Decolonial Passage is honored to announce the 2021 nominations for the Best of the Net Anthology.  This list includes writing published between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.  Congratulations to the nominees!

 

Fiction

“Unmarried Men” by Linda Wanja Thotho

“Folding Time: Dear Descendant(s)” by Ibrahim Babatunde Ibrahim

Nonfiction

“When Hakuna Matata Became a Phrase in English” by Lorna Likiza

“Crossing Borders for an Elusive Betterment: Filipina and Chinese Women in Japan” by Tommy Gough

Poetry

“How Do I Abandon the City” by Kunle Okesipe

“Four Flights” by A’Ja Lyons

“A Song for Grandmother: Daughters of Hoodoo” by Rava Chapman

“Dealing with the unnatural heat” by Osahon Oka

“I Didn’t Know” by Sharon Hurley Hall

“commonwealth primer for the children of empire” by Lynnda Wardle

Image Description: painting of an amorphous, colorful figure that sits in and seems to be part of a wheelchair — two black wheels are present, but otherwise it is unclear exactly what part is the figure and what part is the chair. The figure seems vaguely humanoid in that it “sits” in/on/around the wheelchair, but has no discernable limbs, head, or other physical features. Instead, the figure’s multicolored form twists and branches out from its trunk.

Too often, disability and mobility aids are often regarded as separable from disabled people, or worse, something that exists outside of, or in opposition to nature and goodness. This painting rejects that ableist premise and instead frames a wheelchair as essential to and integrated with the divine and good.

I think that the way many disabled people (including myself) personify their mobility aids is fascinating, and I took inspiration from that phenomenon while creating this piece.

The colors and style of my work are guided in part by my disability; I don’t have the motor skills for precise work and need higher-contrast colors for vision reasons. This has shaped my art to emphasize bright, varied colors as I embrace big, blobby shapes. Watercolors are well-suited to this approach. In this painting, I also did some strategic water dripping to make the colors of the divine’s “body” flow up and out and into the ether.

I was deliberate in titling the piece The Divine rather than A Divine, not because I think that there is only one or because I claim to possess such a singular truth, but because I want this portrayal to sit solidly in opposition to the white, male, cis/straight, nondisabled god that is so often elevated and granted the “the” when others are simply an “a”– much in the same way that writing about a normative/privileged god is considered “theology” while other areas of study are “queer theology,” “Black theology,” “disability theology,” etc. This god in/of a wheelchair is not a novelty or token, but an equally valid and plausible understanding of divinity as any other.

Wheelchairs provide freedom — however individual and/or limited by inaccessibility — to many disabled people.  And insofar as divine beings represent or create freedom for some people, it felt appropriate to me to portray a god in/as a wheelchair.


Samir Knego is Editorial Assistant at Decolonial Passage and has published essays, poems, and visual art in various journals and zines. He lives in North Carolina with a bright green wheelchair and a little black dog. Find him at https://twitter.com/SamirKnego, https://www.instagram.com/samirknego/, and https://verydecaf.blogspot.com/

Women have an advantage when it comes to marriage migration. Do you agree?

This essay will take an intersectional approach, and examine the layers of difference present when terms such as women and advantage are used. The lived experience of migration confers different female bodies with different advantages, and advantage should be broadened to not simply mean ‘winning’, as marriage migration in the East Asian context is largely underpinned by normative traditions that encourage economic hypergamy. Within these processes, although it is important to recognise that the mobility of women is often predetermined by cultural pressure, and whether or not they have agency is unclear, an advantage is all the same present through the fact that men rarely are afforded the chance to marry up.

I will use the movements between Filipina women migrating to Japan for marriage as an example to present how narratives of abroad are constructed, the ways migration infrastructure benefits Filipina women, and the ways that life in Japan affords them the chance to accrue capital and engage in a cosmopolitan life. However, the importance of marriage brokers, and fees, as well as the visa and migration laws dictated by the receiving country contribute to the erosion of a belief in feminine agency or personal self-development for women who out-migrate, and in this strand, I argue against the idea that women have an advantage in this context. I will also look at how this process differs for Chinese women, and how on the grounds of shared cultural heritage, history and even language, they can ‘pass’ in Japan, and the ways in which the power of patriarchal norms and institutionalised forms of male supremacy dictate much of the migratory process, furthermore eroding a sense of advantage through the predefined asymmetry of conjugal power relations.

Firstly, I will discuss the need for an intersectional lens when examining the migratory patterns of women in East Asia. The process of marriage migration in East Asia channels Clark’s (2001) reinterpretation of Massey’s (1993) concept of “power geometry”. This idea supposes the relational aspect of migration processes and offers an analysis that bifurcates into senders, and receivers of migratory processes. Essential to this is the idea that men easily cross transnational borders, while (Chinese) women, are “more on the receiving end of mobility” (61). Considering this, one might quickly come to the assumption that men withhold much of the power that determines migration and mobility, but this approach seems to obfuscate the feminine agency in these processes.

Furthermore, the concepts of advantage, and also that of women in this question are quite expansive, and are highly multidimensional; advantages are ascribed differentially across regions and cultures, and women cannot be applied to East and Southeast Asia in the context of this question because it elides the added depth of classifiers such as class and ethnic identity. Different women experience differential levels of advantage in marriage migration, and Clark (2001) attests that the regional is of equal importance as the global when discussing marriage migration.

For Chinese women, marriage remains an unequivocal emblem of adulthood, and the pressure to marry is enshrined in the normative traditions of Chinese familism, which enforces a double standard of age where marriage concerned, as women become ‘unmarriageable’ much faster than men. Geographic proximity and a shared cultural heritage with Japan facilitate a certain kind of advantage which is absent in the case of Filipina women: Recognition of Kanji, intimate historicity, and fair skin all bestow upon Chinese women an innate capacity to ‘pass’ in Japanese society.

Filipina women on the other hand are conspicuous by their skin, and perhaps more likely to feel alienated. Yamaura (2015) tellingly notes of her interlocutors that they considered marriage to “Blacks” (kokujin), Puerto Ricans, Filipinas, or Vietnamese women simply unimaginable (1039), and Appadurai (1996) also notes the political power of ethnicity as a global force to navigate certain borders (306). Therefore, considering this question with an intersectional approach can unearth added layers of depth to these migration patterns. In the context of East Asia, many women who cross transnational borders for marriage are confronted with various intersections that either impede or enhance their mobility, in some cases, this affords them advantages not possible for certain bodies.

Nonetheless, it can still be considered advantageous because marriage hypergamy for men from low socioeconomic backgrounds is very rare. This of course is not to say that the vertices of institutional power that regulate the reproduction of such marriage patterns are not wholly patriarchal, but there is space to suggest that women have substantial agency to navigate the male-dominated terrain.

