Written by FISIWE ZWANA
My good friend and lauded NYC based poet/activist, Ngoma, has a telling haiku that goes:
You be sitting there
Western shoes, African feet
Wundrin’ why they hurt
Ngoma’s Link: www.myspace.com/ngomazuniverse
At 37 years old, I find myself intuiting the closeness of a reckoning that both disturbs and excites me.
I love my father, he is the sweetest, funniest, most intelligent man I know. But for the life of me, I cannot figure why he never taught his children and wife his native African language(s). He speaks several dialects of his Zimbabwe home and neighboring areas as well. Along with this comes a host of other questions about my full identity and perception of me being an “African” American. I comb through my memories, trying to pinpoint any clues as to why this portion of my self definition is so…sketchy. Why do I know so little about who I am as a not so removed, yet so removed descendent of the great civilization of Zimbabwe; variously translated from the Shona language to mean “sacred house,” “venerated houses,” “houses of stone,” “ritual seat of the king,” “court,” or “home or grave of the chief?”
My reckoning is not with my father though. Maybe it was too difficult to be surrounded by Americans and create an environment where the language could thrive. Maybe somehow, we dismissed the opportunity and made it perfectly clear to him that we didn’t want to learn. Perhaps, it was a conscious choice on his part that directly correlated to some experience or perception he secretly held. Still, I always think, he could have spoken his language to us from birth and now we would be bi-lingual. As an adult I long for that ability. As a writer and spoken word artist, I yearn to express myself in all the fluent rhythms encompassed in my natural sound and movement.
Honestly, “why it turned out this way” is neither here nor there anymore; I hold no grudge. We have been given so many things—my brothers and I—that instilled a strong African world view in us. My mother, being a Black American from the south who grew up in New York City, added a “soulful,” if you will, texture to my father’s earthy, ancient ways that created a connection between two cultures for us that cannot escape their relation.
My reckoning is with my own long standing inaction toward embracing my Zimbabwean self. But as I mentioned earlier, I can feel it; something is coming.
My late, beloved sistah, Phillippa Emmannuelle, gave me a great gift several years ago: The courage to embark on reinvention. She showed and taught me that out of pain, out of suffering, out of lack, even out of tragedy or ignorance there is the fertile material to invent life and living into a new space and energy that elevates and propels.
As I grapple and dance with my ever becoming womanhood, I am sure that Zimbabwe is simply laying in wait within me for my beckoning. My singing voice clearly springs ancient from the “sacred house” intoning the irrepressible richness of where I come from. My face and feet, my hips and buttocks, my inflection and mannerism are sights of archaeological evidence conclusively establishing my lineage. From the depths of my psychic records, I am claimed by history and geography.
But my conscious mind, my store of acquired knowledge must catch up. With the benefit of having my father, straight from the continent, I am surely closer to understanding the implications of needing to know…needing to make the connection. I come into contact with so many people of color who have no desire to connect to their African roots or otherwise. The distance and the effects of oppressive interference have efficiently dug and pulled at those roots making them disdained, inaccessible in many ways, yet still unable to completely be eradicated.
Just take a look at us all; our varying shapes and sizes, our creative approach to the form and function of living from language to style. If we think America and her ever assimilating spotted history and artfully colored modern culture is responsible for all this, then we are lost—literally. Aren’t we?
An impressively conscientious, young gentleman I met recently told me how he had traced his roots through an internet web site and had traveled to the African continent many times. He spoke of this with such an enthusiasm and pride that I wish I could hear in all or our voices when we speak of Africa.
His determination immediately brought to mind the Nguzo Saba; the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa; the African American holiday created by Dr. Maulana Karenga as an alternative to the commercialism of Christmas back in the seventies. We grew up celebrating this in my family, as well as Christmas, because it offered us, like it did so many, a way to value and fellowship in a unique way pulling from our earliest traditions, simultaneously honoring who we have become . Kwanzaa correlated with our matchless circumstance in time and space as a people searching for home from a long physical, mental, and emotional distance. The principal of Kujichagulia-Self Determination sprung immediately to life for me as this young man demonstrated his understanding the implications of needing to know…needing to make the connection. I felt so proud and hopeful, for he is an Atlanta, Georgia born and bred 30 year old black man who stands up and declares with more than his broad nose, ebony skin, and full lips… “I DON’T CARE WHERE I COME FROM, AS LONG AS I’M A BLACK MAN. I’M AN AFRICAN!” (Thank you Brothah Mack! And thank you Peter Tosh for the song.)
As I reflect on my own acts of Self-Determination, I have come a long way as a woman, a mother, an artist, and a career woman…but I feel I still have a long way to come as an African.
The reckoning bears down on me with an emphatic challenge to explore, learn, and express the Zimbabwe in me. How will I respond? I’ll have to let you know, but I expect it will be an incredible act of reinvention. Stay tuned… Kujichagulia!!!
Until next time, Be Awake and Be Well. May Metta "Lovingkindness" Fill Your Life.
Fisiwe is a writer, singer and performance poet. She is the author of Lovewords: Poetry From a Place Called Love, and she is the host of her own internet radio show, Love Art Life Radio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.