Black History Month Book Review: Milele Africa
Black History Month
February is the month when North Americans celebrate the far reaching contributions made by black individuals and communities, there will be many events and exhibitions across the continent where everyone can enjoy the celebrations.
I am going to share with you a book I found in my son’s school library. The unusual title caught my eye as did the interesting cover.
It is not often that you come across a real gem, of one hundred and twenty-eight pages, which combines the wisdom of the ancients, and coming of age, in a single story. Milele Africa is a grandson’s loving recollection of the things his grandmother told him. Paul Kihiu Njuguna, combines his present with the past, and sometimes takes us on a fantastical journey. The word “Milele” means “forever” in Swahili.
Njuguna recounts his coming of age. This was also a period of spiritual awakening or him as he straddled two worlds. The spiritual world of his grandmother, which until he started boarding school, he absorbed with enthusiasm.
His grandmother was a renowned traditional wise woman. He acknowledges that while his mother was a Christian, his grandmother recognized that the world as she knew it was changing, and her grandson would have to learn the ways of the white man. The reader is given an insider’s view of what it would have been like to have learned the old ways from someone like his grandmother. These ideas are presented, not as dry anthropological discourses, but as views which seem to permeate the collective consciousness. The simplicity of an African Sage has the same essence of the Budda, Confucius, Jesus and others.
About God and the universe. His grandmother said that:
“All life is one life and we all have a connection – to ourselves and even to the stars”
Njuguna was a beneficiary of the Save the Children Foundation, which paid his school fees at a boarding school near Nairobi for thirteen years. He attributes his ability of keen observation to his time school, a bastion of Western education. His eyes were opened not only to a new world, but also the way the Western world viewed the African, and the old ways he had learned from his grandmother. In this telling excerpt, Njuguna explains what it was like to return home from boarding school the third time,
” I was now seeing the village for what it actually was. It was the peasant way of life – the very opposite of what my beautiful school was telling me civilization was all about.
The interior of my once beloved home now looked quite awful to me. I gazed in disgust at the horrible dirt floor, and stared distastefully at the walls…The cockroaches, which lurked in the cracks, revolted my newly refines sensibilities and I longed for Shell House. The process of brainwashing had begun.”
The world of the old and young became one, and Njuguna, takes up the mantel handed to him by his grandmother. His story was her story and her story was his, and the cycle of life continues. African traditions evolve to meet modern needs. A truly thought-provoking book in the tradition of the African Griot.
Publisher: eastendbooks:128 pages, 140 x 215 mm, softcover, b&w photos and maps. ISBN:1-896973-31-0.
Canada Post celebrates Black History Month by commemorating two distinctive and historic African-Canadian communities: Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley and Halifax’s Africville. Dismantled in the 60s to make way for new construction – these small but vibrant neighbourhoods are gone but not forgotten.