Home » Column
Category Archives: Column
By Serginho Roosblad
The month of February is one of two periods in the year when the country’s African heritage is brought into focus in Guyana. While February is designated “African History Month” (sometimes called Black History Month), the focus is renewed in August because of the anniversary of Emancipation in that month, and the narrow interpretation that the abolition of slavery is of exclusive ‘African’ significance. During these periods there are several references to ‘African culture’ and, generally, a concentration on performing arts which are considered African.
This Guyanese African celebration, however, is hardly as rich as it could easily be because it is usually accompanied by a range of misconceptions and a fair degree of superficiality in many quarters. African culture generally, and African culture in a Guyanese context, have much wider meaning and significance than is normally appreciated. Too often, the impression is given that we are referring to a homogenous mass from one continent and one culture. Then, there is a tendency to limit this African focus to what may be contained in artistic performance. (In Guyanese English, a ‘culture show’ means a concert with a variety of music, dance and drama, while a “cultural item” is a theatrical performance.)
In the context of the African heritage, it is not difficult to understand this confinement to the arts. In Africa and the diaspora, the people maintain a tradition of expressing most elements of their existence through art, oral literature and theatrical performance. As it is for everyone else, art is entertainment, but it also has very powerful religious functions in addition to the secular. It is not reserved for special occasions only, but is a part of everyday life and has an important social context. Art has roles in the life cycle, in rites of passage, religion, social control and cosmology. Therefore, the African artistic expression is steeped in symbolism, spirituality and icons, and serious rituals take the form of theatrical performances. That apart, African culture is certainly not restricted to artistic exhibition. It covers the ways of life of many peoples, ranging from architecture to clothing, food, agriculture and manners. These cultural traditions as previously practised by Africans transplanted to Guyana and maintained by their descendants have faded drastically, through natural processes, socialization, acculturation and human action.
During slavery, the plantocracy orchestrated the suppression of many customs and traditions, especially language and those practices that threatened the security of the system and its ruling class. They were suspicious of whatever they did not understand. However, some theatrical acts that they considered harmless were, in fact, insurrectionary, while others had very violent rivalry among the black practitioners and were aimed, not at the white colonialists, but against each other. Through successive combinations of legislation, criminalization, political suppression, natural processes of language change, language death and acculturation, several traditions disappeared.
Despite the part played by such forces, one effective cause of the decline in African cultural traditions in Guyana was self-inflicted. This is the affliction known as self-contempt. Through centuries of socialization including a hierarchy or race and class, many blacks came to regard their own culture as inferior and degrading; as something to be ashamed of. As a result, they themselves suppressed it, severely reducing its passage down to succeeding generations.
Ignorance or indifference filled the gaps, including the notion of homogeneity, which ignores the existence of many different cultures in Africa North and South of the Sahara, including the white, the Arab and the Islamic. This particular vacancy in knowledge of the African culture has led to misrepresentation and superficiality. It is common for both audience and performers to believe that any drum or any drumming is “African,” notwithstanding the loud presence of the tassa and tabla in Guyana. The same goes for dance, where performing a choreographed program with vigorous, pelvic movements to the music of drums is enough to make it “African.”
There are, however, several different types of African drums, the most common in Guyana being the congo, bongo, “boom” (used in the masquerade) funde, batta and bass. The “kittle” used in the masquerade is actually a version of the “kettle” known in the European military. The African rhythms are even more varied and have actual, distinguishing characteristics. They are, of course, highly tonal. Tonality is the key to understanding the famous “talking drums” of the Akan. Most rhythms are combinations of two or more drums of different tones accompanied by other percussion instruments such as the “katta stick.” In addition, these rhythms are often attached to religious ritual with distinct sounds related to specific deities and ceremonies. Examples of these are kumfa (cumfa), yamapele and the gumbay formerly associated with the obeah dances. Contrary to popular misapplication, the kwe kwe (queh queh) dance is not accompanied by drums. The pounding of the feet against the ground keeps time and rhythm. The basic ‘high life’ time, which is secular party music, is the root of the soca.
