Inspirations, quotes, articles and various views on Namibia & Africa as sources for AFRCIA LIGHT / GRAY ZONE
Traditions vs. Modernity: “Nuba” by Leni Riefenstahl
In the 1960s, Riefenstahl became interested in Africa from Hemingway’s book and from the photographs of George Rodger. Rodger, who had taken the first photographs of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, refused to help Riefenstahl meet Africans, citing their backgrounds. Riefenstahl took up photography, documenting a diverse array of subjects. She traveled many times to Africa to photograph the Nuba tribe in Sudan, with whom she sporadically lived, learning about their culture so she could photograph them more easily. They readily accepted her since they knew nothing of her past.
Her books with photographs of the tribe were published in 1974 and 1976 as The Last of the Nuba and The People of Kau and were both international bestsellers. While heralded by many as outstanding colour photographs, they were harshly criticized by Susan Sontag, who claimed in a review that they were further evidence of Riefenstahl’s “fascist aesthetics”. The Art Director’s Club of Germany awarded Leni a gold medal for the best photographic achievement of 1975.
Society Changes: “Les Maitres Fous” by Jean Rouch
Les Maîtres Fous (The Mad Masters – 1955) – is a short film directed by Jean Rouch, a well-known French film director and ethnologist. It is a docufiction, his first ethnofiction, genre of which he is considered to be the creator.
The subject of the film was the Hauka movement. The Hauka movement consisted of mimicry and dancing to become possessed by French Colonial administrators. The participants performed the same elaborate military ceremonies of their colonial occupiers, but in more of a trance than true recreation.
The Hauka movement, according to some anthropologists was a form of resistance that began in Niger, but spread to other parts of Africa. According to some anthropologists, this pageant, though historic, was largely done to mock their authority by stealing their powers. Hauka members were not trying to emulate Europeans, but were trying to extract their life force – something “entirely African”.
This stance has been heavily criticized by anthropologist James G. Ferguson who finds this imitation not about importing colonialism into indigenous culture, but more a way to gain rights and status in the colonial society. The adoption of European customs was not so much a form of resistance, but to be “respected by the Europeans.”
Les Maîtres Fous offended both colonial authorities and African students alike. Indeed, the film was so controversial that it was banned first in Niger, and then in other British territories including Ghana. The film was considered offensive to colonial authorities because of the Africans’ blatant attempts to mimic and mock the “white oppressors”. On the other hand, African students, teachers, and directors found the film to perpetrate an “exotic racism” of the African people.
Documentary Art Essay Landscape Film without any dialogue: “Koyaanisqatsi”
Koyaanisqatsi is a 1982 film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke.
The film consists primarily of slow motion and time-lapse photography of cities and many natural landscapes across the United States. The visual tone poem contains neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration: its tone is set by the juxtaposition of images and music. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi means “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living”. The film is the first in the Qatsi trilogy of films: it is followed by Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002). The trilogy depicts different aspects of the relationship between humans, nature, and technology. Koyaanisqatsi is the best known of the trilogy and is considered a cult film.
Visual Inspiration: “The Cell” by Tarsem Singh
Some of the scenes in The Cell are inspired by works of art. A scene in which a horse is split into sections by falling glass panels was inspired by the works of British artist Damien Hirst. The film also includes scenes based on the work of other late 20th century artists, including Odd Nerdrum, H. R. Giger, and the Brothers Quay. Tarsem — who began his career directing music videos such as En Vogue’s “Hold On” and R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” — drew upon such imagery for Stargher’s dream sequences. In particular, he was influenced by videos directed by Mark Romanek, such as “Closer” and “The Perfect Drug” by Nine Inch Nails, “Bedtime Story” by Madonna, and the many videos that Floria Sigismondi directed for Marilyn Manson.
Production Still, The African Twin Towers, Namibia 2005 Copyright: Aino Laberenz http://www.ica.org.uk/download.php?id=581
“Progress implies that people or society reflect back on their society, transcend their social environment, and demonstrate their individuality to become active participants in a ‘modern’ world.”
Dr. Tjama Tjivikua, Rector of the Polytechnic of Namibia
“By tying together culture and progress, we should be reminded that culture is not a static thing, but rather a changing process. Each culture has its own unique space and mechanisms to advance itself. Therefore, there should be no need to hurry in expecting a quick cultural progress or even change any cultural value by force.”
SVV Nambala, The Finance and Development Director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN)
“Progress here would probably mean the creative act of reviewing traditional african models of decisonmaking process, agricultural life forms and cultural expression and to connect them to the necessities of a postmodern, globalized world.”
