Monday, August 17, 2009

All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes

I just finished reading All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou.  Maya Angelou has a gift with words and incite on life- we all know this.  I had heard many great things about her, but this is the first book of hers that I have read (sad I know).  This book is part five in her six book autobiography that begins with the greater known I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Why start with book five, you may ask?  Because it is a description of Maya Angelou's life in Ghana - a country near and dear to my heart.

Ground Nut (Peanut Butter) Soup

It was really interesting for me to read this book, having been many of the places she describes.  Being a dancer, Ms. Angelou mentions what a high it is to dance in Ghana - oh how I can relate!  Her talk of plantains, kasava, and ground nut soup had my mouth watering - I know the feeling of walking through the markets in Accra - I remember trying so hard to get that snap at the end of the handshake that is tradition there, and I also have visited the dance department at the University of Ghana.  

The only way out of the "room of no return" at Elmina Slave Castle - onto a waiting slave ship

Angelou also speaks briefly of her visit to the Gold Coast - now known as Cape Coast - where she saw Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle - both sights that held slaves before they were put on boats and sent to the "new world" as part of the slave trade.  I visited Elmina Castle on my trip, and still get the chills when I think about all that happened there.  This was the only place I can remember being in my whole life where just the act of being there moved me to tears.  I felt like an emotional mess while visiting the castle, and to point out the obvious, I'm definitely European in my ancestry.  The place had such a lasting effect on me, I can  only imagine the effect when you know your own ancestors survived through an ordeal like that.  I can tell you that my grandparents were Czech, some Irish... I have that background that I can identify with.  Many black Americans are missing that sense of culture and identity.  Were they Ewe?  Ashanti? Ga?  Were they even from Ghana?  Angelou herself finds some closure on this topic while in Ghana.  

At Elmina Slave Castle

Angelou is also in Ghana during the height of the Civil Rights movement.  In fact, at the same time Martin Luther King Jr. was organizing the march in Washington D.C., black Americans in Ghana were organizing one of a similar nature at the American Embassy.  The march in Ghana also becomes a memorial of sorts for W.E.B. Du Bois, the Harvard educated father of pan-Africanism and a social rights activist who called Ghana his home in his later years.  On my trip I was lucky enough to visit his former home near Accra which has been turned into a museum in his honor.  It was interesting to hear Ms. Angelou discuss her time in Ghana especially during that point in history.  Understandably so, blacks were unhappy with the United States at the time and viewed it as an unjust and racist country; many came to Ghana as a means of escape hoping to find a sense of belonging.  However, they were no longer Africans either, and felt a sense of ultimately belonging nowhere.  What a difficult struggle to overcome.

W.E.B. Du Bois Museum
Ultimately, I don't know if EVERYONE would enjoy this book as much as I did...  but I DO think everyone should go to Ghana, and then you will love this book too.  It left me with much more insight and subjects to ponder upon.  

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