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December 17 2013

Explaining the Evergrowing Tradition of “Chanté Nwèl” (Singing Christmas) in the French West Indies

Between late November and December 25, a unique tradition is taking place every year in the Francophone Caribbean islands, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe. “Chanté Nwel” [fr] is a time when people come together to not only sing traditional Christmas songs but also share a meal as a community. Although the tradition of singing Christmas carols has slowed down in France, it has grown stronger than ever in the french west indies [fr]. Hélène Clément explains the sad origin of the tradition that has been turned into a festive celebration [fr] :

L’article 2 du Code noir promulgué par Louis XIV en 1685 prévoyait « l’instruction religieuse des esclaves ». Les jésuites, chargés de poursuivre cette instruction religieuse, enseigneront aux esclaves à jouer de certains instruments dans le but de former des choristes pour les offices religieux [..] Le « chanté Nwèl » dans les Antilles françaises reste un moment de partage et de solidarité.

The article 2 of the Code Noir [Black Code] promulgated by Louis XIV in 1685 stipulated that “religious instruction be provided to slaves.” The Jesuits taught slaves through the religious instruction to play some instruments in order to assemble a choir for religious services [..] The “Chanté Nwèl” in the French West Indies is first and foremost a time of sharing and solidarity

Here is a video of one of the most known carol :Joseph mon cher fidèle (Joseph, my dear faithful) [fr]:

Daniel, from Martinique, explains the drinking tradition during “Chanté Nwèl” [fr]:

Autrefois, lors des ces « chanté Nwel», on servait en dehors du traditionnel punch, du sirop d’orgeat aux dames, ainsi que du chocolat à l’eau épaissi au toloman pour se réchauffer du « froid piquant » des nuits de décembre… dès la fin du mois de novembre, on prépare le  schrubb avec des écorces d’oranges que l’on fait macérer dans du rhum au soleil.

Back in the days during “Chanté Nwèl”, the traditional cocktail punch and chocolate water thickened with toloman were served to warm the “sneaky cold” December nights; orgeat syrup were reserved for the ladies … at the end of November, the schrubb is prepared with orange peels that has been soaked in rum and exposed to the sun. 

 The following video shows how residents of Gros-Morne, Martinique are celebrating the tradition today [fr]:

November 25 2013

Césaire, « nègre fondamental »

L'année 2013 marque le centenaire de la naissance d'Aimé Césaire, disparu en 2008 à l'âge de 95 ans. Parmi les hommages rendus au poète et dramaturge martiniquais — aujourd'hui au Panthéon —, on retiendra la parution prochaine de ses œuvres complètes, non pas dans la Pléiade, comme on aurait pu (...) / France Outre-mer, France, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Colonialisme, Culture, Idées, Langue, Littérature, Théâtre - 2013/11

November 15 2013

Have Racist Behaviors Been Unleashed in France ?

Epitomized by racial taunts [fr] towards the French Guiana-born Minister of Justice Christine Taubira on the cover of the weekly newspaper Minute, many observers bemoan the rise of racist behaviors [fr] in France. One of those observers is Harry Roselmack, a prominent reporter born in Martinique, who wrote an editorial in which he opines that the current atmosphere in France reduces his citizenship to the color of his skin [fr]:    

Ce qui me chagrine, c'est le fond de racisme qui résiste au temps et aux mots d'ordre, pas seulement au sein du FN, mais au plus profond de la société française. C'est un héritage des temps anciens, une justification pour une domination suprême et criminelle : l'esclavage et la colonisation. [..] Tant que l'on laissera ces peaux de Banania traîner dans nos cerveaux, des glissades et dérapages vers l'injure raciste sont à craindre. Surtout par les temps qui courent, avec cette crise qui alimente la xénophobie de son bien étrange carburant : la jalousie envers plus mal loti que soi.

What saddens me is that there are remnants of racism that presevere through time and political correctness, not only within the FN party (ed's note: a far right political party) but also deep within the French society. This is a legacy from an ancient time, a justification of a supreme and criminal oppressive era : slavery and colonization. [..] As long as we leave banana peels hanging around in our brains, slides and skids and tumbles to racist insults are bound to happen. Especially in these challenging times, in which economic crisis feeds the most basic xenophobia with its strangest component: jealousy towards those who are much worse off than ourselves.

August 06 2013

Tchip: The “Shaking My Head” Meme from Africa

Nadéra Bouazza explains what being “tchippée” [fr] means for french speaking black communities. Tchip is the sound one makes when he/she disapproves of the behavior/action of someone else (roughly similar to the “shaking my head” internet slang). The “Tchip” sound is used across most black communities and has become an internet meme:

Will Smith as the animated illustration of the sound

Will Smith as the animated illustration of the sound “Tchip” by the blog La Tchipie – Public Domain

 

July 17 2013

Poet Aimé Césaire's Battle Continues Stronger than Ever

[All links forward to French-language webpages unless otherwise noted]

The famed poet and activist from Martinique Aimé Césaire [en] would have been 100 years old on June 26, 2013. Césaire's birthday is an opportunity to pay tribute to the champion of  anti-colonial African identity Négritude movement: a movement that is currently being shaped by a more globalized world where people come together across borders and continents, all the while attempting to protect and foster their own cultural identities.

