Saturday, 31 December 2011
This I have learnt:
today a speck
tomorrow a hero
hero or monster
you are consumed!
Like a jig
shakes the loom;
like a web
is spun the pattern
all are involved
all are consumed!
Martin Carter, ‘You are involved’
Throughout December, commemorations across the world marked the 50th year of the transition of Frantz Fanon. His contributions to Pan-Africanism and insights into the psychological trauma imposed on the colonised by European imperialism remain relevant to our collective struggle to ‘free Africa’ and decolonise the African’s mind. As a revolutionary, Fanon used his psychiatry to articulate the “psychopathology” that must be overcome in the liberation struggle. In other words, the struggle for liberation must, in no small part, be understood at the level to which colonialism, as dis-ease (that which damages, and imposes an unhealthy condition) has traumatised the psyche of the colonised. Collectively freeing ourselves from this psychological condition is inseparable from the overall objective of Pan-Africanism.
Perhaps much is assumed when we talk of ‘collectivism.’ For one thing it might be assumed that all Africans recognise the psychological trauma that has been imposed on us by imperialism and colonialism. And therefore we all seek to be freed from this condition. Certainly, Fanon’s Black Skins, White Masks had the collective experience at heart when it examined the impact of colonialism on the psyche of the young Martiniquan boy whose contact with the French Metropolis (the white ‘man’) implied an ‘amputation’ of self, which aimed to ‘fix’ him (in a kind of a psychotic straitjacket) as a racially inferior ‘other.’ This is not Fanon’s experience alone. His self-reflections are not for individualistic indulgent purposes. Fanon’s deliberations are channelled towards the revolution that will liberate Africa and Africans. For Fanon no one is exempt from the responsibility of the suffering endured by any individual. As illustrated by Carter’s poem, ‘all are involved.’ Each of us make up the pattern, we comprise the whole. This is why for Kwame Nkrumah independence for Ghana was only a preliminary victory to the total liberation of Africa. Unless the whole is free, none is free.
But I think I have steered too far ahead. The first assumption about ‘collectivism’ may be that not all Africans identify with Africa. So when I speak of the psychological damage imposed on us by colonialism/imperialism, this might sound like an abstraction to many. It is to this ‘many’ that I dedicate my last Shout for this year. For some time now I have considered whether the many – the ‘masses’ are aware what ‘collectivism’ means as a force for liberation? I wonder whether the power of the ‘masses’ is merely political sloganising which has yet to be acknowledged by that veritable force? For if the people (the masses) are not aware of their potential, how so? And what will it take for this realisation – rather – this awakening of the masses; from unconsciousness to consciousness; from being masked by the self-annihilating extremes of cultural imperialism to becoming unmasked by recognising that Africa is not in our blood alone, but is our soul? I’d like to consider these questions with reference to Ra Un Nefer Amen’s discussion about Sahu men/women as an inherent aspect of Kamau tradition and the individual’s spiritual journey.
In terms of spiritual evolution, the Sahu are the majority of people who are yet to be awakened to attain the heights of Ausar. Ausar is the illuminated, the fully developed spiritual aspirant. Whilst Ausar ‘man’ is perfection, meaning completely awakened, the Sahu are in a state of, not quite darkness, but unconsciousness and therefore unaware of the their potential for spiritual elevation. On the Kamitic Tree of Life the Sahu Division of Spirit is governed by three spheres that together form a unit: Sphere 9 (Auset), Sphere 8 (Sebek) and Sphere 7 (Het Heru). These three influence the behaviour of the Sahu. Being lower numbers on the Tree of Life the Sahu division of spirit is dominated by animalistic tendencies (relating to emotions and sensuality). Here, the influence from the higher parts of spirit (spheres 6 through 1) that signify spiritual assent toward Ausar, are absent. The spiritual aspirant must work through the spheres to attain the heights of Ausar.
The influence from the Auset faculty (sphere 9) relates to our receptivity (the way in which we take in/consume information), gullibility (whereby the information we take in is not critically analysed but taken for granted). Here we are impressionable, in a state of spiritual slumber and we derive inspiration from role models rather than strive to be role models. If we relate this to Christianity, we would be followers of Christ, the sheep of his pasture. Christ is seen as the Shepherd whilst his disciples are considered sheep. Kamitic tradition posed that the individual proclivity was to assent toward Ausar - the Divine realisation of Self – God-in-man- that is, in Christian terms -being Christ- not merely to follow him. The power of collectivism needs to be understood in light of this because, as we’re told by Ra Un Nefer Amen, 5% of the world’s population control 85% of the world’s wealth (Metu Neter, Anuk Ausar, p.132). That 5% of the population, let’s call them the elite, know the power of collectivism which is why they rely on metaphysical idealism that gives power to a shepherd, or role models and celebrities whom we blindly follow (actually idolise) instead of cultivating our own divine consciousness. The Auset faculty influences us in terms of polarity, separativeness and opposition whereas the influence of Ausar is one that tends toward unity.
The Sebek faculty (Sphere 8) influences the way we take in verbal information – what we are told becomes what we perceive to be reality. What we know is what we are told to know; we need to hear it for it to be. When we congregate, say in church, and are preached to – that tends to be what we accept as reality; the external information is taken in by us without critical reflection. The Het Heru faculty (Sphere 7) influences our imagination. Images reinforce the ways we should react in given situations – it is a conditioning of our spirit. Although visualisation through the imagination can be used for success – for what we desire to be, it can also be used to set us up for failure. Images fed to us over and over are used to manipulate and control us, thus keeping us in a state of slumber, unable to rise to Ausar. An example is the increased number of TV Channels with programmes that feed us banal, spiritually deadening information. The countless channels give us a false premise of choice. But this choice is from one sedative to another. Programmes like Big Brother, Eastenders, I’m a Celebrity..., all the main stream News etc keep us entertained and sedated. We immerse ourselves in these programmes as if they represent reality. But truly they feed our animal spirit, which is a self-gratifying pursuit. In this way we are unable to perceive the essence of collectivism; for we alone are in this; satisfying our selves, indulging our individual personalities. We have no time, nor the desire to meditate because everything is external to us and at the ready. It is too much of a burden to delve deeper and deal with the ‘wretchedness’ of our collective condition. We cannot turn off the TV, stop and dwell in stillness and endure the humming silence. We must consume; extend hair, nails and lashes but never a hand to our brother and sister suffering while we stuff our lives with false images.
