Song of Solomon Project
Heritage and Identity
Heritage Paper Research Questions
Amin Rahemtulla - Grandfather
1) How old were you when you left Kenya?
2) Did anyone tell/direct you leave?
3) What was it like when you arrived in Canada?
4) What was it like having three daughters growing up in an americanized society?
5) How old was Seema when you left?
6) How did you make a living for your family?
Seema Rahemtulla, Zein Rahemtulla, Sadia Rahemtulla - Mother and Aunts
6) Did you have a hard time balancing being east african muslims and “normal teenagers”?
7) Seema, how was your experiences different from Zein and Sadia’s?
8) Seema, Did Amin and Dilly struggle raising you?
9) Zein, how did Seema help when you were growing up?10) Would you go back?
Heritage Research Paper
Each generation in these journal entries describes a different problem that members of my family have faced over the past decades. My grandparents were refugees and have to adapt to a new society. My mother and aunts had to find a way to cohesively integrate themselves into society and the adversity they faced. I discussed the struggle of balancing my heritage and how I learned to embrace it. These journals entries are not cohesive but they discuss different problems faced by different generations and examine how similar problems in varying extremities are handled in different generations.
Amin Rahemtulla - 10/26/1972 (Grandfather)
We just received news that our fellow Muslims are being killed in Uganda. Many members of our community in Uganda have already been killed and rumors are spreading that violence is on its way to Kenya. We were instructed in Mosque today to evacuate the country as soon as we can. We can’t risk it with the baby on the way.
Amin Rahemtulla - 12/3/1972
The violence is getting worse and it has reached the borders of Kenya. It will not be long until it reaches us. Our mosque is nearly empty now. My sister left for Mombasa, she wanted to get an early start before it became to difficult to flee. Maybe that was a good decision. But going to Mombasa doesn’t make sense. Finding refuge on a coastal island only means you are trapped if attacked. I pray for her safely. I pray for everyone. Nearly everyone I love is gone, my sister has left but my brother is still here. Dilshad is getting worried, she is trying to be brave for me and our future family. Having our first child now, in these conditions scares me. I don’t know where this child will be born or what life she will live. I just wish the child would have a better world to come into.
Amin Rahemtulla - 12/19/1972
I… I don’t understand. Al-Hussain died. He was killed walking back from Mosque on Friday evening. I don’t understand how people can have so much hate in their heart for others. How can that happen? How can your heart facilitate hate? Does it not hurt? I think it would feel like having nail in your heart. I’m at a loss, I don’t know how to live without my brother, he has been there for me since birth. I am now the head of my family and I must take responsibility. It’s time to leave Kenya. I feel vulnerable but I cannot be. I have to be strong and carry my family to a safer place where we can start our family.
Amin Rahemtulla - 6/22/1973
It feels familiar to journal again, almost as if I can seem the flowers in the Kenyan breeze- but I can’t. It has been a long 8 months since I have last written in my journal. It is one of my only personal possessions I brought with me on the journey. After my last time visiting this journal, I soon fled the country. We buried my brother with great difficulty next to my father. The mosque had closed soon after his death so we could not perform a proper muslim funeral but at least he is resting next to my father. After that affair was handled we could leave. Dilshad was almost 3 months pregnant at that time. As her belly grew so did anxiousness to find a new home for our child. The journey was hard on us. Uganda was north and the best available exit but it was too dangerous. We traveled to Mombasa and stayed with my sister overnight while we waited for the ferry. It was nice being able to say our final goodbyes before Dilshad and I left. The boat ride was nauseating for me, I can’t imagine how Dilshad felt. There were hundreds of other refugees on the boat with us. I felt like an animal, instead of being slaughtered I was being shipped. I can’t recall the number of days because I can’t recall seeing sunlight. It was so dark, a darkness I could have never imagined. I wish that we could have afforded better transport but we could not. In order to leave neighbors and family friends who were staying lent us money to get us to Canada safely. I say lent but I know I will never see them again. When we arrived in Egypt Farid, a friend of a friend, met us at the dock. He let us stay at his home overnight and then traveled with us as far as Turkey. Although we had only known this man for a few days, his kindness was something I could never forget. He apologized for not being able to help more. My wife's eyes started to tear up, this was the farthest she would be able to go from home and know somebody. Turkey was the final goodbye to our old life. From Turkey we took a flight to London and then to Toronto, Canada where we proceeded to start our new life. Kenya is my love and will always be, it was heartbreaking to see her go.
