Day One – South Africa

Immanuel Mitchell Sodipe ’1P10902098 – On Our first full day in Johannesburg, we were greeted by birds chirping, bright sun, and a bit of jet lag. Warm breakfast, hot coffee and an introduction to the happenings of the day. Our tour guide, Malefi, talked to us about how he became politicized at the age of 13. This day was marked deeply by contrast –contrast between black and white and poor and rich. We’d leave our guest house, in Melville, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg, and drive towards Soweto, the township from which Nelson Mandela is from and the township that was ground zero for the 1976 student rebellion. Melville is predominantly white. Soweto is predominantly Black. It’s as if the color of poverty in South Africa is black. We saw the World Cup stadium a beautiful structure in the shape of a traditional tribal drinking bowl built to house the world’s largest and most expensive soccer competition. Maelefi told us that this didn’t bring many jobs for Soweto residents. Fifa uses “volunteers.”We saw the township engineered to be pitted against the mining compounds deprived buildings covered up by new developments to hide the poverty.We passed by Shanti towns on our way to the Regina Mundi Church– hogs by the river that floods it when it rains too much. The Regina Mundi church was a place Black South Africans organized for liberation for when the police came in, they could convert the organizing meeting to a church service. In class we learned and read about apartheid –separation and subjugation based on race. In post-apartheid South Africa, we saw the poverty that is a product of the past and also sustains it. Malefi told us that as much as the constitution has been a blessing –the ZA constitution being the most liberal in the world — it doesn’t change lives. Which got me thinking about the United States in comparison with South Africa. For as much as things change, things often stay the same. In the United States, Jim Crow (the set of U.S laws meant to separate and subjugate based on race) was said to end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the remnants of it –mass incarceration, deprived Black communities, child poverty, and other forms of state violence — still exist and destroy families. Likewise Apartheid was said to be over in 1994, but the remnants still exist and destroy families – And that’s just that, families live in –people live in– these deprived communities. Families are affected by racist policies and divestment. We’ve learned to see this, I believe, to focus on this (the affect on families) in our analysis of texts and history. P1090291-1

United Through Seclusion

Chase Bramlet ’16-        Each group we have studied during this trip, whether it be the people of Sapelo Island, the Yoruba people of the Oyotunji tribe, or the Gullah Geechee people in general, has attempted to seclude itself from the outside world in some way.  The people of Sapelo Island have a great deal of water around them to separate them from the many cultures of the outside world that would attempt to influence them while the Oyotunji are alone, deep in the woods that are protected from the discriminatory people of the region, and the Gullah Geechee people have built their own places of worship, like the First African Baptist Church, the oldest African American church in the country, established in 1832.

Beautiful shot of the stain glass.

Beautiful shot of the stain glass.

While seclusion isn’t necessarily the solution to all problems, these particular examples are very interesting because the people don’t attempt to cut all ties with the outside world, rather they maintain enough isolation to preserve the traditions that create their identity as a people.  This is what I have found most fascinating about the trip.  These people have remained true to their roots and ancestry despite the constant innovations around them.  This philosophy was one of the main points lectured by the speakers we heard in the Oyotunji community; preserving the ancestors and the history they provide.  Similarly, the citizens of Sapelo Island boast that they can list their family lineage twelve generations back!

On both Sapelo Island and within the walls of the First African Baptist Church there are many artifacts dating back well over 100 years.  One example of the attempts to honor the ancestors who struggled so hard to provide their descendants with a better life is the stain glass images found behind the altar.  The people belonging to both organizations have preserved these items in an attempt to honor the struggles of their ancestors, and to educate the visitors who come, about the mistakes of the past.  The way these people incorporate how their ancestors lived for hundreds of years into modern society is truly fascinating and quite admirable.  Among the many things I have learned from this trip, the persistence of these traditions is probably the most striking, and I think we could all learn a great deal by taking note of how the Gullah people respect their history.

The Many Faces of Savannah

Collin Bell ’17-

As I sit in my room and am talking with my classmates a common idea is thrown out that “You know, I don’t think I would have ever come here if it weren’t for this class.” I know for me I have never thought about coming and here and probably never would have. This immersion program offered me the opportunity to visit a city and culture that would not have been possible.Collin

Our class got the opportunity to visit Sapelo Island. Never have been in the United States and felt more out of the country. This island was purely stunning. From the second we got the island I felt that I had traveled to somewhere other than the United States. The people of this island were extremely opening to our class. During our tour we got to learn the history of the island and how it came to be. Many of the aspects that we learned about like the slave trade and diaspora of African people were subjects that we learned about in class. One stop during the tour we got to see the Reynolds Mansion. This house was extremely impressive. There were 18 rooms, a bowling alley, pool, circus room, library, and green house. For the time period and even now this mansion was and still is impressive.