When Fanon writes that “every one of my silences, every one of my cowardices reveals me as a man” (BSWM,p.89) it is to acknowledge his personal responsibility for the well being of another’s suffering. For him God is not responsible for man’s hatred of one another. Again, ‘all are involved, all are consumed’. His involvement, my recognition of my sister’s suffering (being also consumed, being also involved) are examples of collectivism and the unity necessary for our collective liberation. When the individual transcends the separativeness of Sahu she begins the journey of spiritual elevation that will assent toward Ausar and her design in the pattern, her part in the whole – the empowerment that comes from unity. The liberation of Africa, and really the world - from the monstrous self-annihilating system that is capitalism and imperialism- will not come unless we start recognising our part in the collective.
To do this might mean experiencing the dissociation that comes from aligning oneself with Africa. As Fanon writes: ‘I was responsible at the same time for my body, for my race, my ancestors. I subjected myself to an objective examination, I discovered my blackness, my ethnic characteristics, and I was battered down by Tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetischism, racial defects, slave ships’ (BSWM p.112). The masses are not prepared to endure this weight of responsibility, if indeed they perceive it is theirs. The Sahu do not yearn for freedom, which has its dear price. The Sahu’s paradise is self-imprisonment. They live for the party to wind and dance, consumed by a perpetual ‘seeing and blind, hearing and deaf’ rhythm. But for Fanon, the objective examination was necessary and liberating. The mirror to which he turned did not completely shatter before him; the self-reflection set him free from false affiliations. He defeated the enemy within first and then steadied himself to fight the bigger war. He knew catharsis could be violent. He recognised that trance, possession and all those excitable extremes we associate with Africa and which terrify us are necessary for our psychological reconditioning for ‘this disintegrating of the personality [that comes from possessions], this splitting and dissolution [of the composite self], all this fulfils a primordial function’ (Wretched, p.45). This function is a liberating power that unites our soul with Africa.
The Sahu are not aware that they are in a state of trance (sedated) insofar as they cleave to habits, are slave to emotions and desires that permit them a ‘personality’. For the most part this ‘personality’, through memorisation (and as in a trance) is performed over and over until it becomes fixed. Therefore, as Ra Un Nefer Amen asserts, “spiritual cultivation from this perspective is a process of detrancing or dehypnotising consciousness away from the personality in order to re-establish the identity with the divine Self. In other words it is a process of awakening” (1994, p.88, my italics). For the Sahu to awaken, they must be willing to. So maybe if the people, the many, the masses, the Sahu do not recognise their power, it is because they do not desire to. For oblivion is a sweet seduction. The objective peering into the psyche is an unbearable burden. Muscles are too weak to be flexed for a fight that seems too far removed from their reality. The meaning of ‘mass power’ is lost on the masses because it’s identified as what the majority is doing. For example, the cross cultural majority watch Eastenders; the majority of African women wear weave, an increasing cross-cultural majority bleach their skin. And because the majority are doing ‘it’, the individual feels compelled to join them in the given action. Now if that alignment was for political mobilisation (as the various Occupy movements have attempted) then the people would assume the collective power to liberate themselves from oppressive systems.
As the year closes I pay tribute to the memory of Frantz Fanon and the work on Pan-Africanism he bequeathed to us. Though the amputation by European cultural imperialism was attempted, it did not succeed. For as he writes “with all my strength I refuse to accept that amputation. I feel in myself a soul as immense as the world, truly a soul as deep as the deepest of rivers, my chest has the power to expand without limit” (BSWM, p.140). That exhilarated feeling – from unconsciousness to consciousness – was channelled toward the African liberation struggle. Until the masses, the Sahu are prepared to take that self-reflective leap into the psyche and transcend the separatism, individualism and polarisation that Western culture promotes, the power of collectivism, of ‘all being involved’ will remain largely an aspiration of political mobility.
Monday, 31 October 2011
The invasion of Libya (and subsequent barbaric public execution of its Head of State –Muammar Gaddafi) by US and NATO is a perpetuation of imperialist aggression against Africa. Although some might choose to forget a geographical reality that Libya is part of Africa, the recognition of this reality is necessary if we are to fully activate the vision of Pan-Africanism and confront the forces of imperialism and neo colonialism. The recent experience of the ACCRA 25, which includes members of the A-APRP and CPP (Nkrumah’s Conventional Peoples Party) highlights the persistence of the struggle in Ghana and Africa generally. On the 21st September (which officially celebrates Nkrumah’s birthday) activists began a peaceful, legal march toward the US embassy in Accra to protest against the US/NATO led invasion of Libya. Ghanaian police swarmed the demonstration claiming that the march was illegal because the protesters had disregarded a prohibition order. 25 (hence the dubbing of ‘Accra 25’) of the protesters were arrested, taken to the police station in Accra before being handed over to the BNI (Bureau of National Investigation - Ghana’s FBI/MI5) where they were interrogated and detained overnight. Local and International pressure and the acknowledgement by the Ghanaian officials that the demonstration was in fact legal led to the swift release of the protesters.
