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We also had Ti-gari, who ruled over all the gods and men in this universe. Unlike the

abstract god and partial gods brought to us by these invaders, Ti-gari and the gods o

f our ancestors are merciful, generous, and sympathetic to the needs of people of all races

 

 

The Prophet of Zongo Street

Stories by Mohammed Naseehu Ali

 

This collection of short stories, The Prophet of Zongo Street, is the most wonderful group of short stories I have ever read. They are of great variety, with their settings in both Kumasi, Ghana and Brooklyn, New York. They are quite contemporary tales even when they make use of traditional tales like "The Story of Day and Night." Their issues are indeed current: African-Arab-European conflicts; critiques of religion and their devotees; immigrants feeling out of place in America; male-female relationships in Ghana and America; race and its ramifications—all in an African context even when the action takes place in New York. I am so fascinated by these stories I am reading them again. The book deserves awards.

The story "The Prophet of Zongo Street," for which the book is named, concerns itself with a kind of African spiritualism, in the person of its lead character, Kumi. The story is told through a child's eye. Kumi loves children and he relates to them better than adults. We find Kumi in the midst of a personal and an intellectual crisis. Maybe they are both the same. His wife has left him and taken his children. At the same time he's troubled by the ruling ideologies, which may indeed have had an impact on his family life. Kumi is an African intellectual—a philosopher and a theologian, as well as a prophet.

During the daylight hours he is a clerk, which provides no satisfaction other than a paycheck. From this false reality he withdraws to do "a serious study of the history of mankind." He provides one of his young friends with a book, Manifestations, "written in 1932 by one Anthony Mtoli, a self-proclaimed 'Africanist' and 'Spiritualist'." Here's a passage in which his young pupil responds to the book:

The book called for a universal black rebellion against "white dominance," and was full of curses and diatribes on Europeans, Arabs, and all white-skinned people. It was shocking and scary. I was brought up not only to revere Arabs and their culture, but to see each of them as a paragon of beauty, virtue, and spirituality. Islam was my religion, and Islam's prophet was himself Arab. At the madrassa, or Islamic school, I was led to believe that all white people were geniuses and daredevils, and that Arabs were divine among humans. And there I was, reading that some "Arab Invaders" had once waged wars against black people in West Africa, and in the process of that war, had enslaved my ancestors and forced them to convert to Islam. For the first time I realized that there actually was a period in history when the people of my tribe, Hausa, weren't Muslims at all. Before I read Manifestations, I never doubted that humanity itself began with Islam, and that God had chosen a prophet among the Arabs because they were morally and spiritually superior to the rest of mankind.

I can only wonder what actually goes on or went on in the Islamic schools in West Africa. How much of this fictional book in this fictional story correspond to the actualities of Islamic life in Ghana. We know the author himself comes out of this culture. From other stories like "Rachmaninov" we can suspect that the author himself, though rising from an Islamic background is not an ideologue himself and in a sense quite post-modern, that is, hip.

Kumi becomes mad, it seems, from the perspective of his neighbors. he is no longer neat and trim, gives up his job, locks himself away with his books and grows a beard:

They saw Kumi pacing up and down the street, holding a huge book, from which he recited. His normally clean-shaven face was now heavily bearded and his hair was curled into short, thick dreadlocks. Kumi had grown very skinny, almost skeletal. he was barefoot and was clad in a long white robe, with a red cotton belt tied around his think waits.

Later that day, in the afternoon, people flocked into our neighborhood to listen to Kumi's sermons. For a while he was entertaining. he danced and chanted to praise T-gari, whom Kumi claimed was the "supreme ruler of the universe." Kumi made gestures, shrieked, and stamped his feet on the ground in his spiritual delight.

"I am only a messenger," he cried. "For hundreds of years you people have been led astray. You have been made to bow down to the images of false prophets and abstract gods, thinking that you are bowing down to the supreme ruler of the universe, Ti-gari himself. Look around you here. Look at the poverty in which you live; look at the misery, the ignorance, the disease. And yet you continue to worship their so-called omnipotence and beneficent Gods . . . The Christian slave traders told you that Jesus is the son of God, and this Jesus, according to them, is white. Meanwhile, the Islamic Invaders had already arrived and told our ancestors that it is because of the love of only one human being by the name of Muhammad that the world itself was created. You must remember that this Muhammad is supposedly white too, a white Arab."

