Gertrude

Is a book all of you should read just to be entertained, to be moved to tears or just to pass time.

But I don’t know whether Hesse could have just title it Muoth. What does it matter what the title of a book is anyway. It is a lovely book about love, life, betrayal, death, music, passion, family, youth and old age. It is also beautifully told.

In a conversation between our narrator (Kuhn) and his friend Muoth, on wisdom, the latter says

“As far as I am concerned, I don’t care for accuracy. I believe that wisdom comes to naught. There are only two laws of wisdom. Everything between them is mere babble.”

and when asked to explain his meaning, he says

Well, either the world is wicked and worthless, as the Buddhists and Christians say. Then one must chastise oneself and renounce everything. One could become quite happy in this belief, I think. Ascetics do not have as hard a life as is believed. But if the world and life is good and right, then one must take his part in it—and afterwards, die quietly, for then he is ready.

and when asked by his friend which he chose, his response  was

That is a question you must never ask anyone. Most people believe both, depending on what the weather is, and how they feel, and whether they have money in their pockets. And those who believe, do not always act accordingly. It is that way with me. I believe even as Buddha, that life is worth nothing. But I live according to my senses, and as if pleasing them were the primary thing. If it were only more satisfying!

My friends, I don’t know about you, but I find this quite sublime.

I implore you to get yourself a copy and be reading. You will thank me for it.

Advertisements

African Religion and Philosophy

by Canon John Mbiti

This is a good introductory book to students on African religion. It is short on philosophy though. In any case, the only time he talks about anything close to philosophy is when he talks about African time and the concept of evil, justice and ethics, on this, shortly.

It seems to me however, that at some point his ideas of god, African gods, is coloured by his christian beliefs. It is Christianity that has an abstract or unnamed god. The Egyptians named their gods and one would expect, at least, named gods if the idea of god was not an abstract thing among traditional societies in Africa.

There seems to be a thin line between secular and religious authority. In fact, this distinction doesn’t even come into play. There is no sphere of life, per Mbiti, that is not religious or doesn’t involve religious feeling.

I am not sure I agree with Mbiti that there was no irreligiousness in African traditional societies. This, in my view is erroneous and should be worthy of study. In every age there have always been people skeptical of the traditions, including the religious ideas active in their times. So of interest to me is how skepticism was articulated.

His comments on evil, ethics and justice I found to be quite interesting and it is to that we now turn.

He writes for example about the Ankore who do not feel they can offend god because god is the final principle or among the Azande, Akan and so on who believe god has no influence on people’s morals.

Among the Bavenda, they believe in a god who punishes the community for the infractions of the chief.

Among the Nuer, he tells us, there is a belief that to be proud of one’s wealth may offend god causing them to take away cattle and children.

What I find deeply disturbing is the belief among some communities that never or rarely does a person or being of higher status do what constitutes an offence against a person of lower status. It is this belief or principle that supports the argument that god cannot commit evil against his creation.

The belief on restitution is however quite interesting. African life is earthbound, very much so. Mbiti tells us that according to most African peoples, god punishes in this life. The gods are concerned with the moral life of mankind and that with a few exceptions, there is no belief that a person is punished in the hereafter for what they do in this life.

I am not sure of the source of his next point concerning the Africans view of humanity in totality. He says to most peoples, no person is inherently good or bad but acts in ways which are good when they act in conformity with the mores of the community and bad if contrary. So for example, in a society that does not forbid sleeping with another’s wife, to do so is not bad unless there is a breach, maybe sleeping with a person’s wife not in your age group or cohort.

To expand on this, he argues in African societies, morality is more ‘societary’ than spiritual. It is a morality of conduct rather than a morality of being, that is, it defines what a person does rather than what they are. That is to say, a person is what he is because of what he does rather than he does what he does because of what he is. Kindness is not a virtue unless someone is kind.

Moving away from the above considerations, I found his comments on secularism, communism and capitalism interesting, and I will quote it extensively

[]In their extreme positions, these -isms despise, reject and even oppose religion. They are movements away from religion, and it is this which makes them relevant to any discussion on religion.

