mud huts in Ghana, West Africa

Despite the immense and unprecedented power of Google, there are some things it just can’t do. It can overwhelm one with information on a vast variety of topics, and yet it remains eerily silent on others.

The Internet can only tell us what we, collectively, already know. And we know much more about the present than we do about the past. When it comes to the past, all we can do is peep back into whatever scant historical documents and bits of evidence exist, make educated guesses, and imagine. Perhaps computaz don’t really rule over so much, after all.

When reading historical and anthropological books like Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston, I often feel a yearning to know more. What exactly did Cudjo/Kossula’s African village look like? Did it look anything like this photo of mud huts in Ghana? Barracoon doesn’t give as many details as I crave. And I know from experience that, no matter how many university libraries one visits, how many obscure texts one reads, and how many answers one delights in finding, there will always remain unanswered questions.

Do you, like me, feel the urge to know more when reading this passage?

“Dey got de women soldiers too and dey run wid de big knife and make noise. Dey ketch people and dey saw de neck lak dis wid de knife den dey twist de head so and it come off de neck. Oh Lor’, Lor’! . . . No man kin be so strong lak de woman soldiers from de Dahomey.”

Whoa, women warriors? Please tell me more. How did they train? What kinds of weapons did they use? What did they wear while fighting? Were most women from Dahomey trained as warriors, or just a select few of them? Were they anything like the Amazons, as described in Greek mythology? Were they anything like Katniss, from The Hunger Games? I’m sure I could learn a lot from Google about women warriors, were I to do a search. I’m sure I could learn even more, were I to scour through library stacks. And yet, I’m also sure that many mysteries would remain.

What secrets of the past would you uncover, if you could?