Peter Erlenwein, Dr. phil. Studies in Social Science; Training in Humanistic Psychotherapy, Namibia
The Lure of Namibia
Consequences for the present situation of Namibia
Progress in a country which has suffered for such a long time from racism (apartheid) is a deeply psychological and so far an educational challenge: developing a new identity within the black as well as the white community that is able to cross the boundaries of inherent racism and heals the wounds of the black people. This identity forming process includes on the outside (social, economical etc.) new parameters concerning such urgent questions as landreform, education and a more democratic sharing of economic powers. The question of Aids is not only one of good medicine and so called responsible sexual behaviour or pverty. Far more than that it touches a deep quality of fascination and myth between the sexes of both black and white women and men. Aids is not a deadly challenge for the poor and black people only but has reached the white middle class too.
To begin a truthfull dialogue here could have far reaching consequences for a society where a fuller understanding of the sociopsychological dynamics of sexuality (and violence) is still hidden behind walls of shame, unquestioned morals or simple bigottery.
Since the many different ethnies form strong tribal identities with an aquivalent consciousness that reach wide into the country’s institutional black power structure it is obvious that the slogan of nationbuilding is easily caricatured: to form a national identity within a democratic frame needs a consciousness raising beyond ethnic interests. One has to assume that the western model of democracy alone is not able to solve the contradictions between regional tribal cultures and the claim to a national Namibian identity.
Progress here would probably mean the creative act of reviewing traditional african models of decisonmaking process, agricultural life forms and cultural expression and to connect them to the necessities of a postmodern, globalized world. This means to understand that democracy is not just a set of methods and institutions that guarantee a nice lifestyle.
Examples here can be found in many so called third world countries where people – on local or regional levels- have developed unforeseen solutions to the question of a successful mixture of traditon and modernity which follows other rules than those of consumerism, land destruction, hierarchy policy. Some of these models were awarded the alternative noble prize.
Last but not least there is the huge gap between the strong religious traditions of socalled third world countries and an agnostic western modernism which fuels all kinds of fundamentalism. Namibia for example is dominated by an overt protestantism with strong undercurrents of a native religiousness of the different tribes.
Their perception of time, history and the religious position of man in the enfolding life process is obviously very different from western ideas. Can there be integrations that enhance an ecological spirituality possibly through the awareness of the overall environmental crisis and the recogniton of Namibia’s extremly fragile natural ressources as well as its multi-religious/racial population? Insofar the values and ethics that should be promoted could probably best described in the spiritual framework of a holistic cosmology.
“Education for All”
has been the watchword for the people of Namibia since independence in March 1990, and the country has made remarkable strides in moving towards a goal of universal literacy.
This progress has been all the more remarkable as it has been furthered through the medium of English, a foreign language to all but 0.8 percent of the population. International involvement and international aid have done much to make this development possible. It is, however, precisely this development that threatens all that Namibians hoped to gain through independence. African thinkers, writers, and philosophers, such as Julius Nyerere and Ngugi wa Thiongo, have pointed out that traditional African education had none of the formal characteristics associated with a western-style education, but that this was an indication that the education of African children, which was extremely important in their society, was more relevant to the society of which the child was a member than western education is.
Both have warned that abandoning the traditional language for the language of the economically or militarily dominant group, and not generating standards in the language of the people’s choice, may seem expedient, but will ultimately lead to even greater marginalization, exploitation, and even annihilation of all that has been important in the culture, development, identity, and struggle of the African people. Paulo Freire points out that this process of cultural invasion, which persuades the ones being controlled that they are inferior and that in order to prosper they need to adopt the norms and values of those whose superiority is evident in their commercial and technological dominance, leads to dependency and a destruction of a people’s creativity and self-expression.
By adopting the British IGCSE curriculum and the use of University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate for the validation of its examinations, secondary and higher education in particular has taken on the British educational structure, logic, and framework. Whereas learning African Namibian history was once essential in the education of the people in their struggle for liberation from South African domination, Namibian history has now been relegated to a small part of an optional subject within the curriculum. By ignoring African culture, languages, ideas, and values, the population, which has paid such a high price for its political liberation, may be forced into a narrow mold of technically skilled competitiveness designed for a western-dominated capitalist market system.
Namibia’s struggle for independence has been characterized by an amazing striving for self-fulfillment and freedom from foreign domination—and an equally astounding compromise of its own cultural identity in favor of an uncritical incorporation of donor organization and donor nation expectations, many of whom stand to benefit greatly from an educated labor force dependant on foreign technology. Anthropologists, linguists, and educators have argued that few, if any, countries have ever achieved high levels of economic and cultural development where a large number of citizens were compelled to communicate and study through the medium of a second or third language. In Namibia “international” is defined as referring to the Anglophone world that has its basis in Britain and the United States. The need for transnational communication is also defined in terms of Europe and the United States, never in terms of Asia or the African continent. There is no way of going back on decisions that have already been made and implemented, and perhaps the new road to personal and national freedom does not necessarily involve a total rejection of all that has been. However, if the motto “Education for All” is to be truly relevant to every citizen of Namibia, African philosophy, languages, culture, and values need to be given a central place in the education system.
Brock-Utne, Birgit. “The Language Question in Namibian Schools.” International Review of Education 43 No. 2/3 (1997): 241-60.