Both Sides

We are now in the season of departure and arrival (May-September), the season that marked the transatlantic trade in humans. It was a time when people were wrenched from their homes and communities, enslaved, forced to march to the coast, and endured the Middle Passage. They continuously confronted the unknown and the unimaginable. Ghanaian author Ama Ata Aidoo prescribes what descendants of those captured Africans and all others related to this history should do. We in the Diaspora, as well as those in Africa, must understand the impact of this violent and inhumane horror on our human experience. She explains why she applies her skill as an African writer to this “wound of history.”

I am intrigued by what process of forgetfulness the people here

used to prevent us from knowing about slaves and the slave trade

because they must have done something. It is not possible that whole

populations and generations of people will be carried from one

continent to another and nobody tell you about it…

 

The oral traditions can tell you about migrations that happened

about a thousand years, and yet events that happened two to

three hundred years ago are completely blanketed over. Why?

You know I am interested: I am not a historian.

 

But definitely this is the reason why I keep coming back to this

because I think it is part of what is eating us up. You can’t cover

up history. You know it is like a bad wound. You have to open it

up and treat it.

Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang describes those ancestors and their descendants who were not captured and removed in the human trade as “survivors left behind.” Describing the visit to Sierra Leone of an African American descendant of  Priscilla, an 18th century enslaved African, historian James Campbell poignantly reminds us that the loss was mutual on both sides. When the descendant arrived in her enslaved relative’s village, the community sang a song that exclaimed, “Priscilla has returned!” The people in Africa who were not captured in the trade lost their relations and the connection to the progeny of those who were captured (future ancestors), and our ancestors having survived the Middle Passage, lost the connection with those ancestors in Africa. They and we were forced to create other means to connect and explain the past which often were inadequate, ranging from denial to shame.

According to Nigerian scholar J. F. Ade-Ajay, “When millions of our children were missing, and we try to avoid the subject, no rites are performed and their ghosts continue to haunt us. We need special purification rites if we are to be able to move forward.”

Although these ancestral remembrance ceremonies and marker placements at Middle Passage ports are only small steps, they are a vital part of our healing. We ask, as always, that you remember and honor ancestors, even if we do not know their names. All of us, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, have suffered great losses and need to mourn. We share this history.

 

 

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