What did Rwanda Look Like Right After the Genocide?

And just like that, our discussion on Rwanda is coming to an end. So far, we’ve learned about gender, race, and the economy post genocide, but I’m thinking we should wrap up our discussion on Rwanda with what the country looked like right after the genocide.

For some reason, it was really difficult to find good sources on Rwanda from the actual time period, however, I did come across an article from the New York Times titled: “Hutu and Tutsi Ask: Is a United RwandaPossible?”  Now this article did have a lot of overlap with some of the things we have been discussing in my other blog posts, however, none of my other sources were written as close as this one was to the genocide. This article was written just 5 years after the genocide ended, so it will be really interesting to talk about ethnicity in Rwanda and what Rwanda looked like directly after the genocide.  The author of this article, Ian Fisher, begins with this whole speech about how Rwanda is now peaceful and that the Hutus and Tutsis are living side by side as they did for centuries. Now I know what you’re thinking—THE TUTSIS AND THE HUTUS NEVER LIVED PEACEFULLY! There’s always been aracial hierarchy because of the hierarchy created by the Belgians!!!! (But we do have to remember this is a white American man who’s writing this). Fisher then goes on to talk about how the government is forcing the people to forget the genocide…..that sounds more accurate. But wait! Then he goes back and says that despite the fact that a lot of Tutsis can’t get over their loved ones being killed and even though Rwanda hasn’t even cleaned up all the human debris in the street, that the government is doing the best that it can to recreate Rwanda. I mean come on Ian, who’s side are you on? We know from my previous blog that Paul Kagame and the RPF are literally making people disappear for not agreeing with the government! Fisher says that one thing that is uniting Rwandans, is being able to tell similar stories about the genocide. How is talk about the genocide even allowed, when Rwandans are not allowed to acknowledge one another’s ethnicity? Fisher even says that talk of ethnicity is only heard in whispers of apology. Also, how is talking about similar experiences during the genocide supposed to unite the Hutus and the Tutsis, when Hutu extremists were slaughtering Tutsis every single day?

Another component of this article that makes the argument unclear is the story of a Tutsi woman who is talking about how she is still hated in Rwanda, even after the genocide. She says that she has to live among the wives of the killers and that they are against seeing her survive even though her whole family was killed. She says that even the children of the women say that she should have died—hmm, this doesn’t sound like reconciliation to me. There was clearly no such thing as “One Rwanda” directly after the genocide, even though that’s what this article is trying to tell us.  

Further Reading


Is Rwanda Rich or is it Just Stromae?

Welcome back! I know we have been discussing post genocide Rwanda very frequently since our main focus has been on Stromae’s Tous Les Memes, however, it is important to realize that the genocide has affected Rwandans in so many ways. We’ve looked at race and gender in Rwanda, but now it’s time to take a look at the economy. Now when relating our discussions of Rwanda back to Stromae, you may be wondering what connection the music video has to economics. There is certainly no reference to economy in Touse Les Memes, however, Stromae himself is a very wealthy musician. Unlike Stromae, many Rwandans are suffering from poverty, which is a result of the genocide.

During my research on the Rwandan economy, I came across a scholarly article called Post- genocide identity politics in Rwanda, which is written by Helen Hintjens. From my last blog post on race relations and ethnicity in Rwanda, we know that the RPF and Paul Kagame, the current president of Rwanda, have forced this whole idea of “One Rwanda” where recognizing ethnicity is completely taboo. Hintjens continues to talk about this in her article, and she says that the discussion of economic injustices is seen as “divisionism.” In fact, you can be killed, imprisoned or can in some cases disappear (WTF??), if you even mention that you have problems with the way that the government is being run. This is extreeeemly problematic. Poor Rwandans are being forced to accept the current wealth divide in Rwanda due to this enforced political dictatorship.

Hintijens explains that the Rwandans that are being affected by poverty are the people who live in rural settings such as farmers. After the genocide, the whole economy in Rwanda was altered. The country used to rely on agricultural staples such as tea and coffee to keep the economy running but now the country is dependent on cross-border “rent-seeking”, or in other words, loans from other countries. This has really affected the income of farmers, because they were originally the ones producing those agricultural staples. I really wish that Hintijens would have explained how the genocide caused this transition, but she failed to discuss those details. The wealth gap between urban Rwandans and rural Rwandans is even greater than before the genocide, but why?

