Araba of Osogbo Ifayemi Elebuibon to speak at Trinidad and Tobago Isese Festival

Orisa devotees from around Trinidad and Tobago will gather on September 24, Republic Day to observe the first annual Isese Festival – a celebration of this country’s African spiritual traditions.

The gathering takes place at Centre of Excellence in Macoya and starts at 10.30 a.m.

Isese is a Yoruba word meaning Tradition. In recent years there has been a global push to reconnect with non-Western ideas of spirituality, and Trinidad and Tobago has been a leading part of that conversation through scholarly works and cultural exchange between Nigeria, Ghana, Cuba, the United States of America, Brazil and parts of Europe – all of which have seen increased interest and participation in African Spiritual traditions, specifically Ifa/Orisa.

Currently the local Orisa community is in a state of evolution. As the popularity of Ifa spreads, there are concerns about how this will affect our own traditions that have existed for over a century and have informed many social and cultural forms in Trinidad and Tobago.

This is a unique opportunity to interact with practitioners from around country, with a view to strengthening cultural and spiritual ties.

The morning session will include workshops in dance and drumming and a special panel to address questions that people have about Ifa/Orisa beliefs.

The afternoon session includes performances from Wasafoli, The Trinidad and Tobago Orisa Performing Arts Company and pannist Noel La Pierre.

The feature address will be delivered by Ifayemi Elebuibon, Araba of Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria.

Special tribute will also be paid to Elders of the Orisa community both living and passed on.

The event is hosted by the Council of Orisha Elders in collaboration with the Afrikan Heritage Village Committee and Afrika House.

Entry is free of charge.

Azonto Lessons

There is a pause when the lights go at 1 a.m. and the fan stops whirring. Until the generator shudders to life and the air returns to the room, the fan whirring reassuringly over your head again. In that pause you hear the world of other sounds that exist outside the electric drone. A neighbour’s child, the thunder of a storm making its way across the night, the dying moments of an evangelical service, a lone dog barking in the distance, insects whose names you do not know. The sounds of nighttime Accra are so familiar that in those seconds when I wake up in the sudden and unbearable stillness I get confused about where I am.

There are many moments of confusion during my time in Ghana. It is déjà vu for something I have not yet seen.

Excerpt from Azonto Lessons, a piece I wrote for this month’s issue of Caribbean Beat.

Read the full piece here

From Home to Home

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Ah went away
Ah leave and ah forward home
Ah forward to stay
Ah must see mih way
—Forward Home, Andre Tanker

You know that move? The one when the pressure from the drumming gets to be too much. When you feeling like your spirit might separate from your body. You ketch the power of the rhythm and it’s like your spine can no longer keep your body upright. You are water and fire and moving air. You are one in a crowd heaving like jouvay morning when you on that Savannah stage and the sun coming up over your Laventille hills.

Your knees buckle and you dip. Your arms end up on top your head—you can feel all your chakras open and the kundalini rising like smoke from some sacred fire burning inside you. Your feet do steps you never knew you knew. Your bottom is a republic.

I am outside the palace of the Asantehene in Kumasi dancing with a couple hundred other people I have never seen before. It is the day before the funeral of someone I do not know. I was passing by and heard the music and the combination of a riddim section and sweet brass was too much to resist. It’s a telling moment in this my first visit to Africa. I submit to a bigger force that has drawn me here. I submit to what Africa has done to consolidate itself not just in a vague way in my imagination but in the front of my mind.

I’ve seen a few different Africas in the past three weeks. I’ve seen the Africa you see on television. The one they want us to believe is the only one that exists. I’ve seen the Africa that made me want to plead with the gods of personal hygiene and promise to never take indoor plumbing for granted again.

I’ve seen the Africa of my imagination. The one that looks like home. That feels like I belong here. That I blend into and don’t feel like an outsider. And people who don’t question why a little black girl like me should be interested in the things that I am interested in. I have seen more Christian churches than I can count. And the fear on the face of the woman who accompanies me to witness a roadside ceremony that marks the death of a powerful traditional priest.

I have seen the kind of wealth that would make my uptown London friends feel like paupers. And discovered another level of pan-Africanism that we forgot that out little T&T that has given the world. Speak the names George Padmore and Henry Sylvester Williams and CLR James and Kwame Ture in some quarters and the air starts to vibrate with the memory of the contributions.

I have met Ghanaians who want to know what scenes Trinis really on. They want to know how come the T&T Government acted so shady in signing the gas deal that eventually went to the Chinese. They want to know if Trinis don’t want to deal with Africans, if they really believe the fiction that black people not good at business.

They want to know if we know that it is because their past President Gerry Rawlings came to Trinidad for Emancipation that the Door of No Return at Cape Coast castle was reopened and that every year people come from all over the diaspora to walk through that door.

