Homegoing begins with the introduction of British colonizers on the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana). Though colonialism plays into and is an extension of racism, the novel also shows it as a means of dividing those who have been colonized in order to benefit the white colonizers. The book argues that not only is there immense harm done to those who are enslaved and sent to America (like Esi’s descendants), but also that colonization serves as a destructive force on those who are both willingly and unwillingly complicit in it (like Effia’s descendants), because they are taking part in a system that devalues their culture and positions them as inferior to Europeans.
Effia and her son, Quey, become the first and most direct benefactors of the system of colonialism, and so it becomes easy for them to accept it, but later descendants realize the moral cost of enslaving others. Though the Fante village and Asante village already had a tradition of capturing others in times of war, the British arrive on the Gold Coast in order to take advantage of this system and create a brutal slave trade. Effia’s mother plots to have her marry a white man in order to gain money and to strengthen the relationship between the British and the Fantes. Quey in turn is gifted with an easier life away from slavery, logging numbers so that he can pretend his work doesn’t have to do with people being bought, sold, and brutalized. He had gone to school in England, where he learned English and to read and write. Yet he still feels that he doesn’t belong to either race, inheriting the feeling from his father that he is inferior to his father’s white family. Thus, his participation in colonization stems from a desire to please his father, which makes it even more insidious. Quey’s son, James, refuses to play into this system, seeing how it made Quey feel as though he didn’t belong and that he was complicit in a morally corrupt line of work. A girl in another village, Akosua, shows him how the British incite wars knowing that the losers of the war will become goods to trade. This realization indicates to James that the British believe they can arrive and take whatever or whomever they want, to the detriment of all of the people on the Gold Coast.
Even when slavery ends, the British and colonization remain. The missionaries and Christianity serve as a new way of asserting that the systems and religions of the Europeans are superior. The emphasis on Christianity appears early on. James, Effia’s husband, tells her not to use a root for fertility because it is “not Christian.” Anything that is associated with blackness or native religion is viewed as evil, or lesser. Abena, James’s daughter who becomes pregnant out of wedlock, seeks help from the Church. But instead of helping her, the Missionary accidentally drowns her while trying to baptize her. He then condemns her daughter, Akua, to a life of feeling that she is living in in sin and calling her a “heathen.” He tells her not to go to the fetish priest even though he is Akua’s only friend. Thus, colonization gives her a life of loneliness and doubt in her own culture.
The effects of colonization, like the effects of slavery, are also felt long after the British leave Ghana, because it had been so successful as a means of dividing people. At the end of the novel, Marjorie, Akua’s granddaughter, grows up in Alabama. In school, other girls make fun of her accent and liken it to a British accent. She discovers that whiteness and blackness are just as much about culture in America as they are about skin color, and other students associate her heritage with a sense of superiority. Yet at the same time, in the eyes of Marjorie’s white classmates, she doesn’t belong either. When Marjorie begins dating a blonde boy in her class, the boy’s friends and even his father constantly pull him away from Marjorie. When he tries to tell his father that Marjorie is “not like other black girls,” Marjorie feels even worse. Marjorie’s feelings parallel those of Quey, who felt like he didn’t belong in either race six generations earlier. Thus, the history of Marjorie’s family and colonization’s divisions still have resonance in the present.
Just as Gyasi demonstrates the effects of racism on generations of people in America, she shows how colonization also has its own compounded effect on generations of people in Ghana. One of the things that is most insidious about colonization in the book is the fact that the British officers began families with many women on the Gold Coast (even if the officers already had families in England). This made resistance very difficult, not only because the women’s lives were largely controlled by men, but then their children felt that removing themselves from involvement in the slave trade meant rebelling against their own families and fathers, as Quey and James feel. Thus, later characters are forced to come to terms with the allegiance their family once had to racist institutions. Only then can they eventually reconcile with the descendants of the characters that they betrayed, as Marjorie does with Marcus at the end of the novel when they travel back to Ghana together.
Colonization Quotes in Homegoing
Quey had wanted to cry but that desire embarrassed him. He knew that he was one of the half-caste children of the Castle, and, like the other half-caste children, he could not fully claim either half of himself, neither his father's whiteness nor his mother’s blackness. Neither England nor the Gold Coast.
This was how they lived there, in the bush: Eat or be eaten. Capture or be captured. Marry for protection. Quey would never go to Cudjo's village. He would not be weak. He was in the business of slavery, and sacrifices had to be made.
“There's more at stake here than just slavery, my brother. It's a question of who will own the land, the people, the power. You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, Now I will remove my knife slowly, so let things be easy and clean, let there be no mess. There will always be blood.”
In her dreams the fire was shaped like a woman holding two babies to her heart. The firewoman would carry these two little girls with her all the way to the woods of the Inland and then the babies would vanish, and the firewoman’s sadness would send orange and red and hints of blue swarming every tree and every bush in sight.
“You are a sinner and a heathen,” he said. Akua nodded. The teachers had told them this before. “Your mother had no husband when she came here to me, pregnant, begging for help. I helped her because that is what God would have wanted me to do. But she was a sinner and a heathen, like you.”
“This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others […] We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story.”