The most fascinating information that I ended up finding in this article was that the Tutsis who fled to Uganda during the genocide and who returned when the genocide was over are being affected by poverty too. A big part of the reason for this poverty can be attributed to a language barrier, which is interesting when looking at my last blog post where a Tutsi man literally said that the idea of one untied Rwanda worked because everyone spoke Kinyarwanda. Apparently this isn’t true…… According to Hintijens, French, English, and Kinyarwanda are the three main languages that are spoken in the country; however, a lot of the Tutsis who fled speak none of them. As a result of this language barrier, a lot of Tutsis are being forced into these rural and isolated environments. This makes total sense when thinking about why so many people in Rwanda are impoverished today. How are you supposed to get a job or do anything at all, when you can’t speak the country’s dominant language? Another huge problem in all of this is that there are very few jobs in Rwanda available, and the ones that are available, are only located in urban environments.

Although we might see glitz and glamour when thinking of Rwanda, especially when watching Stromae’s music videos, we must recognize that people are suffering from injustice and poverty in the country as a result of how the government is being run.

Further Reading


Gender and Genocide- How Gender Transformed After the Rwandan Genocide

In continuing our discussion on Stromae and Toues Les Memes, I would like to take a closer look into gender and the Rwandan genocide. Last time, we talked about the gender roles of Hutu men and women during the genocide, but I think it is important to talk about the lasting affects of the genocide on the Tutsi as well. When doing my research on primary sources pertaining to gender and the genocide, I happened to come across a research article called, Genocide, masculinity and posttraumatic growth in Rwanda: reconstructing male identity through ndi umunyarwanda, conducted by researcher, Caroline Williamson. Out of all the research articles I have ever read (and trust me, as a media com major I’ve read a lot), this was by far the most intriguing article I’ve found. It really illustrates post-genocide male identity within Tutsi Rwandans. I understand that most of my blog posts include a lot of banter and silliness, but for this particular post, out of respect for the survivors of the genocide, I want to take a bit of a more serious aim in my analyzing of current gender identity in Rwanda.

Just two years ago, Caroline Williamson did a study on 10 male Tutsi survivors of the genocide, where she conducted in depth qualitative interviews on some of their experiences. The most important take away from Williamson’s study is that present day male identity in Rwanda has been formulated by this idea of ndi umunyarwanda, which is an adopted form of “Rwandaness,” or in other words, a national Rwandan identity which forbids the use of ethnic terms like Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. One of the Tutsi survivors from the study heavily conforms to these ideals of ndi umunyarwanda, which he explains through language use. This man said: “The way I see it, all are one people because all speak Kinyarwanda, they share one language and it is that which unites us as Rwandans. I don’t think I’ve ever understood the concept of Hutu and Tutsi.” This to me was shocking, especially because this man experienced the genocide first handedly. It is like the ideals of the new government have completely brainwashed him. How can he believe that shared language creates such unity between Hutus and Tutsis, when his people were literally slaughtered by Hutu extremists? Why did this shared language not help him then?

Williamson further explains that ndi umunyarwanda is also meant to reject former colonial influences by resorting to indigenous Rwandan culture. This is so interesting because present day Rwandans are able to recognize that colonial forces were the main contributors of the genocide. Ethnic divisions within the country yielded heavily from Europeans who racialized and divided these three ethnic groups. Although there are some positive aspects of ndi umunyarwanda, there are also a lot of conflicting feelings towards the ideology from both Hutu and Tutsis.

The main criticism of this movement is that it forces Hutus to silently comply with Tutsi dictatorship within the government. Williamson explains that after the genocide, the RPF, (which is a Tutsi political party), took control of the government and forced Hutus to be passive and accepting of this new “undivided Tutsi power.” Williamson also explains that this new movement is causing further ethic diversions among Rwandans because Hutus are being forced to apologize to Tutsis, although many do not feel as though they are personally responsible for the genocide. By no longer acknowledging ethnicity, this must also desensitize the genocide, which in turn must offend Tutsi survivors who were literally killed for their ethnic identities. How can a country completely erase individual identity? Personally if I were a Tutsi, I wouldn’t be able to conform to this new national identity, knowing that other Rwandans were the ones who mass murdered my people. It is almost as if the government wants to completely erase what happened in the past by concealing individual ethnicity.