Seema Rahemtulla - 5/12/1986 (Mother)
Dad gave me this notebook and told me the importance of journaling and how it will help future generations see my life and my past. I guess it will, that is if I can find it in 20 years and my annoying little sisters don’t take it. Oh hi, I didn’t formally introduce myself! My name is Seema Rahemtulla. I am 13 years old and in 7th grade. I was born in Toronto, Canada and my parents were born in Mombasa, Kenya. I have two younger sisters, Sadie and Zein. I’ve been raised by my parents and I’ve help raised my younger siblings. I, being the first born, had a tough childhood. Although I don’t remember much of my younger years my parents often tell me how lucky I am to be living in Canada where people are being killed because of their religion. I was raised very strict because my parents were new to this land and did not know the ropes. That’s why I had to help them with Sadia and Zein. They will thank me for it later in life, I know it. I’m grateful that we have the means to get by now. Being new to this country and having nothing much of what we have was given to us by our muslim community. Clothes, furniture, food and jobs were given to my parents and I. Now, my parents own a dry cleaners and the three of us work their after school and on the weekends. It’s hard being different from everyone else but I’m glad I have my family here to support me.
Seema Rahemtulla - 8/29/1986
I’m beginning to see and feel the difference between my families and other families around. I have many friends, muslim and non muslim. My non-muslim friends and I are different though, but we still get along. They are allowed to go out and have sleepovers at each others houses but I am not. It’s gotten to the point where they don’t even invite me anymore because they know my answer is no. I talked to my friend Zahra about it and she said she faces similar problems. She too is the eldest sibling and her family and her family is also from Kenya. Sometimes I get along with her more than I do my own sisters. They are spoiled and don’t know the good life they had, growing up was a struggle adapting to this society for my newly immersed parents. Now they understand more, but I had to help them with that. Raising kids must have been very different. My mom tells me how a whole family raises a child, lives in the same house and everyone is your cousin, blood related or not. Here we don’t have that. The closest family we have is Zahra’s family which I am thankful. Seeing our parents speak in Swahili and the spark in their eyes makes me want to visit Kenya myself. When our families get together it creates home for our parents. When we get home after Sunday dinners Mom and Dad put on old indian music and dance around the house. I’ve never seen them happier and it’s refreshing. Seeing them like this makes me proud and happy of my heritage, a feeling that I rarely get.
Amin Rahemtulla - 9/13/1986
I tell my daughters the importance of journaling and how it keeps family history alive. It is so important to me because after we pass on, there will nobody to tell our story, no roots or family tree to refer to besides these journals. Now all of my daughters journal and I see it helping them, especially Seema. She is like her mother, putting on a brave face for those around her but I know it’s been hard on her. It’s been hard on all of us. I never thought that Canada could be so different but it was. Now it is home, but when we first got here we were lost. We stayed in various peoples houses and didn’t have a stable home until Seema was 5 and we opened the cleaners. Raising her was a new experience for Dilly and I. There was nobody to help like we were used too, no one to show us how to raise a child let alone raise a child in a new country. Karim gave us Zahra’s old toys and clothes for Seema to have and those have been passed down to all three daughters. Seema’s schooling was especially hard. Math is the same in every country but History and Literature was different. We had no idea how to help her, it made us feel hopeless and ignorant. A childs parents not being able to help with homework, we felt defeated. I’m so grateful that Seema helps us with Zein and Sadia, secretly telling Dilly and I if their friends are good and if they are allowed out for sleepovers, tutoring them and keeping up with their school work. She is going to make a great mother one day.
