Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Samory's Old Camp

The image was deeply disturbing, archival footage from a colonial scrapbook
Above was the skull garden, and below were the native drummers at Bimtuku
The caption in the Colonial Office's collection mentioned Samory's old camp
The skulls of ninety-odd souls arranged in mostly neat rows on the ground

I had just read that post about King Leopold's ghost and iconic legacy
That laid bare the man's haunting misdeeds and colonial cruelty
The images that had galvanized Edward Morel's campaign to bear witness
The type of experiences that triggered Conrad to write Heart of Darkness

And then I came to this page nestled in the UK National Archives release
Of part of its digitized collection. What was one to make of this?
Certainly it was through a colonial lens that we viewed these images of Africa
But this hit close to home, for these were historical images of Ghana

And now, a century at a remove, I faced the archivist's mystery
I wondered if this image was a colonial record of an atrocity
The archives were soliciting contributions from the public to help update
The records. Perhaps, with millions of eyes on this, we could elucidate

But I could only go by the fickle metadata
I was, as it were, on the horns of a dilemma
I'm no Errol Morris but I can do amateur research
Opened a new tab, off to Google to type in a search

The town of Bimtuku is lost to history,
   as are its striking mud mosques
Although their lore is faded,
   the photos are part of the colonial record
These are the Gold Coast archives
   so we do have a few clues about the location
We know that somewhere in what is now Northern Ghana,
   there was a skull garden


I had come onto this material with a nostalgic but gimlet eye
The archives evoked, in my mind, a wide range of responses to empire
Fodder for addressing uncertainties - albeit never reparations
A longstanding focus of mine being truth and reconciliation

If this was the past as prologue, where, indeed, were the poetics?
Could I detect in those images where the seeds of our troubles were sown?
Or should I focus on surface matters and questions of aesthetics?
And simply savor a fugitive glimpse of a world largely unknown

A treasury in short, 714 photos,
   with the usual suspects, say Nkrumah
Typical images of empire,
   the exploits of His Excellency the Governor
Some chiefs and their retinues
   with whom he occasionally palavered
Enactments of Confederacy,
   signing ceremonies approved by Queen mothers

Journeys up the various rivers, inspecting outposts,
   the trappings of trade
The gold mines foremost, and the timber concessions
   where they cut with saw blades
Architectural details to behold,
   visions of old Accra and the then new hospitals
Beaches, churches, schools,
   and sessions of the Gold Coast legislative council

The names are mostly familiar to me,
   it's a thrill to see the old Kings
Of Mampong, Kokofu and Juaben.
   Not to mention Bekwai, Insuta and Wonki
The ceremonial details,
   witness the bearing of the chief sword bearers
Next to the nubile Adda Girls

   fetching water at the mouth of the Volta River

There's quite a bit of nudity,
   the young girls at Sekasoko were known to be demure
Very easy on the conqueror's eyes
   who came with intentions impure
Some of the photographers also seemed fascinated
   with the hairdressing styles
But just then, you behold another young girl
   dressing her hair by the roadside

She's completely at ease with her body, and you can't avert your eyes
Her photo is next to a Seribe (what is a Seribe?) of Bimtuku
As you ponder, you click to turn the page and behold the photo
Of the skull garden that I shall now endeavor to describe


One of the skulls is mounted on a stick, elevated as if on a pike
One has a tibia or arm bone almost lodged where the mouth would go
Another skull, on the side, sits uneasily on a pile of leg bones
The rest, in their rows, are exposed to the elements, this is their home

They are mostly well preserved,
   only a couple of the skulls have cracks
But you're no forensic scientist,
   and don't really know what question to ask
The skulls were not going anywhere, it is fair to say
But what were they doing in the old camp of Samory Touré?

Many societies have traditions of ossuaries
I've even visited some of the catacombs in Paris
There's a fascination with the norms of death,
   and the intimation of our mortality
Expressed in the way we treat the dead,
   and raising issues of cultural relativity

And we all know of fraternal societies,
   for example the Skull and Bones at Yale
Charles Taylor, at his trial, tried to justify his atrocities
   so beyond the pale
Pointing to the mysticism of Western institutions
   such as the Freemasons
That made use of dead bodies
   for secret rituals and sundry traditions

Skull gardens throughout history have been the epitome
Of that very human heart of darkness and the mystery
Of how, through massacres, we frequently break all taboos
Of love, respect, shame, and our shared humanity

From school, I thought that Samory's empire
   was more to the west of the coast
I knew that it might have extended
   at the easternmost point to Burkina Faso
But it stands to reason that the Wassoulou
   and Mandinka Empire stretched to Ghana
This would explain the interest in the Gold Coast colonial record - they'd conquered

Could one theorize about the image
   when looked at through the governor's eyes?
The colonists were always looking for evidence
   of bloodlust and human sacrifice
The practices of the savages
   that were beyond the bounds of civilization and crude
Thus a skull garden would be fodder for the old saying: exterminate the brutes

Did the photo document an actual relic of ongoing savagery?
Or simply how they dealt with the dead in a commonplace ossuary?
Some societies cremate instead of burying their dead
In Samory's old camp perhaps they just preserved the heads


We do know that in Bimtuku there were dye pits
And not too far from there resided the High Priest
And of course this was the Gold Coast, so there were sellers of gold
But was the fetish priest party to what went on at Samory's camp of old?

