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26.06.2005 Diaspora News

FEATURE: Marriages And Hikes – A Synonym

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

In late April or early May this, Duluth, Georgia, police frantically reported missing a 32-year-old white woman slated to be married four days from the day of her disappearance. A nationwide search was launched, involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and legions of police officers across state lines. A few days later, the massive search was called off; evidently, the woman had phoned from a whopping distance of 1,420 miles, hysterically claiming to have been abducted by a Latin-American man and a white woman driving a blue van at gunpoint. And while much of the nation appeared to be visibly alarmed at the prospect of recovering another dead body and roseate dreams savagely shattered, some of us could not quite make a head or tail of the report. For while it sounded quite plausible, the temporal context, that is, an abduction or a kidnapping occurring a mere four days before the alleged victim was to get married could only have one of two plausible interpretations – one, either the alleged victim was involved with another man whose jilting, unbeknownst to the prospective husband, had triggered such apparently foul play; or two, the prospective bride or wife had simply voted against the very solemn ritual that was to have brought the couple together with her feet, as it were. And in this particular context, the protesting bride-to-be was possessed of really nimble and loose-jointed limbs, for doing 1,420 miles with the short space of three or four days is quite an admirable feat, particularly if such move, no pun intended, of course, were meant to vehemently kick against a binding ritual knot.

And to be certain, those of us in whose cultures arranged marriages were simply pedestrian until just the other day, could not but promptly begin to wonder whether the Duluth, Georgia, national contretemps had something to do with vestiges of that ancient and pre-modern tradition. Of course, our passable knowledge of American history over the last one-hundred and odd years tells us more than enough about the fact that much of the Southern United States is as backward, if not even more backward, culturally, as much of the largely non-democratic Third World. Indeed, I have never hesitated reminding many an American, Black or White, that I have encountered on the question of the franchise that as late as the early 1950s, when Ghanaian men and women were enthusiastically voting to determine the destiny of the erstwhile Gold Coast, most African-Americans in the Southern United States could only attempt to cast the ballot at the dire risk of getting lynched. And so, needless to say, some of us were quite amused on June 13 when, about the same moment that singer-composer Michael Jackson was being acquitted on all ten counts of child-molestation charges, the United States Congress issued a statement apologizing for the virtual carte blanch accorded White-America in the indiscriminate lynching of the country's citizens of African descent. Needless to say, the Congressional apology almost came as a wicked joke, if also because it came on the heels of Mexican president Vicente Fox's rather invidious assertion that Mexican immigrants in America, who were generally not treated with the desired modicum of decorum, were diligently engaged in honest but lowly jobs that “not even African-Americans would deign to perform.” For so disdainfully have Americans of African descent been regarded and treated that President Vicente Fox, a staunch buddy of President George W. Bush's, felt fervidly righteous about reminding us of our need to lie prostrate for apple-picking Mexicans to use us as their doormats.

It is also quite interesting to recall that in response to Mr. Fox's attempt at obliterating our humanity, a livid Rev. Alford Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson demanded unqualified written apologies from the self-righteous and U. S.-educated Mr. Fox. In the end, we were to learn that Mr. Sharpton and a few other Black leaders had been invited by our assailant to come and tour his sprawling briar patch, as it were. To what effect and purpose, we were not apprised. But even more interesting, a quite well-known, middle-aged, raucous continental African who pretends to be a serious journalist and, indeed, proudly backs up his claim with a New York Times apprenticeship, wrote a column in the wake of President Fox's rhetorical blitzkrieg, exhorting African-American leaders to riposte – or retaliate – by training our less skilled brothers and sisters on how to favorably compete against illegal Mexican immigrant apple-pickers. Perhaps this was our pontifical kinsman's way of demonstrating just how to clinch one of those prestigious, New York Times journalistic apprenticeships.

Indeed, as the New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis aptly observed, “The only good news [about the so-called runaway bride's abduction hoax] is the [fact that law-enforcement] authorities didn't start yanking Latinos out of blue vans all over the [American] Southwest”(5/3/05:3). Not that the preceding occurrence would have mattered anyhow. And here, we recall that about eleven years ago, a white woman by the name of Susan Smith callously drowned her two young sons, to please her barely weaned boyfriend, by concocting a quite fascinating story about an African-American male kidnapper tooling around the South in a sedan. Back then, the largely anti-African state and local police, as well as federal law-enforcement agencies, mounted an unprecedently massive manhunt for Mr. Black Chimera, only to locate and recover the two little boys in their mother's own car at the bottom of a pond. In fine, Susan Smith had chosen sexual comfort with her wet-eared boyfriend over the very existence and lives of her two little boys. Of course, we mention the latter incident because in the Duluth, Georgia, episode, the jilted husband, Mr. John Mason, claimed that the couple had never slept together before the scuttled wedding ceremony was to have taken place. The implication here was that John Mason, or rather his prospective bride, Ms. Jennifer Wilbanks, had bought and paid for an admittedly expensive car without having given the latter the requisite test-drive. We know the car was dearly priced because the wedding involved the invitation of “600 guests and 14 bridesmaids”(New York Daily News 5/3/05:3). Which may also logically explain why Ms. Jennifer Wilbanks ended up in Las Vegas, on a cross-country, Greyhound bus ride. Perhaps the runaway bride wanted to bite apples with the Biblical serpent before wedging off a piece for our still-virgin primal patriarch.

Indeed, when I first read the story, the first clue that came to mind was names and their meanings. And so I wrote the following on the right-hand margin of the news article: “NOI's Minister Farrakhan does numbers [Remember the Million Man March?], I prefer to do names – and to be certain, both approaches work.” Then I picked the tragic story of Herodias and John-The-Baptist, the passive sacrificial lamb, which I then coupled with the surname of “Mason,” one insistent on the need to erecting stone buildings on the quick-sands of Las Vegas.

Regarding the name “Jennifer,” however, I could only draw “Flowers,” as in “Jennifer Flowers.” And neither could the surname of “Wilbanks” convey any more symbolic meaning than the “banking” of a Greyhound bus in flight. And so I had to stretch my “sciencing” a bit more to include the fact that Jennifer Wilbanks' mother had reportedly insisted that her daughter “was put on this Earth to be a mother”(New York Daily News 5/3/05:3), perhaps by Immaculate Conception in Las Vegas since, as Mr. Mason claims, the couple had never slept together prior to their scuttled mega-wedding ceremony.

On second blush, I realized that my woeful inability to draw much semantic capital out of the names of John Mason and Jennifer Wilbanks largely stemmed from the fact that my Akan-Ghanaian mother-tongue was quite different from the more cosmopolitan and culturally diffuse English language. For instance, “marriage” in Akan loosely translates as “A Long Journey” or “Awaree.” In English, it merely conveys the rather vulgar and irreverent image of coitus. Which all goes to show that maybe if Ms. Jennifer Wilbanks had been of Akan-Ghanaian extraction, perhaps her flight from coitus could only have implied the fact that she was, indeed, more eager to be married than her still-virgin fiancé.

Then again, aren't we, after all, in America where a man who decides to marry a 32-year-old woman whom he has never slept with courts suspicion among both genders in society? *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of ten volumes of prose and poetry, including AMA SEFA: Unrequited Love (2004), available from, and Barnes & Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.