I will now draw attention to the interplay between Appadurai’s (1996) hypothesis on the deterritorialization of boundaries, which contributes to the construction of dynamic narratives of ‘abroad’ and ‘imagined worlds’, and how the entertainment visas (generally reserved for females) that Filipina women use to enter Japan can create safe, legal channels to marriage migration and settlement.

In her work on Filipina migrants in rural Japan, Faier (2008) discusses how the concept of love was applied and how women originally on entertainment visas in Japan sublimated the love required of them for their profession into allegedly genuine love. It’s difficult to say whether most of the women in her ethnography had previously planned to marry in Japan and this seems omitted from her work. Nevertheless, Piper (2008) also discusses the interconnectedness between marriage migration and economic migration, suggesting that “many women are originally economic migrants and partly because of the temporary contract nature of their visa and work permits, they seek marriage to a local man as a strategy to enable them to remain in the destination country in a legally secure manner” (1293). This seems to be somewhat in conflict with Faier’s (2008) work, which suggests that despite the possibility of special marriage visas, the Filipinas were truly in love and wanted to remain for that reason. In this context, Filipina women have a certain advantage because of the existing infrastructure that facilitates regular flows of entertainers between Japan and the Philippines, who are ordinarily female. Related to this, is the ways in which Filipinas construct an idealistic narrative about an imagined life in Japan based on our understanding of Appadurai’s (1996) mediascapes and ideoscapes.

Life in Japan is assumed to be a gateway to modernity, and many of Faier’s (2008) interlocutors also discuss the ways in which they perceived life in Japan would somehow make them seem more beautiful. Even though they begin as labour migrants, the work they engage in encourages them to regularly perform affective labour, which eventually seems to induce genuine feelings and emotional attachment to their clients, and in some special cases, this furnishes a path to marriage and settlement, which appears unavailable to the aforementioned Chinese marriage migrants. Therefore, the intersectionality of ethnicity confers differential advantages on marriage migrants.

Moreover, in this context, there are certain social stigmas and racial prejudices involved though, and Faier (2008) discusses the stigma associated with so-called ‘Japayuki’, which is a disparaging term for Filipina hostess workers, and mislabels them as sex workers. Considering ‘advantage’ once more, if we specifically examine the case of Filipinas and Japanese men, Faier (2008) suggests that through the act of professing love, Filipinas were able to “claim both globally translatable senses of modern personhood and a sense of humanity” (157), and moreover, this implies that this profession of love is perhaps a natural human response to the social stigma directed at these women.

In light of this, we can argue that in this case, marriage migration afforded these women certain socioeconomic advantages unknown to them beforehand. For example, the accumulation of social and cultural capital abroad, learning to navigate a new and challenging social atmosphere of a highly homogenous country, and furthermore, to construct a modern identity amidst this setting. Faier (2008) seems to corroborate this by suggesting that their work as hostesses allowed room to articulate identities as successful, desirable, and cosmopolitan women (154).

Here, I will discuss Suzuki Nobue’s (2005) ethnography on marriage migration between Japan and the Philippines, insofar as it displays the ways in which women possess a gendered advantage through hypergamy that is seldom experienced by men. It is clear that the remittance income women send home after marrying abroad can improve the socioeconomic conditions of one’s family. This is not only positive for the family unit as a whole, but also has the impact of reshuffling normative gender roles. Suzuki (2005) researched one such family, and found that after a Filipina girl had married a wealthy Japanese man, the girl latterly became the head of the family, as it was money remitted thanks to her husband that had transformed her family’s life. This is an unequivocal indication of the economic benefit that migration can bring to developing regions, but not only that, it can also prompt people to challenge social norms and institutionalised forms of patriarchy. Despite this, women’s advantages seem to be hemmed in by power inequalities, and sometimes women even ironically reproduce these inequalities themselves by becoming a dependent again.

Suzuki (2005) glosses over the implied breakdown of gender norms through this process, and instead focuses on the stark differentials of wealth between the Philippines and Japan. This once more seems to echo Piper’s (2008) suggestion that marriage migration and economic migration are inextricably linked, and perhaps even share a causal relationship. Women at times can find greater accessibility to economic status and resources through ‘up-marrying’, which can afford them much greater respect in sending communities. Despite this, Suzuki (2005) reveals that although the interviewee’s family life was much changed in the Philippines, her life in Japan was far from luxurious, and her personal income depended on her husband and what she earned as a cleaner. This echoes Sherry Ortner’s argument, that people exist within multiple social structures (local, regional, global etc.), and may have agency in one, but not in another. She did not feel that the exotic life her family envisaged her leading was a true representation of the reality of what she experienced in Japan. Although there are clear advantages and positives to draw on from this experience, this character constitutes a minority of women who marry someone willing to remit regularly.

This seems to allude to the definitive power of patriarchal institutions over women, in spite of their agency. This woman was able to make significant changes and improvements in her sending community, yet her own life seemed to plateau and ultimately depended on her husband. Piper (2008) synthesises this succinctly, arguing that migration is rarely a first choice for women, but rather a reflection of dynamic labour markets that continue to change across regions. Furthermore, such marriage migration processes are difficult to divorce from the idea that women migrants’ opportunities for personal socioeconomic empowerment are few and far between (1300).

There is also much to be said for the asymmetrical nature of power in the conjugal relations of those who participate in marriage migration. This idea that the male party approaches the arrangement from a position of privilege tends to skew the balance of power in their favour, and this suggests that men in fact are much more in control of this process. This is emblematic of the commoditisation of feminine bodies, and marriage its final price. The at times convoluted mechanisms that govern marriage migration seem to relegate feminine agency to sexualised markets, reducing women’s capacity to be independent and construct modern identities to masculinist body politics that equate women with economic transactions. Chia-Wen Lu (2005) points out that “commercially arranged marriages turn women and marriages into commodities, placing women in vulnerable and exploitative situations” (276). Her argument underlines this patriarchal nature of marriage migration, and asserts the deflation of feminine agency in the process of migration in Taiwan.

Furthermore, Wilson (1982) also discusses the marketisation of feminine bodies, especially Filipina bodies, that are essentially sold to American men as exotic, oriental beauties. In Wilson’s (1982) argument, the asymmetrical nature of power is again evoked, in the sense that Asians must communicate their identity and personality with Americans in fractured English, and play on obsolete stereotyped roles and notions of womanhood to ultimately be chosen by Americans abroad. Clark (2001) also seems to agree with this, suggesting that in marriage introduction processes, “women are positioned passively, as it is men overseas who initiate courtship through their positionality of privilege and movement” (121).

