Tag Archives: Africa

Collection Spotlight: One Hundred Pieces of Sun: Diary of a Potted Plant, by C.L. Kennedy

100pieces“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;
and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths.”

-Proverbs 3:5 (KJV)

One Hundred Pieces of Sun: Diary of a Potted Plant is really three books in one: (1) a social history of the American Deep South and northern Rust Belt in the 1950s and 1960s, (2) an autobiography of C.L. Kennedy’s childhood and youth, and (3) a travelogue through Africa during the 1970-71 academic year. Remarkably, the author weaves these disparate subjects into a unified whole.

Simply put, this is the freshest, most unique memoir I have ever read, charting a trajectory from the author’s childhood in Jim Crow Alabama and a not-exactly-equal-rights northern industrial city, to Sarah Lawrence College, and ending with her junior year abroad at the University of Ghana, followed by travels through most of the continent using only local transportation. (Yes, her mother threw a fit when Kennedy first told her about her plans.)

The marvelous writing is infused Kennedy’s personality – strong, highly opinionated, but always honest and with an eye for the humor in life. Here, for the benefit of prospective readers, are three excerpts to give an idea of the book’s historical and emotional range:

  1. Traveling by train from Alabama to Ohio in 1956:
    “Before the trip North, Brenda [the author’s sister] and I were repeatedly coached, drilled, and cautioned not to say anything to any white person, no matter what they said, did, or called us…We were rehearsed in acceptable docile and self-effacing ways to respond if it became absolutely necessary to engage in eye-contact or communication with a stranger” (p. 19-20).
  2. Using the public library in Ohio:
    “Laws prohibited Blacks from checking out public library books and from entering the front door of the public library. Our parents took us to the library just as they took us to church…They showed us the way to carry and conduct ourselves with integrity, dignity, and pride, and they always reminded us that we were responsible for leaving a legacy, adding something to posterity, and never shaming the race” (p. 81).
  3. Discovering a possible origin of her ancestors (or at least her own spiritual homeland) through music:
    “In Mali, I was introduced to the cora, a bowl-shaped musical instrument that is made either from dried gourds with leather chords extending along an attached long handle or a flat wooden box enhanced with wood or metal picks held in place along the bottom and spaced along the top…Music from Mali featuring the cora soothes my very soul. Much to my surprise, many times I have felt that Mali was my home place, the country of my ancestors” (p. 211).*

The author’s understanding of the violence and injustice blacks (in both Old and New Worlds) have suffered at the hands of whites is never far removed in the text, but Kennedy’s gratitude and enthusiasm for life ensure that her lessons are always delivered with a light touch. Another constant in the book, especially at critical moments, but never sermonized about, is her deep Christian faith instilled by her parents.

Although not a work of fiction, it does not seem inappropriate to call One Hundred Pieces of Sun a Bildungsroman, as it completely convincingly tells the story of the coming-of-age of a highly sensitive and intelligent young woman. Kennedy has written a book that engages with and invites the reader to see the world through her eyes. And that, I think, is one of the best things any book can do for us.

*For a sample of this remarkable music, click here.

Book Discussion: The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, by John Azumah

legacy-arab-islam-in-africaJoin Professor Emeritus Dr. Joseph Kickasola and the Library Book Club on Friday, October 28 for a discussion of an important historical topic that until recently has received too little attention from scholars.

The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa is the first book to document Arab-Islam’s role in the slave trade of Africa. Many books have covered the role of Christians in the slave trade from Africa to the West, but John Azumah, a native of Ghana, is the first scholar to produce a full accounting of the Arab-Muslim role in the enslavement of African peoples. The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the history of the slave trade, which continues to this day in parts of the Islamic world.

Our discussion will take place at 12:00pm in the Library Conference Room. Distance students and faculty are invited to join the discussion via Google Hangouts. The focus will be on chapter 4, “Muslim Slavery and Black Africa.” For a free PDF of this chapter, contact Harold Henkel at harohen@regent.edu.

The Library also has four copies of the book available for check-out. The books are located on the Book Club shelf, just to the right of the main staircase.

For a complete schedule of 2016-2017 book discussions, see the Library Book Club webpage.