Another opportunity that we had was to take a tour of the Gullah Geechee culture in downtown Savannah. During this tour we got to learn the history behind the First African Baptist Church and how their ancestors influenced the current generation and how the church came to be. Being able to read about the Gullah culture and history and then being able to see it in action was really interesting. Part of my project is to research the connection to ancestors and being able to see a church that was built by their ancestors is really interesting.

Front entrance to the First African Baptist Church.

Front entrance to the First African Baptist Church.

On our final day in Savannah we were able to visit the Oyotunji Village in South Carolina. This opportunity was quite an experience. Being able to see the Yoruba religion in practice was really interesting. During our visit, we were also able to meet the King and that in itself was awesome. Meeting the King of a tribe that lies in the United States but is its own region was something that would not have been possible without this trip.

This trip has presented me the opportunity to visit a city and island that would have never been possible or feasible. This being my first immersion program, it has given me an opportunity that I would have never been to do. Being able to immerse myself in a different culture and different location with fellow Wallies is an experience like none other.

The First African Baptist Church

Austin Heise ’17-  Greetings from Savannah! Sunday morning we made our way to the historic First African Baptist Church. It was such a great experience! The music was powerful, and I was greatly impressed with the preacher’s message. What was extremely interesting was how the service and tour we took on Sunday went hand in hand with our course. We saw African influences, such as the ring shout and original African rhythms. It was quite an experience and the church welcomed us wit open arms, even giving us a shoutout at the end of the service.

Altar view of the First African Baptist Church

Altar view of the First African Baptist Church

I was also interested in how things were conducted so differently than churches that I have previously attended. We observed call and response, another element we studied in our course, and gender roles in the service. It was great seeing how church looks from a different perspective, and get experience things that we talked about in class.

Monument in honor of the Haitian people in Savannah.

Monument in honor of the Haitian people in Savannah.

We also took a historical Geechee culture tour later in the day, and we saw multiple historic areas around the city, such as the monument that is dedicated to the Haitian people and their bravery when they protected Savannah. We also got a private tour of the church, and we learned that red doors on a building mean ownership to the Geechee down here, and that light blue “haint blue” keeps away any evil presence on the inside or outside of the house.

Lastly, a major shoutout and thanks to Professor Wilson and Morton, as well as Wabash for the great trip. I’m so glad we have a few days left!

The People of Sapelo

Dakota Rhodes ’18-  Below is author and Gullah Geechee resident, Mrs. Cornelia W. Bailey. It was a pleasure to meet her on Sapelo Island this past Saturday. Aaron Stewart and I had the pleasure of sitting with her to hear her story, as well as anything else that she wanted to tell us, or answer questions we had about her culture and up bringing. She is a native of Sapelo Island; having been born and entirely brought up in that culture. Her husband owns the only convenience store on the island. She is now in her sixties living what she said is a good life. We talked mostly about how she felt about growing up in Sapelo, how her life has been, and exciting things that she was apart of. One thing that I found very interesting about Mrs. Bailey was the fact that she had written a book based off of the time period that she was born into. It wasn’t very  common in the era that Mrs. Bailey was raised in for a woman to be educated beyond grade school. She had told us how her parents made her go to school to get an education and how it has affected her up to this day.

Mrs. Bailey speaking to the group.

Mrs. Bailey speaking to the group.

One funny thing about Mrs. Bailey was that she doesn’t like for her picture taken unless you ask her first; even refusing to the most inquisitive of visitors. I like the fact that she has respect for herself for being a living historian of Sapelo Island culture. However, she never wants for people to look or treat her like she is a tourist attraction. She has pride for herself as a Gullah and the legacy that she carries. After Aaron and I were done talking with her and were ready to go, she made us wait and asked her neighbor to go get us some Sapelo pecans from her tree in her yard. We received a three-pound bag of pecans for Mrs. Bailey  for taking time to talk to her. That was my time with Mrs. Cornelia Bailey.

