87. Tounka
Written & performed by Rokia Traore
From the CD Tchamantche (Nonesuch, USA 2008)



Nazarras (Europeans) think that
Nine poor people plus one rich man
Inevitably makes ten poor people

Are we not rich
In Congo-Zaire?
Are we not rich
In Nigeria?
Are we not rich
In Mali?

Of course our richness only
Brings us
Wars and slaughter
Famine and disease
But we are rich

Say no to exodus
France is a source of suffering
On the road in salt water
Lies death
Spain is a source of suffering
On the road in salt water
Lies death


Fig. 1] The singularity of Lampedusa is its vegetation, in particular the gariga-steppa. Low aromatic and resinous shrubs are the distinctive elements of gariga, it is present in rocky and very arid habitats where human intervention has eliminated any trace of plants as happened in Lampedusa in the middle of the nineteenth century.

‘A number of things distinguish Ms Traore from other Malian divas: her voice is intimate rather than epic; she’s as interested in innovation as she is in tradition. And – on this, her fourth and best album – there’s a shift towards minor-key angst-tinged songs while most African music sounds celebratory, even when the lyrics are reporting poverty and injustices. Traore’s tunes have similar social concerns but it’s the delicate tracery of her unique arrangements, in which Gretsch guitar, n’goni and classical harp discreetly impose themselves on silence, that make this exceptional. Always known for her outspoken lyrics, she tackles the problem of illegal immigration from Africa to Europe in the compelling Tounka.’

- Tchamantche, by Rokia Traore. Reviewed by Howard Male, The Independent, August 31, 2008 www.independent.co.uk


Fig. 2] The only survivors of the ancient Mediterranean scrub that covered the island in the ancient times, are rare examples of Phoenician juniper, Carob tree and Oleasters near some examples of Aleppo Pines planted again by the Sicilian corps of forest rangers (Guardia Forestale).

‘Lampedusa – Around 350 illegal immigrants arrived on the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa by sea on Friday, bringing the total in the past two days to 800. Italian coastguard vessels intercepted an unknown number of makeshift craft on Thursday and Friday, which predominantly contained immigrants from Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. The immigrants have been taken to an already overflowing reception centre on Lampedusa where around 1200 immigrants are currently being held, the reports said. In one of the boats which arrived on Thursday, three young sisters arrived from Ethiopia, who were travelling to be with their mother and two brothers already in Italy.

From May to July of 2008 alone 775 minors from Somalia and Eritrea have arrived on Lampedusa. Four fifths of them made the journey alone without a parent or guardian, according to the aid organization Save the Children. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which lies 113km from the coast of Tunisia, is a focus point for migrants from Africa who attempt to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing in the calmer summer months.’

- ‘Fresh flood of refugee arrivals on Italian island’, written & posted by DPA Aug 22, 2008 in The Earth Times online newspaper, www.earthtimes.org.


Fig.3] ‘Gariga’ is mostly present in deep valleys where one can find specimens of Euphorbia, Lentiscus, Scrub of silk, Chamaedrys, Sicilian Tea tree besides Asphodels, Asters and a lot of sea ‘Scilla’ present in the island.

‘The journey to the promised land begins at the beginning of the Bible, with the troubled journeys of Abraham and Moses, but could as easily begin, for people from all over Africa seeking a way into western Europe, on the shores of Al Zuwarre on the coast of Libya, or the shores of the beach town of el-Aioun in the Moroccan run western Sahara.’

- Promised Lands – Flow Motion, 2006 [Unpublished]


Fig 4] The endemic species have survived any kind of change in the island and are of the most important interest for botanists.

‘On 11th may 2008 the Tunisian authorities saved 16 migrants who had been adrift off the coast of Telboulbah, near Monastir, in a ramshackle boat. They had been there a week without food or water. 47 passengers had died at sea. Godpower is one of the survivors. He asked for political asylum, but risks expulsion.

Godpower is from Benin City, Nigeria. He is now a guest at the Refugee Centre (CARA) of Bari Palese. ‘There were approximately 60 of us on board. There were women and children. We had left from Al Zuwarre, but we didn’t have a compass, nor a navigator nor a satellite phone. After a while the captain lost course.’ Then they ran out of fuel. Godpower watched his journey companions die one by one. ‘I can’t find the words. They died in front of my eyes. We remained one week at sea. We were burned. We drank our own urine. I was so hungry I ate the sole of my shoes.’

