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Repairing the broken chord of ancestry

KINSHIP By Philippe Wamba Dutton 288 pp., $24.95

Slavery and its aftermath have created a complex situation for both Africans and African-Americans.

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African-Americans have had to build a home in America and find acceptance in a country that viewed them as inferior. Africans, meanwhile, have had to break the chains of colonialism to create a home in a land that was once their own. Although they were once from the same continent, now miles of distance and years of separation have created two distinct peoples.

In "Kinship," Philippe Wamba attempts to show "how and why Africans and African-Americans have historically been bound in a voluntary and involuntary cultural and political partnership, yet often too far separated by culture, geography, prejudice, and history to forge a meaningful and functional sense of racial unity."

The child of an African father and African-American mother, Wamba provides a balance of both perspectives. His younger years were spent in Tanzania; he returned to America to attend college.

Historically, the plantation system in America mixed slaves from different tribal groups and discouraged any African cultural practice. The need for slaves to find solace in the misery of their experience led to the mythical presentation of Africa shared among generations of slaves.

Through time, these stories focused on the positive homeland from which they were taken, while the negative aspects were not discussed. What remained after generations was the glorification of the African homeland that still exists for many African-Americans today.

Later, the educational system in America did little to increase the general knowledge of Africa. And in Africa, much of the information Africans received regarding their African-American counterparts was from "newspapers, periodicals, and books provided by seamen and members of black American organizations that were stationed in Africa."

Today, Wamba claims, many of the misconceptions of both African-Americans and Africans stem from media that provide an incomplete picture, covering only famine, war, and poverty on the African continent. Meanwhile, in Africa, the media portray only the two extremes of the African-American society. One shows the black elite, such as entertainers Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey, while the other shows the poverty-stricken community of black-on-black crime.

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Despite all the years of slavery and seemingly intractable differences, Wamba is hopeful. Today, more than anytime before, he says, Africans and African-Americans have more information about each other. There are more Africans attending colleges in the US, more African-Americans traveling to Africa, and more African-Americans holding power in American foreign affairs affecting policy in Africa. Wamba's "Kinship" is a book laced with cogent analysis and informed hope.

*Belinda H. McDonald is production manager of the Monitor's online edition:

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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