I use the concept of promised land and Nigeria to discuss further inspirations for "The African Piper of Harlem."
Exodus 23:31 refers to a promised land or geographic region that God allocated to his chosen people. That yearning for a promised land is especially true for immigrants. Imagine looking around and seeing nothing but the ravages of war or corruption or both. Flickering images on a favorite device transmit a paradise called “America, the Beautiful.” Free men and women hitch RVs to their cars to explore the wide-open spaces of a country overflowing with the comforts of affluence and generosity. YouTube plays Chuck Berry rhythmically extolling the virtues of a 21st-century promised land with his hips. “There” definitely looks much better than being “here” at that moment in time.
And then, like many others before them, immigrants arrive in the country. Fantasy morphs into reality.
The Empire Writes Back
Once upon a time the cruelty and squalor of colonialism was juxtaposed with the majesty of the African continent by the likes of the missionary, David Livingstone (“The Life and African Exploration of David Livingstone”), and the Polish-English writer, Joseph Conrad (“The Heart of Darkness”). Along came authors like Chinua Achebe (1930—2013) and Ben Okri (age 59) to awaken the world to the perils of colonialism and remembrances of a war-torn, post-colonial country, as viewed through Nigerian eyes.
Nigeria is an African country on the Gulf of Guinea and its capital is Abuja. Depending on which Google page you land, this populous, oil-rich country, is either the continent’s biggest economy or is on its way to being the richest African country, if only politicians could take care of all that corruption. Look at the writings of Nigerians such as Achebe and, more recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and one gains insights from these gifted authors on what it means to be Nigerian both in and outside the country during different time periods.
Return to the Promised Land
Why do people leave Africa? It depends on who you ask. The blockbuster, Black Panther, describes Wakanda – a promised land in sub-Saharan Africa that also happens to be the world’s most advanced civilization. However, many refugees and emigrants view their respective countries in a different light.
What is the enduring appeal of the continent? Rastafarians believe that they will eventually return to Africa - the continent their ancestors left in slave ships long ago. Malcolm X visited the continent four times and had this to say:
“I, for one, would like to impress, especially upon those who call themselves leaders, the importance of realizing the direct connection between the struggle of the Afro-American in this country and the struggle of our people all over the world. As long as we think—as one of my good brothers mentioned out of the side of his mouth here a couple of Sundays ago—that we should get Mississippi straightened out before we worry about the Congo, you’ll never get Mississippi straightened out.”
When Africa meets the Americas
Think founder of Afrobeat and Nigerian superstar, Fela Kuti, and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. These kings of black music were influenced by one another. Similarly, cultural cross-pollination seeps into other walks of life. Some may call it as American as apple pie.
A few first-generation immigrants are able to leverage their experiences to achieve successes beyond their wildest dreams. However, the majority of people toil away anonymously for the benefit of their children.
How would such a fictional family function in today’s America? I tell the story of a Nigerian-born family in modern America in “The African Piper of Harlem.”