to visit. it is
beautiful, the people are kind. there's lots of crime, but i
haven't experienced too much first hand, and i haven't been
hustled too much just b/c i'm a tourist. mind you i look fijian,
but i've been to places where i've been terrified to open my
mouth. i didn't want to reveal that i was american. here, i feel
comfortable going to town, asking questions, etc. the calmness
of the people and the still energy of the place is conducive to
writing [the reason i came].
i thought the men were quieter than men in
other places. as i've walked by them, they haven't bothered me
too much. a phrase here and there, but not the bombardment that
i've experienced in other places. when i mentioned this to
fijian women, they looked at me like i was crazy. obviously my
perception is colored by something: maybe they have been
screaming at me, and i haven't understood them b/c i don't speak
fijian; maybe they don't think i'm cute, so i escaped notice. i
don't know, but for the most part i've been left alone.
then i traveled to the country. i went to the
village of nakelo. as we passed by groups of men resting after
work in the fields, they yelled (not too attractively, and with
quite a bit of aggressive enthusiasm) "uro, uro, uro."
there's been some discussion of exactly what "uro"
means. my one friend said it refers to pig fat. but everyone
agrees it refers to food, and it is used to say
"yummy!" so when you see a sexy man/woman, you say
in nakelo, as it was close to new year, there
were still people dousing folks with hoses and buckets of water.
that's a new year's greeting: "happy new year",
splash! we went to the river to swim. i didn't realize what it
would mean. my friend says, "you want to go to the river to
swim?" "sure," i say. so we go through the
backyard, we're sniffed by and followed by her five country
dogs. old dogs, mangy dogs, smelly dogs [can you tell i'm not
too keen (keen is another word they use here) on dogs].
walked over narrow wooden planks to cross gutters. we ducked
barbed wire and entered the cow zone. where the cows live, there
are humps of dry earth surrounded by muddy water [or watery
mud]. if you slip off one of these humps, toads hop out
everywhere as you are invading their home. so after we made it
through the cow field, we got the dogs to chase the cows away.
"what will the cows do to us?" i asked, not too
thrilled at the prospect of outrunning a cow.
"nothing," my friend assured me, "i just have a
phobia b/c i was chased by a cow as a child."
when we finally got to the river, there was
oil on the surface and the bottom was covered in mushy silt...
yuck! but the water felt nice. after we were in, they told me
about the fish and the eels that lived in the water. no sharks!
they promised. before the sunset, the sky came alive with bats.
they were waking up and going to feed. when we returned home, we
showered and ate. my friends mother [who is indian] cooked a
shitload of food: spinach, curry potatoes, curry veggies, dhal
soup, chutney, puree bread, nan bread, dhal stuffed nan bread.
only vegetables b/c friday is the vegetarian day for indians [i'm
not sure if this is just for muslims or hindus and muslims]. but
just in case we didn't want the indian food, she also roasted
two chickens and ten potatoes! in the morning we had samosas, at
lunch we had prawns, at dinner she made curried lamb. the next
day they fried fish, chicken, and french fries.
for consistency sake... here's an addendum to
my postscript of small creatures:
in the country i was acquainted with two new
animals. the bat and the wasp. the bats darken the sky at
sunset. and as you are relaxing, watching t.v. in the evening,
you hear them squealing as they fight over fruit in the
surrounding trees. the wasps make themselves at home in your
home. they fly in and out of the house innocently. but if you
make a good inspection, you will find that they have built homes
in the nooks and crannys of porch swings, under the seats of
dining room chairs, on the side of couches, and in beneath the
shelves of bookcases.
