The Sankofa Phenomena

Sankofa is a word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates as “reach back and get it”. It also refers to the Asante Adinkra symbol represented either by a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back, or as a stylized heart shape.

The word is derived from the words:
SAN (return),
KO (go),
FA (look, seek and take).

The sankofa symbolizes the Akan people’s quest for knowledge and invites us to give critical examination, reflection and patient investigation of the past.

Why am I sharing this?

During my elder initiation, there was a piece of wood that looked like the sankofa bird. Interesting. I passed by that piece of wood for many years, sat by this piece of wood for days during initiation. Until it caught my eye – the sankofa bird. I went back with my camera after initiation (no technology was allowed in the sacred space) and took the photo.

My ancestors were taking me back to my past, with memories of growing up on the island of Jamaica. Dreams which also took me to faraway, unrecognized places. Afterwards, during the aftermath of emergence from the fourteen day connection with Mother Earth, I felt immense grief where I could not identify the source. I probed into the source at the advise of an elder. Soon, thoughts began to emerge. Historical trauma, soul wounds, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, these were the words coming into my consciousness. Then I made the connection with the sankofa.

What did it all mean?

Suppressed truths. Mis-education. False history. All which summoned much of my grief, inner rage, demons that followed me without cause. Also interesting that many Jamaicans are from the Akan culture, brought as slaves to the islands. I grew up with tales of the spider “Anansi”, an Akan trickster spirit. Little did I know of spirits, as old folks told the stories without understanding the roots.

Now, as I peruse the annals of history to uncover these misrepresentations, I understand why the sankofa revealed herself. I thought the past was unimportant, something to forget, because we need to be “tough” to survive and “not cry over spilled milk”.

I was afraid to face the grief, which is a source of healing. Now I am discovering that I must reflect on the past, learn from it and use it as a tool to move forward.

How about you…do you feel it’s important to look back in order to move forward?

In what ways have you experienced the Sankofa Phenomena?

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