Yamaura (2015) additionally points out the preferential treatment of males in marriage migration brokering between Japan and Liaoning Province in China, mentioning that Chinese women were not allowed to freely choose the men they wished to meet, or access the men’s profiles (1034). In this context however, the idea of ‘passing’ served to placate Japanese men’s fears about brides who were not Japanese enough. She argues that “Japaneseness was a norm to which the brides were expected to aspire, enabled by the precondition of visual passability” (1043). In this sense, this is perhaps an advantage that Chinese women have over other Asian women, owing to their shared history and culture with Japan, and similar phenotypes. Such advantages could not easily be applied to other Asian women considering brokering a marriage with a Japanese man and this invokes the aforementioned idea of Clark’s (2001) that regional is equally significant to global.

Despite this, it is difficult to say what advantage this truly constitutes on a macro scale, as it seems to hark back to body politics and the sexualisation of markets. It is interesting to also consider the concept of ‘passing’ as it also relates to transgender bodies who attempt to ‘pass’ in daily life too. Considering this, there is also a sense that Chinese women in Japan trying to ‘pass’ experienced a similar need to conceal a former identity in order to fully realise the new one, except in this scenario, the concept of ‘passing’ was imposed upon them by Japanese men. This evokes the inescapable power of patriarchal desires over feminine needs, in spite of this, Clark (2001) maintains that for Chinese women, foreign marriage remains a secure means of social and economic mobility worth having to reinvent oneself for (121).

In conclusion, it appears clear that this question implies a need for far-reaching and extensive research to fully be understood, as the multitude of angles from which it can be tackled unveil layer upon layer of difference. Underlying marriage migration is this idea of the geographics of power, and the differentials in mobility and agency between sending and receiving communities. In many of these processes, women fall beneath the male vertex of institutional power and remain on the receiving end of migratory decisions. I have proposed that channelling Kimberlé Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality is beneficial to unearthing and grasping the layers of depth implicit in this question, and that primarily ethnicity should be considered important when evaluating the differentials of advantage conveyed upon various women. Chinese women and Filipina women both experience a different version of marriage migration when crossing the border into Japan, and both are impelled there by distinct factors.

In the case of Chinese women, I have shown that a shared cultural heritage with Japan, as well as their similar phenotype, they are more able to pass in Japan, yet the fact remains that the catalysts pushing them to Japan are entwined in patriarchal Chinese culture. For Filipina women, their darker skin and unfamiliarity with Kanji are factors that make them more conspicuous in Japanese society, making Japanese men hesitant about marrying them. However, existing infrastructure provides channels for them to successfully up-marry and resettle in Japan, and furthermore, provides fertile soil for the acquisition of various forms of capital through navigating foreign territories, learning to deal with social stigma, and attempting to construct cosmopolitan identities.

Others, though perhaps minorities, also have shown that some women can inspire huge socioeconomic improvements in their home communities, and even find themselves situated at the head of the family through the economic power marriage hypergamy affords them. Despite all of this, the patriarchal presence encountered in much of these migratory patterns is difficult to ignore, and at times it seems that men are ultimately in control of much of women’s agency and decision-making.

Bibliography

Piper, Nicola (2008), “Feminisation of Migration and the Social Dimensions of Development: the Asian case.”, Third World Quarterly29, No. 7: 1287-1303

Wilson, Ara (1982), ‘American catalogues of Asian brides.” In Anthropology for the Nineties: Introductory Readings. Johnnetta B. Cole, ed. The Free Press

Chia-Wen Lu, Melody (2005), “Commercially Arranged Marriage Migration: Case Studies of Cross-border Marriages in Taiwan”, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 12: 275

Clark, Constance D. (2001), “‘‘Tradition,’’ and the Politics of Border Crossings”, China Urban: Ethnographies of Contemporary Culture: 104-122

Yamaura, Chigusa (2015), “Marrying Transnational, Desiring Local: Making” Marriageable Others” in Japanese–Chinese Cross-border Matchmaking”, Anthropological Quarterly: 1029-1058

Suzuki, Nobue (2005), “Tripartite Desires: Filipina-Japanese Marriages and Fantasies of Transnational Traversal”, In Cross-Border Marriages: 124-144

Faier, Libra (2008), “Filipina migrants in rural Japan and their professions of love”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 34. No. 1: 148-162


Tommy Gough is a recent Oxford graduate with an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies. In the past, he has worked in editorial and publishing roles both in China and the UK. Since graduating, his gaze has shifted towards the completion of his debut novel — a fantasy epic replete with spells, monsters, and eccentric wizards that also explores the complexities of a mixed-race identity and growing up queer in a religious family. In addition to this, Tommy writes regularly on Medium for a variety of publications, with a focus on racial and LGBTQ+ topics and develops his plant-based Instagram food account.

In sixth grade, I wrote a poem for a school assignment mourning the violence of the Iraq War, simply entitled “War.” My teacher gave me a low score, one of the few grades I remember from elementary school. He said, “it doesn’t speak to your life.” From his perspective, what could a child in America have understood about war?

To many, war exists only in striking images — explosions, dismembered children in hospitals, bombed-out towns. And in numbers — a running count of the thousands killed and displaced flicking across the bottom of the television screen or bolded in the headlines of the morning paper. There’s a raw physicality and gore that is captivating and instantaneous, but it remains contained and far away.

What you may not know is that war is also a state of mind. It’s not as gruesome or as bloody as the physical reality. It’s an omnipresent feeling that you can sense like a mood in a room. It’s an overwhelming subtleness. It’s an emotional repertoire. It’s the tinted lens through which some of us view the world. War still lives in my dad, whose country of Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa, was locked in a thirty-year struggle for independence from its older sibling nation of Ethiopia. Five of my aunts and uncles fought in that war.  Another fled. One of my uncles was swallowed by it years before I was born. While I’ll never understand the firsthand experience of war, I am a first-generation child of war; and I know something about what I call the war mindset.

Growing up, my dad liked to ask a question to tell a humorless joke. “What is the difference between us and a homeless person? One paycheck.” From him, I learned a single interruption could decimate our middle-class American dreams, the bootstraps that we pulled ourselves up by, the ones we hang onto for our lives. Everything in life is precarious is the first lesson of the war mindset. A thin membrane separates the quotidian from calamity, and even as a child, I had a lurking awareness this could be ruptured. I feared the car accident on a parent’s commute, the riptide sweeping my sister away, and the ordinary tragedy of a friend moving away. The loss was always of others — it’s less painful to be the one lost than to lose. That’s the second lesson of the war mindset.