First Taste of Savannah

Haopeng Yan ’16- During my first two days in Savannah, Georgia, I have had a wide range of unique experiences. In the meantime, I was amazed by the creativity and ingenuity of each site that we visited. For example, we went to Sapelo Island in the first day of our trip. This is an isolated and protected island that no car is allowed on the island. Also, only organized visitors are allowed on the ferry.  Because of the islands particular location, the fifth generation of Gullah Geechee people that live there, make a living there and retain their culture from one generation to another. Our tour guide, JR, took us on a five-hour tour and invited us to an authentic low country meal made by his sister. Low country cuisine is the cooking traditionally associated with the South Carolina and the Georgia coast. While it shares features with Southern cooking, its geography, economics, demographics, and culture shape its culinary identity in a different direction from the other regions. The meal we had includes buffalo chicken, green beans, and corn bread.

Snapshots from the visit to Sapelo Island.

Snapshots from the visit to Sapelo Island.

On the second day of our trip, we were invited by First Black Baptist Church in downtown Savannah to have Sunday worship. First Black Baptist Church is the oldest black church in North America and was established when the Baptist Church was laying its foundation in America. This is a very memorable event for me because this is the first worship that I have ever attended. During the worship, two pastors led the worship through storytelling and prayer. In addition to this, there was a lot of call-and-response singing. Four African American women guided the entire church to sing the anthem with them, making it a very unforgettable scene for me.

Rhodes and Greene on Ndebele

Christian Rhodes ’17 – Njabule Ndebele is a very interesting author because he is distinctly different than most of the other authors that we have read this semester. Ndebele himself came from a very educated household, his father was a teacher and his mother was a nurse. We can read Test as somewhat autobiographical because the young boy’s parents were a teacher and a nurse. Ndebele was also a Zulu, so despite the fact that he came from an educated household, he still was in touch with his Zulu roots. Ndebele himself followed in his father footsteps of academia. He has a BA in English and philosophy, masters in English literature, and a doctorate in philosophy. He has worked at or with 13 different Universities and Colleges and has 11 different honorary doctorates from Universities around the world. To this day he remains a significant figure in the South African higher education system. In Ndebele’s story of Uncle we see the story of a boy and his uncle. His uncle was not a visible figure in the boy’s life for many years. The uncle then made a reappearance and became a very important figure in the boy’s life. I read the story as a coming of age story for the boy because he sees his first female body and explores sexuality. His uncle also teaches him about race, ethnicity, identity, and many more things that father figures would. Ndebele’s style of writing is more passive than political. He stated that he did not write his pieces as political, but from a reader point of view, I think that it can be read as such. The intentional approach of not political makes me read more into what is not being said, rather than what is explicitly written. The fact that there is a lack of strong prevalent white oppressors is interesting because it is almost as if Ndebele is making a point about the struggle of growing up and living through apartheid in a unique way.

Zach Greene ’16 – In Njabulo Ndebele’s Fools and Other Stories, there are great metaphors used in the story “Uncle” to describe the changes in civilization over time. The Uncle in the story is visiting his nephew for a short time. In his desire to be a good Uncle, he decides to impart a bit of wisdom to his nephew. He describes the destructive force of volcanoes and how they are able to make large-scale change. The Uncle then goes on to explain how the history of people is made up by brief, but significant change. This metaphor leads the nephew to have an interesting and highly symbolic dream. Within the nephew’s dream, a sky full of planes appears over his township while everyone stands still in the streets. This first section of his dream appears to be symbolizing how the world seems to be flying by South Africa while there is great inequality. The outside world has no care about what is going on there and thus, South Africa does not change and the people are not moving. However, there is the point where the volcano erupts, or the great significant change in society happens. In the second portion of the dream, the nephew and the members of the township begin running around the township with no regard for where they are going. This could perhaps be a nod to the displacement of non-combatants during civil war and political instability.

Cramer and Campbell on Literature

Ben Cramer ’17 – From the daemon in The Golden Compass to the patronus in Harry Potter, the animal familiar is a common trope in children’s literature, so though Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City could hardly be considered suitable for kids, I was prepared for the story’s universe to follow similar rules. Typically, the animal companion is the embodiment of some essential element of one’s personality and in some way informs characterization. However I was thrown for a loop by some of the animal pairings. They’re not very consistent with textual personality traits. There’s something to be said for a disaffected film student becoming an Afghan warlord and getting, incongruously, a penguin, though Odi Huron has an apex predator while being the Big Bad at the end of the novel. Most troubling for me actually is Zinzi’s Sloth. Time and again we see she’s one of the hardest working characters in the novel, so a sloth really does not make sense. On a meta level, Zoo City is not a children’s book, so such simplistic approaches to character personalities would be a bit insulting to the reader. However, I’m also not content to read this as though the animals are arbitrary or random, and having only half or some of the animals mean something is lazy in a way that Lauren Beukes is not.


