Passing: A Classic Case of Shame and Tragedy
By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
Garmonju: “Sister Josephine, who you hiding from?”
Josephine: “That that Lappalonian woman coming way yonder there!”
Garmonju: “But why you hiding from her?”
Josephine: “She always like to embarrass me!”
Garmonju: “Embarrassing you like how, Josephine?”
Josephine: “When she see plenty people around that’s when she like to talk that Bassaw dialect to me.”
Garmonju: “But Josephine, I thought you told us your Ma was civilized!”
Josephine: “Of course, my Ma wear dress. That Lappalonia is not my Ma!
The truth of the matter is, that the woman who took care of me when I was a baby.”
Garmonju: “But how come you resemble her?”
Josephine: “Excuse me yah, you must be joking; I don’t look anything like that Native Country Woman.”
Garmonju: “Josephine, why you’re trying so hard to pass?”
Josephine: “You man, excuse me, yah; do I look like someone passing?”
Garmonju: “But Josephine, the woman say in Bassaw you’re her daughter. ‘Or mon ni ju’ in Bassaw means you’re my daughter!”
Josephine: “My brother try hard yah, and take your trouble somewhere else.”
Garmonju: “Josephine, the thing you doing to that woman, her God will see you oh.”
Josephine: “Let her God see me! I don’t know why you’re putting your mouth in my business. That’s how people get in trouble by putting their mouth where it do not belong.”
Garmonju: “My sister, cat really licked your face oh! You should be ashamed to disown your own born Ma. Where I come from only stupid people will do what you’re doing; and you have the nerve to say I am putting my mouth in your business. Many of you Dukorians like to copy everything from abroad at the expense of your own.”
Josephine: “What do you mean by that?”
Garmonju: “In America, they have blacks that engage in passing, too.”
Josephine: “Passing to be what?”
Garmonju: “Passing to be White, to be Native-American (Indian), to have little of that blood; as opposed to having African blood. That’s exactly the same thing you’re trying to do; passing to be the person you’re not, and will never become.”
Josephine: “My brother, you have a serious mental problem. You can’t mind your own business.”
Garmonju: “My sister, you’re the one with serious psychological problem. Going around here pretending to be some kind of Kwii; when the fact of the matter is, the people you’re calling your parents, took you from upcountry when you were a child to come stay with them here in Freedomville; and now you’re thinking high mighty of yourself; looking down on your own born Ma. By the way, if the Browns were your natural parents, how come you attend evening school, wear hand-me-down clothes, eat in the kitchen; live in the servant shack behind the main house, while their daughter that look just like them, wear new clothes; eat in the dining room and attend Morning School? Tell me, how come?”
Josephine: “Garmonju, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It looks like you’re going out of your mind. My brother, leave me alone, yah; let me go attend to my school business.”
Garmonju: “Josephine, my sister, one fine day your Ma’s God will surely pay you back for the way are treating your own born Ma; very soon one day and you will regret it.”
Shame and Tragedy
Within a span of twenty five years, Josephine had graduated from high school and college, and was now enrolled in nursing school at the famous JFK Memorial College, an extension of the University of Dukor (DU). There she met and fell in love with Professor Abraham George Jefferson, MD, Dean of Medicine at the College. Dean Jefferson had some things in common with Josephine; they were from the same Compound Number 1 District where the Holy Ghost Christian Foundation mission and church were located. Dean Jefferson left there at the age of 5 to go to the United States, while at age 10, Josephine went to live in the Rocktown section of Freedomville with the Browns.
Unlike Josephine, who did not want to have anything to do with her natural parents and relatives, Dr. Jefferson wanted to find his relatives; and made several attempts to locate his twin sister as well - from whom he was separated when he left for the States. Now that his adopted and natural parents were all dead, he wanted to unite with his twin sister. But the 14 years brutal civil wars had devastated the entire country and most of the citizens had relocated, including the people in Compound Number 1 Distract of Grand Bassaw County where Dean Jefferson’s families and relatives resided. Yet, he made several trips there attempting to locate some of his relatives, especially, his twin sister. But all of his efforts were to no avail.
Josephine on the other hand, had tried to erase from her memory everything about her natural parents; but the memories of being born a twin, in the place called Compound Number 1, and the nickname “Tennen”, given to her at birth by her natural parents kept lingering in her mind. The more she tried to forget about her past, it kept haunting her, especially since she started dating Dean Jefferson, who was consumed with the thought of finding his twin sister. But up until this time, Josephine had not told her lover that she too was born a twin and that her twin brother’s nickname was “Cenn” (also spelled as Senn). In fact, she told her boyfriend that she was born in Freedomville at the Maternity Center, a Center that did not exist in 1947, year she was born. Furthermore, she never mentioned to him that she too was born a twin, and was originally from Compound Number 1 District of Grand Bassaw County. All she talked about were her adopted parents, John and Mary Brown and their daughter Marian Ann, to whom she referred as her natural sister. The Browns were among the people that were massacred when the military raided the premises of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church with automatic weapons. Displaced and frightened Dukorians inside the church’s sanctuary and classrooms, seeking safety and shelter were senselessly murdered. Josephine’s sister Marian Ann managed to escape. Presently, she lived in Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana with her two children, John Brown, III and Mary Brown.
As their relationship progressed, Josephine kept having edgy feelings that there was something awfully wrong about her and Dean Jefferson’s relationship. The thought of having the same birthday, July 26, 1947 and similar nickname - Senn as her twin brother kept worrying her. On the other hand, she had to concentrate on the upcoming Presidential and Legislative Elections in which the society was bitterly divided on ethnic lines. She was very confused! In the past, it used to be Americo-Dukorians vs. African Dukorians. Now, political parties were formed on the basis of counties and tribal affiliation. Josephine was having difficulties because the present reality was that those in the past who considered themselves proper Kwii were finding tribes to belong to, or affiliate with; and Josephine did not want to be left out.
