Maasai beads: the interplay between Europe and Africa

 

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The design and colours of the bead work convey particular messages.
Author Supplied

Vanessa Wijngaarden, University of Johannesburg

Maasai warriors wearing red and women wearing beads have come to be seen as symbols of “traditional” Africa. These colourful glass beads and red blankets play an important role in Maasai culture.

For thousands of European tourists who travel to East Africa, a visit would be incomplete without buying beads and blankets. What few know is the intricate cultural interconnection between Africa and Europe that resulted in these “traditions”.

Glass beads actually come from Europe. To this day, they are imported from the Czech Republic. The red blankets originally came from Scotland.

Glass beads first arrived in Africa from the first millennium AD through the trans-Saharan and coastal trade. Because they were produced in India they were very expensive and only used by royalty.

From 1480 onwards, the mass export of beads from Europe to East Africa started from Venice and Murano in Italy, Bohemia and the Netherlands. By the late 19th century huge quantities of beads were being used as trade goods.

Although beads were readily available, the Maasai did not develop an interest in them for quite some time. The Iltalala age-set, who were warriors from 1881 until 1905, were the first to use larger numbers of beads to decorate themselves. An age-set is an institutionalised stage in life which is shared by people that are in the same age-category. Maasai age-sets are determined by the circumcision-ceremonies of boys, which initiate them into warriorhood. The time of circumcision defines who belongs to a certain age-set.

The age-sets have names and their members used to paint their bodies and shields to distinguish themselves. When the colonialists prohibited warriors from wearing their weapons in public, the Maasai instead began to wear beaded ornaments which made a public statement about the wearer.

The Iltalala age-set, who were warriors from 1881 until 1905, were the first to use larger numbers of beads to decorate themselves.

Beadwork fashions come and go

Beadwork can tell you several things about the wearer. Specific ornaments and colours indicate whether the person is Maasai or from another ethnic group. Different Maasai clans also use certain beads and colour combinations to indicate their affiliation. Finally, a person’s beadwork reflects his or her position in life. The belt of a young woman is different from the belt of a young man, and an unmarried girl’s earrings are different from those of a married woman.

Within those cultural rules, beadwork fashion changes all the time. Each new generation develops a particular style, including certain materials, colour placements and symbols that unite and identify them. In the spirit of creative competition, the girlfriends of a new age-set make new ornaments to ensure that their men outshine the previous age-set.

Other changes in the fashion result from a shortage of beads of certain types or colours for trade reasons. A good example is the blocking of the Suez Canal during the third Arab Israeli war in 1967.

Rivalry between age-sets also sparks change. Competing age-sets have often chosen to incorporate symbols of adopted technology. For instance, the Iseuri age-set, which was circumcised in the 1950s and 1960s, chose the telegraph pole as their symbol, as a reference to the speed of communication between warriors and their girlfriends.

The next major age-set, the Ilkitoip, elaborated on this theme by adding a large button eye on top of the telegraph pole to symbolise the swirling blue light of a police car. Succeeding age-sets created ornaments with a helicopter rotor blade because helicopters are faster than police cars.

Outside influences

Tourists are often quite surprised and a little disappointed when they find out that Maasai beads are imported from Europe. They would like African beadwork to be “authentic”. And it’s true that some ornaments have more cultural meaning than others.

Some are adapted to tourists’ preferences. For instance Maasai women started to use colours and designs they would not normally use in their own beadwork, just because tourists liked them. And ornaments for tourists are often made of cheaper Chinese beads.

Some items have such symbolic significance that they cannot easily be sold. An example is the Elekitatiet belt, which a woman makes for her daughter-in-law when she has delivered her first baby.

Nowadays uncircumcised boys in the city wear beaded necklaces in Rastafari colours, and warriors buy beaded straps that give their watches a Maasai touch.

The ConversationSo Maasai beadwork continues to be the result of the interaction between European and African cultures, and there is nothing isolated or timeless about it. Rather than exotic, static and detached, it forms an ever changing, multi-cultural realm of exchange of materials and ideas between Africa and Europe.

