Dogs, Man’s Best Friend, Illustrated by Art, Ancient World to 20th Century

Human's Love for Dogs as Illustrated by Art, From Once Upon a Time to the 20th Century by Patricia Furstenberg, photo Simon Matzinger, Source Unspalsh

The old claim that a dog and a man are the best of friend is validated by numerous records, be it art, history, folklore or books. Yet it requires no proof to anyone lucky enough to enjoy the company of a dog in modern day’s society. The stories and the inspiration behind art such as this is what fuels my writing.

I invite you to travel with me through a fast-paced, awe-inspiring journey from the past’s “once upon a time” to the 20th century illustrating the human-dog bond.

More to come in the following weeks on the astounding role dogs, these silent heroes, played during the Great War, World War II, the Vietnam Wat, and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as what it takes to become a Military Working Dog.

How dogs helped the human brain to evolve

There isn’t a shadow of a doubt that, at some stage during their passing on this planet, humans decided to domesticate wolves (the grey wolf). Why they did it, choosing a breed they will have to compete against for food, is mysterious enough to feed the imagination of many writers.

How dogs helped the human brain to evolve
How dogs helped the human brain to evolve . Source ancestry

Perhaps domesticating the cunning foxes failed or it was the super-olfactory ability of dogs that triggered the human determination. Or was it all a coincidence? Theories speak of more than one time when human attempted to domesticate dogs, starting as far as 20 000 – 32 000 years ago.
What is certain is that the canines evolutionary journey from wolves to dogs happened simultaneously with the human’s development of speech (about 150 000 years ago). The time when our ancestors’ acute olfactory capabilities began to diminish, their brain accommodating the extra neural synapses and cortex area dedicated to verbal communication.No wonder that dogs , with their super-olfactory ability, looked, all of a sudden, so much more appealing to have as companions. Not mentioning the cuteness of their puppies.

Dog and man in Ancient World’s art and history

Footprints in the Chauvet Cave: a child and his dog

Chauvet Cave located in the southern France is renowned as the site of some of the world’s oldest mural paintings, and not only.
At the back of the cave the soil and rock have preserved the footprints of a small child (estimated at about 1,4 m height and 8-10 years old) walking beside a dog. The trace is 45 meters long, enough for scientists to analyze and conclude that the child was walking and not running. What is amazing is that the prints he left show that at some stage the child slipped in the soft clay and that at some stage he stopped to clean his torch (proven by the stain of charcoal left behind).
Alongside the child’s footprints are those of a large dog or a wolf friend.

Chauvet Cave: human child and dog footprints 26 000 years old
Chauvet Cave: human child and dog footprints 26 000 years old

Dogs in Mesopotamia

The Epic of Gilgamesh

I still remember learning n school about oldest piece of epic world literature, written c. 2150 – 1400 BCE – that is 1500 years before Homer even put pen on paper.

It explores a theme as old as humankind, he quest for the meaning of life.

Dogs are mentioned and shown their importance in everyday life: they are the companions of one of the most popular goddesses of the region, the goddess Innana (Ishtar). She travels with seven prized hunting dogs in collar and leash.

Innana (Ishtar) and one of her seven dogs - source wikipedia
Innana (Ishtar) and one of her seven dogs – source Wikipedia

The Nimrud dog amulets

So many cultures still rely on amulets today, and thus was the role of the Nimrud dog artifacts. These are canine clay figurines discovered in Nimrud (modern-day northern Iraq) that were once buried under the main doorstep of homes for their protective power (it was believed they carried the dog’s protective power).

dog man art history, a Nimrud dog amulet

Dogs in Ancient Persia

Ancient Persians, too, associated dogs with divinity as a dog’s soul was thought to be constituted of one-third human, one-third wild beast, and one-third divine. But Persians also kept dogs for companionship, protection or herding. In the Persian faith of Zoroastrianism, it was believed that the way one treated dogs during one’s lifetime will have an influence on his / hers journey through the afterword.

a dog statue of Ancient Persia, Iran National Museum

Dog and man in the art and history of Ancient Egypt

4 000 years ago lived Abuwtiyuw, the first ever documented dog whose name is known. His tomb is near the Great Pyramid of Giza & a wooden statue of Anubis, the jackal-headed deity, was found next to his mummified body. He was a sighthound, like today’s greyhound.