My dad was born of two farmers, who later became metal workers, in Eritrea’s charmed colonial capital, Asmara. With its modernist architecture, sputtering VW bugs, and proclaimed cosmopolitanism, Asmara has long been a symbol of the Eritrean nation. A guardian angel offered my dad a one-year graduate scholarship to study in Chicago in the 1970s. While he was abroad, the fissure between Eritrea and Ethiopia began to widen — the start of the rupture that led to Eritrea’s bloody breakaway. What was supposed to be a yearlong trip had left him stranded across an ocean. He couldn’t return to his country of birth then, and in a real way he never has. War makes him an outsider to the mottled remains of a country no longer recognizable as home. The road you choose to walk down may have no way back. That’s the third lesson of the war mindset.

The force of the violence that fractured the Horn of Africa, propelled my dad to a PhD in the US and to a professorship. Decades later, he travelled to Washington DC, commonly claimed by the Eritrean diaspora as their capital city. In one-room restaurants tucked away off the main streets, at the entrances of parking garages, and behind the wheels of taxis—you can find all the keepers of the Eritrean nation. One day, my dad reencountered an old classmate from his old Ethiopian university as his taxi driver. They didn’t acknowledge their lost connection — the Taxi Driver and the Professor. I imagine how they must have locked eyes for a second in the rearview mirror, a silent mourning for their divergent paths. War creates randomness, sometimes opportunity. There is no equality of fates. That’s another tenet of the war mindset.

A second university acquaintance of my dad’s fared much worse. During the 70’s, there were socialist student movements and protests across universities in Ethiopia. One semester, all the students dropped out and went on strike. My dad, then in his 20’s, followed suit. His friend, a devoted scholar, stayed enrolled. A slender, spectacled, young man, is how I imagine the scholar, with an awkward, bookish nature. Well, a sufficient number of students dropped out, forcing classes to be eventually suspended. By that time, this bookish friend had become a pariah—regarded by the other students as a traitor to the cause. The next time there was a strike, my dad’s friend was the first to drop out. The protest didn’t gather momentum, and classes continued as usual. Out of school and unemployed in wartime, he was called to the front. He died there.

“How can I believe life is fair,” my dad has lamented, “when all of the brightest people I grew up with ended up below ground?”

The view that life is indifferent to how hard you work, to your potential,  and to your desires is the lynchpin of the war mindset. There is no logic. The whole world could be turned upside down and make as much sense and be as fair, if not more fair, than it is right now.

The collective tragedy Eritrea wears as a badge of honor touched my family, too. My dad’s older brother was imprisoned. His younger brother was killed in battle. His youngest brother joined the front as a child, at age 16. He was shot in the head, and he survived. The bullet remains lodged in his skull. Employed in the government now, with a wife and six children, he defiantly crowned our crumbling family property, Villa Asmara, in the run-down capital. Doctors have examined his injury many times and concluded that as risky as it is now, it could be fatal to extract. Sometimes it’s better to let the pain and wound of the bullet buried in your flesh stay there, that’s another lesson I learned from the war mindset.

I don’t want to make it sound like the war mindset is a depressing one. It’s not all fatalism. Since life is random and uncontrollable, all achievements feel like gifts. Success is blissfully unearned. War children, like me, never received allowances—we were not taught the values of predictability and planning. Instead, my dad released a flutter of bills from over our second-floor balcony, a parody of the Eritrean dictator’s famed stunts.

The things in life I feel proud of — my prestigious education, published articles, professional promotions — are like the evening primroses in my neighbor’s garden, blooming privately in the darkness. I am grateful for the good. That feels rare in the land of meritocracy I’ve grown up in, where our life outcomes are thought of as a reflection of our efforts. When some of my friends and colleagues confront failure, their voices belie deprivation of something earned more than a loss of something almost gained. The war mindset is the antithesis of entitlement. It’s hard to feel ownership of all the offerings my privileged life has given me. I see the mirror image of myself in my family, trapped today in the repressive regime in Eritrea. By what standards do we measure achievement when I have everything, and they have only aspirations facing a closed border and a closed world?

These are things I’ve learned, intuited, and inherited. War is both intense and bounded at the same time. It creeps into the places you would never expect it, into decades, into children, and into the homes of middle-class people in wealthy countries. Unlike physical damage, the war mindset is passed on, its trauma written into our genetic code. The war mindset leaves wounds that never fully heal. They fester, with conflict that oozes from one next generation to the next. 

Thinking back to my elementary school teacher, I can understand how a poem about war with lines like “bombs and devastation slaying pure hearts” may not have conformed to his idea of writing produced by a child. That’s why I silently accepted his remark. What I know now is that war is part of who I am.


Waverly Woldemichael (she/her) is an aspiring writer of Eritrean-American heritage based in California. She is a student of Migration and Diasporas, and she often writes on migration and cross-cultural topics based on her lived experiences and that of her family members. She’s currently working on a longer fiction project related to migrant crossings in the Mediterranean.

“Governments aren’t supposed to do this.” That’s what my granny said. She’s long gone now. Caked and cemented into the earth, rotting, and disintegrating like our economy and the other people who died poor trying to survive it. I’m thinking of leaving too. Not dying, but going somewhere that isn’t here and never coming back. I’d miss my mother, but she understands. Rather she knows. She doesn’t want life to stress me the way it stresses her. She knows, and I know she wishes she didn’t have to stay, but she must because my father is afraid of airplanes and change and US capitalism and she loves him. All her sisters are gone. She’s the only one still walking around this place with her dead mother’s face hoping it won’t kill her like it did my grandmother at fifty. She’s almost that age now. 

The minimum wage in this godforsaken country is seven thousand dollars a week. Sure, that seems like a lot but things like this call for perspective and an understanding of exchange rates. Seven thousand dollars here is equivalent to forty-six bucks in the U.S. or eighty-seven US cents an hour for every mother or sister or daughter who isn’t qualified enough to earn more than minimum wage.

Governments aren’t supposed to do this but this isn’t a problem that concerns the people in Parliament who make the rules and pay their housekeepers and gardeners in little white envelopes at the end of the week after the workers have washed all their laundry and cooked all their meals and cleaned the floors the members of Parliament then tread dirt on with their classy name-brand shoes because to them, once you’re poor and uneducated in this country, you might as well be grateful for anything. So you work and when you get your $7000, you best not take your children to the beach; yes, this is an island but not even the beaches are free. Just do what you have to, never what you want to. Pay your bills, feed your children, figure out how you’ll afford to get to work on time or at all when that money is done so they don’t cut your pay for being late or absent. 

