MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No White man could have dared to speak to chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the White men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
Speech of Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother of Ijesu, in Ghana, West Africa.
On March 28, 1900, Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother of Ijesu, was at a meeting of chiefs with the British colonizer who represented the British crown in Ghana. The British had previously kidnapped members of the Ashanti royal family (1896) and held them as hostages on the Seychelles islands. Among those the British held in captivity was the grandson of Nana Yaa Asantewaa.
The British, like many other European tribes, had invaded, colonized and destroyed several African nations. At the March 28, 1900 meeting, the representative of the British Empire demanded that the Ashanti submit the sacred Golden Stool to him. This unreasonable demand, which the Ashanti considered sacrilegious, was a deliberately provocative gesture on the part of this White supremacist in his effort to belittle the proud Ashanti.
After making her statement, Nana Yaa Asantewaa became the leader of the resistance movement against the British. She is recognized as the leader of the last Ashanti-British War, which is also known as the Yaa Asantewaa War. Yaa Asantewaa was at least 60-years-old when she led her people into battle against the British. Images of this brave Ashanti woman usually portrays her holding a large gun, composed, regal, as she looks steadily to the future.
A. Adu Boahen, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Ghana, in his 2003 book, Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1, wrote that Nana Yaa Asantewaa rallied Asante resistance against the British with “her fiery and provocative speeches and gender-conscious challenges”.
There have been many other African mothers who stepped forward to defend their communities and children from invaders who meant them harm. The Igbo and Ibibio women of eastern Nigeria who waged war against the British in 1929 did so to defend their community, which included their children.
In his 2011 book, The Women’s War of 1929: A History of Anti-Colonial Resistance in Eastern Nigeria, Nigerian professor of history at the University of Texas, Toyin Omoyeni Falola, writes: “The Women’s War of 1929 holds an iconic place in the history of the Igbo and the Ibibio people of southeastern Nigeria. It has been a focal point for gender studies, nationalism, resistance, and anthropology. Owing to the violent confrontations associated with the Women’s War and the widespread opposition of the women to colonial rule, the aftermath spawned both a change in the political system (in 1933) and an immediate influx of anthropologists to study a region that appeared to evade the understanding of British officials. The women’s War of 1929 stands out as a special event, as it dramatically portrays widespread and organized opposition to colonialism at an early period of imperial governance.”
This resistance against the British grew to include thousands of women demonstrating against the British who had invaded and colonized their country. The British District Officer at Bende, Abia State, wrote: “The trouble spread in the second week of December to Aba, an important trading center on the railway. Here there converged some 10,000 women, scantily clothed, girdled with green leaves, carrying sticks. Singing angry songs against the chiefs and the court messengers, the women proceeded to attack and loot the European trading shops, stores, and Barclay’s Bank, and to break into the prison and release the prisoners.”
The British responded with deadly force and approximately 55 women were killed and many more wounded. The British were forced to revise their plans, although they did not leave Nigeria until decades later on October 1, 1960. The Igbo and Ibibio women of eastern Nigeria have a place in history for their resistance to the British colonizers.
As I was thinking of writing this article in honour of African mothers like Nana Yaa Asantewa and the Nigerian women who resisted those who posed danger to their communities, there was an image of an African-American woman resplendent in yellow and white flashing across every genre of media for the past few days.
This woman was not resisting the people who were harming members of her community. Instead she was harming her child, who was resisting the people who were harming their community. This woman in yellow and white, whose image caught the attention of every person viewing the images on television of African-Americans in Baltimore protesting the police brutality and killing of African-Americans, was brutalizing her child because he was protesting police brutality of his community.
At any other time this mother would have been charged with child abuse by Child Protection Services, the American version of Children’s Aid Society. The White media is very aware of this fact, yet they have made this abusive mother a hero. There is a difference between protecting your child from making a mistake (if that is what she felt he was doing) and making an exhibition of yourself on national television. Unless this woman keeps her male African-American child locked in her house forever she cannot keep him safe from the White supremacist culture in which he lives, which includes police primed and ready to racially profile, abuse and even kill African-Americans.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey famously said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” The history of this woman’s people during the Civil Rights Movement is one of parents and children working together. The Children’s Crusade of May 1963 (www.biography.com/news/black-history-birmingham-childrens-crusade-1963-video) where African-American children protested had a great impact on the movement.
This African-American mother abusing her child is playing right into the hands of a White supremacist society’s media that often portrays African American women as angry, ignorant and “ghettofabulous”. From the television programs in which African-American women are encouraged to swear at and brutalize each other to the deliberately cultivated images in movies, African-American women are denigrated. Where in today’s world is there a positive image of a loving African-American mother that is embraced by the media?
As Mother’s Day approaches, many mothers will be celebrated by their children and their spouses/partners, but that will hardly include images of African-American/African Canadian/African Caribbean mothers in the media. There is no celebration of the mothers of the young people who have stepped up and stepped out to organize protests that have brought attention to the police brutalizing and killing African-Americans. No mainstream support for the mothers of the youth who have been killed by police. Instead the media does a posthumous lynching of the characters of those who have been killed by police.
Finally the words of Jamaican poet, Festus Claudius McKay, should be the battle cry of the embattled African-American communities that have suffered extrajudicial killing of members of their community:
“If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”
McKay wrote “If We Must Die” in 1919 during the “Red Summer”, when hundreds of African-Americans were killed by White Americans. Almost 100 years later it seems that there is an open season on African-Americans and a revisiting of the “Red Summer” of 1919.
It is definitely not the time for African-American mothers to demonstrate that publicly brutalizing young African-Americans is justified. Not under any circumstances or by anyone!! Happy Mother’s Day!!