Quo Vadis: Where Are You Going?

Quo Vadis is an ancient Latin question attributed to St Peter who, while fleeing persecution in Rome met Christ on the Appian Way and asked him, Domine quo Vadis? Which means Lord, where are you going? I am going to Rome to be persecuted again, Christ replied.  Quo Vadis,  this is the question which stared back at me while I stood on top of the Voortrekker Monument surveying its magnificent panoramic views. As I stood in reverential silence I began to think that perhaps I should have asked myself this question before getting into a car and onto a  the lift which placed me on the top floor of the monument giving me a view of Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, which I had never seen before. It took me 35 years to get here. On this monument built  in honour and praise to God who delivered the enemy (African-Bantu people) into the Voortrekker’s hands. In this context I am a descendent of the enemy.

Quo Vadis?

There have been so many times over the last decade when I have asked myself this question – and I have been asking this question more and more recently in an effort to integrate the past with the present. There were many tourists populating the Voortrekker monument when I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. The most enthusiastic of them where from China. Something which I didn’t understand at first while reading the banner at the main entrance of the hall which announced that the Monument was a winner of the Gold Award in the top category “Overall performance” at the China outbound Travel and Tourism Market in Beijing, 2013. Perhaps it had something to do with how it’s built, walking up its’ top floor with cathedral-like pillars felt familiar as if I had been there before in some other timeline.

Die Rooi Gevaar.
It is only once I had gone up to the top of the monument that I understood the connection for me and perhaps for the multitudes of Chinese visitors to the Voortrekker monument. It had similar features, and fortitude to the Great Wall of China. The irony of this situation, of the fact that the Voortrekker Monument was being celebrated by China, a former communist country which the Calvinistic, fascist-capitalist Afrikaner government was once vehemently against was lost to me as I tried to find meaning in my being there. A more grounding reason than mere curiosity.
The Vow.
How was it possible that we could all be praying to the same God? The God whom the Voortrekker men prayed to under command of Andries Pretorius before the battle of Blood River? On the 16th of December 1838. The same God contained in the Bible that the English gave to the Voortrekkers after killing their women and children in concentration camps? The same God of the bible that multitudes of black South Africans worship in the bible every Sunday? All of this killing was done in the name of the God of heaven and earth. The one in the Bible.
Reasonable Conscience.
If I were a rational human being I would say that based on the evidence of events in the Bible and those performed because of it, all of it must have been the will of God. It was all in Gods’ plan and it was his will for it to happen. He is on the side of both oppressor and the oppressed. He is both life and death. But as we know I’m irrational and Unreasonable at the best of times. So, I have to ask where are you going. Do you know?

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Proverbs 29:18.

Don’t forget, your ancestor fought for the losing side. There is no sacred ground for the conquered– Xander Feng (House of Cards)

EXCUSE ME WHILE I WRITE: THE WORLD IS WHAT YOU ARE.

Late last year I picked up VS Naipaul’s book exploring the origins of African beliefs from my archives The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010). I bought the book back in 2011 in preparation for a trip to West Africa. While I travelled with it, I never actually finished reading it until I picked it up again last year. I was curious about what people knew, understood and thought about African belief systems, religions and or cultures. I wanted to know what was out there since I had never fully explored the topic before then, owing to my historical status as a born-again Christian. The subject of African faith or belief systems was often a no-go area, just like the elephant grave-yard created a dangerous, forbidden blemish in an otherwise beautiful and tranquil landscape of the Pride lands in Disney’s The Lion King. It was demonic to even think about it.

