Going Down the Road

NY Times
In a Town Apart, the Pride and Trials of Black Life
Published: September 29, 2008
Eatonville, Fla., the first all-black town to incorporate in the country, is now a place of pilgrimage.

Here's an excerpt:

Eatonville, the first all-black town to incorporate in the country and the childhood home of Zora Neale Hurston, is no longer as simple as she described it in 1935: “the city of five lakes, three croquet courts, 300 brown skins, 300 good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools and no jailhouse.” It is now a place of pilgrimage. Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Ruby Dee have come to the annual Zora! Festival in Eatonville to pay their respects to Hurston, the most famous female writer of the Harlem Renaissance.

Read the full article here


Obituary: Marpessa Dawn

Published: September 27, 2008
Ms. Dawn played the beautiful, melancholic and doomed Eurydice in the classic 1959 Brazilian movie “Black Orpheus.”


The cause was a heart attack, her daughter Dhyana Kluth said.

Ms. Dawn’s death followed by 41 days that of her “Black Orpheus” co-star, Bruno Melo, who played the title role. The family did not publicly announce the death until this week.

Directed by Marcel Camus and based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, “Orfeu Negro,” as it is called in Portuguese, brings together an innocent country girl, played by Ms. Dawn, and a trolley car motorman and gifted guitarist, portrayed by Mr. Melo. They meet amid the frenzy of Rio’s carnival and are soon swaying to a provocative samba among the crowds. But Eurydice is stalked by a man in a skeleton costume. Eventually, Orpheus finds her in the morgue. In the end, bearing her body in his arms, he falls to his death from a cliff.


'Victim of the times'

Jack Johnson in 1914
Johnson's success prompted the search for a "Great White Hope"

The US Congress has recommended that a presidential pardon should be granted to the first black world heavyweight boxing champion.

Jack Johnson won the title in 1908 but was later convicted of transporting white women across US state lines for immoral purposes.

Johnson served nearly one year in prison for what is now seen as a racially motivated conviction.

Congress stated that Johnson's success motivated other black athletes.

His 1908 victory over Tommy Burns prompted the search for a "Great White Hope" who could defeat the black man, but Johnson held the title until 1915.

After his conviction in 1913, Johnson fled the US, returning in 1920 to serve his term.

He returned to boxing but was unable to regain his title.

'Victim of the times'

The congressional resolution urges President George W Bush to grant Johnson a pardon.

It states that the conviction was racially motivated, prompted by his sporting success and his relationships with white women.

"He was a victim of the times and we need to set the record straight - clear his name - and recognise him for his groundbreaking contribution to the sport of boxing," said member of the House of Representatives Peter King, the author of the resolution.

US authorities had at first tried to unsuccessfully prosecute Johnson over his relationship with a white woman whom he later married.

A second white woman then testified that Johnson had transported her across state lines in violation of the Mann Act.

A similar resolution, sponsored by presidential candidate John McCain, now goes before the Senate for consideration.


African cultural traditions

The 'Bachelor catcher'

By Andrew Walker
BBC News, Kano

A nightly carnival where bachelors are ridiculed into getting married is under way in northern Nigeria.

Until 1 October, Kano's "Bachelor catcher" and his band of musicians will roam the streets, parading a bachelor they have caught in a noose.

The carnival is part of the celebrations of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, where people fast during the daylight hours.

These days the bachelor is a symbolic one, chosen for the event.

But in the past the troop of drummers known as "Nalako" used to roam the streets looking for men they thought should do the decent thing and marry.


The title of Kano's "Bachelor catcher", the Sarkin Nalako, has been handed down for at least three generations, according to its current holder Auwalu Nalako.

"This is something my father did, and his father before him. It is of great importance," he says.

Auwalu's two sons will take over from him, he says.

After sunset, when Muslims break their fast, it is traditional among Kano's Hausa population for young men to go into the streets in groups and go door-to-door dancing and singing.

People give contributions of food or money.

Bachelor 'dogs'

But the Nalako group have a message to their songs.

They call bachelors "dogs" and say their prayers during Ramadan are worthless.