Ghanaians pick at their wounds too. We talk politics into the wee hours. E-mailgate rubs up against a court hearing on irregularities in their recently held general election. We laugh on the outside at the colossal stupidity of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. But weep on the inside. At how we are still confronting the same post-colonial monsters.

We commiserate with the African Americans who have only recently discovered what we have known for 50 years—that because your leader looks like you it doesn’t mean that he or she has your best interests at heart.

I wish I could bring a few people from T&T to meet all the little black boys and girls I was hanging out with. The highly educated ones. The ones who do not feel the need to apologise for their blackness or don’t feel like you curse their mother if you call them African. Who understand that being sure of who you are isn’t a threat to anyone else’s identity. In fact, your surety puts you in a better position to contribute to forward movement.

When I regain control of my body and the music is just an echo, my spirit is dancing still. To the music of possibility. I wash off the last remnants of doubt on that same coast where my ancestors were taken away in ships. I left home to come home. And they welcomed me like I had never left. When I leave home to go back home, I hope the welcome will be as warm.

eintouandmecoast

Castle in the Sand

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fishingvillage

doorofnoreturn

intothedungeon

topofcastle

I wish I could give all I’m longing to give
I wish I could live like I’m longing to live
I wish I could do all the things that I can’t do
Though I’m way overdue 
I’d be starting anew

—I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, Nina Simone

 

 
At a bend in the road, you turn right at the University of Cape Coast and the sight of the sea is startling. Not just for the sun shining silver on its surface. The row of coconut trees makes me feel like I’ve fallen asleep and woken up on the road to Mayaro. And I know that somewhere far far away on the other side of the Atlantic, I’ve stood on the beach watching the same sun shining silver on the sea’s surface imagining what the coast in Africa looked like.

But now that I am here, there is a lump in my throat and a sense of dread building in my ears. Elmina is a pleasant enough fishing village. Some of the inhabitants are light-skinned, a leave over legacy from 400 years of ownership of Elmina Castle by the Dutch, the Portuguese and finally the English. They say they came here first for gold. But as we enter the Castle and begin the tour our guide says they were always on a mission to trade in humans.

We go down into the dungeons where the stench of centuries of human decay is still palpable. We go down into the belly of the castle to meet the noise of ancestors screaming out in agony. The roar of the sea is distant as is sun’s light. He shows us where the Governor would stand and select women captives to rape. He shows us the death dungeon with the skull and crossbones over the door where no-one came out alive. By the time we get to the Door of No Return I am plotting ways to escape.

Even as I walk here I am having that kind of out-of-body experience. This is not really me. We retrace the steps of millions of people whose names we do not know.  Who died here covered in the filth of others. Who suffered every possible indignity known to humankind to make others wealthy. The familiar weight of my bag, the camera in my hand. I focus on these things to protect me from the magnitude of what I am confronting.

To those who say it is time to forget I say that the stench of 400 years of human waste is unforgettable. To those who say black people should get over it, I say we need more than ever now to understand that enslavement is real and present and as much a threat now as it was 170 years ago. Some of us choose enslavement now. To material things. And people. And the god of someone else’s ancestors. And the drivel of politicians. And looking like someone else. 

We have the freedom to choose these prisons. Far from Elmina. Far from the plantations. Far from the stinking, fetid dungeons and ships, we choose to be shackled to death and decay. It is history but it still lives. The virulent strain of capitalism that runs the world right now will not think twice about reintroducing chattel slavery. And they might not ship us across the Atlantic anymore. But some of us don’t mind the cheap labour that makes our laptops. The sweat shops that make our clothes.

Some of us don’t see the connection between the material possessions that we crave that keep other people in grinding poverty. Elmina is Elmina. Elmina is also a clothing factory in Bangladesh that collapses under the weight of its own greed. Elmina is a mine in South Africa where police officers shoot to kill when the miners demand better wages and working conditions. Elmina is the scorn poured on trafficked women from South America in a police-run whorehouse in Trinidad.

Elmina lives and breathes and laughs in our faces. The dungeons are still full of the stench of our complicity in the enslavement of others for our benefit. I flee from the stench and the darkness. I run from the Door of No Return, hoping to never have to be there again. In that hot, dark place. Bent and broken.

With my modern mind that knows only freedom I wonder whether I would have survived. Whether I would have chosen death rather than face the uncertainty of the dungeons, the crossing, the plantation. Survival is a mark of defiance. I feel another surge of pride that I belong to them. They must have had serious belly. They must have been the bad-minded ones. I wonder if they didn’t long to join the sea’s percussion. Their bones the rhythm section for the waves’ endless bass. 

I feel another surge of pride that we made it. That the ancestors on whose shoulders I stand were strong enough to endure that Hell that I shudder to imagine. So that I can stand here now. Free as ever. In the light at the top of this castle. Watching the sea and longing for Manzanilla.

