Sankofa /The Movie: "return to the past "

SANKOFA is an Akan word that means, one must return to the past in order to move forward. Mona, a contemporary model, is possessed by spirits lingering in the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana and travels to the past, where, as a house servant called Shola she is constantly abused by the slave master. Nunu, an African-born field hand, and Shango, Sholas West Indian Lover, continuously rebel against the slave system. For Nunu this means direct conflict with her son, a mulatto benefitting from the system as a head slave. Inspired by Nunu and Shangos determination to defy the system, Shola finally takes her fate into her own hands.

[1] Sankofa begins in Africa, in Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, where there is an interplay between a tour group and a photo shoot of Mona, an African American model. In the middle of the shoot, a mysterious man appears, claiming to be the guardian of the castle, he tells the tour group to go away, and Mona to go back to her past. He claims that his people were stolen from Africa through this very location. Mona then wanders through the dungeon following the tour and finds Africans shackled in the dungeons of the castle. She tries to flea but is soon taken captive by people of European descent as she cries in vain that she is an American, not an African.

[2] Thus, her story as Shola begins. These scenes take place in a sugarcane plantation in Louisiana. Shola is a house slave, who does her duties as a slave and does not partake in anything that she deems evil or wrong. She professes her love for Shango, a West Indian slave who tries to change her timid views. Next, a group is shown talking about Nunu, a woman who kills her master just by staring at him. (Click here to hear this story.) Shola, who during this story, recalls being raped by her master, wishes for these powers. The next scene includes a dramatic whipping, where two men, Joe and Noble Ali are depicted, respectively, as a half white headman slave who strives to adopt the white’s ways and a headman slave who appears to be having issues with his role and duties as a headman. Both partake in the whipping of other slaves. When Kutu, one of the slaves who is pregnant, dies after being whipped, Nunu comes and performs a Caesarian to save the child.

[3] Talk of rebellion is soon introduced to the film. Apparently, certain slaves meet secretly with free blacks from the hills to discuss upcoming rebellions. After one unsuccessful rebellion, several slaves are left in cages suspended from trees to die and Nunu is sold. Slowly, Shola starts to learn the importance of resisting. This is primarily because she is repeatedly raped by one of the master even though she prays to the white man’s God. In fact she feels the more she prays to the white man’s God the more she is raped. When she is beaten and whipped severely after an unsuccessful escape, she is consoled by Shango and given a Sankofa bird. This act, she claims, turns her into a rebel and she finally realizes the importance of resisting.

[4] The story then shifts to Joe, who has been almost poisoned by another slave. Nunu, his mother, tries to save him, but instead he kills her because he has been convinced by Father Rafael, the priest, that Nunu is the devil. Joe brings his mother’s corpse to the church where he finally realizes his betrayal of his people and his own mother, and then he kills Father Rafael. After this escapade, rebellion starts brewing again. This time, Shola kills her rapist, and the rebellion is successful in that many of the slaves realize the importance of resistance and several of the headmasters and slave holders are killed. However, all of the rebelling slaves are chased down by dogs and eventually caught and killed. Shola feels herself lifted up and carried by buzzards who bring her spirit home. The story shifts back to the present, where Shola, or Mona at this time, ignores the photographer and goes to listen to an African chant being performed by Sankofa, a chant which she now has an appreciation for due to her new awareness of her rich African background.

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