November 11, 2013

How Have my DNA Results Changed my Life?

The final post in the three part series.

Any change in the information about our bodies will have an effect on how we see ourselves. The results of my DNA test were no different. I am still processing how they will affect the balance of the competing claims of African and European influences in my life and work.

From my earliest memories, there has always been this conflict. I grew up in Mona Heights, a middleclass, multicultural enclave in St Andrew, where my friends and I were expected to behave like civilized children—like little English boys and girls. But from the age of five, I also went to school with my mother at Seaward Primary—a “browning” in a school filled with Jamaicans of African descent. My mother also made sure that my sister and I made regular trips to her birthplace in Westmoreland, so we could see for ourselves what “country life” was all about. All kinds of folk lived, worked, and died on that postage stamp of Jamaican soil.

We also grew up in a family with a rich religious background. For although I had grown up as a Seventh Day Adventist (before my mother became a Jehovah’s Witness), I was thoroughly immersed in Rastafari who taught me that the worst thing that a light-skinned bredrin could do was to align oneself with Babylon and the downpression of Africans at home and abroad.

But this was only the start of my education and balancing. During high school at Jamaica College, I met Dennis Scott and read Tony McNeill’s Reel from the Life-Movie and Mervyn Morris’s, The Pond, where I first saw the phrase, “Afro-Saxon.”  By the time I read Kamau Braithwaite’s The Arrivants, my literary imagination was Africanized. These poets had provided models, but it wasn’t until I read Derek Walcott’s Another Life and his anguished poem, “A Far Cry from Africa” that I began to conceive a synthesis that would balance Europe and Africa.

Indeed, Benjamin, my son, was my first attempt in fiction at a sustained synthesis of African and European influences. Using Dante’s Inferno as the basis of the narrative, I set the story in Jamaica. However, instead of Virgil as the psychopomp, I inserted an archetypal Trickster, who appears in various guises as Èù and Anansi in West Africa and Eleggua and Papa Legba in the Caribbean. I chose the name Papa Legba, who was also Rastafari, in order to link Jamaica and Haiti in the historical struggle for equal rights and justice in the Caribbean.

Similarly in my latest completed novel, Garvey’s Ghost, the narrative contrasts the rape culture inherent in the myth of Persephone and the vision of unity in the marriage of Shango and Oshun.

The use of these myths and stories and stories from Europe and Africa is not arbitrary. And it should not be surprising that they share thematic concerns. What the myths and stories suggest is that humans are hardwired with certain archetypal patterns that we use through culture to interpret our response to our environment.

In other words, my fiction, like my DNA, represents the synthesis of cultures in the Caribbean that acknowledges and celebrates African roots.

It is this celebration of African roots that prompted my petition for the exoneration of Marcus Garvey. As far as I am concerned, Garvey’s exoneration is part of a larger struggle for the redemption Africans at home and abroad. It is not about hating white people. If I hated white people, I would have to hate my white ancestors. And an Akan proverb states, “Only a fool points at his origins with his left hand.”

However, one big change has occurred. I hear Africa calling. I must confess that I didn’t always feel like this. When my friends used to tell me about their trips to Ghana and Nigeria, their travels didn’t spark anything in my imagination.

Now I feel differently. And especially after rereading one of my earliest poems, “Neptune,” where I used the phrase “bangles from Benin” purely from the alliterative value, Benin has taken on an added dimension. I want to go to Benin. Jah willing, I shall.

In the meantime, whenever someone calls me “Mr. Chin,” I will continue to smile and go on with my business because I have bigger things on my mind. If Jamaica, Mali, Benin, and Togo ever make it to the World Cup quarterfinals, which team will I cheer for?


Part One: How My DNA Set me Free

Part Two: Surprises in my Genealogical Search

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