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Reflections from Ghana: The Last Mandate

Sevonna Brown, Naimah Johnson, Farah Tanis and Christina Jaus of Black Women's Blueprint

Ritual. Restoration. Reconciliation. Those were the words in our hearts when we began our pilgrimage to Ghana last month. We spent 10 days in the West African country as part of the Year of Return — marking 400 years since the first African slaves arrived in the United States.

The trip was in the spirit of our Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission and the last of its four mandates: Truth, Justice, Healing and Reconciliation. Reconciliation. We spent 10 days communing with our kin and participating in rituals to honor both our ancestors and those with us now.

Our first day in Ghana was full of communion, joy, dreaming, Jollof rice, drums, Sankofa and ritual. We danced around a bonfire in a full moon drumming circle in Accra. We could not have asked for a better start to our journey.

We loved spending time with the midwives Nursing and Midwifery Training College in Kumasi!

Ghana is beautiful. The sun set so quickly on our first day there, as if to say go, we were hours ahead of the other continent we left to be here. Just be. Be in this future. Go, settle, breathe, rest, take care of ourselves before the story unfolds of 400 years plus, when ancient mothers and fathers and siblings and cousins resisted slave ships. We were disembodied, almost impalpable and possessed with a thousand stories from other sisters in our hearts, while reconciling with our own on our lips. We touched life that continues to exist in Ghana Ghana. That's what it felt like to begin our intentional journey after 400-plus years.

There was ritual everywhere in Ghana, even on the clothing of the women who live and visit from all over the African Diaspora. The fabric and the Adinkra symbols are their own language, a form of communication with the living and the ancestral. On our second day in Ghana, we simply existed in the sacredness of our own bodies. Only 48 hours into the pilgrimage, the journey was already overflowing with ritual, healing, and restoration.

Today we stand in Donkor Nsuo, the Ancestral River, in honor and remembrance

Akwaaba "welcome home" was spoken to us everywhere and Medaase "thank you" was our mantra.

Giving and taking, and back and forth we sat in communion with our siblings and cousins under lush green trees of almond-fruit and mango, papaya and avocado. We spoke in the proverbs of the Adinkra, with the words broken in two — with Adi meaning "pattern" and nkra meaning "message." Secret messages manifested all around us, whispered from the women with live birds at their feet and colored cloth on their heads, from the men weaving fabric into kente and stirring pots of maiz in open fire and pots low on the ground, and In the voices of children and babies who laughed with their bellies at us and smiled back when our eyes met theirs. We were surrounded by kente, each cloth, each color and pattern a story, each swath a request, a proposal, a soliloquy of love or family, of kingdoms, of villages, of land and commitment, sacrifice and the joys that come not only in the night, but also in the morning. Nourishing our tired bodies from the same cocoa fruit, seed and leaves which we could put in our mouths sweet or bitter, on our skin and our kinky hair, new messages were conjured, promises this time, of unity, of love, of the erotic, of fertility, health, and offspring. In this land where everything is spoken in fantastic dialect — in adinkra, giving us language to speak to our dreams and realities and to each other. Every part of us is fed.

We visited the "Slave River." We stood in Donkor Nsuo, the Ancestral River, in honor and remembrance of our ancestors who washed in the river hundreds of years ago — the last time they'd be allowed to bathe before being marched in chains through the forest to slave dungeons.

We crossed into the "Slave River" as it has come to be called, because of the atrocities wrought on the bodies of Black women and siblings, parents and those scripted to be so strong. They would be spared no pain. On day six, we walked the footprints of our ancestors and mingled our own with their tears. We made covenant lip to soil, and whispered in tongues, of reconciliation and justice in unison with their spirits and the land, the river, and currents where they were made to take their last bath before journeying to the "Slave Castles" in Cape Coast, Ghana by foot.

On that day, we reclaimed ourselves and our own return, and sang, and prayed with libations, prayed and made sounds with our feet, prayed for the very miracle of ourselves, returned home to Africa — to Ghana — our return. We engaged in sacred rituals along the path and spoke it loudly, our mandates in Twi, in Kreyol, in English of truth, justice, healing and reconciliation. All the while saying we have returned. We have returned.

At "The Last Bath," the "Slave River," stepping on leaves and twigs, and earth with bare feet, we traced the path which still echoes resistance, the collective spirit, the rage and even the terror of our ancestors. But this day we brought joy as our ancestor warriors passed through us, breathing through is the legacies of Ama, Efia and Afua —the foremothers that walk with us, behind us and in front.

The sacred valises inside of their immortality, their honoring and connection to earth, and their practices for healing and liberation are still our weapons. We held our hearts where the women held their hearts. We met the children in the gap between the trees where the women met the children. We placed our feet and hands in the river where the women did the same where we mourned and rejoiced at the same time — a reunion.

The last mandate asks of us that we reconcile with our spirits, our ancestral lineage, the diaspora, and the fact we have survived for all generations forward and backward. What we need is to radically reclaim ourselves.

Thank you, Ghana.

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