Another interesting component to this post genocide identity is the country’s use of the military. Prior to colonialism, the military was a huge deal to Tutsi Rwandans. Most Tutsi men were apart of the military because it was a form of patriotism. During the genocide, many Tutsi men felt a sense of vulnerability and weakness because not even the military tactics that they had learned could protect them from being murdered by Hutu extremists. After the genocide, in order to regain their masculinity, the majority of Tutsi men joined the military and reconfirmed this patriotism and nationalism that was seen during pre colonialism. Williamson notes that the only difference between the pre colonialism military and the post genocide military is that there is no longer an appeal of war within soldiers; rather there is a new appeal for a strong, national army. There was a lot of refusal of vulnerability within men after the genocide. Victimization was most associated with Tutsi women. When comparing these ideals of masculinity after the genocide to Stromae and his video, I cannot see a connection at all. Stromae does not play this hyper-masculine character and is in a lot of way defying Rwandan gender norms of masculinity with his androgynous persona.

To sum up my thoughts on this very important article, I want to highlight the problems of the ndi umunyarwanda rule in Rwanda. By coinciding with this ideology, Tutsi men are supposed to mask their trauma and feelings of vulnerability with a sense of patriotism that they might not necessarily feel. These men should be allowed to have harsh feelings towards uniting with Hutus, especially because not too long ago, ethnic divisions are what created this genocide in the first place. It is unfair for the government to completely erase ethnicity because by doing so, it fails to acknowledge the genocide itself.


Further Reading



Gender and Stromae

It’s time to explore a new country in Africa, and based on Stromae’s super popular music video (which by the way has over 200 million vews), Tous Le Memes, I know just the country we should be analyzing. Stromae is Belgian and Rwandan, so we’re going to be focusing on Rwanda history in context with Stromae’s video.

When most people think of Rwanda, they think of the devastating genocide that took place in 1994. I wanted to look solely at gender when thinking about Stromae’s video, but of course there was no escaping a mass amount of information about the genocide when doing my research. There is so much going on with gender within this video. First of all, Stromae himself has a very androgynous appearance based on the way he dresses and styles his hair in the video. Another interesting component to the video is in the beginning where Stomae appears to have had a threesome with a man and a woman and they are all waking up together in the morning. There is clearly some reference to bisexuality and androgyny here, which got me thinking about gender roles in Rwanda.

Although I tried to steer away from typical articles about the Rwandan genocide, pretty much all the articles that I found had some reference to the genocide. I ended up finding an article called Gender and genocide in Rwanda, by scholar, Adam Jones, which was helpful because it outlined how gender roles were altered as a result of the genocide. Something interesting to think about is the hyper masculinity in young men that emerged after the genocide. Jones talks about how masculine gender roles were stressed, not just because of all the violence that was occurring, but also because of the economic crisis that Rwanda was in at the time. In 1994 Rwanda was apparently “one of the poorest countries in the world” and Rwandan men couldn’t advance in life. Part of being a man in the society meant owning land and property, so when the genocide was going on, Hutu men were taught to steal land from the Tutsi’s after they killed them. Jones also notes that there was a lot of propaganda spreading around that promoted macho ideals in Hutu men against Tutsis, which in a way created this army of desensitized Hutu men who brutally murdered a bunch of innocent people with machetes. 1994 really isn’t that distant from 2013 (which is when Tous Le Memes was made), so it’s really interesting to look into masculinity and how it has evolved in Rwandan men. There is no way that Stromae’s appearance would have been acceptable back then.

Another factor in this overt hyper masculinity that Jones talks about is alcohol consumption. We all know how rowdy men get at the bar during a sports game, so this is really no shocker. Hutu men were rewarded for murdering Tutsi people with beer……sooo not cool. There was also a large desire for refreshments like beer at the time because it was scarce.

