It is common for people of African origin in the diaspora to be advised to visit Africa as way to help them understand their ancient heritage and background. Annually, during the “emancipation” month of August, thousands of people of African origin in the diaspora visit various places in Africa for this purpose. Cape Coast in Ghana is one such place. This coastal city is home to one of the largest castles used in the transatlantic slave trade, and is visited by thousands of African Americans. And while this journey back is difficult and yet commonly encouraged for Africans in the diaspora, the reverse is hardly discussed. I grew up in Africa, and yet I can testify that I was never advised to visit South America, North America nor the Caribbean as a way to learn about the heritage of Africans who were taken to these places. I wonder why. After over 500 years of interacting with the west, the African diaspora has developed a unique culture that is a blend of their African culture with those of the Spaniards, British, French and Native Indians they have interacted with. This unique heritage is something worth learning about by people of all backgrounds, Africans inclusive. President Obama in a dungeon at the Cape Coast Castle on July 11, 2009.
Grenada presents an opportunity to experience the “other side” this discussion from an Afro-Caribbean perspective. Thus, when I was selected to be a part of the University of Michigan’s Public Health Action Support Team’s 2014 Grenada field experience, I joined the team with a sociological question also in mind: What remains of the African heritage in Grenada?
I volunteered to join the group that was scheduled to work on a Sickle Cell Disease project because I wanted to be exposed to the presentation and the management of this disease in Grenada. Sickle Cell Disease is a hematologic condition that occurs predominantly among people of African origin. One in every four West Africans carries the gene for sickle cell; about 4% of the population has active disease. In the U.S., the incidence of sickle cell disease is about 0.25% among the African American population. Unfortunately, my group had to change projects because the host for the project has to attend to other issues while we are here. My group is therefore currently working with the Grenada Planned Parenthood Association’s St. Georges’ clinic to help identify trends in their pap smear screening data.
Since our arrival, I have searched for answers to my sociological questions of finding the “Afro” in Grenada. I have found answers in areas such as folklore, diet, farming and way of life. I will discuss each of these answers in my next post.