"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"African Notebook"

Since I'm reading The Orthodox Church rather slowly, I decided to pick up a couple shorter reads at the library today. I was totally looking for another book, but got stuck in the Africa section and brought home African Notebook which is copyrighted in 1939 and sold for three bucks!  It seems to be observations from Albert Schweitzer and people he knew. It kind of just jumps right in with little explanation.  It's more like reading someone's notebook (*ahem* the title) than a fabulously-written book. But I am enjoying the cultural stuff quite much!  It's funny because he notes 'white person' or 'black catechist' and refers to 'my Africans' as well as 'savages' when speaking of the people of this region (now Gabon).

I was just reading about marriage in the chapter titled - get this - "Differences Between White People and Black People."   He said the Africans wanted to know how the Europeans differed from them and they were incredibly shocked to hear that some of them row (as in canoes) for fun!  In Africa so much of their life involved physical activity that the thought of 'sport' for fun was a bit mind-boggling.

Another shocker was the fact men didn't have to pay for their wives!  In their culture the men often started working at age 16 in order to buy a bride.  Daughters were prized because they brought wealth to their families. When a white woman had twin daughters one of the Africans declared her rich! 

The families begin calculating the cost of their daughters and when the young men want to marry, they pay an initial installment (sometimes borrowing from family or friends), and then continue paying installments.  Sometimes they start "buying" their brides when the girls are mere children.  Later they marry and continue paying to her family. Two problems: they often don't know the set price to begin with (and I got the impression the woman's family milked the young husband for all they could get by with).  So the guy may stop making payments only to go home and find his wife gone.  Yup she was stolen by her family until he makes the next payment!  The women are fine with this as it's all they know.  They willingly go back with their family realizing this is the way it works. 

The author says for about a third of the year his male nurses are "grass-widowers" and grumpy to boot having to cook for themselves and all. 

Children belong to the mother and her brothers. They will always find protection from them.  Divorces are rare. Husbands don't want to divorce usually because their wives were so costly.  Wives rarely seek divorces because then her family (brothers and uncles) have to repay the money which is often already spent.  Fascinating, huh?

Other interesting facts:

The importance of rubber to the economy as it was sought after by the Europeans. The trek through the jungle to obtain it was awful.

Salt was the prized currency for those living in the interior.  Money was useless unless they happened to live near a trading post.

Many Europeans took advantage of the Africans' love of alcohol and one person was given possession of an island in exchange for a bottle of brew.  Later the Europeans saw the error of giving the Africans alcohol and it was prohibited for use in trading.

Coastal Africans would often enslave those from the interior to work on their plantations. Some went willingly because the interior didn't have native fruit trees and therefore lack of food was common. Some parents gave up their children with hopes they would be taken to places with plenty to eat. Some slaves were offered freedom yet preferred to work for their masters in order to have food and shelter. But for many it was traumatic to be taken forcefully from their families.  Slave trade to the New World was especially harsh as the Africans feared they were to become food for white people!  They thought those tins of food were their destinies! 

The first time one European played a gramophone, the natives stomped it and went for the man (who had to flee for his life) thinking it contained the voices of their ancestors' spirits "which the white man had imprisoned in the box by magic."  (pg. 41)  Later they came to accept the gramophone and you would find them in nearly every village.  "The Africans do not worry about how it can be possible that speech and music come out of a box.  This is for them only one of the many incomprehensible things achieved by the white man.  'The white man is an artful fellow,' my Hospital assistant Joseph used to say in regard to machines and such things." 

Writing was seen as a form of magic partly because they saw how a written order for supplies (in trading) was filled at the post. They wanted to be able to write something that would "magically" get them salt and pots and cotton cloth and weapons.

I liked the story of when someone at the Mission Station at Lambaréné was showing images from the Passion during Holy Week by a "magic lantern."  Schweitzer writes:  "When Judas first appeared on the sheet among the disciples, there resounded cries from the background, 'Look out!  He will betray you!' When he kissed the Lord in Gethsemane, the onlookers could no longer control themselves. They jumped up, clenched their fists and shouted imprecations and threats. The missionary had to calm them down before he could go on with the display."  (pg. 40)

What was the most interesting fact that I recounted? Your thoughts?


Lat said...

It's always interesting to read into one's culture.I knew about the bride price thing.It's very cultural that even Christian Africans do it.Customs like these can also be found in other places too.Marriage is a serious business!

The English,prehaps Victorian times?,expected a dowry from the bride's family,very much like the Indian dowry.What's important to note is that in both cases,women are not given much choice in the matter,unless she belongs to an elite group.

Fun to read about writing being magic.Perhaps that's why ancient people didn't like writing much :)

Thanks for sharing!Really enjoyed this!

Susanne said...

Lat, I appreciate your comment. I'm glad someone else found this of some interest. I just love interesting tidbits like this for some reason and HAD to write them down! :D

I totally thought of you when I read the part about writing! I remembered your post about the Persians (right)discouraging it because it was evil or dirty. I can't remember the particulars, but I do recall your post about someone discouraging writing. :D

Thanks again!

Amber said...

I found this all very interesting. I like it when you pick up random books.

Hmmm...I may demand that my future husband to be pay my family for the privilege of having me. Of course, in my case they may pay him to take me away! :D

Susanne said...

Amber, knowing you I'm guessing the latter is the more likely scenario. Probably your family has been secretly saving for this.