We’ve looked into male gender roles, but Jones touches upon women during the genocide a bit as well. Colonialism is always a major theme within these narratives, and the Belgians had a large impact on conflicts between Hutu and Tutsi women, which is so crazy because Stromae is both Belgian, and Rwandan! Jones states that when the Belgians had control over Rwanda during colonialism, they favored Tutsi women over Hutu women. Tutsi women were viewed as more sexually appealing than Hutu women, giving them a higher status. This made Tutsi women more vulnerable during the genocide and because Hutu women were already jealous of Tutsi women, they were excited to murder them. Talk about women not supporting women.

When looking at Stromae’s video in comparison with Rwandan men during the genocide, it is important to look at how the concept of masculinity has evolved. Stromae can be considered way more feminine than most Rwandan men were during the genocide. Although Jones’s article doesn’t really discuss why masculinity in Rwanda is different now, it is always interesting to compare history with pop culture!


Further References



Does Nigeria Have Culture?

Hello fellow Olamide lovers! I hope that you gained a little insight on Nigerian Dance and culture from my previous blog. It is important to keep in mind that although there are some positive representations of African culture, there are a ton of negative ones. Today we will be examining an article called, “Pioneer Epic of an Illiterate Africa Tribe.” Hmm the name itself is a dead giveaway that this article may be a bit racist, but hey, let’s check it out.

Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to find newspapers written about Yoruba Nigerian culture and since we are still looking at the meanings behind Science Student, I was in need of a bit more background information. This newspaper article was not at all helpful to me in my research. First of all, as I’ve learned many times in my African History through Film class, it’s just unacceptable to use the term, “tribe.” This word is extremely prejudice and alludes to primitiveness, which is exactly what whoever wrote this article is claiming of Yoruba Nigerians. Not only do we see words like “tribe,” but we also see words like “native” and “savage”, which are definitely indicators that this article was not written by a member of the black press. The New York Times wrote this article in 1923 (somewhere in the interwar period). It is actually a review of a book written by a Yoruba Nigerian man named Anla Ogun. The article says that Ogun discuses the deficiency of his own people within his book by claiming that they know the histories of European countries such as England and Rome, but know nothing about their own history. Why would a Yoruba man speak about his own people in such a way? It seems to me like this is just fabricated Western propaganda meant to dehumanize African culture. It also discredits a Yoruba intellectual by falsifying his novel, which is extremely disrespectful. The people reading this article must be thinking: “If African people glorify European culture so much, then there must be nothing wrong with colonialism in Africa!” It is clear from articles like this that Westerners believed that colonialism was A-okay and that Africans didn’t give a shit that their people were being exploited and tortured because APPARENTLY they had no culture in the first place. The article even has nerve enough to claim that Anla Ogun said that the origin of the Yoruba are “as nebulous and obscure as mythology renders that of Rome itself.” I bet Olamide would feel soooo disrespected reading that. So not only do the Yoruba not have a culture, history, or language, but their origin is a mystery. According to this article, the Yoruba must be aliens from outer space I guess. Other descriptions of Yoruba Nigerians in this piece include “pests”, “a disease”, and “fish.” Nice.

Anyways, as you might have guessed, I grew tired of reading the racist article pretty quickly and decided to move forward in my research on Nigeria. I thankfully found another article titled: “Mobilising Yoruba Popular Culture.” This article was actually pretty cool because it talked about Yoruba music video culture, which ties into Olamide and Science Student. This article (unlike the previous article) proves that Nigerians do in fact have a culture, which can be seen through their music videos. Something really interesting about Yoruba Nigerian music videos is that they don’t censor their videos for political purposes. This is probably why the music industry in Nigeria can be so openly politically, which can be seen in Science Student. After watching Science Student, I browsed through the web and people were angry that drug usage existed within the video although there was a purpose behind it. Olamide utilized drug abuse in the video to prove that mixing and abusing drugs is problematic. None of this was censored! Another interesting fact about Yoruba Nigerian music videos is that they don’t utilize subtitles because they are nationalist and want Yorubaland to progress separately from the rest of Nigeria. This is super demonstrative of the individualism that exists within Nigeria; there are a multitude of diverse cultures within the country!

