A light-hearted African visits a dark continent
For anyone interested in unique travels and traveler?s perceptions, this book is a must read. Thankfully, the author, Kpomassie, devotes several chapters to his life in Togo; it?s essential that the reader see what his life was like in 1940?s and ?50?s sub-Saharan Africa in order to judge the contrast between his edge-of-jungle childhood and the world of freezing waters and rocky crags of Greenland. When I first heard about this book, I thought it impossible for a black west-African to even conceive of such a voyage, let alone have interest in an ice-bound place. But the author--as he narrates--shows that all voyages and voyagers are similar: the idea is born in the young person?s mind, he envisions himself there, he makes a break with his homeland and family, he finds key supporters in people inspired by his vision, and his French ?adoptive father? becomes the sponsor of his voyage.
Kpomassie takes eight years to get from Togo to Greenland, working in Europe along the way. He is not at all disgruntled with the French (or Germans) the former colonizers of his homeland; rather, his ability to speak French enables him to find good jobs as well as the friends who believe in him. ?I landed merely by showing my identity card,? Kpmoassie writes, ?and found that France is a hospitable nation: despite the storm of ill feeling at the time of our countries? [sic] independence, no restriction was imposed upon our entry into the former mother country? . . . . I felt freer in France than on African soil? (58-9).
I feel certain that much has changed in the relationship between black Africans and Europe in the forty years since the author made his travels. For example, today the contrasts between Togo, France, and Greenland are less obvious because of ?modernization? and creeping monoculture. In contrast, it seems to me that in the 1960s--when cultures were still quite different--people took their cultural differences less seriously than we do today, despite the spread of said monoculture and the increase of photographs and documentaries that makes the world somewhat familiar to everyone.
What?s really unexpected about this book is that Kpomassie finds a Greenland and an Inuit or Eskimo people, who are--it seems to me--in a cultural upheaval. For one thing, the impact of human activity on the ecosystem is not yet understood. Most alarmingly, the impact of Denmark and Danish people on the Natives of Greenland is not yet calculated; there is a crisis of morality, religion, and of old and new ways that--for me--was at times dismaying. The children and the women pay the highest price for this cultural change.
Somewhere inside this book is a great untold story, a book within a book. If it could be told, it would be by an Eskimo about Kpomassie?s effects on the Greenlanders. Also, another subtext to this book is that for the author to leave Togo, he had to have an upheaval in his own life. Kpomassie gives us only the surface of his break with his family and Togoland culture. What we know, in retrospect, is that Togo was having its own cultural upheaval: The young Tete-Michel Kpomassie questioned his family?s belief in the snake rituals and the jungle priestesses. His growing fear of family tradition conjoined with his discovery of a book on Greenland, planted a seed in his mind that propelled him out into the cold north, the land of very long, dark winters.