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4. Ma Red’s Maneuvers: Popular Theater and “Progressive” Culture

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

IN 1994, THE GHANA NATIONAL THEATRE embarked upon a project to revive the concert party, then a moribund, near-century-old form of popular theater rooted in Anansesεm. Concert party theater historically drew much of its patronage from the rural peasant classes and the urban underclass. The revival of this form, conducted in collaboration with the Ghana Concert Party Union, was therefore initially conceived as a means of stimulating the country’s populist traditions, consistent with the Nkrumahist ideal of African cultural revival and with the National Theatre’s public service mission as a state-owned enterprise. However, during the following year, the National Theatre underwent a significant reorganization as part of J. J. Rawlings’s neoliberal policy shifts. In a move that was strongly criticized as a vulgar commodification of Ghanaian heritage, the funding of the Theatre was partly divested to private commercial interests. The result was a growing sentiment that the government was abandoning its responsibility to develop and protect Ghana’s native culture. This dissatisfaction created a threat against the political legitimacy of the Rawlings-led regime—and specifically, against its co-option of Nkrumah’s community-oriented cultural vision.

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3. Selling the President: Stand-Up Comedy and the Politricks of Endorsement

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

ON MAY 11, 1995, a coalition of political opposition leaders in Ghana known as the Alliance for Change organized a demonstration they called Kum-me-preko (Kill me once and for all). The immediate cause of this protest was President Jerry Rawlings’s decision to implement a new 17.5 percent value-added tax (VAT) on goods and services. Rawlings enacted the new tax in an attempt to meet the requirements of Ghana’s “structural adjustment program”—a series of drastic policy changes mandated by debt-holding international finance institutions (IFIs). The VAT was intended to make up for the loss of revenues caused by the concurrent lowering of the corporate tax rate and the elimination of import and export tariffs. In effect, these tax reforms were designed to shift revenue burdens away from large-scale businesses and toward consumers, thereby creating a more inviting climate for private investment in Ghana.1 Unsurprisingly, the new tax policy immediately came under fire from labor unions and the general public for increasing the tax burden on the poor and in some cases catapulting the prices of goods and services out of the reach of ordinary citizens. The organizers of the Kum-me-preko protest called the VAT a “gruesome policy measure.”2

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2. Once upon a Spider: Ananse and the Counterhegemonic Trickster Ethos

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

Poor painted Queen, vain flourish of my fortune,

Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider

Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?

Queen Margaret (to Queen Elizabeth) in Shakespeare’s Richard III

WHEN CONTEMPORARY GHANAIAN performers navigate the web of tensions among public needs, political pressures, and cultural traditions, they have a long-standing reservoir of counterhegemonic maneuvers to fall back upon. This chapter discusses the time-honored trickster ethos of Ghanaian folklore, which is centered around tales of the crafty spider-spirit Ananse. The folkloric stories reveal Ananse’s propensity for misdirection and “double maneuvers”—antics that can simultaneously confirm and undermine the sanctity of established beliefs, values, rules, and authorities. In an Ananse story, we are never quite sure if the trickster is endorsing the status quo or critiquing it. We will also see that Anansesεm (the practice of telling Ananse stories) is a tradition in which the trickster’s deceptive ethos is seen as a defining quality of performance itself. Ananse is not merely the topic of these stories; he becomes an integral part of the storyteller’s persona, and the trickster’s unreliable craftiness becomes a part of storyteller-audience interactions. In the spirit of Ananse, storytellers are seen as ambivalent and deceptive figures who appear to be undermining social mores, while endorsing them at the same time (and vice versa). Anansesεm practitioners thus often use their performances to challenge distinctions between what is true and false, what is real and imagined, and what is authoritative and questionable. This form of storytelling has long served as a counterhegemonic influence in West Africa and beyond, allowing performers to surreptitiously call into question the legitimacy of socially dominant groups and their ideologies. This chapter describes how Anansesεm practitioners maintain their agency in politicized performance spaces by obscuring the relationships among their stories, themselves, and their audiences—by cannily confusing the distinction between trickster representations and trickster embodiments.

