Ode to the Drum

August 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ode to the Drum by Yusef Komunyakaa

Image Source: Jibola Studios

No, I didn’t have an African drum imported from Ghana because I wanted something authentically African for my home. It’s one of my favorite poems written by Yusef Kumunyakum, an African-american poet in 1966. His poem  describes the transformation from a gazelle to a panther: this aptly describes my current philosophical state.

All these labels/titles I struggle with now stemmed from my last trip to Ghana in 2010. At the risk of sounding like one of those “Africa was the land of epiphany narrative,” I have to state quite emphatically that this self transformation was a long time coming. It could have happened in whatever country I decided to visit that summer but because it was my homeland, it was more poignant.

I’ve always told people that growing up in Ghana was the best thing that could have happened to me. Nothing can take away the community of families, food, cloths and stories passed from one generation to another. Community is the cornerstone to responsible adulthood and believe me none of your numerous aunts and uncles will hesitate to remind you of this fact. This is my culture that I greatly relish; one that I celebrate and berate others for looking down upon. It came as a shock to me then that at the end of my first week in Ghana, I was beating a different tune to that drum.

“The palace,” the term coined for the large estate my family lived on, was restricting my freedom and my “Americanized” self would hear none of it! As I was paraded from one block to another to greet “my elders”, I couldn’t erase the irksome feeling I got when parroting the last ten years of my life in five minutes. Besides, they were too old, too miserable to remember me anyway, right?

My trip to Cape Coast and Elmina Castle (If you’ve taken an Africana class you probably should know this :)) was cut short because I had no chaperone. My grandmother convieniently forgot that the summer before I went backpacking across Europe. Surely, I can handle the torturous roads of the Kwame Nkrumah Highway.

Apart from this restriction on my freedom, it was the loss of connection from my peers that bothered me the most. There was nothing we could talk about without profusely disagreeing on, usually ending with an accusation of being too westernized. What amused us as children only made us cringe now. The only thing we could (somewhat) agree on was politics and economic developments (or lack thereof) and became the easiest way to voice our frustrations.
I thought going to Ghana would be just like old times. The realization that my past stories ended when I removed myself from the remains of my childhood was devastating and forced me to untangle the web of yearnings that were long lost. I thought I’d lost my “African identity.”

To me, the elemental signifiers of what it meant to be Ghanaian were lost. Not true. I was merely transforming myself from being a passive receptor of an (in)formed identity to an individual – one that creates and tells her own stories. Have I being transformed from a gazelle to a panther? No. Maybe, I’m still enjoying the process in getting there. I’m learning and loving every minute of it!

Independence Square in Ghana

x Pearls and Revolution x


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