23 January 2014

Habla Ifa, On NonViolence: Avonte Oquendo and Oshun's East River Speak - Part I

*originally posted by Jadele McPherson, a writer, performer and activist whom I'm proud to call my sister. Reposted with permission and slight edits by myself

Part I: Moyuba. Invocation.

Chills come over me when I hear the news. They are pulling him out of the river, limb by limb. Indeed, it is Avonte Oquendo. Ibae bayen tonu. Despair and grief never rocked my 20 to 30 something peers so much, in the thralls of beginning our own families and burying relatives young in their cause and others whose transitions leave us in awe of their breadth of work. Eyiogbe a divination sign in Ifa/regla ocha (aka SanterĂ­a) "speaks" of elders and people of great position transitioning to pure spirit; we lived this energy in the year 2011 as well, though this year the sign comes to us with Olokun and Yemaya as the reigning "deities" or orishas of the year. This sign of the year is divined by Ifa priests in Cuba and the U.S. and gives warnings, precautions and advice for initiates and followers of Regla de Ocha to observe throughout the year. 

Olokun Yemaya representing the oceans down into their depths a metaphor for searching for understanding in the mysteries etched into this planet.

This news, of finally finding Avonte Oquendo's fate today 1/21/14, the young 14 year old who went missing from his school on October 4th 2013, whose remains began to surface yesterday after a young photographer saw a left arm bubble to the top of New York's East River waters-- like many other tragedies are difficult for many to understand, and like many times I've written to share a Lukumi lens which helps us to open possibilities that are hard to read upon our eye's first glance. The Earth and God always speak to us through mystery and in life we know we are not here to make sense of everything we experience. From atheism to "mono"theism to indigenous practices we find reasoning, yet as science and intellectual rigor drive our fast paced technological world we are becoming societies no one's God will want to claim.

To receive the news after nationally honoring Martin Luther King's legacy seems no small coincidence to me as we collectively ponder the legacy of non-violence and social movements, many have asked "How far have we come?" "Does non-violence play a role in our lives today?" These questions are there yes, but ones I don't spend much time racking my head with. We are after all living legacies, blood relatives of those who created those changes and by nature's accord represent legacy and progress in our mere existence.

Today we segregate ourselves, by great luxury and privilege granted by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements that empower all people of color, by those who engage in social justice work and those who do not. And I have felt this is silly for much of my 20s when long after graduation fellow classmates of color took paths in finance or law or business or "unrelated fields" to the academic and artistic paths that have become synonymous with activist work. As if. There is a choice now, while no other black generation had a choice, sure how radical or what your politics were were choices, but that things must change not for a few of us, was simply put on the table. How quickly things change.

Just like in college, now most radical commentary and discourse seems to focus on calling out instances of white supremacy and of the establishment oppressing those of African descent and the institutional mess that is America. We focus too much on oppressors today. We give them so much energy it consumes the best of us and we do not study our indigenous incantations or herbal remedies that can refuel an entire village if performed correctly. Those engaged with regla ocha and African religious practices are incredibly segregated and many of us waste our rituals and secrets battling online about ritual protocol and bashing each others reputations. Those actually engaged in social justice work have somehow become a minority in our community, and yet others who work to dismantle institutional "-isms" that negatively affect communities of color are then too tired to throw a tambor and simply don't have enough time to help every person who may have read their book or know who they are. 

The reality is that we are drained and we are too few. Many warriors and thinkers of the previous generations are going home, so sick and tired, but not without hope and their magic they've left to incite us all, while others of us fill our bodies with toxic foods and air, when to think about food justice and exercise just seems like another "task" rather than a practical, holistic approach to life. I, myself, often wonder, 'how in the hell will I have time for myself in such a worldhow will I find balance in a system that perpetuates exhaustion in us all?' Running a theater arts collective, writing, producing community projects and developing as a healer and artist take up most of my spare time but nonetheless I often get texts from loved friends letting me know I am selfish or from those seeking spiritual help in regla de ocha frustrated at my rescheduling or others upset because I have missed their shows. It ain't easy being a 2014 professional-daughter-lover-friend-healer-revolutionary-artist-black-woman. Ay Dios amparame.

Time and time again I have had to say Maferefun Eggun, Maferefun Obatalá. Prayer is strong but if it were not for the secrets of our indigenous Yoruba knowledge fostered through this Afro-Cuban system of healing, I would either be brainwashed or so sick and bitter I can't even ponder that path. Then I have the nerve to be an akpon, a ritual singer who's job is to clean others bullcrap with my voice and incantations, such a beautiful path yet met with resistance at every turn. I have handled the adversity with grace by the light of the lives of my ancestors, they are stronger than most living people I encounter, and for that I am very grateful. After all, I've made my choice. Holistic spiritual self is the only armor I can fathom for this life, and while money comes and goes and I don't have a single career path, I forge magical in-between spaces. Ahi na' ma.

But how can we move through the grey together? How do we provide holistic living to our people in such demanding times and how do we keep motivating one another to carry the torch to create a more just society as each previous generation has done whole-heartledly and selflessly? Si se puede.

We need classes in basic spiritual baths free of charge, and organic produce in our schools and work places, we need live music on our lunch breaks and rooftop garden breaks to disrupt 12-14 hour days. We need 6 weeks of vacation minimum per year, and free quality university education, we need free health and exercise clinics alongside rehab and detox ones in the 'hood; we need poetry, dance, song and required racial equality courses at every level of our educational and professional lives - and yoga and reiki for our bodies and spirits, and of course being the Afrodescendants we are, a good tambor on the weekends to lift us in our purpose.

And we need our schools to stop being graveyards and pre-incarceration training grounds.

Part II will be posted Monday at 10 a.m. PST

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