There are few other pictures of Bimtuku,
   it must be near Bole in Northern Ghana
Just north of the Bui National park,
   and close to Adarranu near the Black Volta
What is the history of these old villages
   on the Awuna Lagoon, near Kitta?
The colonial record branded these as hinterlands
   that were the home of the Soma

There's a dissertation for sure in expanding the historical record
One that probes whether there is further evidence of anything untoward
Some anthropologist should visit Northern Ghana
   and rediscover Bimtuku
Talk to some people, for it's elusive
   compared to the more famous Timbuktu

Some of the names resonate to any Ghanaian child
They are part of our long and storied history
But, I suppose, to most readers, there are merely exotic and wild
And, in this case, part of the great African mystery

For Ghana finds itself in the crosslines on the Prime Meridian
A through line running right through the center of the world
We fancy ourselves a great civilization, guardians of humanity's home
Proudly located on the gold coast, at the heart of the torrid zone

What to the outside observer appears shocking and unfamiliar
With enough context, may be only natural to the bearer
Those who venture on the pain of others conceive the essential mystery
The ineffable human experience, a photo can leave an iconic legacy

What our soul insurance providers behold as underlying conditions
The landscapes of human drama, the narratives and the fictions
The tale of the lost stories, storytelling is how we learn
Everything is written in sand, to dust we shall surely return

Ultimately, with just a photo in a scrapbook, the rest is history
We're left to speculate on what might have been, and behold the mystery
That sometime in Bimtuku back in the late nineteenth century
In Samory's old camp, there was a skull garden, an ossuary

the skull garden at Samory's Old Camp

Mystery, a playlist

A mysterious soundtrack for the old camp. (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See also: White Graves

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Writing log. Concept: February 2, 2011; May 5, 2021

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

I Daresay

I daresay I love this phrase
I daresay I love your face

I daresay we just met, but I'm canceling all my meetings, I'm delirious
I daresay not just meetings, but all prior engagements, I'm that serious

I daresay I feel myself drawn to you
I daresay I could build a whole life with you

I daresay I hope I'm not overstepping the bounds
I daresay I think you're bound, in short order, to come around

I daresay, stop it, you're making me blush
I daresay this has all the makings of a schoolboy crush

I daresay I'm enjoying this conversation
I daresay I've fallen for your brand of seduction

I daresay you disarm me, I like your smile
I daresay, for you, I would run for more than a few miles

I daresay you move me to excess
I daresay I'd expect nothing less

I daresay you're beautiful and carry yourself with grace
I daresay your voice beholds a wondrous sense of time and space

I daresay I'm losing myself in the contours of your brain
I daresay to lose this heaven would be no end of pain

I daresay I feel like I'm making progress
I daresay I'm momentarily speechless

I daresay this is some kind of flirtation
I daresay I see you moving in my direction

I daresay I think we should dance
I daresay I deserve one more chance

I daresay this is the start of a romance
I daresay I'll pay for soul insurance

I daresay you're making me bring out raps from the old village
I daresay words cannot describe you on this blank page

I daresay love is for suckers like me and you, to quote the soul song
I daresay I've found my comfort suite, a taste of paradise, right in your arms

I daresay meeting you has been the best thing in my life, I can't quite believe my luck
I daresay I made you giggle. Am I going overboard? I'm hopeless. Hyperbole much?

I daresay we're a match made in heaven
I daresay I like where this is heading

I daresay we fit like a glove
I daresay I think I'm in love

lady vendor

Flirt, a playlist

An effusive soundtrack for this flirtation. (spotify version) See previously: Touch, Teenage Love and Janet and the Importance of Bubblegum

I daresay the above could work as some kind of Valentine, Dear Reader
I daresay some of these lines might make her fall hook, line and sinker

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Writing log: May 8, 2021

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Soul Insurance (Part 10 Full Circle)

A cooking session... Part 10 of Soul Insurance (see previously)

X. Full Circle

The smell of kelewele wafted out
   as they gathered just past Atomic Junction
They met outside the Atomic Waakye chop bar - swank,
   this was the original location
Sika's taste buds were getting a workout,
   as were those of Ananse the Spider
For he'd made them wait, and stew a little,
  before he arrived, the claims adjuster

Sika would play the straight woman this time,
   a combination shill and fixer
Her normal role in their plays was as the foil,
   the femme fatale, or the roper
Typically Ananse, with his improvisational skill,
   would work as chief grifter
In reality, they were both versatile in sensibility,
   and could work as any player

Like all women, Sika had an eye for numbers and reverse psychology
An actuary by training, she knew all about risk and game theory
In this instance she agreed that they could proceed with a squeeze play
She'd run the models, humanity were in a tight spot, prime for disarray