It is as if his vision of the world back in the 1930′s along with those who fought for respect for cultural differences has become yet again a tangible reality 80 years later. Today, almost every country in the world fights a battle against racism with relative success. Still, injustices remain, the verdict in the trial for the death of Trayvon Martin can attest to this [en].

Trayvon Martin via wikipedia CC-BY-3.0

Trayvon Martin on wikipedia CC-BY-3.0

Today, human dignity is attacked in more subtle ways, such as economic hardship and profiling, highlighting the need to revisit the work of activists in the past to fight human oppression. With respect to the fight of activists, writer, French resistance member and Occupy inspiration Stéphane Hessel's successful call for outrage came to fruition to a certain extent with the Arab revolts and the protests in Brazil and in Europe.

Here is a retrospective on the life of Aimé Césaire by Yao Assogba, a sociology professor at the University of Quebec :

Né à la Martinique le 26 juin 1913, Aimé Césaire, poète et homme politique, est mort en sa terre natale, le 16 avril 2008, à l’âge vénérable de 94 ans. La poésie de Césaire est un grand cri de révolte contre la domination coloniale. Son œuvre, à la fois littéraire et sociologique, est une arme de combat contre la « chosification » des peuples noirs par la colonisation européenne. C’est un phare pour la décolonisation de l’Afrique et la réhabilitation des cultures négro-africaines. Pour bien apprécier l’influence déterminante qu’Aimé Césaire, chantre du mouvement de la « négritude », a eue sur la décolonisation et la renaissance de l’Afrique et des Antilles après la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, il faut se replacer dans la situation coloniale de l’époque.

Born in Martinique on the 26 of June, 1913, Aimé Césaire, poet and politician died in his birthplace on the 16 of April 2008 at 94 years old. Césaire's poetry is a great cry of revolt against colonial domination. His work, both literary and sociological is a weapon of warfare against the reification of black peoples by European colonization. It is a siren call for the decolonization of Africa and the rehabilitation of black African cultures. To truly appreciate the important influence that Aimé Césaire, champion of the “negritude” movement had on decolonization, and the renaissance of Africa and the West Indies after the Second World War, one must put oneself in the mindset of the colonial times.

Noel Kodia added on the panafrican news website Le Pangolin Afrik :

Après avoir découvert les lettres en Martinique au lycée de Fort de France et à Louis-le-Grand à Paris, il fonde avec Léopold Sédar Senghor et Léon-Gontran Damas en 1939 “L’Etudiant noir” qui se présente comme une suite logique d’une autre revue de l’époque intitulée “Légitime défense”. A la même année apparaît son “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” comme pour annoncer son retour au bercail dans une langue volcanique et pleine d’agressivité et qui va s’approfondir avec une colère légitime dans “Discours sur le colonialisme”. Le texte met en relief l’itinéraire du poète nègre devant son destin de colonisé dont la thématique sera le nerf directeur de l’emblématique “Discours sur le colonialisme”. Dans ce cri de douleur, il ne se voit pas fils de certains royaumes africains comme le Dahomey et le Ghana.

After discovering literature in Martinique at the Lycée de Fort de France and at Louis-le-Grand in Paris, he founded, along with Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon-Gontran Damas in 1939 “L’Etudiant noir” [The Black Student] that positioned itself as a follow up to another journal of the time, “Légitime défense” [Self-Defense]. In the same year “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” [Notes on a return to the motherland] appeared, as if to announce a return to the cradle with an explosive and aggressive language that eventually came to a crescendo in “Discours sur le colonialisme” [Discourse on Colonialism]. The text throws into relief the journey of the black poet, facing his fate as a colonized person. The raw nerve of the iconic “Discours sur le colonialisme”. In this crying out of pain, he doesn't see himself as the son of certain African kingdoms such as Dahome and Ghana.

Inscription d'Aimé Césaire, Panthéon, Paris, France

Aimé Césaire's Inscription at the Panthéon in Paris, France on Wikipedia -public domain

Aimé Césaire and the fight for human dignity

Nicole on médiapart wrote about the challenges that Césaire had to face during his life:

Les écrits d’Aimé Césaire ne lui ont pas attiré les sympathies de l’Académie française qui, globalement, est de cette droite revancharde forte de ses certitudes et qui ne renie pas la conception de la civilisation qu’elle a infligée aux colonies, et qu’Aimé Césaire n’a cessé de dénoncer avec élégance et pertinence. «…La France moutonnière aura préféré Senghor et ses mots fleuris, sa poésie de garçon-coiffeur, ses «versets», sa sotte imitation, pâlotte et ringarde, de Claudel, ses génuflexions d’acculturés et son culte imbécile d’une toute aussi imbécile civilisation de l’universelle et d’une bâtarde francophonie; au style de pur-sang, de révolté, d’écorché vif d’un Alioune Diop, d’un Gontran-Damas, d’un Césaire…Aimé Césaire restera la mauvaise conscience de ce XXe siècle, de ces générations qui donnèrent au monde le contraire de ce qu’elles espéraient. Il aura été de toutes les luttes progressistes de son temps.
Il aura écrit, avec son Discours sur le colonialisme, le livre le plus concis, le plus fort sur ce thème. Il aura bâti la réfutation la plus solide de ce système. Il aura été un écrivain supérieurement doué, un humaniste sincère, généreux. (…) Césaire fut une leçon d’honnêteté, une leçon d’amour de la langue française, un maître en écriture, un traceur de route, une école de style -lui, si parfait pur-sang littéraire- un repère».