A few things are noteworthy here. First –unity of consciousness, that is the Pan-Africanist ideology in action saw the linking together of various organizations and people from across the world who pressured the Ghanaian authorities into releasing the protesters. Second - this unity of consciousness identified the enemy as neo-colonialism and imperialism; for how else must we regard the response by the Ghanaian authorities when their interest of protecting Ghana/Africa and taking a stand against any form of aggression against its sovereignty should have been aligned with the demonstrators. Instead they sought to suppress an activism the like of which Kwame Nkrumah advocated and which led Ghana to independence. Third – and I’ll leave it here (though other conclusions can be drawn) the power of Social Media/Networking was instrumental in spreading the word about the incarceration of these freedom fighters. The significance of this is that activism and the Revolutionary impulses that we’re presently experiencing are taking on new forms which we must embrace. Facebook and Twitter will not seem so technical, pointless or cumbersome when we can use these as means of mass resistance, political education and organisation. But you don’t need to rely on these new forms of technology – forwarding relevant emails can be equally effective in participating in revolutionary activism. Still – we can never underestimate the power and impact of word of mouth.
How does the foregoing relate to my time in hospital as outlined in Part I of this Shout?
The battle over my body was fought during August the same time as the UK uprisings which was catalysed by the killing of a young African man Mark Duggan. I say ‘killing' because I’m tired of the euphemisms used by the IPCC (and the Media) in its claim of ‘independence’ from the Met Police: “it is regrettable that someone has died...” This death did not occur peacefully in his sleep or from any natural circumstance. This was the consequence of an assault; a confrontation. Mark Duggan’s death has the sign of an assassination (murder by design). But why might this be the case? The answer may be found in David Cameron’s words to parliament about ‘empowering the police,’ ‘fighting back’ and identifying the ‘face of the rioters’, about ‘supporting the victims’ of the uprisings. Undoubtedly Mark Duggan’s killing and the ensuing uprisings enforce the image of black (mostly male) youth as the prevailing enemy in our society.
To “empower the police” there must be perceived disorder and chaos (‘rebellion’, ‘rioting’) in society. That disorder must have its face. Who are the victims that will now be supported? Is the government really concerned about small businesses? Of course not! It is orchestrated so that the general population see themselves as the victims who are in danger of attack from black youth. Given that the general population (comprising the working and lower middle class) is suffering socially and economically from the zealous measures by the government, the creation of disorder strategically relocates the image of the enemy. In other words don’t blame your impoverishment, unemployment and disenfranchisement on the government - and its headstrong involvement in invasions into other countries – look over there at those young black boys -rather at black people including community figures like Darcus Howe.
The image of black people as enemy persists through institutions like the BBC allowing so called intellectuals like David Starky unwarranted airtime to vent his incendiary notions solely to add fire to fire. This puts us constantly in a reactionary position. Brazen persistent attacks and offences by Western Europeans have placed Africans wherever we are in a position of perpetual struggle whether we care to identify with it or not. This of course is not to disregard the fact that there are genuine social, cultural and economic deprivations that are impacting us generally and which were the underlying triggers of the uprisings. Cost of living is high; hiked university fees denies opportunities to young people, especially those in African communities; there is a severe lack of opportunities for young people (but also generally with whole sections of work forces being made redundant); public services are severely reduced (closing of libraries, community centres in areas with larger numbers of Africans – like Haringey and Hackney); public sector jobs (where a number of Africans work) are being drastically cut. Although the diabolical squeeze is felt by working and lower middle classes whether Africans or Europeans, the face of these problems culminating in the uprisings has been assigned to African youth.
So while I slept, London burned, but ever so briefly; enough time though to signal a stirring in consciousness. Starky’s comments are simply the code of racism – nothing new about it. This code is systemic in institutions like the BBC. Generally the British Media imposes unconsciousness – tells you what to think, how to perceive the world. In hospital I heard an African patient denouncing the ‘rioters’/’looters’, claiming that they were opportunists and should all therefore be locked up. Contrarily a European patient countered that the uprisings were the consequence of a lack of opportunities for the youth, working and lower middle classes and condemned the government for its blatant alliances with the banks. I am trying to show here that unity of consciousness as called for by Pan-Africanism will identify clearly that the enemy of oppressed and exploited people is racism, capitalism, imperialism and neo-colonialism. Those structures enrich the few through the labour and exploitation of the mass. Some of us may believe the struggle against these forces is outside of our present cultural experience, and therefore remote - in Libya, Iran, Egypt, Venezuela, Iraq, Congo, Ivory Coast, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, Brazil- an endless list of States impacted by the demonic tentacles of neo-colonial/imperialism/capitalism - and therefore has nothing to do with us. Some of us might think that the Mark Duggans, Smiley Cultures, Mumia Abu Jamals and Troy Davises of our world got something they deserved owing to erroneous criminal charges against them. But for me these are the conclusions of unconsciousness (that is not thinking or rather being seduced into thinking/accepting something that doesn’t make sense) which, empowered by governments to dominate the thoughts of the general public, the Media goes to all lengths to engender.
Thus it is that I have been considering my time in hospital amidst the period of ‘uprising’ in relation to Yaa Asantewaa in her exile and the woman in Revelations 12 who was forced into the wilderness. My body had been under siege (as a site of struggle) by a number of fibroid tumours for years. Though considered benign (in that they wont cause death) they are still harmful and mostly affect African and Asian women. Research about the cause is emerging but this doesn’t appear to seriously consider the specific causes of fibroids as they relate to African and Asian women. Diet is not a lone contributor; hormonal imbalances are also considered (your doctor may not relate this to you though) as causes as well as a stressful lifestyle. I can only allude to what may have caused mine – I have no accurate way of being sure. But removing them was an unavoidable necessity. After the operation to remove them risks manifested and ignited a deepening battle to preserve my life – and ultimately my regenerative function.
The regenerative function – that is life (rebirthing) – is expressed out of Love. Thus a body riddled with tumours can be said to reflect Love in stagnation. It is a body embattled (under siege), confused, stressed and un-liberated. The body has to be freed of limitations imposed upon it by these inhibitors of Love. I’m not here speaking about love in the reconstituted and false form pertaining simply to romance and sex. I’m speaking of Love as the driver of humanity; Love as the apex of spiritual evolution; Love as manifestation of the Universal and Creative Life Force. Full expression of this Love - in essence Divine Consciousness - is realised when its inhibitors are challenged and defeated. Yaa Asantewaa’s struggle against the forces of colonialism (inhibitors - oppressors, colonisers, imperialists) was borne of that Love (of her people and for humanity). The pregnant woman in Revelations 12 was pursued by inhibitors (Satan, the ‘deceiver of the world’ – capitalism, imperialism, neo-colonialism) of the Love she carried in her regenerative capacity. Love then as driver of humanity cannot complement oppression but is relentlessly pursued by such forces (capitalism/imperialism) that seek to destroy it.
