We've been told that "they-Africans-came before Columbus." However, the bulk of Africans subsequently arrived in less than auspicious circumstances and, as far as we know, were not welcomed to their "new homes" or, precisely, "holding bays" with enthusiastic cheers and/or blaring trumpets. "Much blood, sweat and tears" have flowed under the bridge that constituted the hiatus that spanned enslavement and manumission and/or the longer drawn-out process of emancipation. Not surprisingly, now, among the African Diaspora, there's something of an urge to make that sentimental journey down memory lane to experience a psychological repatriation, so to speak.
Identification with one's ancestral home, in search of one's roots, is not peculiar to people of African stock. The fact that there were calculated efforts at dehumanisation and deculturalisation, perhaps provide an added incentive to deal with "cultural amnesia," in an attempt to attain that elusive sense of selfhood, self-worth, and, if I may so, "a larger ethnic identity." One of our more prominent proponents of the flaunting of his supposed "African identity" justified it with the rhetorical rationalisation that "a kitten being born in an oven doesn't qualify to be considered as a bread." Broaching the topic of "ethnicity," the noted American journalist Walter Lippman surmised, "What is called pride of race is the sense that our origins are worthy of respect."
Emancipation is a significant benchmark for the African Diaspora, as it seeks to reclaim its cultural heritage and define an "African identity." Involved as well is what the psychologists call "catharsis." However, an African-American US senator, having made it to the top of the heap, said, "We, the descendants of slaves, do not wish to be reminded that at one time in human history we were chattel, we were property, we were bought and sold. All we were was 'dust in the wind.'" Having been bought to the "New World," without even luggage tags for the purpose of identification, it's no surprise that some are still wrestling with an identity crisis and tend to see themselves as victims, no matter what they have achieved. I suppose that there will always be a political market for recycled pain, distress and synthetic indignation.
There is also the expedient of using the common memory of oppression as a bond which is, presumably, greater than the centrifugal forces of chaotic rebirth and the reigniting of the African spirit.
There is, I believe, a north American-Indian saying that "You can't tell how a man feels until you walk in his moccasins." There's also an old African saying that "Until the lion learns to write, the story of the hunt will continue to be told from the hunter's perspective." It therefore follows that, with the spotlight on slavery in the UN-designated year in recognition of the African Diaspora, the voices hitherto silent and perspectives hitherto ignored or muted should be allowed to balance the historical equation. Alex Haley may well have given that much of a fillip to the African Diaspora search for the historical roots. In fact, I understand that in the US there's the yearly observance of a "Black History Month." Not to be outdone, I understand that we have our own "Liberation Day."
Admittedly, it's been the proverbial "long and winding road" for the African who had been brought, unwillingly, in shackles and under the most inhuman conditions to the "New World." In 1757, the black man in the US was legally deemed 3/5 of a man. In 1857 (100 years later), the US Supreme Court ruled that the black man had no rights that a white man had to respect. The Africans were not only denied their "human right" but, in the nature of things, stripped of their languages, names and thereby identities.
Noted black American poet Maya Angelou said, "The wrenching pain of the African slavery experience cannot be unlived." Someone else claimed that black Americans were robbed of their history, and now they're reclaiming it for future generations.
Some cynics might tend to dismiss this as "mawkish sentimentality," but in my view the calypso Take Me Back Africa, penned by calypso composer "Joker" Devine and voiced by Machel Montano, was "spot on."
As Devine saw it, speaking to a composite image of the African slave and his descendant, "I am a victim of disillusion... a soul without a resting place... lonely pilgrim without a vision... wanderer in time and space... searching for my identify. Take me back, Africa." Obviously, the "Africa" alluded to here doesn't encompass a geographical or even contemporary one but some idealised, romanticised configuration of an imaginative entity embodying Africa's glorious past and rich historical heritage.