Aimé Césaire's writings did not attract the support of the Académie Française– that self-consciously and self-confidently opposing right that refuses to revoke the idea of civilization that it foisted upon the colonies, which Aimé Césaire never ceased to denounce eloquently and precisely. “…sheepheaded France would have preferred Senghor, his affected, flowery language, his verses, his mindless imitation of Claudel, wan and ossified; his conformist kowtowing and his stupid worship of another, equally stupid civilization of the universal whole, and of a half-breed Francophone. In the manner of purebred, rebel, torn from the flesh of an Alioune Diop, a Gontran-Damas, a Césaire…Aimé Césaire would remain the thorn in the side of the 20th Century — of those generations that would give the world the exact opposite of what was expected. He would become a part of all the progressive movements of his time. He would write, with his “Discours sur le colonialisme” the most accurate and strongest book on this subject. He would fight against the strongest rebuttals of this system. He would be a more gifted writer, a sincere and generous humanist…Cesaire was a study in honesty, in love for the French language, a master in writing, a GPS, his own school of thought; he, so perfect, a real true literary thoroughbred — a landmark.

Here is a video of his speech on colonialism read by Thymslab:

To put Césaire's impact into a contemporary perspective, it is worth having the input of a contemporary writer such as Alain Mabanckou, Prix Renaudot 2006, who was interviewed by Grégoire Leménager on the blog le Pangolin:

Alain perpétue en quelque sorte le travail des pionniers dans une démarche autocritique relativement objective et un style humoristique captivant. Il s’attaque aux stéréotypes passés et présents en montrant les différentes conditions de l’homme noir selon son lieu de résidence. Le noir d’Amérique semblerait avoir mieux réussi à vivre sa citoyenneté en Amérique qu’en France et les africains de l’ouest différent de ceux du centre dans leurs perceptions de leur histoire et de leur présence actuelle au monde.

Alain carries on in some way the work of pioneers on a path of objective self-examination and a captivating humorous style. He attacks stereotypes of the past and present by showing different conditions of the black man depending on where he lives. The black of America would seem to have better succeeded in staking his claim as a citizen than in France, and West Africans are different from Central Africans in their views of their history and their modern day presence in the world.

July 09 2013

Caribbean: Tropical Storm Chantal

Tropical Storm Chantal has caused the temporary closure of some regional airports and the cancellation of flights. The Bajan Reporter has the latest.

May 26 2013

Rendez-vous avec Frantz Fanon

Peu de livres auront autant marqué une génération d'intellectuels que « Les Damnés de la terre », avec la célèbre préface de Jean-Paul Sartre, en 1961. La pensée de Frantz Fanon mérite cependant d'être revisitée à la lumière des indépendances et de la terrible guerre civile qui a ravagé l'Algérie dans les (...) / Algérie, France, Martinique, Colonialisme, Histoire, Idées, Intellectuels, Guerre d'Algérie 1954-1962, Mouvement de libération - 2012/07

November 23 2012

La Caraïbe, un territoire à géométrie variable

A la confluence des trois Amériques, la Caraïbe en tant que territoire est issue d'un long processus de construction historique. Pourtant, ses limites restent de nos jours encore floues et varient selon les perceptions locales insulaires. L'étymologie du nom donné à cette région est porteuse d'enseignements, elle est le soubassement des multiples perceptions que les habitants de la Caraïbe ont de leur territoire. Le terme lui-même fût inventé par les Européens, et non par les Caribéens. C'est donc (...) - Visions cartographiques / Caraïbes, Europe, Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Cuba, Amérique centrale, Amérique du sud, Esclavage, Cartographie

April 30 2012

Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana: Is “Miss Black France” Acceptable?

While French people are still in the midst of the presidential elections [En] with its second round coming up on May 5-6th 2012, another vote buzzed last week: the “Miss Black France” [Fr] contest.
The home page of the event scheduled on Saturday April 28th 2012 says[Fr]:

Célébrons la Beauté Noire!

Let's Celebrate Black Beauty!

The “About” section of the Facebook page of the contest explains [Fr]:

Les jeunes femmes noires vont enfin avoir leur élection. Jusqu’à aujourd’hui très peu représentée en France – et en tout cas pas dans les concours de « Miss » que l’on connait –, la beauté noire va pouvoir être mise en avant à sa juste valeur.

L’élection Miss Black France est ouverte à toutes les jeunes femmes françaises ou étrangères vivant en France, de métropole, des DOM-TOM ou d'Afrique, âgée…s d’au moins 16 ans, sans autre critère que l’élégance et le charme.

