by Paulo Mileno
“One of the greatest curses of colonialism was that they taught us different languages … and based on this linguistic nonsense they taught us to hate each other.” – Maurice Bishop, former prime minister of Grenada
It is recognized that on the African continent there are several languages that died over time – typically after their countries’ independence[i]. However, we must pay attention to an aspect of post-independence: After the language of the colonizer establishes itself as official, the Creole languages become a cry of independence.
African people do not like to speak in the imposed language among themselves. This is easily noticeable when the Cape Verdians are together and talking in Creole, in spite of the dominance of Portuguese.
Cape Verdian singer Mayra Andrade says: “I’ve made the Creole language a priority because many people could write for me in Portuguese, French, English or Spanish … But sometimes I think I can still give something more in Creole, you know? So I have a lot of desire for it to be in Creole … That this personal, modern, cosmopolitan music is in Creole. I think this is an important contribution to the Cape Verde scene.”[ii]
The same feeling of nationality lives in the hearts the Haitians about the French language. Every time I’ve passed by Haitian refugees here in Brazil, they were talking in Kreyól. It is not about dialects, as the Western world usually calls them. The Creole and Kreyól are tongues. The people from the Caribbean Diaspora also have their own Creole languages.
“How good and how pleasant it would be / Before God and man / To see the unification of all Africans / Marcus Garvey said, so, let it be done / I know you know who you are under the sun,” sings Bob Marley in “Africa Unite” at a historic[iii] concert held in Santa Barbara, California, in 1979.
The Creole languages, even if developed in parallel to the imperialist languages – there’s strong similarity between Creole and Portuguese – are an example of national unity. People of the same nation like to converse in the same language with one another.
If we listen to Marcus Garvey’s ideas behind founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with its purpose “to unite all people of African ancestry of the world to one great body to establish a country and absolute government of their own,”[iv] we would better understand the historical movements struggling against empire since the slave-holding period within the lands I call “beaches of the Diaspora,”[v] from the Quilombos in Brazil to the Palenques in Colombia, the Maroons in Panama and Peru, Cumbes in Venezuela, Mambises in Cuba, and the Maroons of the Caribbean, Jamaica and the United States.Such autonomous republics had their own languages – an example of the communication and Black organization giving them structure.
Having exposed this historical importance of dialogue between Africans and Afro-descendants, I would like to contextualize the discussion by referencing an interesting contemporary venture called the “Mekim-na-Save Projek,” whose mission is “to develop a sanctuary that provokes serious thought and greater understanding.”[vi]
This is a new YouTube channel released Jan. 30, 2019, with 32 videos, and new material published every Thursday. The project presents[vii] itself as Open Learning, a public translation, localization and subtitling service dedicated to bridging linguistic divides in the Black world. It also operates as a language resource aggregator that can be incorporated into curricula used by teachers and professors in a range of subjects housed in language, social science, history, culture and art departments.”
The genocide against Black youths in Brazil[viii] is denounced, but we need more and more methods of international expression – on what is, in the best description by Professor Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics.”[ix]
Clearly, the body is not separate from politics. So, Brazilian policy is to exterminate Black people and their political representatives. An example recognized worldwide is the murder of Councilwoman Marielle Franco, also documented[x] by the Mekim-na-Save-Projek. The agenda is “dedicated to bridging linguistic divides in the Black world,” so that news of the Black world can be transmitted to and from Venezuela, Brazil, Haiti, United States, Angola, Ghana, South Africa and Solomon Islands, among other Black nations that will be included in future reporting.
On Sunday, May 19, the project dedicated its page to five videos about Malcolm X, born May 19, 1925. He would have completed 94 years of life had he not been murdered at 39 years of age. In one of these videos[xi], DJ KL Jay, from Brazil’s hugely popular Racionais Mc’s, tells how impressed he was when he saw the group Public Enemy perform “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.”
“And then we saw Chuck D talk about Malcolm X. And then we started seeing Public Enemy recordings of Malcolm X’s speeches. Who is this guy, bro? These ideas, there? How come we never heard nothing of this guy? In schools they never told his story? It is the path I want to take. You identify!”