Anubis is perhaps the dog most associated with pharaohs and Ancient Egypt, represented as a lying jackal or a jackal-headed man. Some new research done on the DNA of the contemporary Egyptian jackal showed that it belongs to the wolf family. Imagine that!

A limestone statue of Anubis
A limestone statue of Anubis

Dog and man through the art and history on Ancient India

Dogs in Mahabharata, the longest epic poem ever written

Also from school (who would have thought?) I remember the Mahabharata as being one of the most important texts of ancient Indian and world literature.

Written 400 BCE the Mahabharata features a dog that might have been an Indian Pariah Dog.

“The dog must come with me,” said Yudhisthira
“That is not possible,” said Indra. “All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value.”
“In that case, I do not seek heaven, “replied Yudhisthira. “The dog was my faithful companion and I cannot abandon it. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven will mean nothing to me in comparison to its grief. It has done nothing to deserve abandonment and had none of the weaknesses of my wife and brothers. If it does not deserve to go to heaven, then neither do I.

Mahabharata
dog man art history, Yudhisthira with a dog as a chariot from Heaven arrives - source Wikimedia
Yudhisthira with a dog as a chariot from Heaven arrives – source Wikimedia

Further evidence that dog and man have been the best of friends is depicted by the art and history of ancient India, China, Greece, Rome and Mesopotamia. Plenty of canines decorations are found in temples and mosaics from all over the world.

Dogs in antiquity: China

I feel I should mention dogs in ancient China because modern dog’s DNA analysis shows that all present dog breeds stem from the grey wolf in China that was tamed around 16 000 years ago. At the same time wild rice was used extensively, agriculture developed and first villages appeared.
Furthermore, the Chinese honored the dogs for thousands of years. Remember that Dog is one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. People born under this sign are said to be loyal, trustworthy, and kind, qualities often associated with the dog.
There is a lovely Chinese saying translating in:

‘a dog would not mind if its master is poor, a son would not mind if his mother is ugly.’

Chinese proverb
an ancient Chinese burial dog statue, they came in pairs
An ancient Chinese burial dog statue, they came in pairs. Ab. 6th century.

An Ancient Roman dog footprint, a Greek pot and a dog cameo

Dogs in the art of Ancient Rome

I particularly love this dog footprint on a Roman terracotta, next to a statuette of a dog displayed in Vidy Roman Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland. I think it depicts the human’s affection and longing towards his departed dog.

dog man art history
Dog footprint on a Roman terracotta, next to a statuette of a dog – source Wikipedia

In the Georgian National Museum there is this Roman cameo of a dog. It looks like it is carved in stone with an oval frame hand made out of ceramic and, perhaps, sealed with gold. I love the dog’s playful pose. It tells of his comfortable life. Romans appreciated the dogs for their fidelity. I wonder if the woman wearing this cameo led a happy life.

dog man art history, A Roman cameo of a dog - source Wikimedia
A Roman cameo of a dog – source Wikimedia

The Dog from Pompeii

Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern-day Naples, in Campania, Southern Italy. It became renowned after Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying the city and its inhabitants in 4 to 6m of ash and pumice. Today Pompeii is a precious, well-preserved archeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A dog mosaic was found in “The House of the Tragic Poet” – proof of the Pompeian love and appreciation for canines.

Pompeii -The House of the Tragic Poet - dog mosaic - source Wikipedia
Pompeii -The House of the Tragic Poet – dog mosaic – source Wikipedia

CAVE CANEM” = BEWARE OF THE DOG

Dogs in the art of Ancient Greece

Protector, hunter and companion to the ancient Greeks who also invented the spiked collar to protect their beloved doggo from wolves, the dog enters Greek literature as the three-headed Cerberus guarding the entrances to Hades (the final destination for the souls of the dead). Greeks, too, called their god of the underworld Hades.

Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades on a 500 BC Greek pot
Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades on a 500 BC Greek pot

Dogs also feature in Plato’s Republic writings. His contemporary Socrates even considered the dog a true philosopher as a dog could distinguish between friend or foe just by looking at the human face.