Vanessa Wijngaarden, Doctor in social anthropology, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What can be done to improve treatment for PTSD after a loss

 

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People who unexpectedly lose a loved should be identified early enough and appropriately counselled.
Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters.

Lukoye Atwoli, Moi University

The unexpected death of a loved one can cause severe distress to relatives. It can lead to mental complications including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A world mental health survey shows that about 5.2% of people who lose loved ones suffer from PTSD. But how do you know who suffers from PTSD after a traumatic loss so that you can give them the care they need?

Unfortunately, in Africa most people go undiagnosed. This is because only two countries on the continent have carried out national surveys on mental health – South Africa and Nigeria. Concerning trauma and PTSD, the only significant data emanated from the South African Survey, since the Nigerian one did not have a high enough prevalence rate to enable detailed analysis.

The recent global survey identified a number of predictors that significantly increase the risk of PTSD after a loss. These include: whether the deceased is either a spouse or child, being female, believing that one could have done something to prevent the death, prior exposure to a traumatic event and having a previous mental disorder before the trauma.

Using these predictors it was possible to construct a model that can be used to determine those with the highest risk of developing PTSD after the unexpected death of a loved one. This model makes it feasible for clinicians helping people who have suddenly lost loved ones to develop interventions that are evidence-based and with high probability of success. This should provide opportunities for affected people being able to be provided with the appropriate care after this traumatic event.

PTSD and death

PTSD happens after a person is exposed to an event that poses a threat to their life. It is a group of symptoms that include re-experiencing the event, changes in emotions and cognitive functions. Irritability, reckless or self-destructive behaviour, sleep problems and low concentration are common.

Families and caregivers can recognise PTSD in a loved one because the symptoms are a change from their usual behaviour. These signs and symptoms begin within a month of experiencing the traumatic event like the unexpected death of a loved one.

The person may experience nightmares or flashbacks, will avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings associated with the traumatic event.

Due to the trauma, the person may also develop memory problems and feelings of detachment from friends, colleagues and family are common. The person may also display exaggerated negative beliefs about themselves, others or the world. In some cases, depression and drug abuse is noted.

People who have unexpectedly lost a loved one are at a higher risk of getting PTSD so they should be identified early enough and appropriately counselled.

The high prevalence and meaningful risk of PTSD makes the unexpected death of a loved one a major public health issue. Due to a collaborative initiative under the World Health Organisation (the World Mental Health Surveys Initiative) it is now possible to predict the occurrence of PTSD after a traumatic event such as the unexpected death of a loved one.

The resulting screening assessments will be useful in identifying high risk individuals prone to PTSD for early interventions.

Data deficit

Raising relevant data is one of the biggest challenges to tackling the issue of PTSD in Africa.

African countries should carry out national mental health surveys because they provide information that can be used for planning care and rationally allocating resources in mental health. They also provide information necessary in policy formulation and mental health interventions.

The ConversationWithout a national survey, countries often misallocate resources, ending up with situations in which they neglect the most important problems and intervene disproportionately in low priority areas. This is responsible for the current situation in which what is probably a silent mental ill-health epidemic which is sweeping across the continent.

Lukoye Atwoli, Dean, Moi University School of Medicine, Consultant Psychiatrist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Mental Health, Moi University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Deadly explosion in Somali capital Mogadishu brings shock, outrage, and resilience

Laura Hammond, SOAS, University of London

More than 300 people were killed and at least 500 injured on October 14 when a truck bomb exploded in a crowded intersection in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. The attack is being called the worst in the history of the city, a particularly alarming statistic considering that the capital has regularly been the scene of violent conflict since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991.

No one has yet officially claimed responsibility for the attack, although the Guardian reported that a man, detained when he tried to drive a second vehicle loaded with explosives into the capital, told security officials that the rebel group Al-Shabaab was responsible.