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1. From State to Market: The History of a Social Compact

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

THIS CHAPTER EXPLORES the historical and economic situations in Ghana to provide some background that should make it easier to understand contemporary practices derived from Anansesεm. The events discussed can be broken down into three chronological periods. During the first period, from the 1940s through the 1960s, Ghanaians rallied behind the ideologies of anti-colonial nationalism and pan-African communitarianism. These populist movements led to the rejection of British colonial rule and resulted in the creation of Ghana as an independent nation in 1957. The country’s new leaders built a state-oriented economy that, in contrast to colonialism, was morally idealized as nonexploitative. Ghanaians saw themselves as having established a social compact in which legitimacy was granted to a government that defended the interests of the people. The state, more so than the market, was viewed as the primary mechanism of economic development and social well-being.

From the 1970s through the 1980s, however, after a period of escalation of economic crises and multiple regime changes, neoliberal economic policies were introduced in Ghana that broke with this understanding of the state. The government lifted many of its regulatory controls on the economy, auctioned off state-owned enterprises, and eliminated public subsidies. Many considered these new “austerity measures” a breach of the postcolonial social compact. Ghanaians feared a move toward a neocolonial reality, in which the government no longer protected the public interest and instead regressed toward its former role as a conduit for exploitation. These economic policy changes were never fully accepted by the public, leading to a crisis of legitimacy for the state. The military regime that held power in Ghana during the 1980s was able to enact the unpopular changes (at the behest of international finance institutions) by aggressively repressing protest and through the sheer inertia of power. But this inertia did not last.

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5. In the House of Stories: Village Aspirations and Heritage Tourism

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES the intersection between Anansesεm performance and heritage tourism in neoliberal Ghana. As mentioned before, the 1990s saw a rise in popular trepidation about the Ghanaian government’s divestiture of state-owned enterprises and its courtship of foreign direct investment. Public concerns about external influences in the government and fears of foreign profiteering detracted from the political legitimacy of J. J. Rawlings’s administration. In order to undermine and confuse this opposition, the neoliberal regime sought to co-opt the stylistic rhetoric of pan-African cultural revival, which previously had been a feature of the anti-colonial movement. One aspect of this strategy of cultural legitimation was that the Rawlings regime began to strongly promote international black heritage tourism in Ghana, thereby making foreign involvement in the country appear less offensive. The regime proposed (in partnership with foreign investors) that the development of the country’s tourism industry, including the associated hotels, resorts, transportation, and infrastructure projects, could be tied to courting African diaspora tourists who would return to Ghana to experience “traditional” sites and cultural events.

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4 The New Eldorado in Mediterranean Music

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

Stuart tannock writes, “In the rhetoric of nostalgia, one invariably finds three key ideas: first, that of a prelapsarian world (the Golden Age, the childhood Home, the Country); second, that of a ‘lapse’ (a cut, a Catastrophe, a separation or sundering, the Fall); and third, that of the present, postlapsarian world (a world felt in some way to be lacking, deficient, or oppressive).”1 Many Beurs consider “the Golden Age, the childhood Home, the Country” to be located south of the Mediterranean. Within this particular vision, it is not surprising that French nationals of Maghrebi descent should be nostalgic of a past, from which migration acts as the “cut, Catastrophe, separation or sundering, the Fall,” which irremediably leads to “a world felt in some way to be lacking, deficient, or oppressive.” As Tannock adds, “the nostalgic subject turns to the past to find/construct sources of identity, agency, or community, that are felt to be lacking, blocked, subverted, or threatened in the present.”2 Nostalgia and exile have long played an important part in raï music, but in the context of French raï music (and raï made in France) they have recently become popular tropes.3 Recently, a series of Beur Raï n’b albums have positioned North Africa as a site of wealth and abundance. In this Maghrebi-French category, the Maghreb has replaced France as the gilded Eldorado. To combat negative depictions of the Maghreb and to advance the concept of a more welcoming and competitive North Africa, three DJS recently collaborated on a multivolume collection, which includes Raï n’b fever, Raï n’b fever 2, and Raï n’b fever 3. The reputation of the hybrid Raï n’b genre has enabled the labels to invite a great variety of artists to be part of this musical initiative. Some of the most famous names in raï, R&B, and hip-hop have participated in the project. Original songs even include tracks crafted especially for this musical style, as is evidenced by the dedication made to the DJS or the mentioning of the Raï n’b genre or even of a “Maghreb United”—a special rallying motto for the artists and for listeners in need of a sense of belonging south of the Mediterranean. Intended primarily for an audience based in the French metropole, the subject matter resonates with individuals disillusioned with France and nostalgic about an actual or imagined country of origin. Some of the songs partake in an obvious conceptualization of France as an ex-center, while others treat leavism as a worse evil and Europe-bound journeys as a dead end. For France-based listeners, the lived French experience is different from the Eldorado perceived by their North African counterparts. Instead, France is synonymous with the racism, alienation, and the towering, gray housing projects that outline the country’s urban peripheries.

