Orientalizing the small small, Accra 2016 – II

(This is the second of a series of posts on my visit to Accra, Ghana, in May 2016. The first one, introduced the sense of the small small.)

Edward Said‘s Orientalism is one of those books I have been slow reading over the years, esp. on trips where I get very little time to browse the net. The gist of Orientalism is the humiliating Othering of the conquered that provided the primary justification for colonial rule. Failure to take that into account in mainstream discourse today plays out as continued internalization of the white man’s burden by both the oppressor and the oppressed, albeit in politically correct flavors.

May 19

I will run to the carrion
   of the small justice, to

The fight that lulls the bird
   and stuns the sky; I will

Burn the carrion of a 
   smaller fire, a river

That behaves only in periodic
   humiliations; we burn thus.

May 21

The structure of fear as
   it embeds itself; its

Embers as they crown an
   uncertain glory that is

Affect, distance, porous; the
   shred of an uneven


My work in Accra involves collection of prices from markets. I visited the local Makola market in Accra – I was told the the largest in Ghana – with the price collection team.

Click on the Wikipedia link on Makola above, and you will find another Orientalist gem. A short introduction, but it is felt necessary to mention Anthony Bourdain’s visit to the market thus: “during the episode, Tony walked through the market, where he sampled local wares and enjoyed a condensed milk-toffee drink made with local herbs.”

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The sum of all prices is one;
The price as an asymptote
Of value; the value of all
Being is one; that of sweat
And the hum of the market,
The flailing economy of an
Unreason; that which is not one.

Eventually little remains of the local market that is not tied to the larger, more efficient, global market. And there’s the rub.

The weep is an ancient want
    Cry; an insoluble

To want to cry; the deep;
    The fallible ineffable

Articulated by an effable
    Other; the dark; the

Solder in its burn to
    Weld and weld the red.


how will song pre-empt the copy/paste,
the representative mission to undo

and redo the repetitive? the gated
halos are symbols that will cut you

if you dare to sigh, to sing another
song: the other song that has to be sung.

bring in the salve from the
halo of rough, that contains

minarets of soft stone and
fine eye, of a remembrance

that beguiles the stone and nicks
the eye before it can scream.

the befitting crumb will fall
as gravity is recalled from

rest, the halo of weight is
determined to accede to simple

things like drawing a trapezoid
with a compass, pencil and shut eyes.

“The novel’s conclusion is a picture of the two of them now perfectly content to copy their favorite ideas faithfully from book onto paper.  Knowledge no longer requires application to reality; knowledge is what gets passed on silently, without comment, from one text to another. Ideas are propagated and disseminated anonymously, they are repeated without attribution; … what matters is that they are there, to be repeated, echoed, and re-echoed uncritically.” Edward Said commenting on Flaubert’s novel Bouvard et Pécuchet in his book, Orientalism.

Brown man’s burden

About 12 years ago, in 2002, on my first visit to Accra, Ghana, I was given a lighthearted article on how difficult it is to understand the local dialect of English, how yes doesn’t mean yes, and so on. 12 years on, that article seems neither innocuous nor lighthearted.
The brown comprador having just been
Orientated to the dark can set about 
                      Keenly on sharing his
                      Part of the white burden.

Learn quickly young man the terms of
Trade: if 'capacity building' doesn't
                      Bump your gooses, repeat
                      'Sustainable' three times
Before bedtime. Learn quickly, brown
Saheb, your place in the scheme of 
                      Things, in the scheme
                      Of schemes, oh burden

Of burdens. Listen too to the inaudible
Wail inside chiming with the volume of 
                      Silent moan around you, about you, 
                      And wait, wait till it becomes a howl.

The river and the law

The river meanders through the now
On to tomorrows all the while silting
The past onto its bed, revisiting it.

Deeds and land and titles and contracts
Circumscribe the river’s ownership, and
Peg its worth to the whim of the marketeer.

Blood and rage and tears tear through
The fabric of power eking out cries, cries
Older than power, and as old as sin.

Machinations of modernity confound deed
With law and the harvesting of seed with
Reflections on dead leaves and stolen tales.

Silence at the root of the river bed
Listens to the wind, to the chirp of
A wayward bird, to the mountain, still.

I Am The River – Documentary on the New Zealand Maori on aljazeera.com

Wolverine delight, yes?

So the pack of wolves has gone out and
done the hounding about or something (in the
wilderness yes?) So

the pack has gone hiding in the neverglades, and
you yearn for their howl, their gritty teeth and the
allusion to vampires. So

here we have the wolves, their teeth indentured and their
howls proper-ized so that each So-La follows Do-Re with
a fleck of mint stuck in their pilfered (yes indentured) molars

and a fleeting sound that makes you suspect that perchance
there is a hint of Latin in their disembowelled growls, and the
grammarian squeals a squeal (of joy yes?)