Secularism has an undermining effect upon religion, but it may well be to the good of religion if the latter injects religious principles into secular life instead of waging a war against secularism.

Capitalism, he writes, is anti-religious when it exploits man to such a degree that he becomes simply a tool or robot and loses his humanity. If capitalism reduces man to the material level only, then it has contradicted the religious image of man which in all traditions, depicts man as both physical and spiritual.

And as I mentioned earlier, I am not sure of some of the views Mbiti expressed were not coloured by his Christianity. At the end of thos work he writes or rather wrote

I consider traditional religions, Islam and other religious systems to be preparatory and even essential ground in the search for the ultimate. But only Christianity has the terrible responsibility of pointing the way to that ultimate identity, foundation and source of security.

I should in passing that he saw schools as breeding or recruitment grounds for churches and was for the idea that schools should be used to indoctrinate.

Clerambault: The story of an independent spirit during the war

I am no Clerambault, but I agree with most of his declamations against war. He is no blind pacifist. But he sees war as a waste of humanity, which I think it is. There are those of you enamored by big military complexes. For me, they represents the greatest of human folly. You can argue all day, if you wish, that militaries have made some very useful and great inventions, that maybe be, but it still a monument to human folly. Arming itself so it can spread peace, democracy and whatever else they convince the common people to believe. To each their own, anyway.

I don’t think I can do the book any justice by reviewing it. It is enough for me to say that I liked it. I disagree with Romain on his reference to Africans as savages. I don’t think he could find Africa on a map. His views on women can only be excused to have belonged to that time in history.

What I can do, however, is to share some of the passages that resonated most with me. I have shared some previously.

About the Buddha,

It would not be enough for me, and I cannot content myself either with the wisdom of a selfish Buddha, who sets himself free by deserting the rest. I know the Hindoos as you do, and I love them, but even among them, Buddha has not said the last word of wisdom. Do you remember that Bodhisattva, the Master of Pity, who swore not to become Buddha, never to find freedom in Nirvana, until he had cured all pain, redeemed all crimes, consoled all sorrows?

On warring people

Why do they not see the imbecility of their conduct, in face of the gulf that swallows up each man that dies, all humanity with him? These millions of creatures who have but a moment to live, why do they persist in making it infernal by their atrocious and absurd quarrels about ideas; like wretches who cut each other’s throats for a handful of spurious coins thrown to them? We are all victims, under the same sentence, and instead of uniting, we fight among ourselves. Poor fools! On the brow of each man that passes I can see the sweat of agony; efface it by the kiss of peace!

On fate

A man’s fate is made every day by himself, and none knows what it will be; it is what we are. If you are
cast down, so also is your fate.

On the secrets of life

He who has deciphered the secret of life and found the answer, is no longer bound on the great wheel of existence, he has quitted the world of the living. When illusion vanishes, nothingness resumes its eternal reign, the bright bubble has burst in infinite space, and our poor thought is dissolved in the immutable repose of the limitless void.

On anti-natalism

Why bring children into the world, if it is to butcher them like this?

On freeing others

You cannot set others free, in spite of them, and from the outside; and even if it were possible, what good would it do? If they do not free themselves, tomorrow they will fall back into slavery. All you can do is to set a good example, and say: “There is the road, follow it and you will find Freedom”.

On life or meaningless of life

Since he who is destroyed, suffers, and he who destroys has no pleasure, and is shortly destroyed himself, tell me what no philosopher can explain; whom does it please, and to whose profit is this unfortunate life of the universe, which is only preserved by the injury or death of all the creatures which compose it?”

If you have time to spare, this books for light reading. You can add it to your reading list as recommendation from yours truly.

the fraud of feminism?

Is a book by E Belfort Bax written in 1913 against the feminist cause.

In it he argues that the claims of feminism are unfounded and are buttressed by fallacy upon fallacy. He argues women are  physically, intellectually and morally inferior to men. I am going ahead of myself.

