Heritage and Vision
August 28, 2009
Heritage, Vision and an Akan Proverb

The voice was old, cracked and interrupted by breathless pauses.

“They tried to scream,” he said… his vacant stare was fixed on the rusty-brown watermarks that made curious maps on the ceiling. The boy followed his gaze then returned to the stiff figure lying on the bed across the room.{{more}}

“Boy are you listening?” the boy jumped, alarmed because of the unexpected bark and the extended wheeze that followed.

“Yes Granpa,” he answered quickly.

“Pay attention boy… my time is short and my voice is weak… but I must give this to you… this story of my Grandfather’s grandfather. So close your eyes!” The boy obeyed. “And let this dim, old room disappear. Free your brain from its computer-age, technology- induced trance of dormant imagination and let your mind paint you pictures of an African coast, rich with Mother Nature’s treasures: a land whose entrails are lined with gold and other precious minerals and a time… a time, my boy, before the injustices of transatlantic slavery.

They tried to scream… that is what my grandfather, your great, great grandfather told me… they tried to scream but they couldn’t – so instead they recited in their hearts the Ashanti proverbs:

“Evil does not hide.”

“The reign of vice does not last.”

They recited and they remembered their beginnings – those hot days in the field, on their mothers’ backs listening to the attuned acoustics of her body amplify her voice and throw it into the air to join the praises of the community choir. They remembered how in the eves they would all sit around the fire and every family’s provision would be shared amongst the community. They remembered those nights when they all sat at their elders’ feet and learnt of their history from the cunning Anansi.

They tried to scream, my boy, but it was as though they were trapped in a nightmare… like their voices were suppressed by evil spirits. So as they were pushed through the African jungle, the chains digging into their hands, feet and neck; their throats as dry as the deserts, their stomachs as empty as the barren waste lands, tears like the tributaries streaming down their cheeks… as they were ferried across a river toward an unknown future the Ashanti children silently remembered their heritage.

They recalled their coming of age, when the entire clan celebrated their manhood, their womanhood. They remembered how whenever there was a marriage, the entire village contributed and rejoiced and whenever there was a funeral the entire tribe supported… the entire tribe mourned. They remembered how the strong tilled the land on behalf of the frail and the elderly. They remembered when there were fires the talking drums beat frantic rhythms to alert their neighbours and the neighbours relayed the alarm to their neighbours and together everyone fought the flames. They remembered the community spirit that defined them.

They wanted to scream, my son, to call for their mothers, to alert their warriors; but like lambs to the slaughter they entered huge ships of terror. Many of them didn’t make it to the other side… but your grandfather’s, grandfather’s grandfather… he made it to this land, this blessed Hairouna and when he arrived he was stripped of all… except one thing… an Akan proverb:

“Nyimpa kor na okum osono na oman nyinara kye dzi…. It takes just one man to hunt and kill an elephant but the whole community shares its meat.”

Now boy… I am eighty years old and I have lived in a time when we experienced, though not perfectly, something close to that sense of community – that heritage that even bitter bondage could not obliterate. I remember days when we shared with one another; when we met at the standpipes and laughed together and when the village children belonged to everyone. Though we were still reeling from the aftermath of slavery, we found the joy of our togetherness. I lived through times when we shared our produce with the elderly and frail.

Now… I live in a time when advancement in technology, though not an evil in itself, offers fewer opportunities for us to come together; when selfishness and greed define us; when people in our community are going hungry whilst unsold produce are left to sour in the belly of a crocus bag.

Listen to me boy… we are free now… free, to achieve – not just for ourselves – but for our people. Free to survive. To enjoy the heritage of our community spirit “ These were the last words he spoke to the boy….

Today there is a tradition in Ghana, once a year the Ashanti people, walk the slave route – the route the parents and warriors of the village had tracked to try to rescue their sons and daughters. The route ends at a river and there they mourn and say goodbye to the children they lost hundreds of years ago….

And somewhere in St.Vincent there is a little boy who is ready to make a difference… a son who has just inherited a heritage, a vision and an Akan proverb “Nyimpa kor na okum osono na oman nyinara kye dzi”.