A Stolen Stone and the Origins of Inequality

“Can you speak about the creation of the world?” I asked Asingiya, a Nankani elder from Sirigu, Ghana. I expected a story about spirits, the first people, or how a child emerged from the earth. Yet Asingiya offered a more astute account.

“Aaron, is it true that as the day is breaking here, in America the sun is setting?” 

“Of course,” I replied, “When the sun rises here, people are sleeping in America.”

“Do you know a very tall mountain separates us?”

“A mountain?”

“A mountain separates America on one side and Africa on the other. When the sun reaches one side, the mountain conceals it. When the mountain covers us, on the American side they have day. Then when the sun comes back to the African side, we have day and you have night.”

I see how that makes sense, I thought. “Tell me more.”

Asingiya posing as we shelter from the sun

“In the old days, God was much closer to man and spent a lot of time on that mountain. Large stones were arranged around the mountain for God to step upon. He would go out on these stones to give things to man. God was always running on those stones and reached all people that way. But the whites, through some crooked way, removed a stone on our side. When they removed the stone, God could not run back to our side of the mountain. That is why we are suffering like this and the whites are always enjoying. That is why we have a long dry season [heat] and you people are always experiencing the rainy season [coolness].”

It doesn’t take imagination to recognize how Asingiya’s story indexes a legacy of exploitation, theft, cheating, and so on. Myths condense and transmit a range of manifest and veiled meanings. Such accounts help people make sense of their lot, and they can call out wrongdoers in unique ways. In this example, we learn about an origin of inequality.

Poverty and underdevelopment throughout Africa are not historical accidents. The achievements of powerful corporations and nations were built on the backs of former colonies and the Global South. Their gains were often at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. The problem persists. Even today, people, policymakers, and corporations look for ways to remove yet another stone to gain advantage. In doing so, they limit opportunities for the less powerful.

People say the village of Sirigu is developing. Funding and infrastructure projects are expanding, albeit slowly. A man explained, “In the olden days, whenever we saw the whiteman we ran away. Now even you are coming. We can sit together and talk. It means we are moving forward.”

But development talk alone is hollow. Most plans go nowhere. Indeed, like the cliché says, people can’t eat words. Although we cannot revise the past, we can work to transform the existing disjunctures and structures of inequality. It’s time to replace the stolen stone.

Check out some of my other essays here.

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