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Grandmother stories

March 12, 2009

Last week’s New Statesman reported as follows: There is much symbolism in the removal from the Oval Office of a bust of Winston Churchill, a gift from Tony Blair to George W Bush in 2001, and its replacement with one of Abraham Lincoln. For all Churchill’s wartime greatness, it was he who helped crush the Mau Mau revolt against colonial rule in the Kenyan home town of Obama’s forefathers. And it was there that Hussein Onyango Obama, the president’s paternal grandfather, was detained without trial and probably tortured. It reminded me that I was brought up, not with stories of Churchill as great war time leader, but as the man who sent in the troops to put down miner’s strike. A lot of people in Wales have stories of their Grandparents being beaten for speaking Welsh in School (apparently it was an uncivilising influence). In the Afrikaans communities in South Africa there are stories of grandmothers being put in concentration camps by the British.

If you want to understand a culture, listen to the grandmothers; the past creates the patterns into which the present and future flow.

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