Not quite a meeting of minds in the chop bar, this curious triangle
With the claims adjuster on one end,
   Sika and Ananse sought to bedazzle
The proposals came thick and fast,
   again they led with the Magdalene Propositions
When Ananse found a working formula,
   he truly believed there was joy in repetition

The import of their angle was that
   due to the threat of executive sanctions
One could lean on the collective responsibility clause
   and bring up indemnity provisions
That humanity had breached agreements was undisputed,
   the claims adjuster would surely agree
All that remained was to settle
   on the small matter of their transaction fee

The claims adjuster feigned interest
   even as he saw through their short con
He was rather bemused at the games
   these two artists were trying to put on
Did they really believe that they were pulling one over on him,
   what a conceit?
For it was in the bureau's back office
   that he'd designed the original symphony of deceit

Still, their deceptions did belie a core of truth,
   if one took the subtle hint
There was a structural weakness in the contract
   when you focused on the small print
At the going rate for broad form indemnity,
   there was no unqualified obligation
To hold harmless the bearer, humanity,
   from damages with no applicable exclusion

He recalled the negotiation with the Usher's linguist
   in the established church
Who threw the soul insurance certificates at him
   as if it was operations research
It was quite surprising, the assumption that they held any leverage
Quite the spectacle,
   when most hadn't even been through the second wave

The die was cast, the canny would perceive
   that adjustment was a contact sport
If one didn't take proper precautions,
   one would sell oneself short
For all it took was the right superspreader
   to make one lose one's innocence
Take the recent example of that French executive
   at the Biogen conference

Or the case of those two health ministers
   who shook hands, those globetrotters,
With the two doddering princes,
   Albert of Monaco and Charles of Windsor,
Who coughed a few aerosols their way.
   They took back to their countries viral strife
As if to prove definitively
   that irony is the key register of African life

In a sense, it was easier to deal with this odd couple,
   the trickster and the actuary
Than the bureaucracy and huhudious machinations
   of the three tribes of humanity
This kind of nonsense and commotion
   was their brand of frammis
They thought they were rarefied
   using that word instead of thingamajig

The strictures of rigorous enforcement actions
   were their present and future
The restructuring activities now underway
   would remove any lasting traces of humor
Confoundingly, amid the proceedings,
   some tribes were already declaring victory
Well, structural adjustment with a human face
   would be a keen test of their ability


Full Circle, a playlist

soundtrack for this revival. (spotify)
the atomic waakye delivery bagthe atomic waakye

Soul Insurance (Index)

A covidious folktale
  1. Ananse and the Chief's Scribe
  2. Enter the Claims Adjuster
  3. An Audience with the Linguist
  4. Pity the Mink
  5. Short Sale
  6. Excessive Liabilities
  7. Premiums Due
  8. Soul Insurance, a playlist
  9. Indemnity Provisions
  10. Full Circle
  11. Enforcement Actions
  12. The Die is Cast

This conclave is part of a series: In a covidious time.

Next: Enforcement Actions

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Writing log: Part 10 April 8, 2021

Wednesday, February 01, 2023


There's a script to be written and one of the plot points
Should be about a precious, but illicit cargo
Contraband, now impounded on the big stuck boat

Oakland Container Port 053

An act of God, force majeure clauses
Call it Waiting for Godot in Suez
Imagine a duel with high stakes
Not a tale of pirates but a test of wits
Not on the high seas but on the canal
Not an action heist, not that kind of drama
But rather hardboiled, the theater of the absurd
And, in the background, the big stuck boat

oakland port container crane

The backstory would involve General Sisi's fixer
Four dodgy salvage agents and a claims adjuster
The Japanese owners would be cracking the whip
Ratcheting up the tension as their deadlines slip
On the one side the supply chain enforcers
On the other the logistics operators
And via diplomatic channels, Bonecutter bin Salman
And we'll cut away often to the big stuck boat

Oakland Container Port

Throw in a Moslem Brotherhood angle
A few bellydancers to ramp up the tension
Bond shouldn't be the only one to have gratuitous fun
But in this tale there are no villains
Or, rather, everyone gets their comeuppance
For no one ever paid their soul insurance
The premiums due, to free the big stuck boat

Oakland Container Port 023

Let's pitch it to Netflix or one of the majors
It's provocative and edgy but still heartwarming
We'll bring in Roddy Doyle to doctor the script
Or Irvine Welsh if you insist on a counterintuitive premise
The fresh take on age old issues will seal the deal
And ultimately, at the climax, we'll have the big reveal
The reversal of fortune occurs on the big stuck boat

oakland port 022

There'll be multiple seasons worth, just think: containers!
We'll be taking meetings next, all we need is an agent
They should be hungry these days, the pandemic's got Hollywood idled
Remember you heard it all here first, this scribe's for hire
On the ground floor of the dream factory, the idea production line
The chief toli monger with the crystal ball and batik print
And it all happened, it was written, on the big stuck boat

oakland port 049

Big Stuck Boat, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See also Soul Inspiration

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Writing log: May 7, 2021