Back to index of Nerve 12 - Summer 2008

The Rape of the Mother of Achilles

By Tayo Aluko

“The women had their Achilles tendons cut. So, between rapings, they couldn’t run.”

I heard those awful lines in an amazing play at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre in September 2006, and I haven’t been able to forget them since. The play was called The Overwhelming, and was about the Rwandan genocide in 1994. It was an excellent production, and whilst I wouldn’t describe it as entertainment, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. As I said in the discussion after the play, I only wish a lot more people had seen it, instead of being glued to the X Factor, football, or spending the evening in the pubs and clubs that night.

What - those revellers might well have asked - has this got to do with them? Why should modern-day Liverpudlians be interested in the continued savagery and brutality of Africans so many years after their liberation from their colonial masters? And why haven’t they progressed, despite billions in aid, a full two hundred years after one famous white man - if the recent film Amazing Grace is to be believed - single-handedly abolished the slave trade that removed millions of them from their motherlands?

As we all know, slavery is not a thing of the past. And as an undercover Czech reporter revealed (or confirmed) in a recent BBC TV documentary, it is taking place on British shores. Today. Eastern Europeans are being trafficked to the UK, and the fruits of their labour end up on our supermarket shelves.

We also already know - don’t we? - about trafficking from Eastern Europe for the sex industry in Britain. Young East European women are kidnapped and end up as sex slaves in Britain and other countries in Western Europe. What they undergo when they get here is rape, simply and harshly put. And I’m sure some of that goes on behind the beautiful facades of some Liverpool buildings.

From Liverpool and other parts of Britain and Europe, men travel to places like Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, where there is a highly developed sex tourist industry specialising in all forms of debauchery. Male and female children - many of them kidnapped by organised gangs, as in Eastern Europe - are the victims of these tourists.

Speaking metaphorically, Africa has been a victim of rape for centuries. For her, being well-endowed with oil, diamonds, coltan, cocoa, copper, rubber and countless other natural assets, has been more of a curse than a blessing. As for the most precious resource of all – her children – they may no longer be forcibly pulled away from her and transported elsewhere in chains, many are now forced to leave her bosom to seek sustenance elsewhere, as they find her breasts sucked dry by others.

Not only has she been - and continues to be - exploited by several nations, including Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, America, and now resource-hungry China, her Achilles tendons have also been cut: her peoples’ humanity and their glorious histories have been buried and denied in order to justify the enslavement of her peoples. This to me is the most cruel crime, and the most painful injury of all.

Africa is humanity’s mother, humanity’s sister. How many Europeans would stand idly by and watch their mother or sister get gang-raped? For centuries, Africans have fought to protect their motherland, and as a consequence, all too many Europeans are buried in African soil the length and breadth of the continent. In today’s versions of those historic battles, the bodies of mostly working-class and underprivileged soldiers are flown home almost daily to Liverpool and other cities from Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones. This is as good a reason as any for Liverpudlians to take an interest in what happens in other lands, and a reminder of the fact that inhabitants of those lands want respect and fair trade, not European-style 'democracy' or 'aid'. It is fortunate that European oil workers in trouble spots like Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta region are routinely released alive from regular kidnappings, rather than being summarily executed.

Here in Britain, we see that the system of capitalism which delivers cheap goods to our supermarket shelves using cheap labour - East European, African or whatever, is now also causing the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' to widen more and more, at an alarming and surely unsustainable rate. The longer we allow this system to continue, whether by continuing to partake of the spoils of actual or sexual slavery here or abroad without asking questions, the longer we remain as guilty as the supermarket barons or people traffickers. The nearer we also bring the day when we too join the ranks of those who find themselves raped by 'the system'. Two questions to ask for starters: is the current 'credit crunch' not a symptom and result of this sickness in our society? Is it not in everybody’s interests to individually and collectively fight for justice in whatever way they can?

Back in Rwanda, as the women’s tendons continue to reconnect and heal, hopefully the people – and Africans generally, will also strive to mend the bonds between themselves, broken and kept apart by the greed of people far away (and some in their own midst). Just as importantly, they need to reconnect the chords between themselves and their histories, traditions, humanity and spirituality, in order for Mother Africa to be able to get up off her knees, and with the right and appropriate support, get away from her tormentors and make her way back home to safety. She should not need to run either: in time she will rediscover her defiant, beautiful, dignified African walk.

Nigerian-born Tayo Aluko is an architect, property developer and performer in Liverpool.

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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by Sue Watson on 27th August, 2008 at 20:41
Indeed just the very things we have been talking about today dear friend and the fact that every soul on the planet needs to understand that in reality, we are all one soul and therefore need to help each other without expectation or reward. day - all souls will reconnect and heal, all souls will walk a dignified walk together.

Comment left by J Doyle on 28th August, 2008 at 8:33
The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. Einstein. Although the people of Liverpool may seem to revel oblivous to all, we do more than many are aware of or care to know, partly because of our history and partly because of our nature and strong sense of community and whilst we often make a song and dance of some things, others we do quietly and with imagination but without fuss - it is not that we don't do,it is that what we do comes from the inside, not the outside. There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Einstein And many Liverpudlians believe in miracles.

Comment left by S Elliott on 28th August, 2008 at 8:46
"There is a Light that shines beyond all things on earth, beyond us all, beyond the heavens, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the Light that shines in our heart." Chandogya Upanishad 3.13.7 And when all things on earth realise this, and see the Self in others, the beautiful and the dignified will be for all - doing something is better than doing nothing!

Comment left by Jason on 21st December, 2008 at 5:33
German women endured the same thing after defeat, having their achilles tendons cut to be gang raped by czechs, poles and russians. But you won't write an article about THAT will ya?

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