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One of the great surprises as I was searching for resources for the AA website is the tremendous amount of materials available on the web about Africa. Some two years later, I keep finding diamonds in the dross.
I have also found that much of the material can be easily downloaded to computer or kindle to create a personal library.
The goal of the AustinAfrica Academy is to systematically present some of these discoveries so that readers cannot only access a particular resource, but also help them develop their own methods of exploring the vast cache of African material. I encourage this capability in my readers because interests may bias or tilt the searches I have made.
It is not only that the information be interesting and present new analysis and understanding, but that it increase one’s enthusiasm as they begin to understand the immensity of the resources available for personal quests. Africa can now be researched by all, not just the scholar, student, or Professor. African can now be seen more clearly.
It is my hope that the academy will be much a moving caravan, continuously bearing valuable new insights and crossing various media. It is a goal of AustinAfrica Academy that it rises to a level of scholarship that will make it interesting to all, scholar or not, based not only that which is on the web or in books but also on the tremendous resources represented by African immigrants. There is much potential based on joint inquiries through the blogger-reader communication expected to develop soon.
African immigrants are among the most educated of those migrating to the US and I believe the AustinAfrica Academy might help to invigorate their knowledge of their own culture and further grow their appreciation of Africa in general. At least it should provide a venue and forum where they can inquire among each other concerning aspects of their tradition that they had just accepted and never thought to dig deeper into. My own experience is that members of a particular tribe may have fundamental differences of opinion about their tradition and enjoy a strong discussion as to original ‘or most authentic custom or behavioral form.
African immigrants will likely discover fundamental differences among traditions based on the many factors of African diversity; different location, language, history, environment, art, religion or from the other myriad of considerations that contribute to the continent’s heterogeneity.
I am fortunate in that I was professional researcher in my previous career and was trained how and where to look. I also had the good fortune to travel Africa extensively, particularly Nigeria, the ‘giant of Africa’ and know it thoroughly so that, when I get into discussions with Nigerians they are surprised to learn that I have been to every state one time or another and have been to places that are now very hard to access. One such place is Bornu state where I worked some months in 1982, in the area from Maiduguri to Potiskum, though I often traveled the road to Lake Chad or North into some of Nigeria’s most arid zones where the Boko Haram (meaning literally Western Education is a sin) now operate.
I think that Nigeria is a microcosm of Africa, its ecology running south to north, from mangrove swamp and rain forest through Savannah to the driest Sahel where in some places camel caravans
come from true desert; also having in its peoples all types of Africans: Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Nilo-Bantu, all except perhaps the Khoi-San. While it does not have what is been called Nilo-Bantu B perhaps that is remedied by the assertion by scholars that the ‘Bantu Migration’ has its source is on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border. This area I traveled in 4×4 when it was the state of Gongola. It was there that I first fell in love with ‘Bush’ Africa, where from a high point across the Benue River at Yola I watched sunsets while eating Suya barbecue and drinking Star Beer. It was there that I learned to love the Savannah and the inselberg ships that sailed its vastness.
I not only crossed Nigeria; East to West, South to North, through innumerable traces and back roads but also across time; from 1981 to 2008, 27 years. I am still traveling it; except now I am not on the road but in the African family my wife and I built according to the customs of her tribe’s ancient culture. While I know quite a bit of researchable Africa, it was not the travel that mattered, but rather being in and being a part of the society where I labored.
While I came to the line many times in all the years; I never carried across it all of what I have as a person ; for it is a line which when passed over is final, and from that world beyond, it is not possible to return. How is it possible to see the line? I see it in my sons’ eyes and feel it in the calluses of my wife’s hands.
In the old days, they would have said of me that ‘he went native.’
Non-Fiction and Fiction: UNESCO‘s History of Africa
In building AustinAfrica Academy, I will have to be careful, as I am by education and experience, an historian and economist. There is a need to balance Non-Fiction with Fiction. Building the foundation is also made more difficult in that there is a limited amount of African fiction that is a free download. Also much of African literature comes through oral traditions. History and its many children run free on the web. It is, as if it after the millennium of ‘obscurity,’ it wants to be seen and known.
