One of the things I struggled with after my mother’s death (exactly eight years ago today) and my brother’s (two years back) was commemorating them three times a year: on their birthdays, on the days they died, and on the days we buried them.
Grief in triplicate, it just made for a lot of pain.
When Mom passed away – two weeks after my 37th birthday – I really thought my birthmonth forever ruined. This year, however, I am in a really celebratory mood and I have come to look at things a little differently. Of all the courses I teach, African Philosophical Thought (or African Social Theory) is by far my favourite; the one that students still thank me for years later. The course covers everything from ancient African tradition and pan-African histories to globalization, hiphop, religion and afrofuturism. There’s something incredibly special in seeing students realize that there was wisdom, logic and dignity to things their ancestors thought and did. It unlocks something in them.
As part of the course, my students learn that our ancestors did not believe that people simply die. Instead, our dead become ancestors too: members of the community who are very much alive, actively advocating for us from the other side. There is a reason we once venerated them: they were the ones from whom we drew our collective wisdom and culture, long before we were taught that all such wisdom was inherently evil and incapable of evolving.
I have come to believe that while birthdays are worth celebrating when someone is alive, ancestor days – the day when one becomes (or is born) an ancestor – are perhaps the most important days after they die. The day one not only joins one’s ancestors but becomes one is no small thing. This is one of a few reasons why our funerals begin in grief but end with parties. So while I might quietly reflect and remember my mother and brother on their birthdays (or on the anniversaries of their burials), it is on their ancestor days that I will make it a real point to celebrate: my little modern nod to ancient African tradition and one more reason (besides my birthday) to celebrate every October, all October long.
Eight years on, I really do feel like celebrating my mother: the activist, Efua Dorkenoo.
I am typing this at dawn having spent the earliest hours of today updating the little section of my website that I have made into a digital shrine to my mother, complete with videos, pictures and tributes galore. It is such a wonderful thing to type a parent’s name into Google and have all manner of things pop up like a TED Talk; or an article in The Conversation naming her as one of four women who advanced global human rights; a poem written in her honour by her sisterfriend Alice Walker (or a video in which the actress Meryl Streep recites that same poem); a reminder of a UN award in her name, and that her book was one of Africa’s top 100 books of the 20th century and more. So much more.
I have a list on her digital shrine of all the newspapers, blogs, websites and magazines that reported her passing. Sadly, it features only one Ghanaian website commenting three years after the fact to call for a national monument to be erected in her honour. Mom’s death went largely unreported here, with very few outside her own circles knowing who she was or the bigger work she contributed to. In that regard, she joins the likes of Hannah Cudjoe, Dedei Ashikishan, Gloria Nikoi, Susanna Al-Hassan, Rebecca Naa Dedei Aryeetey, Hawa Yakubu (do look them up) and more: Ghanaian women largely unsung and oft forgotten; not to talk of countless African feminists, known and unknown, all far more than wives to powerful men.
My nephew Cassius was lucky enough to meet (and be drowned in love and hugs) by his grandma but my son Aris missed her by three years. I love that I can go online and show them actual video footage of their grandmother. One day, they may share the same with friends, family, or children of their own. Yaa Asantewaa will not be the only name on my descendants’ lips when they are asked for Ghanaian women who have done great things.
Have a glorious ancestor day, Mom. You lived.
And you live.
2 thoughts on “On Mom, the Ancestors… & Celebrrrrration!”
Happy Ancestor Day, Efua Dorkenoo!!! Her TED talk is excellent.
Dear Kobi, Thank you, thank you for such a wonderful framing of your on-going appreciation of your Mother. I’m so pleased to hear about her and through this, about you!
Many, many good wishes,