Engaging Equatorial Guinea: Bioko in the Diasporic Imagination

By Sundiata, Ibrahim | Afro - Hispanic Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Engaging Equatorial Guinea: Bioko in the Diasporic Imagination


Sundiata, Ibrahim, Afro - Hispanic Review


Since its independence in 1968, Equatorial Guinea has been perceived by some observers as a link between Africa and the broader "Latin" world. Language is a powerful binder. In the United States Hispanidad has been enshrined in law and popular culture. It is an ecumene that crosses boundaries of class and race. At the same time, various Anglophone writers and academics have posited the existence of a "Black Atlantic," one that vibrates with music and tropes derived from a common African past. Equatorial Guinea exists at the juncture of these two constructs - the Latin and Black Atlantics.

In 2003, the documentary Motherland, A Genetic Journey, directed by Archie Baron, aired on British television. The film recorded the aftermath of an experiment in which investigators took anonymous DNA swabs from 229 African-Caribbean Britons, all of whom had four African-Caribbean grandparents. In the sample, 109 were men and 120 were women. Several of the participants visited their ancestral African "motherlands." One volunteer, Beaula McCaIIa, was especially moved by the experience. The results said that she was descended from the Bubi people of the island of Bioko. She felt that a mystery had been unsealed. Her slave ancestors, she sensed, had been stolen from one sugar plantation island in the Eastern hemisphere and forced to labor in another in the West: Jamaica. McCaIIa flew off to Equatorial Guinea and experienced a "homecoming." Returning from Moka, the village capital of the great nineteenth-century king, Moka, she was suffused with joy:

The Bubi are my blood relatives, so as part of their group I was invited to take part in some of the ceremonies. . . . Next was the Home-coming ceremony - a lost daughter returns home. I stood on top of a hill looking down into the valley at the serene village. I was recently told that blood relatives lived here . . . and that I would soon meet them. Down below it was not evident that the villagers were preparing to meet a lost daughter. I was told not to eat or drink anything, I had to have an empty stomach as I would be given something by an elder once I had reached the village. As I got closer to the sleeping village, I began to see people appear from their homes, each walking towards the main road. I was given a drink of sea water to sip from a large communal shell and a vegetable which had a bitter taste cooked in palm oil. Children started running, then came the singing, the dancing. I could not understand the language, but the melody was catching. I was taken away with the people, the singing and the dancing, carried into the whirlwind of the atmosphere. (McCalla)

McCaIIa now helps to get funds for a local orphanage and primary school in Bioko, and she has adopted a child. In Britain, she has adopted a guineano as her "brother"; he is a Bubi man searching for his biological mother in Europe and McCaIIa is his benefactress: "Beaula está ayudando a encontrar a mi madre " (Nelson 774). The Diasporic "daughter's" story pulls Bioko in the wider Black Atlantic. After McCaIIa, twelve to fifteen other women came up Bubi in the Motherland study. Later, even more individuals began to claim descent from the little island's ethnic group. McCalla's pilgrimage was based on DNA evidence and hope. What is striking about her "return" is that it obliterates the noble exceptionalism for which the island was known, that Bioko had existed outside the slave trade. McCaIIa may have picked the least likely place on Africa's West coast.

When, in 2003, this British woman "discovered" her Bubi ancestry, it was like "blood touching blood. ... It was like family" (McCaIIa). Early travelers, however, were somewhat more confused about Bubi origins. In the 1850s the British consul, TJ. Hutchinson, concluded that "the Fernandians [Bubis], who are the aborigines of the island, do not seem to have an affinity with any of the races of the continent" (187) . On the basis of Bubi facial scars, he came to the sure conclusion that the Bubi were "of a mixed race between the Okoos [Yoruba of Nigeria] and the Portuguese, who visited Lagos some hundreds of years ago" (Hutchinson 187). …

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