From these two contradictory articles we can see the overt racism towards African culture that has existed in Western critiques as well as proof that there is and was culture in Africa before and after colonialism, although people will do anything that they can to disprove that. I hope that the second article that I discussed inspired you to get into some Yoruba music videos this weekend!

Further Readings




Nigerian Dance and Olamide’s Science Student

I’ve never had rhythm, which, as a person of color, is extremely embarrassing. I can remember family functions where my mother and my aunties would put on elaborate step shows to famous R Kelly songs. They would excitingly welcome me to join their dance parties, but to their disappointment, I would just trip on my own two feet. I cannot even begin to imagine dancing as well as the dancers in Olamide’s Science Student music video.

Watching Science Student gave me serious Michael Jackson Thriller vibes. The video starts out with Olamide and his pals stumbling upon some creepy old house after their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Olamide gets separated from the pack and as he walks towards the house, these weird zombie-like hands start emerging from the ground. A woman leads Olamide into the house, which has all these flashing lights, and people with their faces painted, sprawled out everywhere amongst all these potions. Suddenly, the beat drops and everyone starts breaking out in dance. Different types of dance too! There’s women shaking their booty’s, there’s people on the floor moving their bodies like contortionists, the whole thing is just bizarre! At the end of the video, everyone does this epic group dance. Truthfully, the video was a lot to take in, and being the scholar that I am, I had to detect the meaning behind it all. I specifically aimed to focus on dance in the video because it seemed like such a major component. What do these different dances that I saw mean? Do they bear any cultural significance? To my pleasant surprise, I was able to find a super helpful article, written by a scholar, Peggy Harper, called Dance in Nigeria, which really guided me in my research on the cultural significance of Nigerian dance.

Before I could really delve into the article, I had to do some research on Olamide’s background as a Nigerian artist. It turns out that Olamide is apart of the Yoruba community in Nigeria, which means that most of his songs are recorded in the Yoruba tongue. Now from my African History through Film class with Dr. Sanchez, I am aware that Africa had civilizations, empires, and societies prior to colonization. Believe it or not, there were different cultures and languages before Europeans imposed their culture on everyone. All this information is so relevant when looking at Nigeria, Olamide’s origin. Nigeria has over 100 spoken languages! There is a vast amount of cultural diversity within this one country, which can be seen through the many different dances within Nigeria. What is so fascinating about this particular article is that Harper discusses a lot of these dances in relation to their cultural significance. We’re not going to get to all of them in this one blog, but we will definitely address some cool stuff that I found.

In Igbo Nigerian culture, dance is primarily used for educational purposes. Harper says that the Igbo people instill feelings of patriotism through their teaching of dance. Although we know Olamide is not Igbo, the group dance at the end of the video feels super patriotic. Everyone is dancing passionately in unison, which to me illustrates the power and the pride of Nigerian people. Maybe some of the different cultures in Nigeria are interconnected, which is something that we might want to take into account when analyzing this video. Igbo Nigerians also use dance to teach men discipline in warfare, to stress fertility, and to keep people physically fit in general. Harper also states that dance in Nigeria can be political and can stress leadership. For example, chiefs and elders of Nigerian society use dance to assert their authority over civilians. Their subjects demonstrate their devotion by breaking out in dance numbers. Since Olamide is Yoruba Nigerian, lets take a look at Yoruba dance.

Personally, I think the Yoruba’s dance traditions are the coolest. Harper says that the Western Yoruba in Nigeria do cult dances while wearing masks called Epa masks. Epa masks are often worn in fertility cults. First, the elders of the community select a few people to dress in elaborate costumes while wearing these carved/painted masks. These chosen few then dance through their villages to persuade witches to use their powers for good instead of bad. The masks are symbolic of the good things in life that stand against evil. Apparently, most of the dances in Yorubaland are either religious or ritualistic. This has me wondering whether or not the dances in Science Student have to do with a traditional Yoruba ritual. The video has a lot of references to the evils of Drug abuse so maybe dance in the video is symbolic of ridding these evils from the people who mix and abuse drugs. According to the article, a lot of people play on these traditional dances by modernizing them. Perhaps Olamide is modernizing these traditional dances in his video!