Maybe you remember the story of Argos, the dog from Homer’s Odyssey, the only one to recognize his master who returned home after a twenty years of absence. Sadly, Odysseus was undercover and can’t acknowledge his dog’s welcome. So the old dog lays back on his spot and gives his last breath.

This typical Leagros Group artwork of the 6th century Greek art is striking. And it depicts the close relationship between men, dogs and horses. So much is said with the use of only a few colors.

Riders and dogs, art by Leagros Group, Louvre. Source Wikipedia
Riders and dogs, art by Leagros Group, Louvre. Source Wikipedia

Did you know that the Greeks were the first to carve stone in relief, in fifth century B.C., the antecedents of cameos? The carving principles they implemented are still in use today.

The Dogs in the art of Mesoamerica

The Mayan (today SE Mexico) believed that dogs guide the souls of the dead across the watery border and into the afterlife, Xibalba or place of fear, since hounds were such good swimmers. But the dog did not leave. Dogs always look after us, don’t they? The dog would stay to help the man, or woman, go through all the challenges that separated him from paradise.To prove this love humans hand for dogs, the remains of dogs have been discovered buried near human remains.

The Colima Dog

One of the first tangible proofs of human-dog interaction is the Colima Dog, West Mexico, dating to the Late Formative Period (300 BC-300 AD).
Art often represented themes important to the culture: weddings, children’s births, and royal feasts.
Made of terracotta (earth) clay burned in an oven, the Colima Dog shows a hairless dogs symbolizing both life and death themes, through its association with the places where he was found, near food (grains) remains and graves.

Colima Dog -a pot-bellied dog figurine from Mexico, State of Colima, 300 BC - 300 AD, ceramic
Colima Dog -a pot-bellied dog figurine from Mexico, State of Colima, 300 BC – 300 AD, ceramic – image source Wikimedia Commons

Dogs in Celtic and Norse ancient art

Nehalennia, the Celtic goddess of trading, shipping, horticulture and fertility. She is often depicted with a benign-looking dog at her feet. As with other cultures, the dog was associated with guiding and protection after death.

Celtic Nehalennia, dog man art history

More proof that dog and man have been the best of friends is shown through the art and history of medieval and modern times. Plenty of canines decorations are found in temples, mosaics, artifacts, or paintings from all over the world. Read on.

From protector, hunters and companions during ancient times, Medieval dogs were considered part of the family and even learned to perform tricks. But they also joined kings in battles. But dogs were also used to hunt wolfs extensively, who became extinct in the most of western Europe and especially England by the end of Medieval period. The deep connection that dog and man shared during the Middle Ages is depicted in various art objects (paintings, tapestries, objects of decor, coat of arms) and entered even the pages of history. See below, among others, the little dog in Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, the dogs in the Coat of Arms of Henry VII.

Dogs in Modern World art

Dogs frolicking in The Wedding Feast at Cana

Fast forward to the 16th century and I want to mention The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese because I got to see it with my own eyes.

The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese - and some very happy dogs. Source Wikimedia
The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese – and some very happy dogs. Source Wikimedia

Don’t be out off by its size (70 m², taking Veronese 15 months to paint it – and not alone). It tells a beautiful biblical story of the Marriage at Cana, at which Jesus converts water to wine. Plus there are dogs painted right in the center (it is said the painter himself is the one in white, holding the viola)

dog man art history, The Wedding Feast at Cana. Veronese in white, holding the viola and the two central dogs.
The Wedding Feast at Cana. Veronese in white, holding the viola and the two central dogs.

and one other dog is in the left.

The Wedding Feast at Cana - the dog in the left side.
The Wedding Feast at Cana – the dog in the left side

Notice how Jesus is placed in the center of the wedding feast? The bride and groom are at the left end of the table. Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana, turning water into wine.

Finally, a 16th century book on dogs!

“Lawes of the Forrest” by John Manwood is a book with a full 141 words title. The book was first published for private circulation in 1592. The 1598 edition is the oldest book in the library of London’s Kennel Club—the “biggest library of books about dogs” in Europe.

