Ghana’s Year of Return

The Year 2019 was dubbed The Year of Return. This was an initiative of the Ghanaian government; an open invitation to all diasporans of African descent, and anyone interested in visiting the African continent, but particularly Ghana. It was trending all year long, on multiple social media platforms. Many people who have already visited Ghana shared their experiences on social media and already plan to return during the upcoming holiday season. The Year of return, 2019, marked 400 years of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia. As President Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo said, “In the year 2019, we open our arms even wider to welcome home our brothers and sisters in what will become a birthright journey home for the global African family.” The invitation also encouraged African diasporans to obtain citizenship if they want. There had been reports of about 200 and more Ghanaian citizenship claimed by diasporans. A lot of diasporans have already made the journey back home. The journey has been different for each and every one of them; some have found it to be a spiritual and enlightening awakening.

This documentary by BBC Africa gives a picture of how it feels coming to the motherland. Now you know we cannot talk about the Year of Return without talking about the history that led to this land-marked occasion.

Image result for the white lion ship
The White Lion ~ This is the ship that took the first group of Africans away from their homes, lives, and identities to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.

According to Historic Jamestown, the first enslaved Africans were Angolans. “The Africans who came to Virginia in 1619 had been taken from Angola in West Central Africa. They were captured in a series of wars that were part of much broader Portuguese hostilities against the Kongo and Ndongo kingdoms, and other states. These captives were then forced to march 100-200 miles to the coast to the major slave-trade port of Luanda. They were put on board the San Juan Bautista, which carried 350 captives bound for Vera Cruz, on the coast of Mexico, in the summer of 1619″. The slave ship, San Juan Bautista was then attacked by two English privateers; The White Lion and the Treasurer in the Gulf of Mexico and robbed 50-60 Africans. The two privateers sailed to Virginia towards the end of August where they began their slave trade. Upon arrival, they were stripped of their identity (name, language, and culture), branded like cattle and sold in exchange for food, in slave auctions. It was said that there were “20 and odd negros” on the slave ship. The conditions in which they were transported were horrible. Some ended up dying on that treacherous journey and were thrown overboard. In 1661, the state of Virginia passed a law that allowed all free persons the right to own slaves. This led to a significantly drastic alteration in the history of Africa and the African people. 400 years later, the impact of slavery is still visible in schools, workplaces, healthcare industries, financial institutions, and in the everyday lives of Africans and people of African descent all over the globe.

Image result for the san juan bautista slave ship
By Richard C. Moore, 2010. Courtesy of Kathryn Knight. The San Juan Bautista’s battle against the two English corsairs, the Treasurer and the White Lion. “Angela” was one of several enslaved Africans brought to Virginia on the Treasurer

The Year of Return was meant to double as an acknowledgment of the history of slavery, and its effects, and to also provide an arena for the celebration and amalgamation of Ghanaian, West African and diasporan culture. There were many activities planned for this year-long celebration. Some of these activities included trips to the slave castles in the Central Region of Ghana, as this was one of the last places our African ancestors were, before being shipped to the Americas and the Caribbeans. There were many festivities such as Afrochella, regional festivals, concerts and so much more.

There are also popular tourist sites to visit such as the Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum, the Kakum canopy walk and slave castles and forts throughout the country. The official website for all planned events and program line-up is www.yearofreturn.com. There are a few Instagram pages with plenty of information on expectations and things to do in Ghana. A couple of my favorites are www.instagram.com/ghanapeople www.instagram.com/iamhamamat and www.instagram.com/iam_adjeii Even though 2019 has ended, Ghana is still welcoming everyone to see and experience the beauty, culture, and people. The continuation of The Year of Return is dubbed Beyond the Return. There is still so much to enjoy and love about Ghana. The festivities and trips to tourist sites are still ongoing.

My advice is when you visit, try to immerse yourself in the culture as much as you can. Go to all the known places but find the hidden gems as well.
I hope you get to visit Ghana, explore its beautiful regions as well as other parts of the beautiful African continent.

Have you heard about the Sande society?

The Secret Society of the Sande Women

The Bundu helmet mask which is sometimes called the Mende or Sowei mask is a type of mask worn by the Sande female society in Sub-Saharan Africa during solemn rituals or ceremonies. Most masquerade or masks are worn by men.  The Sande women are the only women in Sub-Saharan African allowed to wear mask during ceremonial activities or rituals. However, Sande officials commission male carvers to make the mask in secret. The Bundu helmet mask is especially used during initiation rites or puberty rites. This is a coming of age ceremony for girls to become women. The mask can only be worn by women who have certain standing or position within the society. These women receive the initiates at the end of a three-month reclusion in the forest.

            The mask represents an ideal of feminine beauty admired by the Mendes. These ideals include a full forehead, elaborate headdress or hairstyles and small facial feature. Each characteristic of the mask has a symbolic meaning associated with it. The shiny surface of the mask is a representation of healthy and glowing skin; this happens when the mask is anointed with palm oil (modern carvers use black shoe polish to get that shine). The mouth is made small to teach the initiates (girls) not to gossip. The ears are also made small to teach the initiates not to eavesdrop. The neck has deep incised lines which is considered marks of beauty and a promise of proliferation. The neck is also made broad so it could fit the person who wears it.

            The mask is worn with a costume made of thick cotton covered with raffia which has been dyed black. The sacredness of the mask and complete costume is seen as a representation of the long deceased founder of the Sande society. The wearer also has to be an official of Sande society and very good dancer, who can dance in the heavy costume for over two hours. The dance moves are also symbolic. It is said that the spirits that possess the wearer send messages in the form of the dancing. The messages sent in the puberty rituals is to teach the girls what they need to know for womanhood.

What ceremonial practices do you know of? Have you ever witnessed one? What are your thoughts on these traditions?