Sunday, June 25, 2006

Gorée Island

April, 2005 …My blood ran cold as I stared down the dark stone-floored corridor, and out of the tiny exit at the end that led to the sea. A small sign read: Point of no return.

Through this doorway, on the tiny island of Gorée, located just off the coast of Senegal, West Africa, tens of thousands of people were forced into a life of slavery. Ships from here brought them across the stormy Atlantic to, among other places, Brazil, Cuba, and the Caribbean, and for around 5 percent of the slaves, the United States of America.

For many decades Africans sold other Africans to the European slave traders. Slavery is, of course, no longer tolerated in America or Europe, but, sadly, it is still a problem in some parts of Africa.

Slavery – Some little-known Facts

A few weeks ago I read a National Geographic piece about slavery in the Americas. The article was written by a Jamaican-born historian called Colin Palmer, himself the descendent of Africans who were brought to the New World as slaves.

It was so refreshing to read an honest and objective account of slavery, one which was not laced with the usual hand-wringing self-loathing that usually afflicts many western authors when they write or talk about slavery.

Slavery, of course, was around a long time before ‘The West’ even existed. What distinguishes the west from the rest of the world is the fact that the elimination of slavery is a European and American achievement, and enduring objective. An enduring objective, because sadly, in many parts of the world, including Africa, forms of slavery are still practiced.

But getting back to Palmer’s account, apparently, the first person of African descent to arrive in the Americas was a freeman working as a member of the crew of the ship captained by Christopher Columbus. That was in 1492.

Two more Africans arrived in 1494 on Columbus’s second expedition, and then in 1501, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain granted permission for the import of black slaves to the Americas. And so began the horrific trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Of an estimated 10-12 million slaves, transported mainly by Europeans (Portuguese French, English, Dutch) across the Atlantic, around 95% of them were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America.

Only 500,000 slaves, less than 5% of the total, went to the American mainland north of Spanish Florida. Approximately 5 million slaves were brought to Brazil; 2 million to Spanish colonies; and more than 3 million to the British, French, Dutch and Danish colonies in the Caribbean.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Colin Palmer’s report was the description of how the slaves were actually acquired in order to be transported from Africa.

Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle, situated on the coast of modern-day Ghana, were two infamous departure points. In April 2005, while attending a seminar in Senegal, I was able to visit the island of Gorée, just off the coast of the capital city, Dakar. This island is another well-known location from where many slaves were shipped across the Atlantic. It was a harrowing, yet enlightening experience. Since then I had been wondering how it had been possible to assemble so many slaves together in one place. Palmer shed some light on my query.

Apparently the European traders paid rent to local leaders for the castles and forts along the West African coast, and there they waited while those with slaves to sell made their way from all over West Africa with their human merchandise.

According to Palmer, 80% of all slaves were captives taken in wars between rival tribes and states. One trader recorded “most of the slaves that are offered to us are prisoners of war who are being sold as booty.” Other slaves were debtors and criminals, and some were abducted.

Only a small percentage of slaves were actually abducted, and going by what Marina and I learned on a visit to Liverpool’s maritime museum in 2004, most of those slaves who were abducted, were seized by other Africans, Arab and Black, and then sold to the European traders along the coast. Muslim traders and African chiefs gained as much from the slave trade as the European traders.

When the facts about slavery are clearly presented they dispel many of the misconceptions and false impressions perpetuated by many school textbooks, articles on the subject and Hollywood productions like Alex Haley’s controversial and oftentimes imaginary ‘Roots’ series.

With the current tendency within many western educational establishments to blame all the world’s problems on ‘colonial’ westerners, I doubt if many people will ever get an accurate picture of what really happened during this sad period of African history.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Bible translation: Fact and Fiction

Dibone reading Exodus

Fiction: Bible translators merely translate.

Fact: Bible translators are:

Evangelists, making known the greatest story ever told.
Church planters, laying a sure foundation for the church.
Journalists, giving access to vital information.
Revolutionaries, overthrowing falsehoods.
Soldiers, protecting the defenceless and invading Satan's territory.
Economists, helping people manage life's real resources.
Farmers, making "food" for the world.
Transporters, moving people from one kingdom to another.

(From "Bible, Babel and Babble: The Foundations of Bible Translation," Scott Munger – slightly modified)

Going Ape

Apparently, Spain could be the first country in the world to grant human rights to apes!*

What a bizarre world we live in. Unborn babies in the majority of so-called ‘civilised’ societies do not automatically qualify for the most basic human right, the right to life, yet campaigners are fighting to enable apes to have human rights.

I wonder if they want to teach apes how to read and write?

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) says that, “illiteracy is a violation of the fundamental human right to education.” David Archer of GCE said that, “Literacy is the fertilizer needed for development and democracy to take root and grow.”

Any volunteers for literacy workers to the apes so that they can develop and create the world’s newest democracy?

Seriously though, apes aside, illiteracy is a huge problem in the world.

The United Nations education agency, UNESCO, says in a report that the regions with the lowest levels of literacy are sub-Saharan Africa, south and west Asia and the Arab states, where only 60% of the population are able to read and write.

High levels of illiteracy are hindering attempts to erase world poverty, the report warns. It also points to links between better literacy and improved health, political, social and economic life.

Literacy, of course, can also have a tremendous spiritual impact on communities. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free!

Pray for us as we upgrade Loron literacy materials in preparation for new literacy campaigns in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso later this year, and early next year.

*Report in The Daily Telegraph, June 10, 2006.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Car Paperwork Completed

During May we finally got all the paperwork completed for our vehicle. The amount of red-tape was incredible. We spent two full weeks running back and forth to numerous government departments and agencies making sure that everything was done properly, and in order. We thank the Lord that we have such a nice vehicle to use in our ministry.

Pastor Philip

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Marina and I, and one of the WEC missionaries, Alice Bosch, have just returned from a trip to a little village called Djigbe [jee-gbay]. Djigbe is away off ‘in the sticks’, near the Ivory Coast border.

We left Gaoua this morning at 7am and arrived at our destination around 9am. I spoke at the Evangelical Protestant church (WEC) in the village, and then afterwards we had a great time with Pastor Philip and his wife, Josephine, over lunch.

Pastor Philip wants to help us make contact with some Loron folk in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso who are interested in literacy. We showed him some of the materials we have developed to teach the Loron people how to read and write in their own language. He was enthusiastic about the prospect of helping us organise a seminar for prospective Loron literacy teachers later in the year.

There is a far greater awareness and interest in Burkina Faso, than in Ivory Coast, for the need for people to learn how to read their own language. We view literacy as an essential part of our ministry here in Burkina because it means that the Loron people will get the full benefit of the Scripture and Bible lessons we are producing for them.

Pray for Pastor Philip as he settles into his new ministry in Djigbe. He just recently completed Bible school here in Burkina.