R U Global — African Christianity

African Christianity: An African Story, edited by Ogbu U. Kalu. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2007.

Reviewed by Robert Sivigny, University Librarian

It may be said that in two thousand years of church history, no area of the world has been the recipient of Christian mission more than the continent of Africa. African Christianity: An African Story presents something of a progress report—indeed an exciting and encouraging one—documenting a vibrant history and setting the stage for Africa’s place in 21st century global Christianity.

Ogbu Kalu, both editor and contributor to this work, gathered together a group of eighteen African church historians with the intent of presenting windows into a distinctly African history of Christianity, “completely by Africans and in an African context.” Kalu, who passed away just last year, was a professor of church history at the University of Nigeria for over twenty years. Intended primarily for seminary students, this study attempts to identify major themes or story lines, demonstrating African Christian encounters, struggles, and achievements.

Most interesting is chapter five, “Islamic Challenges in African Christianity,” by Akintunde Akinade, a professor at Georgetown University. Akinade analyzes how various African countries, especially in the north, have coped with Islamic advances and cultural disparity. Several countries have a long history of Islamic and Christian culture conflict. For example, Nigeria, Akinade’s own country, struggles today with a 50%/50% Islamic/Christian population. Such countries, he says, have the potential of providing paradigms for other countries dealing with similar cultural issues. Akinade cites historian Phillip Jenkins, who claims that one of the critical challenges of Christianity in the twenty-first century is knowing how to relate to Islam. According to Akinade, “This realization is crucial to contemporary Africa. In fact, the continent provides a veritable laboratory for analyzing a host of emerging themes relevant to relations between the two faiths” (p. 103). What is the solution? Akinade writes that first of all, each side needs to realize that Islam and Christianity are both authentic African religions. Furthermore, there must be dialogue that can “mobilize Christians and Muslims to see beyond the manipulations of the nation-state and the vicious agenda of some self-proclaimed religious demagogues. Both Christianity and Islam contain value systems that can contribute to meaningful inter-religious dialogue within a pluralistic nation like Africa. One of the primary objectives of dialogue is the common search for a workable paradigm of society and cooperation in building a human community that safeguards religious freedom and respects differences and particularities” (p. 118).

In chapter eleven, Graham Duncan and Ogbu Kalu trace key African revival movements of the past hundred years and suggest that there are five types of revivals: 1.) those in which a leader from a traditional religion takes on some aspects of the Christian message; 2.) those in which a leader emerges from a Christian group that emphasizes certain ethical or Holy Spirit elements; 3.) indigenous churches that emphasize popular elements of Holy Spirit enthusiasm; 4.) those springing from fundamentalist mainline denominations that challenge some element of the ordinary way of things, embracing Holy Spirit enthusiasm in a fresh manner; and 5.) charismatic movements such as those of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The authors conclude that these revivals contributed to establishing “a charismatic spirituality that would define African response to the gospel: at once conservative, evangelical, with emphasis on the centrality of the Bible, interpreted without Western intellectual gymnastics, but with simplicity and immediacy” (p. 268).

Several Pentecostal/Charismatic revivals that occurred between the two world wars and the 1960s and 1970s have had a significant and enduring impact on the African continent. Chapter fifteen is devoted entirely to an analysis of the spread and influence of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches in Africa. These include both Western mission-affiliated classical Pentecostal denominations and African initiated Pentecostal indigenous movements such as the Deeper Christian Life Ministry in Nigeria, the International Central Gospel Church in Ghana, and the Family of God church in Zimbabwe, all begun by local ministries. Author J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu observes in conclusion to this chapter, “The Pentecostal emphasis on direct access to God through the Holy Spirit means for many of its African adherents, the ability to live the Christian life without recourse to the traditional ritual symbols that the older AICs [African indigenous churches] incorporated into Christianity…That the presence of Pentecostalism has forced former mission churches into emulative action in order to survive is enough evidence of how seriously the phenomenon of Pentecostal growth should be taken in modern African Christianity” (p. 355).

African Christianity: An African Story is a rich and varied collection of essays, offering much original research and optimism for the future of Christianity on the African continent. Highly recommended.

