Monday, October 20, 2008

Sankore Mosque

Sankore Mosque
Originally uploaded by bdinphoenix
One of the two historic mosques of Timbuktu (the other being the Jingereber), the Sankore mosque was built during the declining years of the Empire of Mali, in the early 15th century A.D. Architecturally, it is remarkable for its large pyramidal mihrab. But this is not its real claim to fame -- indeed, it is smaller and less intricate than earlier Malian mosques including the 13th century mosque of Djenne. Instead, it is famous for being the center of the great Islamic scholarly community at Timbuktu during the 16th century A.D. The medieval "University of Timbuktu," often referred to as the "University of Sankore" was very different in organization to the universities of medieval Europe. It had no central administration, student registers, or prescribed courses of study; rather, it was composed of several entirely independent schools or colleges, each run by a single master or imam. Students associated themselves with a single teacher, and courses took place in the open courtyards of mosque complexes or private residences. The primary focus of these schools was the teaching of the Koran, although broader instruction in fields such as logic, astronomy, and history also took place. As anyone who wished could establish one of these colleges, standards amongst them are said to have been very uneven. However the imams of the Sankore mosque are known to have been the most respected. The university was adversely affected by the Moroccan invasion of the 1590s and the deportation of its best scholars. It never again regained its 16th century eminence.

by K.C. McDonald

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kidnapped in Ghana, brought to Maryland/Virginia

James K. Anquandah is a full Professor of Archeology at the University of Ghana. He has also learned his family's history and knows that one of his ancestors was kidnapped at Elmina in Ghana by Dutch slavers, unwilling to buy slaves but more than willing to kidnap them.

Anquandah's ancestor was placed on a slave ship and taken to the Maryland/Virginia area of North America in the 1600s. The United States of America did not yet exist and control of the North American continent was being contested by the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch, all of whom wanted to take the land from the native Americans who lived there. They also had a desire for Africans to do the manual labor that needed to be done to build a nation.

View award winning filmographer Professor Pat Ward Williams's video interview with Professor James K. Anquandah and learn more about the history of African slavery and survival on the North American continent.

Video by Pat Ward Williams
Text by Barry Williams

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The slave fortress at Cape Coast, Ghana

Cape Coast Castle
Originally uploaded by bdinphoenix
Cape Coast Castle’s strategic location near Elmina Castle and its sheltered beach made it a desirable location for European nations bent on exploiting the wealth of Africa. For almost 100 years there was a heated competition between the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, Swedes, and English for control of Cape Coast.

The first trading lodge in the area was built by the Portuguese in 1555 and was named “Cabo Corso”, which means short cape, later corrupted to Cape Coast. Sweden built the first permanent fort in 1653 and named it Carolusburg after King Charles X of Sweden. During the next eleven years, the Swedes, Danes, and the local Fetu chief each captured and controlled Carolusburg.

The English fleet finally captured Carolusburg and it remained in English possession until the late 19th century. It served as the headquarters of the British governor. It was the British who transformed the fort into a castle.

It is estimated that by 1700, the British were shipping 70,000 slaves per year from Cape Coast to the Americas as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In 1766 the British undertook a major rehabilitation of the castle, giving it its present look.

After the slave trade was abolished the castle became an important post for legitimate trade. The British also used it as a training facility for Jamaican soldiers during their wars with the Asante in Ghana. It has also been used as a school for Ghanian children and as the regional headquarters of the Museums and Monuments Board.

Source: Castles & Forts of Ghana by Kwesi J. Anquandah

Monday, July 28, 2008

Who Murdered Army Private LaVena Johnson

This could have been your sister, daughter, neice or friend.

This has to be one of the biggest stories in the Country that is not getting National Coverage.

Young Pvt. Lavena Johnson, a St. Louis Missouri area soldier, was killed in Iraq on July 19th, 2005. Evidence in the case points to assault and murder. However, the Army has been covering up the murder, calling the soldiers death a suicide instead.
This story is also being covered by blogger Shakespears Sister.

Immediately after her murder, The Army told her family that her death was not a suicide. But a short time later, the Army changed its story and called it a suicide by way of a self inflicted gunshot. The case was never properly investigated. The FBI should have taken over this case, once it appeared that foul play was involved.

