Sat | Jan 25, 2020

Glenville Ashby | The black experience and the road ahead

Published:Sunday | December 29, 2019 | 12:27 AM

Final excerpt from Conflict of Identity From the Slave Trade to Present Day – One Man’s Healing in Benin, Africa .


I painstakingly explored two key areas – family-sex and religion – two of the institutions most disfigured by the past. I have devised a codex based on affirmations, language, and symbols to stem our psychological haemorrhaging.

We must re-think, re-learn, re-speak, and re-do. We must rewire our mode of thought and behaviour if we are to begin the healing process.

Moreover, I have introduced Womb Therapy, a system that promotes individual and communal spaces in Africa and the diaspora for resolving conflicts. These spaces are protective, and at the same time, unsettling. They are where we cry and vent, and where we experience ‘crises’, only to emerge whole.

We, the victims of generational trauma, must adopt a new rehabilitative construct based on this codex.

Under the heading ‘Language and Symbols’, I present streams of African proverbs that are essentially ethical guideposts. I believe that these narratives are beneficial, especially for our youth.

History is one of the most instructive and prophetic disciplines, but repeatedly, we make the same errors. Sometimes these errors span generations. Oftentimes, we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past because we forget that the lessons of history are the best reminders of how we should chart the present and the future.

We must deliberate before speaking, weighing our thoughts and decisions. This is more difficult for some of us, and we might fail repeatedly. It requires patience.

Great civilizations have always had a code of conduct. Egypt’s Negative Confessions of Maat is one such example. The Code of the Portuguese guided the expeditionary force of missionaries, merchants, and soldiers to Benin in the 17th century. The Black Code of Haiti guided former slaves to independence. Over a course of time, codes have the ability to influence patterns of thought and ensure positive conditioning.

Of Womb Therapy, it is regrettable that most of us in the diaspora, for multiple reasons, will not visit Africa in our lifetime. This does not preclude us from experiencing its existential value.


Africa is not all impoverished and desolate as it is often portrayed in the media.

Despite its troubles, every country in West Africa has its safe space, an enduring resource for emotional and psychological nurturance. The womb, I call it.

I make particular mention of West Africa because it is in this region that the slave trade was most active. It is there that our ancestors walked, played, prayed, and died. It is there where we find our genetic footprint. However, it is also a place of conflict and insecurity. Is not resolving conflicts part of the healing process?

Those of us fortunate to have returned to our ancestral home bring with us the hope, expectations, and conflicts of the diaspora. We work through our crisis of identity and return home with a new paradigm to share with others consciously and unconsciously.

Africa’s problems do not thwart our healing. We dwell in its sacred places, its womb.

We must note that Africa’s sacred space, its healing, is not defined by physicality. Africa’s womb, essentially, lives in all of us.

Africa’s sacred spaces are venerated ideals within our collective unconscious, not unlike Jerusalem for the Jewish people, Kosovo for the Serbs, the Wudang Mountains for Qigong practitioners, Bethlehem for Christians, and Mecca and Karbala for Muslims.

I am reminded of the last words of the traditional Seder, “Next year in Jerusalem”, recited by religious and secular Jews during Passover.

‘Jerusalem’ has become an inseparable part of the Jewish unconscious, a part of their collective.

For us in the diaspora, Africa is rooted in the unconscious. The sacred space of Africa is, therefore, accessible, sometimes spontaneously in a spiritual setting or through programmes that promote identity and culture.

The womb is indestructible, an intangible and tangible ideal for African people. It is where the trauma began and it is where healing begins.

This explains why victims of trauma and their descendants visit memorials, erected where history’s worst tragedies occurred. This is the road towards wholeness.

Clearly, every effort to unplug us from the womb will fail. Centuries of systemic conditioning to turn us against Mother Africa has failed. Now, more than ever, a distant drumbeat calling us home is getting louder.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author. His book ‘Conflict of Identity: From the Slave Trade to Present Day – One’s Man’s Healing in Benin’ is scheduled for release in January 2020. Email feedback to and, or tweet @glenvilleashby