Sierra Raghunath - 4/8/14
Every generation has individual and unique struggles. I’ve heard about my grandparents struggle adapting to live in a new continent. My mom told me the struggle that she went through being the child of newly immigrated parent, being raised blindly by the guiding hand of others. You think with having parents that strict she wouldn’t be as strict with me! But I guess not. My family history has impacted me in a major way and play a huge part in my identity today. Although my grandparents were born in Kenya and are very much Kenyan, my ancestors lived in India. I love being indian and being able to indulge in the sweets and traditions of my culture. This indian heritage revealed to me one of my biggest passions, Bharata Natyam, indian classical dance. Dance is my personal connection to my ancestors and keeps me grounded in my roots in the melting pot of a society. I think it is great that America is a melting pot but at the same time I believe it is important that we maintain our cultural roots in order to preserve our own identities and culture. I identify myself as an Indian Guyanese Kenyan American or a mix thereof. I don’t embrace my Guyanese heritage as much as I should but it is still apart of me. Instead I indulge in my Kenyan more, but only in the past two years when I lived in Kenya for a month. Being in my grandparents and partly my mother's homeland strengthened the bond I have with my grandparents. I went with my mother’s old friend, Zahra who showed me around. I was able to visit the hospital where my grandparents were born, meet their school friends and even visit the mosque that was reopened after the area was once again safe. Even though I was miles away from my family, I never felt closer to them in Kenya. When I returned I talked to my family about how things have changed but still some of the local shops they ate at are still there. I asked them if they would go back and to my surprise they said no. I questioned them more about it and they replied " We have outgrown Kenya and Kenya has outgrown us". I didn't understand their reply until I did this research, learning more about their past. It sounds cliche, but I think Kenya fits me just right; making a difference there and seeing my history made me fall in love with coastal Kenya. It changed the direction of my life and pointed it east.
Sierra Raghunath - 4/14/14
I think back on the migration of my family and the struggle my grandparents faced as refugees. Their adaptability has left me in awe, now at the age of 76 my grandfather sends me text messages every day, drives to Lifetime to go work out and even uses hashtags on occasions. They have blended in with societal norms while also staying true to their own heritage. I have personally struggled with that myself but struggle in 2014 has a completely different meaning than it did in the 70’s. It took me a long time to embrace my indian/kenyan identity and I haven’t even embraced my Guyanese identity yet. I am grateful I did not have to spend my whole life not knowing my family history like Pilate did. She didn’t have time to indulge in the sweetness like I get to. I admire her for being firm in what she believes without knowing her heritage to steady her. She has made her own heritage by collection those rocks similar to the way generations pass down stories orally. I’m grateful for the identity that my family has given me, it’s a true gift I don’t intend on wasting.
Morrison’s Song of Solomon drips with cultural roots and ancestry as Morrison soaks the pages with history, culture and their mixture into modern day. This mixture can create racism, loss of identity and stagnation as seen through Milkman Dead in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Morrison illustrates history being passed down through her novel herself, orally. “Orature is a way of bridging gaps” (Wilentz, 138) between generations, countries and communities.
A prime example seen throughout the novel displayed when sung by Pilate in the initial pages is the song “Sugarman done fly away”. This song reveals personality, heritage and innocence. Selfless and wise ares the first impression that Pilate gives off in the initial pages of the novel. These are very accurate impressions because she is indeed selfless and wise. Wearing a knit cap in the snow, helping Ruth Foster prepare for her newborn baby is the selfless impression given that stays with Pilate’s character until the end of the novel. Pilate also portrays the composer of a spectator, standing singing while all this chaos continues, as if she knows something that the reader and crowd does not. This creates irony because the words she sings become what Pilate most desperately wants and she herself does not know that. Pilate bridges the gap between generations without even realizing it. Intentionally, Morrison purpose, to portray oral traditions is specific, Morrison states how she has to “rewrite, discard… the language to put back the oral quality” (Tate, 126). The song in question describes an old tale of flying Africans escaping slavery by flying home. Magical realism becomes another key element that Morrison applies to pass down oral traditions.