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Introduction: Mediterraneans and Migrations in the Global Era

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

I am neither French nor Moroccan, I am in between. I am Spanish!

—Mustapha Al Atrassi

The end of summer at the port of Melilla, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco. Arabic music played loudly, drowning out the conversations of families in cars and vans. It was late at night in this remnant of Spain’s protectorate. About an hour earlier, the drivers were directed to form lines near the ferryboat so that Spanish customs security employees could check vehicles and identification papers. I was seventeen years old when, at this same port, I watched a dog sniff out a teenager hidden in a bag tucked under the feet of the rear seat passengers in the car parked in front of us. As my family waited to be searched, we observed the entire episode. From inside our car, we saw the frightened teenager being taken away, gasping for air and sweating heavily. We never knew what became of him or the other people in that vehicle. Every September on our way back to France, we would see young men walking back and forth on the rampart that overlooked the docks. They would get as close as possible to vehicles waiting to board the ferry in hopes of catching a ride. The vigilant agents of the Guardia Civil relentlessly chased the migrant hopefuls away. On one particular trip, I saw a young man try to board our ship by climbing up an anchor rope. Alerted by the cheering of travelers, agents ran to the ferry and attempted to shake the man off his precarious perch on the rope. The crowd grew anxious when he seemed likely to fall to the ground. Moroccan strangers were imploring God’s help. Some women covered their eyes, anticipating a tragic end. A few passengers were screaming. Two couples, however, who happened to be taking an evening walk took in the scene with seeming amusement, probably because they were accustomed to witnessing such events. The man was finally captured upon reaching the deck and then escorted into the rear of the patrol van and driven away in the night. This was one of several encounters I had with this type of chase on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar.

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3 Southward Road Narratives: How French Citizens Become Clandestine Immigrants in Algeria

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

SOCIOLOGIST ZYGMUNT BAUMAN explains that globalization is about its effects on us versus our goals: “‘Globalization’ is not about what we all, or at least the most resourceful and enterprising among us, wish or hope to do. It is about what is happening to us all.”1 Thus, as the common vision goes, a distinction between rich countries and less rich ones has been made, encapsulated in the appellations global North and global South. The effects of globalization unfold in the daily lives of people in these two spaces. At the intersection of the pressures of the local and the global, the term glocal has been proposed to describe the connections and relationships between various types of local and global businesses, organizations, and processes. This term, coined by Roland Robertson in Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture, is often used to refer to local ways of dealing with globalized practices and products. The glocal should not be understood in simple terms and binary divides, such as a glocal North and a glocal South but rather as a multifaceted process with numerous effects within these two regions.

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1 Disimmigration as a Remedy for the Illness of Immigration in Ismaël Ferroukhi’s Le Grand voyage

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

On November 2, 2009, a grand débat (great debate) was initiated by Eric Besson, Nicolas Sarkozy’s minister of the lengthy and ambitious Ministère de l’immigration, de l’intégration, de l’identité nationale et du développement solidaire (Ministry of immigration, integration, national identity, and solidarity development). The debate on national identity soon turned into a reflection on how to assert one’s Frenchness, and the consequent stigmatization of the supposedly “non-integrate-able” Other, embodied by the North African, the Arab, and in the post-9/11 era, the “out of place” Muslim in “secular” France. The goal was to win the votes of the most conservative fringe, but confusion and controversy caused the debate to be dropped within a few months. Racist comments were made by average French citizens and governmental officials alike, as was evidenced by many unfortunate statements that circulated on television and the internet. The debate was an avenue for what some may deem slippages of speech, and for others, a willful decision to say aloud what many were thinking softly. Such a discourse evolves in a Foucauldian sense as a discursive practice and is thus subject to power structures. It is a production that becomes a grid, reading the Other and confining him behind it. The national debate showed its limits and its sinister nature. Aware of its stigmatizing effect, many politicians warned the government against the second debate that Sarkozy asked his government to initiate, le débat sur l’Islam (the debate on Islam), right before the cantonnales (local elections, which took place in spring 2011), and a few months before the French presidential elections of May 2012.

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2 “Burning the Sea”: Clandestine Migration across the Mediterranean in Francophone Moroccan Illiterature

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

The Mediterranean is a fracture . . . because it is meant to be one and because it is sailed to and fro by warships aligned against civil rafts . . .