***

“Governments aren’t supposed to do this,” my granny had said. Still, she was a die-hard party supporter. Blowing vuvuzelas and laughing it up with politicians who promised to help her out when election time came around. My mother used to be the same. Wearing green all the time. Pledging allegiance to corrupt politicians. Inking her fingers for the cause. Telling eight-year-old me, “This? This blue finger? This is freedom.” Watching our 10-year-old chunky-backed colour TV fizzle in and out as we awaited election results. Watching as the map turned green. Watching as my mother clinked pot covers together and screamed. Watching my mother anticipate change. Watching her watch and wait and wait and suffer and watching her catch her suffering in her hands when the bills came. Still, there was no politician in sight. No one to be held accountable. Just the phantom ink resting heavily on my mother’s finger and the sound of celebratory pot covers taunting her, telling her she should have known better than to expect change. The last time an election came, my mother stayed in. She said it didn’t feel right. That was my first time voting and even as I stood in line, hoodie over my head, hat pulled far below my eyes to shield me from anyone questioning my political preferences with their own, I could tell, this was not a vuvuzela-blowing, handshaking, revelry-keeping moment. I felt no pride in being able to exercise this long-awaited democratic right. Just sadness and shame because I knew nothing would change. Wipe the ink from your fingers. Don’t let anyone know you voted for any of these two evils. 

***

“Governments aren’t supposed to do this,” my mother said one night as we watched the news. They aren’t supposed to exploit their lands and peoples the way this government does. They call it the ultimate tropical paradise in those ads you see but ain’t nothing sweet about it when all you do is work and still after all that work, there is nothing to show. No house to call your own, no savings for a rainy day, no health insurance. Only work; in sickness and in death, for worse and for poorer and poorer and death. We know governments aren’t supposed to do this. They sell us for money we don’t even know we are worth. They sell us, sand, sun and sundry to whichever white man wants to develop a twenty-story paradise for lovers to escape to on eroding beaches so they can watch our one-of-a-kind sunset and take pictures to show the folks back home what a good time this country is. You should go there sometime. They sell us and when they do, it almost always makes the news and every time the headline reads, White Man Creates Boundless Opportunities for Unemployed Citizens or White Man Says 10,000 Jobs Will Come with New Hotel Development. We see this and suck our teeth good and dry because we know the government just sold us, but because we are hungry, our mothers and sisters and daughters will clamour in their good skirts and button-downs with resumes and high school diplomas gripped in sweaty palms and manila envelopes hoping they will be hired to do something, anything because time too hard not to at least try.

And soon, when the hotel opens and everyone is stuffed into freshly starched uniforms, they, too, will hear that, “The people in the hotel don’t always tip and whatever you earn in a fortnight couldn’t even pay for a night in that hotel and if you break it or don’t do it right, they take it right from your pay. Still, you have to ensure the rooms are spotless, the food is done well, the guests are happy and your No problem mon, we gatchu is authentic but understandable to the guest’s ear.” This is what my cousin told me. 

***

I feel like our government knows that they aren’t supposed to do this. That the people are hungry and tired and the cost of living is too high and food is too expensive and then there is rent and water and electricity and bills, bills, bills. Still, nothing ever changes. There’s something everyone here learns at a young age.  Our country’s economy is fuelled mainly by two things: tourism and money our relatives send from foreign. You learn that Western Union lines are always long, and white people are always looking to get away. Get away from what, we don’t know, because why would you want to get away from money when so many of us wish we could leave here and go towards it. Towards good hourly wages and the all-fulfilling gains that make you love capitalism: Towards cheap clothes, and food and other nice affordable things.

I feel like our government knows that we don’t want to stay here, that we realize there are no opportunities for us to become much of anything. That the opportunities that exist are already signed, sealed, and delivered to family names that feel like Listerine retribution being swished around on your tongue. They complain a lot about brain drain, about us not using our skills to develop the country but what should we do with our brains if there are no opportunities here to use them or if the jobs here require ten years of experience and a Master’s degree that we do not have and cannot afford to get. I don’t think this government knows nor do they care that I have been unemployed for over a year. That I gave them all the money I had for 3 ½ years for a piece of paper that is doing me no good. That this is not only happening to me. That my friends also struggled and still struggle to find jobs. That if it weren’t for my mother, I’d be homeless and hungry. That it isn’t a coincidence that over 80% of its tertiary-educated people, leave because there is nothing here for us to do. 

***

One of my aunts called from the U.S. the other day. She’s a citizen there now. Right there in the land of the free and low-cost living. She left in 2015. From what I hear in whispered conversations with my mother, it hasn’t been easy; easy being an understatement. She complains about the cold and how it makes her knees ache and her skin cracked. She doesn’t like the food either. There’s no fresh ackee where she is and she’s tired of fast food and imitation jerked chicken. My mother asked her if she’d move back here to sit with her in this place that killed their mother, if the food and warmth were enough to make her come back. She said no. She said she’d rather suffer there than in this country with this government and her mother’s spirit uneasy and in pain for her. Another aunt sends us postcards and pictures of her two-story cottage. She shows us the remodelling and tells us how much it costs, and I think about how in this country some people don’t make that in a year. How my father has been saving everything to build the ground floor of our home for twenty years. Another aunt complains all the time about the things she had to go through when she first got there. Even then, she lets us know, she is never coming back to work in another hotel.

Governments aren’t supposed to do this, but I suppose the damage is already done and my grandmother is already dead. And no, this isn’t a white flag or a complete loss of hope in what this government may eventually do for its people; I love this place, but I cannot wait until first, my mother, then I, am tired from pot-cover licking and vuvuzela whizzing and eighty-seven cents an hour. And I cannot wait until we are caked into the deep, dark brown earth, dead and disintegrating wishing we had done more. I will miss my mother, but she understands that this is what I will have to do to survive.


Devonae J. Manderson (she/her) is an aspiring Jamaican writer whose work explores themes at, and within, the intersections of black womanhood, queer sexuality, spirituality, religion, and Jamaican culture and society. She uses fiction and poetry writing as tools to share the stories of and to meet herself as the many different women she is, has been, and hopes to become. Her work is forthcoming in Lucky Jefferson and (ang)st magazine, among others, and you can find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/soulandmelanin and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/soulandmelanin/

Ness was too pretty to be a field nigger. That’s what Tom Allan said to her the day he’d taken her back to his plantation. He’d bought her on good faith from a friend of his in Jackson, Mississippi, who said she was one of the best field hands he’d ever seen.”

“’No such a thing as a free nigger.’ He walked slowly up to H, held the sharpened knife against his neck so that H could feel the cold, ridged edge of it, begging to break skin…[a] thin line of blood appeared, neat and straight as if to undermine the pit boss’s words, ‘He may be big but he’ll bleed like the rest of them.’”

It was on the occasion of the University of South Africa’s annual Decoloniality Summer School, a few years ago, when I listened to Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola presenting a lecture about the meaning of decoloniality and decolonisation as it relates to resisting against patriarchal systems, norms and institutions. She paused mid-lecture and began loosely paraphrasing Jacques Derrida; “He (Derrida) teaches us that reason and logic are absolute…in this discussion, I seek to interest you to the same type of thinking, but as regards freedom/liberation.” The essence of this particular aspect of Prof Gqola’s lecture was the absoluteness of freedom – that is to assert that there is no such a thing as half freedom or half liberation.

