I didn’t have to wait for my 22nd birthday to discover that I was, through my paternal side, a direct descendant of Afro-Indigenous Maroons to feel Caribbean. My ancestors went back to West Africa where they mingled with my direct Ghanaian heritage whose descendant, my paternal great-grandfather, left for the Democratic Republic of the Congo* where my paternal grandmother, my father’s mother, was born. No. As my father grew up in a Kongo culture, (though my Congolese heritage is not rooted among the Bakongo people, ancestors to many Afro-Brazilians and Afro-Cubans), I have explained why I was raised in Afro-Cuban culture and why Cuba was the other Africa, Congo for many of Africans at the time.
Cuba was already my land, and the Caribbean my home. South America was nothing more than the extension, the prolongation of Angola, Kongo and West Africa. Yet, upon learning and discovering, almost ten years ago that I was also Native Taina, the news changed my life forever. My ancestors, had not only been submitted to the deportation, the kidnapping, but they also went inside the boats, saw abominable things, heard horrible things, they were sold, revolted and mixed with a crushed Taino Native people. Eventually, both my lineages were originally attacked by colonialism. Though I had long thought of having only been colonized by the Belgians in reality my greater lineages were oppressed by a far greater number of colonizers. The Flemish-speaking Belgians, the British through my East African side and Ghanaian side, the Spaniards in the Caribbean and the Turks in the Arab world.
Like one of my Argentinian friend/sister said to me one day, “You came down here on earth to repair something broken” and I believe her.
Colonial lies have favored the emergence of false frontiers. In this matter, Africa has always been excluded from the accounts of maritime exploration until Europeans decided to slowly colonize the continent. In most minds today, Africans had only waited for the arrival of the Europeans to travel and explore. The colonial frontiers did constraint us mentally speaking when in reality our respective influences have always been way greater than one thinks.
It is true that I am a descendant of the Returnees who came back between 1860 and the early 20th century, but even before such movement, Africa was always linked to Latinized America, through our cultures and the deportation during slavery for our heritage has always been in constant movement, just like our identities. Afrolatinidad is not restricted to the American continent for Spaniards and Portuguese also created their creole societies within the African continent as well. Countries such as Sao Tome and Principe, Cape-Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique or even the colonial Western Sahara are living evidence of such problematics. And even there, in Latinized America, groups of Kongo people and West African Maroons have been organizing in clans made to resist against the Spanish Crown which still exist today, to the point where an Afro-Bolivian monarchy is still there in Bolivia today.
Culturally, the movement of Champeta, a dance created in the 1980s by Afro-Colombians who choreograph on Soukouss Congolese music is another symbol of the back and fourth culture between the two great continents. Africa can not be considered through its geographical limits for it always goes beyond such reductive European visions.
In West Africa today, many Creole societies have been created as of 1860, as I descend from them. There, in Sierra-Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, one can find Afro-Indigenous men and women who belong to different groups of Returnees: the Afro-Brazilians known as the TABOM people, the Afro-Americans in Liberia, the Jamaican Maroons who built Freetown in Sierra-Leone, the Saro people/Agudos (Afro-Cubans, Hispaniola Dominicans and Jamaicans from whom I descend) and many others. The modern day state of the Congo (D. Republic) also counted a strong Haitian minority in the 1960s and Kompa also had a tremendous impact on Congolese music in the 1980s and 1990s.
In the struggle of having tried to find my place as a Black Arab Mediterannean on my mother’s side, my Caribbean Maroon heritage has saved my life. I could not be more proud of being the daughter of such glorious and proud populations. They resisted the oppressors and I am proud of them. Proud of my Taino heritage. I am proud of my ancestors.
The link was therefore never interrumpted, until European entities decided otherwise. We are one same group.
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*There is a great West African community in the Congo region which has been present since at least the 18th century. Many Hausa people were used as militias by the Belgians during colonialism to watch over the Native Kongolese people. Even before the independence, many merchants worked and sold their products there. It is not rare to find Congolese people in Kinshasa with a Senegalese, a Ghanaian, a Guinean or Ivoirian grandparent.