Table of contents
Poem / Phenomenon

A Birth and a Death—a Haunting of Igbo Landing

A Ghanian American poet-anthropologist crafts her own African diasporic and Indigenous identity through weaving herself into a famous story of African resistance and survival.
A photograph features a large white, aged castle with a beige stone wall around its base and turquoise sea water and blue skies in the background.

During more than 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade, Elmina Castle in present-day Ghana was one of the primary depots for enslaved Africans. Outer walls hold the haunting “door of no return”—where the Middle Passage began for tens of thousands each year.

Hannah Efua Odoom

“A Birth and a Death—a Haunting of Igbo Landing” is part of the collection Indigenizing What It Means to Be Human. Read the introduction to the collection here.

I am of crashing waves
battering thrusts against wooden unholy vessel, docking on all that is new, all desired, all ravaged and stolen, sandy and unforgiving

That toils and folds in the center to reveal hearts, open hands, that begat mothers and daughters, tore sons from their stride with the quickness of a pant and fearful breath

Of that center under the fold, under turmoil that made way for me, and 500 years that prayed for me to be in this place, this space as I am.
From fearful excited tears, heaves, and sighs on sweaty back—she wails and thrusts 60 days before anticipated in chaotic love I arrive …

Such arrival a renewal and cycle of an old tale told before our time, listen children listen—a lesson of how we thrive and how we die only to survive

The legend of Igbo landing, as historians tell it—resolves with a death and rebirth.
And again and again choosing death wading water high decisions to drown—visions of home in sight.
Long awaited and anticipated in chaotic love; a rebirth.
They say, “The water spirit brought us, the water spirit will take us home” and on sweet blue wave, newborn, I ride, surfing suffering tones that hold ancestors, caressed in dark blue hope—
they said when you choose death mother water, great provider will channel you home.

An underwater scene features statues of people standing in a circle with adjacent figures shackled together by the wrists. They are facing outward and holding hands.

They say in May, the year of our lord 1803 (one thousand eight hundred and three) ancestors landed on unholy space—all new, never desired, yes ravaged and stolen—sandy and unforgiving.
And with the little leverage left, power bestowed by holiest Chukwu, ancestors took one step then the next choosing death, choosing death again and again and again.
Water spirit brought me, water spirit took me—home …

They say flying Africans took up wings like Eagle, like Crow, like Vulture
black and brooding deep bird like majesty and wonder—
flapped high into the night—
away back home.

Have you heard of them?

Like you, like me, let us feel the prickle upon our flesh, embrace the emergence, as feather pokes brownest of skin, reveal red, swollen, and sore to make room for more—

grow wings on whipped back—

where wounds abound wings are greater—wider, faster.
Haven’t you heard?
The legend of the flying Africans. Come gather, come listen I will tell, I will tell.

Hannah Odoom is a multi-genre writer who explores poetry and academic writing and their intersections. In 2021, she received her B.A. in anthropology from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her writing explores themes of language, identity, belonging, and what it means to carve out diasporic identity. Odoom is also interested in investigating the exchange and intersection of African diasporic language in musical forms by exploring the use of pidgin, patois, and U.K. slang within music genres.


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