The meaning of freedom/liberation as absolute is a theme that I think a lot about as I read through Yaa Gyasi’s, Homegoing. In this offering, Gyasi tells a story about the 400/500-year episode of African people’s negotiation with settler-colonialism, slavery, migration, racism and the dehumanization of black people at the grandest scale possible.

Of course, freedom has meanings beyond absoluteness, as Joel Modiri (from his PhD thesis) explains: “I take this to mean that when freedom is achieved through or defined by the law, as when the Master declares to the Slave, “From now on you are free”, this cannot lead to genuine liberation since it signifies the abolition of neither the Master-Slave relation nor the slavish consciousness of Blacks that accompanies it. To be true to its name, freedom must have inscribed into its memory the cost of freedom, of struggle and – these are Fanon’s words – blood.”

In this brief exposition, I focus on linking Yaa Gyasi’s articulation of freedom as absolute with Pumla Gqola’s reading of Jacques Derrida.

In this historical fiction, Gyasi tells a story about two half-sisters, Effia and Essi. These two lead separate lifestyles, and are separated by life’s events.   Effia, marries James Collins, the British governor who is at the helm of Cape Coast Castle, where Black people were enslaved, and shipped off to lands beyond the Atlantic.  Her half-sister Esi is held captive in the dungeons below the Castle and resides with enslaved Black people, trapped underneath the castle, ready to be shipped off at any time. Subsequent chapters tell a story about Effia’s and Essi’s children, as well as the generations that come after them.

Gyasi’s storytelling is gripping, and laden with a strong critique of present-day society, particularly, its verbose racialized ordering, and the forgotten business of re-membering dismembered Black people. As you read about the sufferings of the Black enslaved in Homegoing, you cannot help but take a moment to reflect on the present sufferings of all Black people around the world – the women and children in Africa, who are subjected to varied forms of violence and incisions on their bodies, the Black men in the Caribbean, France, Belgium and elsewhere, who continue to be racially abused and othered by the societies they live in. The absoluteness of freedom, as teased out by Gyasi, is indeed in the same tune as the Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko dictums which says that regardless of where a Black man (person) goes, they remain Black. By this, Gyasi, Fanon, and Biko reveal to us that blackness is a marker that binds all Black people in the world and steeps them into the same pit of oppression.

The setting in Homegoing is instructive for a discussion about the absoluteness of freedom – the scene begins in the Gold Coast, Black people living peacefully (not without struggles though) in Ghanaian villages.  The scene then shifts to the people’s first interaction with colonial contact, then to settler slavery, then to British influences (abolishment of slavery), and finally, to migration into cotton fields in the United States of America.   In these scenes, that span over a period of 300 to 400 years, there are shades of differences that exist among Black people – the nuances in the spaces that they inhabit, the social status that they carry, their class position, and even their proximity to whiteness. All these differences among them seek to suggest that some are more free than others, but in the final analysis, and upon closer inspection, the truth is that all of them continue to be oppressed, regardless of these subtle shades of difference.

In the process of colonisation, slavery, and its related racist machinations, Yaa Gyasi presents three differences that created a cleavage amongst Black people, (1) At the instance of first colonial contact, she demonstrates a difference between the Asante and the Fante people of the Gold Coast. The difference was in respect to their respective collaboration/resistance to settler colonialism, (2) At the setting out to the cotton fields, she demonstrates differences between the field Negro and the house Negro, and (3) Towards the official abolishment of slavery in the United States of America, she demonstrates the differences between the “free man”, the slave, and the runaway slave.

The Fante people enjoyed rapport with white settlers because they collaborated with the colonial slave trade, whereas the Asante people were brutalized and incessantly killed by settlers because of their unrelenting resistance. As a result, the Asantes were kept in dark, inhumane and filthy dungeons in the Gold Coast Castle, whilst the Fantes worked as servants and servicemen – you’d imagine that this shade of difference makes the latter more free than the former, until you learn that even in their position of relative freedom, Fante women were still subjected to habitual rape and sexual objectifying by settlers – the men suffering similar atrocities as well.

The differences between the field Negro and the house Negro have been sufficiently theorised about. Perhaps less carefully discerned, are the purported differences between the enslaved, runaways, and the so-called “free man”. The latter are enslaved who attained “freedom” from slavery either through buying such freedom from their slave master, or migrating to those states where slavery had been abolished by legislation. With respect to the latter, Gyasi demonstrates that the “free man” is only free until he realizes that his escape from the plantation does not help him escape systemic racism.

Decoloniality helps us to understand that freedom is not freedom unless it is absolute. Specifically, decolonial theory calls for the re-membering of dismembered peoples, this means an action to re-humanize dehumanized peoples of the world, because decolonial theory appreciates that all forms of oppression thrive precisely because grand-dehumanization is their operative agent. Insisting on decolonisation is to radically seek for the return to humanity/botho/Ubuntu.

Decolonial theory provides a helpful lens for us to break and discern artificial/facile differences between Black people. Prevailing coloniality uses the same neo-colonial differences/markers among the colonised (such as the proverbial “emerging Black middle class”), thus sowing divisions and blurring the battle lines. To marry Gqola’s reading of Jacques Derrida with Yaa Gyasi’s sterling social critique allows us to appreciate decoloniality as a call to revolution and a call for the attainment of absolute freedom, in their truest sense. Such a freedom is a freedom for ALL oppressed people of the world – women, children, Black people, queers, the working class, and other forgotten and marginalised peoples.


Ntando Sindane, Assistant Nonfiction Editor at Decolonial Passage, teaches private law at the University of the Free State, South Africa. He is an activist for social justice, as well as economic and epistemic freedom. He writes for various popular South African media outlets and is Editor at Red Pen. His research interests include decolonisation, particularly in relation to the pedagogical framework of the intellectual property law curriculum in South African universities. His research critically analyses various decolonial and socialist methodologies when juxtaposed with human rights, the Constitution of South Africa as well as normative teaching methods. He holds the LLB and LLM degrees from the University of South Africa and is currently making preparations towards a PhD degree in Intellectual Property Law.  His LLM dissertation is titled,“The Call to Decolonise Higher Education: Copyright Law Through an African Lens.” He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/uNtandoSindane

     I visited Tanzania and Zanzibar in my last year of primary school on an organized school trip. It was in Zanzibar, touring the baths of the Sultan, his wives and concubines, that I decided I wanted to pursue a travel related course in university. I was 13 years old at the time.  Eight years later, I enrolled at the University of Nairobi for my studies.

