With Black History Month 2017 on its last day, it’s time to decide if we will continue the celebration of US,our story,our accomplishments and our power.
Here at Heritage Box, we believe in celebrating year round ,especially for our children.Hundreds of packages have been delivered nationwide to do just that!
This March,we would like to showcase another “hidden figure”.Have you ever heard of Le Chevalier de Saint George?
Author Denise Mpinga sat with us to share more about this man that we should all know.Her book ,The Musical Adventures of Saint George
is featured in the March boxes of our subscribers!
What inspired you to start writing the book?
My favorite childhood author – British writer Jane Austen inspired me to write this book. For the last 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to be a travel blogger. I was doing a research project on fun things to do in London and cool personalities. I interviewed this awesome fitness coach from Guadeloupe Island living in London named Sebastien Foucan. He runs a lifestyle company called Free Running Academy. He did some awesome scenes in the James Bond movie Casino Royale. This was my first introduction to the island of Gaudeloupe.
I did a feature story on London’s top baker who is Nigerian Elizabeth Solaru. She makes cakes that are exquisitely beautiful and tasty at her shop called Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium. Then, my last assignment, I wanted to explore my favorite author Jane Austen’s London. Jane Austen was a writer from England who wrote 6 books. She lived a little over 200 years ago. Her books have been made into movies, cartoons you name it. Hollywood has made billions of dollars off of her 6 books.
What I have always loved about her writing is just how beautifully she uses the English language. Her characters are always fascinating and interesting. When I was a child, reading her books just took me away to a whole other exciting world. Her writings inspired me to want to write, and I have all my life.
So you may ask, why the interest in a British writer? Well, my family is from Zimbabwe. I was born and raised in the United States. My parents decided when I was 6, that they were going to return home to Zimbabwe. We only lived there for 3 years, but that experience has lasted all my life. Zimbabwe, if you don’t know was once a British colony. What that means is that you’d go to school and learn to speak British English, and drink lots of tea and get lots of exposure to British culture. Of course, in school, we learned about lots of British writers.
In doing my research project about Jane Austen, one of the things is that when you see most movies, cartoons from Hollywood you definitely don’t see any people of color playing her characters at all. Hollywood gives you the impression that there were no black people living in Jane Austen’s London.
Well, there have been several amazing scholars and academics who have found out quite the opposite, and in fact that Miss Jane Austen was actually a person of color. She was black British, and there were many native black Europeans in Britain, France, Germany all over. They were not children of Africans who were enslaved as most people would be led to believe.
My discovery of Le Chevalier de Saint George
In the process of trying to learn more about these black British and black Europeans, I came across the music of Le Chevalier de Saint George also called Joseph Boulogne. You see his last name spelled differently by different authors…so I chose my favorite. Just listening to his music, I was amazed and intrigued. The music was so beautiful.
It was intriguing to see that there were some black people in history who had a sense of themselves, were intelligent, geniuses in fact, leaders in the world, pioneers…and not in a place I would have expected.
So the book was born – Treasure Hunt on Butterfly Island.
What was most surprising about your trip to Guadeloupe and what did you find most unique about Guadeloupe?
Guadeloupe is a French-speaking island. It’s actually still owned by France. The island was tossed back and forth between the British and the French. So when you travel there, going to Guadeloupe is like going to France. They use the euro as their form of money, which is what is used in Europe. I loved the people the most. I’ve been to other Caribbean islands, but I never really connected in the way that I did when I went to Guadeloupe. I was struck with how similar the temperament of Gaudeloupeans is with Zimbabweans. I could definitely tell that the African heritage of Guadeloupe was from southern Africa.
They also speak Creole. I was amazed that there were African words that I recognized! Wasn’t expecting that.
My host was a Guadeloupen – Vanessa Bolosier. She’s written a cookbook about Gaudeloupean culture and food called Creole Kitchen. She took us all over the island. I got to see Guadeloupe from a Guadeloupean perspective. We went to the home of Le Chevalier de Saint George. Le Chevalier de Saint George’s father owned one of the largest sugar plantations on the island…more on that later. It’s on the slope of a volcano. The beaches are gorgeous!! The food is amazing. Think New Orleans French food. The coffee we get from Louisiana actually originated in Guadeloupe. Add the tropical fruits to the list, I was in heaven.
Historically speaking, what’s interesting is that in 1763, France gave up Canada to the British so they could keep Guadeloupe. That should tell you something. It’s a special island!
Just two years ago, they restarted direct flights from the United States to Guadeloupe. So it’s affordable to get there.
Sainte Anne Beach, Grande-Terre Island, Gaudeloupe. Photo by Andreas Lindemann, Agency Dreamstime
Why do you think this is an important story to be told?
So the Treasure Hunt on Butterfly Island is the first book in a series covering the life, the times and people of Le Chevalier de Saint George – Joseph Boulogne. Before I went to Guadeloupe, I did a lot of preliminary research on Joseph Boulogne and his family – English language and French. I found a very interesting pattern. He’s a mystery man. His parents are mysteries too, which I thought was odd for someone who hung out with the French kings and British kings. You can find three different men named as his father, who was supposedly an adviser to the French kings and just this assumption ,because his father was wealthy and European that he was a white European man who used the title of a black man – Saint George as part of his own name and that for his son. In fact, Joseph Boulogne’s father was like Jane Austen, a black European.
