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A Raisin in the Sun: Songhai & Ashanti

In Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, she includes many references to the African culture and heritage. I made this presentation to show the significance of her doing so. - Tammy Trieu

on 5 November 2013

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Transcript of A Raisin in the Sun: Songhai & Ashanti

The Songhay and Ashanti Empires
A Raisin in the Sun
By: Lorraine Hansberry
By: Tammy Trieu
English Pd.1
The Songhai Empire ca. 1375-1591
- largest and last of the 3 major pre-colonial empires to emerge in West Africa
- it expanded from its capital, Gao, in all directions.
- it stretched from the Atlantic Ocean, to what is now Northwest Nigeria and western Niger.
- Gao: still remains as a small Niger River trading center, was home to the Goa Mosque and tomb of Askia (important Songhai emperor).

Askia the Great
- he was an emperor of the Songhai and was part of the Islamic faith
- through holy wars, he extended his rule to the east and south when the Mali empire was weakened
The Songhay empire was divided into five provinces,
each with its own governor, Islamic court, and fighting force so the farmers could pay tribute to the king.
Gold, kola nuts, and slaves were traded for salt, cloth, horses, and other sources.
The Songhay Tribe
It was one of the largest empires of the Islamic religion, so many wore headdresses.
Men wore keffiyehs and women wore burkas.
At its peak, the Songhai city of Timbuktu became a thriving cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian, and Jewish merchants all gathered for trade. A revival of Islamic scholarship also took place at the university in Timbuktu. However, Timbuktu was but one of a myriad of cities throughout the empire. By 1500, the Songhai Empire covered over 1.4 million square kilometers.

Around 1400s, Timbuktu and Djenne were great centers for learning.
See left for manuscripts of astronomy and mathematics found in Timbuktu.
The Ashanti (Asante) Empire (18th - late 19th century)
- West African state that occupied what is now southern Ghana in the 18th and 19th centuries. - Extending from the Comoé River in the west to the Togo Mountains in the east
- the Asante empire was active in the slave trade in the 18th century
- unsuccessfully resisted British penetration in the 19th.
- the Ashanti fought several wars with the British, who sought to eliminate the slave trade and expand their control in the region.
- A series of defeats at the hands of the British gradually weakened and reduced the territory of the Ashanti kingdom.
- After nearly a century of resistance to British power, the Ashanti kingdom was finally declared a Crown Colony in 1902 following the uprising known as the Yaa Asantewa War.
- During this era the Portuguese were the most active Europeans in West Africa.
- They made Ashanti a significant trading partner, providing wealth and weapons which allowed the small state to grow stronger than its neighbors.
- when the 18th Century began Ashanti was one of the Akan-speaking Portuguese trading partners in the region.
- The Ashanti are a predominantly rural people, living in small towns, villages and hamlets, and farming extensively around these habitats.
- the Ashanti have developed a wealth of music, dancing, folktales, proverbs, riddles.
- examples of Ashanti art can be found in pottery, clothing, other fabrics, sculpture, and filigree work.

Hansberry includes many references to the Songhai and Ashanti, and African culture in general. She incorporated much of her knowledge of the African culture. Hansberry tried to include more African cultural knowledge into her writing, which many people in the 50s were not aware of. There were a few characters who referenced the Songhai and Ashanti, those included Beneatha, George, and Asagai.
When Asagai comes over to Beneatha's home, he presents her with an African traditional gown.
He influenced her to realize her roots and her identity (61).
In A Raisin in the Sun, there were many connections that signified African Americans at the time letting go of their "roots" and becoming more modern.
Beneatha, herself has struggled with this matter. She did not want to become modernized or as she feared, an "assimilationist" (63).

"A lecture on the African past! On our Great West African Heritage! In one second we will hear all about the great Ashanti empires; the great Songhay civilizations; and the great sculpture...Let's face it, baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!" (81).
George Murchinson exemplifies the assimilationism in the play. This shows the negative views of people within their own race.
To George, Beneatha says this, "It means someone who is willing to give up his own culture, and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture!" (81)

Although many disapproved of her attitude and her desires and hopes for recovering her heritage, she still stood by her dreams.
She refused to transform into someone she objected to be.
She did not want to accustom herself as a regular American girl or become apart of this social norm.
Asagai played the influential force in this play.
He helped Beneatha realize her true self and included significant reasons why people should not give up their culture and heritage.

George represented the many people at the time who had forgotten or had chose to "forget" their heritage.
He refused his own culture and does not acknowledge it as part of himself. He did not care for what he called "silly rituals".

Full transcript