Eventually aid arrived, and the migrants were taken to hospital in Monastir. A week later […] the police […] took them to the Libyan border Ras Jdayr. ‘They didn’t hand us in to the Libyan authorities,’ Godpower says. ‘They showed us a route which wasn’t patrolled, and we continued by foot’. Ten days later Godpower was on his way back to Benin – where in a gesture of ambiguous generosity, a connection man gave him a place in another boat, free of charge.

On 26th May, after three days at sea, Godpower was back in Lampedusa. Today, three months later, he is afraid that it was all useless. The commission for the recognition of the status of refugees has begun to release the first refusals to the requests for political asylum of the Nigerian citizens hosted at Cara Barese. Godpower is afraid of being repatriated. ‘It’s not easy to risk your life to then be sent home again.’

- Press Agency Emigrazione Notizie report from Bari, Puglia, Italy, from the Centro di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo [Refugee Centre for Asylum Seekers]. At Cara di Bari one of the survivors tells of the terrible shipwreck of Teboulbah] Posted August 7, 2008 www.emigrazione-notizie.org


Fig 5] The coastal vegetation is characterised by Limonium lopadusanum, soft Pulvin plants that produce splendid and delicate flowers.

‘As you arrive by air at Lampedusa, a tiny flat Italian island just off the coast of North Africa, you can see the white sandy beaches and rocky coves that attract swimmers and snorkellers and rare breeds of turtle. It is Europe’s southernmost outpost — a hot, arid land of palm trees, cacti and coral dubbed ‘the European Tropics’.

Through the heat haze you can also spot the Italian coastguard vessels slicing though the deep blue waters to meet and bring in boatloads of exhausted and dehydrated would-be immigrants who set off from North Africa in overcrowded, ramshackle boats to reach the ‘Promised Land’. Many never make it: last week Italian fishermen reported that seven migrants died when their rubber dinghy capsized in Libyan waters, with Lampedusa still far over the horizon. Two women, one pregnant, died when their boat sank 80 miles south of Malta. It emerged recently that 140 migrants died in June in Libyan waters. Their bodies are still being recovered.

‘This cannot go on,’ Bernardino De Rubeis, the Mayor of Lampedusa, said as he watched another boatload of 30 arrive at the quayside. ‘We are on our knees — at the limit. We have a centre where these people are cared for medically, and where we try to identify them. But it is only designed to hold 850 at the most, and at the moment it often has double that number.’

At about 15,000, the number of arrivals so far this year is double the figure for last year. Nearly 400 have died at sea, compared with 500 for the whole of 2007. The centre-right Government of Silvio Berlusconi has declared an ‘immigration emergency’, with extra powers for police to combat street crime and tougher penalties — including prison as well as deportation — for illegal immigrants.

But governments of all hues, Mr De Rubeis said, have left Lampedusa to bear the brunt of the annual assault from North Africa. Lampedusa is administratively part of Sicily. But Sicily is 250km (155 miles) away, while Tunisia is just over 100km away.

Last month the mayor inaugurated a sculpture on Lampedusa’s headland just beyond the port by the Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. Entitled The Gateway of Europe, it is dedicated to the thousands who have died trying to reach the island and is decorated with the migrants’ poignantly meagre belongings — shoes, food bowls and hats.

The migrants pay smugglers up to €2,000 (£1,500) a head for their passage across the sea. ‘It is nothing less than a criminal trade in human flesh,’ said Mr De Rubeis. ‘Unfortunately the August weather at this time is ideal for it — calm seas.’

Behind us the latest arrivals from the Horn of Africa were being given portside medical checks by staff from the aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and taken by bus to the euphemistically named Welcome Centre, a well-guarded former military camp about a mile away.

Their vessel — a dilapidated wooden fishing boat with a torn awning as defence against the scorching sun — joined three others at the quayside full of discarded lifejackets and empty water canisters. According to volunteers at the detention camp, 11 per cent of the migrants are women and 5 per cent children. ‘We ensure that each migrant at least has a mattress, medical attention and food and water,’ Cono Galipo, who runs the charity, said. According to the mayor: ‘When the centre is at bursting point it puts an extra strain on the island’s infrastructure – water, transport, sanitation, waste, sewage.’

A tall, bespectacled, mild-mannered accountant, Mr De Rubeis has found himself catapulted into a crisis of national, if not international, proportions. ‘I appeal to the European Union for help,’ he said. ‘After all, this is a European problem.’