Morrison engages in the use of magic because “black people believe in magic… It’s apart of our heritage” (Watkins, 50). Magic used involving flight is specifically used to display the horrors of slavery. The magic of flight makes the story of Sugarman timeless and appeal to all ages which plays an important role in keeping the story alive. The use of flight particularly appeals to the senses of children which is why this is a common childrens song. By appealing to a younger generation you ensure that the song and story will remain and then eventually be passed on to their children and their children, most likely the easiest way to keep an story alive orally. Magic is also seen in Pilate herself. She is exiled from the comments that she lives in because she lacks a navel, giving her a supernatural element. This emphasizes the fact that Pilate contains a supernatural element also foreshadowing her magical flight at the end of the novel.
One technique that many authors use is letting the reader determine what really happened at the end of the novel. Morrison uses magic to implement this technique. By dabbling in magical realism the readers mind is open to allow anything to happen. Did Mr.Smith really die? Or did he just take flight towards freedom away from the Seven Days? Did Milkman really die? He had just learned how to fly, did he?
Morrison herself takes apart in orature, beside the creation of her characters is the fact that she through Song of Solomon passes down her own African American heritage by writing and publishing Song of Solomon. Wilentz emphasizes women passing down the oral history. Pilate does this by singing the song and Morrison does this by writing the novel, both being “custodians] of culture” (Arhin 92-94).
Oral traditions are the reason that all people grasp their history in some sort of way. Something as simple as having your grandfathers name becomes an example of oral tradition or on a larger scale writing a novel, weaving your own history into the characters. The use of oral tradition in Song of Solomon plays a crucial role in aiding Milkman’s self discovery, rebirth and his identity.
Index: Oral traditions can consist of stories, songs, books and many more. Through the passing down of stories, essentially history, one grasps an idea of heritage. Without heritage one cannot have identity. Pilate did not have heritage but she created her own heritage and documented it through the collection of rocks from different locations. Because she created her own heritage, she was able to create her own identity through that heritage. Milkman on the other hand just discovered his primitive self before he discovered his heritage. Finding his heritage set him free from the confines of his past, allowing him to be reborn and start fresh.
Quality Personified- Humble
Quality Personified - Humble
Humble wears a knit cap and sings in the snow.
Humble carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Literally. Carrying the burden of her past on her back,
never letting it slow her down.
Humble carries the weight of the world on her shoulders,
dying with one last regret.
Humble has a tight grip,
never letting anybody pass through unloved.
Humble has a tight grip,
protecting the ones she loves.
Humble lies within everyone.
Her tune carried throughout town.
Humble lies within everyone,
scattering herself into the souls of her loved ones.
her devotion warming the heart.
shining light upon the runway.
Humble is lost.
kicked out, abandoned, alone.
Humble is lost,
until she is lifted.
Humble can fly,
even though she doesn’t know it.
Humble can fly,
without ever leaving the ground.
Humble wears a knit cap and sings in the snow.
Index: Humble depicts Pilates personality because of her origins. She was forced to travel town to town making a living on her own, be a black single mother and support her family when her daughter was all she had. Pilate or Humble will give up anything for her daughters and even for those who are close enough to be her sons. She is the superhero of the novel and guides characters towards her and towards moral goodness. This poem takes Humble uses her qualities to relate to the actions of Pilate. The poem opens with the single line “Humble wears a knit cap and sings in the snow” because Pilate is first introduced to the readers singing and wearing a knit cap. I repeated the first line of each stanza twice within the stanza because Pilate is selfless doing things for others but at the same time majority of the actions she does are to help her grasp, indulge and comprehend her heritage. Throughout the novel the reader sees Pilate create her own heritage, documenting her life through the stones she collects from every place she lives. Pilate being devote, abandoned, strong and humble causes her to create her own identity therefore creating a heritage.