Al-Shabaab is a terrorist group that has been fighting against the federal government of Somalia since late 2006. It is an extremist Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda, working to include Somalia in an international jihad. Its strength has waxed and waned in the intervening decade. Since 2011, when it staged what it called a “tactical withdrawal” from Mogadishu, its activities in the capital have mainly consisted of suicide bombings, detonations of improvised explosive devices and targeted assassinations of political figures.

Its capabilities in Mogadishu, as in nearly all Somali cities, are held in check by the combined forces of the African Union-backed AMISOM peacekeeping force and the Somali Federal Security Forces. But Somalia’s military is notoriously weak, hampered by the fact that it is made up of a collection of clan militias seconded to the national authorities by their leaders, with often weak allegiance to the national project.

Al-Shabaab continues to control large swathes of the Somali countryside, and retains the ability to carry out large-scale attacks. It is playing a long game. In the short term the group is working to thwart the Somali government’s efforts to consolidate its power, but it does not have enough power to defeat the government or to drive it from the capital. In the longer term, Al-Shabaab professes to be working to expel foreign – Western – influence in Somalia and to establish a state based on an extreme reading of sharia law.

The recent explosion was significant for the scale of its devastation and the size of the arsenal contained in the truck. Details of where the explosives for the attack were obtained are yet to emerge, but it’s clear that the operation must have been planned and carried out by a group with considerable organisational power.

Crisis mode

The attack couldn’t have come at a worse time for the federal government of Somalia. A week before, both Somalia’s minister of defence and military chief resigned for reasons that remain unclear. The suspicions are that the two were rivals, but were also frustrated at a lack of support coming from the months-old administration of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.

The government is trying to put in place a new Security Pact, agreed in May 2017 at an international conference held at London’s Lancaster House. That plan, which was to see the first of AMISOM’s troops withdrawing in 2018, is very likely to be stalled as a result of the attack.

The attack is also likely to put a damper on the rhetoric rising out of the city in recent years that Mogadishu was becoming safer. With so many innocent civilians affected, the notion that only high-profile politicians or security personnel are at risk is now seriously challenged. This is likely to deter many Somalis from the diaspora as well as those living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, from returning.

If Al-Shabaab is responsible for the dreadful loss of life, its official silence in the aftermath may be due to the very high number of civilian casualties. One theory is that the truck had been intended to explode outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but was detonated prematurely by the driver when it was stopped by security officials after getting stuck in traffic. The explosion then ignited a nearby fuel tanker, causing a fireball that destroyed buildings over several hundred metres in the centre of the city. Causing so many civilian casualties is likely to lead to serious and widespread backlash against Al-Shabaab – not the kind of PR they are looking for in their battle to bring down the government.

Resilience and solidarity

Yet amid the horror stories of suffering and loss, small glimmers of hope and resilience have emerged. One of the strongest and most immediate sources of support has been the Somali diaspora. Within hours it mobilised to raise money for Aamin Ambulance, the only free ambulance service in the city, to be able to take the wounded to hospital.

Daallo Airlines, a Somali-owned business, announced that it would transport all relief supplies into the country for free. Other crowdfunded efforts were started to provide support to the families of those affected. These efforts have raised thousands of dollars in just a few days.

International support is coming in many forms too. Djibouti responded by sending its minister of health and 30 doctors to help treat the wounded. Turkey evacuated 35 of the injured to be treated in Ankara, and sent ten tons of medical supplies to Mogadishu. Paris extinguished the lights on the Eiffel Tower on October 16 at midnight, and Toronto’s iconic name sign was illuminated in blue and white to pay respect to those affected.

The ConversationOnce the dust has settled, the fires are extinguished and the loved ones laid to rest, maybe – just maybe – this resilience will be able to grow to ensure that the peace that Somali so desperately needs will come at last.