Black young women are eventually going to have their election. Black beauty, which has been very little promoted in France up to this date -at least, not in the usual ‘beauty pageants'- will be showcased there.

All young women, French nationals or foreign residents, native of France, the French Overseas Regions or Africa are eligible if they are at least 16 years old and with no other criteria than elegance and glamour.

This introduction to the genesis of this pageant has raised many questions among French people and bloggers, among which Bondamanjak from Martinique, who wonders [Fr]:

Dérive communautariste ? Acte militant ? Impérialisme yankee ? Bizness ?

Excessive communalism? Activist move? Yankee imperialism? Business?

These questions are justified by the founding motto of the French nation, according to which all citizens are equal and cannot be distinguished on account of ethnicity or religion. In this perspective, having a national contest based on the ethnicity of the pageants seems heretical to many netizens.

A post published on a Martinican blog People Bo Kay explains both points of view [Fr] and where the division lies.

Supporters of the pageant advocate the need for more visibility:

mettre la lumière sur ces femmes noires extrêmement nombreuses que l'on voit peu dans les médias.

cast the light on these extremely numerous Black women, who are little represented in the media.

En France, les seules miss noires que nous avons connues étaient soit métissées ou originaires d'outre-mer. Il n'y a jamais eu de filles issues de parents sénégalais ou algériens. Ces filles là ne se reconnaissent pas encore dans le concours de Miss France. Elles pensent qu'il n'est pas pour elles et donc s'auto-censurent.

In France, the only Black pageant winners that we have ever known were either mixed-raced or natives of the French overseas regions. There has never been any girls from Senegalese or Algerian parents. They cannot identify with the Miss France pageant yet. They think it is not made for them and become self-conscious to the extent of self-censorship.

This last point was made by historian and specialist of cultural diversity matters, François Durpaire [Fr], during an interview on French national channel, France 2 [En].

One of the cons to this pageant was that to some, it symbolizes reverse discrimination - the most recurrent question being, “What if a fair blonde French young woman wants to participate?”

A comment published following the post at Bondamanjak says [Fr]:

La couleur noire n'est ni une identité, ni une classe cela est ridicule de faire une quelconque différence face à une miss blanche. Le combat qu'on doit mener n'est pas à ce niveau. Contruisons avant une communauté unie , solidaire défendant notre mémoire pour contruire une vraie identité.

The color black is not an identity, nor a social class. It is ridiculous to make any difference with a white contestant. Our struggle does not belong there. Let's build a united and self-reliant community to defend our collective memory and our true identity.

Although this beauty pageant has been very controversial and triggered much division among people over its legitimacy, one thing make people come together: why use the adjective “black” in French, instead of “noire”.
The answer is that black sounds more like a marketing success than “noire”.

The results of the pageant are published along with the picture of the winners on this post at People Bo Kay:

A 21-year-old marketing student from Senegal, Tiah Beye was crowned ‘Miss Black France 2012′ along with her two runners-up, 22-year-old, Ivorian-born Romy Niaba and 23-year-old, Aissata Soumah from Guinea.

Martinique: Where has Creole gone?

On Martinican collective blog Montray Kreyol, a recent post [Fr/Fr Cr] wonders why Martinique 1ère [Fr], which is the local relay of the French National Broadcast Network, Fance Television [En], has almost no Creole language spoken on air.

February 17 2012

Martinique, USA, France: Jesse Jackson's message to Serge Letchimy

B.World Connection posts a letter [En/Fr] with the heading of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition whose leader is Reverend Jesse Jackson: apparently, the Reverend would support the reaction of MP Serge Letchimy, discussed here, in the name of the Black Diaspora and all humanity.

January 17 2012

Black Women in European Politics: from Struggle to Success

Nowadays, it is a common occcurence to witness African-born women having successful careers in Europe. Despite the evident challenges, many of them have also distiguished themselves in politics. Still, it was not so long ago that such success would have seemed impossible. To achieve greatness, these women have often come a long way, both literally and figuratively.

In order to better appreciate the progress made, one needs to think back to the 19th century and consider the image of black women in Europe then. For the purpose of this article, we will only address the story of women from the African diaspora who have been elected to positions of leadership in countries other than the colonial powers that previously ruled their home countries.

A history of racism

Postcard depicting Sarah Baartman, Wikipedia (public domain)

The story of the “Hottentot Venus” is symptomatic of the relationship between the West and African women in the last two centuries. Sébastien Hervieu, an Africa correspondent for Le Monde newspaper in France, tells the story of Sarah Baartman from South Africa, better known as the “Hottentot Venus”. In an article published in October 2010 in his blog afriquedusud.blog.lemonde.fr, he reviews [fr] Abdellatif Kechiche's [fr] film about her tragic story, Black Venus:

Au début du XIXème siècle, cette servante est emmenée en Europe et devient un objet de foire en raison de ses attributs physiques proéminents. Certains “scientifiques” utilisent sa présence pour théoriser l'infériorité de la “race noire”. Lorsqu'elle meurt à seulement 25 ans, ses organes génitaux et son cerveau sont placés dans des bocaux de formol, et son squelette et le moulage de son corps sont exposés au musée de l'Homme à Paris. C'est seulement en 2002 que la France accepte de rendre la dépouille de Saartjie Baartman à l'Afrique du Sud, concluant ainsi un long imbroglio juridique et diplomatique

At the beginning of the 19th century, this servant was brought to Europe and became a fairground attraction because of her prominent physical attributes. Some “scientists” used her presence to support the theory that the “black race” was inferior. When she died at only 25, her genitals and her brain were placed in jars of formaldehyde. Her skeleton and a molding of her body were exhibited at the Museum of Man in Paris. It was only in 2002 that France agreed to return Sarah Baartman's remains to South Africa, thereby drawing to a close a long running legal and diplomatic imbroglio [fr].

