Category Archives: Africa

A Cool Place

By Larry H. Spruill

Every soul needs shade
cover from their fiery
solar furnace
broiling over
their cans and can’ts
stumbling through
the heat of the day
steady caravans through the
Sahara of life
seeking a cool place
to rest and reflect
upon the next move
in the sweltering debilitating
blanket of a breezeless
West African noon day.

Every soul needs shade
from blistering skies
driving every soul,
creature and thing
to the leafy limbering
branches beneath
the faint coolness of
the sweet mango tree.

Souls of Black Folks: Reading DuBois in Ghana

By Larry H. Spruill
(Spring 2004)

But the hushing of the criticism of honest opponents is a dangerous thing. It leads some of the best of the critics to unfortunate silence and paralysis of effort, and others to burst into speech so passionately and intemperately as to lose listeners. Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched, — criticism of writers by readers, of governments by those governed, of leaders by those led, — this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society.

W.E.B. DuBois
Souls of Black Folks

We are about to celebrate the centennial of this important piece of 20th century literature. I have read it several times over the last 30 years. Reading it in Ghana gave Dr. DuBois’ spirit an opportunity to speak to me. He inspired me to see new things in his long standing treatise on black culture. This was my third time visiting his house, museum and grave site. Nothing has changed. There were no new artifacts. No new publications. In fact, I was a bit concerned with the continuous deterioration of the last earthly possessions of this giant mind.

It is so strange to see this homage to DuBois the ultimate mulatto and quintessential intellectual in Ghana, the sanctuary of Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism. Perhaps in the next world, he and Marcus Garvey are finally having tea and discussing ways to influence the living to seriously consider AU (African Union) in the context of political democracy and personal liberties. The African proclivity towards tyranny and political violence must be discussed. There must be an end to discussions about colonial and racial victimization as rationales for ethnic wars, fratricidal political conflicts and the lack of freedom in Africa.

These same tendencies appear in urban centers in America when people of African descent obtain political empowerment in local communities. Criticism of black politicians is considered treason. The black electorate is required to become passive sheep to new sable overlords. Democracy and Western-styled freedom are essential to accountability to the people who are not only the governed but the government. The right to criticize a government must not depend on the color of the governors, but an inalienable right to do so.

On The Other Side of The Window

By Larry H. Spruill

Legions of worn out thinly threaded dresses
partially covering dusty wirery legs
capped with barefeet with crusted toes
encircled by flip flop shower shoes
walking the tube like two lane highways
crossed by narrow red dirt roads
cleared of brush by well beaten foot paths
leading to distant bush villages
walking under a golden glowing setting sun
casting elongated shadows
of young boys and girls
skillfully hauling upon their heads
deep pots of evening water
to their adobe homes
They walk with the agility and grace
of ballerinas and Bolshoi dancers
eyes fixed on the distant puffs of smoke
bellowing from the village hearths and chimneys
what are they thinking about?
What stirs the souls on the other side of the
polarized bus window?
The blanket of night will soon fall.
They will disappear into the darkness.
There are many hours before I stop to rest.
For now, I pass soul after soul in an air-cooled bus
on my way to a frigid hotel room and restaurant.
I cannot imagine their dreams for tomorrow.
Perhaps, an effortless day of fresh water and food?
I do not know how to really know
my people
on the other side of the window.

African Words for My Camera

By Larry H. Spruill

Africa sings colorful words for my camera
abstract poems with delightful rhymes
African people, places and things
weave epic images of surreal ambivalence
poverty and prosperity
wisdom and ignorance
hope and despair
good and evil
life and death
and everything in between
listening and looking
at a romantic African panoramic view of
what was and is…
ancestors, ancient patterned rainbow cloths
weaving the past and present and posterity
cotton symbols laden with proverbs and riddles
scarified faces offering collective
social security numbers and mass IDs
amulets and exorcisms
chants to the living dead
intertwined with bellowing drums
and pounding feet in a nocturnal dance
lamenting a proud and potent past
succumbing to internet cafes
replacing village PO boxes
with living
with no chief
no Vodun priest
no sun, moon and stars
just kilometers and kilometers of cyberspace
cluttered with virtual villages and towns

Africa gives me colorful words for my camera
portraits with divergent angles, textures
and brilliant fujichrome skies
and scarlet mud floors
to pour libations of welcome
to a New Age
bursting with radical shifts
sometimes comfortable
most times tenuous
frightening blips on the global screen
changes blinking in milliseconds
on 35 millimeter plastic strips
recorded transformations
carefully worded and framed
for me to see…to read…to share…
to understand the mystery of how
dust becomes mud pots and
mud pots become dust
before my camera’s eye
Africa sings colorful words
with a melodious heart
of ballads and blues
lyrics just for my camera.

Slow Fade to Eternity

Life passes through Africa
in a slow panning motion
a fuzzy PBS documentary of
the day’s everything
a dry but interesting survey
of periled exotica
a treadmill of blackened footsteps
through the sacred forests
of gods, ancestors, elders
and you and I
and us
making our way
through the past
to the present
and the promised
fast forwarding
fantastic frames by frame by frame
life unto death unto life
in slow fades from light
into darkness into light
and so on
and so on
into eternity!

Larry H. Spruill

Looping my Stills

The Reel Keeps Rolling

I photograph Africa because I cannot erase the legacy of slave trading and bondage that rooted me and mine in the west. Through photography I can capture and keep Africa with me in the land of my captivity and cultural transformation.

Any day and time that I wish, I can move to Africa just by thawing my frozen Fuji-chrome moments of its people, places and things. The brilliant colors faithfully come alive and beam the flow of life in my eyes. The heartbeat rhythms and pace are played back in my ears. The sweet and pungent aromas are fresh in my nostrils. The silky texture of Asante kente delight my fingers. The sizzling peppers anesthetize my taste buds. The distant come closer. The faint become clear. The unseen become evident. The forgotten becomes mortal.

My African stills become animated flesh, blood and bone experiences of what was and is and must always be in my life. These are my living images capable of skillfully touching those who wish to share the potent journey of my camera vision – my photographed moments in Africa. My silent reel of African stills pump life into my marrowless bone dry narrative of life in Eden.

Larry H. Spruill

Beneath the Ogan Tree

In Abomey, Benin
West Africa

women and men
boys and girls
brilliantly colored cloths
trimming strong legs
with dancing brown feet
delicately stomping out
the syncopated rhythms
of the jimbe
massaging the red sandy
earthen floors
swept smooth for
the king’s processional
singing praises
to the ancestors
and his royal highness
kissing the sacred earth
before the makeshift throne
graceful eldresses
moving like palm trees
under a gentle breeze
chanting lips
bursting with praises
peculiar sounds
echoing beyond the compound
announcing the gathering
of lost family from afar
welcomed by the king
and his court
beneath the shady arms
of the Ogan tree.

By Larry H. Spruill