Joseph Boulogne was the most famous musician in his time, even more than another famous musician by the name of Mozart. When I was in college, I studied French history and not once was he ever mentioned. I took a music appreciation class in college too, and not once was he ever mentioned. His story – definitely suppressed. Many people say oh it’s because he was black. But I wanted to learn more…
There are probably two main works in the last 20 years from scholars on his life. One of them I read…about 500 pages. Supposed to be a well-credited academic. I couldn’t wait to finish reading it and this is not in a positive light. It was so colonial and so racist – it relied on trivial stereotypes about so-called slaves. The writer would go on and on about the slaves and masters, and if you use your mind, ask questions and seek to really understand the truth – there were so many gaps in this biography. Loads of speculations. I think many mainstream scholars and academics get away with shoddy research especially if their subjects are black people.
My family is from Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a very unique country in Africa, because it was once the capital of one of Africa’s most powerful empires up until about 300 years ago – the Monomotapa Empire. Most people in America don’t know anything about the Monomotapa Empire and the emperors and kings…even Zimbabweans today are very uneducated about their African past..but I come from a family of educators and I grew up with the stories of our kings and what really happened..there are many ancient documents and books, that most people don’t know anything about. For example, you can even find a drawing of one of the last Monomotapan kings and emperors at the British Museum in London!
These rather racist, stereotypical biographies of Le Chevalier de Saint George made me want to go to Guadeloupe.
I wanted to find out who are these slaves? What kind of slave island produces this level of a musical genius who formed Europe’s top orchestra? Must be something special about these people. And there sure is. Their music called gwoka was a direct influence on Le Chevalier de Saint George’s music, the melodies, the soul. The Gaudeloupean martial arts, which was brought to the island by many of the enslaved Africans was a direct influence on Le Chevalier de Saint George as he was Europe’s top fencing champion and was known for his teaching of this martial art. I really didn’t understand how the word slave – can cover people from so many different cultures and such a rich history!
From the mainstream books out there, you also don’t really ever get the connection between Le Chevalier de Saint George and the black British people like Jane Austen. There were two other Chevalier de Saint George’s who lived during Joseph Boulogne’s time and yes…they were his relatives!
I think the importance of this story is to reconnect with a missing link of black history namely Europe. History is very important. If you don’t know your origins, you will never understand your destiny. We have to get beyond the slave narrative. Our African cultures are very ancient, thousands of years old…spread all over the world. The experience of slavery and colonialism has roughly been 300-400 years of our experience and heritage.
I wanted to get beyond stereotypes and really understand, connect emotionally with the men and women who have given us the world through their faith, their genius and perseverance. We owe it to our ancestors to do that for them.
I also think it begins with children, this new generation because they have more inquisitive, open minds. They have the whole world at their feet.
I’m passionate about this story. Each book that is purchased, goes to fund the purchase of musical instruments for school children in Africa. The objective for African school children to learn about classical music with its many black composers. My first project is with Tree Africa Ghana and Akoma International Academy. We’ve purchased 11 violins and 1 keyboard for two classes of 15.
We can’t just know things in our head…we have to apply the knowledge and educate, educate, educate!
What else can we expect from your series?
I love adventures. I love to travel. So the Treasure Hunt on Butterfly Island begins with the island of Guadeloupe. Each book has an accompanying podcast that has Le Chevalier de Saint George’s music and interesting biographical information and will also include other related music. In getting beyond stereotypes and appearances, I wanted to find out about the title Le Chevalier de Saint George – this means the Knight of Saint George. We will learn who the real Saint George was.
I wanted to find out more about Guadeloupe…since as the birthplace of Le Chevalier de Saint George, it had a profound influence on his life. We’re going to learn about who named Guadeloupe…there is a lot of significance in what things and places are named…that will take us to Mexico, Spain’s black history with its Moors, Yemen, East Africa.
We’ll learn where Le Chevalier de Saint George’s favorite musical instrument – the violin – came from. Hint, it’s origins are in East Africa.
We’ll learn about the history of Western European classical music – believe it or not, it came out of black churches in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.We’ll meet some Black British and Scottish peoples. We’ll learn about Ghana and Portugal – the sailors and navigators who changed the world and so much more…We have an amazing history no matter where we live on the planet.
I hope your readers will join me. At the end of the series, I want
each child to have listened to Le Chevalier de Saint George’s
heavenly music, to be inspired by the awesome examples of
leadership, to be confident after solving the mysteries and puzzles
thrown their way, to know that no matter what complexion their
skin is – they can do whatever they put their minds to and see
themselves in history – not as just children of slaves or coming
from a people who just seem to be losers…but knowing they are
winners and have an awesome lineage, culture and history…
Where can parents purchase the books and the rest of the series?
Heritage Box Is A Subscription Box Service That Teaches Black History And African Geography To Children. We Believe Every Month Should Be Black History Month. We’re On A Mission To Make That A Reality. Subscribe To Heritage Box Today.