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  • Writer's pictureMwatabu S Okantah

Ghana Time, or, Fools' Frontier? (Part Three)

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Yes, we come from foreign lands, but we are not foreigners. As African Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Brazilians, etc., we are distinct new tribes fired into existence in the

furnace of slavery in the Americas. Enslaved Africans did not lose their identities because of the Middle Passage. We are descended from people that literally had to redefine what it meant to be Black and African in truly New Worlds. The Ancestors also had to define what it meant to be “American in America” or “Jamaican in Jamaica” or “Haitian in Haiti” or “Brazilian in Brazil.” This Year of the Return has clearly confirmed, the struggle to repossess our identity must begin and it has to end here on the continent. There are no words to describe that feeling of being surrounded in a human sea of familiar Black faces everywhere.

Kona introduced himself as Pierre. He is from the Ivory Coast. He works the bar at the Coconut Grove Beach Resort in Elmina. He was surprised but pleased when I frowned and asked him, “What is your true name?” There was a European woman sunbathing and reading a book at the pool. He looked passed me, at her, and said, “The white people, they are wicked.” He was matter of fact. There was no hint of anger in his tone. He said it in a way that suggested he assumed I agreed and that I understood. He asked, “Is it true Columbus discovered America?” I chuckled and answered, “Yeah, and I just flew in from America and discovered you behind this bar. Columbus was lost. The people who were already there discovered him.” He was stunned. He replied, “They teach us Columbus discovered America and that Jesus is white to make us stupid. They teach us lies.”

We talked about uneasy relationships with white people on both sides of the Atlantic. We acknowledged the irony of having their names. We speak their languages. We live upside down in their worlds. The spectacle of the descendants of enslaved and colonized Africans proudly claiming European names is even more bizarre here. I moved to a lounge chair near the pool where a young man wearing a security guard uniform approached. He said, "I have seen you before. I recognize your face." He introduced himself as Obed, but he asked me to call him Nana Acquah. He proudly said, “I threw my English name away. I am descended from a Chief. My village is Amessano. I am Fante.” He had not been close enough to have heard any of my conversation at the bar. Year of the Return vibrations were just in the atmosphere.

There is something surreal about being in West Africa and continually having to remind Ghanaians that they are fortunate to still have their traditional names. It is both unsettling and amusing that so many of them are surprised when we ask, “What is your Day Name?” At the same time, they smile when I introduce myself as Okantah. They love it when I say, "I gave my Obruni name back." They are pleased to hear that we will move from the hotel, into a Fante village, and that I know the Ga origins of our family name. Most of the Ghanaians that I meet, like so many of the people I met during my travels in Nigeria and in Senegal, love hearing the account of how I came to have an African name. And, they love seeing the joy in my face as I share that still unfolding story.

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