This I Believe

Bilkisu - Decatur, Georgia
Entered on September 20, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: race

I believe that to know one’s history is to know one’s destiny. I recently attended a Gullah and Geechee musical and movement festival in Charleson, South Carolina. I was very anxious and excited to go on this trip as I had learned of a group of African-Americans with a strong sense of African heritage who had linked their lineage to Sierra-Leone which happens to be where I’m from. On this trip, I learned that the Gullah/Geechee people were brought to Charleston from West Africa to cultivate rice. Due to the diseases rampant on the island, the slave owners flee to avoid infection and these African slaves (now known as the Gullah and Geechee people) were left on the land alone. So the Gullah and Geechee people were land owners way before emancipation. I thought to myself, “What power there is to know one’s heritage.” And what a rich heritage it is. Queen Quet, queen of the Gullah and Geechee people, explained how many Gullah and Geechee people abandoned their heritage, history and culture to fit into American society. They were laughed at for “not speaking correctly”. I admired Queen Quet and the Gullah/Geechee people for the pride they carried with their culture, language, and way of life. And when I got back to Atlanta, I learned, in conversation with my boss, that she was Geechee too. However her parents had tried to force the culture out of her and her siblings so that they would disappear into “American culture”. So she always hid her heritage because she was ashamed of it. But how could you be ashamed of a heritage you don’t even know about? As I explained what I had learned about her people to her (that the Geechee and Gullah people, despite Western influence, had preserved their language and culture among many things) I could sense her renewed pride in being Geechee. I could sense that this knowledge of her heritage and the strength it carries gave her a proud sense of belonging. I believe that knowing one’s history and heritage is the ultimate path to freedom; Freedom in being who you are without shame or grudge. With knowledge of your heritage, you can walk with your head high. And when people laugh at you because you say ‘yalla’ instead of yellow or because you are from Hilton Head and the name sounds funny, you can laugh back at them inside because you know the rich history your heritage carries. As African Americans, and Africans all over the diaspora, we owe it to our ancestors and children to keep our heritage alive through knowledge and education. As Bob Marley put it:

Don’t forget your history

Know your destiny

In the abundance of water

(only) the fool is thirsty.

In other words, you will seek and seek for something that is right in front of you if you forget your history. THIS I BELIEVE!