—Ali Bensaâd, “La Méditerranée, un mur en devenir?”

OVER THE LAST four decades, a series of French anti-immigration laws have caused many Maghrebis hoping to immigrate to turn to Spain instead, first as a country of transit, and more recently, as a possible country of settlement. After Spain entered the EU in 1986, however, it too began to enforce stringent immigration policies. In 1991, these laws ended the Moroccans’ privilege of entering the country without a visa. In 1998, Spain implemented the Sistema Integrado de Vigilancia Exterior (Integrated System of External Surveillance, or SIVE), a technologically advanced surveillance apparatus that lines the Spanish coasts. By establishing this electronic wall, European authorities hoped to fight clandestine immigration into Spain, as Spain has become a gateway for immigrants to make their way to other European countries.

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Conclusion: “White Sea of the Middle” or “Wide Sea to Meddle In”?

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

The works discussed in Ex-Centric Migrations provide a vision not solely of the other but of the other continent as well. Maghrebi works that treat the notion of clandestinity have presented the European Eldorado in its declination from “a country of light” to a land of disillusionment. It is the latter vision that has been the focus of the contemporary cinematic, literary, and musical productions examined here. In response to the old notion of Eldorado (the French one), which bred mythical stories that emigrants brought with them on their short visits back home, artists have crafted a “new” Eldorado—the Maghreb. The latter construction is a core theme in music such as Raï n’b and in films such as Bensalah’s Il était une fois dans l’oued. This conception of the “new Eldorado” tackled explicitly via musical and cinematic representations is an original one, which lies in sharp contrast to the portrayal of the global South as a place that individuals desire to leave.

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5 Europe Bound: Shooting “Illegals” at Sea

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

On January 14, 2011, Tunisian President Aziz el Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia. Following the tragic death of protester Mohamed Bouazizi, demonstrations spread to various parts of the country, precipitating the Jasmine Revolution, the first revolution of the Arab Spring. Bouazizi was a twenty-six-year-old Tunisian man who set himself on fire in front of the Préfecture of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010. Bouazizi’s self-immolation was an expression of his despair at his condition as an unemployed college graduate. His irreversible act was a physical migration out of an unbearable plight, because both physical and symbolic burnings are called hrig in Arabic. The extreme gesture is an unauthorized crossing over into death where the promise of a better life or the end of an ordeal is imaginable. Indeed, suicide is a religiously condemned practice. For lack of better professional opportunities, Bouazizi had resorted to selling produce. He set himself on fire after the municipal police confiscated his merchandise for not having a proper permit. Eighteen days after his desperate gesture, the young man died at the Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Center, and his fate set the Arab Spring in motion. The emergence of this revolution and subsequent ones in the region is partly attributed to the energy and dedication of the citizens ready to die at the hands of the police state1 to fight for justice and to denounce hogra.2 Some, like Bouazizi, sacrificed themselves—in Bouazizi’s case, it involved burning, in the literal sense of the term.3

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6 Heading Home: Post-Mortem Road Narratives

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

It is perhaps at the occasion of the death of the migrant that one can grasp his real place with regard to the migratory space that he took up more than a generation ago. Standing on his feet or lying in a coffin, he will return to his place of origin where something stronger than him snatched him one day.

—Yassin Chaïb, “Le Lieu d’enterrement comme repère migratoire”

Born, or arrived in France at a very young age, schooled and brought up in France, they will have to work there all their lives, and they will die in France (and maybe unlike their elders, they will have tombs in France; because the conditions and reasons of a post-mortem repatriation, which is almost the norm nowadays, will have ceased).

