Africa

'Blood Diamond': A Review

A piece of land previously excavated for diamonds in the Kono district. (Photo: Theophilus Gbenda in Sierra Leone)

Despite its intended hyperbole for a thriller effect, Blood Diamond is at face value a good cinematographic depiction of the danse macabre that prevailed in the small West African nation of Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002 when the Revolutionary United Front (R.U.F.) rebels, led by Foday Sankoh and supported by Charles Taylor of Liberia, waged a senseless war that has been characterized by some of the most egregious war crimes against humanity in recent years. The rebel war in Sierra Leone was particularly unique in the sense that its third and fourth angles — foreign mercenaries and local Civil Defense Forces  — rendered it a woven web that was difficult to unravel. Evidently, not until the largest United Nations forces — 17,000 men and women — assembled to keep the peace.

Blood Diamond is, in Hans Biedermann's Dictionary of Symbolism, "the most precious of precious stones that has the symbolic signature of perfection, purity and imperviousness." It was the symbol of Christ in early Christian era. "Behold, I will set a diamond in the midst of my people Israel: … and the sanctuaries of laughter shall be laid waste (Amos 7:8-9). But not so fast in the Kono land and people of Sierra Leone, among whom the phrase "Blood Diamond" was coined during the rebel war.

"God left this land a long time ago," says Leonardo DiCaprio (Danny Archer), the soldier of fortune fictional character. In the prelude to Robert T. Parsons' 1964 book, Religion in an African Society, on the Kono people, Parsons writes, "To the Kono people among whom God has not left himself without a witness." The Kono land is one of the homes to the most precious of precious stones including the world's third and sixth largest 968.80 and 770.00 carats ones in their rough, found in 1972 and 1945 respectively. Indeed not only in the person of Parsons did God leave a witness, but also in the fictional work of Ian Fleming's Diamonds are Forever (1971) in which Sean Connery acted as James Bond and, now, in the persons of Djimon Hounsou (Fisherman Solomon Vandi) and DiCaprio.

It suffices to agree that God left the Kono land a long time ago with the advent of foreign Manichaeism that conveniently combines religion and imperialism to which God gave way. Yes, God gave way: He gives humanity the two choices of good and evil and thus the "Wages of sin is death." And, without doubt, we saw the death field crammed with the dead, between 1991 and 2002 when God looked the other way to humanity's choice of evil over good against its own kind in Sierra Leone, especially in the Kono land.

Franz Fanon writes; "The look that the native [commoners] turns on the settler's [aristocrat's] town is a look of lust, a look of envy; it expresses his dreams of possession — all manner of possession: to sit in the settler's table, to sleep in the settler's bed." And in Sierra Leone, the pool of idle youths that formed pockets of ponds crammed with fury across the country because of such Aristotelian logic surely exploded against the aristocrats that would become not the cause of the rebel war that can only be compared to King Leopold's Congo Free State for the hacking off of human limbs, but the fuel that sets the killing fields of warlords ablaze.

But in telling the stories of the Kono land and "Blood Diamond," Parsons states that the Kono people worship many Gods, contradicting himself when in the introduction to the same work he writes,

For example, in this study of Kono religion, relation of priest and worshipers, the ancestors and the family, "Yataa" (the Supreme Being) and the common man cannot be observed except in the religious activities in which these relations are functioning.

The movie Blood Diamond did little justice in showing that the diamond is the most precious of precious stones, that the large corporations behind the diamond trade in Sierra Leone were the "Blood Diamond Executives" not the diamond. Parsons becomes forgetful that he states that the Kono people have a Supreme Being called "Yataa," just as "Blood Diamond" has now pockmarked the source of living for millions of African people who depend on it. In fact, no African language or tribe we know has a plural word for God.

History shall bear witness that oftentimes products that enhance the economic life of people in Africa are met with Western activism in the fiercest manner without offering other alternatives. When there was concern about the extinction of elephants because of the ivory trade, no one thought of embarking on the domestication of elephants; rather, international organizations rendered the entire ivory trade unlawful. Yet, animals are domesticated in large farms for fur to cover the backs of people in subtemperate regions, rendering the animals furless. Cows and chickens would never be at risk of extinction; instead, these animals are made ready for the frying pan in matter of weeks in the billions for consumption without fear of extinction.

The good cinematography that we see in Blood Diamond that portrays gruesome acts of violence against humanity, especially against women and children, cannot justify the labeling of diamonds as "Blood Diamond." Diamonds were discovered in Sierra Leone in 1930 and attracted "Blood Diamond Executives" but not in the magnitude we have witnessed in recent years. To this, Karamoh Kabba, one of the authors of this article, who grew up close to the kimberlite dikes in the Kono district during the Serra Leone Diamond Mining Company era writes in an article for Worldpress.org:

The constant blasting of granite for diamonds at two kimberlite dikes not too far down the road is a constant menace. We will run for our lives three miles, three times a day sometimes, as the dynamite from the twin dikes are set off in open-air blasting. We cannot afford to take chances any more since a rock killed our neighbor's daughter three years ago.

But what about Botswana, whose diamond industry is free of rebel, mercenary and Civil Defense Forces activities — are Botswana diamonds "Blood Diamonds?"

"Once the diamonds get to India, the dirty ones get mixed with the good ones and they all become the same." In fact, diamonds need not get that far to become unidentifiable. People are so fascinated by diamonds that only the poor miners and the countries of origin suffer from devaluation. In the outside world, they are the most precious rocks.

If God has not really left Africa, God did leave the Kono land a long time ago. But we know God surely did not leave without a witness.

It is unfortunate that the language and setting of the Sierra Leoneans, their country and the Kono people are absurdly represented in Blood Diamond. Yet, we encourage you, especially Africans, to see the movie — there is much to learn from it. One such lesson would be that diamonds are not "Blood Diamond," and we wish the producers had called it Blood Diamond Executives instead.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Karamoh Kabba.

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