     As a Kenyan, I had grown up being aware of the Kenyan tourism sector and its significance to our economy. I knew that the rest of the world also knew about our big game and the Maasai tribe. As a matter of fact, I reveled in the fact that my country of origin was considered an attraction elsewhere in Africa and overseas. But only a handful of Kenyans ended up in the tourism sector because it took passion to pursue something as a career choice.

     Ironically, while the tourism sector brings in billions of shillings in revenue, the course itself is not considered a top choice among many. This quickly dawned on me as a bright-eyed, first year student. Still, I was undeterred because mine was a combination of passion and a strong desire to see the world.

     In my first semester’s “Introduction to Tourism” Unit, I learnt of Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s voyage to Kenya. In March 1909, the 26th President of the United States had departed Washington for East Africa, just weeks after finishing his second term. He arrived in Kenya with a 250-member entourage that included his son, Kermit, and renowned British hunter and conservationist, Frederick Selous. Thus began what would be a yearlong safari on a big game hunting adventure.

     Our lecturer for the unit was an elderly, well-travelled professor who spoke in the lowest of tones. As a result, it was always a struggle to catch anything he said. Imagine our collective, pleasant surprise when we discovered that everything he “whispered” in class was arranged in the exact same manner in a book he recommended for further reading.

     But like all books written and published by foreigners that tackled subjects involving the African continent, you only got what was positive about retired President Theodore Roosevelt’s trip. Nobody spoke of his perception of the inhabitants he encountered, but rather the emphasis was on his agenda which was big game hunting. If you wanted to learn additional aspects about his voyage, then you had to dig deeper and certainly not in your recommended tourism related campus reads.

     In a March 27, 2010 article on the East African paper titled “Teddy Roosevelt Came To Kenya Guns Blazing,” what could arguably be touted as one of the earliest hunting voyages to Kenya, is described in further detail. After wrapping up his safari and returning back home, Roosevelt wrote the African Game Trails which went on to become a bestseller in the US. Of course, everyone at the time loved a read that spoke extensively of what was known to them as the “dark continent,” and especially if it was delivered through the eyes of a white man.

    Roosevelt, in his book, constantly refers to the Africans he encountered in Kenya as “savages.” In addition, he seemed particularly in support of the European colonization of East Africa and the Congo.

     “Africans had not advanced beyond the cave-man stage,” he pointed out at some point.

     Then, he proceeds to be impressed by what he perceives as courage when he got a chance to witness some Nandi hunters encircle and kill a lion. From the African Game Trails, one gets the impression that while the African landscape was more of a curiosity to foreigners in Roosevelt’s time, it was also an easy target for plunder and destruction as evidenced by the motivations that brought visitors to it. Their perception of the locals was equally that of disregard unless their actions fascinated.

     At the end of Roosevelt’s trip, his entourage had bagged over 500 big game animals that included 11 elephants, 17 lions and 20 rhinos in what would have been criminal in present day Kenya. Indeed, his safari which had been partly financed by the Smithsonian Museum, an institution that oversaw the running of a couple of US museums, had thoroughly “accomplished’ its mission — that of hunting wildlife. And upon his return to the US, he donated a huge percentage of his specimens to the natural history museums in Washington and New York.

     The African Game Trails is additionally credited for inspiring yet another American adventure — Ernest Hemingway’s Kenyan safari 25 years later.  Interestingly, Roosevelt’s adventures in the country were hardly enough to influence anything to be named after him, or perhaps, he was not that intent on leaving his name behind. Not so for Ernest Hemingway.

     In 1935 the American writer embarked on his own first African safari accompanied by his second wife Pauline and a friend, Charles Thompson. From a Marseilles port, the three boarded a ship and over two weeks later, arrived in Mombasa, Kenya. Hemingway explored the areas around Mombasa and Malindi before venturing inland. He spent some time in Watamu and must have made such an impact that a resort in the area ended up being named after him — Hemingway’s Watamu. The hotel exists to date with favorable reviews to boot.

     After his coastal adventures, Hemingway travelled to the home of Philip Percival, a white settler that had previously turned safari guide to many renowned foreign visitors including Theodore Roosevelt, who lived in Machakos. He was able to convince Percival to do the same for him, and they subsequently headed into neighboring Tanzania, again on a hunting expedition.

     It was in Tanzania that Hemingway fell ill with amoebic dysentery and had to be evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya, for treatment. He eventually cut his trip short and returned to Europe. The next time Hemingway would again consider Africa as a travel destination was in 1954. He came accompanied by his fourth and last wife, Mary, with the intention to explore Belgian Congo, Uganda, and Kenya. But it seems his African voyages were somehow jinxed.

     Two plane accidents happening consecutively ended his trip before he had accomplished much in terms of sightseeing. And like Roosevelt, Hemingway wrote not one, but a couple of books detailing his adventures in Africa. It was through the eyes of these early visitors that perhaps the rest of the world began to catch a glimpse of the touristic side of Africa, albeit shrouded by white perception of the continent.

     As a Travel and Tourism Management student, I found myself spending a lot of time reading recommended and non-recommended books in the library, and it always struck me as odd that few writers of African origin wrote tourism-related course books. Many of us students were aware of the earliest Europeans to explore and visit Africa, but none of us had any idea who the first Kenyan or African to embark on a tourism related tour was. We knew of Queen Elizabeth II learning of her father’s death while on a trip to Kenya in 1952 with her husband and her subsequent ascension to the throne.

     The hotel in question was Treetops Hotel in the Aberdares National Park in Kenya, and a common description has always been, “She went up a Princess and came down a Queen,” in reference to the storied building among trees.  In fact, she was at Sagana Lodge when she learnt of her father’s passing, due to her having departed from Treetops earlier.

     I don’t remember much mention of Kisoi Munyao, the 25-year-old Kenyan who hoisted the Kenyan flag on Mt. Kenya’s Lenana Point on the eve of December 12, 1963. Described as someone who was an outdoors type, Munyao is probably the first mountaineer from Kenya to undertake an activity now associated with adventure tourism. Worth mentioning is the fact that Kenya attained self-rule on December 12, 1963, and Munyao’s act needed to be celebrated coming on the eve of it. However, he lived quietly and modestly most of his life until his death when the nation seemed to remember him again.

     My own education journey seemed to be just as jinxed as Hemingway’s trips to Africa were. After a five-year struggle, I was forced to drop out of campus in my third year. Later that year, I got a job in the hotel industry. On my first day at work, I remember my supervisor taking me around the large hotel favored by foreigners and the well-to-do and declaring proudly to me how Prince William and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, had once spent the night in the suite. I would later learn that it was probably on this trip to Kenya that the Prince proposed to his longtime girlfriend.