Sarah Baartman died in Paris on 29th September 1815. More than 100 years later, the Khoïkhoï people in South Africa called on Nelson Mandela to demand the restitution of Sarah's remains. The demand was met with the refusal of the French authorities and the scientific community citing the inalienable heritage of science and the state, but France eventually repatriated the body to South Africa where, in accordance with the rites of her people, it was purified and placed on a bed of dried herbs which were set alight.

Norway

Two centuries later, the position of black women in Europe has drastically changed. Amongst others, many have now been elected to political office.

Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen on Wikipedia (Norway) (CC-BY 3.0)

Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen in Norway is one of these women, and one of the most interesting because she shows the contradictions that still exist within some countries. She had to step down from a ministerial post in the Norwegian government just four months into her job. An article on Grioo.com sets out her career [fr]:

Originaire de l’Ile de la Martinique, à 44 ans, Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen a obtenu son poste de ministre de l’Enfance et de la Parité au sein du gouvernement de centre-gauche norvégien le 18 octobre 2007[…] Elle est mariée avec Terje Osmundsen, un homme politique membre du parti conservateur norvégien. Après son mariage, elle a pris la nationalité norvégienne et renoncé à celle de la France. Le pays n’autorisant pas la double nationalité.

Born in Martinique, 44 year old Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen gained her post as Minster for Children and Equality in the centre-left Norwegian government on 18th October 2007 […] She is married to Terje Osmundsen, a politician and member of the Norwegian conservative party. After their marriage she took Norwegian nationality and renounced her French nationality as the country does not allow dual nationality.

In an interview with Patrick Karam from the website fxgpariscaraibe.com in 2008 she explains [fr] some of the things that played in her favour in being appointed and why she stepped down following a controversy over an alleged conflict of interest in the hiring of a political appointee:

En Norvège, il y a obligation de représentation des deux sexes dans les conseils d’administration, 40 % de femmes au minimum. Nous menons aussi une politique pour inciter les hommes à prendre plus de responsabilité dans le foyer pour laisser les femmes entreprendre professionnellement. J’ai travaillé aussi sur l’enfance en danger, les violences, les maltraitances… J’ai travaillé quatre mois sans être critiquée, c’était une expérience réussie. Les critiques sont venues avec la nomination d’une médiatrice. Avec du recul, tout le monde voit que c’est une bagatelle. J’ai cédé au pouvoir de la presse.

In Norway there must be parity of representation between the two sexes within the administrative councils, with a minimum of 40% women. We are also pursuing a policy which encourages men to take more responsibilty at home, leaving women able to pursue a career. I also worked on child endangerment, violence, abuse… I worked for four months without criticism and it was a real success. The criticism began with the appointment of an ombudsman for children. In hindsight everyone can see it was something being made out of nothing. I gave in to the power of the media.

Sweden

Nyamko sabuni

Nyamko Sabuni, Wikipedia (CC-BY-SA)

Nyamko Sabuni [fr] is a former minister in Sweden, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Born in Burundi in 1969, her father fled the country due to persecution. She was elected to the Riksday as a member of the parliament in 2002, and at 37 years old became a Swedish goverment minister from 2006 to 2010. An article published on congopage.com sets out [fr] her progress.

En 1981, à l’âge de 12 ans, elle est arrivée en Suède avec sa mère et trois de ses cinq frères et sœurs. Là, elle a retrouvé son père, un opposant politique plusieurs fois emprisonné au Congo (actuellement République démocratique du Congo), venu dans le pays nordique grâce à Amnesty International.

In 1981, at the age of 12, she arrived in Sweden with her mother and three of her brothers and sisters. There she was reunited with her father, an opposition politician imprisoned several times in Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), who had come to the Nordic country with the help of Amnesty International.

The Netherlands

Ayaan hirsi ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wikipedia (public domain)

The Hirsiali blog presents a profile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

Née en Somalie en 1969, excisée à l’âge de 5 ans, Ayaan Hirsi Ali est scolarisée dans un lycée musulman pour filles. Soumise à ses parents, à son clan et à sa religion jusqu’à l’âge de vingt-trois ans, elle profite d’un passage dans sa famille en Allemagne, pour s’enfuir et échapper à un mariage forcé. Réfugiée aux Pays-Bas, elle adopte les valeurs libérales occidentales au point de devenir une jeune députée à La Haye et de s’affirmer athée. Pour avoir travaillé dans les services sociaux du royaume, elle connaît, de l’intérieur, les horreurs tolérées à l’encontre des femmes au nom du multiculturalisme.