Ghana Roadtrip

John1010

Hurtling into Fanti country in a beat-up Benz with a wonky gear box, the potholed roads make us zig zag, narrowly missing kamikaze goats and African versions of maxi taxis. Women walking between villages with loads on their heads and babies on their backs and cutlasses in their hands. I’m on the way to a clinic in the middle of nowhere with a Trini warrior named Dr Susan Alfred from Matelot who trains young village women to become dental technicians.
Our young driver Sammy swerves in time to the Bunji I am blasting. What is this music? I say soca…He says ahhhhhh and nods his head.
Different vibe, same energy. Keeping us moving forward.

In the Dungeon

When you enter the final dungeon in Elmina Castle the stench is unbearable, as is the noise of millions of ancestors who died in agony or made their final journey out of Africa there. I felt like my head would explode so Eintou gave me guinea pepper and white rum to stabilize my Ori. The doorways are so very narrow, the final insult for those who survive the horrendous conditions to make the crossing is that you have to bend, practically crawl into the last dungeon. Even me with my less than fat self, had to hunch my shoulders in and turn a little sideways to get through the Door of No Return. The sea roared. Yemoja wailing across centuries. Through my tears I notice how much Elmina looks like Manzanilla.

Ghana in a Timing

RollinginGhana

Told you we ain’t dead yet
we been livin’ through your Internet
you don’t have to believe everything you think
we’ve been programmed wake up, we miss you.
they call you indigo, we call you Africa.
go get baptised in the ocean of the people
say reboot, refresh, restart
fresh page, new day, o.g.’s, new key

The Healer, Erykah Badu

 It’s as if I’m floating over my own body as this is happening. Like I’m not really here. In Accra, Ghana. In the heat and noise of an African night. Talking with Angela Davis. Yes, THE Angela Davis. Her afro still big and defiant, challenging the straight acceptance of weaves and relaxer. The words are tumbling out of my mouth and I feel jumpier than ten teenage girls in a Justin Beiber concert.  

 I am telling her the story of that time when I was in Cuba in 2000 and I met Assata Shakur who, like a runaway, had escaped to a freetown called Havana after the FBI decided that she was a terrorist. 

We bumped into her, Mariamma and I, on the last day of an international solidarity conference, the young people from all over the Americas seeking her out, hoping to get a glimpse of her. We were about to catch a train to go and see Che’s remains in Santa Clara and in looking for a quiet spot from which we could sneak out, ended up sitting right next to Assata, who smiled at us with the quiet dignity of one who is notorious and loved. I thought at the time and I think now: everything happens when it’s supposed to. 

Like this is the moment when I am meant to be in Ghana. In Africa. For the first time. Standing between my mother and Angela Davis. Two giants in the development of my personal and political consciousness. On the scale of life experiences and adventures, I think I would rate this moment in the top five. Second maybe to being born. I’ll allow myself this rather un-Aquarian exaggeration because I don’t know how else to process what I’ve been thinking and feeling and living for the past two days.

But it’s a wonderful confluence of life experiences against the backdrop of a conference hosted by the Organisation of Women Writers of African Descent at which my Eintou is presenting a pan. Yari Yari Ntoaso brings together women of African descent from around the continent and the diaspora to explore the individual and collective experiences of women as writers, as academics, as queer theorists, as troublemakers, midwives of a new era for young black women. 

In addition to the conversations on the panels and the conversations over lunch and on the bus to and from the conference, there are the moments with the volunteers. Young Ghanaian women. Who have the kind of beauty that you see on every street from Brixton to Kingston and everywhere in between.

 An unconscious kind of beauty. Hidden behind lace front weaves. Talking with them is what I enjoy the most. Their voices and their smiles and the spontaneous dance moves we break into at random moments in our conversations tell me that this is where I am supposed to be at this moment in my life. For no magical or mystical reason I am never going to be the same again. Places and people change you. Adding this experience to my life’s equation is no idle feat. 

I try to be reasonable about processing my feelings. Along the way I worried that I would have anticipated this too much and that it would either be disappointing or tragic. I cried with fear and nervousness and joy at every point of the journey from London, to Rome to Lagos and then to Accra.

When I finally got out of the plane and felt the heat and smelled the smells and heard the voices, I knew it was going to be okay. And a man behind me said “You are home.” And I looked about for the camera crew because it was just too much like a film moment to be true. There is no film crew following me but I know I really will never be the same again. 

Africa, this corner of it, far from being the home I thought it would be, is the place where I am even more comfortable in my state of being that unapologetic small-island Trini. An amalgam of things and people and ways of being. More than an African. I am a Steel Pan African. I am the product of survival. I am the reconfigured, reconstituted truth of globalisation. I am Anansi and Osun bouncing up Durga and Hyarima. 

Everything happens for a reason. And how it’s supposed to. In the right timing. African time. Not too early or too late. Just right. What else can I be but thankful.

First published in Trinidad Guardian May 18, 2013