Symbols Make Music..

There is nothing in this life that is done without purpose. Everything stands from something, and everything comes from something that came before it. And, to be frank, sometimes words are just not enough. Sometimes dance is used to convey a message, sometimes music, body language, or in other cases symbols.

Adinkra symbols greet you at the door when you make it to Ghana. They are everywhere, on clothing, billboards, walls of buildings, in restaurants, and even candy wrappers!

“Adinkra” can be defined as: being separated, taking leave, saying farewell. The word originates from the language of the Ashanti people, Akan/Twi.  Because of this when fabric printed with adinkra symbols are worn by community spiritual leaders and royalty it is usually done so as a funeral garment, mourning someone’s death. That has since changed and you can see adinkra symbols casually plastered almost anywhere.

I was on a quest to find my symbol, the adinkra symbol that I believed best fit e, and it was so hard. The more time I am spending in Ghana the more I am learning. Not just about the Ghanaian culture but about myself. There are about 400 adinkra symbols that are officially recognized in Ghana, so you could see how it is hard to narrow it down to one symbol. Here is an archive.

I did however, find a symbol that represented my strength as a woman and it has an identical appearance to that of a fro pic. It embodied characteristics of not just what is inside a woman, but the manifestation of those things in her physical appearance.

The process of creating the ink to print the Adrinkra symbols is a tedious one. The substance used in the stamping process is prepared by boiling the bark of Badie (a tree) together with iron slag. This creates a redish brown color. Originally the printing was done on a cotton piece lying on the ground. Today, that method has evolved and raised platforms with sack coverings are now used as the printing table. The designs, are created by dipping wooden symbols into the ink and gently rocking back and for and carefully lifting to create the perfect imprint.

It seems only right that such time is taken to prepare these symbols since they are representation of values, morals, and traits that have been an important part of Ghanaian culture for centuries.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”

Returning To The ‘Door of No Return’..

Have you ever cried at the mere idea of something? An experience that you may never have, or a heartache you will never feel? As humans, empathy may be one of the greatest qualities that we possess. The ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else, it’s what helps us connect.

I don’t feel like a child in the Motherland.

Yes, I said it.

As an African-American I constantly find myself feeling like I don’t have a place in this world. I came to Ghana believing that I was going to be coming back where I belong. Why? Well, in America I don’t feel at home. Every single day I am forced to wake up and be my race, I am constantly reminded of the chocolate tent of my skin. Whether it’s the stares that I employ from onlookers while I am in the midst of a black or white people respectively. Maybe it’s the look on my peers face when I raise my hand in class and they are shocked that I can articulate and enunciate my thoughts with eloquence, class, and ease. Being black in America is hard, and being black and feeling like you don’t belong in America is harder.

But the truth is that abroad I have yet to find my place. I just knew that by coming to Ghana I was going to find answers and my place in the world.. instead what I found was strength.

I’ll let John Green give you a 101 Crash Course on Slavery.

Walking into the Cape Coast Slave Castle there was no class, no lesson, movie, show, or book, that could have adequately prepared me for the feeling that I had.

I walked through dungeons. Some specifically designated for males, and others specific for females. I touched the walls that had slave bodies pressed up against them that were once drenched and overtaken by the smell of an obscene amount of missed baths. I walked the floors, floors that used to be packed solid with human waste.. I could still smell the excretion. As the door to the dungeon was closed I heard the water crashing and imagined how I would have felt if that was my first encounter with the water. When the guide wasn’t talking to us it was so quiet I could hear the faint echo of cries, and screams.

As we walked over to one of the two clean water wells I pictured African women being bathed and moisturized with Shea butter just to prepare them to be taken to the governor’s quarters to be raped. And from that rape a mulatto child could very well be a product. I had the opportunity to experience the darkness of prison cells that would uncomfortably accommodate 5, but was created to hold 50 slaves. The darkness was pierced only by a small hole that was created not for light but as a means to watch the slaves in the room. In this prison cell slaves had an unavoidable death.. and knowing that none of the bodies would be removed until the last of the 50 bodies was lifeless. Can you imagine that? Imagine being the first to die in conditions like that or even the last.

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman provided the best preparation for this experience. There were two points that she made that had the biggest impact on me.

1. Noone can tell you how an experience like this should feel. Regardless of if you go once, twice, or a thousand times, feelings are the most genuine and unique reactions to an experience like this one.