In the novel Song of Solomon (1977), written by the first African American Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison- well known for her fiction literature- aids Milkman’s change in identity but changing his physical direction, in How to Read Literature like a Professor, Foster asserts that “ when writers send characters south, it’s so they can run amok… [and have] direct, raw encounters with the subconscious” (171). Morrison facilitates this transformation and sends Milkman south in order for things to run “amok”, which can be seen when hunting in the woods, Milkman visiting Circe and at Jake’s funeral, all of these events shove Milkman Dead into his own subconsciousness and heritage. In sending Milkman South, Morrison intended for Milkman to leave his comfortable environment, be placed in a more comfortable location in order for him to lose “this shit that weighs him down” (???) to determine the importance of his family, heritage and identity. Morrison completes Milkman’s journey from innocence to maturity, defining Song of Solomon as a bildungsroman, simply by changing the direction of his travel.
Index: Morrison used settings in Song of Solomon in a deliberate way. Characters were send South to become loose inhibitions in order to find themselves. Similarly, the town of Shalimar said out loud sounds similar to Solomon, where the Dead family originated. Without setting, there would be no heritage. If Jake didn't fly back to Africa there would be no premise of the book, leave Milkman with an average, non-magical heritage.
Morrison illuminates this change through the loss of Milkman's material possessions stranding Milkman with "nothing to help him- not his money... or his shoes" 277 (in previous chapters the readers sees the correlation between shoes and society through Pilate), in addition Milkman loses his limp comparing "his legs were [too] stalks, tree trunks...comfortable there-on the earth" (281) compared to how Milkman "hobbled over the gravel" (256) in Chapter 10 and the change from Milkman's three piece beige suit to "mud-caked brogans" and "World War 2 army fatigues" (271). Morrison depicts the loss of Milkman's conformed nature in order to allow Milkman to be "his own director... [with] the sense of power" (260) in his combat gear and sturdy legs. Morrison's tone, depicted through Milkman, radiates lightheartedness and gratefulness in order to portray Milkman's new identity, Morrison creates a new character in this particular chapter displaying how Milkman was "laughing too, hard...exhilarated by simply walking the earth" (281) showing the reader a different side of Milkman Dead.
Index: This Precis emphasizes the need for change in order to grow. If a character (Milkman) stays stagnant in one particular location (South Michigan) in order to change, grow and develop he must leave his comfort zone and loose inhibitions to develop. Without this change in location Milkman would have never lost his material possessions that were stopping him from maturing and taking flight.
Symbol - Baptism
Thomas Foster asserts in his book How to Read Literature like a Professor that baptism is the “death and rebirth through the medium of water” (155). Throughout the plot of Song of Solomon, the protagonist, Milkman Dead, goes through 3 baptisms each one illuminating more of Milkman’s true personality.
The first baptism that Milkman Dead undergoes occurs on his journey towards the cave. In order for Milkman to arrive there he must cross a creek, Milkman “holds] his shoes in his hand, he was[ed] in” (249). This first baptism serves as his initial cleanse, Milkman loses material items such as cigarettes and his watch and takes off his shoes. Earlier in the novel, Pilate relays her past life, leaving towns that made her wear shoes. Shoes in this novel represent societal constraints and conformity; by Milkman taking off his shoes he sheds social pressure. The loss of his watch symbolizes loss of time, also a restraint that society places upon us. Each baptism Milkman undergoes, he loses material items and gains abstract items. After this baptism the protagonist discovers what lies in the cave.
The second baptism Milkman receives occurs during Sweet’s bath. This particular baptism displays Milkman’s change in character because Milkman does something for someone else. Morrison uses stichomythia-like narrator to display the taking and giving that occurs between Milkman and Sweet. Because of this exchange Milkman begins to see Hagar in a new light. Milkman realizes how poorly he treats Hagar and makes a mental note to correct his ways.
