We’ve spent some time focusing on West Africa lately and encouraging plans for a Sankofa return. Sankofa is a word from the Twi language originating from the Akan tribe of Ghana. Sankofa translates into “go back and get it,” most often associated with a symbol of a bird flying forward but looking back. Some understand Sankofa as the necessity to reclaim your roots in order to fly freely forward. We also refer to Sankofa as the need to know where you are from to inform where you are going – “the way out is back through.”
Several women have written books that compel us to embrace the history of our people in order to fulfill our ancestor’s greatest hopes and dreams for us. Influenced by their West African heritage, origins, and relationships, these women provide glimpses into the cultures of West Africa that have informed their journey forward. We recommend the following reads:
At the tender age of 26, Ghanaian-born and Huntsville, Alabama-raised Yaa Gyasi won the National Book Critics Award for her debut novel HOMEGOING, a historical novel tracing the descendants of two half-sisters born into different villages in Ghana. The sisters follow different paths: one marrying a wealthy Englishman and residing at Cape Coast Castle, the other being captured and sold into slavery.
Gyasi followed up Homegoing with the equally potent TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM, which is a portrait of Ghanaian immigrants experiencing the challenges of depression, addiction, and grief. Through it all, the novel elevates the intensity of faith, science, religion, and love.
Peace Adzo Medie is a Liberian-born and Ghanaian-raised writer whose 2023 novel NIGHTBLOOM is also a story of two young girls. They are cousins born on the same day with lives that take on parallel journeys but with decidedly divergent experiences. Peace is also the author of HIS ONLY WIFE about a Ghanaian woman who marries a man she first meets weeks after the nuptials where he has placed a stand-in, and she eventually learns what it means to be a woman in a rapidly changing world.
Educator, Dr. Cynthia Dillard’s THE SPIRIT OF OUR WORK: Black Women Teachers (re)Member, is not just for educators. Centering spirituality as the core foundation that has guided people throughout the diaspora, she illuminates the necessity for (re)membering identity as a key source for empowerment. Grounded in her firm relationship with West Africa, Dr. Dillard writes, “…This is not solely a call to return to the continent of Africa as a way to assuage or ‘cure’ whatever is inside us that diaspora has wrought. But this is about the absolute necessity for Black people to affirm who we are as Black people…”
These women offer invaluable perspectives on the ways in which West Africa specifically, has and continues to shape who we are while bringing into clear view who we can be with the spirit of our ancestors guiding us along our paths. From the legacy of Queen Mother warrior Yaa Asantewaa to the unborn children whose lineage will continue a connection to the continent, through their writing, these women personify the words of Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah, “I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me.”