i forgot to mention the precautions the ants
make necessary. first, you can't leave any food out. not even
for five minutes, without attracting a battalion of ants. a
speck of spilled juice, a glob of peanut butter or jelly on a
butterknife, a crumb of bread, are all enough to invite an ant
invasion. so all eating utensils must be washed or rinsed
immediately. and all cooking and eating surfaces must be wiped
as soon as they are no longer being used. you have to have your
trash can sealed tight or left outside. anything you have to
leave out, such as cough medicine or a cake, must be raised on a
moat. first you fill a bowl with water, then you place a cup in
the middle, then you balance a bowl or a plate on it to hold
whatever food product you need to leave out and keep ant-free.
i have progressed with my battle against
mosquitoes. i can now feel them on me as they are making their
bite and in one swift movement smush them with a smack
[sometimes stinging my skin in the process]. also, i can allow
them to bite me without being miserable. i'm tougher now.
there are these curious red millipedes that
insist on coming into the house. i keep an eye out just in case
one is underfoot, wouldn't want to squish them. they are a
beautiful shade of red, but once they get into the house, they
don't seem to be able to find their way out. they wander around
until they die [unable to find food]. once they die, they turn
stiff and black and i have to throw them in the trash. once on
my way back home, i saw two of them spooned together like
lovers... how lovely, i thought. another time as i went in and
out of the living room, i saw one marching around the perimeter
of the room, tightening the square with each revolution. after
it went around five times, i realized it was trying to find an
exit. poor thing, i knew i'd be picking up its carcass soon.
the rain has come to claim the earth for
another couple of hours. the sky is cloudy, so this shower may
last long. i'm off to eat and lock myself in my house. blessings
and smiles from fiji.
in the spirit of travel, art, and life,
kiini ibura salaam
© 2000 kiini ibura salaam
Ibura Salaam is a realistic woman.
She likes the feel
of a warm bed, understands the necessity of food, so she
works. At her day job, she corrects inconsequential
errors while remembering mornings spent wrestling with
words and sucking meaning from images. She frets,
knowing her 9-to-5 threatens her fragile relationship
Yet she always manages to
coax writing back into her graces. She begs writing’s
absolution with essays published in Colonize
This, When Race Becomes Real, Roll Call, Men We Cherish, Utne
Reader, Essence, and Ms. Magazine. She prostrates herself obediently with
fiction published in
When Butterflies Kiss,
Dark Matter, and
She tithes her art form with the KIS.list, a monthly e-report on
life as a writer. She produces www.kiiniibura.com
as an altar, an online offering of words.
Writing, expansive and forgiving, responds with a
flood of inspired embraces. Whether she be in her native New
Orleans, her adopted Brooklyn or her beloved Bahia, the writer
unabashedly bares herself to the caress of words. She writes
with holy gratitude, forever in love with her craft.
* * *
* * * * *
Aké: The Years of Childhood
By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a
memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and
lyrical account of one boy's attempt to
grasp the often irrational and
hypocritical world of adults that
equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka
elevates brief anecdotes into history
lessons, conversations into morality
plays, memories into awakenings. Various
cultures, religions, and languages
mingled freely in the Aké of his youth,
fostering endless contradictions and
personalized hybrids, particularly when
it comes to religion. Christian
teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or
ruling elders, and the power of
alternately terrify and inspire him
carried equal metaphysical weight.
Surrounded by such a collage, he notes
that "God had a habit of either not
answering one's prayers at all, or
answering them in a way that was not
In writing from a child's perspective,
Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and
unfiltered honesty while escaping the
adult snares of cynicism and
intolerance. His stinging indictment of
colonialism takes on added power owing
to the elegance of his attack.
* * *
By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /
Ekere Tallie Table
Her Voice /
Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your
Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond www.ekeretallie.com
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.”
Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style
that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this
isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * * * *
Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction
By Kiini Ibura Salaam
Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ''Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.'' Indeed, Ms. Salaam's stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to
Ancient, Ancient, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ''Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf's Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini's body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.''
* * *
Life on Mars
By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.
The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.
* * * * *
The White Masters
of the World
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * *
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Negro Digest / Black World
Browse all issues
* * *
Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /
George Jackson /
* * * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding
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