Many other rhythms have deep ritual or religious significance and have to be studied by the drummers since they are used to communicate with deities and to induce spirit possession. African drumming is therefore a learnt, if not a specialist, art and not any rhythm played on a Guyanese folk drum is “African.” The dances, too, include the religious and the ritualistic, although it must be stressed that some of them have become secularized and no longer hold any cosmic significance for those who practice them today. A very good example of this is the masquerade whose original symbolism is no longer meaningful to the contemporary dancers.
In these African traditions, too, dress or costume holds some significance, which most often is not understood by onlookers or those wishing to perform them. Those dances that are ritualistic use colours which are important. For example, in those with Yoruba roots, bright red is symbolic of the god, Shango, dark wineûred is for Ogun, god or iron, war and the road, while blue is for the goddess Oya. Many persons performing `African’ dance are unaware of the colour symbolism, which extends to several other aspects of the performance. Also in the costuming are different head-ties and waist bands, all bearing specific meaning. These aspects of the African performance are always ignored and some items thus become rather arbitrary with no particular “Africanness.”
Yet another important misconception about African performance and custom, leads to pejorative attitudes and negative stereotyping. One of these has to do with sexuality. Many performance traditions are sexually suggestive because exhibitions of sexuality, including some degree of explicitness, are symbolic of fertility, continuance of the life cycle, manhood or marriage. Ever since slavery and colonial times these displays were condemned as lewd, vulgar and gratuitous. A good example well known today is the kwe kwe, which thrives on sexual reference in words and gesture. This is often judged as a sign of the AfricanÆs liberal way of life. It is a stigma attached to the Guyanese folk songs as well.
Ironically, however, the kwe kwe, like the folk songs, is didactic and is a tradition which upholds moral behaviour, chastizes promiscuity, celebrates chastity and brings African ‘nations’ together through a strong marriage tradition. It instructs bride and groom and serves as a means of social control. Another stereotype is the myth that Africans have no interest or skills in business. Yet in African traditions bargaining is an art and it is considered an insult to lose in a bargain. Moreover, African men are judged according to their industry, material productivity and wealth, accumulated through work.
One problem is that true knowledge of such African custom does exist in many villages and among individuals in Guyana. These remain unresearched by “African” organizations whose over-riding interest seems to be political. They gravitate towards partisan politics rather than a quest for knowledge of African traditions. At the same time many who feel committed to perform the arts, end up in pseudo û African exhibitions, shallow and arbitrary in form and content.
What is of great importance is that this nation is Guyana, not Ghana, Nigeria or Zimbabwe and should strive first for a national identity, not imitate a foreign one. This can easily be achieved by gaining as much knowledge as possible about the Guyanese African heritage. Guyana is enriched by its multi-cultural existence. Such ethnic groups as the East Indian, Portuguese, Amerindian and African have strong traditions which have evolved in Guyana. Each is Guyanese. It is nonsense to try to mix or merge them although there are important and interesting hybrid forms that have developed naturally. The African heritage has been localized, creolized or indigenized in Guyana and is therefore a part of the national culture.
I need your expert advice on a problem that’s beginning to fester.
My husband and I have been married for 10 years. Three years ago we decided to separate because we simply could not get along. We disagreed on everything from finances to the best way to discipline our child, so we split but remained very close. While separated, we both dated other people but we spent holidays together and took vacations as a family. Fast forward to present day and we’re a full-time, cohabitating married couple again. This was mainly hubby’s decision; I simply went along with it for the financial perks & benefits. Don’t get me wrong though, I do love the man. So far it’s been 4 months being “married” again and things are great for the most part – – – except when it comes to sex. In a nutshell, I hate having sex with my husband now and wouldn’t mind if I never had to do it with him ever again!
While we were separated I had a relationship with another man who embodied all the physical traits a woman like me (and a few men I know,) could ask for. In addition to having the good looks of Blair Underwood with a touch of Lance Gross, the man was 6’4”, 220lbs of pure chocolately goodness! He kept himself in great shape, was college-educated, home-owner, remained gainfully employed and childless! To add the icing to the cake, sex with him was nothing short of VANGLORIOUS!!!(tongue-in-cheek). The man came equipped with 9 inches of instant gratification and was a master at his trade. He made my body hum! I’m by no means inexperienced and I can say hands down, he was the best lover I had in all my years of sexual exploration.