Here I’ve included a picture of a group of Yoruba people wearing traditional Epa masks. As you can see, they wear the wooden masks while being draped in elaborate outfits, much like the outfits the dancers are wearing in the Science Student video. Can you imagine people dancing around villages in this?! The attire looks so heavy! This picture is titled “Féticheurs Yoruba” and can be found on the Base Ulysse website!

 I think the main takeaway from Harper’s article in relation to Science Student is that Nigeria is a culturally complex country where there are a multitude of cultures, religions, and dances. Although numerous European accounts of Africa do not recognize the cultural diversity of the continent, we can see how diverse Africa is just by looking at a single country! Can you imagine all of the other dances and traditions that exist within other countries in Africa that we haven’t even begun to uncover? Also, if you haven’t seen Olamide’s Science Student, it’s definitely a good watch.


Further Reading/Link to Video











Black America or Black Africa?

When continuing my research on Dahomey recruits for World War 1, I came across an article called “World War 1 Tested French Colonialism,” which was written by Metz T. P. Lochard in 1962. By this time, Dahomey had already gained its independence, so I began to question why the marginalization of West African countries was still being discussed. More importantly, why was an American black press (The Daily Defender) writing about issues pertaining to West Africa? Before I jump right into my very interesting investigation, I should probably give you a little context on what the article was about.

Lochard writes about the heavy dependence on West African recruits to fight for the French during the war. He briefly touches on forced labor, which was perpetrated by the French in West African countries, (including Dahomey). Lochard then goes on to discuss forced recruitment as a result of a mass amount of lost lives from the “motherland.” West Africans were being forced to fight in the war as young as 19 years old! I’m 19 years old and cannot begin to imagine being that brave. Not only were these literally kids who were fighting for a country that oppressed them, but they were forced to spend 3 full years in the army while French men only had to serve 18 months (Lochard). How much more discriminatory can these colonizers get am I right? Recruiting these young boys to fight in the war resulted in problems for them even after the war. When they returned home, if they returned home, they were resented by African society (Lochard). This was most likely because they were seen as traitors to their countries. While the rest of society stayed home and faced colonial oppression, these soldiers were fighting for the colonizer, even if it was against their will. They were most likely looked at as having a certain “privilege” because they were appointed soldiers, although we know the overt discrimination they must have faced in the army. A lot of West Africans actually ended up staying in France after the war because they were Europeanized (Lochard). There they were given jobs that were only available for unskilled workers (Lochard), which we know didn’t earn them much money. So why is all this important in 1962, when World War 1 ended in 1918?
Dissecting the origin of this article was way too big of a task to tackle alone so I decided to consult my awesome professors (Professor Roberta Meek and of course Dr. Danielle Sanchez J).

Professor Meek was actually able to offer a ton of helpful and interesting information on the connection between Africa and the U.S. in the early 1960s. For one, she mentioned that the black press frequently talked about decolonization movements in Africa. The Daily Defender, (which is where my article comes from), was one of the most progressive black presses during the time period. She then pointed out that this article was actually apart of a series called “The New Nations of Africa.” In this series, Lochard writes about several African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and the Congo (which is the country that I want to focus on in relation to my article). As soon as Dr. Sanchez and Professor Meek saw the Congo article, “Congo Crisis, Acid Test Of American Diplomacy”, they were immediately able to illustrate the connection between the United States and West Africa in the early 60s. Apparently in 1960, Belgium thought that they gave Congo the gift of Independence, however although Congo was technically independent, they weren’t really independent (if you know what I mean). The king of Belgium wasn’t able to form a good relationship with the Congolese, especially because there were still Belgian commanders in Congo, who were acting militantly against the people. The prime minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, (who was eventually assassinated for seeking assistance from the Soviet Union), fires these commanders, which results in a back and forth battle between the Congolese and the Belgians. Well anyways, the Congo Crisis as well as Lumumba’s assassination influenced both African Americans and radical whites to conduct protests in the United States on behalf of the Congolese. In fact, civil rights activist, Leroy Jones (the founder of the Black Arts Movement in the U.S.), regards the Congo Crisis as the spark that ignited his desire to fight for black injustice in the United States. It is important to note that the early 1960s were a time of imposed American Imperialism. This meant that many African Americans were being exposed to Africans since they were coming to the United States to study because of programs that funded their education. Due to the influx of Africans now living in the United States, there was a lot of African influence on African Americans. Not only were Africans visiting the United States, but African Americans were also visiting Africa and learned about the struggles going on there. The decolonization movement in Africa inspired many Civil Rights leaders as well.

