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Sankofa Time

Antoinette T. Jackson
Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida (USF), Tampa, FL 33620, USA
USF Heritage Research Lab, Tampa, FL 33620, USA
Genealogy 2020, 4(4), 105;
Submission received: 5 August 2020 / Revised: 21 September 2020 / Accepted: 10 October 2020 / Published: 22 October 2020


Amongst the Akan people of Ghana, the word “Sankofa” can be broken down into three syllables— “san” (return), “ko” (go), and “fa” (take)—that can be translated into “go back and take it,” or more philosophically, go back to learn. It is often represented by the Andinkra symbol of a bird with its feet facing forward and its head tucked behind; an apt metaphor for the practice of genealogical research. In Black communities in the United States, it is often evoked in attempts to reflect upon and engage with an African past.

Antoinette Jackson standing next to a sign on Highway 17 near Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, where descendants of enslaved Africans used to sell sweetgrass baskets along the side of the road (see Figure 1).
  • I remember only that I have arrived
  • and that I must not forget…
  • The wind blows the waves across the Atlantic
  • and without a boat I drift in spirit and in thought
  • towards an unknown land of people taken,
  • of people sold, of people with brown skin and bright eyes
  • and names lost and homes lost and customs altered
  • and rituals forgotten.
  • … I strain to remember.
  • I struggle in the present to understand
  • your passage here to this land,
  • to this new home.
  • My world
  • has been created by your very survival
  • by your ability to be African in America,
  • your ability to plant, to grow, to build,
  • to give birth, to give praise, to sing and dance with life
  • and stare past death’s pale skin and
  • experience the communion of life on other shores.
  • There is much to remember and much to recover
  • So I will follow your spirit across the Atlantic
  • and listen to your stories… scattered in time,
  • joining me to you, to then, to now.
  • I see words in the wind and
  • hear voices in grains of rice and
  • see other faces in my mother’s smile.
  • I am going back because I must.
  • I am going back because I cannot go further
  • until I return.
  • It’s Sankofa Time
  • and I’m going back
  • so that We
  • can go forward.


This poem received no external funding.


I wrote “Sankofa Time” as I was preparing to embark on a trip to Ghana, West Africa after working on an ethnography of the living communities connected to plantation sites in the American South.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.
Figure 1. Photograph courtesy of Antoinette Jackson.
Figure 1. Photograph courtesy of Antoinette Jackson.
Genealogy 04 00105 g001
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Jackson, A.T. Sankofa Time. Genealogy 2020, 4, 105.

AMA Style

Jackson AT. Sankofa Time. Genealogy. 2020; 4(4):105.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Jackson, Antoinette T. 2020. "Sankofa Time" Genealogy 4, no. 4: 105.

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