2. ASlave Castles and the structure of slavery itself can be paralleled with the human intestine. The function of the intestine is to take what you put into your body (food) deplete it of all that is good, use that to keep your body going and then get rid of the waste. The slavery system is the same way.

Take a slave. Break the slave down, all the things that make him/her unique strip them of it. Keep the body strong, take away and discard the mind.

It’s in moments like these that I thank God for my mind, and the opportunity to come to this land and expand it.

I came from the womb of a woman and a man that walked through the ‘Door of No Return’ and here I am, returning.

The overwhelming emotion that I had walking out of the front doors of the castle was one of pride. Knowing that someone made it through those inhumane conditions, conditions made to break them and they made it. Because of them, I am. And I am glad to be.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be…”

A – (Hartman, pg 111, 120)

Strong Enough To Bear The Children..

Then get back to business.

If you didn’t know that was a Beyoncé reference and I could not help myself.

Africa and America have two different ideas of what it means to be a woman in the workplace. But regardless of how they go about addressing this specific group of people one thing is for sure this is nothing new.

Women have been made to fit into a mold of inferiority to men for many, many years. Everything comes in two’s including the standards that are held for women in the workplace as opposed to the standards that men are held to in the workplace. More so than just professionally women do not get the credit that they deserve when it comes to their contributions to other facets of life, with the exception of the near complete control that women have over the family dynamic, especially African women. Women are routinely discriminated against and the justification isn’t even just covert prejudice, sometimes the reasons are overt and unashamedly broadcasted.

When considering the role that gender plays in the development of nations and societies one must understand that inequality is the thread that holds the fabric together. Patriarchy, or plainly put male dominance ( white male more often than not), is the root of forms of unequal situations. The equality of ALL people has been an uphill battle for centuries, especially in the United States. When you look at the documentation on which our nation stands equality and freedom are always conditional. From the heart of the struggle for equality the idea of feminism is one that sprouted and it spans across the globe. It it is a bold phenomenon that empowers women to get up and fight for their rights, while different demographics of women take different approached the desired outcome is nonetheless the same.

Before you know the types of feminism, you must first define what feminism is.

Noun

fem·i·nism

ˈfeməˌnizəm/

play

 Feminism can be loosely defined as a theory and practice that analyzes the positions/ situations of women in society in an attempt to advocate for their political, social, and economic right to be equal to men.

7 Types of feminism:

  1. Traditional – developed in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s. It was a movement that sought for women to be treated as equal to men.
  1. Radical – is a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts. Radical feminists seek to abolish patriarchy by challenging existing social norms and institutions, rather than through a purely political process.
  1. Social – is a branch of feminism that focuses upon both the public and private spheres of a woman’s life and argues that liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women’s oppression.
  1. 3rd World – Deals with the equalities and rights of women in third world countires, Because of this specific plight feminists in this strand find themselves facing and having to discuss taboo issues that no one will talk about but everyone needs to hear about.
  2. African – I found an article that sums up what African feminism is.
  1. Womanism – In the words of Alice Walker: “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” I can’t give you a better definition since she is the one that coined the term. Basically womanism includes other groups of oppressed people. It’s a movement from black women that all-in-all includes black men in the fight for equality.
  1. Liberal – is a particular approach to achieving equality between men and women that emphasizes the power of an individual person to alter discriminatory practices against women.

Men rule the world, and this is no different in Ghana. Abuse and mistreatment are most times practiced like a second nature. Gender relations, or lack thereof, has a defining role in the work place. Work that men oversaw while women executed the tasks is what is considered women’s work. Since men have access to all sectors of the work force this can create a decline in access to working opportunity for women.

We visited several business in Ghana that have a sole purpose of using work and the knowledge of the business to empower women and provide as many women with the opportunity to learn a trade as possible. We visited a few of these establishments ranging from leather making, a sewing school/shop, and a Shea Butter plant.

 

Leather Making:

Here we met a woman who started off as a shoe shiner and now owns her own leather shoe making business. She talked to the group about how she saw her mother spend years selling water on the road to make a living for her family, and while she was appreciative she vowed to herself that that would not be her destiny. Now she defines the norm of women being in subordinate roles and is the teacher of young men who have a desire to learn the business.

