Excerpt From ‘A Likkle Overstanding of Sankofanology’ Chapter

Quentin VerCetty
10 min readMay 8, 2020

Excerpt take from VerCetty, Q. (2020). A Likkle Innerstanding Of Sankofanology. In Quentin VerCetty & Audrey Hudson (Editors.), Cosmic Underground Northside: An Incantation of Black Canadian Speculative Discourse & Innerstandings (pp. 33–272). San Francisco: Cedar Grove Publishing

ATOMS OF EVE — EVEning’s Wing (2016)

17.15 Africa is today at midcourse, in the transition from the Africa of yesterday, to the Africa of tomorrow. Even as we stand here, we move from the past into the future.
The Wise Mind of H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie. (Selassie, Tafari, & Dwyer, 2017, p.83)

The term Sankofanology is an Afrofuturistic and Pan-African ideology that came out of an experience that I had in 2017 when I travelled to Ghana and spent time with the Rastafari community at a place, they called Judgement yard in Nema, part of the Greater Accra Region. While I was there, we engaged in a groundation, which is conversation focused cypher led by the Rasta dem. I would like to share with you part of the conversation that gave birth to the term during the dialogue with the elders whose sacred names I was asked not to say or share. From there, I will explain what Sankofanology is and how it relates Afrofuturism along with a few different Canadian artists who engage with its ideals.

Amidst the groundings, Pan-Africanism was raised up and how Rastafari is the first Pan-African Afrofuturism movement. The elders hailed Kwame Nkrumah, who is credited as being the father of Pan-Africanism — but they noted that the father should be corrected to be known as His Imperial Majesty Emperor (H.I.M.) Haile Selassie I. The emperor of Ethiopia not only talked Pan-Africanism but started the African Union (formerly known as the Organization of Africa Unity 1963–1999), built it’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and appointed Nkrumah as the first acting president. H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I did not stop there. Instead, he went on to travel to the Caribbean in 1966 to spread a message of empowerment to Black people and help establish stronger relationships between the continent and her diasporic children.

During the discussion, the chief elder asked me if I knew of the concept “Sankofa.” To which I replied, “yes” and explained that Sankofa is a West African Ghanaian term from the Akan people, which literally translates to, “It is not taboo to go back and fetch that which has been forgotten”(Temple, 2010). I shared that I have studied the concept and that as an artist, educator and unorthodox Rasta, it fuels my thinking. I further expressed that I overstood that Sankofa is a part of the ancient semiotic system of the Akan people known as Adrinka symbols, and it has two versions. The first sign is a bird with an elongated neck that bends over backwards with an egg in its beak. It signifies many ideas from liberation to protection. For the Akan people, it is connected to a story about a bird of paradise that during a fire had to move, it’s a nest and had to carry its eggs one by one — in it’s beak to safety. Thus, the egg not only signifies potential, the product of love and aspiration, but also the future. As a symbol, it is meant to learn from the past in the present to inform the future, which is evidenced in my artwork. The other symbol of Sankofa is called the dua or the alternative, and it looks like the heart symbol. Still, it contains a matching pair of swirls spiralling inwards and two matching swirls at the bottom going outwards. This is meant to symbolize the spiritual and metaphysical states of learning from the past, present and future. The story attached to the symbol is that one takes from within themselves and apply it outwards into action and vice-versa.

After asking me if I knew of Sankofa, another elder inquired “so does the I & I know then that there is no African future or far future without the past? His Imperial Majesty [Selassie the 1st] did seh we must learn from di past to understand what needs to be done for the future. So mi ah seh Sankofa should be studied inna school lyk history or anthropology or psychology my lawd, the way we as African people connect to the past and the future in the present is a science that should be studied yuh know. It should be called something like San-kofa- knowledge-degree, yeah. SAN-KOFA-NO-LGY dread. When you go back to foreign yute make sure to start teach the yutes dem about dis yah here Sankofanology”. To this, all the other rasta said little murmuring incantations like “Jah know!” or “Selah.”, Or “Rastafari!” but there was agreement that this was the mission. To share the ideology and theory and overstanding of Sankofanology. Hence, I will start the task of this “mission” by expressing how other Black Canadian artists have been applying the ideas of Sankofanology in their artistic practices and it’s correlations to Afrofuturism. But before doing that I have to also share how the terms relate to another Afrofuturism theory which is Black Quantum Futurism.

Quentin VerCetty — Dark Watah (2018) [Images features sculpture from W.E.B. DuBois centre in Accra, Ghana)

During the same groundation in Judgement Yawd, the idea of time politics of the general understanding of time versus the European impression was discussed. The elders expressed that the knowledge of time as a linear timeline was a Eurocentric introduction. In contrast, the native African concept of time is an overlapping cycle of the past, present and future. Rastafarians Elders explained it by merely pointing out that our Ancestors are among us who are living in this dimension and that by recognizing that they are always with should be the essential foundation of what Afrofuturism is about. The rasta elders emphasized the recognition that time is a groundation cypher where the past, present and future are always in reasoning with one another. This sentiment echoes the work Rashedah Philips of Afrofuturism Affair and their Black Quantum Futurism theories and how breaking outside of time can empower and be an aide for Black people to defeat the colonial establishment of Father clock. In explaining what Black Quantum Futurism is, Philips shared the following:

[Black quantum futurism] looks at the intersection of time, temporality, Afrofuturism and blackness… the quantum element in black quantum futurism is realty is inspired by the way quantum physics troubles the notion of time… and I see a lot of parallels between quantum’s physics’ treatment of time and how ancient indigenous African practices of space-time -consciousness treats time. It treats time as reversible, that can be layered over other time dimensions… the linear time scale was very much developed alongside institutions of imperialism and oppression, colonialism and slavery. What Afrofuturism does is, it opens up time on different scales to allow people who have been typically denied access to the future to gain to access to the future and regain access to their own histories and origins. (AfroFuturist Affair, 2015)

Here we see Philips connect the science of Quantum futurism to the fight of Black people against white supremacy and their by-products. She doesn’t see time travelling as the solution to fix our issues like in the Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979) or more recently as seen in the Spike Lee produced film See Yiu Yesterday (2019), or C.B.S.’ Star Trek Discovery (2019) or the Marvel film Avengers Endgame (2019). Instead, according to Philips, by reframing Black’s relation to times by seeing it as something sedimentary offers the solutions to gaining more knowledge and tools in the modern episteme. This sedimentary collapse of time is the essence of the Sankofa bird and Sankofa dua and the foundation of Sankofanology perimeters.

Quentin VerCetty — (Winds of) Liberation A Float (2018). [Features monument of Marcus Garvey from Jamaica]

‘A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.’ — Marcus Mosiah Garvey (Garvey, 2005, P.70)

So what is Sankofology?

The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who was in deep opposition to W.E.B. Du Bois and his book The Soul of Black Folks (1903) and the ideology of “double consciousness” for him it was too much of a complacent, passive position for African people in the Western world. Garvey felt it didn’t encourage Black folks to reclaim their greatness but instead to be of two minds rather than of claiming the greatness of being African minded. Whereas the call back to Africa was not only a physical one but also a phycological one and in doing so, Garvey believes the need for us to relearn, re-discover and claim the great wealth of history of African people and nations. Whereas, Sankofanology embodies both ideals of Du Bois and Garvey in this respective way to reclaim and awareness of the possess a duality of the reality of the Black/Negro/African/ Carbon person’s experience

Sankofanology is the study and analysis of pan-African application, practice, dubbing, remixing, and applied science of using the West African concept of Sankofa to demonstrate that time does not exist on a singular dimension but rather the African past, present and future are all interconnected and overlaps. Within that context, there is an overstanding that certain African elements are universal, like the importance of patterns, whether it is art and design, music and fashion or language or body movement. It is through such features that Africans have historically exercise portals that allow for access to the intersections of time or the quantum realms. This then allows for one in their given present reality to connect to another’s in a different time and space or event or to their own ancestor from their past or in their future. As explained by Temple (2010), who expressed that such practices for Black people, especially in the diaspora has always existed but are yet to come to the forefront as an essential practice. Whereas such examples in mass media content include Gerima’s groundbreaking film Sankofa (1993) with the time-travelling elements of the protagonist character Mona (played by Oyafunmike Ogunlano) and Nunu (played by Alexandra Duah) where they both were separately teleported from modern-day contemporary times of the 20th century back to the early days of colonization of Africa and chattel slavery, whereas they learn hard lessons on resilience and white supremacy that their African ancestors had to endure. The blending of time and connection of learning from the Ancestors also exist in films like Disney’s The Lion King (1994) when Simba speaks with Mufasa in the clouds; to the movie itself, Sankofa with the Shango interaction with the Ancestors and the character time-travelling back to days of enslavement to the colonial Caribbean along with recently Marvel’s Black Panther (2018) use of the ancestral plane. In Brown Girl Begins (2017), the main protagonist Ti-Jeanne and her Grandmother use of obeah (Afro-Caribbean spiritual rituals) and the conjuring of the orisha ancestors to find her purpose and defeat their enemies…

Such examples are d’bi young and her Anitafrika bio-mythical one-women professional dub performance work, where she time travels, shapeshifts and plays multiple characters using her body as a conjuring portal for the characters and the times that they come from. Likewise, Shantauy Grant from Halifax also explores time-travelling and conjuring of the ancestors where she becomes her Grandmother in the present, speaking to today’s generation who are the future of tomorrow. There is also Kapwani Kiwanga and her award-winning art project and performance, Afrogalatica: A Brief History of the Future, Sharrae Lyon and her Gaia Awakening from her Alienation series and Camille Turner and her Afronautic Research lab works. All three do performative work as future-beings-who like Sun Ra in his film Space is the Place (1974) have come to the present time to inform humans that can change the course of history by learning from the past…

Excerpt from Anderson, Reynaldo, and Clinton R. Fluker, editors. The Black Speculative Arts Movement: Black Futurity, Art + Design. Lexington Books, 2019. Hardcover. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498510530/The-Black-Speculative-Arts-Movement-Black-Futurity-ArtDesign


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Quentin VerCetty

An award winning visual artists the uses different media to tell stories through the lens of Afrofuturism and Black Speculative thought.