Celebration, Colonialism, Slavery: Black Bodies, African Gods and Rhythms – Part 4 of 5

But the loss was not mine alone. In our forgetting we neither called on our ancestors nor our gods. Orunmila. Obatala. Ogun. Osun. Amadioha. Oya, the beautiful wife of Sango. On both sides of the Sea we no longer shared our food with the Earth. We callously allowed our ancestors to starve! Ah my pain! My Loss!

What kind of gods or ancestors do this to themselves? O ancestors I live your suicide! O gods, “Na you do yourself like dis?”

Images from the past

In response, the Universe through my ancestors laughed at me. At my naiveté; at my human vision; at my small wisdom. The Universe responds to me – “Remove value judgements from life, death, pain”. There had never been a stop. Nothing ended. Continuity by definition continues. Life is a permanent: Yes! Remember that in Africa, reincarnation is multiple – the ancestors are reborn many times and simultaneously within or outside a lineage.

Your pain was born of your ancestor’s need to be birthed in numerous places – of the world’s need to be blessed by its own beauty. “Celebrate !”, I was told, “Rejoice!” For the ancestors went forth and multiplied.

The gods and the ancestors continue to move to the rhythm of our history, inscribed and carried in our black bodies. Look at the bodies! These bodies that range in colour from a deep cream to Ochre. These bodies whose owners move to rhythms which only they can hear, with a knowledge which they cannot articulate. In today’s parlance it is called “swag”. It is a feminine movement that can only be achieved by one who has diamonds where hip meets thigh.[1] See it in the 13-year-old boy who seems to float through the playground. It was in Mohammed Ali. It was in Alvin Ailey. It is in the body of the early morning trash collector who cannot help but dance to the Bata and the Ogene which he is not aware that he carries, but which is so deeply inscribed in his body that he is it. Olodumare lives. He lives in the body. In the mystery of intricate dance movements that are untaught. In these bodies, my ancestors live. The gods and the ancestors continue to move to the rhythm of our history, which is inscribed and carried in our bodies.

The ancestors asked me: do you not see the fiery spirit of Queen Amina of Zaria in my children? Do you not see the garb of Sango’s wife Oya in the wardrobes of the diva who lives in the Spanish Quarter and in the carriage of the Nairobi and Abuja ‘big girls’?  In the voices of the choir of the Baptist churches in South Carolina? In the voices of La Lupe, Celia Cruz and Celeste Mendoza as they sing in Havana and Puerto Rico, do you not hear the voice of Nwanyi Mmiri?

[1] Angelou, Maya. 1986. And Still I Rise 1986.


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