The final baptism stands apart from the others because Milkman volunteers to be baptized. Milkman recognizes that has his dirty and shouts “I want to swim!... let’s go swimming. I’m dirty and I want waaaaater” (326) and proceeds to jump into the lake. Milkman is uplifted in this scene because he discovered the the game of his people and claims it to be “my game now” (327). Milkman does not need to undergo any more baptisms because after finding the truth he is uplifted knowing his heritage and his identity.
Index: Baptism is used to show rebirth of a character, usually spiritually or mentally. Baptisms in Song of Solomon are used a benchmarks to display Milkman’s change as he travels to find gold and eventually his heritage. Each baptism reveal to the reader something new about the character in question, helping facilitate character analysis. The final baptism is the one I find most interesting, Milkman himself see’s that he needs to cleanse and rid himself of vanity and negative characteristics that have caused him to sink in the past. His final journey of flight would not have been possible without this final baptism, and neither would Pilates. Baptism ties into heritage because without the baptisms that Milkman goes through he would have no been able to embrace his past and develop his own identity.
Pilate Chocolate Truffle Recipe
Pilate Chocolate Truffles Recipe
- 4 Rocks - add at bottom for weight and roots
- Fake Gold
- heaping serving of bravery and compassion
- 8 oz. of Guidance
- a sprinkle of irony
- supernatural powers
- Caramelized Sugarman
- Longing for home
- ½ cup of longing for home
- Red wine
- Small metal box
In order to make Pilate Chocolate Truffles one must take exquisite care in the early development of this rich and earthy chocolate. In a small saucepan bring ½ of longing for home to simmer; over time this longing will increase as Pilate Truffles begin to transform. Be patient and don’t abandon the longing or else it will over boil and increase. Next, pour 8 oz. of guidance in a different bowl; this will be the basis of your chocolate truffle and give the Truffle its key characteristics. Pour the longing over the guidance and add in supernatural powers to help guide you along the way to creating Pilate Chocolate Truffles. This will also help your truffles rise and create the fluffy and light texture that you want. Fold in a heaping serving of bravery and compassion, this is help the truffles harden and be resistant to hate while remaining soft and gooey in the center. Now, set tray in the an abandoned cave and allow to cool for 3 days. Once cooled scoop Pilate Truffle mixture in small spoonfuls and roll in the palm of your hands, this mixture is called ganache. You’re almost done! In order to add that special something to your truffles to make them unique dust the tops of the truffles with fake gold. This gold will attract and guide your guests in the right direction. Also, crush up for rock and dip the bottom of the truffles in crushed up rocks, this adds weight to the bottom of the truffle, securing its roots. Sprinkle the top of the truffle with irony. The name “chocolate truffle” is merely an illusion, after all this work your truffles with taste
much better than just chocolate, they will send your guests soaring. Mix regret with caramelized sugarman and drizzle of the top of truffle and you’re done!
In order to add even more aesthetic value, individually package each truffle in a small metal box.
Nothing goes better with Pilate Chocolate Truffles then red ginger wine! The wine will accent all of the characteristic of your truffle!
Index: The purpose of Pilate Chocolate Truffles are to take your diners through a journey using their senses to understand Pilate Dead. Each element of Pilate Chocolate Truffles symbolizes a different part of her personality. Pilate’s life goals were to love and to find where she came from. Her entire life consisted of facing adversity and finding where she came from - her heritage. The ingredients used to make the base of the truffle such as longing for home and guidance serve as the basis for who she is. Bravery and compassion, the next ingredients added give Pilate the motivation to be the woman she is and break the cycle of oppressed women in Song of Solomon. Toppings such as fake gold, rocks and wine give Pilate her personality, making her unique and unlike any other. All of these ingredients and mixed, chilled, rolled and decorated to create Pilate just as Pilate used her heritage and identity to create herself.