Laura Hammond, Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ivory is out in the UK, as government moves to shutter legal trade

Why blaming ivory poaching on Boko Haram isn’t helpful


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Talking about ivory-funded terrorism overlooks the real sources of income for terror groups.
Author supplied

Mark Moritz, The Ohio State University; Alice B. Kelly Pennaz, University of California, Berkeley; Mouadjamou Ahmadou, and Paul Scholte, The Ohio State University

In 2016, as part of a ceremony in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé, 2 000 elephant tusks were burned to demonstrate the country’s commitment to fight poaching and illegal trade in wildlife. US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power gave a speech at the event linking poaching to terrorism.

The idea that terror groups like Boko Haram fund their activities through ivory poaching in Africa is a simple and compelling narrative. It has been adopted by governments, NGOs and media alike. But it is undermining wildlife conservation and human rights.

The problem is that such claims hinge on a single document which uses only one, unnamed source to estimate terrorist profits from ivory. The study hasn’t been backed up elsewhere.

Similarly, there is little evidence that terrorist activities are funded by wildlife poaching in Cameroon. We have studied wildlife conservation and pastoralism in the Far North Region of Cameroon in the last two decades. We have found that it is highly unlikely that Boko Haram is using ivory to survive financially. The elephant populations in the areas where Boko Haram operates are so low that this would be a faulty business plan to say the least. Only 246 elephants were counted in Waza Park in 2007.

Talking about ivory-funded terrorism overlooks the real sources of income for these groups. In Cameroon and Nigeria evidence shows that Boko Haram is using profits from cattle raids to support its activities. Boko Haram’s plunder of the countryside leaves cattle herders destitute.

The dangers of militarisation

The wrong focus has implications for conservation and human rights. Linking poachers and terrorists has led to a further militarisation of conservation areas in Africa. More guns and guards have been sent into parks to stop poachers.

The military approach has also led to serious human rights violations. These take the form of shoot-on-sight policies and other violent tactics carried out against local populations. Law enforcement in protected areas is important for controlling poaching and terrorism alike but it is not a perfect solution.

And wildlife conservation can suffer if well armed but underpaid park guards turn to poaching themselves.

It would be more helpful if properly paid and trained people provided security across the region rather than just in protected areas.

Consequences of the wrong connection

Ignoring the fact that cattle, not ivory, may be fuelling terrorism in places like Cameroon does a disservice to pastoralists. While livestock may compete with wildlife when pastoralists take refuge inside better-protected areas like parks, they do so only because their livelihoods are at risk.

Mistaking the true source of income for terrorist groups also means that their violent activities continue.

Finally, it diverts attention from corrupt conservation and government officials who may be complicit in poaching.

Of course, this is not to say that poaching is not happening. The dramatic declines in elephant populations in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa indicate otherwise. The question is who is doing the poaching and why.

We challenge governments and organisations interested in wildlife, security and human rights to take a closer look at the evidence. Instead of sharing simple claims about terrorism and poaching, they should consider all the forms of economic support to terrorist organisations.

The ConversationIn Cameroon, this would mean offering better security for pastoralists and their cattle. Protecting cattle does not have the same appeal for Western audiences as protecting elephants. But it could be a way to conserve wildlife, protect human rights and stop funding for terrorism.

Mark Moritz, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University; Alice B. Kelly Pennaz, Researcher, University of California, Berkeley; Mouadjamou Ahmadou, Lecturer in Visual Anthropology, and Paul Scholte, Ecologist leading programs and organizations in conservation, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Too few women in science: why academies are part of the problem


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National science academies must do more to draw women in.
Mitchell Maher/International Food Policy Research Institute/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Dorothy Ngila, Stellenbosch University and Nelius Boshoff, Stellenbosch University

Women’s role in science has been hotly debated and discussed in recent decades. Policy-oriented and scholarly studies have explored a range of topics on the issue. From girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); to how women are represented and perform in STEM occupations and women’s access to technologies – it’s all been studied.

But only one study has examined women’s representation and participation in national science academies. This silence is ironic. These academies honour scientific excellence and synthesise scientific findings to support evidence-based policymaking. This means they are well placed to contribute towards strengthening their countries’ national innovation systems. They can advocate to get more girls and women participating in STEM, and advise on system-wide application of the gender lens in research and innovation.