This Love of which I speak is that of Auset when she challenged Set (an inhibitor, oppressor – our unconsciousness- reflecting our spiritual and creative dormancy) by collecting the dis-membered pieces of Ausar’s body. Her immaculate conception of Heru (rewritten in the Bible as the Mary/Jesus story) is symbolic of the conquering, transformative force of Love when actualised by Truth, Wisdom and Justice. This power of Love as the driver of humanity underpins the struggle for liberation against forces of oppression; for it was Heru - the son of Auset and Ausar -who eventually defeated the oppressor Set. Victory over Set was not easy. Heru and his followers were outnumbered by Set and his army. But Heru adhered to the admonitions of Tehuti (“Wisdom”). He became conscious that the battle against Set may be won only by his awakening consciousness, developing an understanding of spiritual intelligence and better organising his followers -his angels- metaphoric disciples that are faculties of spiritual consciousness.
In his book Metu Neter Anuk Ausar Ra Un Nefer Amen puts it this way: “[Heru’s] victory came from humbling himself to the intuitive guidance of the wisdom faculty [Tehuti] which is received through perfection in meditation, or oracles, or counsel from a sage. Intelligence has always defeated might and steel...Set will be defeated through truth, but one must stand up to him at all costs, and confront him with all means possible”(pg.151, my bolds). The African Revolution then requires an awakened consciousness that will in the fullest light direct our economic empowerment, social, cultural and spiritual evolution. Our collective activism toward achieving the objectives of Pan-Africanism underlies a powerful act and expression of Love.
Victory over the fibroids and comprehension of my purpose in the Pan-African struggle could not be attained without elimination and renunciation of the inhibiting factors in my consciousness. For that process of elimination would signal my readiness for Love- that my regenerative function was attuning itself for my rebirth. But it would be some time before my consciousness was thus awakened. After the fibroids were removed I was told there was an obstruction in my bowels which initiated the second operation. This obstruction and the resulting laparotomy compounded the length of time I was in hospital. Although the fibroids were removed, their mark of distress (oppressing my body) remained in the form of this obstruction. We recall here the wrath of the ‘great red dragon’ who pursued the remnant seed of the woman who had given birth to a male child (associations between this story and the story of Ausar, Auset and Heru are not strains of the imagination but a reality). In a similar way we may recall the slithery, vile and pernicious reach of imperialism and neo-colonialism aggressing against Africa. The struggle to restore my regenerative function I liken to the struggle to unify Africa; to re-member (bring its dismembered parts or body) into realignment. For this to manifest the objective of Pan-Africanism is paramount. Unconsciousness has to be replaced by consciousness and that consciousness has to become unified. The UK uprisings lacked unity of purpose, and therefore the organisation to make a more significant impact that we could identify as revolutionary. But small steps build pyramids.
Becoming conscious requires elimination/renunciation of redundant ideas and experiences; the relinquishing of harmful emotional and psychological experiences. A bowel obstruction can be said to express an unwillingness to release and let go those harmful experiences that entrap the emotions and psyche. This hinders spiritual development and that awakening consciousness that would enable ascension to the Divine (God within, not without and abstract) through the route of love. For it is Love that opposes oppression; it is Love that must be born (as Heru) to challenge ‘the great red dragon’ (Set); it is Love that must defeat imperialism, capitalism and colonialism in the revolutionary struggle for the unification of Africa and the saving of humanity.
So I was prepped for a third procedure, which I had seriously considered was a signal of my demise. But I chanted to the Creative and Universal Life Force and all my ancestors to relieve me. The result was that I didn’t have to have this third operation after all. We all exhaled. I have had to relearn everything as though I were a baby again. But I give thanks for everything; for the Love all around me without which my body would now be mere bones. I have scars; physical, emotional, psychological. But like Africa, remapped, divided and desecrated the struggle of my rebirth continues. And I know that day will come. Heru will defeat Set; the Red Dragon will be destroyed. The precision of my rebirth was marked by the birth of my grand niece on my birthday 16th October. This for me is a wonderful sign of life’s perfecting rhythm through which I feel most humbled and truly blessed.
Monday, 17 October 2011
Momma yenkafo no eeei,
Yaa Asantewaa eeei,
Obaa basia a oko aprem ano eeei,
Obaa Yaa eeei!’
A mere woman
Who fought against the cannon!
The Woman Yaa’)
Folk Chant as homage to Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa
I was told that I would be in hospital four days following the operation. It had taken over two years for me to decide to have the operation but by now I felt assured that I was in good hands (Divine Order). Instead of four days, however, I remained in the hospital for four weeks. Complications from the first caused me to have a further operation. My immune system became severely compromised (it didn’t exactly break down – I was on a drip and unable to eat or drink for three weeks) for which reason the medical team insisted I have a blood transfusion (I had instructed that this should be given only as a matter of life or death). I wasn’t dying but my haemoglobin had fallen way below the level at which they would normally transfuse (my cries of resistance now seemed futile and irrational). As well as this, my wound became infected and had to be opened to release inflammation.