The Sarkin Nalako dresses up like a hunter, and his bachelor prey is paraded around with a rough noose around his neck and indigo dye smeared on his face.

Their songs are accompanied by goatskin drums and metal bells.

"Its important to encourage people to get married to avoid the immorality of having sexual intercourse with lots of people," says the Sarkin Nalako.

In Hausa tradition, a man cannot be recognised as an adult unless he is married.

Those without the means to marry are often denied respect and a voice in society.


The spirit of Querino: "It was black people like me who built Brazil"

By Steve Kingstone
BBC correspondent in Sao Paulo

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, has arrived in Africa at the start of a week-long visit.
Lula acknowledged a "historic debt"

The five-nation tour - which began in the archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe and then Angola - will end in South Africa.

Brazil has strong historical ties with the African continent - nearly half of all Brazilians trace their ancestry to black slaves imported during the colonial era.

President da Silva, usually known simply as Lula, wants to build a partnership to fight hunger and poverty.

Deep bonds

Just walking down the street in the centre of Sao Paulo you can't help but notice the incredible African influence on this country.

Brazil, like African states such as Angola, Mozambique and Sa Tome, is a former Portuguese colony and they still speak the same language
From the 16th to the 19th Century, one in three of black slaves shipped to the New World ended up in Brazil and today only Nigeria has a larger black population

It's everywhere - whether it's the samba music blaring out of the record shops, the food that's on sale in the markets or, above all, the incredible racial diversity of the Brazilian people.

The links between Brazil and Africa are all around you.

"It was black people like me who built Brazil," a trumpeter in a street band told me.

He said the Portuguese came here with millions of slaves so of course the bond with Africa is strong.

However, some people angry about the President Lula's Africa trip.

"Lula promised lots of things but he's done nothing," he says.

"There are people starving and homeless in Brazil - he should be sorting out things here."

'Common identity'

Speaking before his departure, Lula acknowledged what he called Brazil's historic debt to Africa - a reference to the four million black slaves who were brought here by the Portuguese.

The president said he was proud that Brazil had the second largest black population of any country on earth. Nigeria has the largest.

"After decades and even centuries of turning our backs to Africa, we feel that we have the conditions now to feel together with the Africans our common identity," says Pedro Motta, a senior Brazilian diplomat in charge of relations with Africa.

Mr Motta says that Brazil will honour its historic debt by funding health and education projects and by sharing expertise in the fight against HIV/Aids.

South-south direction

But he says there's a second purpose to this visit in terms of Brazil's relations with other developing countries.

Thabo Mbeki
The South African president is a key ally for Lula
"There is also the question that is central to our foreign policy and that is that we want to strengthen our co-operation in the south-south direction.

"Africa, of course, is part of this, as India is, and it's important to strengthen our basis for negotiation with the industrialised countries," says Mr Motta.

Preserving the coalition of developing countries that came together at the Cancun trade talks is perhaps the top priority in Lula's foreign policy, according Silvio Caccia Bava, the director of Polis, an independent think tank in Sao Paulo.

"The most important, I suppose, is to have the participation of African countries in this new articulation that involves China, India, South Africa, Brazil, to create a new collective actor in the international scenario to say 'look, the south needs new rules'," Mr Bava says.

'New course'

A key ally in that cause is President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who was in Brazil last week paying tribute to Lula.

"Brazil under your leadership has set itself on a new course which is of importance not only to Brazil but I believe to the rest of us in the rest of the world who are involved, as you are, with attempting to meet the challenges that face the poor of the world," Mr Mbeki said.

As Brazilian schoolchildren serenaded Mr Mbeki, Lula was already preparing for the return visit.

His tour will end in South Africa, sealing a deep bond between Brazil and the continent that helped shape its identity.


"The Hemingses of Monticello"

Published: September 20, 2008
In “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” Annette Gordon-Reed follows four generations of Sally Hemings’s relatives.