This search for the identity[xii] of the new generations of Africans and Afro-descendants is especially revealed in aesthetics. But, if skin color and phenotypes speak for themselves of African heritage, the style of dress and speech also have to be taken into account. However, young people are not re-inventing the wheel.
Here in Brazil, for example, the Mandamentos Black (Black Commandments) took place in our parents’ generation: “Dance like a Black man dances! / Love like a Black man loves! / Walk like a Black man walks! / Always give a Black greeting! / Speak like a Black man!” Gerson King Combo sang these words, the King of Soul, also known as the “Brazilian James Brown.”
However, as noted by law professor Randall Kennedy in his article published July 20, 2018, in the New York Times “How James Brown Made Black Pride a Hit”:
“Champions of African-American uplift in the 1960s sought to liberate Blackness from the layers of contempt, fear and hatred with which it had been smeared for centuries. Brown’s anthem poignantly reflected the psychic problem it sought to address. People secure in their status don’t feel compelled to trumpet their pride. At the same time, ‘Say It Loud!’ was a rousing instance of a reclamation that took many forms. Instead of celebrating light skin, thin lips and ‘good’ (i.e. straight) hair, increasing numbers of African-Americans began valuing dark skin, thick lips and ‘bad’ (i.e. kinky) hair.”[xiii]
It is interesting to note that this sense of having invented the wheel and the amplification of consciousness was also present in our parents’ generation, as we can see in the book “Terms of Inclusion: Black Intellectuals in Twentieth-Century Brazil,” by Paulina L. Alberto:
“Guided by their own emerging interests, students investigated the history of Black movements in Brazil and read the works of Brazilian intellectuals like Alberto Guerreiro Ramos, Abdias do Nascimento and Solano Trindade.
“These readings were formative experiences for the young university students. Amauri Mendes Pereira, an early active participant in the Center for Afro-Asian Studies, recalled that until those meetings, he and many of his colleagues knew little or nothing about the history of organized racial struggle in Brazil. Pereira himself had never before heard of explicitly Black groups like the Frente Negra Brasileira (Brazilian Black Front) or activists like Abdias do Nascimento. Carlos Alberto Medeiros, another young activist who participated in these events, remembered, ‘It was as if we were starting from zero, even though we weren’t’” (Paulina L. Alberto, 2011, 257-258).
As an Afro-Brazilian, and as an artist, writer and researcher, I am very happy that what happens in the Afro-Brazilian diaspora has also been promoted internationally by the movement to protect thought from uniformity. Mekim-na-Save Projek plays a fundamental role in uniting the Black world – be it via Spanish, French, Portuguese or English. English is, in a sense, the global language, while Latin languages like Spanish, widely spoken in Latin America as well as the French and Portuguese spoken in other African countries have many cognates and are easier for native speakers of these same Latin languages to learn from each other.
Initiatives like these must be supported, and I send my strongest embrace from Brazil to the brothers of the Mekim-na-Save Projek. I am available to work together with you on this venture.
Paulo Mileno is an actor, writer and researcher
in the Nucleus of African Philosophy at the State University of Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] Read the article ‘Death and Survival of African Languages in The 21st Century’ by Prof. Kithaka wa Mberia, PhD, Department of Linguistics and Languages University of Nairobi. Published by American Research Institute for Policy Development. International Journal of Linguistics and Communication, September 2014, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 127-144. ISSN: 2372-479X (Print) 2372-4803 (Online): http://ijlcnet.com/journals/ijlc/Vol_2_No_3_September_2014/6.pdf
[v] Read my article ‘O Haiti é aqui’ :http://grupoentrouporumaporta.blogspot.com/2016/06/o-haiti-e-aqui.html
[ix] Read the essay Necropolicits by Achille Mbembe: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/currentstudents/postgraduate/masters/modules/postcol_theory/mbembe_22necropolitics22.pdf
[xiii] Read more ‘How James Brown Made Black Pride a Hit’ https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/20/opinion/sunday/james-brown-say-it-loud-50-years.html