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1:28:01 Shola Receives the Sankofa Bird


By Edgar Sanchez, The College of New Jersey

[1] The climax of the movie Sankofa clearly occurs during the scene in which Shola receives the Sankofa bird from Shango. Shola had just attempted to escape from the plantation. Consequently, when she is captured, she is whipped. Father Rafael, Master James, and head slave Joe all participate in this punishment, which is supposed to rid her of her heathen ways. According to them, it is the influence of the devil that causes Shola to try to escape. In fact Shola is forced to repent and told the whipping will not end until she has renounced these heathen ways and promised to follow a more Christian life. After her repentance as Shola lays weeping on her bed, Shango appears and tells her to continue running and be strong. Furthermore, he gives her a Sankofa bird, which she claims gave her this new rebellious attitude.

[2] Up to this point in the story, Shola has had a timid, non rebellious personality. At the beginning of the story, this is established when she tells Shango not to cause such trouble that would have him whipped. Even when she is raped several times by one of the masters, she remains confused yet non-defiant. She tells of meetings in which fellow slaves are involved, but does not join them. She sometimes expresses a desire to have power over her oppressors, for instance she wishes she could kill an overseer with her eyes as we are told Nunu has done. However, Shola never makes any attempts to gain such powers, she merely wishes for them. She seems almost content in her role as a slave, and Shango is her only link to the realization of the evils of slavery. However, after Shango gives her the Sankofa bird, she retains this new defiance and even starts attending rebellion meetings.
(click here for an audio clip of Shola's reaction to receiving the Sankofa bird)

[3] Sankofa, the symbol of looking towards the past before considering the future, is Shola's new reason to not dwell on the past but rather use it as a stepping stone. She understands Nunu's sacrifices and explains how Joe finally realizes his slave roots, as he should have. Her defiance culminates during the rebellion when she murders her white rapist and starts to run as Shango had told her. She runs diligently to her death, which brings her back to the present where she becomes Mona once again. However, as Mona, she has apparently changed and listens to African drummers.

[4] During the pivotal scene, the background is almost entirely in dark tones, during the night. This further reiterates the theme of an end leading to a beginning, because the night is the end of the day. Her face is shown as a close-up, and her captors are placed behind her. The whipping is attended by Father Rafael, Master James, and head slave Joe. These three figures are three examples of oppression during slavery. Father Rafael represents the hypocrisy of the white religion, who claim that the black slaves remain so by the will of God. African culture was deemed evil.

[5] Master James was the master of the house, who was also a hypocrite, by claiming Christian values and using black slaves to achieve economic profit, as all slave-owners had. His hypocrisy is also shown by his infidelity to his wife since he is Shola's rapist. Finally, Joe was the slave who bought into the ideas of his white captors, and ignored the African Americans in favor of the white tradition and philosophy. The end of the scene brings Shango, who is symbolically the antithesis of slavery, rebellious and free. His Caribbean language, which is an Africanized English language, is symbolic of this rebellion. Shango gives the Sankofa bird to Shola, and in a sense, gives her the rebellious attitude of which he already possesses.