 

Sewing School/Shop:

This seamstress start her own business where she teaches orphans from a local orphanage how to sew, and also makes money by selling the things that are created in her shop. Most of the individuals working at the shop were young girls full of promise and potential. She spoke of the growth of her business and how her family was very supportive of her dream and helped her in any way that they could. Including the buindling that we were standing in. She had it because of her father.

 

Shea Butter:

The Shea Butter plant was to me the most in depth look at women working we got while in Ghana. In America Shea butter is a luxury for the African-American community. It is a commodity that we so effortless go to the store to purchase and do not for one second stop to think about all of the time, and physical energy that was put into the process of making it. These women here were working mothers raising our next generation while providing an essential for the current one. It’s a wonder how they do it.

Cynthia walked us step by step through the shea butter making process that takes about 4 days start to finish.

Shea is a fruit, after you eat the fruit you crack the shell of the entity on the inside to reveal the nut. The nuts are then washed with water, and put on cement platform to dry. They are then brought to the production center where they are put only machine on the whole plant and are ground into a powder form. The nut goes through another roasting process. From there everything move quickly, I will insert pictures to help you visualize.

This plant gives work to about 60 women, a formal education is not required you just must possess the skillset needed to carry out the job. Just watching these women work blew my mind. The literally were working with children on their backs, there is no maternity leave. The time period between having a child and getting back to work is a small window.

Women’s empowerment is key. They hold up entire households and work daily to provide for their families. The current social construction makes it near impossible to provide women the recognition that they deserve. Even female goats in Africa are valued at less than male goats. Which is odd to me. When are both productive AND reproductive. Their womb carries future generations and their backs hold up current ones. We live in a society where males benefit from women’s subordination and we must ask ourselves why.

As one of the few males that actually acknowledges that women are an essential in today’s society and we should treat them as such, James Brown said it best:

This is a man’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”

A Cloth By Any Other Name..

Some places are just known for certain things. For America it could be that we are known for baseball and hot dogs, Paris is heavily associated with the Eiffel tower and love, for Africa? Kente cloth is one things that this continent is known for.

Kente cloth is so readily identified as a part of African culture that besides dashikis this cloth is a big part of black history month in the United States. Also its’ use spans outside of just the month of February seeing that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) all of the country use them as graduation stoles. This cloth originated in Ghana, and started out as a cloth that was exclusive to Ghanaian royalty, and is also referred to as ‘the cloth of kings’. Over time this patterned cloth has become more accessible to a larger demographic of people and not just limited to Ghanaian royalty.

Kente cloth is said to be made using a motion that mimics that of a spider making its web. This method was created by two friend from the Ashanti tribe that were out hunting and ran across a spider making its web and spent two days studying it’s methods. The story of this spider (Ananze) was translated in America and is commonly known as Anansi the Spider, and is a popular children’s book detailing this spider, and bits and pieces of Ashanti culture.

Kente cloth comes in different vibrant colors and patterns that all have unique meanings. Below is a list of the different colors and what they represent:

Black – Maturation, intensified spiritual energy

Blue – Peacefulness, harmony and love

Green – Vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal

Gold – Royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity

Grey – Healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash

Maroon – Mother earth; associated with healing

Pink – Feminine aspects of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red

Purple – Feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women

Red – Political and spiritual moods; bloodshed, sacrificial rites and death

Silver – Serenity, purity, joy; associated with the moon

White – Purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions

Yellow – Preciousness, royalty, wealth, and fertility

When we visited the Kente cloth factory there were absolutely no women working to make this cloth. That to me was representative of the ideology that men still have the upperhand when it comes to power and prestige in Ghana. Even just the idea that this cloth, that was once exclusively offered to the ashantehene and used only on special occasions is conceptualized, and and solely made by men is powerful.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”

This Pot Can Call The Kettle Black..

There has to be more to the story.

America paints a picture of Africa like the only slavery that ever occurred was when the Europeans came in and forcefully extracted men, women, and children, from their homes without consent or prior knowledge. Nobody talks about the role that Africans played in slavery among their nations.

Before we traveled to the Slave River we first went to Salaga Slave Market an African slave trade site.

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Even though now you can find people waiting for the tro tro or selling/purchasing goods, this used to be a focal point designated to the selling, purchasing, and trading of human beings. Here Africans would stand as potential buyers came and examined them to see of what use they would be. The more skilled the slave the higher the stake. To put a price tag on human life..

