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Welcome to this week’s I Feel Sooo....African newsletter. Please continue to remain safe during the pandemic and check on your friends and family during these times. This week’s topics include:

  • The history of cowrie shells
  • Queen Modjadji
  • Guinea Independence
  • Who was Ganga Zumba?
  • Popular African Dances
  • Banana Leaves in African Art
  • Products of the week
  • Connect with us on social media

HISTORY OF COWRIE SHELLS

Cowrie shells are known as the most successful and the best form of currency in the various regions of the world. According to numerous African legends, the cowrie shells represent the goddess protection which is connected with the strength and power of the Ocean. These beautiful, small shells resemble the lifegiving organs of females and are therefore known as an elixir or giver of life. This is why wearing cowrie shell jewelry is always considered a good idea.

NANA AKU IN A COWRIE SHELL BREASTPLATE NECKLACE

In ancient medicines, the cowrie shells were used as one of the best medications for various problems. And for centuries, these shells were used not only as medicines, but also as currency in Africa, India, China and other various parts of the world. Ancient Chinese civilizations also used the cowrie shells in various ceremonies for their dead.

Cowrie shells were used for centuries as currency by native Africans and after the 1500s, they became even more common. Through the slave trade, western nations introduced huge numbers of cowries to Africa from South Asia. The Ghanaian cedi was actually named after cowrie shells!

GHANA COIN FEATURING THE COWRIE SHELL

The word cedi is the Akan word for cowry shell, which were formerly used as currency in what is now Ghana. The money cowry is not native to West African waters but is a common species in the Indian Ocean. The porcelain-like shells came to West Africa in the 14th century through trade with Arab merchants. The first modern coins exclusively used at the Gold Coast were produced in 1796 but cowries were used alongside coins and gold dust as currency until the early 1900’s.

Starting over three thousand years ago, cowrie shells, or copies of the shells, were used as Chinese currency and they were also used as means of exchange in India. Cowrie shells are also worn as jewelry, used as ornaments, and charms. In some cultures, cowrie shells are viewed as symbols of womanhood, fertility, birth and wealth. The underside of the cowrie is supposed to represent a vulva or an eye.

Some Asian cultures take the shell and drill holes at the end to form a necklace worn by chiefs as a badge of rank.

COWRIE SHELLS USED AS CURRENCY
WEST AFRICAN COWRIE SHELLS
NIGERIAN COWRIE SHELL ARTIFACTS

QUEEN MODJADJI

The Lovedu tribe (also called the Balobedu) of South Africa, has the distinction of being the only tribe in Africa that is still ruled by a female monarch. The successor of this ruler is called Modjadji, also known as the Rain Queen, because of her magical powers. This Queen is designated from her matriarchal line after having been trained for years in the traditions and customs of the royal house.

This tradition was upended in 2005 when Makobo Caroline Modjadji VI, who succeeded her grandmother, Mokope Modjadji V, after her death at the age of 64 years in 2001, was declared queen in 2003. Mokope’s daughter Makhele, who was her designated successor, died unexpectedly three days before her mother. At 25 the next in line, Makobo, was the youngest rain queen to sit on the throne. However, she died two years later after a short unknown illness.

During her short reign, Makobo Modjadji VI had the royal palace in uproar because of allegations that she rejected tribal traditions and refused to submit to the authority of the elders. Not only did Makobo invite a male friend to move into the royal palace where no spouse was previously allowed, but she also appointed her own “royal council” that was in conflict with the council of elders.

The conflict came to a head when a dispute broke out between the two councils over who had the right to bury Modjadji. In the end the premier of the territory had to intervene in the dispute and get both parties to cooperate.

According to tradition, tribal members must mourn for a year after the death of their queen. During this time no drums may be played and no dancing may take place. This includes the dinaka (the blowing of horns) and the sekgapa (a traditional dance for women). Learners at school are expected not to take part in extramural activities or parties.