Two events on Machado de Assis in the US

1. Panel Discussion: Machado and His Times, Monday, September
15, Americas Society, New York City


Panel discussion (in English)

Machado and His Times

Monday, September 15, 7 PM

Join us for a panel discussion on the great Brazilian writer
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908), long recognized as
one of Brazil's most important and influential literary figures.
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis wrote nine novels, eight short-
story collections, four volumes of poetry, 13 plays, and numerous
critical essays. He is best known for his novels Memórias
Póstumas de Brás Cubas and Dom Casmurro, both of which have been
masterfully translated by Gregory Rabassa. The panel will include
specialists and aficionados of Machado's work, including Jussara
Menezes Quadros (Princeton), Barbara Weinstein (New York
University), and Michael Wood (Princeton). Together they will
discuss the life and legacy of the man Susan Sontag once referred
to as "the greatest author ever produced in Latin America." Lidia
Santos (The Graduate Center, CUNY) will moderate the discussion.
H. E. José Alfredo Graça Lima, Consul General of Brazil in New
York, will introduce the discussion. This program is presented as
part of the Machado 21: a Centennial Celebration festival, which
celebrates Machado's contribution to world literature and his
relevance today.

The Machado 21 collaborating institutions are: the Americas
Society, the Consulate General of Brazil in New York, the
Brazilian Endowment for the Arts, the Graduate Center, CUNY, and
the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

For further information about the Machado 21 festival, visit
web.gc.cuny.edu/hispanic/machado21 and www.filmlinc.com.

Reservations are required.
Please email
or call (212) 277 8359, ext. 1

Americas Society gratefully acknowledges the following donors for
their generous support of the Literature program: Honorary
Benefactor Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat; The Reed Foundation; New
York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; New York City
Department of Cultural Affairs; and Quebec Government Office in
New York. Additional in-kind support has been provided by:
InterAmericas®-Society of Arts and Letters of the Americas; and
Blue Metropolis Foundation.

2. Machado 21: A Centennial Celebration, September 15-19,
Manhattan, New York and New Haven, Connecticut



celebrating the work of Brazil's greatest novelist

September 15th to 19th 2008
Where: Manhattan, NY and New Haven, CT

General description of the event

Machado 21: A Centennial Celebration is a festival composed of
academic panels, a book exhibition, a symposium, a concert and
film screenings. For one week, these academic and cultural
offerings will be spread throughout Manhattan and New Haven
honoring the centennial of the death of Brazilian writer Machado
de Assis, considered by Susan Sontag “the greatest author ever
produced in Latin America.” Harold Bloom titled him a genius and
Michael Wood affirmed that he was “undoubtedly a master.” Besides
his national and international stature as Brazil’s foremost
novelist, Machado will also be analyzed for his contributions to
the genre of the novel, for his mordant socio-political criticism
of Brazilian society and for his deft perception of the human
condition. The pervasive popularity of his work will be shown
through adaptations of his work for cinema and other forms of
performances. Polemic issues about his work, such as his
infrequent references to slavery, while himself a descendent of
slaves, will also be discussed by the specialists brought
together by festival organizers.

More information www.machado21.com
Contact us: machado21@gc.cuny.edu


The English-speaking world 'discovers' Machado de Assis

Published: September 13, 2008
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis died 100 years ago this month and has since gone from being a fringe figure in the English-speaking world to a literary favorite hailed as an unjustly neglected Brazilian genius.

Note: Machado is much more like Brazil's Henry James (Camões is its Shakespeare), but then, few Brazilians would have heard of James.


Ore yê yê ô!

The white priestess of 'black magic'
see original article here

By Andrew Walker
BBC News, Osogbo, Nigeria

Bent double by age, the high-priestess of Nigeria's Yoruba spirit-world shuffles forward from under the trees, reaching out a white, blotchy hand in welcome.

Susanne Wenger and her adopted daughter Doyin Faniyi
Mrs Wenger resurrected the traditions of the river-god Osun

Half a lifetime ago, Susanne Wenger dedicated herself to reviving the traditions of the pre-Christian Yoruba gods, "the orishas", and left Austria to make Nigeria her home.

The frail 94-year-old artist, with one seeing eye, has been a driving force in Osogbo town, where she is in charge of the sacred grove, a place where spirits of the river and trees are said to live.