The family put up an initial fight, but then the case faded.

Right after her death, I attempting to get more light shined on the issue. I wrote newspapers, and TV stations, without success. I guess they felt that it was more important to spend all of their time talking about Strippers like Anna Nicole Smith. I even attempted to get "Black Reporters" Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon to cover this story, but neither of their programs ever responded to my e-mails via their websites.

I immediately saw red flags with this case, because the circumstances were so suspicious. First and foremost:

1. Lavena Johnson was not a candidate for suicide, based on all of the accounts that described her personality, demeanor, her spirit, etc. None of that pointed to suicide. Also, she was nearing the time when she would be coming home and had been making plans with her family.

2. Secondly, from a physical/scientific standpoint it would have been nearly impossible for her to shoot herself in the side of the head with an M-16 with her weak hand. The bullet wound was on the left side of her head, but Lavena was right handed. Typically this is not how a suicide would be done with an M-16 rifle. In addition, weapons residue & forensics tests showed that she did not even fire the weapon.

3. Her face and upper body showed signs that she had been beaten. She had a broken nose, a busted lip, and her front teeth had been knocked loose. The funeral service workers had to repair her face before her funeral. Other parts of her body also showed signs of trauma.

I did not want to push too hard at the time, because the family did not seem interested in dealing with the issue. They wanted to grieve instead.

But there are now new developments in the case, and the family is once again fighting for a new investigation. Local St. Louis TV Station KMOV Channel 4 covered the case this week, and even more evidence has surfaced in the case that was not previously reported. See video here. The new evidence supports the case that Lavena was brutally murdered in her tent.

This case should be brought to national prominence, because a disgusting injustice has been committed here. The killer or killers are out there walking free.

My theory on what may have happened to this young soldier? She was likely a victim of a rape or sexual assault of some kind, likely by superior officers or enlisted soldiers. In an effort to cover up their crime and keep her from telling anyone, they decided to kill her. The evidence in the case shows that the suspect (s) attempted to destroy evidence at the crime scene, including an attempt to try to set the crime scene on fire. The new information also shows that there was a blood trail leading outside from Lavena's tent. If she shot herself in the head with an M-16, then she would not have been able to get up and walk outside of her tent to create the blood trail. Another person would have had to do that.

OR an alternate scenario could be that Lavena was a witness to or knew of serious criminal activity involving officers or senior enlisted folks over there. She must have saw something or heard something, and her superiors knew that she could be a witness against them. In an effort to guarantee that she would not tell what she knew, someone decided to have her killed.

Either way, this case deserves National attention, and the FBI should get involved. From seeing other cases in Iraq involving Iraqi civilians, we know that these kinds of events have taken place. The problem with these kinds of cases involving soldiers overseas is that evidence is lost and potential witnesses and suspects are reassigned to other bases over a certain period of time. But this is exactly why this needs to be an FBI case, because any new case would involve several jurisdictions.

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (or CID), which is typically responsible for investigating crimes on Army installations, has proved that #1. It may not have the resources and/or the manpower to investigate such a complex case, and #2. It has shown that it is not trustworthy in terms of being an impartial entity in this case. This is especially important if the offender or offenders were Army officers…and if the Army itself is involved in this cover-up.

Let's bring national attention to this issue so that justice can be served...for Lavena, her family, and for the other young women in the military who may have found themselves in similar situations (or will in the future), and may not have known how to seek help if help was even available at all. Women deployed overseas in the field are often isolated among men and often do not have the same support networks when they are deployed to warzones that they have when deployed Stateside.

This kind of vile injustice (far worse than what happened to Pat Tillman) should not be allowed to stand.

--from the blog Mirror on America

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Racism still alive in Lima, Peru

I've been telling Peruvians that theirs is just about the most racist country I ever visited. They still don't believe.

This morning I went to a cultural event at an institution whose name I will not mention at this time, in order to protect the guilty.

After about 5 or 6 performances, this group lined up on the stage. It struck me that the figure on the right, from the perspective of the audience, stood motionless, was a white man wearing "black face," and while the other stood proud, he lowered his head, playing the shameful, shameless Uncle Tom.