Bax says feminism consists of the assertion of equality in intellectual capacity, in spite of appearances to the contrary, of women with men. In his view, because of the inequalities, women shouldn’t have been allowed to vote. He was assuredly against the suffragettes. To the question of why men of decidedly inferior mental capacities could vote when women couldn’t, he deferred to an argument for averages. He says in all these matters we have to deal with averages.

Bax tells us and he would gratify those who see women only as sexual objects

[…] the truth in question consists in the fact, while man has a sex, women is a sex.

Quoting Otto’s book Sex and Character, he writes

Woman is only sexual, man is also sexual. In woman, sexuality is diffused over the whole body, every contact on whatever part excites her sexually.

But he doesn’t stop here, he goes on to write

……woman has continued to find her chief function in the direct procreation of the race.

We are told specialists are all agreed that at all ages, the size of a woman’s brain is smaller than that of a man. And this difference also differs with civilization.

He says hysteria is an affliction that affects women only and has its origins in the uterus.

A strand of argument that still seem to have currency in our day is the argument that feminism is an anti-men crusade. I should mention here, that in this treatise, Bax is mainly responding to male feminists. He says the female feminist is too biased for her opinion to be considered. In support of this thesis, he writes

we see the legislature, judges, juries, parsons all vie with one another in denouncing the villainy and baseness of the male person and ever devising ways and means to make life hard for him.

Examples he give include (remember this is 1900s England)

  1. the marriage laws in England are a monument to feminist sex partiality- if you promise to marry a damsel and go back on your word, jail or fine for you
  2. the right of maintenance accrues solely to the woman
  3. the law affords the woman to commit torts against third parties, the husband alone being responsible
  4. the wife can obtain, if not a divorce, a legal separation by going whining to the nearest police court[?], for a few shillings, which the husband has to pay!

He said the law made it a crime to receive succor from a woman who plied the sex trade (refer to White Slave Trade Act).

He argues, the feminists present the woman always as the “injured innocent“. In his view, where crimes are involved, the feminists ditch the argument for equality with men and pursue a line of innocence for the women. To them, he says divine woman is always the injured innocent not only in the graver crimes of murder but also in minor offences. He gives a number of cases where the punishment meted out to women and men for the same crimes differed with the women getting a fairer and shorter punishment.

He argues chivalry has been turned on its head.

Women, he argues, are not the weaker sex. He says women can endure more pain, live longer than the men folk, that child mortality is higher in males than females.

He goes on and on and I am tired of going on.

I have read this book, so you don’t have to read it.

And today we end in a song.

The hypocrisy of third wave feminists. Bax seems to still have supporters though not all through

You must set forth at dawn

Is an autobiography by Wole Soyinka, I think his second. If you have not read any work by W.S, then I recommend you read this. When I finished reading this book, I felt a desire one to meet Wole and the next was to ask myself what I have done with my life. This fellow, Wole, has done so much with his life from a young age and he is still going strong.

In this book he tells of the theft of artifacts from West Africa (Benin, Nigeria) by the British government or is it British Museum (are they different?) and an attempt to recover one particular burst of a god and the scandal that ensued. Of how the issue was mishandled by the police or was it a case of betrayal by the government?

He tells us of his meetings at Aso Rock with the different occupants of that seat except Abacha with whom he said he would not share a table with.

And of his home in Abeokuta. Of his hunts in his backyard. Of his collections of art pieces and the cousin who sold them while he was jailed.

It is the story of a Road Safety Corps started by Wole after he got tired of seeing the brains of his students and colleagues plastered on the tarmac near his university.

It is the story of Ogun, his protector god or is it as Socrates would say, his daemon? There is the story of his drive into Lagos when Abacha deposed the despicable Shonekan.

It his about his tempting of fate and maybe protection by the gods? Who can say? Or about his being sought by the killing squads of Abacha and how people within the dreaded SSS who were sympathetic to the democratic forces always passed on information to him and others.

