Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Internal Exile

The ellipses in our family narratives always get filled in eventually
It is this unhurried and meandering discourse that frustrates outsiders
Yet to us, who seemingly navigate these blind spots
   with unerring accuracy,
The discursive vagaries of the oral tradition lie at the heart of the matter

Nay, we have the certainty that the story will indeed be told
Will be shared in its own time and place, before we grow old
Truth and reconciliation will overcome secrets and lies
So it was that I learned about the matter of internal exile

You see, it is a matter of fact that the man known as The Founder
Sometimes called Osagyefo, His Messsiahship, Ghana's first leader
Issued an executive instrument ordering that my grandfather
And four of his friends, then at Mawuli - they were school teachers
Be sent into internal exile, abruptly and without giving a reason
They were no longer authorized to live and work in the Volta region

Sixty odd years later, I'm still rather inclined to take it personal
I've been told to let bygones be bygones, that it's not my battle
I hear the rejoinders, the man was fighting imperialism
The liberation struggle and other exigencies, colonialism

It's ancient history; those were heady days. Perhaps it was random
We know all too well what he said: Seek ye first the political kingdom
And it was internal exile, they'll say, as if to restore the balance
At least it wasn't preventive detention or, worse, a disappearance

I pieced it together, that's the reason why my Aunt was born in Kyebi
And why my Uncle will squint and snort heartily
And then will bring up rogues and Young Pioneers
And why Mum always pauses
   when you start going on about the man and that age
And tells you that she had already started at boarding school during those years
And how she was determined to not go to ideological college
And those training camps, and declare allegiance to the CPP party
And the deafening silence in my grandfather and grandmother, it still rings
They would shrug and move the conversation on,
   they made the best of things

Our view on The Founder is thus born of an intimacy with his failings
We have no patience for apologists who deflect,
   and mention his weakness
Pointing to machinations among his entourage and political stress
They have no leg to stand on, he was right there in the middle of things
Personally applying his stamp on policies, he gave his endorsement
For better or worse, to the conflation of state, party, and person

Whether it is being advised daily about Danquah's prison routine,
Involvement in university appointments or meddling in nutrition
The historical record shows him as the decision maker
   who signed the decrees
The starvation diets that were designed for those he refused to free
I've seen the squalid scrawls in the margins
   of bureaucratic memos of his pen
So it was unsurprising that there was rejoicing
   when his reign came to an end

Heck, I hear you say, with a rather knowing smile,
Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn famously bore internal exile,
And many others too, it couldn't have been that hard
The world got Crime and Punishment and even Cancer Ward

After all, those years in Kyebi were a life removed from Siberia,
Papa, Da, and your aunts and uncles didn't get burnt by the sun
Well, Lenin too got in on the act, I'll have you remember
And generations learned bitter lessons about what is to be done

And so we come to the former prisoner's dilemma
Whether to forgive and forget, move on and write new chapters
Or whether to bear the grudge,
   as not everyone can be like Nelson Mandela
My grandparents decided that it was best to deflect with silence and laughter


Some time ago, I had a discussion, it was late one night
With two men, acquaintances, about Bloodbath, South Carolina
I probed and questioned them at length, seeking their insight
About all manner of blind spots and the weight of trauma
We honed in on the discomfort of the skin that they were living in
Now that I think of it, I was being holier-than-thou about matters of sin
I had quite forgotten about my own family's misgivings and traditions
That I wasn't too far removed from similar deflections and misdirection

I won't flinch from the rough beast, as if in denial
I'm quite prepared to bear the costs of internal exile
Rather than turn my back on the conflicted legacies of men
For soul insurance, there's no limit to what I am prepared to spend

baobab by kagyah

Internal Exile, a playlist

Sade and Cameo provide the soundtrack to alternately haunt and invest our skins and memories to equip us for life in the torrid zone. (spotify version)
I nominate this internal displacement for the Things Fall Apart series. Do let me know what banner might be appropriate.

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Writing log: March 14, 2021

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