Due to the severity of the infection and the discovery of yet another internal obstruction it was decided that I should have a third procedure. By this time my family and friends feared I might not make it. In truth when I was told about this third procedure I felt that some greater force was seeking to utterly destroy me; not satisfied that the two earlier/major operations had failed to do this. My chanting intensified. I called on my family to add their prayers and chants to mine – rather I needed them to intensify their support -which had so far been remarkable- in uplifting me. Early one morning I was prepped to have the third procedure at which point psychologically I felt I was about to complete the battle with an unrelenting enemy. It would be a final confrontation out of which there could only be one victor. Who would be the victor and what “victory” would mean to me is what I’m hoping to express in this Shout. To do this I will consider the story of Yaa Asantewaa whose name I have claimed as a cultural realignment with my ancestry. I use her story to link some issues upon which I’ve been reflecting since coming out of hospital. These relate to my spiritual development (rebirth), my renewed commitment to Pan-Africanism as a stance against racism, imperialism, capitalism and neo-colonialism and my activism in the revolution which objective is to dismantle these oppressive, dehumanising forces and thus to further the cause of humanity.
Most of us know the legend of Yaa Asantewaa. Her death is recorded as 17th October 1921 so in honour of the 90th anniversary of her transition this very day I will briefly outline her story for those who might not be aware of this remarkable African warrior and ancestor. Queen Mother of Edweso (Ejisu) part of the Asante region of Ghana she led a war (otherwise referred to as ‘rebellion’) against the British Colonials who sought complete dominance of the Asante Empire. This war (1900-1) was the last in a series of such wars between the Asante and Britain throughout the 19th Century. It is also remembered as the last war in Africa to be led by a woman. Having seized power of Kumasi, the Asante capital and exiling its King Prempeh I and other members of Asante government, including Yaa Asantewaa’s grandson, Edwesohene (Chief of Edweso) Kofi Tene to the Seychelles, the British demanded the Golden Stool which symbolised the soul of Asante.
This brazen and offensive demand by Frederic Hodgson, the British governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) incensed Yaa Asantewaa. She wondered why members (men) of the Asante Government were allowing Hodgson airtime to insult them by his facetious demand when instead they should be demanding the return of King Prempeh. She declared that where the men exhibited cowardice, contrary to the fighting spirit of Asantes of old, like Nana Osei Tutu I she would rouse other women to fight the British and thus liberate her district Ejisu, Asante generally, its King Prempeh and her grandson from their exile. Her brave campaign lasted a year before she was captured and also exiled to Seychelles. There she died on October 17th 1921. Prempeh I was repatriated to Kumasi in 1924 whereupon he later negotiated the return of all exiled Asantes. Yaa Asantewaa’s body along with others was exhumed and returned to the Gold Coast in 1930 where she received a royal burial.
Following a trip to Ghana in 2002 I adopted the name of this remarkable African woman who sacrificed her life for her people. At the time I didn’t know very much about her. I was born on Thursday, like Yaa so the adoption made sense. It would take me several years later to register a spiritual precision in our birth and death. I was born on 16th October. My name was changed by Deed Poll which was signed 9 years ago on 17th October 2002. This was not a deliberate convergence. I was not aware of her birth and death dates when I chose the name – just about the campaign she led against British Colonials – which was for me inspiring enough. It might be considered coincidental but I prefer to see this as an intuitive activation, a spiritual vibration that signalled the poignancy of my rebirth. Thus more than a symbol of patriotism, resistance, liberation and womanhood, Yaa Asantewaa for me also represents continuity and the incarnatory vibration of struggle. This vibration of struggle would see Ghana achieve Independence in 1957, the first Sub-Saharan African country to do so. Yaa as (earth – “Asase Yaa”) mother, as warrior, as freedom fighter metaphorically birthed a son of revolution, Kwame Nkrumah. The significance of this is that her exile to the Seychelles didn’t halt the struggle for liberation.
The return of Yaa Asantewa’s body (remnants of her spirit one might say) to Ghana in 1930, the same year Nkrumah had completed his theological studies, symbolises a re-memberment of the struggle not only for Ghana’s liberation but that of Africa. Nkrumah pursued the struggle for liberation with a new emphasis – Pan-Africanism. Inspired by the ideas of Marcus Garvey and others he called for unity of all Africans, diasporic and continental for mass organisation and politicisation which movement would confront and ultimately defeat the forces of imperialism and colonialism. This Revolution as underpinned by Pan-Africanism calls for the participation of the mass without which it carries little force. Thus it is that Nkrumah declared that, "all people of African descent whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any other part of the world are Africans and belong to the African Nation." Nkrumah called for the creation of an All-African People’s Revolutionary Party - as we find in the A-APRP - which was realized by Kwame Ture, amongst others in 1968 and which continues to activate towards the liberation and unification of Africa and its people. The party also works with other organizations committed to the freedom of all oppressed and exploited peoples across the world.
Yaa Asantewaa’s body then (as depicted here, emaciated and frail) can be regarded as a symbol of struggle and resistance; as Africa under the siege of colonialism. Metaphorically I also relate her story to that pregnant woman in Revelations 12 who was pursued by the ‘great red dragon’ - her pregnancy being a symbol of rebirth, renewal, freedom, the emergence of self, transformation of society, liberation (awakening consciousness)- in essence the battle for humanity. The ‘red dragon’ by which the woman was viciously pursued I relate to the evil hands of imperialism, capitalism and neo-colonialism clutching at every corner of the earth to destroy humanity. Like that woman who had to ‘flee into the wilderness’ whilst a battle ensued between Archangel Michael (“and his angels!” – support from the mass) and the Devil (“and his angels” - forces of oppression/exploitation), Yaa Asantewaa was exiled whilst Ghana remained a site of struggle for its independence. This was achieved when colonialism (‘the great dragon’) ‘was cast out’.
But the story didn’t end there. The last verse in Revelations 12 writes: ‘and the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed.’ An indulgent interpretation sees this ‘woman’ (and therefore Yaa Asantewaa) as Africa (by extension the oppressed world) and the ‘remnant seed’ as Africans who are perpetually confronted by the instruments of racism throughout our lives and the forces of imperialism, capitalism and neo-colonialism (incarnatory vibrations of the ’great red dragon’) which continue to blight our reach toward self-determination.
TO BE CONTINUED: you’ll have to wait for the second installment to hear how I relate the foregoing to my time in hospital which will be posted at the end of the month.