The successor of Modjadji VI, who will reign over a kingdom consisting of more than 150 rural settlements in the province, will be designated by the royal council. According to tradition, she must be a daughter of the deceased rain queen. However, the children of the rain queen’s maidservants, who are known as her “brides”, are also regarded as the queen’s children.

REGION OF LIMPOPO IN SOUTH AFRICA

The magical powers attributed to the rain queen of the Lovedu have passed from mother to daughter for centuries. These powers not only include intervention by means of incantations and dances (such as the legobathele) during times of great drought, but also the upkeep of daily rituals. The queen’s powers are demonstrated annually during a rainmaking ceremony taking place in the Ga-Modjadji settlement.

The queen’s mace is crowned with a statuette of a wild pig or bush-pig (golove or muyane), on which the words Modjadji and Pula (rain) are engraved. The wild pig is the royal totem of the Kwevo tribe of the Lovedu.

The rain queen’s powers are traditionally used to bring not only rains to let the harvests grow and fill the rivers, but also fierce storms and floods to keep her enemies at bay. For this reason the Lovedu do not make use of warriors to protect the tribe.

The queen is advised in her duties by a rain doctor or doctors, who are blamed if the queen’s rainmaking rituals do not succeed. Should no success be attained in the long term, it is presumed that the ancestors are dissatisfied and that their favor must first be won, usually by means of sacrifices.

According to tradition, the rain queen may not marry, but a suitable man from the family is designated for her by the royal council when she decides to have a child. The rain queen is served by so-called “brides”, whose children are also regarded as hers.

After the death of a rain queen the entire tribe mourns for one year. Her death may actually not even be proclaimed officially before the end of this year. Her royal council designates her successor, who must be one of her daughters.

According to legend, the rain queen of the Lovedu descends from the royal house of Monomotapa who reigned in the 1400s and 1500s over the territory now known as Zimbabwe. At the time it was inhabited by the Karanga tribe.

Masalanabo Modjadji was three months old when her mother died. In that moment, she ascended to the throne of the Balobedu, a tribe in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province that is the country’s only queendom. Modjadji currently lives near Johannesburg as a normal 13-year-old. When she turns 18, however, she will officially be crowned Queen Modjadji VII, the “Rain Queen,”.

Modjadji’s reign will be different than those of her three immediate predecessors, who were queens in name only after the apartheid regime demoted them to chieftain status in 1972. Two years ago, former President Jacob Zuma changed things back, and made the Balobedu one of the handful of tribal monarchies officially recognized by the South African state. When she comes of age, Modjadji will rule at the same level as the powerful Zulu and Xhosa kings. Though they oversee much larger kingdoms, she will still hold influence over more than 100 villages and receive a substantial government paycheck.

Rain Queen Modjadji V

GUINEA INDEPENDENCE 🇬🇳

Every year on October 2, Guinea celebrates the anniversary of its independence from France in 1958.

Guinea was part of a series of West African Empires (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai) ruled by the Muslims. It was during the 15th century that the region came in contact with the Europeans, was invaded by the French army in the mid 1800s, and was declared a French protectorate in 1849. France negotiated boundaries with the British for Sierra Leone and with the Portuguese for their Guinea colony (now Guinea-Bissau) and Liberia.

The Franco-Portuguese agreement, dating back to 1886, created the division between the Guinea Republic and Guinea-Bissau. In 1895, the French incorporated the Boke province, the heart of today’s Guinea republic, into French West Africa. The region became a unified entity, which was governed from Dakar.

Before decolonizing, French West Africa was dissolved in 1958 and the founding of a Fifth Republic was supported by the French people. France’s colonies were given the option to choose between more autonomy in a new French community or immediate independence. All colonies except Guinea chose the former. Guinea, under Ahmed Sékou Touré’s leadership, won 56 of 60 seats in a 1957 territorial election, voting its way overwhelmingly to independence.