On the same island, but a world away, is the Cupola Bianca, a hotel complex with a palm-fringed pool. Giuseppe Cappello, who runs the complex, is one of many who say that the immigration problem is sapping Lampedusa’s lifeblood: tourism. The number of tourists is down by 30 per cent this year. ‘It hardly helps if all people see on television is yet more illegal immigrants arriving. It gives a false impression,’ he said.

Claudio Baglioni, an Italian pop star, stages a free annual music and art festival on the island to promote multi-ethnic understanding. ‘The problem is, the authorities treat the symptoms of the disease, not its origins,’ he said.

On Lampedusa they put the blame squarely on one man: Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, who they say has repeatedly reneged on promises to halt the exodus of migrants from the 1,700km Libyan coastline, despite an accord last December on joint maritime patrols. Italy and Libya, a former Italian colony, have spent years negotiating a treaty, including compensation for the colonial occupation.

A key component is the construction of a €3 billion coastal motorway through Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, funding of which was promised by Mr Berlusconi on a visit to Tripoli in 2004. He has vowed to conclude a deal with Colonel Gaddafi by the end of the summer.

Mr De Rubeis and his outspoken deputy, Angela Maraventano, are sceptical. ‘It’s all words,’ Ms Maraventano, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, said as she started a symbolic hunger strike on a fishing boat in the port. ‘Gaddafi is blackmailing us by sending these poor people over. I call on him to stop this massacre.’

Antonio Virgilio, MSF’s head of mission in Italy, said: ‘Increased controls and surveillance are not deterring people from trying to reach Europe. These people are running away from war, violence, hunger and extreme hardship. Their only chance is to take that perilous journey. So they take more risks now – they travel in smaller and more precarious boats, even rubber dinghies, often for up to eight days.’

Many islanders are ambivalent about the coastguards and fishermen who rescue the migrants, and the humanitarian agencies that care for them, saying that they merely encourage the influx. But Licia Pera, an MSF nurse with four years’ experience on Lampedusa, said: ‘It is our human duty to save lives. Many of these people have escaped from war zones, and some of the women are raped during their terrible journey across the desert to the Libyan coast.’

Many migrants ‘do not even realise Lampedusa is an island’, she said. Last week 18 migrants who had evaded the coastguards landed on a beach and asked a startled woman sunbather how to get to the non-existent railway station.’

- ‘Seaborne immigrant invasion racks holiday island of Lampedusa’, by Richard Owen, The Times, August 9, 2008 www.timesonline.co.uk


Fig 6] During June and July, turtles come in Italy in the Cove of Rabbits in Lampedusa and at Pozzolana in Lipari to give a safe place to their eggs that are deposited in deep holes which they dig in the sand. Volunteers from Lega Ambiente and CTS prevent the place from being attacked by predators by covering the hole with sand and enclosing the area with metal networks. After two months, in the heart of summer, eggs hatch and the run towards the sea starts. Now, young turtles are easily a prey to seagulls. In the sea, another phase of life waits for them.

‘The first prince of Lampedusa and Linosa was Giulio Tomasi, ancestor of the famous writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who received the title from Charles II of Spain in 1630. A century later the Tomasi family began a program of resettlement.

In 1860 the island became part of the new Kingdom of Italy, but the new government limited its activities there to building a penal colony.’

- ‘Lampedusa’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lampedusa


Fig 7] The link between Africa and Sicily is represented by the Caralluma Europaea, a north-eastern star flower cactus, and by the Centaurea acaulis, a large white species with very thorny thistles, called White Carlina.

‘Poised between rocks and shrubs here is The Door of Lampedusa, a monument to the memory of migrants. It is almost five metres high and three metres wide, designed by Mimmo Paladino, built with a special refractory ceramic in Faenza and then assembled in Paduli.

It left on a truck on June 21, loaded on a ferry to Porto Empedocle, and will be officially unveiled on Saturday June 28. At sunset, a procession will start from the streets of the country to climb the promontory and will parade in honour of those who died at sea.

Almost three thousand victims in the last two decades were rescued from the waves of the Strait of Sicily, according to the figures from Fortress Europe. Another five thousand are missing. The door of Lampedusa is oriented in the direction of the village of Al Zuwarah.

- ‘A Lampedusa un’opera del maestro Mimmo Paladino in omaggio a tutti morti delle traversate del Mediteranneo – La porta che guarda l’Africa in ricordo di chi non e’ mai arrivato.’ La Republica, February 14, 2008 www.blog.libero.it/ilsognoesempre/newcom
Watch the inauguration via: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQZKdbk3Odw


Figures 1 – 7 quoted from ‘Lampedusa and Linosa, the islands of sun and turtles’, in Discover Italia



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