Book-Illustration of a dog from George Turbervile 1576 Booke of Hunting. Google Books Public Domain
Book-Illustration of a dog from George Turbervile 1576 Booke of Hunting. Google Books Public Domain

Apparently during the 16th century was easier to keep “little dogs”. For greyhounds or mastiffs one needed special hunting license issued by the king! Talk about bureaucracy.

The 1598 edition of John Manwood’s Lawes of the Forrest - about rules of keeping dogs. Source abebooks
The 1598 edition of John Manwood’s Lawes of the Forrest – about rules of keeping dogs. Source abebooks

Modern times are abundant with images of dog and man depicted as friends in art as well as entering history.

Gaugan’s puppies and Dogs Playing Poker

We’ll sail past the 19th century “Life with Three Puppies” by Paul Gauguin, inspired by Japanese prints and children’s book illustrations. Just look at those tails!

“Life with Three Puppies” by Paul Gauguin, dog man art history
Life with Three Puppies” by Paul Gauguin

I hope you will have a good laugh at this American artwork that came shortly after Gaugain’s: “Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, 19th to 20th century. Dogs do observe human faces and often copy us – any dog lover knows.

“Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, dog man art history
Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge

While other pets and animals have undergone substantial changes in the way they are perceived throughout history dogs have endured the marks of wars and joys alongside humans, as constant companions, protectors and, of course, friends, as we have seen portrayed by the art of various cultures around the world.

I hope you will return to find out more about the way dogs and humans have faced together the many wars of the 20th and the 21st century.

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

My latest book is ‘Silent Heroes’, a highly emotional read, action-packed, a vivid story of enormous sacrifice and bravery that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is a book extremely well researched, with authentic details and an epic sense of the place. The war and the military involved, Marines and dogs, are described with reverence, as are the civilians caught in the middle of the fire.

Orthodox Easter Eggs, folktales, symbolism, traditions #culture #folklore

Orthodox Easter red and white painted eggs, symbolism

It was an erstwhile custom that a mother, no matter how elderly or ailing she felt, would take it upon herself to bring food to her lad bided elsewhere as soon as the snow thawed and the first white spring shoots pierced the ground.

A folktale tells that Mary, the mother of Jesus, took it upon herself to visit Jesus in Jerusalem and thus she packed a basket with fresh eggs. It wasn’t much else she could take him, Herod having just increased his taxes, again.

The road was winding through the verdant green hills of Judea and Mary’s heart felt light for each step brought her hither to her son, which she hasn’t seen in a long time. As the morning progressed her own shadow became but a puddle by her feet. Soon enough the basket began feeling heavier and heavier in her work-worn hand and her steps became slower and slower and she felt like her journey to Jerusalem had become a quest for shade. Not many trees were in bloom so as soon as Mary spotted a stream sheltered by a little arbor she quickened her step and stopped to cool and quench her thirst. It was a thirst like she had never felt before.  So she looked about and decided to stop for a few moments.

The road was winding through the verdant green hills of Judea and Mary’s heart felt light for each step brought her hither to her son

The stream singed and Mary saw a new nest above her head and smiled. Life was precious. The water moved softly over her fingers and, when she removed her hand, a few droplets lingered on her fingers. She brought the hand to her eyes and smiled, a whole life scene embedded in those tiny see-through pearls.

It was a peaceful moment and life’s moments were just like this string of beads following each other on her outstretched hand. Each one connected to the next, stronger together. Filled with love.

But it was time to move along. Before getting up something tugged at her heart and Mary lifted the white cotton fabric that covered the basket to see if the eggs were still in good shape.

A dreadful sight unfolded before her eyes. It was as if the sun had stopped shining, no gurgling from the stream could glide through the air and all proof of life on earth had been stamped out.

The eggs had turned blood red and the Blessed Mother of Jesus understood that the time had come for her son to pay for our sins. But she was first a mother and he was her baby boy and so she wept, Mary did, and as her tears rolled down her cheeks and dripped onto the blood covered eggs they drew patterns, a cross, a star, lines and spirals.

Easter eggs symbolism traditions

When Mary reached the place where Jesus hang on the cross, she laid the basket at his feet and knelled to pray. Then Jesus spoke and asked her not to cry for Him, but to share those blessed eggs with the people who believe in His resurrection.

