African Wisdom

“It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” African Proverb

Meaning: It is from this proverb that the word: ‘sankofa’ word was derived. ‘Sankofa’ in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to “Go back and get it” (san – to return; ko – to go; fa – to fetch, to seek and take). It is one of Adinkra symbols represented by a mythical bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg (symbolizing the future) in its mouth. Other literal translations of the word and the symbol are: “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind”, “it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot”, “to return and retrieve”; “go and get it and bring it here”; or “return to the Source.”

The sankofa symbolizes the Akan people’s quest for knowledge with the implication that the quest is based on critical examination, and intelligent and patient investigation. So the proverb simply means: “In order to understand our present and ensure our future, we must know our past.”

The Akan believe that the past serves as a guide for planning the future. To the Akan, it is this wisdom in learning from the past which ensures a strong future. They believe that there must be movement and new learning as time passes. As this forward march proceeds, the knowledge of the past must never be forgotten.

“Sankofa” teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved, and perpetuated. The sankofa bird reminds us that we must continue to move foward as we remember our past. And at the same time we plant a seed for the future generations that come after us.

“Return to the Source (furnisher of a first and continuous supply) so as to recover its richest lessons, its most instructive models, its best practices; and then put them in the service of the present and future.” Dr. Joseph A. Bailey

It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten. We must learn that not all going back is going astray. Sometimes going back is the only way to move foward. Be reflective! Return to the source!

Writer: Bruce Tumuhimbise

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