Born in Somalia in 1969 and circumcised at the age of 5, Ayaan Hirsi Ali went to a Muslim girls school. Subjugated by her parents, her clan and her religion up to the age of 23, she took advantage of a trip to visit family in Germany to flee and escape a forced marriage. Taking refuge in Holland, she adopted Western liberal values to the extent that she became a young member of parliament in The Hague and declared herself to be an athiest. After having worked in the country's social services she knows, at first hand, the horrors tolerated against women in the name of multiculturalism.

A fierce apponent of some of the aspects of Islam and African traditions that go against basic human rights, she founded an NGO whose aims are set out, on her website Ayaan Hirsiali in the following terms:

In response to ongoing abuses of women’s rights, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her supporters established the AHA Foundation in 2007 to help protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture.

Italy

The first black person to be elected to the Italian parliament is Mercedes Lourdes Frias from the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean. This is how she is described [en] on the blogging site Black Women in Europe:

Mercedes Lourdes Frias was born in the Dominican Republic. She was the first black person elected to the Italian Parliament in 2006 where she served through April 2008. She was a member of the Commission on Constitutional Affairs and the Parliamentary Committee on the Implementation of the Control of Schengen Agreement, and the Control and Surveillance on Immigration. She works on anti-racist activities and welcoming immigrants. From 1994 1997 she was a member of the Council of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy. In the town of Empoli Ms Frias served a councilor for the environment, rights of citizenship, equal opportunities.

The most surprising of the black women to have been elected via universal sufferage or appointed to positions of elevated responsibility in European countries is Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane, elected in 2009 on a Northern League ticket; the most racist and xenophobic of Italy's political parties. One of the party's objectives is the secessoin of some of the northern part the Italian peninsula (though the boundary is not clearly undefined) because the party leaders do not like Southern Italians.

The blog stranieriinitalia.it (foreigners in Italy) gives a brief outline of her career [it]:

Il primo sindaco di colore in Italia ha la camicia verde. Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane si è aggiudicata con appena 38 voti di scarto la fascia tricolore a Viggiù, cinquemila anime in Valceresio, tra Varesotto e Canton Ticino. Alle sue spalle, una lunga storia di migrazioni. Di Viggiù era originaria la famiglia materna del neosindaco, scalpellini emigrati in Francia, dove durante la seconda guerra mondiale arrivò il padre, un soldato statunitense afroamericano. Il neo sindaco è nata a Springfield, nel Massachussets, nel 1961, ma a dieci anni, dopo la separazione dei genitori, ha seguito la madre nel paesino d’origine.

Italy's first coloured mayor wears a green shirt [the colour worn by Northern League supporters]. Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane won the tricolour scarf of the Mayor of Viggiù, a town of five thousand inhabitants in the Valceresio region, between the town of Varèse and the Canton of Tessin, with a margin on only 38 votes.
A past with a long history of migration. The new mayor's family on her mother's side were stone masons, originally from Viggiù, who migrated to France. During the Second World War, her father, an African-American soldier from the United States arrived in France. The new Mayor was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1961, but ten years after the separation of her parents she followed her mother back to her home village.

This, according to the blog associazioneumoja.wordpress.com, is how she found herself [it] in politics, with a rather unlikely ideological platform:

Della Lega sono sempre stata sostenitrice, anche se mai vera militante. Quando ero ragazza morivo dal ridere a vedere i loro manifesti, curiosi e di forte impatto. Poi quindici anni fa, più o meno, mi sono avvicinata di più. […] Vedo come «molto americana» anche la Lega, per la richiesta di rispettare rigorosamente la legge, anche per i clandestini. Anche se a Viggiù, precisa, non ci sono problemi di integrazione, nè tantomeno di sicurezza. Tra le priorità, guarda al rilancio turistico del paese, con manifestazioni e attenzione alla cultura.

I have always supported the Northern League without ever being very active. When I was a little girl their posters used to make me laugh, they were curious and had a big impact. Then, around fifteen years ago I became a little more involved. […] I see it as being “very American”, even the Northern League, because they insist on a rigorous respect for the law, even for illegal immigrants. Even so, she points out that there are no problems of integration and still yet security in Viggiù. One of her priorities is to reignite tourism in the area, with events and a focus on culture.

Despite the marked progress in the inclusion of African women in European politics, they represent isolated cases as, beyond the difficulties they face due to racism or culture and religion, even within their own families and their own societies, they also have to face up to the challenges that all women across the world face [fr]: domestic violence, the challenge of bearing children, marginalisation and under-representation.

November 07 2011

Caribbean: the meaning of identity

Creative Commess hosts a blog symposium “about Caribbean people, about West Indian people, about our contemporary experiences … ranging through race & identity to culture, mental health to constructs of beauty and more,” with contributions from seven Caribbean bloggers.