Thursday, 30 June 2011
“Give me my heart. Let it pump again life’s power in me, infuse my hands and feet with spirit. Give me my heart. Let me rise and walk.”
Awakening Osiris, Normandi Ellis
Love: a Regenerative Power
Love, some say is dead or near it. Modernity has meddled with our capacity to fully express our love. Technology has seriously compromised tactility; we touch and swipe screens, not each other. Persisting wars, marking most of our lifetimes is antithetical to love and a vital sign of an overlying disconnection with love’s regenerative power. Daily images of destruction (degenerative power) are paraded before us; of bloodied or blown apart bodies, distressed peoples, particularly children, abstractedly clinging to some strand of humanity to stop the violence and madness; bombs explode like fireworks at a festival and the media reports on it are orgiastic. As a sign of how advanced we are in warfare, unmanned fighter planes with unmemorable names bounce through Syrian skies like models on their catwalk. Confrontations and struggles against enemies are fangled commodities of terrorisation. Terror, not love is en vogue. Something of the heart becomes desensitised by these images, and our tears remain coiled in their ducts. Yet against the emotional tyranny of destruction the heart yearns to be reacquainted with its purpose; tears crave the slow journey from their ducts down the contours of the face, slipping into our mouth for us to taste the salt, sweetness and pain of genuine love. What follows here is a gentle whisper drifting towards those hearts in search of deepest love as the regenerative power of their aliveness.
constructive and degenerative and therefore destructive (1998, 205-7). In other words fire is both positive and negative. Modernity, technology and persisting wars are symbols of fire in the Western world – relating to rapid progress (of a kind), ‘restlessness,’ ‘radical consumption’ and ultimately ‘death’ (literal and metaphoric). Fire in this context is expressed negatively. When expressed positively, according to Somé, ‘fire is the element that keeps people connected to their purpose and to the world of spirit.’ Fire in this sense ‘emerges as vision, dream, and intimacy with the ancestors.’ It is in this context – the exploration of fire as the ‘warmth of being, creativity and life’ – that I present an interpretation of Ausar's’ plea for the return of his heart. Ausar, being symbolic of Divine Consciousness, of transcendence, of elevation, of the risen, the crown chakra - in short the GOD WITHIN PRINCIPLE, which is the source of the regenerative power of love. The expanded consciousness embodies LOVE; for it KNOWS itself. It HONOURS its power, its creativity, its purpose. It does not hide or refracts from the responsibility to PROGRESS through love. To love is to live, to embrace and perpetuate the boundless beauty of our universe.
The heart houses the ethereality of love – love of course is not tangible. The eye would strain to see it physically; hands would eternally ache attempting to touch it. Yet love emanates. We know of love because its power electrifies when fully expressed or ignited. The light of love can be blindingly manifested in some people. They radiate it with ease and serenity it’s impossible to walk past them without absorbing its force. If modernity has not restricted one's capacity to be still you will be still and pause there, basking in love’s manifesting radiance. And how sweet, how beautiful that moment. And how painful too because a distant memory now pervades your being; you ache to relive some mythic height that once was part of you. The breath of life stirs within you. You feel newness manifesting. You feel pristine – as though you have just emerged from some dreadfully long sleep, or from the depth of the ocean onto an untouched island. You have arrived as if you’re the first to make impressions on its beauty, marvelling at the whitest, cleanest sand, the bluest water. Palm trees shimmer gently against azure sky as if to realign your heart to a slower beat; “the struggle against the tide is over; you have emerged; take it easy; breathe; let go,” those palms are whispering. Thus Ausar knows his need of the heart as the pump that will ‘quicken’ his rebirth, releasing him from sleep, dream and death. His desperate plea then is to feel, to experience creativity; it is to splendidly live again.
really isn’t it; that the stuff in our lives is not the substance of life. Such a reflection remains at the level of the unconscious and is a silent ritual. Our preoccupation with contrivances (the stuff in our lives) is a kind of mantra or meditation – our focus is misaligned. That negative fire-the rush toward some apparent need to satisfy some apparent lack – (which is overconsumption and distraction) allows us little, if any, time for Self reflection. But reflection is necessary if we are to be alerted to the deadness of our spirit. Consequently we exhibit creative dormancy and the debilitation of Self. Put another way how conscious are we that we are spiritually asleep or dead? What time do we give to understanding the matters of the heart? And if we attend, even briefly to such matters are we properly freed from the burdens of our present and past? Because a superficial study of the heart cannot reacquaint it with its purpose – that is as giver and sustainer of life and the aspect through which we experience the beauty and abundance of genuine love.
Create it, then live the dream
it is possible to live without love in our lives. But that would vex the soul, would be a devilish deviancy within community and ultimately a pernicious disregard for humanity. Love is greater than those burnt-out relationships we cling to as though life was still there. Love is not fear but freedom. Love cannot express under the weight of our bitterest experiences. Those have to be cast aside or out like the demons they are; though you naturally accept that they have vitally shaped your life and contributed to where you are now. Love is not demanding; it is not control of another’s will to love, nor is it CONTROL of any kind. It is not a heavy chain by which our emotions are unwittingly dragged through extremes. Love is the power that unlocks that chain. Love is light. It does not hide for fear of discovery. It is creative power, a bareface dream - or leap. And like a flower unfolding from its enclosed posture during the night, love awakens the woman/man in you. You must be ready for this, and yield. And once love has freed you thus it requires you to make some hard choices. For love has led you to a crossroad. This is necessary for the perfecting of our journey. Here we might wish we were apportioned two lives but that would never do because love has a rhythm that is natural and precise. No matter how painful the decisions love has brought before us we must attune ourselves to that rhythm rather than force the recreation of another, which would be an offbeat. With back arching and poised like a ballet dancer ready to make an exhilarating leap, our breathing steadied we must dare to dance down either side of that crossroad. And that without looking back or returning there to the unforgiving past, worn out experiences - and lest like Lot’s wife we freeze in that posture for eternity.