Collection Spotlight—Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
Reviewed by Harold Henkel, Associate Librarian

Things Fall Apart (1958) is a magnificent novel. Like all great writers, Chinua Achebe is at once compassionate and detached, and his story is both intensely local and universal. One of the great strengths of the novel is its refusal to do the reader’s work for him and interpret the events as they unfold. Achebe, in his strong, classical prose is the ideal artist described by Hamlet, “whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.”

Achebe grew up in a devout Christian home, and it is not difficult to detect in Things Fall Apart the literary style and influence of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the Hymn Book, and Pilgrim’s Progress. Achebe is deeply respectful of his ancestral Ibo culture, but does not equivocate in post-modern fashion with regard to monstrous aspects of that culture, such as the throwing away of twins and the killing of Ikemefuna. Although no doubt disagreeable to some secular readers, Achebe beautifully conveys the way the Christian faith grew because it answered a longing in the hearts of reflective people such as Nwoye:

“It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow. The hymn about brothers who sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted his young soul-the question of the twins crying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna, who was killed. He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul. The words of the hymn were like drops of frozen rain melting on the dry palate of the panting earth.”

Achebe’s depiction of the primitive church in Nigeria is entirely convincing. His father, Isaiah, was an early Ibo convert to Christianity, and doubtless many of the details of the Christian community in Things Fall Apart come from his reminiscences.

The principal value of the pre-Christian Ibo culture will be familiar to readers of Homer: honor. Like Homer’s Greeks, this culture emphasized nobility, courage, loyalty, and generosity. More skeptically, one might add to this list, the domination of women. Kwame Anthony Appiah, however, in his introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition, writes that the Ibo culture of Things Fall Apart was not characterized by domination of women, but “a balance between masculine and feminine that [Okonkwo] does not acknowledge in part because he is ashamed of his father who has failed to be a real man.” Appiah’s view seems to me especially apt because one of the principal dynamics of the book is the powerful, menacing Oedipal temper that drives the protagonist. Okonkwo loathes his father, and in the end, his hatred leads to his destruction.

As a western, Christian reader, it is tempting to assume that Achebe regards the end of Ibo independence and traditional culture as a small price to pay for the coming of Christianity. The novel’s title, however, taken from a line in Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, suggests that Achebe is ambivalent about the coming of the white man:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Things Fall Apart was followed in 1960 by No Longer at Ease, and in 1964 by Arrow of God. No Longer at Ease is the story of one of Okonkwo’s Anglicized grandsons, and Arrow of God takes place amongst the Ibo villages in the 1920s. Together, Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, and Arrow of God are sometimes referred to as The African Trilogy.

On Tuesday, November 17, Bramwell Osula, professor of leadership in the School of GLE, will lead a discussion of Things Fall Apart in the Library. For information about this event, contact Harold Henkel at 352-4198 or harohen@regent.edu.

Bramwell Osula to lead discussion of Things Fall Apart on November 17

Igbo Mask
Igbo Mask
Written by Harold Henkel, Associate Librarian

On November 17, Dr. Bramwell Osula will lead a discussion of Things Fall Apart, by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. The novel, first published in 1958, is recognized as one of the great African novels. The book is a powerful story about an Igbo warrior on the eve of British colonization and the establishment of Christian missions in the 1880s. Achebe’s father was among the first Igbo to become a Christian, and many of the details of the primitive church in Nigeria are no doubt based on his reminiscences.

Dr. Osula is Assistant Professor of leadership in the School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship. He first read Things Fall Apart while attending boarding school in Nigeria. Among his professional interests are global leadership and cross-cultural analyses, so he is a uniquely qualified guide to Achebe’s masterpiece.

If you possibly can fit the book into your schedule (it is only around 150 pages), don’t miss this unique opportunity to read one of the great world novels of the twentieth century. Both of the Library’s copies are currently checked out, but the book is available very inexpensively from Half.com.

Our discussion of Things Fall Apart will take place in the Library on November 17 at 12:00. For more information on this and other Library literature events, contact Harold Henkel at 352-4198 or harohen@regent.edu.