It’s about the detained passports, restrictions on travel and freedom of movement. Or his daring escape in the early dawn through Benin to Paris then USA when Abacha through his killer squad wanted him dead.

It’s about the complicity or duplicity in world leaders to fail to sanction Abacha. Of the death of Saro Wiwa. It’s about Femi, a man with a generous appetite for good food and a great friend.

He talks about his enduring friendships with Femi and other writers and dissidents.

Of all the dictators Nigeria have had, I think, reading Wole, Abacha was the worst of them. Paranoid, a killer with no qualms. Calculating and cruel with the mind of a lizard (his words, not mine).

This book is also about death or should I say, murder most foul. Abiola the democratically elected president at the fall of Ibrahim Babangida is put in jail then Ernest Shonekan is appointed interim president before being deposed by Abacha.

I would like to know from Nigerians if any reads this blog how they could vote for Obasanjo and Buhari, the two having been military dictators? How would they believe Buhari would address corruption when he as head of the petroleum industry condoned it. A man who as dictator banned democracy and so on. It is something I really would like to understand. But I digress.

He talks of the Nobel Prize for Literature, his reactions and those of the Nigerian state. Of his involvement in the struggle for return to civilian rule during the different military dictatorships. Of his involvement in trying to get Mandela and Buthelezi to meet and end the violence before the first elections at the end of the apartheid regime.

He writes of their efforts to reach Ngugi Wa Thiong’o when he detained by the Moi regime.

Of the diplomatic mix-up with the Egyptian government at the beginning of Africa Cup of Nations.

He writes of the moment in the streets of New York where he tried to intervene in what seemed a case of domestic violence only for the victim to plead with him not to injure the aggressor. And the realisation that he was a black a man intervening in an all white affair.

It is also about his views on violence and of when he thinks it is appropriate to use violence, for example, to oust a regime that is ruling through violence. A regime that has in its activities dehumanized the population and there is need for the ruled to rise and challenge their oppressors. He finds gratuitous violence despicable and war inhumane.

You must read this book.

Eye in the sky- Movie review

Following Ark’s review, I watched eye in the sky and I got beef.

The movie plays on the phobia that we have somehow come to develop about terrorists and the west’s equivocation of terrorism and Islam. To develop this theme, we have our would be suicide bombers meeting in some house and prayers being said but since we don’t hear what they talk about, the movie leaves us with a single conclusion, it is religiously motivated. It is simplistic.

The conflict or dilemma we are presented with is one-sided. We are driven to believe the suicide bombers and their leaders are irrational actors. So there is no background to their grievances. All we are to assume is they met, prayed, wired themselves ready to cause havoc and Britain has come to save humanity from terror. The only rational actors are the Brits and Muricans. Powell, if not for the little matter of the law, would have blown the plotters to smithereens without a thought. But unfortunately for her, she has to seek approval from civilians some of whom seem unwilling to really get involved, from the foreign secretary to the prime minister.

The drone captain refuses to fire his weapon the first time until the command centre led by Col. Powell sends him a revised collateral damage estimate. He is reluctant to release his weapon lest a child who is selling bread is killed. Angela North argues, and I agree, that firing the missile just because the suicide bombers may kill people is not a good reason to kill an innocent child. Lt. Gen. Frank tells North never to tell a soldier he doesn’t know the cost of war this is after she tells him he ordered a bombing over coffee and biscuits.

My beef with the setting is that no part of Nairobi looks like that. Especially Eastleigh. And more son, we are not at war. Don’t tell me it’s a movie, most people think movies are documentaries and may start asking me if I live in the war zone of Eastleigh!

There are characters who do nothing in the movie. Nothing would be lost even if we didn’t have the command centre in Nairobi since the movie takes place between Col. Powell, Frank, the drone pilots and the situation room in the UK.

On collateral damage, this comment by Wole Soyinka resonates with me

The accidental casualty that is inflicted on innocents in the course of a conflict- I detest the expression ‘collateral damage’ when applied to human lives- occupies a different level of responsibility and censure, to be judged on the efforts made by participants in the conflict to avoid such violations of innocence or neutrality.

