Tag Africa


Explore the full photo grid lightables.net (enter user name manwomanboygirl).

Is there anything more tiresome, and yet oddly compelling, than the sub-sub-genre of blogging wherein one’s pedestrian but repeatable creative efforts in a given category are laid out, day after day, as a great cumulative achievement of artistry and time management? See, for instance: A Photo a Day. A Drawing a Day. A Heart a Day. A Song a Day. A Dog a Day. A Startup a Day. A Collection a Day. Et cetera.

Citation Needed


This year marks the tenth birthday of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia that anyone (with a computer, an Internet connection, and nothing better to do) can edit. Quite often I fit those categories to a T, but the sad truth is that in my years of wikiresearching, wikiquoting, and wikiforwarding article links to unsuspecting friends, I have only one edit to my name (or rather, my IP address). It’s not that I haven’t found mistakes, or inconsistencies, or editorial potholes: rather, it’s that those are part of what I’ve come to love Wikipedia—all ten years and 3.5 million entries of it—for.

Secular praise songs from Western Kenya

This is from a really wonderful blog (my tax dollars at work!) that posts decades-old African pop music, accompanied by lengthy history and commentary. Here’s the brief background: “The Kawere Boys were formed by Cheplin Ngode Kotula in Kericho, Kenya in 1974, and over the next four years became one of the more popular Benga groups in Luo land. … These recordings were not only popular throughout Luo land, but also sold well in Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroun, and West Africa.” It’s fascinating and heartening to learn these tales of cultural spread that bypass the usual centers of power (Europe, the U.S., heck, even Nairobi). Also—fascinating relationship between artist and patron: the patron doesn’t just make the song possible, he is the song’s subject.


The Kawere Boys ‘Muma Ben’ (1974) mp3

Most of the songs in the Kawere repertoire seem to be praise songs for patrons who had invited the group to perform. These songs can be thought of as pre-internet age social networking. The singer usually starts by introducing himself, goes on to introduce the object of his praise, as well as the patron’s relatives, friends, and neighbors, before explaining the nature of his relationship to the patron in question. For example, in ‘Muma Ben’, the song starts with an introduction of ‘Muma Ben from Saye Konyango’, then introduces Muma Ben’s family, and ends with praise for the hospitality the singer received when he was invited to Muma Ben’s house. If you were to map out all of the relationships outlined in the Kawere Boys singles in our collection, and if you had a deep understanding of Luo culture, you could get a good idea of the social networks the Kawere Boys relied upon for their livelihood.

from “The Kawere Boys,” by Matthew LaVoie, Voice of America African Music Treasures Blog, 12 November 2008 :: first posted here 12 November 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Everyday South Africans and their bicycles

Upon viewing the new Shakira World Cup song’s video, an African historian friend of mine tweeted “Planning to cringe all month w/ South Africa standing in as the ‘real Africa.’ Drums + Feathers anyone?” Hopefully the soccer coverage will dig a bit deeper than that, or at least provide the world with a few urban African cliches to balance out the rural ones. On a more positive note, I really like these portraits of South African cyclists, which are paired with interviews about the pictured bikes and (as if they hadn’t won my heart already), Google Maps pinpointing each photo’s exact location. The photographers are raising money to publish a hardcover book of the portraits.


Originally published at culture-making.com.

OK, and now can we get one with the torn shirt? Thanks!

Frustrated with the way he saw poor people depicted in typical journalism and fundraising campaigns, a Canadian volunteer with Engineers Without Borders is photographing low-income rural Malawians he knows both as they’d typically be seen by the West, and as they prefer to see themselves. Evidently one difficulty in making the “poor” photos is getting his subjects to keep a straight face.

Bauleni Banda, sustenance maize farmer, Chikandwe, Malawi

The truth is that the development sector, just like any other business, needs revenue to survive. Too frequently, this quest for funding uses these kind of dehumanizing images to draw pity, charity, and eventually donations from a largely unsuspecting public. I found it outrageous that such an incomplete and often inaccurate story was being so widely perpetuated by the organizations on the ground – the very ones with the ability and the responsibility to communicate the realities of rural Africa accurately.