So one of the first steps, surely, would be for academies to address their own gender gaps. But there’s a data problem. Academies simply don’t know how they’re doing when it comes to the representation of women compared to their counterparts within the science-policy environment. So they’re unable to monitor their progress.

That’s why the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences embarked on a study to collect baseline data about women’s representation in the membership and governance structures of national science academies. We chose academies affiliated with the academy international umbrella body, the InterAcademy Partnership. It represents more than 110 national academies of science in both the global North and South.

A common message emerged from our research: with one or two notable exceptions, women are massively underrepresented in national science academies compared to their male peers.

Women in the minority

The information was gathered through two separate but related online surveys during 2014 and 2015.

The InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences surveyed the partnership’s 19 national science academies in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The South African academy surveyed 84 academies in the other world regions: Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific, Western and Northern Europe, South Eastern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe.

There was a response rate of 63%: 65 of the InterAcademy Partnership’s 103 national academics provided us with data. A full table of the data is available in this article published in the South African Journal of Science.

The Cuban Academy of Sciences (27%) and the Caribbean Academy of Sciences (26%) had the highest representation of women in their membership. A “member” was taken to mean any person elected into the academy. The national science academies of Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay, Honduras and Canada also featured on the list of the top 10 academies with the largest shares of women members – between 16% and 23%.

In Africa, meanwhile, women comprise on average 10% of academy members. Academy of Science of South Africa is the only academy on the continent that ranks among the top five organisations for women membership (24%). The Uganda National Academy of Sciences was second in Africa (13%), followed by the academies of Ghana and Cameroon (both 11%).

The average share of women members, across all 63 national science academies that responded, is 12%.

More women in governance

Interestingly, women fared better when it came to national science academies’ governing bodies. Here the average was 20%. In Africa, the Academy of Science of South Africa recorded the largest share of women in academy governance (31%).

It’s not clear why and at this stage we can only speculate about possible reasons. For instance, there could be a general recognition among academies that women need greater representation. A logical first step would be to include those already elected into the academy in the governing body. An equally plausible hypothesis is that women volunteer their time more readily.

The Academy of Science of South Africa arm of the survey also asked whether academies had either a committee to address gender or diversity issues, or at least someone to advise on them. The answer was “no” from 61% of academies. A third – typically academies with a larger share of women in their membership, specifically in North and Latin America – had a dedicated committee. The remaining 6% of academies relied on individuals’ input and guidance.

We would have liked to obtain more data. But we believe the number and spread of participating academies provide a good base for future surveys. Based on the data, we propose several recommendations for the InterAcademy Partnership and its affiliated academies.

Recommendations and unanswered questions

First, member academies should annually collect, analyse and report gender-disaggregated data. This should then be published in the partnership’s annual report. The document can then be used to discuss the gender dimensions of its membership activities. It’s also important for member academies to establish permanent organisational structures related to gender. These can provide strategic direction and implement the academy’s gender mainstreaming activities.

Several aspects of women’s representation in science weren’t explored in this study. How much of a role does unconscious bias play in academies’ election or selection as members? Are the criteria for membership limiting women’s chances? What about socio-cultural aspects? Many cultures have male and female work spheres, confine girls to less valued “women’s work” and underestimate women’s intellectual and technological capacities.

This bias can be replicated in the processes of nomination, evaluation and selection of women and men, for example, for research grants, fellowships, prizes, key aspects that contribute to building the scientific excellence that is associated with honorific recognition of an individual by an academy of science.

These are important questions and issues. Further qualitative research will help to engage the unsettling narrative which emerged from the data in our study.

The Conversation*Authors’ note: We would like to acknowledge the work of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World, one of our partners on this project._

Dorothy Ngila, PhD Student, Stellenbosch University and Nelius Boshoff, Senior Lecturer in Science Studies, Stellenbosch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.