Excerpt from “Honorary White” by E.R. Braithwaite ~~Spirit~~

picture-HonoraryWhite-BraithwaiteAt the end of the concert, I stayed to meet the musicians. I expressed my delight at the power and joy of their music, all the more impressive in the face of the white South Africans’ determined attempts to humiliate and degrade the black man. The vocalist-bongo drummer spoke for the others.
‘How is it where you come from?’ he asked me. ‘Where is this place Guyana? In Africa? Where?’ His face dripped perspiration which he occasionally scooped away with a forefinger. A handsome young man of medium height, filled with energy which seemed ready to erupt out of him. I told him where Guyana is, pinpointing it on that other continent.
‘Tell me about the people,’ he said. ‘Are they all black, like you? Tell me about them.’ Looking me up and down as if to discover any difference between him and me, them and me.
I told him briefly something of my people. He then asked how long I’d been in Johannesburg, how much I’d seen of the city and the black people and what was my general impression of their condition. Before I could reply, he held up a broad, thick-fingered hand and warned me:
‘When you talk about my country, don’t pity me. Look at us.’ Here he moved closer to me as if to emphasise that we were of approximately the same height.
‘Talk to us as one of us. I will tell you how I live here and you will tell me about life in your country. I will tell you that I am deeply dissatisfied with the conditions of my life here and perhaps you will tell me that you are dissatisfied with conditions in your own country. We black men have been here for thousands of years. We have learned how to survive the heat and the floods and the drought, the hunger and the times of plenty. Now we must learn to live through slavery, right here in our homeland. We will live through this present experience. Our music is an expression of the spirit, just as survival springs from the spirit, just as hope, love and strength are things of the spirit. Come, my brothers,’ he beckoned to come nearer around us. ‘Come and tell our friend here how we can live in shit and still make music.’
His voice had acquired a sharp edge, cutting into me. His round face was grave, the eyes hard, glittering. I guessed his age at twenty-eight or thirty. The voice which had given such poignancy and power to his songs was now low and sonorous, the words tinctured with bitterness.
‘Tell our friend here that we are of Africa as the dust of the veld and the wind which blows it and as the rivers which are its blood. We are permanently of Africa, as the dust of our fathers is mixed with the dust of the veld. Now we are humiliated here and must bend in the dust. But we will be established again in our rightful place when we learn to pay more attention to things of the spirit. Do you hear me?’
I nodded. I was hearing him.
‘I do not speak of your church. I speak of the spirit of man. When we learn, as our fathers did, to pay more attention to things of the spirit, we will know how to work together and suffer together and, once again, be established together in our fatherland.’
Abruptly he walked away, the others breaking up to follow him.


1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Honorary White” by E.R. Braithwaite ~~Spirit~~

  1. E.R. Braithwaite was born in Georgetown, Guyana on 27 June 1912, and died on 12 December 2016, aged 104 years. ‘Honorary White’ was published in 1975 after the author’s visit to South Africa in 1973.

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