Kumi claimed that everything he preached was revealed to him by the god of his new religion in nightly visions. It drove me close to tears when I stood among my junior secondary school mates and watched as he raved. I tried to talk to him at the end of his first preaching session, but he acted as if I were a complete stranger. That night I cried silently before I went to sleep, careful not to let my mother hear.

"Long before these invaders came to our land, we had our own gods, gods of our ancestor's ancestors. We also had Ti-gari, who ruled over all the gods and men in this universe. Unlike the abstract god and partial gods brought to us by these invaders, Ti-gari and the gods of our ancestors are merciful, generous, and sympathetic to the needs of people of all races—ours especially. Our ancestors used to live with these gods, and with Ti-gari himself. They talked face-to-face with the supreme ruler in their shrines, and all their needs were fulfilled. And then came the Muslims and Christians with their gods! What did our ancestors do? They quickly abandoned their God, not knowing that these invaders had come to them with scriptures in one hand and a sword or chain hidden in the other, ready to capture and take them away. The Christian and Islamic intrusionists came and asked our ancestors to look up into the sky, to look up to Heaven, while they filled their ships with our gold, young men and women, timber, diamonds, cocoa—the list is endless. And even to this very day, we continue to allow them to strip us of our rightful and natural possessions that have been bequeathed to us by Ti-gari. Why can't we see the foolery? Why can't we see the betrayal? Why do we continue to take this insult? Why?" Kumi at times seemed to lack answers for some of his own profound questions.

As you can imagine any man who ask such profound questions with such passions is not long for this world. The neighbors after awhile ignored him. Kumi retired to his house and his books and they later found him dead in his home.

"The Prophet of Zongo Street " is the second story in this book of tales. The stories only get better. I am also fond of "The Manhood Test." Another story on religious belief, "Faith" is surreal and wonderful. "Man Pass Man" too is story about belief. In a sense all the stories are about the belief and the challenge to beliefs once place beside the reality of our lives. The Prophet of Zongo Street is a must read book.—Rudolph Lewis, Editor, ChickenBones: A Journal

 

Contents

The Story of Day and Night  

1

 

The Prophet of Zongo Street

15

 

Live-In

33

 

The Manhood Test

53

 

The True Aryan

81

 

Ward G-4 

97

 

Rachmaninov

117

 

Mallam Sile 

149

 

Faith

169

 

Man Pass Man

183

Reviews

In the tradition of rich African storytelling that mixes myth with modernity, The Prophet of Zongo Street is a dazzling collection of stories that calls to mind Ben Okri and Chinua Achebe. Mohammed Naseehu Ali, the tradition's acclaimed new practitioner, offers up ten powerful and beautifully rendered tales. Set primarily on the fictitious Zongo Street -- a close-knit community of wonderfully quirky characters who hold tight to superstition, religion, and family -- these stories are anchored by the uproarious, the embarrassing, the poignant, and the rawest moments of life.

Peopling this street are unforgettable portraits of humanity: Suraju, Zongo Street's King Drunkard, whose extravagant scheme to make a buck leaves him contemplating the afterlife; and Kumi, the enigmatic Prophet of Zongo Street, who teaches a young boy to finally ask questions of his traditions and beliefs. Across the ocean, in the story "Live-in," we find Shatu, a maid on Long Island, who left Zongo Street for the promises of America, only to find herself lonely, separated from her family, and cut off from her community. In "Rachmaninov," the well-meaning Felix struggles with America's love of the exotic as he makes his way in New York City.