Ty Campbell ’16 – “Uncle,” a short story compiled within Njabulo Ndebele’s Fools: And Other Stories, describes a visit made by the main character’s maternal uncle. The uncle is a popular musician whom attracts attention of the village in which he is visiting. His musical ability can be viewed by the reader as being a unifying symbol of the oppressed while also being a symbol of colonial resentment. Through the introduction of the uncle, the reader is able to conceptualize a unifying factor of the South African anti-apartheid movement: music. Lightly during the short story, jabs and remarks made by characters tell the story of the oppressive nature of white rule and dominance in South Africa. The uncle, who is an active traveler, makes comments about the large control the State has on the village in which his sister and nephew live. As stated by the uncle, “…this being a small place, you can feel the foul breath of those stupid Boers going down your neck much more than you can in a big place like Jo’burg” (Ndebele 79). The uncle is likely referring to the strong police presence in the small town that enforces white culture upon the predominantly black African residents. Also, within a flashback to the main characters prior memories with his uncle, he remembers interactions his uncle would have with local men. In a conversation with the men about the news, the main character remembers, “They would reading the Golden City Post of the Sunday Times. After greeting, Uncle would say: ‘So what does the white man say today?’ ‘The usual thing,’ they would say. ‘So why keep on reading?’ ‘To make myself angrier and angrier!’” (Ndebele 71). The passage processes humor but is meant to be critical of the relationship between the whites reporting the news and the black Africans reading the media. Ndebele adds these types of scenes within the short story to set up the significance of Uncle’s character.  Self-expression and resentment to the oppressive white culture is a significant aspect of black South African rebellion to colonial rule. In the videos we have seen in class, music and dance were ways in which black Africans were able to resist cultural oppression while maintaining their native practices. In a description given by brother Mandla about Uncle, “this is how you are when you play the trumpet. When you play you are exaggerated. You are bigger than what you normally are because you have become all those who are listening to you” (Ndebele 78). The description is a great way of explaining how music is used as a unifying symbol, the music and movement is bigger than any one individual. At the end of the story, the villagers and come together outside the main characters’ home and collectively celebrate the expression of their culture. Uncle’s musical ability is a great example of the black South African unifying symbol of music.

Frye and Artis on Gordimer

Nick Frye ’16 - Remember when South Africa ended apartheid with a violent revolt with the aid of the Russians, Cubans, and other African countries?  If you said no, do not worry  - this is just the setting for Nadine Gordimer’s fictional book, July’s People.  During this revolt, that never actually occurred, a family of white liberals find themselves fleeing to the village of their African servant, July.  The Smales family, had thought themselves a progressive people in the time of apartheid in South Africa.  The family had been very kind to their servant July, at least in their eyes.  They had instructed him to call them Sir or Madame instead of master; they had paid him quite fairly; they had let him go home to his village once every two years; and, they had given him gifts to take home to his wife during this time.  This family had viewed themselves as being progressive for the way that they treated July and other African people, and they did not truly believe in apartheid.  This is where the problems begin to arise. I think that one of the main points that Gordimer makes with this book is that it does not matter how liberal whites claim to be in South Africa in the time of apartheid.  They might publicly disagree with apartheid, and they might have joined some different political parties in protest of apartheid, but when everything is said and done, most of these whites were still participating in the apartheid system. The Smales family was still contributing to it by hiring an African servant who they thought they paid well, but compared to a white servant, they were probably paying a lot less.  They thought that they were progressive when they had July call them Sir instead of master, but in reality, the changing of titles does not make any difference at all.  July would still have to complete the same tasks no matter what the title of his employer is.  The only difference that it might make is by giving the ones with the titles a false sense of being fair. Gordimer’s writing must have been heavily influenced by the works of Biko. I wrote about Biko’s opinion on how white liberals should not necessarily be involved in the movement of the Africans to free themselves from apartheid.  Biko writes about how the whites can truly never understand what the Africans are trying to achieve, and that even if the whites are trying to help get rid of apartheid, they are still using the system in their day to day lives.  Biko is basically writing about the Smales family from Gordimer’s book, and how they should not necessarily be involved in the movement.  I find this kind of funny considering that Gordimer herself was a white liberal.  This work might have been her way of showing other white liberals at the time that just because that disagreed with apartheid did not mean that they were not still taking advantage of it.

