Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind but now I see.
Rewind my life two summers ago in mid-August and you will find my uncle driving me along the Marina Resort overlooking the Calabar River in Southeastern Nigeria. The intoxicating rhythmic sounds in the form of Afro-pop escape the small radios that are set on the countertops of open market shops. Past the glimmering ocean in a mid-Sunday afternoon, along the shore are beautiful, hardworking Nigerian men; most of them with their beige pants rolled up to their mid-calves. As they pull in their catch of the day in their large rope nets, their ebony skin glistens as the sun kisses the river’s water droplets that have traveled to their skin, almost as if it was commending them on a job well done.Rewind a few centuries prior to this moment and its a different story entirely.
Hidden among the resort stands pieces of history that represent the chains, the whipping, the scars, and the cries of my ancestors; they represent 30 percent of all Africans whose freedom was literally traded for the title “slave.” As I type, I hold so much regret because I was not more proactive in making sure that I got to see the slave history museum and other preserved historical sites that stand in Marina. In fact, I did not know that it had all of those things until I came back from Nigeria that year. You don’t have to tell me twice that my next trip to Nigeria includes a trip to Marina. When that happens, I hope to own one of those giant Canon cameras that will take unbelievable snapshots of my time there. But I digress.
While in Nigeria that summer, My Auntie put in the movie The Amazing Grace (not to be confused with the American-British film Amazing Grace) and I was not ready for the impact that movie would have on my life. From this movie, I found out why musical talent exists in my family: it’s in our blood. The Efik tribe was known for their dancing, singing, and musicianship. Fast-forward centuries later and you find my father as a choir director in a church, teaching the choir perfect solfège. He has never read music before in his life. Thanks to this film, I also learned that slave trade happened in my tribe due to the British invasion of Calabar, my family’s hometown. Once the English interrupted the peace of Efik people, it was interesting to see not only the white slave traders taking over but Efik people turning on themselves in order to stay alive. Among the slave traders was John Newton who later realized the injustice and dehumanization that occurred when he treated the Efik people so badly. At this point, he had a change of heart as he remembered that he heard a melody sounding from the lips of the Efik people.
It is because of the melody of my ancestors that he was able to compose his well-known hymn Amazing Grace.
That song that I have heard countless time in my life is no longer the same to my ears. Ever since my Auntie showed me the film, I have gotten the chills every time I hear it. That song is more connected to my home, to my family, my identity as an Efik woman, and my identity as a child of God.
Yesterday, my school’s chapel had the University Choir and Orchestra playing the song ever so beautifully. The orchestra was at the front with the string musicians’ bows dancing atop their violins, violas, and cellos while I was moving to the beautiful melody that was sung by my people before it became Amazing Grace. As if that wasn’t enough, the choir was seated among the audience and when it was time to sing they all rose and their voices filled the air of the candle-lit room. The atmosphere in that room was beyond heavenly. I was left utterly speechless.
A few days prior, I came across this journal in my university’s bookstore.