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stay friends with your people

published: 2014-05-05

“Make sure you stay friends with your people,” says my guide when we say our goodbyes. I am moving on to the next coastal place as there are more Dutch forts to see. So many of them that I’m running out of time.
To stay friends with your people.
It is the modus Vivendi of Ghana, lies at the heart of survival right from the very first existence of Africans, hundreds of years before Europeans set foot on these territories. Staying friends with your people increases your chances of survival, both in terms of community (health, food, spirituality) as in terms of war. What you really want to avoid is being handed over to the ‘other people’, like when you committed a crime and your punishment is to serve as a slave. Or when you can’t pay off a debt to someone and so you are enslaved. Even worse, when the other people come and raid yours and you are taken. As a slave. You then go from one group of people to the next and eventually may end up with my people, the whites. Not a good situation to be in.
Think of this a little bit because there is an analogy to be made. If I am indebted to a bank, I am at risk of their excavating me from my home when I can’t pay my mortgage. And so I have now been warned: I must stay friends with my people. Clearly, my guide has picked up on my sensitivities while leading me through history. In the past few days we have gone all over the town of Elmina. He has painted a picture for me of what daily life, trading, haggling, go-betweens, intermarriages, what have you, must have been like back then. All the while, he has been tiptoeing along the different shades of opinion regarding the slave trade. The uneducated white perspective currently being to soften the edges: “but Africans traded their own people too!” The uneducated black perspective being to overdo things: “the whites came and took everything we have including our people!” Depending on whether you are European or an African-American, any guide will underline the desired shade. It’s tailor-made history.
My guide soon figured out I am here to understand and that I have done my research. But while trying to fully grasp the 19th C wheeling’s and dealings over here, I can’t help but speak in disdain of “my people.”
And so he warns me. He says that if I want my novel to be read by my people, I have to stay friends with them.
“So don’t bring your message with aggression or frustration. They will turn their backs against you and you’ll be on your own. You have to be smart, be diplomatic.”
I have come full circle. I am a diplomat’s daughter, and I’m having a hard time at being exactly that.

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