Oya: rise of the Orisas

I watched this video this morning on the way to work. I don’t know much about orisas but based on this short film, I’d be interested in seeing this turned into a full length feature, or maybe a miniseries.

Oya rise of the Orisas – African Superhero Movie from Nosa Nedion on Vimeo.

Reviews: Mother of George and I Am Slave

Last week, I checked out the independent film, Mother of George based on a recommendation from someone on twitter. 

The film originally played at the Sundance film festival and centers on Adenike and Ayodele, a recently married nigerian couple living in Brooklyn who have problems conceiving a child. Don’t wanna give away the plot, but Adenike, under pressure from her meddling mother in law takes desperate measures to become pregnant.

Various issues come into play during the story. Gender roles, traditional vs. western cultural values, cultural expectations and family dynamics. The cast are well known african actors, notably Danai Gurira from The Walking Dead as Adenike, the wife, Isaach de Bankole as Ayodele, Yaya Alafia who you may know as the runner-up contestant from season 3 of America’s Next Top Model, as Adenike’s best friend, and a cameo appearance from african singer Angelique Kidjo.

I also watched this movie, I Am Slave. The movie is a couple years old, originally a tv film produced for Britain’s Channel 4 is based in part on the story of Mende Nazer, an author and human rights activist who was also a former slave.

Twelve year old Malia, the daughter of a tribal leader is abducted from her family by arab soldiers who raid her family’s village in the mountains of Sudan. Malia is then sold to an arab family in Khartoum where she is forced into slavery for 6 years.
Later she is then sent to London where the brutality she endures continues but Malia struggles to make an escape.

An expose on modern day slavery in the UK, what got to me about this film was the way this inhumanity was happening almost in plain sight. The thought that you could be doing something as routine as walking down the street and someone living on your block is committing a crime against humanity is horrifying. Makes you think do you really know your neighbors.

The movie is available via netflix, but I also happened to find this post on youtube. You can watch the full length movie here.

Aside

What kind of African are you?

One day about a month ago, I was running late ad hailed a cab to work. The African driver behind the wheel asked if I was from Ghana. I replied no, and he said I looked like I was from his country based on my facial features, and because I was “nice”.

Over the years I’ve been mistaken by Africans from several countries for looking like someone from their homeland. It’s one of the reasons, besides my own curiosity for ordering the ancestry DNA test which I talked about back a few months ago.

I ordered tests from Ancestry.com to trace both the maternal and paternal sides of the family. You give a saliva sample according to the instructions provided and return the test to them in the enclosed envelope. In about six weeks time they send you your results.

The results? With 99.7% accuracy, my maternal ancestry derives from the Yoruba and Hausa tribes in Nigeria. My father’s side is descended from the Unbuntu tribe in Angola, accuracy 100%.

As many African Americans are told, I expected to find ancestry somewhere in West Africa. Angola was a surprise though. While I was aware that colonization occurred there as well as all over the continent, I didn’t think I’d have any roots extending that far south. You could imagine how excited the family was to find out when I announced the results to them on Christmas.

I suppose maybe I should plan a visit one day.

Finding My Roots

“Where are your people from?

Maybe Mississippi or an island

Apparently your skin has been kissed by the sun

You make me want a Hershey’s kiss, your licorice”

~ India.Arie, “Brown Skin”

After months of watching shows like “Who Do You Think You Are” and “Finding Your Roots” where Dr. Henry Louis Gates traces the ancestral backgrounds of celebrities, I’ve been curious about my ancestry but never really motivated to to an active search. In high school, my history teacher assigned us a project to trace our ancestry and I was only able to go as far back as my great-grandparents on my mom’s side. My father’s side I was able to go back another generation or two, but not much further. I can’t imagine how Alex Haley was able to trace his family all the way back to Africa all those years ago. Especially without the DNA technology we have now. I would’ve had no idea where to start or even how to go about it.

