“Are you Nigerian?” No! American…”How?”
On Tuesday night, Sheila and I were off to dinner to celebrate my birthday. We started a conversation with our driver Peter. He asked me where I was from and I told him that I live in Abuja, Nigeria. His follow up question was, “Are you Nigerian?” I said, no and he quickly retorted, “HOW!” Sheila and I both laughed and I explained to him that all those ships that departed from the continent in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries had my ancestors on them. He then said, “Welcome home.” It was a pretty funny conversation and one that I continue to have over and over. Peter went on to tell us how his grandmother used to tell stories of how her grandfather often sold the stronger members of the tribe to the Europeans and he had a grandfather that made his way from the Caribbean to Ghana after slavery had ended. I am sure that there are other examples of people making the long journey back to the continent after slavery ended.
I didn’t want my blog to focus on the cruelty and inhuman treatment that was extracted on the local population in the name of Christianity. Instead, I wanted to celebrate how the “door of no return” that witnessed millions of Africans leaving the continent, never to return again became the “door of return” as it welcomed descendants of some of those Africans. Slavery is a cruel and horrific stain on the fabric of humanity. But sadly, it continues in new and different forms. Women are often forced into sex slavery and also domestic slavery. Parents unable to make ends meet also sell their children into slavery thinking they may get a better life. The castle at Cape Coast stands as reminder of how low human beings can sink. A recent article said that Ghana has become the first stop for African-Americans tracing their roots. The article went on to say that the experience of visiting the slave fortresses has changed their lives and some have decided to stay. A tour of the castle is a very moving experience and forces both blacks and whites to confront the horrors of slavery.
In 1998, two descendants of African slaves were returned to the continent in a joyous homecoming celebration. Relatives and everyday Ghanaian celebrated their return to Africa, centuries after their ancestors were stolen from their homeland and forced to toil the soil of a strange land. The descendants of African slaves were being returned to the Cape Coast Castle for burial in Ghana. The remains of two persons, Samuel Carson from New York, and Madam Crystal from Kingston, Jamaica, were interred at Assin Manso to signify the re-unification of Africans in the Diaspora with their kin on the African continent. Assin Manso has a deep and lengthy involvement in the African slave trade. Slaves were kept in Assin Manso before being marched to the slave ships along the coast.
I have written on this issue before. In my post, Today was a Good Day, I talked about how Nigerians and other Africans tell me that I should happy that my ancestors were taken from this continent as I got to grow up in the U.S. But what they forget is that my life as an American was built on the backs of my ancestors, who toiled the land of the U.S. without being called an American citizen. In a second post, Go Ask your Grandparents… I talked about my parents participating in one of those DNA test that tells you where your ancestors came from. I was skeptical of the test but my dad was interested in taking the test. We discovered that my dad’s ethnicity is 67 percent from the African continent – 24 percent from Ivory Coast & Ghana, 21 percent Cameroon & Congo, 11 percent Nigeria, 9 percent Senegal and 2 percent Benin & Togo. So basically, the 67 percent ethnicity comes from the countries along the western coast of Africa. 29 percent of my dad’s ethnicity is from Europe, mostly Western Europe (Germany).
My mom on the other had is 49 percent European, 25 percent from Western Europe and 15 percent from Ireland. She is also 48 percent African, 17 percent from Ivory Coast & Ghana, 11 percent from Nigeria, 7 percent from Cameroon & Congo, 4 percent from Senegal, 4 percent from Mali, 3 percent from Benin & Togo, 1 percent Africa Southeastern Bantu and 1 percent South Central Hunter/Gatherers. Once again, 11 percent Nigerian!
West Africa sometimes feels like home to me and the longer I live here, the more I see the similarities that exist between American blacks and West Africans.