Sankofa: Reclaiming our Past

At TAMS and ED Homeschool, we stress to our students the importance of our family connections. We encourage them to spend time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others who can share family stories and details about their ancestors. And, once those details have been shared, we stress to our students the awesome responsibility of preserving those stories and writing about them. 

We teach them the story of “Sankofa,” which is based on a West African proverb that says, “se wo were fi na wo san kofa a yenki,” or “It is not taboo  to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

sankofa (1) Kansas
Marla Jackson
born 1952, Detroit, Michigan 
cotton, batik fabric, applique, cowry shells, peacock feathers, Austrian crystal, metallic thread

 

Sankofa comes from the Akan tribe in Ghana.  The literal translation of the word and the symbol is: 

SAN  (return),

KO  (go),

FA (look, seek and take).

The Sankofa bird symbolizes the Akan people’s quest for knowledge beginning with an examination of our past. Visually and symbolically Sankofa is expressed as a mythical bird that flies forward while looking backward with an egg (symbolizing the future) in its mouth. It teaches us that we must dig deep into our roots, study and know our past, in order to move forward. In order to fully appreciate our African American culture and traditions, we must reach back and reclaim what we have been stripped of, lost, forgotten, or forgone.

sankofa-bird-i

The Sankofa bird is one of the “Andinkra” symbols. Named after the legendary King Adinkra, these symbols express various themes that relate to the history, beliefs and philosophy of the Asante people. The heart is another symbol of Sankofa.

Sankofa heartIn order to gain greater control over their slaves, slave owners robbed them of their cultures and identities. Many slaves were separated from their families and denied their given names. Families were separated due to sale, escape, early death from poor health, suicide, and murder by a slaveholder or bushwhacker. Separation also occurred within the plantation itself, e.g., by segregating “field slaves” from “house servants,” removing children from parents to live together with a slave caretaker, or bringing children fathered by the slaveholder to live in the “Big House.” 

We teach our students that they cannot know where they are going unless they know where they came from. We begin our Sankofa journey by having each child stand with their feet facing forward. Then we ask each one to look back and begin to consider who he/she might see first: Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, Grandma, Grandpa, Great-grandma, Great-grandpa, and so on. We stress the importance of the family unit. 

Peter SankofaOver the holiday season, when families tend to gather more often, we task our students with story gathering. They are to talk to their grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and learn about their immediate family. They will create a family tree with photos and quotes from their family members, especially their elder family members, such as grandparents and great grand parents. 

We hope you will encourage your children to tell their Sankofa stories and preserve their rich cultural history.

Thank you for visiting us. Let’s stay connected. Visit us at http://www.tamsanded.com or on Facebook, TAMS and Ed Homeschool. 

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