March 22 2011

Caribbean: Caribe Wave 11, the first simulated tsunami alert

Written by Claire Ulrich

On Wednesday, March 23, the first full-scale simulated tsunami alert exercise will take place in 33 countries in the Caribbean to test the effectiveness of alert, monitoring and warning systems (Hashtag on Twitter: EXERCISE - NOT REAL #CW11) . Open Street Map France [Fr] and Crisis Camp Paris [Fr] will join this exercise to encourage awareness and use of social media tools during emergencies in the French speaking West Indies.

March 04 2011

February 03 2011

Martinique: RIP Glissant

Written by Janine Mendes-Franco

Regional bloggers pay tribute to the life and work of “the great Caribbean writer Edouard Glissant”, who passed away earlier today.

December 24 2010

Caribbean: Defining Moments of 2010

By Janine Mendes-Franco

Many landmark events happened in the Caribbean this year, prompting reactions from the regional blogosphere - from student protests at the University of Puerto Rico to the release of Cuban political prisoners. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these was the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Many bloggers were still wrapped up in the novelty and fresh hopes for the New year when disaster struck on January 12, setting a sombre tone for the months ahead. Here are our picks for the stories that defined the Caribbean blogosphere in 2010…

The Haiti Earthquake
Sudden, unexpected, unforgiving: Measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, this earthquake was bound to do serious damage wherever it struck. In Haiti, a poor island nation with inadequate infrastructure and the majority of the population living in sub-standard conditions, the effects were disastrous. As the death toll continued to rise and the country remained immobilized, the region (and the world!) came to the country's aid. Bloggers were desperately hoping that the rescue efforts would prove successful, even in the face of massive aftershocks; citizen media rose to the challenge, sending out valuable first-hand information.



Tent city, Juvenat, by caribbeanfreephoto, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons License.

Global Voices Online sent a team to Haiti in the earthquake's aftermath, primarily to offer support for citizen media, since we believe that there is a real need to amplify Haitian voices when it comes to relief and reconstruction efforts. Our Managing Director, Georgia Popplewell, and former GV Lingua Team Leader, Alice Backer, “[made] contact with Haitians using citizen media tools, and [identified] others with the potential to participate in and enrich the online conversation, given the right resources”, with a view to increasing the amount of local citizen media activity. Visit our Special Coverage Page for various perspectives on the earthquake and subsequent relief efforts.

As if the devastating effects of the earthquake on the local food supply weren't enough, Haitian farmers also had to hurriedly mobilise against Monsanto, a company that produces genetically modified seed and wanted to get a foot in the door, via “a donation of conventional corn and vegetable seeds to farmers in Haiti, to help increase food production and aid long-term earthquake recovery.”

Towards the end of a trying year, the country faced a debilitating cholera crisis, braced for a hurricane and, when it appeared that the cholera epidemic was brought into the country by (largely unwelcome) UN peacekeepers, tried as best it could to function in the midst of violent protests.

Natural disasters and health challenges were not the only challenges the island nation faced. Its annus horriblis came to a climax with the staging of the country's controversial elections; bloggers are still questioning the transparency of the process, even as results continue to be verified.

These ripple effects of the January 12 earthquake have undoubtedly made 2010 a year Haiti would rather forget, but the reality is that other regional territories were also affected by the tremor. The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the same island, Hispaniola [ES: La Española]. Since borders are fluid and permeable, everything that affects one country affects the other in some way or another. Therefore, the Dominican Republic also felt the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit Haiti, leaving at least 300,000 dead and many thousands more homeless and living in extremely harsh conditions.

The Puerto Rico Student Protests
Puerto Rico battled a severe economic crisis during 2010. The despair and angst caused by conservative public social and economic policies provided the context for the student strike that paralyzed the main campus of the state-run University of Puerto Rico during two months starting in April 2010. Students of campuses from all over the island joined the protest against educational budget cuts, and their plight catalyzed a national social movement.


Students protest at the main campus of the UPR. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz of Diálogo. Republished under a CC License.

In December 2010, students of the main campus in Río Piedras, San Juan, declared a second strike, this time specifically against an annual $800 fee. The government ordered the Police to occupy the university’s campuses, which has led to violent confrontations with students. During both strikes, students have creatively used online platforms, blogs and social media networks, to express themselves.

The Jamaica State of Emergency
The eyes of the world were focused on Jamaica from late May, as the Prime Minister finally stopped trying to escape the inevitable and allowed the US extradition request for alleged drug don Christopher “Dudus” Coke to be signed, setting in motion a series of events that practically held the country in a vice grip for over a month. As @anniepaul put it:

The pact between the criminals and the state has been broken, we are being shown the consequences of that rupture…

Citizen media did a stellar job as a reliable source of information throughout the unrest. Our Special Coverage Page has all the details.

The Release of Cuban Political Prisoners
Over the course of the last few months, the Cuban government, as part of a deal brokered by the Spanish government and the Catholic Church, has released several prisoners of conscience, albeit to exile in Spain. The move followed the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapato Tamayo, after which the situation on the island became even more tense, with Cuban authorities clamping down on bloggers and activists around the time of Tamayo's funeral. Thirteen prisoners are still due to be released under the agreement; although the deadline has already passed, bloggers are still watching the situation closely.