This is not to say that people do not struggle, far from it, but the photos I was seeing only told part of the story. I thought that these images were robbing people of their dignity, and I felt that the rest of the story should be told as well. Out of this came the idea for a photography project, which I am tentatively calling “Perspectives of Poverty”. I am taking two photos of the same person; one photo with the typical symbols of poverty (dejected look, ripped clothes, etc.), and another of this person looking their very finest, to show how an image can be carefully constructed to present the same person in very different ways. I want to bring to light some of the different assumptions we make about a person, especially when we see an image of “poverty” from rural Africa.

from “Perspectives of Poverty,” by Duncan McNicholl, Water Wellness, 28 April 2010 :: via Aid Watch

Originally published at culture-making.com.

The right book at the right time

Ah, the life-changing power of the right book at the right time. The reissue of An African in Greenland moves right to the top of my travel writing to-read list.

a Futility Closet post by Greg Ross, 15 March 2010

Ordered to join a jungle snake cult in his native Togo, Tété-Michel Kpomassie chanced to find a book about Greenland in a local Jesuit library. At the first opportunity he ran away.

Kpomassie’s 1981 autobiography, An African in Greenland, tells of his odyssey through West Africa and Europe seeking a route to the frozen island. He finally arrived in the mid-1960s, a black giant among the Inuit:

As soon as they saw me, all stopped talking. So intense was the silence, you could have heard a gnat in flight. Then they started to smile again, the women with slightly lowered eyes. When I was standing before them on the wharf, they all raised their heads to look me full in the face. Some children clung to their mothers’ coats, and others began to scream with fright or to weep.

Kpomassie happily spent the next two years driving a dogsled and hunting seal in a kayak. After eight years, he had reached the land of his dreams — a country with no trees and no snakes.

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Street Musicians by William H. Johnson

William H. Johnson was an African-American painter and printmaker; he was born in Florence, South Carolina in 1901 and studied art in New York, Massachusetts, and in Europe, before returning to the States for the remainder of his career. This is from a series of woodcuts and linoleum prints that bear a strong folk art influence but, says the Smithsonian commentary, were also inspired by German expressionist woodcutting techniques. I’m guessing the apparent left-handed guitar and violin technique is an artifact of the mirror-image printing process, though this other lovely print would beg to differ.


Street Musicians,” by William H. Johnson, serigraph on paper, c.1940, from William H. Johnson’s World on Paper, Smithsonian/Flickr

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Give me a lever long enough and I shall move the world

A wonderful and simple student design for a wheelchair appropriate to the far-from-paved conditions of the developing world. It’s a smart, simple design, and is made using standard bicycle parts, which should allow for easy repairs and creative modifications in the communities where they’re used. In East Africa a few years back, the main wheelchair type I saw on the street were full tricycles with a longer wheelbase and an elevated bicycle crank turned by hand. The levers look to be a vast improvement, allowing the chair to be useful both indoors and out.

from “MIT Student Designs All-Terrain Wheelchair for the Poor,” by Cliff Kuang, Fast Company, 23 February 2010 :: via The Morning News

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Beach calligraphy by Andrew van der Merwe

South African calligrapher Andrew van der Merwe has developed various wedge- and scoop-shaped tools to allow him to carve letters out of beach sand. This is a picture of one of his creations, on a beach in Belgium.


image from “Beach Calligraphy,” by Andrew van der Merwe, Japan Letter Arts Forum, 21 October 2008 :: via The Ministry of Type

Originally published at culture-making.com.

The Shettima Kagu Qur’an

A linguist friend of mine doing a bit of work on archaic Saharan languages sent me a link to this site at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, full of lovely scans of annotated Qur’an pages from northeastern Nigeria. The manuscripts, which date from the 16th to 18th centuries, feature Qur’anic texts and commentaries (tafsīr) in Arabic along with extensive glosses—the more odd-angled jottings—in “archaic Kanembu,” which bears roughly the same relation, my friend notes, to the currently-spoken Kanuri language as does Middle English to that of today. All of which makes for a beautiful piece of parchment, full of layers and meanings.


Originally published at culture-making.com.