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March 06, 2007

Struggling For Home

Struggling For Home

As Ghana marks its fiftieth year as an independent country, more and more African Americans continue to travel there, and in some instances, settle there.

Saidiya Hartman was born with a different first name, Valarie.  She changed it in part to spite her parents, and also because she wanted to be and feel more African.  Yet when she traveled to Ghana years later, she found that she was an outsider to people she'd previously hoped would be like long-lost members of her family.

She felt equally alienated from history as well, the very history she was hoping to document: that of the countless lives that went unrecorded as they disappeared into the obscene machinery of the slave trade. 

Neither fully accepted at home in America, nor at home in Ghana, she finds in the end that home is not a location, but a struggle, something to be sought after, but not necessarily found.

If I had hoped to skirt the sense of being a stranger in the world by coming to Ghana, then disappointment awaited me. And I had suspected as much before I arrived… I am a reminder that 12 million crossed the Atlantic Ocean and that the past is not yet over.  I am the progeny of the captives, I am the vestige of the dead
-Saidiya Hartman



Marcus Mann has a parallel, but different story than Saidiya's.  He found his true home in Ghana. 

Like Janet Butler whom Dick interviewed in January, Marcus moved to Ghana to find an identity he couldn't locate in the United States.  He, too, was called an "obruni" or outsider.  But Marcus found that there's no other place in the world for him to live and work.

The meaning my life has, every day, every breath…I've got a wife now, three kids.  My wife is Ghanaian, my kids are half-Ghanaian, and we're enjoying life over here.. I could die now with a smile on my face, knowing that a job has been well done. And I'm at peace with that.
-Marcus Mann

Ghana Nila by Alice Coltrane for the album Transcendence


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