Monday, October 27, 2008

It's Called "Progress," Try It
I clipped a couple of items from last Thursday's newspaper. First, a story of interest that comes to light somewhat locally in Annapolis, Maryland.
Scientists Find African slave `Spirit Bundle'
300-year-old object predates assimilation

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) ―University of Maryland archaeologists have found what they believe to be one of the earliest examples of the spiritual traditions brought to North America by African slaves. The bundle of sand and clay, packed with metal bits and a stone ax, is believed to be about 300 years old.
University of Maryland anthropologist Mark Leone said the object appears to be an example of African religious practices and not a later mix of African and American practices. The discovery also shows "an unexpected level of public toleration" of spiritual displays around 1700, said Leone, who directed the project.
The archaeologist noted other African spiritual items found in Annapolis are at least 50 years younger and believed to have been used in secret while the object found in April is believed to have been openly displayed in front of a home.
Annapolis' newspaper at the time, The Maryland Gazette, was filled with accounts of English magic and witchcraft, so African and English spirit practices may have also been tolerated, the archaeologist said.
"English witchcraft in this period existed openly in public and was tolerated," Leone said in a statement. "It's intriguing to speculate how English and African spirit beliefs may have interacted and borrowed from each other."
After 1750, references to witchcraft and magic disappeared from the newspaper, indicating the changing philosophy of the times, Leone said.
The archaeologists believe the bundle containing hundreds of pieces of lead shot, pins and nails was used to ward off spirits. The bundle went on display Tuesday at the Banneker-Douglass Museum, which is devoted to African-American history and culture.
The bundle was believed to have been wrapped in cloth, leather or hide with the stone ax protruding from the top. Researchers believe the 10-inch tall bundle was placed in the gutter because running water was believed to carry spirits.
The dig was conducted before a project to lay utility cables in an area that was once part of the city's early waterfront. The bundle was found four feet below street level in the city's historic district, about 1,000 feet from the statehouse.
Leone said that after consulting with experts on West and Central-West African culture, he believes the bundle may have origins in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea among Yoruba or Mande speakers.
I probably should have snipped that down but I wanted to pass along the rich, chewy contextual goodness of information about the prevalence of magical thinking at the time to which this object is dated. Why? Because the same paper had an article in the "Regional Briefing" section (that's Africa on Thursdays) which is headlined, and here I present the headline with only a couple of snips for context. In light of the title of my blog post, that is: (Tanzania) Albino girl killed for 'luck.'
"Attackers killed and mutilated a Tanzanian albino girl who became the latest victim of gangs who sell body parts as lucky charms to sorcerers." (insert leprechaun saying "They're after me Lucky Charms!" for comic relief)
"She died just hours after President Jakaya Kikwete called for an intensified crackdown, saying the killing of albinos has 'stained the country's good image.'" (Good image? It hurts to elect the delusional and Africa should know this by now.)
And finally, an indictment that goes beyond mere hoodoo, juju idiocy: "Discrimination against albinos is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, but in Tanzania, it has taken a twist with victims, including children killed or mutilated. Witch doctors beleive that albinos have magical powers to bring fortune." Discrimination based on skin color? In Africa you say? Egad! Life might be better if albinos in Tanzania had magical powers to escape being killed and sliced up.

But the larger idea is that in 300 years, how much has changed in Africa?

1 comment:

Gradual Dazzle said...

Zero has changed. Except that many folks have learned to depend upon Western do-gooders for their livelihood with "mission work", etc. It's precisely the same thing in Haiti, which is a country that could have broken off from sub-Saharan Africa and floated west. The whole country would finally collapse under its own endemic corruption if Westerners would just leave them the hell alone a while.

And the idea of some of my decent Haitian friends who must remain in that cesspool is abhorrent to me. I hate ALL of it.