Mi Alma (Text from the performance)
Welcome to the Black Imaginarium.
The place for honest conversations about Black History, Fantasy, Joy and Afrofuturism. My name is Richard Ampadu Kofi and I will guide you through this evening. Glad you're here .... You could have done anything with your time but you chose to be here ... with us. How did you actually end up with us? Do you ever think about HOW you got HERE? An important question because according to my psychiatrist, we all arrived here.
Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, the North and West of Africa consisted of a multitude of states. The leaders of those times would later be worshipped as Gods: Ama, Nommo, Isis and Horus.
Several of them made attempts to unify the states. But Pharaoh Narmer and his wife Queen Neith-hotep were the first to succeed. That was about 3100 BC.
According to West African sources, according to one African source ... okay, according to my Uncle Ernest, Narmer and Neith-Hotep were from the Akan ethnic group ... and his actual name was Kofi...... really true.
For psychic and spiritual advice, Kofi contacted the priests of the Tellem, a people group from an area now called Mali. Their ancestors descended to earth from space on a large ship and established cities and villages: legend has it that the Bandigara Mountains in Mali are ruins of that spaceship.
The Tellem showed Kofi that everything has a soul. There are spirits that can travel between heaven and earth, animate plants, sacred animals like the fox and the snake Lebe. And sacred objects, which with the right knowledge, you can make your own to hold a bit of a spirit's power. Spirit Robots. And thanks to the network of King Neith-Hotep, this technology spread throughout the African continent.
The Tellem also had contact with ancestors, some of whom were so tall that they did not stand out among the trees in the sacred forest, le Foret Sacre. They were so tall that they could see the future as well as the past.
Also living in le Foret Sacre were the Baka. Spirit people, also known as pygmies. They were also visited by Kofi for support and good advice. The voices they heard in the forest and in their heads were those of the Ejengi, messengers of a god from another dimension called Komba.
The Baka were so at ease among the spirits that they also sometimes climbed high into the trees to meet the great ancestors of the Tellem to test Kofi's future dreams and visions.
From these first encounters, thousands of years passed with different people living and being together in the forest. There were powerful kingdoms like Ghanatta, Kintampo, Kemet, Kush, Nubia, Tichitt, Amazingh, Wagadu-Mande and of course Mali successfully protecting and defending Le Foret Sacre. There were occasional conflicts between them, but once in Le Foret Sacre they shared everything.
Information about nature, about the cosmos, mathematics, healing and imagination. As a result, the forest even became the beginning of a trade network that connected Africa with the Middle East (Yemen, Persia, India) and China. Le Foret Sacre was the bridge between populations, a time capsule, a repository of memories and a source of rituals, song and dance.
Through a trade network that would later be called the Silk Road, more and more traders from the Middle East entered Africa. They had heard so much about the wealth of Le Forêt Sacree that they wanted to share in its benefits. And through war, bribery and the destruction of crops, they undermined the authority of healers and shamans.
In doing so, they disrupted the kingdoms that protected Le Forêt Sacree.
Slavery already existed in Africa, but they introduced a trade in people. Ideal for when you have a conflict. This gave the powerful and those who wanted power a new means of power. They became corupt ... er ... we became corrupt. More and more of the wealth from le Foret Sacre was sold by us instead of shared with each other. Le Foret Sacre, once the source of existence, became a breeding ground for destruction and conflict.
By sea came the Portuguese, followed by the British, the French, the Dutch, Danes, Germans, Swedes. They built forts and castles to protect the . uuuhh... looted gold, silver... and people to store until a ship was made ready for a crossing to the Caribbean.
Once a ship was ready, the prisoners had to pass from the dungeon through a narrow corridor into the ship's hold. They had to go through the door of no return.
No return ... no return. Strong symbol that door, because this whole system was designed so that there was no way back.
Speaking of design ... slavery, racism and the sexual violence that goes with it was designed. It has a logic, an architecture, an aesthetic.
This is pretty much what Fort Elmina looks like, in Ghana. This Fort briefly belonged to the Portuguese, to the Germans, it was taken by a West African warlord and it also belonged to the Dutch.
And inside it looks something like this.
This is a dark dungeon for enslaved men.
And this is the dungeon for the women. That one had a courtyard, with a well.
There the women were allowed to wash themselves from time to time. And when they did, the governor would stand here watching from this balcony. When he had THE SIN he chose a woman to rape. There was even a staircase designed in the women's room that led to the governor's room......
Thus, generations of half-breeds were bred together. Often their mother was shipped off and they had to go to boarding school just outside the castle. Papa did give them a surname other than his own, to cover his tracks. At school, they were trained to become docile workers for the trading companies.