The impetus came when a friend posted on facebook that africanancestry.com was having a sale on the ancestry kits. A $100 savings off the regular cost was enough motivation to get me started. Tracing my maternal side was no big deal. To trace my paternal ancestry, there was a little bit of a problem. Because the “patrilineal” kit uses DNA that is passed from father to son only, it requires a male descendant to take the exam. Since my father is deceased and I don’t have any brothers, I reached out to one of my male cousins who agreed to do the DNA test for me.

I ordered both kits and about a week later received 2 envelopes that look like this:

Image

Inside each kit was a brochure on the testing process, a consent form to submit the DNA sample, 3 cotton swabs, a storage envelope for the samples and a return envelope to mail the samples back. The instructions were straightforward. Simply swab each side of your cheeks with 3 the cotton swabs then place in the accompanying envelope and mail your samples back. Then in about six weeks you’ll be sent a certificate with your DNA results.

I used to sometimes envy folks who could hyphenate their ethnicities. Yes, there is “African-American” but Africa is a continent, and that’s not the same as knowing the actual country of origin. I’m named after an african country and over the years have been asked thousands of times if I’m from that nation. I’ve had numerous African women braiders from various countries have told me I look like their people. I really have no idea from what country or what tribe I’ll end up from. I’m just glad I’ll be able to finally have that question answered.

India.Arie may not have had that in mind when she wrote her lyrics, but she now knows where’s she from.

Aside

Tastes of New Orleans Pt. 2

So while walking the streets of the french quarter we unexpectedly stumbled across an african spot, Bennachin restaurant located towards the eastern end. Surprising to see such a place in a city that is mainly known for creole & cajun cuisine, I was eager to try out New Orleans version of african cooking.

The decor was bright & colorful, lots of african artwork on the walls that matched well with the exposed brick of the walls. First thing I noticed when I browsed the menu was that I was not familiar with most of the dishes offered on the menu. Most african restaurants I’ve tried in the past featured Senegalese cuisine. According to the waitress who served us, the restaurant was started by two women, one Cameroonian, the other Gambian. “Bennachin” is an african word that roughly translates to an african version of Jambalaya.

Bennachin restaurant

Bennachin restaurant

We started off with an appetizer of Akara which are black eye pea fritters served with a chunky spiced tomato sauce for dipping. They were light in texture, not greasy, the taste is relatively bland so adding the sauce jazzes it up.

Akara from Bennachin

For the main dish, my mom ordered the Chicken Yassa. It was different from the versions I’ve seen from Senegalese restaurants but still delicious. It was chicken in a light sauce with cabbage & carrots served over couscous.

Chicken Yassa

I ordered the Sisay Dourang Boneless chicken with roasted peanuts served over rice with a thick brown gravy. You can order all dishes mild, medium or spicy. I like spicy food so I chose medium which was a dash of chili powder to garnish the dish.

Sisay dourang

Portions were huge, we both ended up bringing home the rest of the food which made for a second meal. Service was on the slower side as all dishes are made to order. Using the restroom required having to walk through the kitchen so I got to meet the two women that were cooking. The restroom is shared with an Italian restaurant next door, but the courtyard looked pretty.

Bennachin courtyard

If you’ve never tried African food before definitely give it a try. For me it was a departure from the typical New Orleans fare as well as the typical african cuisine I’m used to. For the non-meat eaters, they also offer vegetarian options. They don’t serve alcohol but you can BYOB from a wine shop across the street.

Need a second opinion? Click the link below & check out this video review.

Bennachin Restaurant, New Orleans

Bennachin Restaurant
1212 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 522-1230

Waistbeads


I love this photo…….

I’ve also been intrigued by waistbeads since the first time I met this lady Sewra who was selling waistbeads at a neighborhood crafts fair several years back. After doing some research and reading various websites, I got interested in making some of my own.

