“The Firewoman’s Children”:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Split the Castle open,
find me, find you.
We, two, felt sand,
One felt whip. Whipped,
We, two, black.
One grew from
cocoa’s soil, birthed from nut,
skin uncut, still bleeding.
We, two, wade.
The waters seem different
but are same.
Our same. Sister skin.
Who knew? Not me. Not you. (282)
This is the poem that Marjorie Agyekum recites in front of her school.
Many years ago, a firewoman had two daughters, Effia, and Esi. These two sisters never had the chance to know or meet each other in their lives – since one was an Asante and the other was a Fante – but they each carried a necklace from their mother, “a black stone pendant that shimmered as though it had been coated in gold dust” (16).
One day, Effia got married to James Collins, a British governor, and she went to live with him at the Cape Coast Castle. When Effia heard noise coming from the small holes in the ground, she asked her husband if there were people down there. In response to her question, James grabbed her shoulders, looked her straight in the eyes, and said “Yes” (17). Effia wanted to return home, but it was too late by then. Unbeknownst to her, the noise she heard was coming from the dungeon which was right below where she was standing, and at that very moment, her own sister Esi was trapped in there among other women.
Fast forward, and a young man named Marcus is doing research at Stanford University. Even though he wants to focus his work on “the convict leasing system” (289), he realizes that he cannot talk about one piece of history on its own because of the continuity and connectedness of history. He feels that if he chooses to focus on only one aspect of history, he is choosing to leave out other pieces that may contain valuable explanations, connections, and clues as to the answers he is searching for. And this is what Gaya’s novel shows, through all of the characters and their lives that it portrays. Gaya’s novel shows that, in order to truly understand who we are, and how we have become who we are, we need to look at our parents for answers, and their parents, and their parents, and so on. In other words, to truly understand ourselves, we need to make a long journey “home,” to where it all started. There can’t be a “beginning,” a “middle,” or an “end,” because it is all connected.
Many years later, Marjorie tells Marcus, “My grandmother used to say we were born of a great fire. I wish I knew what she meant by that” (295). She has the same necklace as the ones the firewoman gave her two daughters, and when she and Marcus are both at the Cape Coast, she gives the necklace to him, and she tells him, “Welcome home” (300).
Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.