By now Josephine was three months pregnant for Dean Jefferson and was confused as hell, searching for clues or answers to her dilemma; and while surfing on the world wide net, she came across Prof Ali Mazrui’s brilliant presentation: “The Challenge of Pluralism”. The presentation was made in Paris at UNESCO’s headquarters. According to Prof Mazrui, “ethnically dual societies faced more risks of polarization. …Civil wars often leave deeper scars, are often more indiscriminate and ruthless than are inter-state conflicts short of either a world war or a nuclear war. …As we grapple with new levels of conflicts in Africa, from Kinshasa to Kismayu, Maputo to Monrovia, we ought to try and identify which socio-political situations are more conflict prone; if pluralism is to be diverted away from divisiveness towards more creative formation, certain positive values need to be identified, cultivated and institutionally consolidated …including respect for diversity, expansion of tolerance, optimization of choice and pluralization of power”.
The presentation made a profound impact on Josephine, especially, the passage about “respect for diversity”. As a result, Josephine joined the political party from Grand Bassaw the People’s Democratic Party of Gbazon (PDPG). At this point, she began to research her background as well as the reason she and her twin brother were given the names: “Cenn” and “Tennen”. At the party headquarters; she was introduced to a Griot who served as an advisor to the candidates of the PDPG. After narrating her story to the Griot, the Griot told her that it was a tradition as well as a practice to name a child of the event surrounding his or her birth. Sundaemah, for example was a name given to a girl child born on Sunday. Since you were born July 26, 1947, the centennial celebration of Duckor, and your mother gave birth to a twin, one of which was a boy and the other being you, a girl; the boy was born first, so your parents named your brother “Cenn” (or Senn) and named you “Tennen”, which derived from the word centennial, meaning you and your brother were born when Dukor was 100 years from the time it was declared an independent republic. That’s how you and your twin brother got the nicknames “Cenn” and “Tennen”.
“But my child”, said the Griot; “You and boyfriend are really mixed-up big time; there seems to be something terribly wrong with your family history and his.”
“What do you mean?” asked Josephine.
“Let me give you a piece of advice and what I think has happened with you and him”, continued the Griot. “Several decades ago the Pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey said to Negroes (now African Americans) in the African Diaspora that, ‘A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like trees without roots.’”
“So, then it means that…”
The Griot added, interrupting her, “it is a strong African belief that children are influenced by the meaning of their names, and that our creator does not make mistake to have a person born to a particular tribe or an individual’s place of birth, and the ethnic group to which he or she is born. These things are done far in advance to the likeness of the creator who is referred to as Glapoh, God or Allah. Had you kept the names your parents gave you - Glaybomah ‘Tennen’ Jangjay and your boyfriend kept his Garyu ‘Cenn’, the two of you would have avoided the shame and tragedy you find yourselves in at this moment”.
Josephine did not comprehend what the Griot said. So she went on to ask the Griot; “I don’t understand what you’re driving at”!
At that point the Griot who is also a Zoe said, “Josephine, I feel very sorry for you and your boyfriend; the man you called your boyfriend, for whom you have this belly is your own twin brother who has been trying to find you”.
Upon hearing the statement, Josephine fainted; when she was revived, she went to her house, urgently gathered her belongings, left town without letting anyone know, including her boyfriend about her whereabouts. As for poor Professor Abraham George Jefferson, he almost became crazy looking everywhere to locate his three-months-old pregnant girlfriend who happens to be the twin sister he has been looking for all along.
The presidential and legislative elections were finally held; Africa elected its first female president, along with senators and representatives; some of the same individuals that participated in the senseless 14 years civil wars; they had no clue what DEMOCRACY was about; the traumatized former child-soldiers were roaming the streets of Freedomville and the countryside, and the government had no plan to rehabilitate them. The last time we checked, the people were saying, nothing really changed; “it’s the same old 6 & 7”, and to put it bluntly, “old wine in new bottles”. For example, the Speaker was forced to resign; the government ordered the University to be closed after several students and members of the press were beating for protesting, and the press for covering the students’ protest; and the issue of ‘runaway’ corruption had become the talk around town, in both the Dukorian media and the Internet; the Auditor General was accused of washing the government’s dirty clothes in public, at the same time, the National Budget Director was at Harvard University doing a 4-week crash course in Budgeting, and there was an embarrassing incident of ‘John Palm Oil wasted on John’s rice at the National Port Authority between the Dukorian National Police and the Port Authority Securities for which a Commission had been established to investigate the matter.
However, on July 26, citizens of the ‘glorious land of liberty’, celebrated the country’s 160 years of independence, which was attended by foreign dignitaries, local bigshots as well as common citizens. And there were flowery speeches made; the occasion was climaxed with elaborate festivities; the people at the occasion eat well, while majority of the citizens went to bed on empty bellies; the ‘well-to-dos’ had fine time playing with their new play toys little boys and girls, especially, 11 to 13 years old girls, to whom they refer as “IRON TITATES”, exploited them to their satisfactions.
Oh Almighty God, help the State, and all of us included for this is a paradox we have yet to fathom; may You Allah, Sno-Nyesoa have mercy upon us. Amen!
NOTE: “One of the great ironies of modern African history is that it took European colonialism to inform Africans that they were Africans. … This is clearer in the case of Black Africa than with regard to Arab African north of the Sahara, but even north Africa has been affected by this paradoxical role of Europe in fostering an African identity. To that extent, it is arguable that Europe not only created the African Diaspora by its ruthless export of millions of slaves to the western hemisphere; Europe also helped to invent Africa as we know it through the ruthless distortions of colonial rule”, wrote Prof Ali Mazrui in The Africans.