Now I’m back with my husband and can’t even trick myself into having sex with him. When I do muster up the nerve to have sex (which has only been twice in 4 months) it has to be doggy-style so I don’t have to see his body. For years I faked it with hubby, and now I can’t even put on the act anymore. I just lie there like a dead fish waiting for him to finish while I’m making a grocery list in my head. I’m completely turned off by his extra weight and small member. Yeah, yeah, I put up with it for years with no complaints, but that was before the Chocolate Man Wonder (CMW) came and rocked my world. No amount of fantasizing or sex toys can amount to what CMW delivered naturally. Now I don’t know what to do. On one hand, I want to stay with hubby because he loves and spoils me to death. On the other, I want to continue having sex with CMW. I’m on the verge of discussing having an open relationship with my husband, but I’m not sure that will go over well. I really want the best of both worlds – I want to continue being treated like a Queen by my husband, but I also want to continue having mind-altering sex with my lover.
What’s a girl to do? – Ms. Adiza
Nearly half of all women will suffer from lost libido, with devastating consequences, but only now are the reasons emerging.
With her stunning looks and voluptuous figure, Nicky Allen is used to turning men’s heads. And with three marriages behind her, it’s hardly surprising that people assume she must be sexually confident.
As 57-year-old Nicky herself puts it: “The girls at the golf club thought having three husbands was really racy.”
The truth, however, was altogether different. Because far from having a thrilling love life, Nicky, a fashion retailer from West Sussex in the UK, is one of an increasing number of women who find themselves blighted by a total lack of libido.
What the ladies in the clubhouse didn’t know is that the reason Nicky’s third marriage collapsed three years ago was that in the decade before, the number of physical encounters with her husband could be counted on the fingers of two hands.
So while she might have appeared to have it all — a comfortable home, a good marriage and a successful business — inside, Nicky, who has two grown-up children, just felt sad and miserable.
And she admits the decline in her sex drive that followed the birth of her second child 29 years ago was a factor in the breakdown of all three of her marriages.
“I just became less and less interested in sex,” she says. “Eventually, it wasn’t on the agenda at all. Not that I wasn’t interested in the idea — but it just didn’t do anything for me.”
Life changes may cause decline
Studies in Britain, Europe and America, involving thousands of women of all ages, indicate that anything between 30 and 50per cent of women have been hit by prolonged periods of little or no sex drive.
Other surveys have shown that more than a third of women do not experience orgasm with a partner, or find sex actively painful. The causes of this still relatively little-understood problem are complex, and range from the biological to the psychological and even social.
While women can be affected by loss of sex drive at any age, life changes such as childbirth and the menopause also play a part.
When a woman loses interest in sex, the impact on both her and her partner can be catastrophic.
“There is no question that this is causing depression and a whole host of headaches, pains and other apparently unconnected physical problems,” says Mike Perring, a GP and sexual psychotherapist at University College Hospital, London. “Good sex is part of general well-being for most people.”
Author Nicci Talbot, 38, from Hastings, East Sussex, knows the agony caused by a lack of sex drive only too well. She spent most of her late teens and early 20s wondering why she was so different to other women.
As a young woman, Nicci had almost no interest in sex — but she was too embarrassed to discuss the problem with anyone.
“My first relationship didn’t start until I was 20 and studying at university,” she says. “It wasn’t a huge success. I just didn’t feel much excitement or sexual responsiveness, and my boyfriend wasn’t really interested in understanding what the problem was.”
“I just felt I was different from everyone else — that there was something wrong with me. It meant I suffered hugely from a lack of physical and psychological confidence.”
Nicci has always wondered if her problem was hormone-related. She didn’t reach puberty till she was 17, and for the remainder of her teenage years she had irregular periods.
However, the contraceptive Pill prescribed to regulate her periods and, hopefully, to improve her hormone levels and libido, seemed to reduce her sex drive even further, and doctors were unable to offer any alternative.
“It just wasn’t the kind of thing I could talk about then with friends. I would have felt stupid, though now I have spoken to lots of women and learned it’s very common.”
Nicci, who writes health handbooks for a living, says: “It’s ironic that Sex And The City and erotic literature such as Fifty Shades Of Grey have meant that people talk about sex more than ever, but are probably doing it less than anyone realises.”
