REFLECTIONS ON MARCUS GARVEY’S POEM: THE BLACK WOMAN

by Prof. Kofi Asare Opoku

At this critical time in our history, and after centuries of unrelenting denigration of Africans because of their skin colour and other external bodily features by others who have even sought to ground their attitude on the Bible, it is grievously disheartening to observe that some Africans continue to give ammunition to our detractors to shoot us down by strenuously pursuing what they believe is “modern fashion.” This deceptively spurious “fashion” amounts to Africans bleaching their skins and straightening their hair, in the unquestioning, but mistaken belief that they are making themselves beautiful. To this writer, this is nothing but cultural suicide in the name of “fashion!”

The seemingly overpowering desire to want to look like others betrays a woeful rejection of our divinely-given selves. It is an expression of the belief, (and it is only a belief but notthe truth), that there is something lamentably lacking, ignominiously wrong or defectively imperfect about us. Furthermore, it is a sullen denial of who we are and a dishonourable capitulation to other peoples’ standard of beauty, as if there were only one criterion of beauty in this world. The Maasai people of East Africa say in one of their prudential proverbs: “A zebra does not despise its own stripes.”

What we need to bear in mind is that the dark or black skin is an expression of the One Cosmic Energy in the world, just as the skin some of us are hell-bent on imitating; and that our black skin is a badge of God’s love rather than evidence of God’s eternal curse, as some interpreters of certain biblical stories (e.g. Noah’s curse of Ham in Genesis 9:20-27), would have us believe. The black colour in our skins comes from the presence of particles in our skin known as melanin, and these particles protect our skin from the harmful effects of the ultra-violet rays of the sun. The radiation from the sun causes sunburn and deadly skin cancers including melanoma, a malignant tumour in the skin; but the melanin in our dark skins lowers the risk of such skin cancers.

To despise our dark skins, unlike the zebra who does not despise its own stripes, is to express pathetic ignorance of who we are. The knowledge that we are an expression of the One Cosmic Energy in the world and that we are enough as we are, regardless of what others may say about us, is the durable foundation we need to stay strong and firm in our own being. Nothing has been withheld from us; in fact, we have been given everything, and our greatest gift to the world is to remain our authentic selves.

To remain firmly and unapologetically ourselves (and there is absolutely no reason to do otherwise), will be our greatest achievement as a people, and our lasting gift to ourselves and the world.

I offer below the magnificent poem, The Black Woman, by Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), the Jamaican, who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914, for the progress of African people.

 

THE BLACK WOMAN

Black queen of beauty, thou hast given colour to the world!

Among other women thou art royal and the fairest!

Like the brightest of jewels in the regal diadem,

Shinest thou, Goddess of Africa, Nature’s purest emblem!

 

Black men worship at thy virginal shrine of truest love,

Because in thine eyes are virtue’s steady and holy mark,

As we see in no other, clothed in silk or fine linen,

From ancient Venus, the Goddess, to mythical Helen.

 

When Africa stood at the head of the elder nations,

The Gods used to travel from foreign lands to look at thee:

On couch of costly Eastern materials, all perfumed,

Reclined thee, as in thy path flow’rs were strewn –

sweetest that bloomed.

 

Thy transcendent marvellous beauty made the whole world mad,

Bringing Solomon to tears as he viewed thy comeliness;

Anthony and the elder Caesars wept at thy royal feet,

Preferring death than to leave thy presence, their foes to meet.

 

You, in all ages, have attracted the adoring world,

And caused many a bloody banner to be unfurled;

You have sat upon exalted and lofty eminence,

To see a world fight in your ancient African defence.

 

Today you have been dethroned, through the weakness of your men,

While, in frenzy, those who of yore craved your smiles and your hand,

Those who were all monsters and could not with love approach you –

Have insulted your pride and now attack your good virtue.

 

Because of disunion you became mother of the world,

Giving tinge of robust colour to five continents,

Making a great world of millions of coloured races,

Whose claim to beauty is reflected through our black faces.

 

From the handsome Indian to the European brunette,

There is a claim for that credit of their sunny beauty

That no one can e’er take from thee, O queen of all women,

Who have borne trials and troubles of racial burden.

 

Once more we shall, in Africa, fight and conquer for you,

Restoring the pearly crown that proud Queen Sheba did wear;

Yea, it may mean blood, it may mean death; but still we shall fight,

Bearing our banners to Victory, men of Africa’s might.

Superior Angels look like you in Heaven above,

For thou art fairest, queen of the seasons, queen of our love.

No condition shall make us ever in life desert thee,

Sweet Goddess of the ever-green land and placid blue sea.

The writer is the Director of Kwabena Nketia Centre for Africana studies @ the African University College of Communications, Accra.

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Posted by on Oct 13 2018. Filed under Artcultainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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