Still there is much literature available relatively inexpensive, though it may be from poetry and various African Epics. The older the material is, the less expensive it is on Amazon. Such types of literature, as it is any many other traditions, that the classics are often public domain and free on the kindle. However, modern African literature costs. The Fiction side as noted before will come from epics such as the Sundiata from the ancient empire of Mali (Timbuktu and other revered destinations), poetry, and proverbs which are greatly favored by Africans. However, AA Academy can recommend books to be checked out of the library if they are there. The Non-Fiction side consists of anthropology, archaeology, language courses, history, philosophy and religion. Here great works and articles can be free. AA’s first selection for Non-Fiction is the
General History of Africa as published by UNESCO. This eight volume history, nearly 10,000 pages long is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and French. The first volume addresses methodology and prehistory, the last volume is about Africa since 1935. All eight volumes can be downloaded for free: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/dialogue/general-history-of-africa/studies-and-documents/ . If one wants hard copy, Amazon sells new copies for about $30 but used copies can be purchased for much less.
For fiction, this AA brings to your attention the Palm Wine Drunkard and My Life in the Bush with Ghosts. I first read this book in a West African fiction course at the University of Texas, Austin some four decades ago. It was written by Amos Tutuola, a Yoruba novelist. It is the story of a palm wine drinker who lost his supply when the tapster who made it died, so he is obliged to go into the Ghost Bush to try to bring the tapster back. This magical realism novel has deep personal connections. It,` in a way, foretold my many years in Yoruba land where I traveled in villages deep in the rain forest. There is nothing like traveling off the road and finding the unimaginable almost every day. I also like palm wine and I have drunk it not only in Africa but also India where I had it mornings on the beach with soft shelled crabs
But perhaps most importantly, my father in law, who recently passed (bless his name,) was a palm wine tapster and we often sat together with my wife as translator to remember the good old days. He also worked on the Nigeria railways. He was one of the happiest men I have ever met. My second son is named after him. Chiemerie: ‘God Wins’ Sadly, it is not free but you can get it for $.01 on Amazon which means you will have to pay $3.99 delivery costs. For those that find this too much for an early investment, you can download as a PDF Suubi, a collection of short stories and poetry by the African Writers Trust in association with the British Council.
Multi-Media and the Online Free University
Besides innumerable PDFs on history and culture, via YouTube one can get a liberal arts education from an Ivy League university. Many top tier universities provide YouTube lectures on Africa or subjects related to Africa. In his World History course, Columbia Professor Robert Bulliet takes up tropical Africa in lectures 22 and 23. Yale Professor Holloway gives a powerful lecture on the
‘Dawn of Freedom’ on African American emancipation. At the University of New Mexico, Professor Nyang (Howard University) discusses the History of Islam in Africa which interesting and he has a certain style that enhances the material. There are many lectures on ancient man which is believed to have evolved in East Africa as well as their migration out of Africa.
These are just a few as examples; AustinAfricaAcademy will in the future address various topics and in structuring it identify those presentations that are on both sides of the issue. AA will take a topic and list relevant videos to analyze and explore it. Multimedia provides many opportunities to enhance research a particular subject.
Learn a Language For Free
For those wanting to go deep into Africa, there is no better way than to learn an African language. According to Wikipedia: The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the United States Federal Government‘s primary training institution for employees of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats as well as other professionals to advance U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas. FSI provides more than 600 courses — including over 70 foreign languages — to more than 100,000 enrollees a year from the Department of State and more than 40 other government agencies and the military service.
While you may not be a diplomat, you are able to avail yourself of these courses.
There are two ways to look at taking one of these courses. First, you can take a course connected with the language of people you are close to and will always be close. Second, you might want to learn a lingua franca, like Swahili for East Africa and Hausa-Fulani for West Africa
For the first category, there are some stand outs; on line courses considered to be good to excellent. One course for instance, is the Lingala language spoken by people in the Republic of the Congo, the northwestern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (there are two Congolese countries which can be confusing), Angola, and the Central African Republic.
Another language having a surprisingly large presence in the Western Hemisphere is Yoruba which is originally from South Western Nigeria (also taught at UT Austin) and is the language of the Santeria religion found in Cuba and the Caribbean. Yoruba also has a large presence in Brazil. Other languages that might be interesting to some are Amharic for Ethiopia, Shona (Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique), and Twi (Ghana), The Igbo language of my wife’s people also has a course. See the following sites: http://fsi-languages.yojik.eu/ , http://www.101languages.net/fsi-courses/ .There are other institutions that provide free language training. Open Culture advertises 48 languages including a handful of African languages. http://www.openculture.com/freelanguagelessons
As I close this first AustinAfrica Academy, I am hopeful that the reader has begun to be aware of the resources available to research Africa at a reasonably high level of scholarship. Should I have made any material mistakes; I hope that in the future readers will be able to reach out to correct me where I have been wrong. I do believe if the Academy keeps at it, there will be much that we can learn about Africa together.