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A West African’s Heritage Journey: “Home Away From Home”

A Journey

A West African’s Heritage Journey: “Home Away From Home”

Schoolboy antics took up my weekdays, Christianity had its Sundays; but going down to the coastal village of Murray town to see my Father’s family on the weekends, and up hill to Wilberforce to my Mama’s Mother and Mama’s Brothers on a Sunday evening was everything. Family Genealogy has been an interest to me for the past 10 years.

I overheard stories here and there, family spiffs that were never really meant for me to hear I guess. We were the private kind. It may have been a mix of cultural values and tradition, but there weren’t too much talk among relatives about ‘Ancestors’. My cousins and I never really asked too many questions neither. We spent most of the time indulging in the present, basking in the experience that we all loved, simply being around family.

The older I got, the more inquisitive I became about names of old relatives I’d heard about before and learning more about the things they had achieved. I suppose having relocated from Sierra Leone to the US at age 11 added to that urge as well. Mama and Papa’s families were no longer a hike down the road, yet although I was about five thousand miles away, home and I never really broke our natural pact. After all Sierra Leone was my gateway to the world, it was my birthplace and that of almost everyone I had known as Family as a kid. Living in Texas and California during those early years, I was far from the Sierra Leonean community in the States who were mostly in Atlanta, New York, and D.C. There was hardly any Sierra Leonean my age to engage with, so I did what many immigrants in high school do in those circumstances, I assimilated into the culture physically nearest to me, and became Americanized. Somehow, I still kept my native language intact, speaking it every chance I got, to whoever could understand, even if much of that was either at home or on the phone. My Sierra Leonean identity gradually became a distant whisper and it just sat there on the shelf like an antique vase with no flowers, valuable but empty. A few years later I relocated again with my family to Maryland, which is essentially the backbone of the Sierra Leonean community in the States, and I was once again face-to-face with familiar faces, names, food, and oh yes the language. It never replaced the authenticity of being home, but it was as good as it was ever going to get. Even though I had spent more than half of my life in America and practically lost my African accent, I never stopped speaking Krio, my taste buds never ceased to crave cassava leaves, and there was always an old schoolmate or relative living nearby who I could count on to indulge in some nostalgia with me.

It’s difficult to be nostalgic about Sierra Leone without appreciating history. Almost every aspect of our culture carries some historical element with it. The very dynamics of which the country was formed in the first place is historic, let alone the events and milestones of its people just decades after. It is no question that Sierra Leone for whatever reason has definitely been positioned well into the threads of modern history, interwoven into so many parts of not just Sierra Leonean, but world history. The more I missed home, the more I read about it. The more I learned about its history, the more I took pride in the role the country and its people have played to so many, especially over the past 500 years.

Murray Town was founded by ‘Liberated Africans’ in Freetown between 1828 and 1829. It became a major settlement for Egbas from Nigeria during its early years. There are descendants still living in the village, some retaining their Yoruba names and customs.

While on one of my quests, I remember coming across a paper from a digital archive containing a list of members of a 19th Century Church Committee in Murray Town and Aberdeen, two coastal towns in Freetown.  I know the Church very well, having been christened there and attended frequently as a child.

The more I discover about Sierra Leone, the more I yearn to learn about my own heritage and ancestry.

Whatever the motivation, there’s so much to gain from discovering one’s heritage.

The Journey continues…


Akindele Decker is a Sierra Leonean poet and writer with ancestral links across West Africa and the other side of the Atlantic. He resides in Maryland, USA with his family.

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