Testosterone levels in question
So what do experts believe lies behind this decline in women’s libidos? And can it be treated effectively?
Many believe that a general reduction in women’s levels of testosterone may be to blame.
Contrary to popular opinion, testosterone is not just a male hormone. Healthy young women have ten times more testosterone than oestrogen circulating in their bodies, and it regulates mood, energy and libido in women almost as much as it does in men.
Production of the hormone is stimulated by regular sex — meaning once a woman loses interest in intercourse, it can become a vicious circle. But levels of testosterone in women decline naturally by an average of 50 per cent between the ages of 20 and 45, and continue to decline — though rather less dramatically — as part of the general ageing process. However, inexplicably, some women experience a much greater fall in the level of the hormone — which may explain why an absence of sex drive might occur at any age.
Martin Godfrey, a GP in Central London who has treated many women suffering from a reduced sex drive, says the proliferation of libido-boosters for men, such as Viagra, also seem to be exacerbating the problem.
He says: “You might have an older husband who suddenly wants more sex, and a wife of the same age who feels under pressure to perform. It makes a lot of women feel insecure and inadequate.”
It’s the stress
But for many thousands of women, it’s the rising levels of routine daily stress, exacerbated by the current harsh economic climate, that is wrecking their libido, as stress is a key killer of testosterone production.
Sarah Brewer, a GP with an interest in sexual health, adds: “If you’re stressed, you produce the hormone cortisol, which in turn leads to production of another hormone called prolactin, the ‘celibacy hormone’.
“It is the same hormone produced by breastfeeding mothers, and is designed to reduce the risk of further pregnancies happening too soon by significantly lowering libido. It is a vicious circle.”
In addition, some 150 commonly prescribed medications are also now known to have a negative impact on desire, from the contraceptive Pill to anti-depressants, painkillers and blood pressure treatments.
And then there’s the menopause. In an ongoing international study of 8,000 post-menopausal women, two out of five British women said ‘the change’ had wrecked their sex lives because tissue dries up and sex becomes uncomfortable.
But a lack of desire can affect women at any age. Claire Turner, 26, a PR consultant who now lives in London, says the sexual spark has deserted her, even though her devotion to her boyfriend of seven years is as strong as ever.
“Things have just changed,” she says. “At first I put it down to the long-term effect of being on the Pill since I was 16, but my libido started to desert me when my boyfriend was struggling to find a job and I was supporting us both. The financial stress certainly didn’t help matters.”
Her boyfriend now has a job, but sex remains a chore and happens only once or twice a month.
Help in herbs, pelvic floor exercises
In recent years, a plethora of websites has sprung up offering gels, creams, dietary supplements and erotic accessories that promise to bring back desire.
Additionally, GP Sarah Brewer says increasing numbers of woman are turning to natural sex-drive boosters including gingko biloba, St John’s wort and black cohosh, but she admits they may not work.
Nicci Talbot, meanwhile, claims herbal treatments helped her. After finishing her English degree, she went travelling in Australia where she learned of black cohosh and angelica, two plant-based libido treatments.
Black cohosh is believed to mimic sex hormones and encourage blood flow to the pelvis, while angelica root is thought to be the female equivalent of the male aphrodisiac ginseng.
Nicci says the herbs, used alongside counselling and acupuncture, solved her libido problems. She says she now feels sexual excitement when she meets someone she is attracted to.
Tighter pelvic muscles
Nicky Allen, meanwhile, claims to have transformed her failing sex life with a device called a pelvic toner.
For the past two years, she has been with a new partner, and is at last enjoying sex. “Everyone tells you to do pelvic floor exercises after childbirth, and describes what to do, but you can’t tell if you’re doing it right,” she says.
“It was nearly 30 years ago that I began to lose my libido, but I didn’t realise the loss of sensation caused by the birth of my child could have been the reason for my loss of interest in sex.
“This gadget, which I found on the internet, is the only thing I have found where you can actually feel what’s happening and you can feel the effect. It didn’t take long, and it really worked.”
Professor Studd is angered by what he sees as the dismissive attitude of many doctors to the problem of low libido in women.
“It is a very, very common condition,” he says. “Lack of libido can be treated, but there is still a common perception that this is not a serious issue — and until more people start to take it seriously, women will continue to suffer.”