     My time working at the hotel was indeed enjoyable but short-lived. And while I gained some level of exposure, I also got to experience firsthand the colonial mentalities that refused to go away in the travel and hospitality industry. One time, long after I had stopped working at the hotel, I decided to take a walk to the game park in my hometown which is quite near where I live. I intended to visit a shop that sold amazing art and souvenirs which fascinated me.  

     However, I never quite understood why each time I visited said shop, I always got a hostile reception. This day was no different. When I got in, a shop attendant quickly came up to me. I touched an African necklace and asked him how much it was. “15,000kshs!” he mouthed, unsmiling. I proceeded to walk further inside, but he stopped me.  And with the straightest of faces, he told me in Swahili, “We are waiting for visitors, Wazungu!” That meant I had to leave because of the white visitors – Wazungu- they were expecting. I was livid.

     Never had I ever felt that disrespected in my own country, past experiences in this very shop notwithstanding. I left vowing never to come back, but my anger made me create a thread on it on Twitter which attracted quite some attention from travel and hospitality industry stakeholders. Suddenly, everyone seemed to be in agreement with me that the colonial mentality in the Kenyan tourism sector needed to change.

     The decolonization of African tourism sectors is indeed a crucial subject that is very rarely tackled. Decades after the very first foreign explorer set foot in Africa, tourism has thoroughly evolved on the continent, but African disregard still persists. The first picture that often comes to mind for many Africans is that of a white man in Safari wear, arriving in game parks in a tour van. The driver is always an African employed by a tour company who is just doing his job. Any other African who arrives in a tourism establishment is almost always automatically assumed to be an employee or up to no good, and the treatment quickly changes from warm to cold and stern.

     The establishments, which happen to treat all visitors alike, will tend to dismiss the Africans whom they deem as not “properly” dressed or spoken. The unspoken pressure is for an African travel enthusiast to carry themselves and dress in a certain way in order to be accepted in the travel and tourism class. I have experienced waiters and waitresses scramble to offer service when I once showed up at a restaurant in the company of a white man who had stopped me to ask for directions and then insisted we have coffee together at the said establishment.

     Then, the waiters and waitresses stood at a distance after serving us, and I could literally feel their curious eyes wondering where I had got myself a white man. I never shared this with him as he was basically a stranger to me, but it is experiences such as this that have stuck with me for a long time making me question when we got to this point as a country. Perhaps, we have always been there as a country, and this was just a continuation of it. I was sure that had I shown up at the establishment unaccompanied or in the company of a fellow African, the service would have been slightly slower since we are automatically expected to already be used to treatment that’s not too special.

     In recent times, domestic tourism has been heavily marketed by the Kenya Tourism Board (dubbed Magical Kenya), in a bid to encourage the locals to travel and explore the country more. Nowadays, it is common to keep stumbling on young Kenyan travel enthusiasts posting photos of the heavenly and exciting places they have been to in Kenya. Indeed, it is such a refreshing shift.  But has it taken too long to come?

     For the longest time, the only travel that a majority of Kenyans did affordably was going upcountry over Christmas to catch up with the rest of the family. The working class occasionally got the seminar outings that saw them booked into hotels at the coast where they proceeded to spend two or three days cooped up in conference rooms. In the evenings, perhaps they would venture out a little to the beach or pool area. And if your job was more lucrative than the average Kenyan’s, then occasional travels abroad on work or study assignments were also guaranteed.

     Our family album has always contained photos of a relative on my mother’s side who got the opportunity to study and work abroad long before my sister and I were born. Dull, in typical old, colored photographs, he was pictured walking along a bridge, with white, serious faces dotting the background.  He was probably en route to work, and there he was again at a parking lot dressed in a suit with his wife. The photos gave us a sense of pride that we had someone in our family who had gone overseas quite early. Few Africans, at the time, set out on travel missions, so work and school abroad was akin to travel as well.

     And while we now have a generation that is travelling more, we cannot overlook the generation that never got encouraged to travel or simply could not afford it.  As a result, they still perceive travel as a white man’s affair. They are a generation that long got convinced that the work of an African is only to entertain and serve the foreign visitors, and in truth, it’s no fault of their own.

     This same generation also got to witness Them Mushrooms, a Kenyan musical band from the coast, release the song “Jambo Bwana” in 1982 which contained the “Hakuna Matata” (No worries/problem) Swahili phrase in it. The song welcomed visitors to Kenya and was such a hit that the following year after its release, the German group, Boney-M released an English version of it titled “Jambo-Hakuna Matata.”

     Years later, in 1994, the animated Walt Disney’s Lion King movie popularized the phrase “Hakuna Matata” worldwide by featuring it in the plot and movie. Thus began what could easily be summed up as the cultural appropriation of the phrase culminating in Disney’s application to trademark it the same year the movie was released. Understandably, in 2018, fierce debate erupted among East Africans when for the first time, many of us learnt of the particular trademark.

     In a visionary move, Them Mushrooms shaped the Kenyan tourism industry’s entertainment circuit with a tune welcoming visitors to the country. But their efforts were seemingly trashed, when a bigger entity in the West decided to trademark a pretty normal phrase in the Swahili language spoken by millions in East and Central Africa. And although Disney clarified that they were not preventing anyone from using the phrase, it is common knowledge that the trademark gives them the right to sue anyone counterfeiting Lion King merchandise.

     Wouldn’t it have made more sense if Them Mushrooms themselves or the Kenya Tourism Board had trademarked the phrase instead? For Africans in general, the move by Disney was all too familiar, having been colonized in the past, and the uproar, indeed justified. But perhaps the first step in reclaiming what is ours is by embarking on a renaming of some of our tourist attraction sites still bearing foreign names given by explorers who first stumbled on them.

     Maybe then, we will collectively start feeling a sense of belonging and stop associating travel with one particular racial group. We need more tourism-related course books and reading material written by African travel enthusiasts and experts. We need to go back to our roots and revisit how we welcomed and entertained visitors and include that in our course work alongside foreign hospitality norms. Our culture, a great attraction to foreigners, should be at the forefront of travel and tourism learning. We can only thoroughly decolonize when we begin reversing what has long been instilled in us, while appreciating what has always been our cultural heritage.

Lorna Likiza is a Kenyan writer and tutor of French. Her fiction and nonfiction pieces have been featured in Arts and Africa, Ile Alo, Barren Magazine, Agbowo, and Down River Road. Her children’s book draft, Oi Gets Lost, was longlisted in the 2018 Golden Baobab Prize for African Children Book Writers and Illustrators. She is the founder of Heroe Book Fair, an upcoming literary event that inaugurates March 22-26, 2021. She can be found at https://twitter.com/lornalikiza?lang=en