When I picked up Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, a striking narrative of the Transatlantic Slave trade and its generational effects on one Gold Coast family and its journey from West Africa to America, I mulled over the title and wondered above all things why its title was placed in gerund form. After considering it for a bit, I arrived at these conclusions – that the gerund form indicates an active, continual and ongoing action. The use of any other tense and maybe the past tense for example, would’ve indicated a completion of an action. This completion would’ve been quite imprecise simply because the action of Homegoing, in this context is a harrowing process whose physical and spiritual significance and transformation begins from the past, revives the present and stretches into the future. The weight of going home to relive, connect or discover the origin of the Slave trade is too vast and unending an event to be captured with any other tense outside the gerund form.
Gyasi’s novel ends with a return home to Ghana by the descendant of the long family line that was taken to the New World. The book ends on a beach. This year, the government of Ghana issued a public invitation to Black people living outside the continent of Africa to return home to discover their roots and heritage. A lot of the returnees, some of whom are pop stars such as Beyonce, Ludacris and Rick Ross, are in Ghana this December. Most of the time, returners visit the castles that dot the coast of southern Ghana. Social media accounts have buzzed with many photos of Black returnees who have mostly posed for photos in the castles, while verbalizing strong captions that embody the pain and also hope that the Transatlantic slave trade has left on their hearts. The castles have been visited by many prominent people including Barack Obama and were holding places of captured slaves while they waited to be shipped over the seas to the New World.
The Complicity of the Ocean
In Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, the ocean and its role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade is highlighted. Hurston’s main character is held in a Barracoon on a beach on the shore of what is now Benin, while waiting to be transported over the seas to Alabama. Hurston’s character unlike Gyasi’s characters is not fictive. This character is a real life person who is asserted to have been the last survivor of the Slave Trade in America before it was abolished. He was originally from Nigeria and never fully recovered from the trauma and nostalgia of separation from his Nigerian village. Before Hurston’s protagonist boarded the ship that would bring him to the new world; he was stripped naked, carried in the womb of the ship just like all the other naked or barely clothed slaves transported from West Africa and rebirthed into a different culture where their complete insertion, even up until today is worth discussing.
Chinua Achebe has spoken of the Supremeness of the Mother ; – his own Okwonko returns to his mother’s village because there is nowhere else for him to be when he is exiled and escaping from a place he thought was home; – this year in West Africa, Ghana and Africa, the wheels of history are grinding louder in reversal and completion of a circle. The mother whose children were brutishly taken away, is receiving its returned children. The children who have nowhere else to go are seeking out the mother. Returning to Africa where so many Black people were lifted has begun a process of healing. The return home creates a new identity, a spiritual awakening and force that binds from the past, present and into the future.