I also, like Jacqueline Woodson, suffer from “Hydrophobia.” But unlike hers, which the multiple award-winning essayist, novelist and thinker attributes to what she calls “Genetic Memory” – or Epic Memory, my preferred label or characterization – being the direct result of the euphemistic “Middle Passage,” my deathly fear of water, or rather waterbodies, emanates from the fact that I came close to drowning and being carried away by the currents of a creek or a stream in a small village called Akyem-Kankang, in the Akyem-Abuakwa Traditional State or Kingdom of Ghana’s Eastern Region when I was in the second grade. In class two, as it was then called. Today, this village in which my late mother taught at the time, as a pupil teacher or nonprofessionally trained teacher, and my uncle was the professionally trained principal or headteacher of the primary school, has been renamed as Akyem-Sekyere. It was probably one of the tens of settlements that sprang up from the refugee spillovers of the Kumasi-Juaben wars, in the present-day Asante Region, between the 1860s and the 1880s.
In a real, practical sense, I also bear close kinship with my African-American brothers and sisters because on my mother’s maternal side of our family, we were for at least a century or more precluded from the inheritance of the royal stool and were only readmitted by the same family recently. This disinheritance was strictly based on the fact that sometime between the 1870s and 1880s – I have yet to learn about the details of the entire story – my great-great-grandmother had allegedly married a member of the Krepi/Peki-Blengo royal family, that is, from an ethnic group that my maternal grandmother’s clansmen and women deemed to be unworthy of conjugal affinity. Our lineage of the family was thus summarily ostracized by the rest of the clan or extended family because, somehow, custom and tradition had it that our sacred and royal Akan blood had been sacrilegiously contaminated by alien Krepi-Ewe blood. We shall make time to discuss this aspect of my family history as shall become relevant or germane to this narrative in due course.
We may, indeed, have recently been readmitted into the Akyem-Nkronso royal family. But, of course, as I also recently learned from my 75-year-old youngest uncle – I have only one other uncle left on this side of our family, my 90-year-old retired Staff-Sergeant of the Ghana Armed Forces and Congo War Veteran, Uncle Emmanuel Bellon Kwabena Okwaning Sintim – retired Lt-Col. Leslie George (Kwadwo Okoampa) Eddy Sintim (formerly Sintim-Eddy), on the other hand, would have absolutely nothing to do with this so-called familial readmittance. Uncle Cudjoe, as he is also affectionately called, thinks that the emotional, psychical or spiritual and psychological trauma and scar has yet to heal. He is also adamantly insistent on his “full-blooded” Ewe heritage and would have absolutely no trucking business with the Nkronso royal family. Anyway, about a decade ago, or perhaps even longer, I was invited to contend as a legitimate claimant to the Akyem-Nkronso royal stool, as had been traditionally the procedural routine. I had to promptly shoot down this overture because, for starters, I had never visited the village and had scarcely any acquaintanceship with any of our relatives there, being that I was also raised by my maternal grandfather and my grandmother at Akyem-Asiakwa, which is where I feel the closest of kinship affinity and familial integrity or wholesomeness, although traditionally that is not supposed to be my primary moorings.
Yes, I unreservedly acknowledge my Akyem-Nkronso relatives whenever and wherever we meet – largely at funerals, church services and other social gatherings and even randomly and serendipitously – but that is about the greatest extent of such kinship. Outside of these public spheres of social and cultural interactions, there is absolutely nothing else that binds or bonds us together. And so, yes, it is all to be perfectly expected that a temporal gap of some three-to-four centuries, in the case of Africans in the Diaspora, cannot simply be cavalierly and/or facilely bridged with a single visit, even one lasting three-to-six months. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, as it were; linguistic and cultural paradigms have seismically and traumatically shifted and, with the latter, irreparable realignment of orientations and perspectives. And as well, of course, sharp and oftentimes violent and virulent genetic and cultural amalgamations of unimaginable proportions. The preceding notwithstanding, it is equally worthwhile for the likes of Ms. Woodson to recognize the equally grim and painful reality of the fact that, indeed, there were some left behind in the wake of the apocalyptic mayhem and trauma of the infamous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade who also lost our humanity and moral and sociocultural integrity in the process, the resilience and auto-reparative qualities of human nature notwithstanding. We are hereby in absolutely no way making any scandalously cavalier pretense to experiential equivalency here.
Rather, we are only pleading with our African Diaspora kinsmen and women to comport themselves with the requisite sense of epistemic and moral humility well enough in order not to be gratuitously overwhelmed with anger, resentment and self-righteousness so as not to significantly lose sight of the fact that in the surreal aftermath of the apocalyptic catastrophe that was the seismic reverberations of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, absolutely no pillar of the global African Personality was left standing intact or unviolated, for that matter. This is, incidentally, also precisely where the moral thrust and purview of Ms. Woodson’s essay makes her epic narrative all the more significant and far superior to the veritable self-righteous tirade or jeremiad and empirical fluff that is Prof. Gates’ “Wonders of the African World,” both the print or book and the digitized videotape version of this unapologetically neocolonialist historical survey. You see, Dear Reader, there is something profoundly therapeutic and philosophically alluring and endearing about Ms. Woodson’s story, as when the writer recalls the following moment on the Atlantic Ocean’s seafront forming the foregrounds of the Elmina Castle, the Portuguese-built and oldest slave fort and dungeon on the West African coastline:
“As the water lashes near where I stand in this West African nation, from whose ports millions of Africans passed through on their way to the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, it is impossible to not viscerally feel this memory everywhere in my body. Not far from here, captured Africans walked into slave ships.” Compare the foregoing wistful reflection on the otherwise inscrutable experience that was the harrowing and deadly journey into the Middle Passage with that passage in Gates’ “Wonders of the African World,” especially in the print version, where the author has the novelist Richard Wright contemptuously lambasting continental Africans for literally eating their metaphorical cake or, if you will, Dear Reader, their corn muffin and pathetically craving a morally and intellectually vacuous repossession of the same. When, for instance, one of the Ghanaians Mr. Wright encounters on his trip genially albeit innocently asks to know whether the “Native Son” author had not been told by any of his elders or grandparents back home, in the United States, about his striking resemblance to Ghanaians in particular but West Africans in general, Gates has the celebrated writer snapping sarcastically, “You know the white men to whom those relatives of yours sold my ancestors, did not keep any records of where they bought us.” This is not a verbatim quote, but it will do for our present purposes.
There is also something inescapably and eerily vatic about the following lines from Ms. Woodson’s piece: “I call again to my children. Tell them to be careful. What I want to do right now is pull them close, hug them hard. I think of the people chained and trembling and I know by the luck of history and by the grace of time, I am standing here, unshackled.”
*Visit my blog at: kwameokoampaahoofe.wordpress.com Ghanaffairs
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York
December 12, 2019
E-mail: [email protected]