Wednesday, February 28, 2018

An African Portrayal of Adwa!

A few years ago, there was a movement by African media leaders to create an African narration of itself. The proposal aimed at reversing the racist or colonial perspective of Africa and telling African stories in African way.

To understand this, I usually think of ways of things are done at home, Ethiopia. Let me give you an example from home. Foreign media or any reference of an Ethiopian is so strange until that Ethiopian learns about it. In my little experience of travel and even in reference of foreign media, I found myself usually referred as someone whom I am not. The wikipedia page that has my profile, for example, reads my story as Hailu's, my father. Jokes aside, foreigners usually referred to me by my father's name mostly, and by my grandfather's name seldom. They call it Sur Name or Family Name while we have no such thing. I want to be called in my own way, the cultural way I have lived. But no one cares because the standard is set in the European way. 

We Ethiopians preserved the Ethiopian way of name-system We preserved it because we were not colonized. Things would have continued in multiple different/diverse ways in Africa and elsewhere if there were no colonization. 

In Adwa, Ethiopians defeated Italian colonizers but I don't really believe we lived through our independence. The governments of Ethiopia are manipulated by European powers since then. Migration, importing innovations, and our very perception of white people made us submit to white or European supermacy. The European way is taken as the best way, the norm.  However, some things of our own have survived  until today. (By the way, "our own" way in itself is not pure invention of our own. It may be adoptation of something or modification of it through years until we forget the origin of it.)

One of the survived traditions exists our name-system. Even it was debated in parliament during the emperor's time. Fortunately, the parliamentarians of the time rejected the proposal to adopt European system and resumed the local name system. I'm not saying the Ethiopian name system (calling a person with her/his given name and adding her/his father's given name, and grandfather's given name respectively after the given name of a person to write a full name) is a perfect one nor a system that lived forever in Ethiopia. (In fact, I can't deny that sometimes I see family name system as tribal.) Anyway, what I wanted to write about is ours has evolved with its own bureaucracy and it always feels OK to do things in one's way. When I want to be referred by my name, and not by what foreigners think my family name is, it is an appeal to decide who I am.

Black Panther is awed by many because it is almost all blacks' movie. However, in my opinion, had had an African country that hasn't been colonized and remained hidden from the colonizers' indirect influence existed, it would have a chance to evolve even in a very different way than it is imagined in this movie. The movie, of course is produced to western audience, in a way that impresses black westerners. As a person who lives in a country where there is very little black/white race division, I couldn't see Black Panther more than just another super hero movie. But, what if it was authored, directed and produced by people who have actual experiences of being never colonized? 

Addis Ababa is not a good place to think of because it is trying to look like everyone else except Africans. I refer to my own experience of rural life two decades ago in Northern Shoa to imagine what a developed African nation, without colonial powers influence, would look like. Every item I saw there was made of resources found in that environment. The 'tefir' bed, that is made of leather ropes and wood without using a single nail attaching the woods; the cooking pan made of clay; the drinking cup, 'shikina', made of calabash; the plate, 'erbo', made of grass leaves; the house itself and everything is different and friendly to the environment. Imagine this to evolve and get advanced without any outside influence. It can be a lot of things but the possibility for it to look like as it is portrayed in Black Panther is very unlikely. 

Anyway, what I'm trying to explain is that it may not be better but it is always different when genuinely Africans portray themselves. I will use one more example to explain what I'm saying. 

In Ethiopia's traditional paintings, people's are usually painted two-eyed if they have done good and one eyed if they did evil. The traditional painting of Adwa, for example, displays two groups of warriors: one group is two-eyed and these are the colonialism-defenders; the other group is one-eyed because they have done evil things by trying to conquer Ethiopia.