Tuesday, February 12, 2013


...So many things we must not forget...  

This February, Black History Month, I revisit the hard truth of Lincoln and Emancipation, the U.S Congress and its long practice of shielding the status quo, and how the past is prologue.  Still today, we blind ourselves to slavery, torture, death, cruelty and discrimination in its many different forms in our own country and across the world.

...So Much Evidence... So Many Stories...

Kikuyu, Embu & Meru Pass Book
Colony and Protectorate of Kenya
Issued December 6, 1957

2007.  Outside of Nairobi, Kenya I found this man's Pass Book in a shop selling artifacts of Africa.  There among the masks and cloth, wooden instruments and beadwork sat this well-worn brown book. Gathanga Kangotu, a farm laborer, had to carry this booklet with him at all times.  If he wanted to leave his district, he had to get permission -- a Movement Permit -- signed by a local British Control Officer.  If he didn't...?

He was a Kikuyu in the Fort Hall District, Location 8.  His residence permit was the town of Eldoret on the farm where he was employed by E.H. de Waal Sr.  

Gathanga traveled very little.  He received permission to travel to his new job on a farm. Once he received the official stamps to go to the dentist.  In January 1959, he had two weeks leave from work.  

But if this seems like limited travel over two years, a woman's Pass Book on the same shelf held no evidence, no written requests, no issuing permits.  She stayed wherever she was during the entire time of the Pass Laws in Kenya.  

In searching for information on the pass books, I found very little on the Internet.  Kenya was Britain's East Africa Protectorate from 1895 to 1920 and its Colony from 1920 to 1963.  In 1952, the Mau Mau Uprising challenged British rule.  It was then the government issued the Pass Laws and controlled people's freedom of movement.  

What do I think?  The heart of this book rests in Why and How it was used.  Why it existed. Who protested.  Who did not.  How many died because of these laws.  How many truncated lives and dashed dreams are contained within these small brown booklets.  How much rage and loss stains the collective pages.

What do I wonder?  How does this history linger into the present.  And where else in the world can we find pass books, colonization and slavery -- Now -- still alive, still ignored, still and always, morally wrong.

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