Love’s rhythm is the spirit of our aliveness variously expressed as: an intensity of physical attraction/connection; electricity hotting an impromptu embrace; a sudden readiness to expose the soul; an extreme, almost irrational urge to protect and nurture; the meddling memories of teenage affairs and adult indiscretions; a sense of falling into something unknown but being unable to stop it or flying fearlessly through different worlds or swimming in deep waters; crippling vulnerability; memories of past hurt, either as instigator or receiver; an emotional pendulum of bitter sweetness; haunting melodies from your subconscious captivating current mood; a desire to start a new life; beginning a new life in reality in some entirely new place; surges of passion opening the sacral chakra; acute awareness of the delicateness of the heart; dialectics of spirituality for signs that connections are precise – that what is happening, how it’s happening, the force with which it is happening was written; standing at the top of stairs suspended in the air with a voice you know is ancestral whispering - ‘hold tight’ and ‘don’t be afraid’ - 'go for it! Trust'; the simultaneity of assurance and uncertainty; happiness then fear - that way round – and then fear then happiness as the emphasis alternates confusingly; combustibility, rather the possibility of imploding from the intense energies surging through your body. The rhythm fades, the chemistry dies through our lack of will to good - which is eternal. Love is after all not a wasteful, idle thing, but a powerful alchemical pursuit. It is the becoming, the knowing of self; the consistent flow of regenerative energy.
Tuesday, 31 May 2011
The search must be sincere and profound; the spiritual querent committed to the simplest or most extreme demands of the outcome. There is a still space within each of us that can be accessed in the quietest moment of contemplation. When we have stopped or at least paused long enough to tap the interior door of consciousness. To avoid psychical meltdown, consciousness requires this slowing down, pausing or stopping to advance us spiritually.
This meltdown manifests in various ways relative to current social deprivations and depravations. Depression, psychotic breakdowns, spiritual and cultural vacuousness are subtle forms of a kind of madness caused by an imploding society. An example of what I mean – we were told earlier this month that following “actionable intelligence” of his whereabouts US Special Forces killed Osama Bin Laden and to respect his Islamic tradition buried his body at sea. “Justice had been served,” President Obama reportedly said. Was this assassination a judicial practice? If there was so much respect for Bin Laden’s Islamic tradition why was there such disrespect for our perception of justice?
Now - if you faithfully believe in the system, in the literal meanings of things; that all alleged criminals had to be given a trial because not only the Law but humanity dictated it, how do you respond to this blatant violation of said belief? You are expected as if it’s a movie to suspend disbelief whilst staring mindbogglingly at a released image of Obama apparently watching the ‘unfolding mission’ of Bin Laden’s killing. But this is not a movie and that vital suspension of disbelief – if you run with that course- precipitates the onset of madness. No amount of headscratching can explain what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing. It’s befuddling and you little realise that you are caught in the matrix of insanity. If, however, spirit forces you to acknowledge that what you’re seeing/hearing is madness and you fight it you have missed a real opportunity to advance your spirituality.
A kind of madness is also evident in that reluctance by some of us to realise that Obama’s complexion does not make him less Capitalist or Imperialist. He is seductive because he’s not dumb sounding, nor seeming like Bush but his intelligence alone should never have been trusted. He was never my Messiah because I am not looking for one. To hail him as such is to voluntarily imprison my spirit and thereby relieve me of the profound and sincere responsibility of the search. That profundity is necessary because my spirituality is not a wilting modicum that is satisfied by religious dogma, zealous Sunday sermons or masterly political orations. Obama is a ready-made muse, a sort of accessible one-for-all, with that smile that charms (if it yet does not sicken) and those words that mesmerise (if they yet do not frustrate). The seduction was easy because as Africans the familiar messianic trap (from the time of the Maafa) was thrust before us – some God is always descending, expected, arriving from outside of us to bring light and lead us out of our miserable darkness. And now that many of us accept that the white image is untenable we look for it in the black. What is transferred is the belief that our salvation is the responsibility of someone other than ourselves. When they deprive us of this what is our recourse? Some of us will never reach the point of asking this question - so steeped are we in the matrix of insanity.
When we stop or pause long enough to contemplate our place in the matrix I think something extraordinary happens. And embracing this ‘extraordinary thing’ is both a perceptible calling and salvation from that psychical meltdown. It’s a way of keeping your head when those around you are losing theirs through the persistent pressure of peering out. Embracing this ‘extraordinary thing’ I’ll simply call awakening the God/Goddess.
The serious querent searches because the spirit is tired of the mirage and its psychic grasp leaning you toward meltdown. They know there is more to Self but are not certain what it is. In one of those pauses when the still space is accessed the spirit speaks. The language is not complex but it is intuitive and might only point to some unexplainable notion, some vagueness of thought that we need to engage further when we return from that still zone. We cannot remain in that zone, but we’ve dipped in long enough to touch something or be touched by something that requires a further push. Presently it is superficial – the spirit is weary that the querent might not be ready for the fullness and withholds the totality of potential mystics. Some of us remain at the initiatory stage – that first touch- because the push toward the deep already reveals too intense a commitment –it feels more like a pull; like some greater, invisible force directing your movements counter to your will. But the push, your giving in to spirit, affirms your readiness for the depth of revelation.
It is not always possible to identify how or why the search began. Sometimes it comes at the end of something – or at the point of its rupture. Trauma can force us to the interior space we’ve avoided all our lives. A feeling of disempowerment or realisation of spiritual deadness might be the catalyst but whatever the reason once we’ve embarked on this path we should keep journeying towards that fulfilment. For now the God/Goddess is awakening. Spirit might reveal, as an example, this God/Goddess to be the dual principle of Yemaya Olukun. Yemaya, contracted from ‘yeye emo eja’ – meaning one whose children are like fishes, in Ifa represents the Mother of creation, Mother of the Ocean, the symbol of motherhood and fertility. When paired with Olukun this becomes a deeper expression of a power that resides at the bottom of the ocean. The name Olukun is likewise a contraction that fully refers to the owner of the oceans and symbolises a persevering, stern, majestic force that complements the nurturing, forgiving capacity of Yemaya. The ocean we might see as a physical expression of subconsciousness from where springs creativity.
