October and kingdoms rise And kingdoms fall But you go on And on. (U2 – October, 1982)
I have two beginnings for this blog post. I’m not sure I have a suitable ending.
Opening one: I’m just back from a discussion, with Naika Foroutan, about East-German migration analogies and prejudices against East-Germans, here at the local Literarisches Zentrum. “Here” means: Göttingen, West-Germany, for me, an East German by origin, my home of seven years now. Diaspora as well as home. “Here” also means: amongst an audience of, primarily, West-Germans. Naika Foroutan and host Robert Pausch are West Germans, too. They (“they”) speak about East Germans (“us”). Some of “us” are in the room. Their safeguard is the “objectivity” of the (social) sciences. “Objectivity” implies an object. An object implies a subject. Who’s who? I can feel I am one of the objects here, regardless whether I want to or not, and someone else assumes the role of the subject-agent. I observe.
This is my second trip to Malawi this year. I arrive in a time of political unrest following the elections in May. Leaders of the opposition parties have alleged that there were massive irregularities and that Mutharika is the “tipp-ex president”. Lilongwe, Blantyre and other places have been the scenes of massive demonstrations which sometimes turned violent, including lootings and mob violence, and as of late the police and army forces are using live ammunition. Driving through town wasn’t always easy therefore, since you better avoid the demonstrations as the protestors do not always clearly discriminate between who to attack. Or would the police? Anyway, we stayed clear of them as best as we could.
30 years ago today, the “Wende”, the peaceful revolution in East Germany, truly started. After the brutal crack down of police on protesters and bystanders alike in Magdeburg two days earlier, everyone knew that something would happen. October 9 was a Monday, and hence I was at school (EOS Humbodt) in the morning hours. Directors and staff leaders in pretty much every institution and company approached their staff or students or even children at kindergarten, threatening that if they went out into the streets tonight their (or their parents’!) safety could not be guaranteed.
30 years ago today, the German Democratic Republic was meant to celebrate her 40th anniversary. There was little to celebrate, though. Thousands had fled the country in previous months, and illegal demonstrations happened in every major town, notably on Mondays. This though was a Saturday afternoon, and Sandow were playing in Magdeburg, by the banks of the river Elbe. Heavy rains delayed the soundcheck, and in the meantime lots of police trucks had pulled up and the police surrounded. Men that were much too old for punk music in groups of two or three infiltrated the crowd.
August 1989, and we were the “last legion” to be trained in one of East Germany’s paramilitary camps – one of the things that had become part and parcel of growing up in East Germany. Now we were there for a last time, though we didn’t know that yet.
Until 90 years ago, powder made from mummies, i.e. human corpses, was considered a useful drug in Europe, and available in pharmacies until 1924. I need to remind myself of this when reading about body-part juju in Africa. The practice arose from a misinterpretation of the Arabic word for bitumen, mumiya.
The third step in misinterpreting mummia was to substitute the blackened flesh of an entire mummy for the hardened bituminous materials from the interior cavities of the cadavers. The ancient tombs of Egypt and the deserts could not meet the European demand for the drug mumia, so a commerce developed in the manufacture and sale of fraudulent mummies, sometimes called mumia falsa. The Italian surgeon Giovanni da Vigo (1450-1525) defined mumia as “The flesh of a dead body that is embalmed, and it is hot and dry in the second [grade], and therefore it has virtue to incarne [i.e., heal over] wounds and to staunch blood”, and included it in his list of essential drugs.
See also this article (in English) published by German pharma company Merck.
What happens? A few young boys take up some rods, smoothen them (I guess so they don’t break), and then whip across the arms or the back of women, preferably in such a way that the skin breaks, leaving a bloody streak that will turn into a scar. It’s referred to as “culture” (here Banna, and likewise Hamer), and leaves the woman proud. Maybe for her capacity of endurance (as if they didn’t show it every day), her sacrifice for “culture”, and so on. After careful consideration I still see in it a way of making women obedient, and training young boys in the “art” of domestic violence, or so. Explain it in whichever way you like, since the ritual has no male equivalent (just as female genital mutilation has no real male equivalent) I find it not acceptable.