Ian Artis ’16 – Arguably the more experimental of the novels we’ve read excepting A Question of Power, Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People is a novel which narrates a world in which the Soweto Riots would have been successful – a novel in which blacks now carry the power. Overthrown by the black population, whites are now the enemy. Their neighborhoods are destroyed and they are forced to flee. Even air travel is not a safe escape, as planes are being shot out of the sky. A striking feature of the novel is the black character, July, and his relationship post civil war to Maureen Smales. Maureen and Bam, her husband, used to employ July, a black man. The white couple would sign his passbook as he traveled back and forth from his area to his own. Once the system of apartheid was toppled, July took the couple into his village. The language surrounding the power shift Maureen and July’s relationship is somewhat sexually charged: “the incredible tenderness of the evening surrounded them as if mistaking them for lovers” (Gordimer 153) and a moment in which Maureen is aware that July is watching her scantily clad form both lend to the idea that Maureen and July’s relationship may have taken a sexual turn. Is this possible? Is it necessary? Potentially – especially since the gun Bam brought with them suddenly turns up missing. With the missing gun comes symbolic castration – after it is confirmed that the gun is gone, Maureen returns to the house to find Bam feeding the children, very typically seen as “a womans’ job”. Everything is on its head. Just consider the title – who has ownership in the story? July. He now has the agency, the power. They are his people; they rely on him. At any moment, if the mood strikes him, he can turn them over to militants and have him killed. Why not, then, since her husband is now powerless, keep July sexually satisfied? The entire crumbling of traditional power structures is well detailed in the novel.

Sodipe and Andre on Gordimer

Immanuel Mitchell-Sodipe ’18 – Nadine Gordimer sets her novel, July’s People in the context of a fictional civil war in South Africa in which the Black South Africans overthrow the system of apartheid — the very system from which the two main characters, Maureen and Bamford Smales (a married couple of white liberals) benefit from, though they may seem to show “objection” to it. There’s a slew of symbolism in this novel, all in an attempt to describe what revolution means for white South Africans — the conservatives and the liberal types alike. Gordimer also makes an attempt to pull back the veil of marriage and white middle class sensibilities, sentiments and values. The Smales’ go from having a Black servant (July) to having a Black savior (still, July). Later on in the book, there is a scene in which Bamford Smales loses his gun — a symbol of the white power nationalist structure. In class, we talked about the possibility of Maureen being attracted to July, and if this is the case, then the novel shows a complete revolution. The white power structure, involving its institutions of course but also its manifestations, were overthrown in the civil war. We see the patriarchal nation state (Bamford) lose its power (gun). We see Bamford emasculated by Maureen’s rejection of her husband for July. In thinking about this novel — thinking about the civil war and revolution — it is easy for me to think about Soweto. It is easy for me to figure that this is what Soweto could have meant for the Black South Africans.

Derek Andre ’16 - Over the past week, our class read the 1981 novel July’s People by Nadine Gordimer. The novel exists in an alternate history where black uprisings in Apartheid South Africa, such as the Soweto Uprising, were successful in toppling the Apartheid regime. Because of the overthrow, the Smales family, a family of white liberals, are smuggled out of town by their black servant July. Over the course of the book the power dynamic between the former-oppressors and the former-oppressed flip to a point where July, toward the end of the novel, becomes the dominant force in the relationship. In sum, July’s People is an interesting take on the ways that power can shift based on outside forces. I found it interesting, having completed the book, how the nature of the novel can change depending on the perspective of the reader, especially those in South Africa at the time of the novel’s publishing. For White-South Africa in 1981, it’s hard to imagine this work as anything less than a perverse, dystopian fiction. For Black-South Africa, the novel was, in some ways, a beacon of hope that their efforts, both militaristic and peaceful, could be successful and that they would come to dominate the country in the coming years. To be fair, this does seem to be the case for most literature, but the stark difference between the two perspectives seems to be especially noticeable here.