This weekend I saw Zahra Airall and Honey Bee Theatre’s The Long Walk, based on a true story. It won outstanding script, directing, costume, sound, and set at the 2019 Antigua and Barbuda Secondary Schools Drama Festival. I’ve posted my review as my first CREATIVE SPACE article of 2019.
I hope you read it.
But I’m really here to share some information from the playbill, headlined “a few interesting things you may want to know”. Given that we are a majority black country, Antigua and Barbuda, I’d re-edit that sub-head to say “some things you need to know”.
You need to know that your ancestors didn’t begin on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean. They were people captured or sold, and enslaved from the west coast of Africa, primarily Ghana, “where the dominant nation along that coast was the Akan Nation, which spoke Twi; they would have been from Akan nations like the Asante (Ashanti), Fante (Fanti) and Coromantee (the warriors).”
You need to know that the Adinkra symbols, symbols of our tribe (a couple of which – Gye Nyame and Osram Ne Nsoromma – are tattooed on my body) can still be seen in the art around us and in some of our value systems. The playbill pointed out, for instance, that the Sankofa symbol (which is about learning from the past) is “the most popular in Antigua… found in many iron work, window bars, gates and fences”. That’s interesting to me – it’s always interesting to me what survived the journey over and hundreds of years of enslavement and colonialism, and whatever we call this Independence/post-colonial but not quite stage that we’re in right now; especially since at this point so much of it (language, food, mannerisms, etc.) is surviving in spite of us, and in spite of the flood of culture we absorb through media from other places, mostly America these days, unknowingly, unconsciously, but surviving still.
My ancestors, my family, those who’ve read my novel Oh Gad! know, are coal pot makers – i.e. potters making many things from the muddy including the iconic coal pot. Per the playbill, “the coal pot is a concept that came over with our ancestors along with the popular Ananse (Anancy stories).”
They describe the historical basis for the ritual in the play, through which a girl is ushered from girlhood in to womanhood – though in the play it’s interrupted, it can be interpreted as testimony to the ways we held on to ourselves in the lives we made here on the plantation. The ceremony accompanying a birth (something I also researched for Oh Gad!) is also explained – that too is interrupted…as we have been. “A child who has not received the outdooring ceremony is called ‘Ohoho’ until this right can be performed.”
This is only one of the words (some again, familiar to me from my research but with room for learning) listed in the glossary in the playbill. It’s a short list so I’ll list them all here because it would serve us people of African descent to know.
African gods –
Nyame – Akan God also referred to as “Sky God” – sees/knows all.
Ogun – (of Yoruba) an Orisha, Spirit or God of Iron/Metal
Yemaya – (of Yoruba) an Orisha, Spirit or Goddess of the Ocean
Asase Yaa – Mother Earth/Wife of Nyame
Bia – also spelled Bea, first son of Nyame and Asase Yaa
Twi sayings –
Nante Yiye – travel well/safe travels
Nante yiye yebehiya bio – we shall meet again
Nyame nte – by God’s will/grace
Akoben – war horn used to sound a battle cry
Since we’re talking language and customs from Africa that may still be with us as Antiguan and Barbudan people, I’m going to recommend two resources among many others that were invaluable to me while researching Oh Gad! – the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, and Joy Lawrence’s The Way We Talk and Other Antiguan Folkways. Zahra Airall also gave great credit to the National Archives of Antigua and Barbuda in researching her play, so shouting them out as well.