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Our tour guide for this leg of the trip was soft-spoken but full of energy. He spoke with anger about how the Asante people would bring their own to the Salage Market to be sold, what seemed like the ultimate betrayal. But this was not an irregular occurrence for this time.

 

Here in Africa slavery has a history that spans farther back than the Europeans coming in at the beginning of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In America history and facts as a nation are primarily passed odwn through textbooks and written forms of information. Because of this there is a limited pool of individuals to draw on for fact and perspective. But history here still has very strong oral tradition. The importance of oral story telling is something that stayed present in the African-American culture and still has strong ties today.

Depending on the site that we were at the perspective of the tour guide varied, but one thing seemed to be a common theme: the Asante were overcalled viewed as full of pride, overly confident, and key players in the inner-African slave trade that affected the lives of over 12 million. While the 12 million who were taken and traded faced some very harsh conditions people didn’t seem to mind that aspect that much. In the African Slave Trade those captured and sold into slavery tended to be prisoners of war, people who broke the law, or generally bad people. Some may even say the type of people that society wouldn’t miss. The theme of betrayal seemed to be the bigger issue. This is not an attitude that African-Americans have adopted. In African there is so much emphasis put on the importance of loyalty, support, and sticking together, in America? It seems to be every person for themselves.

Perspective is key in the telling of history and the reality is that none of us were alive during those days. Who are we to place blame on any one tribe or ethnic group and place on their shoulders the sole burden of buying and selling their own. Africa is a large continent made up of diverse, ethnic groups, religious groups, and religious affiliations. There were reasons that Africans were traded and sold in exchange for goods and raw materials, and the Asante were not the only ones to benefit.

As I was reading Where The Negroes Are Masters by Randy Sparks there were so many indicators that debunked the myth that Africans were taken completely against their will and without consent.

“The Fante welcomed European traders, and even though they allowed and encouraged the English to build a fort at Annamaboe, they were not subject to them in any way. Europeans often bristled at their inferior status and at the Fante’s assertion of their power and authority, and the seventeenth-century records show the English and the Fante working out their relationship day by day.” (Sparks, pg. 19)

Inner-African slave trade is what I would call and ugly truth about Africa. But it confirms the idea the while there have been racial hierarchies created where white supremacy reigns supreme power is still the ultimate social hierarchy topper. And until Africans experienced their first displacement from Africa they were in high supply of power.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”

 

Beauty Shop Talk, Skin As Smooth As Shea..

We visited the Cape Coast Slave Castle one thing that I took away from the tour guide’s spill was the tid bit where he talked about the use of shea butter. Shea butter was used to moisturize the skin of captured African women to make them more appealing to the eye of a man that was going to violate their body. A man was going to force himself to momentarily become one with an African woman because he was attracted to her features, it was just something about her. Those same features would eventually be used against African-American women in a plight to make them look in the mirror and not see how beautiful they are. The day that they adopt that mindset as their own is the day that the European standard of beauty reigns supreme, we have been living in that day for years now.

I have always been taught that the most beautiful people in the world are both beautiful on the outside and on the inside. Funny enough as an African-American woman when I think about the idea of being beautiful on the inside to someone who benefits from the structure of white supremacy, I can’t do anything but laugh.

For centuries women of the African diaspora have been victims to stereotypes that make it near impossible for someone to look at them and not make negative assumptions about who they are and what they bring to the table. If you’re unfamiliar with those stereotypes that are embedded in modern societal messages and where they originated, watch the following clip:

 

You love my hips, just as long as I don’t put my hands on them. You love my voice just as long as I’m not talking too loud, you love my sass unless of course it’s directed at you. Do you get where I am going with this? The general idea that people love black culture but just don’t love black people can be boiled down to: people love everything that makes a black woman who she is, people just don’t love black women.

Yet we still try to gain and earn that affection. A beauty product that is highly sought after in the African-American community is shea butter. After watching the women at the Shea Butter plant make shea from scratch that was just one example of how African/African-American women break their backs to rise to a standard of beauty that was created knowing that there was no way for them to meet it.