So for those of you who didn’t know, VS Naipaul (85) is a Trinidadian/British Writer and Nobel Laureate, who has published more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction including Half a Life, A House of Biswas, A Bend in the River and a collection of correspondence, Letters between a Father and Son. The author is not without controversy and has been accused of being both racist and having “reactionary, artistic, politics” particularly for his book, A Bend in The River (1979) which earned him as much criticism as Joseph Conrad for his seminal work in A Heart of Darkness – which chronicles in fine, colourful detail Central Africa as “a place of chaotic and violent change; tribal warfare, ignorance, poverty and human degradation… punctuated by irruptions of violent death, a tormented love affairs and complex, terror-struck responses to the emergence of “the Big Man”, an archetypal African dictator.” The book is listed No.90 on the UK-based Guardian Newspapers’ 100 Best Novels. I imagined I could trust his judgement owing to his standing in the literary world and because he was a non-white person from the outside, inside the commonwealth. I presumed he would have a different, rigorous, removed, perspective. I approached his words with an open mind, like an outsider looking in and was thus surprised to find his views on African beliefs to be no different to those dominating narratives in pre and post- colonial Africa.
The Masque of Africa considers the effects of Belief (indigenous animisms, the foreign religions of Christianity and Islam, the cults of the leaders and mythical history) upon the progress of African civilization. Beginning in Uganda, at the centre of the continent, Naipaul’s Journey takes in Ghana and Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Gabon and ends, as the country (sic) does, in South Africa.
Regardless of my own as yet undisclosed views on African belief systems, reading The Masque of Africa; Glimpses on African Belief, I found V S Naipaul’s overall take on (them) African beliefs to be rather sardonic. He wrote as a benevolent voyeur determined to find some spiritual concept or belief system that could somehow redeem Africans and Africa from continued moral decay, but regrettably found none. From his exploration of the city-scape of Kampala, Uganda whose over-built-up poorer areas were littered with “born-again Christian structures, sometimes fancifully named with sign-boards: as though religion here was like a business that met a desperate consumer need at all levels” to his exploration of ancient Mutesa tombs where he notes how “strange it is that rituals which would once have seemed necessary and vital, serving what was divine, beyond money, have to be disregarded when there is no money”. There was nothing beautiful or redeeming about African belief systems which were imbued with (indiscriminate) traditional culture of human sacrifices, the torture of animals, child and women abuse all done to appease the insatiable demands of discombobulated gods and ancestors who rule their subjects with no mercy. A Lagos city councillor who Naipaul Interviews admits that even Christian pastors are afraid of the pagan religions “Muslims and Christians practice forgiveness and cannot harm you. In a pagan religion there is no forgiveness. It is a tit-for-tat religion, there are rules you have to follow very strictly, and if you go against them you die or you go mad” I got the impression that for Naipaul Africans were a people caught up in a kind of psychological hell where they are either brain-washed or mind-controlled through the twin foreign religions of Christianity and Islam or they are rendered slaves and human fodder for the appetites of roaming spirits hungry for fresh blood and energy (souls).
It was a breath-taking,  and rather discouraging account of what African belief systems were, are or have become. By the end of the book I was also compelled to concede and agree with him that Africans in indeed are a savage lot. In spite of myself I began to feel rather grateful that the continent was colonized as it was because now we had a legitimate target for our woes, we have someone else to blame for our savage, cruelty and mindless greedy rituals. We also now have  a redeemer, a saviour, who forgives us despite our fits of carnality. Who would we blame if the West had not come to save us from ourselves? Particularly in South Africa were race (racism) has become somewhat of a religious practice.
The book left me with a notion of Africans as a people bereft of any urgency, self-determination – or an identity of any kind being as they are like animals: slaves to the impulses of our flesh and short-lived appetites, condemned to die like turkeys at thanks giving with no legacy to speak of bar from that which we have inherited from the Arabs and Westerners, people who were kind enough to risk (lay down) their lives in their mission to civilize us. I too began to see Africa as a place where Naipaul concludes in The Masque of Africa “… a resolution is not really possible until the people who wish to impose themselves on Africa, violate some essential part of their being”.
However chilling I was content with the books conclusion, I could not objectively dispute his findings without being defensive, a clear sign of a lack of emotional intelligence or more specifically emotional self-control. I’m not an animal, despite evidence to the contrary. Then I remembered that a good friend of mine had gifted me with an authorized biography of V.S Naipaul written by Patrick French, named after the famous opening line of his book A Bend In A River : “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to be nothing have, no place in it’
The world is what it is:
It is between these pages that I found Naipaul’s subconscious motivation for his literary career and more poignantly; The Masque of Africa: Something to do with his father’s stunted writing career and eventual humiliation and mental instability – caused by his inability to find a way forward from the “Hinduism of his childhood with its poorly educated pundits and half-understood rituals” which he was later forced to perform, publicly slaughtering a goat etc, to appease readers of a newspaper he wrote for which further entrenched his mental disturbance. While at Oxford trying to outdo the English, the Blacks and others even as he sought their validation VS Naipaul begged his father to write and prove his critics wrong: ‘You have enough material for a hundred stories for Heaven’s sake start writing them…you are the best writer in the West Indies, but one can only judge writers by their work.’ It is then that I came to understand the man behind the Masque of Africa. In this sense the book, though factual and true, has nothing to do with Africa and Africans. It is about VS Naipaul’s world as it was and or is – projected on the African landscape and by extension it’s people. He was trying to find a sense of peace, to redeem his father’s demise. To appease something…
In conclusion my exploration of African beliefs through VS Naipaul’s eyes in the Masque of Africa and Naipaul’s motivations and mind through Patrick Frenchs’ The World Is What It Is’ brought me closer to understanding what Ben Okri meant when he said “To poison a nation, poison it’s stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories of itself.” And his warning to “Beware of storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts and who are irresponsible in the application of the art”
I realize that African stories including our belief systems have been poisoned, polluted not only by others projecting their own fears and demons on us, but also by ourselves. It is up to us to reverse the perceived moral decay of Africa and Africans. But to do that we have to first start with facing our fears. The ones we buried in the elephant graveyard. They are what makes books like the Masque of Africa possible. They are our blind-spots.
“To know a specie is to look at its fears. To know yourself, look at your fears. Fear in itself is not important, but fear stands there and points you at things that are important. Don’t be afraid of your fears, they are not there to scare you. They are there to let you know that something is worth it” C Joybell C

Doomed if you Do. Doomed if you Don’t.

