This blog is my effort to create a Quilombo, Palenque, Maroon Society in cyberspace to seek solidarity with other “fugitives” and “runaways” in the African Diaspora who have stolen themselves from the hegemony of racism, capitalism, and eurocentrism, and who need a place to heal, meditate, cogitate and foment revolutions.
As a librarian, professor, and writer, I have focused much of my research on the complex history and cultures of the African Diaspora with the objective of developing the skills and knowledge needed to advance the mission of liberation though education and information science. This goal is inspired and informed by the African philosophical concept of Sankofa.
Among the Akan-speaking people of Ghana, the word “Sankofa” denotes the idea of returning to the past to move forward. Mimi Robinson in her description of Adinkra textile symbols says: “Sankofa means ‘Return and Take it,’ reminding you to go back and get what you forgot and try to fix your mistakes.” A graphic symbol is used to represent Sankofa in Akan textile patterns (see the image in the slideshow below). In sculptural works and other media it is often rendered as an ideogram. Depicted as a bird with an egg in its beak and its head facing its tailfeathers, the Sankofa ideogram represents and dramatizes the temporal and spatial movements of the human spirit. As the bird advances, it constantly and appropriately looks to its past to (re)conceptualize and (re)negotiate its future.
As an iconic figure the Sankofa bird is subject to multiple readings. Another interpretation suggests: “no matter how far you travel from home you must always return.” The past, in this sense, represents the place of birth or matrix of beginning. African philosopher John S. Mbiti identifies the past as the realm to which the dead (who are thought of as living-dead) journey to join the ancestors. This idea of “returning” or “homecoming” is therefore a metaphor for death and the “crossing over” or “middle passage” to the land of the dead. Thus life returning to its source becomes yet another way of understanding the Sankofa imagery. However Sankofa is interpreted, the basic and fundamental meaning remains: the past is present, so one’s future—in life or death—is determined by the past.
Based on the above definitions, Sankofa can be described as a three-step process. The first step involves memory or the (re)collection of past events. The second step involves the (re)construction of the past. And the third step involves the transformation of the past or (re)making history. It is at the juncture and moment of the “third step,” however, that I propose a radical change. In the effort to realize fully the revolutionary implications and methods inherent in the Sankofian gesture (space-time travel), we need to break with “History” (history with a capital “H”)—which the late Aimé Césaire defined as being “white, male, and European“—and (re)conceptualize the final stage in the process as an entirely new didactic and narrative form: Ourstory. You are invited to join me here in this Quilombo in cyberspace on this journey and adventure to (re)discover OURSTORY.
May 30, 2011