After watching the motion picture Sankofa and then reading African Religions and Philosophy 2nd Ed., by John S. Mbiti, I was asked to reflect on what I’d seen for a class. Reading Mbiti’s book became a tool of salvation, such that rather than reflecting on Sankofa, as “another” movie about slavery and how bad white folk treated Africans (or another call to “WAKE UP!”), now I find that I have even more incriminating evidence about Mister Charlie and why a reevaluation of how African Americans practice Christianity is needed. John Mbiti explains in African Religions and Philosophy, the great significance of African’s being removed from their land;

“The land provides them (Africans) with the roots of existence, as well binding them mystically to their departed….To remove Africans by force from their land is an act of such great injustice that no foreigner can fathom it.” (pg. 26)

Which only heightens my already suspicious reservation against those who say, we promise that we will make this a better world, a better New Orleans …I mean America.

Some of the subjects in the movie were obviously racially motivated. For example, Shoala and nigga Joe aka Tumey, were the favorites or received preferential treatment from the slave master in regard to where they slept and what and when they ate. I based my conclusion primarily on their having lighter skin. However, there is always one exception to the rule. Ali, the Headmasters Negro was a dark skinned brother. I figured that he was made Headmasters Negro because he could count or maybe was just better at pretending and/or assimilating to the master’s idea of a “good nigga”. The character named Nunna, who I would consider the priest of the clan was a dark skinned, voluminous “sista.” From my own context, I found it rather interesting that there was no tension about Nunna (the woman) who one went to in time of crisis or need for moral and spiritual support. Makes me wonder when and why African Americans today continue to hold fast to the idea that only a man can give wise counsel or be a pillar in the community, especially in the our church. Hmmmm….wonder where that idea came from.

Now you have to understand that religion for the African is not a one day a week practice. Religion is a way of life:

“To ignore these traditional beliefs, attitudes and practices can only lead to a lack of understanding of African behavior and problems. Religion is the strongest element in traditional background, and exerts probably the greats influence upon the thinking and living of the people concerned.” (African Religions and Philosophy 2nd Ed. by John Mbiti).

The difference in Christianity, particularly in the way in which Christianity is portrayed in Sankofa and African Religion was as different as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Now, there were a few times when the slaves (field Negroes) referred to those who believed in Christianity as those who worshipped the Whiteman’s God, (nigga Joe comes to mind). Which led the slaves to concur with Professor Emeritus William Jones on the religion of Christianity, “God Must Be A White Racist.”

At the end of the movie Nunnu dies. However, contrary to how the Negro in America often views death, in Sankofa, this isn’t really a tragedy. In the African tradition once someone dies they are considered to be living, i.e., the living dead:

“But while the departed person is remembered by name, he [or she] is not really dead: he [or she] is alive, and such a person [is called the living dead]. The living dead is a person who is physically dead but alive in the memory of those who know [them] in [their] life as well as being alive in the world of the spirits”(pg 25).

So, in the movie, the African slaves never lost contact with Nunnu. As a matter of fact Shoala spoke to Nunnu even until she (physically) died and was carried off by Nunnu herself. Hmmm…maybe there is some truth to when the elder(s) in our community say “THEY SAW AND SPOKE TO SO AND SO LAST NIGHT!!!

I am sure that many African Americans inside and outside the ivory halls of academia have contemplated, “How is it that a people who were snatched from their land and brought to another continent not only survived but made large contributions and arguably the most significant contributions to a country that views them as less than?” It is my contention that it was the African’s religion that “brought them over,” (melodically speaking) which leaves me with this query, which C. Eric Lincoln articulates eloquently in his article “The Development of Black Religion in America”:

“What Black Americans are now in search of is the reconstruction of an alternative circuitry that avoids the embarrassment of their association with American Christianity and re-establishes their connection with the faith through new understandings of God’s will for man and man’s willingness to assume responsibility for his dignity and his destiny on earth.”

Be Love always and Be Peace when absolutely necessary,

NPM

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