And, as the crowded hall laughed and cheered, as he shuffled in his dance, head still held downward, I left in disgust.

Because I voiced the view that I was insulted, several students engaged me in conversation at the gate, but it was impossible to explain why it was insulting.

I've read and heard about racism in the USA since I was a boy, but this is the very first time I ever saw Al Jolson reincarnated.

--Photographs and article produced by Patrick B. Barr (Barrybar on flickr)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Many Faces of Hosanna Meeting House

Hosanna AMUP
Originally uploaded by bdinphoenix
In 1843, life in the United States of America was a precarious one for African Americans. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, was a federal law that required the return of runaway slaves to their masters. In actuality it was rarely enforced but it led to a tenuous hold on freedom for African Americans who were not slaves.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the hold African Americans had on freedom was even more slippery. Slavery from birth until death was the fate that awaited most Africans in America and the few freedmen were always under the threat of having their rights and freedoms taken away.

Religion and the church was one of the few places an African could escape to in order to get any peace of mind. Barred from the religions of their ancestors by American society in general, and slave owners in particular, Africans adopted the Christian religion of their oppressors in great numbers.

In rural Chester County, Pennsylvania, Hosanna Meeting House served as the center of religious and spiritual life for the African Americans in the all black community of Hinsonville. Built in 1843 by the residents of Hinsonville, Hosanna was not only a house of worship but a political meeting place, an education center, and a stop on the Underground Railroad. During its 165 year existence Hosanna has been affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the African United Methodist Protestant (AUMP) church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) church.
Many of the founders of Hosanna Meeting House and the village of Hinsonville are buried in the cemetery on the grounds of the church. The headstones read like a Who’s Who of 18th and 19th century African American Chester County. There are generation of families such as the Amos family, the Drapers, Walls, and Coles. Two of Hosanna’s members, Wesley and William Jay, served with the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry in the War Between the States and are buried in the cemetery at Hosanna. In 1864 Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass came to Hosanna Meeting House and gave speeches in support of the Union. Something said in those speeches inspired my great-great grandfather, William Henry Black, and his brothers Joseph, Israel, and Ellis to join the Union army in time to participate in the siege of Petersburg and Richmond.
Hinsonville is long gone, relegated to the pages of history. It was replaced by Lincoln University, reportedly the oldest African American college in the United States. Hosanna Meeting House however, is still standing tall. It has been honored by the state of Pennsylvania as a historic site.

Click on the photograph and please enjoy your online visit to Hosanna Meeting House.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Timbuktu is really not far away

Djingarey Berreredux
Originally uploaded by bdinphoenix
We have all long heard the saying that something we desired is “as far away as Timbuktu”. In many western cultures the ancient city of Timbuktu is used as a metaphor to signify the distance one was trying to overcome to attain some goal or objective. Many people do not even believe Timbuktu is a real city but rather, like Shangri-La, some mythical place, as far removed from our existence as the moon or Mars.

However, as I recently discovered, Timbuktu is not that far away. By air it is only 45 minutes from Mopti, the same time necessary to fly from Chicago, Illinois to Dayton, Ohio. By motor vehicle Timbuktu is a scant four hours from Mopti, less than the time it would take one to drive from Phoenix, Arizona to San Diego, California.

Located on the edge of the Sahara desert in Mali, West Africa, Timbuktu has been a cultural, educational, religious, and trade center for approximately two thousand years. A Tuareg herdswoman named Buktu discovered an oasis in the Sahara almost two thousand years ago that she used as a camp during the dry season for her herds and flocks. Soon she set up a permanent camp and dug a well, hence the name Timbuktu, or, Buktu’s well.
Timbuktu soon became a stop on the trans-Sahara trade route for travelers, nomads, and caravans. Merchants setting up markets and building fixed dwellings instead of the usual tents really established Timbuktu as a meeting and trade location.

The kingdom of Ghana, the first great empire of the region, organized and controlled the trade of gold, salt, slaves, and other commodities in the area. Large caravans of camels laden with salt came to Timbuktu, where merchants shipped the goods along the Niger river to other African towns in exchange for other goods., most notably gold. It was this gold that Arab merchants told European traders about that later led to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Eventually Timbuktu came under the control of the Mali empire, the second great empire in West Africa and the first great Muslim kingdom in the region. These same trade routes, over which gold, salt, slaves and koala nuts were transported, also brought scholars and settlers who introduced Islam to the region.

