Sankofa is a word from the Akan people of Ghana that translates to “retrieve” or, more literally, “to go back and get it”. It is a saying that expresses the importance of reaching back to past knowledge and bringing it into the present to make positive progress.

sankofaBird
The symbol of Sankofa
is depicted by a bird facing forward with its head reaching back for an egg.

Although there is a common understanding of the deep-rooted connection between Africa and the Caribbean, many of the cultural factors shared unfortunately often get swept under the rug.

Specifically, not many know how the black republic of Haiti has strong ties with Ghana. Natives of each country who visit the other often reflect on how many similarities there are between the two nations.

The opportunity to visit Africa is always high on the bucket list of those in the diaspora,(rightly so), but rarely does this dream materialize for most. Many Haitians and Haitian-Americans that travel to Ghana often say that they felt compelled to visit the country because of a “spiritual calling”(Sankofa). It is not unusual to meet a member of the diaspora visiting Ghana and choosing to extend their stay by a few weeks, with some even working towards making it their home. Living through a pandemic seems to be doing a great job of helping us realize how precious new experiences are in life.

Some History

Previously named Saint-Domingue, Haiti has an incredibly colorful history full of passion and pain. The massive revolt against the French colonizers led by a former slave, Toussaint L’Ouverture, saw the country gain independence as the first Black republic in the world in 1803 and is appropriately marked as a notable moment in Haitian history.

Ghana has always had a natural affection for Haiti. During the devastating effects of the earthquake that bulldozed the country in 2010, Ghana pledged $3 million in emergency relief. Biologically, Haiti has the highest concentration of descendants from the West African Coastal countries now known as Nigeria, Benin & Togo, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. Just as Haiti was the first Black republic in the west, Ghana was the first sub-Saharan nation to achieve independence from the British in 1957.

Sadly, many African descendants in the diaspora have been conditioned to negatively perceive the motherland. Typically referencing stereotypes and generalizations about some countries’ food, living conditions, or culture.

Ironically the skewed public perception is one of the main similarities between the two countries. If there’s one thing you can quickly learn when researching anything about Haiti is its history of misfortune. Its title as ‘the poorest country in the western hemisphere’, accompanied by its constant battle with natural disasters has been the worlds’ introduction to the West Indian island. Yet, ask anyone from Haiti, and you’ll be able to note how despite these negative connotations, the love they have for their country is evident. The “Zoe” (Creole for bone) community, known for being hard to the bone, always acknowledge the hard times they were born from.

Cuisine

A fundamental part of any culture is undoubtedly the FOOD. Everything about it from the preparation to the history behind it is generally acknowledged as a means through which cultural identities are preserved. A commonality between Haitian and Ghanaian cuisine is that both use it as a vehicle to celebrate religious or community events. (After all, what is a public gathering without food?)

On November 25th, Haitians prepare for Manger-Yam (eat yam), a yearly harvest celebration of the yam crop akin to the New Yam Festival celebrated by many African countries. Traditionally, nobody eats any of the freshly harvested yams until this day out of fear of sickness or ruining the whole crop.

The relationship between Haitian and Ghanaian diets is dependent on accessible resources in each country. Haitian cuisine is a fusion of French and Creole techniques that use rice (Riz et Pois), potent peppers, corn, yams, and beans. Specialty meats like lobster, pork, goat, crab, etc., are usually reserved for wealthier residents and seen as a luxury for locals. The tropical climate allows for sumptuous fruits and vegetables like bananas, papaya, avocados, mangos, coconuts, and guavas to get into the mix, presenting a healthy range of ingredients for homemade dishes and desserts.

Much like Haiti, in Ghana, meat is synonymous with wealth and is not regularly eaten by locals who prefer to include fish in their typical dishes and stews.

Ghanaians eat flavorful but straightforward meals. When it’s dinner, a thick stew with yam or rice is all that is necessary to keep a household happy. Although there are differences in the cuisine throughout varying parts of the country, rice is the universal language in each respective home. Jollof rice, a spicy rice dish including tomato and meat (optional), is a Ghanaian staple, a meal that this considerably favored outside of Africa and contested (in terms of preparation technique) by other countries as well.

Community

Source: Twitter (@Lunionsuite)

In 2019, Ghana hosted the annual Year of Return which is used to encourage African descendants to return to Africa to stay and invest in the continent. Ghana is beginning to recognize itself socially and economically. It wants to give the people taken from their natural countries and enslaved 400 years ago the first look at what could, and should, belong to them.

With the recent rise in popularity of festivals like Afronation and Afrochella, there are more deliberate attempts to attract people who appreciate the culture through social events that promote the essence of identity and community for natives and tourists.

Ghanaians are honest, warm-hearted, and accepting people who genuinely appreciate when other diaspora members embrace their country. Youtuber WodeMaya (Ghanaian vlogger) has a video on a short discussion with a Haitian-American woman spending time in Ghana. She was overjoyed with how much value she gained from returning to Africa, saying it felt like she had reclaimed a piece of her identity she didn’t realize was missing.

She expressed how all the preparation needed was mental, everything material was available. Stressing that a positive mindset allowed her to gain the most out of her experience in Ghana, whereas most people who travel with a “hometown” mindset tend to dwell on how different the circumstances are and can not completely enjoy the moment.

In conclusion, the world is a lot bigger than your backyard. To truly experience what’s available to you, the due diligence of accessing your options is necessary. Even if the apparent options seem alien to you, you’d be surprised how close to home they are when addressed with a positive mindset. For the members of the African Diaspora who are yearning for a trip to the motherland, embrace the spirit of Sankofa.

Go back and get it.

The “Road to Ghana in December” is in full view. Join us as we embark on it, or meet us there.