I started university with the passion for Classical History and all things Mediterranean, especially Greek and Roman. But as I explored the spaces of my university and the pages of my books, I could not find an anchor to hold on to and relate. In my department there are courses in African history and archaeology; when I started my undergrad however, I had decided I did not need African history and archaeology – I am African, of course I know my history, I am my history! Before I could be introduced to it, I decided that my African-ess is enough, as though being African and Black were testament to the comprehensive knowledge I must hold of my history.
As the semester was passing, as my peers would ask my opinion about their assignments on Ghana and other parts of Africa, I soon realised I knew nothing. I mean, of course I knew about Yaa Asantwaa, the Asante queen mother who fought the British, I knew about Kwame Nkrumah and the other freedom fighters who brought independence to Ghana in 1957, I knew about our gold, and how our people were traded in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and about how some of our people have lost their native names due to colonial power. But what else? What about Ghana prior to European colonial power? What about the relationships between Ghana and neighbouring countries? What about how West Africa related to the rest of the Continent before the White man? How was the Classical period in North, West, East, Central and Southern Africa?
As I was becoming aware of these lacunae, I started to understand how my mentality had placed constraints on my knowledge of my heritage. In my mind I knew Africa, an Africa painted with Eurocentric ideologies and frameworks. In my mind I knew my heritage, but it was the one given to me by the system that thrives in making us believe that our history started with slavery.
Challenged by these ideas, I decide to take African archaeology in my final year of undergrad. On this course we discussed the ideologies behind African history and the European frameworks within which these histories are constructed and developed; a history that benefits the historian and his audience. We continued by exploring African material culture and how they are related to medicinal, ritual and other cultural practices. I was enjoying the course so much that I resolved to write my dissertation on African archaeology, specifically touching on Ghanaian material culture of the Akan. When I started searching and going beyond what I had been offered, I started learning so much about my history, and how the Akan people moved southward from the Tibesti Mountains in modern day Chad.
One may ask why learning our history and heritage is important. Some may argue that for someone like me, who wants to study history and work in the humanities field, of course is important to know the African history. However, I think we all need to know. To say ‘we need to know where we come from’ is such a cliché, but it is indeed the truth. Knowing our African history and where we come from is a tool to decolonise our mental slavery, and start exiting the sinkhole of ignorance we have been placed into by the systems of society. Note that by the African history I do not mean the one that you have been fed in school, I am not talking about the Kings and Queens topos, or the story of Africa Dark Continent; but our pre-European history, our ancient roots and our ancestry; I mean who we were before they told us who they thought we were. Our past informs us about the origins of our present practices, the foundations upon which our patrilineal and matrilineal societies are built on, the origin of our names and of our people. Our history cannot wait to be told! It is needed. In this time of destruction, theft of our material culture, and removal of our people, we cannot wait any further. In this time of new found pride in our heritage and in the hair that naturally grows out of our scalp, we cannot wait any longer.
Allowing space for the understanding of my culture and people, the Akan of Ghana, renewed me with a sense of pride and belonging. It is with this same pride that, once reacquired, we can challenge the notions that have been constructed about us, and pave the way for the mental liberation we long for.