—Alain Gillette and Abdelmalek Sayad, L’Immigration algérienne en France

The choice of burial place for French citizens of North African ancestry is a pressing issue not only because death is inevitable, but more importantly because for Maghrebis and their children, burial cannot always follow rules of tradition, which are essentially practical. Indeed, it is customary to bury loved ones in local cemeteries. It is logical that one should want to keep close to home that which is close to heart. But this is not an inevitability for Maghrebis and Beurs. From the moment of their arrival in France and even more so when they realized France was to become their “home,” Maghrebis have had to ponder the question of what was to be the final “home” for them and their children. Available scholarship in the humanities, and in the realm of cultural studies in particular, has treated the notion of home, uprootedness, exile, and biculturalism. But the notion of final “home” has understandably not yet concerned scholars, for the generation of immigrants who arrived in France in the middle of the past century has just started to pass away en masse. Questions related to their burial have been tackled in various disciplines, such as sociology and (clinical) psychology, which deal with the practical and economic aspects of this phenomenon. One can only hope that the humanities will catch up soon. This will become more likely when a higher number of fictional accounts and biographies are produced, thus provoking humanistic studies. Indeed, as of today only a few of these have appeared. A dead individual cannot by definition write the account of his own passing away, just as with illiterature the experience of the death of the other is often told by external “witnesses,” humanists, writers, relatives, etc. But what the available literature and cinematography teaches us is that a reflection on the issue is taking place a priori. It is characterized by investigative journeys, the unknown, and rituals of initiation. According to writers and filmmakers, these narratives imposed themselves as an inevitable source of creative productions through personal confrontation with death. Put differently, these writers and filmmakers’ experiences of the death of a loved one have led them to ponder the sensitive subject. Consequently, retirement, death, and burial sites have taken center stage in their fictional works. This emergence in migrant literature and cinema often concerned with questions of identity in the here and now is a significant move that is bound to raise a few important questions for experts. This is no new matter for the North African community based in France; indeed, the epigraph from French journalist Gillette’s and Algerian sociologist Sayad’s L’Immigration algérienne en France dates back to 1976. It highlights the essential and continual concern: will Beurs be buried back home like their ancestors? The quote starts with the expression of an objective vision: French citizens of Maghrebi heritage will pass away in France. It includes a statement introduced by “maybe” and framed by parentheses. The embedded hypothesis indicates that one is to expect the ending of a trend, which consists of taking the corpse of a family member to Algeria to bury it there.1 Why do the authors assume that this practice is likely to come to a close?

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Introduction: Oscar Micheaux and Race Movies of the Silent Period

Pearl Bowser Indiana University Press ePub

This catalog accompanies a seven-part program of American race films, which is premiering at the Giornate del Cinema Muto and will then be distributed by the Museum of Modern Art (New York) in a 35mm film format. The resulting Oscar Micheaux and His Circle package embraces virtually all of the surviving feature-length race films from the silent period as well as a selection of related shorts. These pictures were made between the end of World War I and 1930. Of the seven features, three were made by African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux (based in Chicago; Roanoke, Virginia; and then New York), two by the Colored Players Film Corporation located in Philadelphia, one by the Detroit-based Richard Maurice, and one by Richard Norman’s film company in Arlington, Florida. The shorter films were made for a wide variety of purposes: some are 35mm shorts that might be shown before a feature. Others were shot in 16mm: for the church circuit by James and Eloyce Gist and for ethnographic purposes by Zora Neale Hurston. Oscar Micheaux, recognized in his time as the foremost African-American filmmaker of this period, emerges as the central figure of this book. Enough films by his contemporaries survive for us to gain a context for his work. While these other films are certainly of considerable importance in their own right, it is Micheaux who emerges as a major figure of the New Negro Renaissance that flourished in the wake of World War I. In truth, Micheaux also emerges as one of America’s great directors, someone of absolutely world-class stature whose work is dense, rich, and complex. His films demand and reward repeated viewing and extensive critical engagement.

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5. Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates: The Possibilities for Alternative Visions

Pearl Bowser Indiana University Press ePub

MICHELE WALLACE

Within the closed world they create, stereotypes can be studied as an idealized definition of the different. The closed world of language, a system of references which creates the illusion of completeness and wholeness, carries and is carried by the need to stereotype.

—Sander Gilman, Difference and Pathology1

The role of stereotypes is to make visible the invisible, so that there is no danger of it creeping up on us unawares; and to make fast, firm and separate what is in reality fluid and much closer to the norm than the dominant value system cares to admit.

—Richard Dyer, The Matter of Images2

The most prominent conceptions of black stereotypes in cinema studies, as conceived by Donald Bogle and Thomas Cripps, define such representations too narrowly—as harmful, reductive, and denigrating.3 Even recent endeavors to revise old approaches, for instance that of Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, do not quite succeed in addressing some of the most problematic issues. Rather, their emphasis is on devaluing stereotype analysis generally as an outmoded and not sufficiently subtle “negative/positive images” criticism.4 If we are to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we need to follow the deconstructive work of Sander Gilman, Eve Sedgwick, and Richard Dyer and reconceptualize stereotypes or “types” as something of greater importance, ambiguity, and theoretical sophistication.5 Otherwise, distinguishing aesthetic achievement from the presumably deadening influence of stereotypes becomes all but impossible.

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