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Sankofa Garden Homes: Reaching back, fetching what we left behind

CLARENCE GLOVER | 8/14/2017, 12:37 a.m.
It is with great excitement that I write this first article in what will be a monthly feature: Sankofa Garden ...
Clarence Glover, known as Professor Freedom, kneels behind his grown collar greens, okra and cotton that he has planted in his yard. Behind him is a bush of rosemary, a planter of marigolds and a planter of mint. Clarence Glover

The Dallas Examiner

It is with great excitement that I write this first article in what will be a monthly feature: Sankofa Garden Homes. I am deeply appreciative to Ms. Mollie Belt and Ms. Robyn Jimenez for the opportunity to share not simply a passion of mine, but a cultural experience that has been forgotten in many African American communities: “home gardens.”

First, let me share with you the meaning of Sankofa for those who may not be familiar with the term. Sankofa is a word coming from the Akan people of Ghana West Africa. It means, “It is not taboo to reach back and fetch what you left behind as you move forward.” The word is represented by a female bird with her head turn around fetching an egg while her feet are moving forward.

While many of you may not see this bird throughout our community, I am certain you are familiar with the Adinkra symbol that represents Sankofa. It can be seen in doors, window and gates. African blacksmiths, like other blacksmiths, used symbols from their culture as they crafted their iron work in early America. The Sankofa Adinkra is one of the most popular of these iron symbols, and now it encourages us to fetch what we left behind so that we can move forward.

In Africa, our ancestors were very astute in agriculture. They cultivated okra (gumbo), watermelon, peanuts (goobers), rice, cotton and black-eyed peas while also raising chickens, cattle and goats and catching fish. It would not be surprising that many of these foods and skills were brought to America by enslaved Africans during the years of slavery and continued during the Jim Crow years. Because we have provided over 400 years of free and cheap agriculture labor, I have chosen to identify our ancestors as “Africans who Built America” and their descendants as “Descendants of Africans who Built America.” This clarifies our role in America both agriculturally and architecturally and rids us of the shameful phrase “slaves.” Slavery is a condition and not a people.

It would be during the Jim Crow years – legal segregation – that many of our African great-grandparents, grandparents and parents would continue the skills of growing food on farms and near and around their homes. It was not uncommon to have collard greens, okra, tomatoes, onions and sweet potatoes all growing near or around their homes. These early organic gardens were many times fertilized with the waste that came from chickens, horses, cattle and goats. Unlike today, we lived in “food oases,” where vegetables, fish and meat were plentiful. Often, we heard our elders say, “All we need to get in town is flour and corn mill.” They gardens were also filled with herbs and roots that were used for medicinal purposes that kept us healthy using natural sources.

With the growth of urban gardens, DABA people need not be left out of this growing green movement, but rather in the spirit of Sankofa, reach back to our ABA ancestors and to our elders today to learn the agricultural lessons that built America and can rebuild our homes and communities again. We are the original “Green People” – collard greens, mustard greens and turnip greens.

The goal of Sankofa Garden Homes articles is to share different ways to build beautifully landscaped organic home gardens, as well as to harvest, prepare and preserve the food. As a result of these efforts, individuals and families will become healthier through working in their gardens by getting closing to nature, developing closer family relationships and increasing neighbors’ sharing of food. Garden secrets and family recipes will be shared from generation to generation, and science, technology, engineering and math education will become a daily home experience.

As DABA people, we can begin a movement of taking responsibility of doing the basic of all things, raising our own food again and becoming a healthier people. I look forward to you joining me and other DABA people on this Sankofa Garden Homes journey.

Until next month, Good Sankofa Gardening!

Sankofa Education Services is provided by Clarence Glover, known as Professor Freedom, whose motto is “Taking the chains off our brains, so our minds can work.” He can be reached at clarencegloverjr@aol.com.