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A Short Story of Aku

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A SHORT STORY OF AKU Thursday, August 28, 2007 It·s an odd thing, this searching for a history How does it start? Why does it start? If we all simply say, our histories are melded together, and my particular instance of it is unimportant, what would that lead to? A world lacking particularity, lacking nuance, dull ... and untrue. Our particular histories contribute to how each of us is, our cultural affinities, proclivities. Being aware of this adds, rather than subtracts. It's an odd journey, o
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    A SHORT STORY OF AKUThursday, August 28, 2007   It·s an odd thing, this searching for a historyHow does it start? Why does it start? If we all simply say, our histories aremelded together, and my particular instance of it is unimportant, what wouldthat lead to? A world lacking particularity, lacking nuance, dull ... and untrue.Our particular histories contribute to how each of us is, our culturalaffinities, proclivities. Being aware of this adds, rather than subtracts.It's an odd journey, one that has to be ready to accommodate both the lovely,and the ugly. To seek to only glorify one's family's past would be to set off ona journey where decaying tree stumps are not regarded as part of thelandscape, only newly blossoming flowers or lush vegetation. That is not anoption for me, especially as I already know before I start that Akus hadpeculiar elitist notions and practices; that they were mocked for not beingAfrican enough, and obviously not English - yet putting on Western airs. So,regardless of their belief in education as a means of self-development,there's enough murkiness there which is disagreeable.It's also the perfect year to begin to question this past - my personal historyis entwined with that of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and I'm trying toonly look back around 200 years, which seems but a wrinkle in my historicalfabric. Due to recent publication of my book, I now meet many more people,at book signings and such, incidental people who I likely will never meetagain, who ask me questions. Hard questions. Unanswerable questions. And Ideliver fudged answers.Why do you have a name like yours? I'd never have questionned it - everyoneelse who is Aku, in the Gambia, has a similar mix of names - its normal. InKenya, people often change it round, because for most people here, theEnglish sounding name is the first name, and the African name always comessecond. Nigerians always want to know why the Yoruba name, and howcome it exists in The Gambia. It begets the question - why do Akus exist atall?I've been dredging up my ragged bits of information. Oh, we are a mix of liberated slaves who went back to Sierra Leone and were brought over toThe Gambia by the British to be administrators during the colonial era. We  mixed with Africans who were liberated before being sold into slavery, and of all the cultures, Yoruba was the nt one, and therefore that's how we havethis mix - of English with a dash of Yoruba words and Yoruba culturalpractices. Depending on who I'm talking to, I might also need to explain thatwe have words like egugu, omole, ashoibi, omo, yawo - and that we pour libations to the (or at least used to when I was young). I whip up odd bits of knowledge and season with snippets from long forgotten conversations or books. It has been argued that Krio is a language - because it has idiomaticexpressions and a grammar.But there are more questions than answers.* I know that we are third generation Gambian on my mother's side, butwhat about my father's? When did the Forsters turn up?* Who came on the boats, with immaculate records that can still be foundin the Gambia's National Archives?* What is the link to Nova Scotia that I've heard mentioned?* Why are we called Akus in The Gambia, but describe ourselves and our language as Krio?And there's more. Being interviewed by a film maker from India who wantedme to speak in my native language - and finding myself stumbling and usingEnglish words to respond to her questions. My cousin having just finishedassembling my matrilineal family tree. Of explaining that many Gambians arepolyglots, and that the news is read in Wolof, Mandinka, Fula, Jola, Serahuli -but mine is excluded. Of seeing the ethnic groups of Senegambia list all of these and many more minor ones, and yet again ... miss Akus out. A minority.A displaced minority. An urban displaced minority. So. What is our history?  During one of our family holidays back home, I was chatting with a Gambianhistorian, Florence Mahoney, about us - the Akus, how we came to be - whenwe had our last family holiday. And she told me that:* the Aku community was influential in pressing the case for independence* during colonial rule, they routinely wrote to English newspapers to presstheir case* they clubbed together money to pay for one of their own to go and learnEnglish law* apprentices sometimes took on the names of the merchants they werebeing trained under and that's how we got names like Mahoney, and Forster So I decide to start to improve my knowledge with her books - and learn afew more things:* We are called Aku from a Yoruba greeting* Akus have certainly been there longer than the 4 generations I had inmind* In the 1830s, excess liberated africans from Freetown were resettled inThe Gambia* That these Africans came from all over - not just the Yoruba link I know,but also Igbo, Hausa, Moko (Cameroun), Popo (Dahomey) and Congo.* Bathurst was founded after abolition, to enforce the new lawI have developed a spiel on being pan-African that I rattle out reasonablyfrequently. Gambian, but with a Sierra Leone born mother, a Nigerian nameand now resident in Kenya. After I reel it off, I usually add an exclamationmark in my voice, to emphasise the dramatic obviousness of it all. Now I canexpand it further, be from ALL of West Africa, bits of siphoned off, mixed,redistributed, stirred.I find a book on the internet called A Political History of The Gambia, Hughesand Perfect, published in 2006, and the title of chapter 4 is Patrician politics  in the era of the Forsters 1886-1941. That's a hell of a long time to beinfluential. So, which Forster? Having discovered from the oldest livingForster that my father's particular branch is illegitimate offspring, a son of anonly slightly acknowledged , where does that leave me? Where does myhistory fit?I find references to other books - the Krio of Sierra Leone by Akintola J GWyse, that I will need to get a hold of. And it mentions 'Aku', but in SierraLeone, so does that mean it wasn't just Gambian usage? Another chain of questions starts. I'd also need to get A History of the Gambia, which seemsto include quite a bit about Aku history, by Gray.Where will I get these from? At some point, I'll probably try to find the NairobiUniversity's African Studies department and see what's available. But for now, its me, sitting at my desk, on the internet, probing, searching. Firststop, Amazon. Amazingly it has several of these available second hand. AndColumbia University has them all, catalogued as appropriate - not checkedout, kept off-site. I try the British Library and discover even more wonder -they have a system called Secure Electronic Delivery, which may be able todeliver a copy of my requested document to my inbox. At a fee of course. Itall starts to seem doable.
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