***

This is why on the Orthodox Easter we color boiled eggs in red, we draw patterns on them and we share them with our loved ones, family, friends, colleagues, knocking egg against egg and saying: “Christ has risen,” and answer “It is true He has risen.”

Easter eggs in a basket, Easter eggs symbolism traditions
Red easter eggs on the grass with flowers and blowballs, naturally colored easter eggs with onion husks. Happy Easter, Christian religious holiday.

The symbolism of the Easter egg

The hard shell of the egg symbolizes the sealed Tomb of Christ.

The cracking of the egg (through knocking) symbolizes His Resurrection.

The Ritual of coloring Easter Eggs

It is said that coloring Easter eggs is a sacred ritual. The day when one colors the eggs is special and no other activity will take place.

On counting the eggs that are to be colored, one doesn’t begin with one, but with “one thousand”, thus bringing wealth in the house for the remainder of the year.

The paint was already prepared, using different plants for different colors. GREEN – was made from walnut leaves, sweet apple skin. RED came from the leaf of a sweet apple, corn leaves or thyme. A special flower was used for YELLOW. Oregano was used to give the colored eggs a heavenly perfume.

The room where the eggs were painted was also special. No worried or upset person was allowed to step inside and no bad rumors or news of people who just passed away were allowed to reach the ears of the egg-painter.

Easter egg color symbolism

Easter eggs are nowadays colored in a rainbow of shades.

WHITE – means purity

RED – symbolizes the blood of Christ and life

BLUE – symbolizes the sky above, uniting us all

BLACK – means fertility

GREEN – means nature

YELLOW – symbolizes sun and energy

Easter eggs symbolism traditions
Easter eggs symbolism traditions

Orthodox Easter Eggs Design Symbolism, Traditions

A straight vertical line means life.

A straight horizontal line means death.

A double straight line symbolizes eternity.

A rectangle pattern – symbolizes thought and knowledge.

A sinuous line symbolizes water and purity.

A spiral means time and eternity.

A double spiral symbolizes the connection between life and death.

Cross – symbol for Christianity

A cross with additional small crosses at the end of each arm is a Russian cross.

Orthodox cross on a red Easter egg

A star – is called the “shepherd’s star”

A monastery – symbol of Christianity

Other motives used for decorating Easter eggs: bees, frogs, snakes, lambs, garden tools, fir tree, tulip, wheat.

Other traditions call for all the family members to wash their faces with fresh water on Easter morning, water from a container that holds a red egg and a silver coin. It is believed that the red egg brings good luck, good health, warn off evil spirits and all spells.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Easter eggs’ symbolism and traditions.

You might also enjoy reading:
A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania
Convents: the Religious Life of Medieval Women

hope readers books Pat Furstenberg
Discover all my books on Amazon worldwide here.

15 Biographies & Memoirs Of Amazing African Women, Women Writers Women’s Month

biographies, memoirs by women - three young women showing friendship and support for eachother

Here are 15 biographies and memoirs by amazing African women to inspire you this Mother’s Day, Women’s Day — and any other day of the year.

What makes a woman amazing? Is it in the way she dominates a boardroom, or the way in which she commands a room full of people when she walks in? Is it the way her mouth curls at the corners when she smiles, or the way she holds herself up even when she is tired? Or perhaps it is the way she picks herself up when life has knocked her over? Maybe it’s the way she makes us feel when we are around her, giving us inspiration and strength?

1. Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was U.S. poet, singer, memoirist and civil rights activist best known for her seven autobiographies focusing on her childhood and early adult experiences.

Biographies & memoirs by African women
Biographies & memoirs by African women

Mom & Me & Mom’ is delivered with Angelou’s trademark good humour and fierce optimism. If any resentments linger between these lines, if lives are partially revealed without all the bitter details exposed, well, that is part of Angelou’s forgiving design. As an account of reconciliation, this little book is just revealing enough, and pretty irresistible.” – The Washington Post

  1. This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s First Woman President

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was born in Monrovia, moved to the United States to further her career at Harvard University and returned to Liberia. She was the 24th president of Liberia, 2006-2018.

In this stirring memoir, Sirleaf shares the story of her rise to power, including her early childhood; her experiences with abuse, imprisonment, and exile; and her fight for democracy and social justice.