If they were good enough they might be allowed to do the dirty work at Dad's company. There they could earn money, get nice things and they formed the new middle class of the Gold Coast.
Because of their light color and white manners, Europeans reliably called their children blacks. The schools I mentioned are the foundation of today's Ghanaian education system. And the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of this half-breed class became the moneymakers for Ghana's independence movement. And the forts? Those became prisons, run by the British colonists, destined for anyone who resisted their rule.
You know what I find difficult about the history of slavery? Every time I come across one of those stories about those half-breeds, or about collaborators, it feels like it's about me. Of course, I'm a double-blood, not directly involved in this past as far as I know ... but I see their pictures. With their suits on. And then it's like they look back at me and ask: What should I have done? And then I think ... shit .... am I someone's reliable black, too? Am I one of you too?
By the way, that idea of black and white, race, another thing designed. Race is not a biological thing, it's a power system. European religion and oh-so-neutral science shaped this system. In the 17th century, slavery was justified with an appeal to the Bible. Black people were said to be destined for slavery because they were descended from Cham, son of Noah.
Cham had disgraced his father and therefore had to serve forever. In the 19th century, physical anthropology wanted to prove that white people were superior, and did humiliating experiments on us. There were human zoos ... there we were put on display.
And at that time psychology came up with the term drapetonamy. A madness that would have enslaved those who wanted freedom. Because how can you resist such a great system, as slavery. Since then, one can always find a virtuous mass that dismisses rebellion, freedom struggles and activism as madness.
You know what my favorite revolt is ... the revolt of the enslaved aboard the Neptune. A Zeeland ship anchored off the Gold Coast. I sometimes dream about being one of them. We yanked ourselves free of the shackles, fighting crew. We managed to get through to the powder room. There was gunpowder and weapons stored there.
Rumors of this rebellion spread along the Gold Coast. The English could drink the blood of the Dutch, but they did decide to use their navy to stop our fight for freedom. The racist order had to be restored.
When Dutch and English soldiers entered the ship, we retreated to the powder room for the endgame. The plan? Make a fire and blow up the soldiers, ourselves and this whole ship.... We would rather die honorably than have our souls broken.
Right before those soldiers come in and we blow up the whole shithole ... we all ... put in another song.... One more song ... one more dance. As a farewell ... or to celebrate that we will die in freedom.
Did you dance today?
That rebellion on the Neptune really happened, but I have been unable to find any Western sources that confirm the veracity of that ending. But it went that way in my dreams, so then there must be a grain of truth in it.
I don't know about you, but with dreams like that I always wonder where it comes from. What it means. I think inside I'm actually very pessimistic.
I think I actually find all this talk about commemoration and restoration of this past pointless. Honor recovery. That word recovery .... that means return, right? A return to what really?
A time without capitalism, modernity, colonialism, comsumption society, and exploitation of the earth. Without migration deals, regime change, scary diseases from laboratories, colorism . bleaching creams... proxy wars... lynchings....
All sins that the system needs to keep its own mental health intact. And that punishes us, when we can no longer pull it off ... and we can no longer be the strongest version of ourselves. Meanwhile, we stab each other for jewelry and a little pocket money.
It has so tarnished us all... our souls... and fix... or repair this system? No only total... destruction.... only all-consuming Blackness can bring healing.
When I dream I am one of those rebels, one of the heroes on board ... I still startle awake at that explosion. Bathed in sweat. Terrified. Of world where only total destruction is just.
The more I allow those intense thoughts, emotions... and my pessimism..., the more I find that space opens up in me for other thoughts... for my imagination.... peace, joy, intuition... and for other dreams. For example, the other day I dreamt that I am floating in the sea. The water is cold but the sun warms my face. In the distance I see big ships breaking wild waves. And behind the ships people are walking ... with really long legs that seem to reach the bottom of the sea. They walk with the ships and watch over those caught on board. From within the ship, I hear voices singing and firm rhythms.
Their singing seems to be answered from the shore by a shaman with a drum. He is completely covered in pemba dotti and sings at the top of his voice a song about nature, about the cosmos ... math, healing and imagination
Above the ship, someone is flying, a person with beautiful wings and a sharply focused gaze. Waiting until she could rescue someone off board and bring them home again. Past me, mermaids swim aggressively toward the boat. And all around me float symbols carved out of wood ... like life preservers ... waiting for a drowning person. They are symbols of hope, unity, vastness and inner strength. For a moment I arrived at a place... where I see the world as it really is.
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