For the past decade, I have been researching my genealogy and ended up taking a DNA test. When the test results came back, they showed that I, like many other Jamaicans, share a common ancestry in Ghana among the Akan people, who speak the Twi language. One of the most interesting words in Twi is Sankofa. According to the |W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center, the literal translation of Sankofa means, “it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.” The idea intrigued me because it sums up what I have been doing throughout my career and especially with my novel, Garvey’s Ghost.
Most of the characters in Garvey‘s Ghost have lost or forgotten integral parts of their identities. Jasmine Bailey, the biracial daughter of Kathryn Bailey, runs away from home to find her African roots. Kathryn Bailey, Jasmine’s mother, who embarks on a quest to find her daughter, has been so alienated from her people and culture, she doesn’t know how to speak Jamaican. And Jacob Virgo, Garveyite and Rastafari, has been living in self-imposed exile out of fear of returning to Jamaica. Marcus Garvey’s ideas, even for someone like Jacob, who is grounded in Garveyism, haunt each of these characters because they have failed to live up to the meaning of Garvey‘s message. Throughout the novel, the characters struggle, not only with the deeper meanings of Garvey’s words, but also with the primary mission of Garvey’s life: the “redemption of Africans at home and abroad.”
Garvey’s Ghost is an act of Sankofa. The novel seeks to bring back into our consciousness some of Garvey’s more poignant phrases: “The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.” Like many Jamaicans, the characters in Garvey’s Ghost have forgotten Garvey’s message of hope and love. The resultant spiritual crises that beset the characters (and it could be argued, many Jamaicans) are symptoms of cultural amnesia, which left unchecked can only lead to disaster. Or as the great Burning Spear sang, “Marcus Garvey the words come to pass.”