She reveals her determination to succeed in multiple worlds, from her studies in the U.S. to campaigning in some of Liberia’s most desperate and war-torn villages and neighbourhoods. It is the tale of an outspoken political and social reformer who fought the oppression of dictators and championed change. By telling her story, Sirleaf encourages women everywhere to pursue leadership roles at the highest levels of power and gives us all hope that we can change the world.

  1. The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper
    Helene Cooper is a Liberian-born American journalist and the Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. She received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for coverage of the 2014 Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.

     

    The House at Sugar Beach’ is a deeply personal memoir and an examination of a violent and stratified country. The House at Sugar Beach tells of tragedy, forgiveness, and transcendence with unflinching honesty and a survivor’s gentle humour.” (Simon and Schuster)



    4. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A’Lelia Perry Bundles

    Biographies & memoirs by African women
    Biographies & memoirs by African women

    On Her Own Ground” is the first full-scale, definitive biography of Madam C. J. Walker — the legendary African-American entrepreneur and philanthropist — by her great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles. On Her Own Ground” is about a woman who is truly an African-American icon. The book is enriched by the author’s exclusive access to personal letters, records and never-before-seen photographs from the family collection.</

    1. Brutal Legacy: A Memoir by Tracy Going

    Tracy Going is an award-winning former TV and radio news anchor.

    “It’s for every mother who has run, every sister who has picked up the pieces and every friend who hasn’t fled. It’s for every brother who’s cried and for the children who have watched. Every South African should read it.” – Sisonke Msimang, author of Always Another Country”.

  1. Reflecting Rogue, Inside the mind of a feminist by Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola

Pumla Dineo Gqola is a gender activist, award-winning author and full professor of African literature at Wits University.

In her most personal book to date, written from classic Gqola anti-racist, feminist perspectives, Reflecting Rogue” delivers 20 essays of deliciously incisive brain food, all extremely accessible to a general critical readership, without sacrificing intellectual rigour.

  1. Cancer: A love story by Lauren Segal

Lauren Segal is a South African author and museum curator.

“Cancer: A Love Story” is the intimately searing memoir of a four-time cancer survivor. The book breathlessly tracks Lauren’s journey coming to terms with the untold challenges of the dreaded disease. But in the midst of her lonely horror, in a quest for deeper meaning, Lauren discovers the unexpected gift of awareness of unanticipated opportunities that cancer presents — to confront her unmasked humanity; her fears, strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog

Antjie Krog is a South African poet, journalist, academic, and writer, the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2018 Gouden Ganzenveer (the golden goose feather), being the first non-Dutch speaking recipient.

“Country of My Skull” captures the complexity of the Truth Commission’s work. The narrative is often traumatic, vivid, and provocative. Krog’s powerful prose lures the reader actively and inventively through a mosaic of insights, impressions, and secret themes. This compelling tale is Antjie Krog’s profound literary account of the mending of a country that was in colossal need of change.

  1. Selected Stories by Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer is a South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature. She was recognised as a woman “who through her magnificent epic writing has been of very great benefit to humanity” (Alfred Nobel).

biographies memoirs african women In stories written over a period of thirty years, individuals caught up in racial and other South African tensions choose or fall victim to visions and fears of freedom and change.

  1. Nervous Conditions, semi-autobiographical by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tsitsi Dangarembga is a Zimbabwean author and filmmaker.

Nervous Conditions” was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989 and is regarded as a significant contribution to African feminism and post-colonialist narratives.

The semi-autobiographical novel focuses on the story of a Rhodesian family in post-colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s. The novel attempts to illustrate the dynamic themes of race, class, gender, and cultural change during the post-colonial conditions in the country that is now Zimbabwe.

  1. The Aya Series by Marguerite Abouet

Marguerite Abouet is an Ivorian writer of graphic novels best known for her Aya series.

Biographies & memoirs by African women
Biographies & memoirs by African women

The series is one of the few works of postcolonial African fiction that focuses almost entirely on the middle class. Although not entirely autobiographical, the story is based on the author’s life in Côte d’Ivoire. It was adapted into a critically acclaimed animated film, “Aya de Youpougon”.

  1. Prison Diary by Fatima Meer

Fatima Meer is a South African writer, academic, screenwriter, and prominent anti-apartheid activist.

