The Magic of “History” and Contradictions of “Return” to Africa in Syl Cheney-Coker’s The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar
The last main chapter of the study examines the treatment of slavery, history and memory in Sierra Leone, using Syl Cheney-Coker’s historical novel, The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar (1990). This text is deliberately placed at the end of the study to discourse Sierra Leone’s special place in the history of African slavery as the land where slaves left and then “returned” when Freetown was established as a haven for newly emancipated African-Americans.
I discuss the impact of the uniqueness of Sierra Leonean history on their national identity by focusing on the novel’s use of myths and magic realism. I read these as questioning assumptions of historical linearity and purity of African identity. In the novel, these are the underlining reason for the returnees’ journey to Africa. However, Cheney-Coker presents these as uncertain and constructed; thus, I critique the concepts of motherland and roots as mythical and possibly dangerous to the individual’s understanding of his or her place in history. I discuss this at length with reference to Stuart Hall’s theorisation of cultural identity as a “production.” I conclude by asserting that Cheney-Coker disrupts the narrative of roots, in favour of routes, to present a reading of the history that is tied to the lived experience and circulation of bodies and ideas through travel.