So a few months ago I posted that I went to a local bead show and purchased several strings of beads with the intent on making a few sets of waistbeads. Well after a couple of false starts, failures, and thanks to some slow evenings at work, I finally was able to get a couple of sets done. I have an affinity for genuine stones. Though I’m not deep into metaphysics, I am interested in reading & learning about each crystals healing qualities and that has somewhat influenced my choice of stones.

The first set is made from tiger’s eye. It’s been said that tiger eye is used for focusing the mind and promotes balance and strength. Roman soldiers wore it during battle for protection. I’m not sure if the claims are true, but wearing this set came in handy when I had some trying moments at work.

tiger eye waistbeads

These are the first set of waistbeads I ever made. After some weight loss I had to restring them making the length shorter. I chose garnet for this set honestly because there was a sale at the beadstore at the time and I was able to get the strands cheap. Plus I love the rustic look of the chipped stones and the way they reflected the light.

Garnet is said to have a strong healing & purification capacity. Helping to balance the chakras, it removes inhibitions and taboos, alleviates emotional imbalances, associated with career success & enhances creativity. It’s also associated with enhancing libido & balancing sexual energy.

garnet waistbeads

The next set I’m working on will be from those african christmas beads I posted in the prior blog post. I’m excited about that one ’cause I like the look of multilayered sets of waistbeads and this one will be a triple strand set.

Slave Braiders

It’s been a while…….

A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks, but that’s for the next post. The one I was supposed to be working on, but then I came across this video someone posted on facebook.

I’ve had my hair braided many times in the past, mostly at the local hair braiding “factories” in Harlem. Places where dozens of African teenagers and young women work in rented storefronts braiding hair of mostly African American women. There are so many places and the competition so fierce the braiders often solicit business from passersby on the street or while shopping in a beauty supply store. Some carried their own business cards with their cell numbers for their regular customers. Most of the girls are very talented, can duplicate almost any style with a photo as reference, often for much cheaper than having it done at a conventional salon.

I’ve heard of human trafficking for the sex trade, and some reports of immigrants brought to the US by sponsors who were later exploited as house slaves, and of course, the middle passage of the African slave trade. But not once did it ever occur to me while having my hair braided in one of those salons that any of the girls who did my hair could’ve been trafficked and kept as slaves. But thinking back on the times and places I’ve had my hair done, often in crowded spaces that many times felt like a sweatshop with dozens of other women in sometimes not so sanitary conditions, it all makes sense. The two women in this video from CNN were brought to the US from West Africa under the premise of being provided with a better education. Instead they were forced to work as hair braiders at salons in Newark, NJ for up to 14 hours daily, seven days a week. The family that held them captive made $4 million in profits.

I no longer have the patience to sit for hours to have individual braids and since I have locs it’s not an option anymore. Though occasionally I do get solicited on the street from braiders with requests to twist my locs. What’s your experience? Do you still patronize braiding salons?

Future Waistbeads

I had never heard of waistbeads until several years ago I met a woman named Sewra who designs these lovely waistbeads. Over the years I’ve seen her at several local crafts fairs and trunk shows and finally bought a set of waistbeads of my own to wear. Her designs inspired me to take a shot at making my own waistbeads to wear. Then last week I saw an ad in the paper about the Whole Bead Show this past weekend at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan and decided to check it out with the hope of finding some beads at discount.

The event was filled with everyone from folks who make jewelry as a hobby to designers looking for new wares to incorporate into their collections. This event was the place to be if you do any dabbling in jewelry making. I snatched up a good deal these african christmas beads for only $2 per strand.

African Christmas Beads

Why they’re called “Christmas” beads is not known to me. Only thing I’ve read is they originated in Venice, Italy and were used by Europeans as currency in trade with Africans. These should make a nice set of triple stranded waistbeads.

Later I found some tiger eye beads at another stand for $3/strand. At the time I just loved the look of them and they were the perfect size for waistbeads. Later I read tiger eye has metaphysical qualities of helping bring clear thinking & insight and protection from the evil eye. Can’t wait to see how these turn out.

tiger's eye

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