I apologize to all of my readers for going on this extremely long tangent but it is important to recognize the connection between Africa and the United States in order to understand this article. Although West African independence was already gained by 1962, the fight for anti-colonialism was not over. While African Americans were fighting for independence in the United States with the Civil Rights Movement, they understood that black people like themselves were fighting for the same thing in a different continent. Both Africans and African Americans thoroughly understood each other’s causes. Thanks to the help of my professors, I was able to gage the significance of Lochard’s article to America in the early 1960s, and I hope you were too!





The Significance of World War 1 in Relation to Colonization in Dahomey

Remember when we were talking about pre-colonial Dahomeyan Amazons? All that stuff was pretty cool, but lets flash-forward to about 1916 Dahomey. What was going on in Dahomey during 1916? Well for starters, World War I was happening, which angered a lot of West Africans who were being recruited to fight for the French. One article by Michael Crowder, (The 1916-1917 Revolt Against the French In Dahomeyan Borgu), unpacks a specific revolt against French colonists that was perpetrated by King Chabi Proku.

Chabi Proku was the king of Nikki, (a city in northern Dahomey), during the revolt. Nikki was a subdivision of the Cercle of Borgu, which is important because the Bécou village in Borgu is where the rebellion started. This rebellion actually ended up spreading into Moyen-Niger, so it was kind of a big deal (Crowder, 109). Now the French had been in Borgu since the 1890’s, so you may be wondering what would cause Proku to start trouble with the French all of a sudden. Lets dive into some of the problems that were going on in Dahomey prior to the revolt.

For starters, Crowder discusses how there was already a lot of tension between the French and the Bariba (the people of Borgu). Not only did the French force the Bariba to fight their wars, but they also heavily taxed them, altered their trade route, and imprisoned their chiefs, (which reduced the chief’s status and ruined the hierarchy). In fact, the king of Nikki in 1902, was imprisoned by the French and committed suicide while in prison (Crowder, 99-101). It is no wonder why the Bariba sought liberation from the French. The French came in and totally disrupted the system that they had in place by imprisoning their rulers and changing everything around. Imagine being taxed by a country that initially belonged to you! Not to mention that the French were most likely exploiting Bariban resources anyways. The French also freed slaves that belonged to the Wasangari (the Borgu elite), which might seem good on the French end, but further disrupted the economy and the hierarchy system that had been there (Crowder, 101). Yes, slavery is bad, but was it right for these white men to come in and completely demolish a civilization’s way of life? In fact, Crowder illustrates that the Wasangari status was dependent on how many slaves they possessed, so by taking away their slaves, the French denounced their power (Crowder, 101). By demolishing both leadership roles and hierarchies, the French were destroying Borgu civilization. The Bariba were dependent on these hierarchies, and when the French took them away, they had no one else to turn to BESIDES the French.

Something that I thought a lot about after reading this article was the reason for recruitment of the Bariba. I have a feeling it wasn’t because they regarded the Bariba as one of their own, but was instead to keep their men from losing their lives by replacing them with men that held no significance to them. Crowder even says that a multitude of French lives in Europe were being lost in the war, hence the result of a high demand for African soldiers. I would really like to know how many French colonists were being recruited in comparison to how many Africans were being recruited. My guess is that there wasn’t an equal amount of draftees from both sides….

Unfortunately this rebellion did not end well. Crowder explains that it costed many Bariba lives and also resulted in the capturing and exiling of King Chabi Proku to Guinea. Although the Bariba did not gain their independence, it was the beginning of the fight against colonization. It also demonstrated to the French that the kings were powerful influences that should not be tempered with (Crowder, 112). This was one of the first rebellions against French rule in West Africa, and although it was a minor revolt, it was representative of the ultimate goal of independence.