Desperately poor and whipped from one revolution to the next, the men, women, and children of Zongo Street nonetheless maintain their good humor and philosophic outlook, even as they question the very bedrock that underlies their modern culture. Confidently written and highly imaginative, The Prophet of Zongo Street heralds a new voice in international fiction.—Publisher, HarperCollins

 

Direct and rhythmic dexterous, Ali's writing has a kind of folkloric quality I associate with African writers I know well—Amos Tutuola, for example. but I really love its politics and philosophical intentions.—Rick Moody, author of The Black Veil

 

Imagistic, muscular, superb.—Barry Hannah, author of Airships and Ray

 

Ali's style is direct yet delicate, rhythmic, and uanced as it struggles to balance the political with the philosophical, the dark with the funny. A strong book.—Chris Abani, author of Graceland

 

Lively, polished . . . and richly rewarding.Kirkus Review

 

Mohammed Naseehu Ali, a native of Ghana, is—a writer and musician. A graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy and Bennington College, Ali has published fiction and essays in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Mississippi Review, Bomb, Gathering of the Tribes, and Essence. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

posted 11 October 2006

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey (2008)

Thurgood Marshall became a living icon of civil rights when he argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1954. Six years later, he was at a crossroads. A rising generation of activists were making sit-ins and demonstrations rather than lawsuits the hallmark of the civil rights movement. What role, he wondered, could he now play?

When in 1960 Kenyan independence leaders asked him to help write their constitution, Marshall threw himself into their cause. Here was a new arena in which law might serve as the tool with which to forge a just society. In Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey (2008) Mary Dudziak recounts with poignancy and power the untold story of Marshall's journey to Africa

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Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan Africanist, Feminist, and Wife No. 1 Or, A Tale of Two Amies

By Tony Martin

"She had a sort of coup in the UNIA," Martin said of Amy Ashwood Garvey. This was when she was in Jamaica between 1939 and 1944, a period when Mrs. Marcus Garvey No. 2, Amy Jacques Garvey, was also in Jamaica." Martin's sources were Amy Ashwood Garvey's papers, consisting of letters, scripts and photographs--found among her friends Lionel Yard and Ivy Constable Richards, the National Library of Jamaica, in London and in Chicago from the former head of the UNIA, the Hon. Charles L. Jones.  In 1924, in London, she started an important organisation," Martin said. That was the Nigerian Progress Union, later to become the West African Students Union (WASU). "WASU is one of the most important organisations in the history of Pan-Africanism," Martin said, pointing out that Kwame Nkrumah was once president. In 1946, she traced her ancestry back to Asante in Ghana.  Jamaica-Gleaner

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The Prophet of Zongo Street

Stories by Mohammed Naseehu Ali

Vivid images of African life and familiar snippets of expatriate life infuse this debut collection by a Ghana-born writer and musician. On the fictional Zongo Street in Accra, young children gather around their grandmother to hear a creation story from "the time of our ancestors' ancestors' ancestors" in "The Story of Day and Night." In "Mallam Sille," a weak, 46-year-old virgin tea seller finds soulful strength in marriage to a dominant village woman. Other stories take place in and around New York City, depicting immigrants struggling with American culture and values. A Ghanaian caregiver vows not to "grow old in this country" in "Live-In," while in "The True Aryan," an African musician and an Armenian cabbie competitively compare tragic cultural histories on the ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn, achieving humanist understanding as they reach Park Slope:

"I looked into his eyes, and with a sudden deep respect said to the man, 'I'll take your pain, too.' " Several stories close in a similarly magical, almost folkloric epiphany, as when sleep becomes an attempt "to bring calm to the pulsing heart of Man" in "The Manhood Test." Ali speaks melodiously but not always provocatively in these tales of transition and emigration.Publishers Weekly

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

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.     

Professor Perry 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 Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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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.WashingtonPost

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Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918

By Jeffrey B. Perry

This first full-length biography of Harrison offers a portrait of a man ahead of his time in synthesizing race and class struggles in the U.S. and a leading influence on better known activists from Marcus Garvey to A. Philip Randolph. Harrison emigrated from St. Croix in 1883 and went on to become a foremost organizer for the Socialist Party in New York, the editor of the Negro World, and founder and leader of the World War I–era New Negro movement. Harrison’s enormous political and intellectual appetites were channeled into his work as an orator, writer, political activist, and critic. He was an avid bibliophile, reportedly the first regular black book reviewer, who helped to develop the public library in Harlem into an international center for research on black culture. But Harrison was a freelancer so candid in his criticism of the establishment—black and white—that he had few allies or people interested in protecting his legacy. 

Historian Perry’s detailed research brings to life a transformative figure who has been little recognized for his contribution to progressive race and class politics.Vanessa Bush

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The 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  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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