 

My first impulse when I saw an image of a Pastor using Doom (an insecticide) to cure his congregants or believers of various ailments, was to laugh. I mean the whole thing was ridiculous, it was unbelievable, it was shocking, it was all manner of things which made it both disturbing and funny for me. But I also had a personal reason for laughing because for me, the spread of doom into churches and timelines on social media networks mirrored an internal private struggle. So laughing  was a guilty pleasure. I know, it’s not funny.
You see my parents are obsessed with cleanliness, a trait which I’m sure is shared by most South African black parents. They hate germs with a passion and everything which could be associated with them including flies. Years ago we experienced plumbing problems at home which attracted all sorts of them. My parents often paired up in the fight against these pesty flies. They had special dish cloths for them and they would walk around the house hitting them and killing them, most times with impressive success. My father proved to be a great marks-man which delighted my mother to no end. She would call on him and say La, short for Love, there’s a fly in the room. He would walk in asking where? On her instructions he would search for it armed with his weapon of choice and strike it, dead on the floor. My mother who was sometimes not so successful  at annihilating the persistent pests would call on the name of Jesus to help her kill these flies when her marks-man was not around to assist. Generally there would be no rest until the flies were dead, swept up and thrown into the bin.
One year I decided to go home for Christmas armed with a new cook book by Jamie Oliver. My aim; to single-handedly cook Christmas lunch on my own for my family using Jamie’s’ recipes of course. It was an ambitious feat for I was generally accepted to be the worst cook in the family. When I arrived home I found that my parents had upgraded their weapons against these flies which had remained persistent despite the plumbing problem being resolved.
They found a more efficient way to kill them with  a spray, theirs was a brand called Target and not Doom. Still we call all sprays against insects and flies – doom, in the same way we call all non-alcoholic fizzy drinks, coke. Their doom, called Target,  was odourless and promised to kill them instantly. With their new spray my parents would wage biological war fare against these flies, and they didn’t have to be many, just one was enough to bring out an arsenal of weaponry.
All this time I found my parents’ obsession with these flies amusing, it was often humorous to see them trying to kill one. Until my father asked for doom while we were sitting at the table about to eat a Christmas meal (a meal, they confessed years later was inedible) which I had spent all morning preparing. He then proceeded to spray a  fly which was hovering over the table. The food was not covered and he just sprayed at the fly over the food. I caught myself afterward, Dad! I screamed – you’re spraying poison  over our food!  I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense to me. I was so angry it took a while to recover from that scene. It was no longer funny. We were going to eat food laced with poisonous insecticide. Even though it was not as harmful to humans, the idea of doom in my food was as frightening to me as  flies with germs were to my parents. Cover the table, he said, but it was already too late. I suppose he wasn’t thinking then about the food that we were about to eat.  He was more  focused on the invisible germs the fly must have been spreading all over the food.
Today  Doom is being used  indiscriminately everywhere including the kitchen. We have to keep all doors and windows closed so that the flies don’t come into the house especially when we are cooking meat. Target is always on hand the second a fly is spotted anywhere in the house.
Sometimes the smell of Doom is like air-freshener at home. It is no longer odourless. Even though I have tried to speak to my parents about their method of mass destruction over the years, it’s a hard one to sell. Nobody likes or enjoys having flies around. Including me.
A moment of silence came one day when my father was standing outside and there was a fly milling about, he went into the house to fetch his weapon and doomed it against the open air.  My brother in-law who was there with his wife asked for the sake of sanity. Did I just see that? His wife confirmed to him that he was still very sane. Nothing was wrong with his eyes.  Yes you did,  she responded.
And so when I saw this picture I couldn’t help but laugh, because as ridiculous as it may seem to everyone, it makes sense.
You see, my parents’ hatred of flies is not only based on scientific fact that they spread germs and are annoying, but also on biblical verses in which God says in Genesis, that man shall have dominion over animals which includes pests like flies, ants, cockroaches and so forth. In Psalm 91 God offers his protection against all pestilences (flies) and plagues.
So it stands to reason that in the evangelical, Judaeo-Christian belief systems that Doom could be a cure too. Stay with me.

Demons  (which are responsible for every human suffering  including poverty and disease) are like flies: persistent, annoying and full of germs. Tolerating one is like opening the floodgates to an endless legion of more. You must be vigilant against them. Even though the doom incident could be seen as a very literal interpretation of scripture, no one can say the Pastor did not hear from God, and the power of God is in everything, of course. No one  disputes this. I decided not to share this news of a Pastor using Doom as a cure for his  congregants with my parents because I didn’t know how they would react.

So I remained silent until  one day while with my mother in her dressing room, I saw a can of doom on one of the shelves and I just couldn’t help myself. Have you heard the news? I asked her. What news she said. The power of doom has spread across the nation, I said jokingly. What do you mean, my mother asked. Well, there’s a Pastor who is using doom to protect his congregants against demons and pestilences, to cure various illnesses. He says God spoke to him about it.  I laughed a little and said  you and dad were on to something.  But from the look she gave me I knew that it was simply too soon, to laugh.

Let’s try again next year!