Guinea’s Independence day is a national holiday to celebrate and honor the freedom that it gained from France. The day is marked with public gatherings in the town halls where the elders and government officials gather and make speeches. This is followed by music and dance, during which the men and women wear the Guinean traditional clothing.

TRADITIONAL ATTIRE WORN IN GUINEA

GANGA ZUMBA: THE GREAT LORD

Ganga Zumba was a slave who escaped bondage on a sugar plantation and eventually rose to the position of highest authority within the kingdom of Palmares, current day Brazil. Zumba was the first leader of the massive runaway slave settlement in the present-day state of Alagoas, Brazil. Although some regard Ganga Zumba as his proper name, his name actually translates to "Great Lord."

Ganga is said to have been the son of princess Aqualtune who was the daughter of an unknown king of Kongo. She led a battalion at the Battle of Mbwila. The Portuguese won the battle, eventually killing 5,000 men and capturing King Zumba, his two sons, his two nephews, four governors, various court officials, 95 title holders and 400 other nobles, who were put on ships and sold as slaves in the Americas. It's likely that Ganga was among these captives. The whereabouts of the rest of them is unknown. Some are believed to have been sent to Spanish America, but Ganga Zumba, his Brother Zona and his sister Sabina (mother of Zumbi dos Palmares, his nephew and successor) were made slaves at the plantation of Santa Rita in the Portuguese Captaincy of Pernambuco in what is now northeast Brazil, which at the time was controlled by the Dutch. From there they escaped to Palmares.

A quilombo or mocambo was a refuge of runaway slaves who were forcibly brought to Brazil (from present-day Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Congo-Brazzaville) that escaped their bondage and fled into the interior of Brazil to the mountainous region of Pernambuco. As their numbers increased, they formed maroon settlements.

Gradually as many as ten separate mocambos had formed and ultimately formed into a confederation called the Quilombo of Palmares, or Angola Janga, under their king, Ganga Zumba. Ganga Zumba, who ruled the biggest of the villages, Cerro dos Macacos, presided the mocambo's chief council and was considered the King of Palmares. The nine other settlements were headed by brothers, sons, or nephews of Gunga Zumba. Zumba was chief of one community and his brother, Andalaquituche, headed another.

By the 1670s, Ganga Zumba had a palace, three wives, guards, ministers, and devoted subjects at his royal compound called Macaco. Macaco comes from the name of an animal (monkey) that was killed on the site. The compound consisted of 1,500 houses which housed his family, guards, and officials, all of which were considered royalty. He was given the respect of a Monarch and the honor of a Lord.

In 1678 Zumba accepted a peace treaty offered by the Portuguese Governor of Pernambuco, which required that the Palmarinos relocate to Cucaú Valley. The treaty was challenged by Zumbi, one of Ganga Zumba's nephews, who led a revolt against him. In the confusion that followed, Ganga Zumba was poisoned, most likely by one of his own relatives for entering into a treaty with the Portuguese. And many of his followers who had moved to the Cucaú Valley were re-enslaved by the Portuguese. Resistance to the Portuguese then continued under Zumbi.

POPULAR DANCES IN AFRICA

See some of our favorite dances from Africa and see if you can successfully do any of them!

BANANA LEAVES

Banana leaf artwork has been a constant in African art for centuries. Native to Kenya, banana leaf art is composed of tiny slices of banana leaves that are cut and pasted or woven together. The banana leaves are sometimes dyed to create a more realistic effect. There are also banana leaf sculptures which are made by weaving together thin slices of the banana leaves, forming and pasting them together to create a completely new style of art. This is a very time-consuming process and is very hard to accomplish without flaws or breaking the sculpture. When the artwork is finished it becomes a gorgeous focal point that has become extremely popular in the last few years. We have some gorgeous banana leaf ornaments just in time for the holidays!

PRODUCTS OF THE WEEK

ALL PRODUCTS OF THE WEEK CAN BE PURCHASED AT WWW.FEELSOAFRICAN.COM