Extra! Extra! More Fake News on Dahomey!

When acquiring information from the news, it is important to understand that many news sources are utterly prejudiced and do not relay truth, although they claim to. The Washington Post during the 17th century can serve as an example of this fabrication. Because this newspaper was based in America, we can conclude that it contained some of the many problematic, Orientalist ideologies of the Western world. In this blog post, we are going to unpack an article concerning Dahomey Amazons, from this newspaper that was published in 1890. Not only does this article attack Amazons but it happens to attack the entirety of Dahomey’s culture.

From my previous blog, The Real Kings of Dahomey, we know that Western perceptions of Dahomey Amazons were based on biased and unethical portrayals. Although Europeans characterized Amazons as “barbaric” (which I talked about in my first post), believe it or not, Americans were contributors to these misleading ideologies as well. In one Washington Post article, Amazons in the Army: The Female Warriors of the African King of Dahomey, Amazons are ruthless savages who celebrate their victories by parading war captives on their heads in a satanic ceremony (Washington Post). In this ceremony, the captives are supposedly dressed in white and are placed in baskets with scary animal heads. They are then tortured to death (Washington Post). After that, most of their skulls are used to decorate the palace while some skulls are used to make super cute drinking cups for the king (Washington Post). After reading about how the Western world perceived the Dahomian religion, this spooky fable did not at all surprise me. In this article, the people of Dahomey are said to be Pagans. When I looked up the word pagan, I found that Paganism is thought of as an extremely evil religion. It is a religion commonly practiced by heathens and peasants (Merriam-Webster). It’s no wonder that Dahomians were despised. Paganism parallels the French civilization mission of colonization as well. Was Paganism a common justification for the French entering Dahomey and slaughtering/brutalizing the people? It sure seems like it. Paganism was yet another rationalization for theorizing Dahomians as being barbaric.

You may be wondering if there is any truth to this article. If two articles have now exemplified the barbaric nature of Amazons then these tales must be true, especially if Europeans aren’t the only ones with these depictions. Right? The first red flag that I detected when reading this article is within the very first sentence, which states that these speculations were taken from a FRENCH newspaper. It is difficult to detect how much of this article is based on French observation, but what we do know for sure is that the opening information is based on French observation. Don’t you think that if the French were plotting to colonize Dahomey, (which they did 14 years after this article was written), they might spew all kinds of fake news regarding the animalistic nature of Dahomians in order to defend their cause?

I find the most appalling aspect of this article the way Dahomey women are depicted. The article speculates that when the king dies, his wives are clueless and therefore chaotically maul each other to death, not knowing what else to do (Washington Post). I know this article was written in the 17th century, which wasn’t exactly a period of liberation for women, but this statement absolutely shits on what we’ve learned about Amazons thus far. I find this information irrational considering the prominence that Amazons held in this society. They were valued components of kingdom. Yes, there were hierarchies of women and although not all women held the status of Amazons, I refuse to believe that women could not function without a male superior. In fact, we know that women were almost more important than men during this time from what we know about Amazons. Women were the ones fighting men’s battles. Some of these “docile” wives became powerful warriors. So how could this rhetoric be true?

Nearing the end of the article, Amazons are further depicted as savages as they prance around, shaking their weapons while dancing and howling (Washington Post). The article describes this performance as “a sight to see.” This description is almost an exact image that comes to mind when thinking about a primitive race of people. If you were to close your eyes and picture this you, you would probably see a group of wild women making spectacles of themselves, dancing around a campfire and howling like animals. It is a classic, racist portrayal of savage behavior.

By insulting the Dahomey religion, Amazons and women, the Western world not only insulted the culture of the kingdom in this article, but it justified colonization. Because Dahomey was deemed as morally unfit, it needed to be controlled. As we can see from this article, the media is powerful. This article probably persuaded tons of people to believe that Dahomians were uncivilized with its false observations. In order to verify fact from fiction, it is necessary to navigate truth with research.