In an upstairs room of her house, surrounded by carved wooden figures of the gods, she receives well-wishers and devotees, who she blesses in fluent Yoruba.

When she arrived here, she found traditional culture in abeyance, all but destroyed by missionaries who branded it "black magic" or "juju", a word Mrs Wenger reviles.

Friends paint a picture of a dedicated, tough and far-sighted leader who has helped revive a culture thought destroyed by Christian and Muslim evangelists, and secured protection for one of the Yoruba tradition's most sacred sites.

But she is very humble about her achievements.

Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove Festival

"Osogbo is a creative place, it is that by itself, it didn't need me," she says.

Followers say she has channelled the river-god Osun into her body, learning the knowledge of pre-Christian deities like no other European has ever done.

Orisha worship is a controversial belief. In the past it involved human sacrifice and there are rumours that still happens at secret shrines elsewhere in the country.

Devotees of the orishas can worship either good or evil gods in order to get what they want.

But thanks to Mrs Wenger, the town's annual festival of Osun has grown in size and popularity and thousands of Yorubas come every August to renew their dedication to the river-god.


Mrs Wenger arrived in Nigeria in 1950 with her then husband, the linguist Ulli Beier and travelled widely in south-western Nigeria.

Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala
Maybe you can call Susanne our saviour
Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala

In 1957, she fell ill with tuberculosis in an epidemic in which many thousands died.

Friend Ajani Adigun Davies says Mrs Wenger believes the illness was a kind of sacrifice, in return for the knowledge she was receiving about the gods.

"The Yoruba beliefs all depend on sacrifice, that you must give something of value to get something of value, you must suffer pain to gain knowledge," he says.

In her early years in Nigeria she met Adjagemo, a high-priest of creator-god Obatala.

"He took me by the hand and led me into the spirit world," Mrs Wenger told a French documentary maker in 2005.

"I did not speak Yoruba, and he did not speak English, our only intercourse was the language of the trees."

She divorced her husband and moved in with Adjagemo in Osogbo, where she resolved to live for the rest of her life.

Mrs Wenger believes that the spirit world has long been neglected by Western culture, and spirits can appear to anyone as long as they are willing to accept them.

"You need special eyes to see them," she says.


Enemies in churches and mosques have tried to smash her sculptures of deities and burn down the forest that shelters them.

But artist Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala, Mrs Wenger's adopted son, says many local people accepted her eagerly.

Ajani Adigun Davies
Susanne's knowledge of the behaviour and character of all the deities means she has actually become Yoruba now
Former curator Ajani Adigun Davies

"Maybe you can call Susanne our saviour," says Mr Ajala, now the high-priest of Sango, the lightning-god.

"Was Christ an African? Muhammad was an Arabian. Why can't our saviour be European?"

The first time he met her was the day of his initiation into the cult of Sango, when he was 11.

His father was an unapologetic devotee of the old gods, and refused to let his child be baptised or go to schools run by Christians or Muslims.

But Mr Ajala wanted to learn to read, and he thought a white woman would let him.

"I saw some children reading books, and I wanted to be able to go to school to read these stories."

But six months after he moved in with Mrs Wenger, he asked her if he could go to school.

"She shouted: 'No! you cannot go to school, they will turn you into a Christian and your life will be over!'" he remembers.

Mr Ajala is still illiterate, but has a deep knowledge about the traditions of Yoruba spirit gods and says his adopted mother has made him see how important it is that Yoruba traditions have been preserved.

Yet he is now working to build a school where children can go and receive an education and also learn about the traditions of the orishas.

'Tug of war'

Mrs Wenger's ideas about the preservation of the forest have become central to the survival of the traditional beliefs.

Mr Adigun Davies, a former curator with the government museums directorate who first met Mrs Wenger in 1989, says the battle to save the grove was a "tug of war".

He recalls her lying down in the path of a bulldozer brought by a man who bought the grove from a relative of a traditional leader and wanted to build a house on the land.

"It's a disgrace to the Yoruba that the person who came to save our culture was a European," he says.

"But Susanne's knowledge of the behaviour and character of all the deities means she has actually become Yoruba now."