“Sankofa” is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” The mythical sankofa bird symbolizes the Akan people’s quest for knowledge, with the implication that the quest is based on critical examination, along with intelligent and patient investigation.
What is astonishing is the depiction of the sankofa bird flying forward while looking backward with an egg in its mouth. It seems strange, if not impossible that a bird should fly forward while looking backward. Of course, in everyday ventures it is difficult to walk forward while looking back, because we must look where we are going to avoid running into something.
However, life demands that we not forget our past. Our past is critical to our success as we move forward. The Akan people believed that the past serves as a guide for planning the future and the mythical sankofa bird with its feet firmly planted forward and its head backwards symbolized this belief. It is this wisdom in learning from the past which ensures a strong future.
The concept of the sankofa does not downplay the future while glorifying the past, but challenges us to embrace the past and the future in a harmonious and balanced way. I believe the concept of sankofa offers us very useful insight on how we can best move our vision forward.
As employees in affordable housing, along with our residents, it is vitally important to remember that there must be movement and new learning as time passes. As our forward movement takes us to unchartered areas, the past must never be forgotten. We must keep the memories, knowledge, positive and even negative experiences in our mind to continue pushing toward the mark to reach the forseeable future. And never give up, never give up, never give up.
By Chaplain Ghosten