Cultural activist urges black people to look to the motherland
Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor
In an inimitable style conjuring the fiery oratory of the 1960s social and cultural movement, Olimatta Taal spoke with raw passion and unbridled pride.
Her words transcended rhetoric. This is not ivory tower activism or mere ponti-fication as she fuses culture and religion with politics, Taal was as evocative as it gets.
Born of American and African parentage, Taal is acutely attuned to the issues impacting the black diaspora. With parents once steeped in the civil rights struggles that swept through much of the black world, Taal's mission almost seems preordained.
Her vision extends beyond her profession as publicist and facilitator for the biannual Gambia Roots Festival, an event that she hails as "bridging the peoples of Africa and the diaspora on a cultural and spiritual level".
Her understanding of black resistance over the last five decades was impressively articulated, and so too her insight into black history.
She celebrated Ivan Van Sertima, Tony Martin, Cheikh Anta Diop and other giants in the field.
Echoing the words of the iconic Dr John Henrik Clarke: "If you are a child of God and God is a part of you, then in your imagination God supposed to look like you. And when you accept a picture of the deity assigned to you by another people, you become the spiritual prisoners of that people," she aptly invoked the seminal work of historian, Josef Ben-Jochannan, whose African Origins of Major Western Religions, Africa: Mother of Western Civilisation, and The Myth of Exodus and Genesis and the Exclusion of Their African Origins revolutionised black thought and lead many to disengage from Christianity and Islam.
masking spiritual power
"The stripping away of our authentic religious roots has masked our true spiritual power and has weakened us," said Taal. "We are a unique people, vastly spiritual, more so than others, because we are the first people, as archaeological findings have proved, with a special connection to Mother Earth."
She was encouraged by the ideas of Jean-Francis Regis Zinsou, Benin's ambassador to the United Nations, who advocated the creation of a central DNA bank for the diaspora to accurately trace its heritage and address feelings of alienation.
Notably, Taal didn't view growing pan-Africanism as a new phenomenon as some suggested. "It is an evolving process."
She referred to Liberia as the once-idyllic home to former slaves in the United States, and the political work of Kwame Ture and others who continue to promote black awareness at an artistic level.
Taal referred to the early 20th-century adventurism of Marcus Garvey's as the benchmark for the cultural and economic connection to Africa. She played down the once-abrasive relations between nationalists and pan Africanists as nothing more than ignorance. "Whether you are from Jamaica, Trinidad or Brazil, you are rooted in Africa. There is no getting around that."
She urged the diaspora to lend its resources to its ancestral home. Anticipating criticism that blacks need to better their communities before looking outward, Taal was ably responsive. "I recognise that we have problems to address, but that does not mean that we cannot have one foot in Africa." Alluding to the Jewish people and the state of Israel, she elaborated, "They have one foot in every place you go - but where is the other foot? The same goes for the Chinese and just about every people. So why should we think differently?"
Taal lauded the contribution of contemporary celebrities to the motherland, making particular mention of Oprah Winfrey, Jay Z, and the late Michael Jackson.
She extolled the resilience of black people, unabashedly identifying systematic efforts at suffocating black identity, and worse: the annihilation of a people.
"We have survived the most vile form of slavery known to man; we have survived deculturalisation, colonisation, and even the influx of drugs into our communities that have ravished a generation. They have stolen our inventions and denied our contribution to Europe's cultural milieu. But we are still here, even excelling in many fields. We will not go away."
While her detractors may find her somewhat quixotic, Taal was hardly unhinged. She conceded that while tribal and internecine bloodbaths and poverty have perched Africa on the brink of disintegration, she viewed apathy as a greater threat.
Her words were near prophetic, ringing with enough truth to demand deep reflection.
"We understand the adverse psychological impact of slavery and colonisation, but while we turn our backs, every world power and corporations - big and small - are eyeing Africa and its enormous resources. The rape has already begun. It's déjà vu all over again. Should we sit idly by?"
Taal's words were irrefutable, given the emergence of China as a major player in African affairs.
"Africa is calling her children home," Taal emphasised. "Cultural organisations are beckoning the diaspora to visit, to repatriate, to get involved. It is our obligation. If you feel a cultural connection to Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, or The Gambia, pool your resources, go there, buy a parcel of land, develop it. We have a historical and ancestral responsibility," she urged, citing staggering statistics of the tens of millions of Africans forcibly uprooted and shipped to dozens of countries around the world during slavery.
It was John Henrik Clarke who said: "A good teacher, like a good entertainer, must first hold his audience attention, then he can teach his lesson."
Taal would have done him proud.