The acting is quite good.

And a comment on Westgate and Garissa attacks which are mentioned in passing the movie. I think somewhat the government or people in it were culpable in this crimes, their response appalling. I distrust the government line on the attacks, and for good reason.

While it is true gratuitous violence as practiced by suicide bombers is disgraceful, many government actors and actions would qualify as terrorism. They resign several millions to lives of misery, even death. For example corruption in the health sector means drugs are not available for patients, there are no doctors and more die from such acts than die from terrorist activities. We need perspective in addressing such matters. We must ask what are the issues that drive some people to the point of willing to die for causes that on the surface look absurd? Religion alone, to me, is not a sufficient answer.

Burying SM: The politics of Knowledge & the sociology of power in Africa

Is a Luo-centric book on the struggle- legal struggle- over the body of SM that played in the courts in 1986/87 for 155 days by Cohen D.W and Odhiambo E.S.A pitting one hand the Umira Kager clan and on the other the widow, the late Virginia Wambui Otieno. Maybe it is Luo-centric because at issue is Luo funerary procedures and a dead Luo. I am going ahead of myself!

In Dec of 1986, SM Otieno died. He had been married to Wambui Otieno. They lived in Nairobi. They had interests or is it rights on a property in Upper Matasia, Ngong’ area where witnesses said Otieno had indicated he would wish to be buried. The widow upon his death announced he would be buried in one of their properties in Nairobi. The brother and by extension, the clan would have none of it. As he died intestate, this struggle, the struggle over who should bury the dead body played out in both the high court and Kenya’s apex court at the time, the Court of Appeal.

I found shocking some of the arguments advanced by the counsel for Wambui that because her husband could recite Shakespeare, he was no longer a Luo or subject to the customs, especially burial customs. To this extent, I still think the colonial mission succeeded in ways that have yet to be investigated fully. The question of progress and modern is brought into sharp focus in this trial. And it has the hallmarks of missionary activity where the christian convert is seen to have progressed, modernized so to speak. And that is the argument the widow and her counsel put forward.

I find contradictions in the arguments of the counsel for the borrowed when they on one hand argue against a home (read Nyalgunga) burial while at the same time demanding for a home (read Upper Matasia) burial. For a consistent position, I think they would have argued, for a cemetery burial.

The counsel for the clan argued that a dead Luo must be buried next to the ancestors.  Their argument that culture dictated this and there would arise negative consequences to those involved if this wasn’t actualized.

Whilst the book by Cohen and Odhiambo is a riveting read, they are silent on so many issues. They don’t tell us much about the SM-Wamboi union. How many children did they have, how many did they adopt. They mention only in passing Wamboi’s other dalliances but not with who, except that they were ‘prominent Kenyans’.

They do not address in any meaningful way the undue influence from state house on the judiciary, nor the relationship between the clan and Ker Oginga Odinga or Odinga and SM’s family in a way that would make it easier for the reader to understand why he took the position he did.

To their credit, they ask very important questions such as why leading scholars on Luo culture and history like Bethwell Ogot and Prof S.H Ominde were not called by the defense for expert opinion. They opine the judges listened to the men, older men and in effect silenced Wambui and the women.

The book is a good exploration in the creation of and maintenance of culture and knowledge. It’s a riveting read that leaves one desiring more. In fact, it ends so abruptly. I felt there was more that needed to be said, what, I don’t know yet.

At the end, some of these questions come to mind

  1. Who owns the dead?
  2. Can any person claim to exclusively own the dead?
  3. What is the position of the woman with regard to a dead husband?
  4. Was the court right in their ruling when they sided with the clan?

The legal struggle, to me an observer far removed from the events, is a sign of failure first on the part of adults to adulting and of social systems. Had these been functional, the two families involved in this struggle would have arrived at a solution that satisfied both ends, besides SM was already dead. Why subject his body to such indignity.