Let me start by sharing with the loyal and long-suffering readers of Beefs something I have just discovered from my scrapbook. When I was a younger journalist, with abundant hair on my head, and a passion for the profession burning in my heart, I used to keep a scrapbook that has now become a source of immeasurable wealth for this now hair-less middle-aged man who is enjoying time in the motherland.
Younger journalists of today may want to borrow a leaf from the Oldies like me, and keep scrapbooks. They will never regret it.
And what did I discover from my scrapbook? It is an entry about “new husbands” in England. This was actually a short reader’s letter published by The Times on 14 January 1997, written by a Mrs Cherida Mahon of Ipswich in Suffolk, who was extolling the virtues of England’s “new husbands”. She wrote to the Editor of The Times:
“Sir – May it please the good Air Commodore [Harold Shephard] to know that time has moved on. The definition of a good English husband is now frantic in the kitchen, fervent in the chapel and frugal in bed. I am the mother of four fine fellows.”
When I saw Mrs Mahon’s letter in my scrapbook, a sweet smile broke at the corners of my old mouth. The new English husband is frantic in the kitchen, fervent in the chapel, and frugal in bed. Poor him.
After all the franticness in the kitchen (which is a taboo in Africa, our motherland), and fervency in the chapel, this “new” English husband is also expected to be frugal in bed! In fact he is not “expected to” – he is actually frugal in bed, says Mrs Mahon, a mother of four fine fellows. So she knows!
Well, I don’t know about you, if you are a husband, but Mrs Mahon’s three “Fs”, especially the last one (frugality in bed) frightens me. How on earth can any husband be thus? After being frantic in the kitchen (which most Diasporan Africans are these days) and fervent in the chapel, doesn’t natural justice demand that this husband do something more in bed? Would not frugality be a sin in this context?
But never mind – it is only about England’s “new husbands”. The old ones surely did not acquiesce to such things in their day.
Did not Shakespeare – he of all men – so marvellously write about his African lover in Sonnet 128: “To kiss the tender inward of thy hand/Whilst my poor lips which should that harvest reap … Since saucy jacks so happy are in this/Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.”
But hey, let’s come home. I have been thinking about diasporan Africans a lot these past few weeks. And each time I think about them, I am reminded of a recent holiday in my homeland, Ghana.
It was the first time in 30 years that I had had an extended four-month stay in the mother country – the longest time I had spent since the summer of 1985 when the long arms of Mother Diaspora (if she is a mother) embraced me.
“Diaspora” – it can make you mad! It even builds in you a disturbing level of superciliousness that makes you thump your nose at almost everything you see when you go back home.
Everything suddenly becomes “not-your-level”, even though you may be living in some decrepit flat back in London or Berlin or New York. It is this attitude that makes some diasporans even want to be worshipped when they go back home. This is where the madness really sets in.
But let’s go back to the origin of the term “diaspora” and see what the “diasporans” of old achieved when they returned home – because as diasporans we cannot ever think we belong permanently to our host or adopted countries.
As Malcolm X once pointed out: “Just because a cat has kittens in an oven, that doesn’t make them biscuits.” We must always remember that!
I am told that the term “diaspora” originated in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. The Oxford English Dictionary points to Deuteronomy 28:25 as the root verse of the term diaspora, as in the phrase, “ese diaspora en pasais basileias tes ges” or “thou shall be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth”.
That in fact is a very contracted rendition of Deuteronomy 28:25. The full version shows Moses, the prophet who led the Israelites on the exodus from Egypt, telling them that if they disobeyed God, a rain of curses would fall on them, one of which is given at verse 25 (Amplified Bible), which says: “The Lord shall cause you to be struck down before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them; and you shall be tossed to and fro and be a terror among all the kingdoms of the earth.”
For Christians who know their Bible, this was actually fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 29: 6-9, during the reign of King Hezekiah, where the King is reputed to have told the Israelites: “Our fathers were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord Our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the Lord’s dwelling places and turned their backs on him … therefore the anger of the Lord has fallen on Judah and Jerusalem, He has made them an object of dread and horror and scorn, as you can see with your own eyes. This is why our fathers have fallen by the sword and why our sons and daughters and our wives are in captivity.”
In this sense, the term “diaspora” has negative connotations and should not, contrary to what we have taken it to be, be a term of endearment.
Because, as the Oxford Dictionary puts it, the origin of “diaspora” is Greek, and it originally referred to “the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel”, or “Jews living outside Israel”.
In recent centuries the definition has moved to cover “the dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland.”
This is where the African diaspora comes in. But, as the Oxford Dictionary says, “the main diaspora began in the 8th-6th centuries BC; and even before the sack of Jerusalem AD70 the number of Jews dispersed by the diaspora was greater than that living in Israel. Thereafter, Jews were dispersed even more widely throughout the Roman world and beyond.”
What is the point I am trying to make. I was in Israel in 1986 and saw the huge contribution of the Jewish Diaspora to nation building. Israel is Israel today because of the Jewish diaspora. Though they are nationals of their adopted countries, they still contribute financially, politically, intellectually and culturally to the growth of Israel, and lobby foreign governments on behalf of Israel. Besides, they return and enrich Israel with the experiences they have from their adopted countries.
The returnees’ experience is what hit me most during my recent extended stay in Ghana. I realised that the African diaspora can do more than just sending remittances to loved ones back home or building mansions in which they never come back to live, or worse still, coming back in a coffin, to lie briefly in it before interment.
We have to take an active interest in the political, intellectual, and cultural lives of our mother countries. By dint of our long stay abroad, we see things that the locals do not see.
Let’s bring these experiences to enrich our countries.
After all, as Marcus Garvey said (and this is a half-quote):
“Whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.”