The Malian king Mansa Mousa built magnificent mosques throughout his empire to spread the influence of Islam. Mousa transformed Timbuktu not only into one of the major cultural centers of Africa but the Islamic world. Timbuktu grew in wealth and power and became a meeting place for poets, scholars, and artists from Africa and the Middle East. In 1324 Mousa took a pilgrimage to Mecca and brought Timbuktu to the attention of the rest of the world.
The Djingarey Berre Mosque was built under Mousa’s leadership. Its mud and brick construction started a 600 year tradition that remains today. Djingarey Berre dominates Timbuktu to this day and has space for 2000 worshippers. Mali lost control over Timbuktu and its environs in the 15th century but Timbuktu was still the major Islamic center of sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1468 Timbuktu came under the control of the Songhay Empire. The city went through a golden age with doctors, scholars, judges, and clerics contributing to a culture where books became one of the leading commodities in the city. Theology, rhetoric, Islamic law and literature were taught at the Sankore University, which was housed in the Sankore mosque.

In 1590, Morocco, desiring the gold flowing from the Songhay, conquered Songhay and destroyed the empire. This development, along with the growing Atlantic Ocean trade routes, led to a serious decline of Timbuktu. Moroccans ruled Timbuktu until approximately 1780. Various bands, including Tuaregs and the Bambara kingdom in Segou, took over Timbuktu until the 19th century, when the French took control of the city.

Due to Timbuktu’s reputation as an unreachable city, vast and inhospitable but covered with gold, the French offered a substantial amount of money to any European explorer to reach the city. A young Frenchman named Rene Caillie took up the challenge and, disguised as an Arab, reached Timbuktu in 1828. What Caillie found was a barren, desolate town with no trace of the wealth the French had long heard about. The gold trade had moved to the West African coast and was largely replaced by a more lucrative trade in slaves.

Modern day Timbuktu gives an appearance of being as desolate as the town Caillie reached in 1828. It is fighting encroachment from the Sahara Desert and its water and vegetation has been stripped away by desertification. However, its mosques and libraries, both public and private, still exist. Its citizens depend largely on tourism and it has three hotels for travelers to rest in. Timbuktu’s teenagers look like teenagers from any other western town in dress and clothing styles. The four wheel drive Toyotas and Nissans that travel its sandy streets have to make space for the occasional burro and cart traveling those same roadways. Its people are friendly and its hotels comfortable, if not spartan. An internet cafĂ© exists in Timbuktu and if you have the right cell phone provider you can telephone anywhere in the world.

Click on the photograph to see more photographs from Timbuktu

Monday, May 5, 2008

Goree Island

Originally uploaded by bdinphoenix
Goree Island is a 45 acre island located one kilometer at sea from the harbor at Dakar, Senegal. Due to a lack of drinking water, the island was not settled until the Portuguese arrived in 1444. Goree was an essential place in the triangular slave trade between Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Owned at different times in its history by the Portuguese, the United Netherlands, the Portuguese again, the Dutch , and finally the French in 1677, Goree was named after the Dutch island of Goeree. From 1677 until Senegal was granted its independence from the French in 1960, Goree was owned mainly by France, with brief intervals of ownership by Great Britain between 1677 and 1815.

The Portuguese built the first slave trading post on Goree in 1536. After the French took possession in 1677, Goree became a lucrative trading post for slaves for the French until Napoleon abolished slavery in 1807. The French however, did not vigorously enforce their anti-slavery laws so a covert slave trade existed until 1815. Most of the slaves who passed through Goree went to the Caribbean, Brazil, and the French owned portions of North America.

While Goree is a place of history and beauty now, it must never be forgotten that unspeakable crimes against humanity and the peoples of Africa took place here. Major European powers at the time, Portugal, Netherlands, England, and France stole African’s major resource, its people, and used them to build incredible wealth for themselves.

Please enjoy your photographic visit. Clicking on the photograph will take you to a gallery of photographs from Goree Island.

information source: Wikipedia