As the African-American poet, Arthur Flowers, once wrote – “what we know in our heads, our children will know in their hearts, our generations in their soul”. Please take three minutes out on 1 August in silent remembrance of our dead.
August 1st is African Remembrance Day (ARD). Since 1995 when about 100 Africans attended the first ceremony in the UK, the day has focused on remembering the African victims of slavery – the millions who were brutalised and perished over the last 500-plus years in the Americas, the Middle and Far East and on the African continent itself. The day is also commemorated as Emancipation Day across the English-speaking Caribbean, and in Ghana.
At the end of last year’s ARD, somebody remarked on how after attending 10 events, 1 August had now become her new year’s day. She not only took her annual leave to coincide with the day but it gave her a moment to reflect on the things she needed to do for the “new year” ahead, as well as the determination to complete those new goals because of her awareness of the people whose shoulders she stood on – millions of enslaved African victims and their extraordinary battles for freedom.
The fact that ARD has quickly gained traction and enabled some to reframe their own use of time is interesting and in its own way reveals the degree to which we, as Africans, are sometimes imprisoned inside other timeframes that do not necessarily resonate with our deepest experiences. This first struck me when I mentioned the Igbo conception of the four-day week during a conversation with a young Nigerian.
He immediately told me that you can’t have a four-day week – weeks are always seven days! Initially I thought he was joking and explained that you can have any number of days you want in the week; beyond night and day, time is out there doing its own thing – human societies, depending on their needs, “capture” and arrange it how they wish. The 60-second minute, seven-day week cycle has merely stuck because it was accepted and imposed by a number of powerful evolving civilisations. Elsewhere, others have watched the heavens, the rotation of the earth around the sun, the appearance of the new moon and drawn different conclusions, organising their societies accordingly. The organisation of time, as far as humans are concerned, is political and social, not immutable.
My acquaintance was having none of it and wanted to literally fight, so dogmatic was he about his inherited timeframe. I was astonished how quickly people can become entombed inside new ideas and will defend the so-called “truth” of those ideas, despite the patent absurdity of their claims. After all we are still only one generation away from the reality of four-day weeks, and 28-day months across many West African civilisations. In my civilisation, the four days were market days, and one of the given names of a child was the market day they were born on. For many people across Africa now, all this may as well be just myth, so entombed are they in current timeframes.
How can people open the doors and escape the tomb? A good way always involves a breach of current reality through an act of will, triggering dissonance. In other words inject a little madness, or in keeping with the discussion, some lunacy.
Take the Notting Hill Carnival, the UK’s biggest street party – it began in response to rising racial tensions and involved a straggly group of people, taking to the streets in 1966, playing their steel drums, to the general amusement of those watching this un-British and strange spectacle. A year later, a few more joined the “strange ones”. Today, over 2 million from around the world throng the streets over the last August weekend, a landmark in the calendar.
Watching Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee recently, it was evident how our lives increasingly revolve around our own African calendar, as we slowly recreate ourselves. From Empire Days, we have moved to the numerous independence days, with Africa Day (May 25th), AU Day (July 11th), ARD (August 1st), Black History Month (October), Africa Youth Day (November 11th), etc…
Please take three minutes out on 1 August in silent remembrance of our dead. Amen.