I think my lineage has been called into question. I got a snarky offhand comment from someone I reached out to for support. I think they visited my site and was doubtful about the authenticity of my claims and subsequently invalidated my ancestral claim. Let me explain; I mentioned in an earlier post that I am descended from “King Ja Ja” of Nigeria but I had no idea that it was “a thing” to claim a “royal” bloodline. Well, who wouldn’t want to be royalty? You’re a king and a queen without a kingdom. What’s the harm in making that claim? No harm in claiming other elements of our vast ancestry. We have a vast repository to choose from and thanks to white toxicity (supremacy) not many direct lineages can be traced back to Africa. It it's a fantastical to assume you came from nothing as much as it is to assume that you came from greatness. If we could trace our roots, it would matter if your forefathers were hunters, gatherers, artisans or rulers. That knowledge does something to our psyche and how we perceive ourselves. That knowledge ushers in a new sense of belonging, of kinship. Does our identity depend on it? I don’t believe so…
If this pandemic taught us anything,... well, it hasn’t taught us as much as it has reminded us a lot about the prevalence of systemic racism in healthcare, law enforcement, the justice system, the media and business leadership, to name a few. But it should have also taught us that everybody is important. The overlooked; the under appreciated individuals that work their fingers to the bone to ensure that they can put food on their table, the cashiers, the sanitation workers, the stock room workers, the office and wait staff, the hospital workers, the delivery drivers, the nurses, the doctors, on and on…you know the type; the essential workers.
Essential; absolutely necessary; extremely important, workers; persons who do specific work that the rest of us take for granted. We tend to overlook the undocumented workers that are not clearly represented, yet are an essential element to the farming industry as well. They all put their life at risk every day that they show up to do their part. Essential workers. Now take that concept and apply it to 500 years ago, African society. Do you think anyone was non-essential? Our people were farmers, traders, scientists, teachers, scholars, villagers, chieftains. Did everyone do it all? No, of course not but everyone had a role, everyone was “essential” to the fabric of their family, tribe, and culture. Some cultures were more elaborate than others, traditions varied. Society was more pragmatic. Some culture’s included rulers via chieftains, some had monarchies, some were warrior based, some were hunter or farmer based. Most functioning members of these societies did their part. They were all essential. This pandemic should have been a reminder that the most essential workers are typically on the front lines holding society up. When we were stolen from our land it didn’t matter what our role was in our origin country. Kings, Chieftains, warriors and servants were all captured and sold into slavery, if not killed. It’s nearly impossible to trace back our origins to an individual ancestor. Unless, our griots survived to tell our history. If you claim to be a descendant or kings or servants, there is no shame. I would encourage you to claim it all and not be discouraged by anyone with an aversion to embrace our history.
Before my great uncle Ethelbert, died at the age of 103, over 15 years ago.
We were able to be reunited with him due to the advent of the internet. My cousin Q, (Unc’s daughter) was raised by Unc, her mom, and her mom’s family. She knew nothing about Unc’s history except that he came from Trinidad and Tobago on a boat to the US in the early 1900’s. Since air travel wasn’t invented yet, one had to get on a boat to get to where one wanted to go. Also, if you wanted to communicate with your family over great distances, you had to write a letter and hope that it was received. The only confirmation that your letter was received, was a response from the recipient. If Unc Ethelbert ever wrote, no letters were received and he was assumed dead. Morbid, I know. It wasn’t until over 80 years later that we became aware of his survival and subsequent existence. Q, had researched his lineage via the internet. Thankfully my grandfather was still alive and in his late eighties and he and his big brother were reunited. It was during this reunion that we learned much of what we know now about our family history. If it wasn’t for my cousin’s curiosity we would’ve never known where our name originated or more importantly our African ancestry.
We are descended from a man that was exiled from his native country of Nigeria, under the British rule, to the island of Grenada. This detail bothered me to some degree because I thought we were “Trinidadian” through and through, from generation to generation. It was the first time I was told that we were only 2nd generation Trinidadian. I’ll get back to that in a moment. My ancestor sired children while in exile, some of his descendants migrated to Trinidad. One of them was my great grandmother Unc Ethelbert’s and my grandfather’s, mother.
She shared our family history with Unc Ethelbert at an early age and gratefully he was old enough to retain it and in turn, he shared it with us; the rest of his family once reunited. Our ancestor was Ja Ja of Opobo. His history is documented. You can google him. Long story short he was a chieftain, dubbed “king.” He rose from poverty to wealth and influence by learning to trade. He ended up being an impediment to the trade of captured Africans hence his exile. My knowledge of my specific lineage and family history is a point of pride. Prior to that I was “Trinidadian” and it was enough. I can’t explain the shift in my being since this information was revealed, but it meant something. I’m proud of his accomplishments like they are my own. I honestly can’t remember my opinion on our African history prior to this knowledge, but there was definitely a shift. Although I previously only clung to my “trini” culture as my own, I realized that my ancestor’s journey included several islands in the Caribbean after their capture from the African continent. So 2nd generation or not, I claim it as my own. Why not, I was born there. My children will add Trinidad, America, Grenada and Nigeria as their ancestry.
Today I understand that my roots run deep, OUR roots run deep. Ja Ja’s accomplishments are all of our accomplishments, same for Mansa Musa, same for the Dahomey’s warriors, same for the unsung farmers and gatherers; the essential workers. We should claim it all. For those of us that don’t have an Unc Ethelbert to connect us to a specific lineage you need to know that OUR roots run deep even in absence of being able to connect it all. Within us is a rich and storied history full of unsung heroes that got us to where we are. We may never be able to be reconciled with distant relatives but the way OURstory is set up…we’re still connected. Remember your grandmother telling you that it was going to rain before the sky has a cloud? How your grandfather could build anything? How your artistry, business acumen, leadership skills, expertise just became present? Sometimes with tutelage, oftentimes as a weird second nature. That’s your ancestry; that’s your roots.
Some might read this and think, “malarkey!” I. Don’t. Care. I won’t let them tread on my spirit.
My history is your history. It’s OURstory. I’ll prove it. When you refer to enslaved Africans, civil rights workers, black panther party members or victims of police brutality, do you say “they” or “we?” “We’ve been in this same struggle since…” “we’ve been …” “ they used to have us out there in the sun picking…” You personally weren’t there. Why the “we and us?” Because it’s OURstory, our roots. Told you! Your roots are my roots. Let’s claim all BLACK history as OURstory. As a matter of fact, world history is OURstory. When your lineage is called into question, dismiss it and dismiss them. They are the perpetuators of an oppressive system that, without being challenged, erase our history. Challenge them. Claim OURstory. Remember that regardless of the branch we all have the same roots. The deeper the root the greater the fruit. You are the fruit. We’re rooting for everybody BLACK!