Sankofa and African Relationships under the System of Enslavement

The movie Sankofa is about Mona, the Americanized African model who is being spiritually transported back to the past where, as a house slave named Shola on a plantation in the South of the United States, she suffers abuse and rape by her slave masters. The movie shows the life of slaves during slavery and how they dealt with the horrible abuses on a daily base. It also shows the strengths of the slaves and their sense of community.

In the movie we can see different kind of couples like Shola and Shango or Nunu and Noble Ali.  I would like to focus on the relationship between Nunu and Noble Ali.

Nunu is an African born field hand and Noble is a head slave at the plantation Nunu is enslaved at. She has a mixed race son named Joe, who was the result of a rape when Nunu was 14years old. Nunu is a proud African women with strong believes in her roots and culture. She practices her traditions and carries herself proud even while being enslaved. You can see her in the movie as being strongly connected to her  roots by trying to heal the beaten pregnant woman and singing in her African language, for example. You can also see in this scene that she has not lost her sense of African community thinking by asking the warriors to “stand behind me”.

Noble Ali is a head slave and has lived his whole life as a head slave. During the movie you can see his transition from being a head slave, being forced to beat the other slaves and who does what he is told, to a smart maroon member, trying to fight the slavery system.

The relationship between Nunu and Noble Ali is not a based on asexual relationship. When Noble comes to bring a basket for the baby from the mother he had to beat to death, Nunu and Noble have a deep conversation and he tells her that he would rather be dead himself than beating the other slaves to death. Nunu nurtures Noble Ali’s broken soul. She helps him sort his feelings and shows him ways out of his frustrating situation. Nunu also tells Noble in this situation that she would never sleep with a head slave who kills their own people, but on the other hand she also realizes that Noble is a slave as well and has to do what he is told in order to not get killed. The two are never shown as being sexual with each other, but you can definitely see that they are being intimate with each other by sharing their deepest fears and thoughts. Noble Ali joins the maroon community after a long deep conversation with Nunu, to proof to himself that he can fight the system and to show to Nunu that he does want to change for himself and for her.

Furthermore you can see that the system of slavery severely disrupted black male and female relationships. Nunu and Noble Ali are put into a situation where they can’t be with each other because of one being a field slave and the other one being a head slave. This obviously leads to confusion and extreme disruption between them and creates issues where they shouldn’t be any. Nunu is torn between her feelings for Noble and her anger because he kills slaves every day and tortures them. Obviously he doesn’t have a choice in the matter but this situation leads to conflicts between the two. Violence during slavery was a daily matter but people didn’t feel different about it then they do today. Noble also talks to Nunu about him being reminded of the master selling his own mother and him wishing that he could go and find her some day when he is free. He thought he could someday buy himself free, but it is frustrating and leaves him in a desperate situation that he realizes he never will be free. Furthermore you can see that slavery had the slaves do things they never imagined they could doa; Noble tells Nunu “ instead of finding my own mother I took somebody else’s”. Having this disturbing imagine about yourself can make you be unable to love another person the way they deserved to be loved.

In addition to the conflicts they already had because of their different slave positions, the inhuman treatment of the slaves and being born in an enslaved situation made it hard for people to have a normal relation to the meaning of true love.” Opression and dehumanization have damaged the African psyche and led to a loss of self-respect” (p.39). Furthermore the slaves were owned and were not allowed to decide who they wanted to be with. No relationships between slaves were allowed. The slaves were property and the master could do whatever he decided to do with them. Being in a relationship and knowing a master might just rape your partner is nothing people can just deal with, especially not when they don’t have the power to change or to help it. Nunu was a field slave, so compared to a house slaves, the chances of her being raped were smaller but we saw that at one point in the movie they decided that she was being sold to another master. Not being able to decide over your live doesn’t leave you in a position where you could have a satisfying relationship because you are not free to do what you want. If you can’t decide over your own body, it is impossible to try and share your life with a partner of your choice.

Despite all the effort of the white men to separate black people, there were still relationships between black people during slavery. “In this environment it is not easy to develop the positive self- image needed to achieve intimacy” (p.45). Nunu and Noble might not have had a sexual relationship, but they loved each other in a deeper, more spiritual way. Nunu nurtured Noble’s soul and their African culture connected them; it let them have a special bond. Africanity and afrocentrism also created a strong bond between them. Nunu did exactly what afrocentricity stands for: She “hearkened back to tribal loyalty and showed that to “hurt someone else is to hurt ourselves”(p.50). She “nurtured, uplifted and validated” (p.50) Noble in the situation where she could have also blamed him for a lot, but she doesn’t. Nunu reminded Noble about the way Africans act together in their communities, they don’t fight for themselves, they stand up for each other and work for the success of the community. She showed him the values they still have, to stand up against the white master .Also, their resistance in the end against their master and Noble Ali joining the maroon community, of which Nunu was already part of, connected them. Noble Ali pretended he was the head slaved who listened to his master during the day, but at night he helped planning a revolution against the plantation owner.  Only by doing all these things together they were able to stay together. Noble had learned that his sacrifice “ a sense of collective identity allowed him to give up certain aspects of himself without regret in order to advance a larger cause”, in this case the resistance against the master for the greater good of all slaves.(p.51)

This community thinking and staying together no matter what shows us that as for today, we have to look back to the past and see how these couples were still able to maintain a relationship even though they had to endure all these struggles during slavery.  The movie Sankofa urged us to think about the struggles we have in relationships today and how we try to solve them, and what real struggles black people fought against during slavery. If they made it then, there is no reason why it wouldn’t work nowadays. “Without an ideology of heritage the person is like an ant trying to move a larger piece of garbage only to find it will not move”(p.49).

I believe that a long term relationship always needs the effort of commitment from both partners. Without efforts and compromises from both partners there is no way a relationship will work long term. Conversations like the ones Nunu and Noble had are essential for a relationship.  Being in a relationship is a commitment you make to your partner. A relationship should always be balanced and treated with respect. When you are with somebody who has feelings for you, you need to treat these feelings with respect, just how you want your feelings to be treated like. While the early months of a relationship can feel effortless and exciting, successful long-term relationships involve ongoing effort and compromise by both partners. Building healthy patterns early in your relationship can establish a solid foundation for the long run.

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~ by Colorful Soul on 11/04/2012.

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