This diary, written by an anti-apartheid activist during her incarceration in the Old Fort in Johannesburg in 1976, begins with her arrest and ends after her release and arrival back in Durban. Details about living conditions, treatment by female guards and visits with her daughters are provided. Her 113 days in captivity are recounted, including how she the practised her Muslim faith and read the Quran.

  1. Eyebags & Dimples by Bonnie Henna
    Bonnie Mbuli was born in Soweto, South Africa.”From child star to mother and wife. From abuse to transcendence. From public figure to piercing private pain. ‘Eyebags & Dimples’ is a portrait of a woman healing by owning every part of who she is. Bonnie’s bravery and vulnerability exemplify the kind of new personal narratives that will inspire the women of South Africa to self-reflect, reclaim and change the emotional status quo of our lives as well as that of our society.” – Lebo Mashile

     

    1. Becoming by Michelle Obama

    Publication date: November 13 2018 — we’re promised an intimate, powerful and inspiring memoir by the former first lady of the U.S.

    Biographies & memoirs by African women
    1. Winnie Mandela: A Life, by Anne Mare du Preez Bezdrob

    Everyone has an opinion about Winnie Mandela, and usually a strong one. She has been adored, feared and hated more than any other woman in South African history. But few people know much about the life behind the headlines, myths and sound-bites. This biography is an in-depth and intimate look at Winnie Mandela’s personal and political life and takes the reader on a remarkable journey of understanding.

    Subscribe to my newsletter and never miss a blog post or a book launch update.


    This article was first published on Huffington Post on 10 May 2018

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Today I Will Say A Prayer For Those Women Who Fought For My Freedoms

Today I Will Say A Prayer For Those Women Who Fought For My Freedoms

Think of one woman that made an impact on your life. Do you see her with your mind’s eye? Do you see her smile, do you feel her warm arms around you? Do you feel her soft hair touching your cheek? Does this memory make you feel at peace with yourself? Do you draw strength out of it?

Now really try to remember this woman. Do you see the wrinkles around her mouth? The fine lines at the corners of her eyes? Perhaps not, because they were often hidden by her smile, whenever she was watching you. Do you remember her hands were worn out by work, with calluses on her palms and burn marks from cooking? Probably not, because they’ve been hugging you and supporting you, being there for you, but out of view. Have you ever noticed her clothes being out of fashion? Of course not, because they were clean and, more than once, they’ve sheltered your body on cold days and nights.

Do you remember her voice encouraging you? But do you ever remember her complaining about her ailing body? The sleepless nights? The long walks she took each day? The times she went hungry so that you can eat?

Have you ever asked yourself what kept her going? What gives her the strength and energy to get out of bed every morning in a cold room and get going? Do it all over again, day after day? The walking and the working and the waiting and the hoping? Wishing for a better life; for her or for you?

Always for you.

Why did 20,000 women march, peacefully, to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956 and petitioned against the country’s pass laws?

They marched so that they can walk about freely and find better jobs, so that you won’t have to carry a pass, when your turn comes. They did it for you.

Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ imbokodo! [Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!]

Why do you think it is that 20,000 women march in New York in 1909, asking for better working conditions?

So that they can provide a better life for their children so that when their daughters became of age to look for work, they would do so at no disadvantage at all.

“We’d rather starve quick than starve slow,” was their motto, expressing their anger against the conditions under which they worked in the sweatshops’ factories.

Why, you may ask, did the Suffragettes persist in their fight for votes for women for almost 100 years?

What fueled their march, spanning more than one generation, from 1832 when Mary Smith presented the first women’s suffrage petition to Parliament only to have the women’s exclusion from the vote confirmed, going through the Mud March of 1907, the mass rally of 1908 in Hyde Park when 300,000 – 500,000 activists attended? A time where women and men went through hunger strikes, imprisonment, permanent physical injuries and sexual abuse by police… with all of this only coming to an end in 1928 when the Amendment of the Representation of the People Act finally entitled everyone over the age of 21 to vote.

They did it so that their daughters won’t have to fight the same battle; for their daughters to be seen as human beings, with rights equal to those of men.