We are told that lighter skin is beautiful, so we harm our skin using beaching agents and chemicals (that were just banned in Ghana, read more here) yet European/Caucasian women jump at every chance they can to darken their skin (tan). We are told that thin and small features are superior, so we kill ourselves dieting or crush our organs by using waist trainers and corsets, while European/Caucasian women desire fuller lips and go to extreme measure to achieve them. Critiquing and criticizing our natural hair and then using our methods in an attempt to receive similar results.

It takes a European/Caucasian woman to adopt a feature, or style to make it become a part of the standard, however that is not enough. While the term gentrify is normally only used when talking about housing and the unfair policies surrounding that in regards to minorities, I will step out on a limb and say that they also gentrifying the essence of who we are.. as if we are not enough.

When I made it to Africa one thing that I was looking forward to was being the majority.. for once in my life I would be the majority race everywhere that I went. I looked forward to it. No more being singled out because of the color of my skin, or walking into stores and having the target consumer audience be a demographic that is nothing like me.

I was wrong.

While everyone around me looks like me, the European idea of beauty is still penetrating through our realities. Billboards of make-up ads mirrored those in America, I walked into

The M.A.C store and the first shades of foundation I see are the fairer shades. I walk down the streets and while I expected to see natural hair everywhere there are more braids and weaves than I ever expected. I went into department stores in the Accra Mall and while there may have been more African print the sizing still paralleled with the European idea that thin is superior to ‘real’ bodies.

African women are more like African-American women than one might think, especially when you put into perspective that we are living under the same beauty standards that were created with the idea that we would never meet them.

~Kristen Phantazia

“Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be…”

Pop Goes The.. Mole.

One of the funniest things I hear all week was a Ghanaian man that asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from America, then he started naming major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, then I responded and said I was from Arkansas he chuckled. Then went on to inform me that he had never heard of Arkansas, however made it a point to refer to it as ‘Hicksville’ when I told him that it was in the south.

To me that was a prime example of the southern stereotype that her persisted all of these years. The idea that people from the south are country, and just short of uncivilized. I just chuckled a little on the inside though because I found it more intriguing than offensive.

Animals, plant life, and the environment are major factors and aspects of Ghanaian life. Everywhere you look there are domesticated animals around. Cats and dogs are few and far in between but there is an abundance of goats, cows/bulls, and sheep.

When it comes to the environment Ghanaians are very careful about how they take care of their land, and are never wasteful. Even at the shea butter plant when the shea is getting boiled down the access isn’t just thrown out, it is used to help fertilize the ground. There is a perception of Africa that Africans are wasteful and not mindful of the world around them.

 

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The first stop

we made was at

Mole National

Park. After I got

over the initial

shock of not

having wifi I

found that it

was so

refreshing to be

in the midst of

nature like

that. We went on an early morning hike where we saw elephants and antelope, and really got to see the landscape of the place. We even went on a rooftop jeep safari ride. It was amazing.

 

We went to the home/workplace of a man that took care of goat. From him we learned about the different types of goats and the amenities that they provide. I was shocked to find out that male goats cost more than female goats, even though female goats have reproduction ability. While we were there we learned that they reason there were so many goats, sheep, etc. just roaming around was because they belonged to someone and stealing is a major offense that could cost an individual their life.

IMG_0789

 

IMG_2367We visited Aburi Botanical

Gardens. There were so many

interesting flora and fauna.

There was a preserved shea

butter tree, a tree that hard bark

that was used to extract

cinnamon from, also small

plants that close when you touch

them. There were ant hills taller

than 2 of me, and twisty trees

that were completely hollow on

the inside.

 

 

 

We also visited Kakum National Park, where we took a slight hike up a hill and then walked a rope bridge. While we were walking our tour guide was telling us about how the size of the park is large but is steadily shrinking, and he put a large emphasis on the importance of preservation. It seemed so bright on the floor of the park and I was shocked to learn that only about 1% of the sunlight is making down to the bottom of the park floor.

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IMG_1654I have never been as

close to a crocodile

as I was to the ones

at Hans Crocodile

Cottage. Here at the

cottage they have

trained crocodiles, I

 

must have been feeling very adventurous because I actually douched one. The skin was soft but still like that of a reptile. There also were some very beautiful small birds that were actively building nests the entire time that we were there.

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The beaches were gorgeous, but trash seemed to be a major problem. On some coasts with every wave trash and debris would be washed to shore with each wave. But Ghana recognizes this and has started a recycling effort.

 

#GoGreenGhana

~Kristen Phantazia

“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”