Dashiki Dialogues: Reading between the lines

2012-02-25 21:28

Oh! My people must have the most complex relationship with books in the world.

Black people have gone from holding weird beliefs and superstitions about books, to writing some of the greatest pieces of literature, to questioning their own literacy.

I mean, we are the only people who actually go around saying things like ‘reading a lot will make you go crazy’, literally.

It’s true, and this is not just a regional misconception; it exists on a grand scale. You can visit any black township or rural enclave in the country. There will always be a “mad man” people will point out as the victim of reading too much.

Other scary stuff involves people being warned against lending out books willy-nilly. Some darkies believe their enemies might use juju to hurt them through these books.

But I digress. Superstition is rife among other races too. Christians, Muslims and other believers regard their scriptures or holy books – such as the Bible or the Koran – as the literal word of God.

So it’s not just the message bound up in these objects but the artefacts themselves that are revered as such.

Devotees are even instructed to perform ablutions so that they are clean before touching these books.

Some Hindus and Buddhists carry paper leaves with holy verses on them for protection and blessings.

But still, I wonder how Africans can boast writers such as Wole Soyinka, Zakes Mda, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Can Themba and millions more while still peddling questions like “do blacks read?”

Better yet, how about the enduring belief that if you want to hide something from black people, you must put it in a book?

I don’t get it. Especially when one thinks about the ancient Egyptian darkies who invented hieroglyphics or those seminal scholars in Timbuktu, Mali, whose works former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration helped to safeguard in 2001.

The first English novel by an African was written by the ANC’s first secretary-general, Sol Plaatje, who not only created great original works but translated Shakespeare’s plays into Setswana. So the facts say we don’t just read, but we also write.

Wait, but we are told blacks make up the smallest segment of the book-buying market.

For the worth of all dashikis, have you ever heard of anyone taking count of racial quotas the last time you were in a book-buying dialogue?

» Follow me Twitter @Percy_Mabandu 

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