Writings of the general word's body

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

'Hottentot' Slur @ Stavanger LitFest

No wonder Benjamin Zephaniah (below at the Stavanger Literature Festival in Norway last month) looks worried. A festival celebrating writers of African descent degenerated into a SlurFest, with the word 'Hottentot' uttered by none other than one of the organisers. And that is not the end of it. Isioma Daniel reports, below.

Benjamin Zephaniah

'Hottentot' Comments Enrage Festival Guests
By Isioma Daniel

Kapittel, the annual literature festival held in Stavanger, Norway, pulled in the biggest names in literature of the African continent.

On the third day of the festival, Birgit Hatlehol enraged many of the visiting black guests when she quoted a line from the Norwegian poet she was introducing. At the small pub, Cementen, British Kat Francois and Linton Kwesi-Johnson had just performed on stage when Hatlehol came on to introduce the Norwegian poet Kjell Vindtorn and used the word ‘hottentotskjørt’ which means ‘hottentot skirt.’

Chris Abani and Russell Banks

Many of the participants were offended by the quote. According to them, several of the Norwegian audience stood up and left the pub, commenting that not all Norwegians share similar views.

Carola D.A Kinshasa of the performance group Women’s Voice was disappointed. ‘I thought this festival was about filling in the gap between our cultures, men now most of the African artistes feel like objects. We are here only because the organisers think it makes the programme look good. All the discussions and seminars have been led by white people talking about Africa, while we’ve been brought here as performers,’ she said.

The festival has included Ben Okri, Benjamin Zephaniah, Uzodinma Iweala, Chris Abani, Sefi Atta and Isioma Daniel. The latter interviewed Sefi Atta on her novel, Everything Good Will Come. Benjamin Zephaniah inspired the black audience living in Norway with a poem about rejecting the media’s negative portrayals of black men and women, ‘Listening to the wrong radio station.’

Hanna Wozene Kvam also reacted strongly to Hatlehol’s words. ‘It was completely inappropriate. There were also several fairly racist comments made back stage. But it’s even worse, when such things are said publicly. Then one has to react,’ she said.

‘Africa and Denmark in Our Hearts’ was the festival’s theme.

Michela Wrong, Marte Michelet, Uzodinma Iweala and Pedro Rosa Mendes.

Thomas Ajamu Prestø, leader of African Youth Norway, said: ‘This is serious, one of the worst things I’ve experienced. One of the artistes was introduced as a clawing wild cat and of another, Hatlehol constantly said she ‘had met hottentots in Africa before.’"

Hatelehol has explained that her comments have been exaggerated and taken out of context.
"‘Wildcat’ was a clumsy translation of an Italian word Ben Okri’s wife had taught me, which she by the way had used on me, and I took it as a compliment and used it on Hannah Wozene Kvam," said Hatlehol.

Hatlehol had also made comments about ‘unreliable African men who have a tendency not to show up.’ She insists that these comments are grounded in what she has experienced while organising the festival.

  • Images - © Isioma Daniel


Styl Council said...

May i ask...Why the hell did they all just walk out???!!! Or am i just being too simple?

Wordsbody said...


I think maybe you meant to type: 'Why the hell didn't they all just walk out?'


Jeremy said...

It is an outrageous reference and does mark a slur on the whole gathering. A big shame really, given the calibre of people who attended..