We, from Western societies in general, tend to take for granted a feeling of belonging, which is usually described as being “home”. Where the geographical coordinates of this home are is not really an issue: it can be our actual house or any place that makes us feel comfortable. A place where we feel that nothing wrong can happen, a personal sanctuary. We all have that, right?
Wrong. Recently, some researchers started to study something called the “feeling of not belonging” and how it affects people’s lives. You can feel like you don’t belong to a place even if you have lived there your whole life. It sounds insane, I know, but it is true. It is a psychological condition that makes you feel as if your “home” is a place out of reach, inaccessible to you. There are some events that may end up making this feeling surface, such as changes in your everyday life (moving to a new community when you go to the university, for example).
Now consider this: if a person who is willingly moving away can get this feeling, what happens to a person who is forced to move? What happens to a family or a tribe who is forced to leave? There is a term for that, “diaspora”, and, according to Mattis Kantor, it was first used to refer to “the scatter of people in an unwilling fashion through an unknown territory” in the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. After this, there are several diasporas in the history of the world, but few as brutal and long-lasting as the African one.
Throughout the four centuries of existence of the African diaspora, also known as the “Atlantic slave trade”, 12.5 million slaves were transported, mostly to the Americas, and only 10.7 million arrived. What did all these people have in common, besides the brutal treatment and absurd life conditions? They were all taken away from their homeland - their home - and they did not belong where they lived. Their home was literally inaccessible to them. They had to create a way to survive this, and they did.
Stuart Hall talks about matters of identity in his book about diaspora, and how it is important to belong somewhere, even if this “somewhere” is a place you never really went to. His focus is in the Caribbean communities and in how they created this almost mystical homeland to which they could return, this idealized version of Africa. The African that was “home”. The problem is that this ideal Africa did not exist and, even when the slave’s descendants managed to return to Africa, they were not home. They still did not belong.
So, where do you build your shelter? How do you cope with this inhospitable and even hostile environment?
Well, for some, the answer is literature. That is the main reason why you can find two movements on a considerable amount of the African Literature of the 20th and 21st centuries: the crisis of the belonging and the creation of a place to belong.
The crisis belonging is masterly exemplified by the following poem, “Homecoming”, by Lenrie Peter, where you can find the whole saga: from departure to coming back, where the homecoming turns into home-coming, the feeling of opposition between expectation and reality, past and present, is always present.
The golden times are gone, because the past where they had a place was taken from them, and even when they manage to come back, it is impossible to retrieve this glorious past because that is the place of the present now, and the present is not welcoming. It is the same place, but it is not home anymore.
The second movement, the creation of a place to belong, has a lot to do with the creation of an identity, and how people do that always varies. Lily Mabura's “Man in Ultramarine Pyjamas” provides an example. Leslie Kering, the main character, talks so naturally about what she is seeing, about her daily life and her job, and things like war and massacres do appear on her narrative, as well as her routine and her feelings, all mixed in her reality.
You can identify with her, and the notion of belonging to that place where she is ends up sinking inside of you because of the naturalness she is using to talk about her routine when she is telling a piece of her story. Her reality is a given, it is so smooth and natural that, when you notice, you are already there. It is home.
KANTOR, Mattis. The Jewish time line encyclopedia: a year-by-year history from Creation to the Present, (New updated edition), Jason Aronson, Northvale NJ, 1992.
MABURA, Lily. How Shall We Kill The Bishop. England: Pearson Education, 2012. p. 1.
PETERS, L. Homecoming. in MOORE, G.; BEIER, U. The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry. England: Penguin Books, 1998. p. 88.
HALL, S. Da Diáspora: Identidades e Mediações Culturais. Translation RESENDE, Adelaine la Guardia. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2013.
So, if you didn't notice by the giant image and the impactating quote, I am a huge fan of Patrick Rothfuss. Other than that, I am 23, brazilian, with a normal life full of dreams that are never going to come true. So, you know, the usual.
Final Papel *u*