Gettin' Back to Ma Roots


What does it mean?  Like many Afrikans who have lived in America all their lives I have had a strong desire to return home to Afrika.  Many view it as an attempt to rediscover my roots, but just what does that entail?  Long before my trip, I cut my perm to sport a “natural”.  Some thought I was taking this Afrika thang a bit too far, and saw my actions as an attempt to look more Afrikan.

Initially, that may have had a bit of truth to it.  But now as I look back on it I was moving from one level to the next.  What level is that?  Having enough confidence in myself to see the beauty in what makes me, me! I now see that cutting my hair, on the surface, made me appear to be that much more closer to Afrika, and being Afrikan, but what I was searching for was a lot deeper than anything a pair of clippers could give me.

Right before I left I brought a book title Personal Power Through Awareness by Sonya Roman.  Partly because my soul had been calling and I hadn’t answered its call.  As I read through the pages I was ready to receive the knowledge to help me tap into that which was inside of me, trying so desperately to get out.  After I read the last page I soon forgot these encouraging words because I didn’t internalize them and make the many exercise in it a part of my life.  I thought reading the material would be enough.

I took this trip with my friend Marianne, who had just changed her name to Nafi.  I’m sure that must have been part of her pre-departure process.  We met up with nine other people who, all except for one were also making their first journey back home.  We stayed in our Ghanian friend's family compound. Immediately, we were introduced to the local Ghanian dishes.  Some of them were measuring who was more African by the number of Kenkey balls one could consume.  Others purchased the local fashions, twisted their hair and wore locks.

I was caught up in the exact same thang.  I can remember times I sat at the dinner table with a hand full of Banku, dreading its arrival to my mouth, but would eat it and smile because I didn’t want to viewed as less of an Afrikan;  even though I didn’t like the sour taste, or the spicy shito that went along with it.  When the time came to look for a seamstress, I showed Nafi a contemporary style I wanted sewn and remember the look she gave me when she replied, “I don’t want any European styles, I want a Kaba”.   Then I began to question, damn?  Does a Kaba look more African?  Is it just Ghanaian? Or what?

I realized then that if you really wanted to get down to it if “getting’ back to ma roots” meant wearing big fluffy Kaba style, (which I didn’t like) was good, opposed to a nice airy sun dress in an African print was bad, then according to my likes and dislike I had this Afrika thang all wrong.  The smartness in her reply made me question exactly what she said.  She also mentioned that she wanted more traditional styles and all I could think was traditionally there were no sewing machines around to sew Kabas in the first place.

Eventually our friends went back to America leaving Nafi and I to have the college experience in Afrika.  Nafi was disenchanted with being on campus because she felt we were losing touch with the "culture".  There might have been some truth to that statement.  I even adopted some of those feeling as well.  Classes started and we immediately enrolled in an Afrikan dance class.  Our introductory class was filled with Europeans and Afrikans who had come from America to study in the same type of study abroad program.

We struggled with some of the moves and somehow felt that our difficulty was due to the fact that there were too many Obroni’s in our class, who somehow altered our ability to get the dance steps.  We knew we were sistahs and felt we should naturally be able to move to the beat of the drums, which were knocking at our souls; but we were too worried about who was watching at the door or trying to count how many steps to take with the right before moving with the left.

Through the course of the class I had heard this one sistah say aloud, " I can't dance, maybe I'm just too stiff." (She had more difficulty than most of the white people) The other sista replied, “Don’t say that Girl, you’ve got the soul all you have to do is believe in it”. What she said rung in my head over and over again.  Just thinking about it now I can re-create that day in my mind and hear her ever so clearly, “You’ve got the soul, all you have to do is believe in it”.

Each time I thought about those words I said I would believe in it too,  I’d put on my walkman and walk to dance class listening to Caron Wheeler’s “Light As A Feather” a song that talks straight to the soul.  I tried to remember remnants of the book. I'd practice the many exercises; imaging a blank sheet which freed my mind of all the outward intrusions, but still this was not enough.

There were only a couple of times I truly could unlock the unknown powers buried so deep within me.  With each beatin’ of the drum in tune with the throbbing of my soul I began to free myself of the pre-occupation of who was standing at the door and try not to count so much but let the rhythms dictate my movements.  Even now I long for that feeling’ again, that journey into the light that can only be described as a type of numbness that comes over you.  It is not anything like having perfect stillness and is far from mechanical, but as what Caron Wheeler would describe as “light as a feather”.  

Out of all my experience here in Afrika, no other time had I felt more Afrikan.  Not because I managed to keep the beat a few times in class but because I had made a connection with my soul.  There may have been a few other times I came close to that feeling, like when I first began to read through those first inspirational books; and the feeling that came over me when I arrived at the Kotoka Airport in Ghana.  I can't forget the feeling I had in the car when I knew my grandmother had made the passage to the land of departed souls.  It was a knowing, a feeling,  long before I arrived home from school to find a house full of people surrounding the outer shell my grandmother used to reside in.

I've come to the conclusion when Nafi stated the “this wasn’t the type of experience she was looking for when she thought about coming home to Afrika, or that she wanted to go back to the northern part of Ghana where  more of the culture had been retained”, because she felt “she had spent too much time in the city; or she needed to see another country because Ghana didn’t have the type of culture she was looking for”.   I don’t believe traveling every square mile of this continent will bring us any closer to what some may call “gettin’ back to ma roots”.

The journey is not a physical one which can be determined by the change of a name, style of our hair, type of clothes we wear, or how much Kenkey or Banku we can eat.  These cultural experiences are all part of the process for some of us.  For me, I  see that the journey is more of a spiritual process which involves your ability to become one with your spirit, with your soul, environment and the energy around you.

Some may call African personality, or others may call African spirituality.  I’ve seen it in people not necessarily wrapped in Kente or wearing locks.  It’s an aura that can truly only be described as spiritual.  Some people wear it all the time.  Others like me can always recognize it and sometimes experience it.  Then, there will be those who continue to search for it through superficial things.

When I have made a permanent connection with my soul and able to wear it in European or ethnic attire will I truly feel as if I have gotten “Back To Ma Roots”; to the coming of consciousness moving from one level to the next unending level.

Ghana 1992