Why did tens of thousands of Protestants, mainly women, march in St Petersburg in March 1917, asking for an end to Russia’s involvement in WWI and… bread?

“Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland,” they called.

This movement is what sparked the Russian Revolution and the overthrowing of the Tsar. The Government that came to power granted women the right to vote.

This women’s day I’ll think of the teacher that empowered so many generations of girls and boys with her encouraging smile. I’ll think of the teacher who shared her lunch with that one child in her class so that he wouldn’t feel sidelined. This women’s day I’ll think of Mama Thembile who sells food by the side of the road every day from 6 am… Each day waiting for that one little girl passing by on her way to school and for which she has a special sandwich prepared. She doesn’t know the girl, but she knows the hunger in her eyes. This women’s day I’ll think of Mama Maria who, after a day’s work, still finds the strength to stop by at a children’s home to read stories, because she knows it makes a difference to the children.

This women’s day I’ll say a prayer for the women who fought, all around the world, so that I can think and speak and write, freely; and make my own choices and stand by them, without fear. That I may live as well as enjoy life for what it has to offer, to me and my children, happily.

We are stronger together.

First published on the Huffington Post SA on 9 August 2017

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Nelson Mandela motivational quote

5 Lessons I Learned From Madiba. There are many magical places in the world, spaces where nature and time seem to have a place of their own. Where the earth is so fertile that even the people living there seem to draw energy out of it and where time has a different pace and a deeper meaning. For what is a man’s life, but a stepping stone on which his children’s lives and his grandchildren’s lives are built upon.

 Such a man, with a spirit as fertile as the rolling hills of his native land and a will power as inexhaustible as the wind’s, was Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the man upon which a whole new nation was built.
 

This tall man with a bright, friendly smile and colourful shirts walked with the crowds and stood near the kings, listened to by all. Always one to speak of forgiveness, of dialogue and freedom, he had been an inspiration for many. Here are a few of the lessons he had taught us.

1. Focus on your goals and keep on going.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela.

For the most of his life, Mandela fought to bring an end to apartheid. This was his life goal and although achieved through heart ache and much sacrifice, Mandela never gave up. Staying focused on your goal is a vital skill for a leader. By doing so, Mandela was able to keep the fight for freedom going and to keep a whole nation focused and fighting for the same goal.

2. If difficulties arise along the way, don’t avoid them, face them.

It always seems impossible until it is done.” – Nelson Mandela.

Never lose hope on pursuing your dream. If something stands between you and your goal, be it health, hardship or discomfort, work out a strategy but keep your morals and work ethic intact. Accept the difficulty as it arises, all the time remembering that it will go away – or that you can make it go away. It is okay to sometimes feel sorry for yourself, but don’t procrastinate, step back and think of a solution.

3. Be kind and forgiving.

“If there are dreams of a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to that goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.” – Nelson Mandela

When harm is done by a group of people, the individuals in that particular group seldom take responsibility for their own actions. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, yet when he was released he spoke of forgiveness.

By forgiving, we open our hearts to compassion. Research has shown that compassion makes our heart rate slows down, thus helping us focus which in turn helps us better understand other’s actions and finding the answers and clarity we need.

4. Let go of your past, you CAN do better.

“Tread softly, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically.” – Nelson Mandela

Mandela had many reasons to stay bitter, yet he stepped away from answering violence with conflict. He chose closure and to share his experiences as well as to learn from others. He opted for negotiation and reconciliation instead.

The past cannot be changed, it is over; it isn’t who or what you are anymore. Rather look at your past as something you had to overcome to become a better you. And then stop thinking about it. Focus on the present by trying to be a better you as this will only improve your future.

5. Education is for all, but it involves responsibility.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Mandela was an active and curious learner throughout his life. From the informal, oral and tribal teachings of his childhood which most probably gave him his democratic leadership style, to the formal, law schooling later on and his political education, Mandela never ceased to learn. Be it from books or as from those around him, through dialogue or by listening, through self-reflection and by observing the times and the masses, he was a life-long learner.

Mandela never took education for granted, for education is a give and a get undertaking. It is being offered and it should be available to all, but one must also assume the obligations and the responsibilities that come with being educated; learn, ask questions, think, communicate, respect your school and your teachers.

This article was initially published on the Huffington Post .

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