This was not the only important story to come out of Cuba this year: soon after Fidel Castro admitted to a reporter (and subsequently retracted his statement) that the Cuban economic model no longer works, the government began the process of cutting 500,000 state jobs, in an effort resuscitate the island's struggling economy.

Interestingly, the government also announced that a submarine fiber optic cable linking Venezuela, Cuba, and Jamaica, will be operating by January of 2011. Although this will greatly enhance the quality of Internet connectivity, it will not necessarily lead to more access.


Plane crash in Central Cuba. Courtesy of Escambray.

On November 4, sixty-eight people died in the crash of an Aerocaribbean plane in central Cuba. Social media networks immediately became one of the main channels of communication.

Sad Farewells
Several regional territories had to say goodbye to national icons this year: Barbados lost its relatively new and certainly youngest-ever Prime Minister, Jamaica - and indeed the world - lost reggae icon Gregory “Cool Ruler” Isaacs to cancer and Monserrat (and calypso fans everywhere) said their final farewell to Arrow, the man who brought us the mega-hit “Hot, Hot, Hot”.

In other music news, reggae star Buju Banton was a regular topic of discussion in the regional blogosphere, as he went to court in the United State to defend himself against drug trafficking charges. After the judge presiding over his case declared a mistrial in September, the singer is scheduled to go through the process again, with a new trial beginning early in the New Year.

Hurricane Season
The 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season started early, with Hurricane Earl, which was closely followed by Igor and finally, Tomas, the storm which appeared to have done the greatest damage. When neighbouring nations pledged their relief support in the hurricane's aftermath, Trinidad and Tobago's newly-elected (and first female) Prime Minister came under fire for her statement that that any release of the twin island republic's aid dollars hinged on reciprocal economic benefits. Her words was interpreted as insensitive and prompted an online boycott of Trinidad and Tobago products across the region.

From natural disasters to political wrangling, 2010 was a busy year - and as 2011 approaches, the Global Voices Caribbean Team will continue to monitor the regional blogosphere in an ongoing effort to facilitate meaningful conversation and understanding throughout the Caribbean archipelago.

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle contributed to this post.

October 31 2010

Caribbean: Hurricane Tomas

By Janine Mendes-Franco

Trinidad and Tobago, the twin island republic that seemed to be directly in Tomaspath on Friday, was spared its effects, but as the storm veered north, islands that had previously been out of its path were suddenly thrust into storm warning mode.

Barbados, still grappling over the death of its Prime Minister, was the first to get hit. Barbados Free Press' reported that:

It’s not too bad. Noisy. Wet. Water went off with the power, but it’s back. One of our friends has one of those little wind things on top of his house and it hit 87 mph just before a calm period maybe an hour and a half ago.

A later update stated:

There are a couple of boats smashed up at Oistins. Lots of damage, roofs off. It looks like the south took a harder hit than we did.

Facebook was filled with private updates discussing the intensity of the storm and the fact that some areas were without electricity; after the worst was over, My Barbados Blog posted this update:

The parishes hardest hit by Tomas were St George, St Philip, St Joseph, St Michael, St Andrew and St Lucy with roofs blown off, trees uprooted, palings blown down, streets blocked, and downed utility poles.

The Bajan Reporter posted a story which stated that the country's Department of Emergency Management was caught “pretty much off-guard” by the warnings from the Barbados Meteorological Service.

The storm ploughed through St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Martinique where damage primarily consisted of felled trees, downed power lines, flooding in some areas and roofs being torn off, but Vincentian bloggers have been uncharacteristically quiet, leading to speculation that internet access may also be affected. Dominica News Blog said:

The passage of Hurricane Tomas to the south of Dominica has brought a day of gusty winds and heavy showers. No damage has been reported as yet, but the current poor weather conditions are set to continue overnight.

The storm now appears to be headed towards Jamaica; bloggers have been discussing the country's level of preparedness on Twitter. @anniepaul said:

ppl are aware and nervous but we're still recovering from Nicole RT @Fledgist: @anniepaul How ready is Jca for Tomás?

@therealnickmack added:

@anniepaul We're not ready! There are so many damaged roads & bridges that are either being repaired or not yet assessed!

Tomas is now situated south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico; the hope remains that the Category 2 storm, which is expected to gather more strength, will steer clear of Haiti, which is still dealing with the debilitating effects of the massive January 12 earthquake and a recent cholera outbreak. real hope for haiti is reporting that:

Haiti issued an orange storm alert, the second highest level. Authorities warned southern and western regions — including the quake-ravaged capital of Port-au-Prince, where an estimated 1.3 million people are living in tent camps — to be on guard for high winds, thunderstorms and possible flooding.

September 15 2010

Martinique: Grande Dame Passes On

By Janine Mendes-Franco

The Caribbean Review of Books acknowledges the passing of “Jenny Alpha, Martiniquan singer and ‘grande dame de la culture créole'.”

June 21 2010

Martinique: Regional Reactions after Insult

By Fabienne Flessel

Martinican Bondamanjak [Fr] tries to explain the dismissal of Martinican native football player Nicolas Anelka [Fr] after he insulted his coach. Meanwhile, Guadeloupean B. World Connection has re-published [Fr] posts [Fr] about the latest developments.

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