Initially you might not recognise or be able to identify the God/Goddess principle in this way – as Orisha. Furthering the push might eventually lead you there. But there has been an intuitive activation; the spiritual landscape is now open. There is no doubt that what you’re feeling is real. Your head feels light. You feel possessed by a quiet, yet demanding power. People randomly tell you that “you’re amazing” though you cannot see how or know why. But you are bursting with a remarkable aliveness which has evaporated foregoing trauma. It’s a secret, delectable sweetness that no politician, no pastor, teacher, counsellor, doctor, friend or lover has fed you. The awakening God/Goddess is a reclamation of your power. And it is all yours. There is but one crucial consideration –this reclaimed power will last only as long your readiness to make the serious commitment to meet the simplest or most extreme demands of spirit.
Sunday, 24 April 2011
For those lost lives not forgotten but whose names are too numerous for an epigraph
Anger has to be regressive. It otherwise consumes the heart and stupefies the mind. But how do we respond when we hear about another victim of police heavy handedness in enforcing the law? Some might sit and sigh – shake heads and exclaim ‘how sad!’ Some of us will feel so enraged that sitting and sighing won’t alleviate that vigorous pounding in our hearts. We feel compelled to do something. Some will have an acute understanding of the experience because of the recent killing of their son or brother or husband, uncle or sister or mother or daughter. And by recent I mean as close as the experience is to their heart. But will it revive their anger and frustration? For a moment - maybe. But anger burns energy and the time for it has long past. The tirelessness of those campaigning for justice shockingly against the police is durable because their anger has regressed. In its place, action, will, determination. Spirited action and the conviction that they will succeed, however long it takes, however tiresome the fight or mightier their opponent. And if some of us are not angered or stirred to action this does not mean we do not empathise. But the lack of action or expression of empathy can cause some of us to make sweeping and confounding remarks, which this Shout hopes to address.
Contrary to a floating view that some of us only attended the march on 16th April because it was for Smiley Culture, for me it was because I was yet again faced with the memories, none more harrowing than that of Joy Gardner nearly twenty years ago and other deaths committed by the police throughout my lifetime in this country. My sister because her son had been arrested by police and forced to do community service for committing no crime whatever. My 22 year old niece because she wanted to be part of a collective committed to bringing change to her generation. I wonder whether the suggestion is that we shouldn’t act/protest in order to avoid the accusation of bandwaggoning or misguided idealism. I make no apology for participating in the march last week, whatever my reasons. If some of us are considered guilty of acting out of some fabricated and belated concern how then must those who did not participate in the march be judged? Should we consider them more righteous because they didn’t choose to ride the Smiley Culture bandwaggon? Should we denounce them as exercising nothing short of wanton apathy? Of course not. Everyone does “their thing a little way different” and within the timeliness of their own convictions.
Smiley Culture’s death has given the cause another profile because of his status, this is true, but the march called attention to the reality that deaths in police custody have for too long perpetuated with impunity. It highlighted that figures of victims alarmingly accelerate whilst the police responsible retain their liberty at our taxpaying expense. This freedom not only means they are above the law but that they are empowered to commit these inhumane offences again and again – in the name of the law. What this calls for is for every one of us to be at all times vigilant.
Last night I observed two policemen exercising their stop and search powers. They’d pulled over a black man; he seemed to be in his forties. His was not a flashy, sportsy car; if anything it looked like a family car (I’m useless at naming the models). Although I kept walking I was same time trying to observe what was happening as I have so many times done when I see police handling brothers. The man was being cooperative as far as I could tell; stressing almost jovially that he had wanted that particular model of car as opposed to the latest, but the policemen weren’t appealed by his light heartedness; after all he was ‘suspicious.’ They were instead seriously trying to find some kind of criminal act on his part. I continued my journey, sensing that the policemen might not get the satisfaction they craved from the guy, who seemed far too relaxed – and if I could stretch the thought- familiar with what was happening to him.
About an hour later I was speaking on the phone to a friend when he started railing at someone for rushing up to him. I thought it was a road rage moment with some random other driver. He was asking the other person why they’d approached him so aggressively when he was sitting in his car talking on the phone – that is he was emphasising that he was not committing any crime. It was then I realised he was talking to the police. They were asking him if the car was his (again, it was not flashy, nor noticeable). He told them it was. They were challenging his every word, which was heated because he couldn’t understand what they wanted from him. There have been a lot of guns and gang problems tonight so we’re checking everyone out – I heard them telling him. Fine – he responded, but why have you approached me so aggressively, I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m sitting in my car having pulled over to speak on the phone, minding my own business. They then said there was no need for him to be speaking to them the way he was (heatedly) when they were only doing their job. A beat of silence, then my friend asked them if they were going to arrest him or what to which they said no and left. Not before shouting after him “and don’t do it again.” My friend, enraged, yelled back at them “do what again?” but they had driven off. He was so vexed that we didn’t speak much more after this. But before we said limp, frustrated goodbyes he said that when they were pressing him he started to doubt himself, wondered if he had done something wrong; maybe he had started to speak to me (on his mobile) before he had pulled over. It took effort of will to be confident he hadn’t done anything wrong. Part of his anger was owing to the fact that a female relative had recently been assaulted by the police. The bitterest part, however, was that the experience was in his psyche causing him to repeat a few times before hanging up that "they’re starting this thing again."
Is it seriously possible that we’re seeing a resurgence of police over exercising their powers discriminatorily against black males? Would that not seem to frustrate our demonstration last week and the many isolated, low profile campaigns across the country? It reminds me of something I heard Robert King one of the ‘Angola 3’ say when he recently visited the UK. Asked whether they had support from any high profilers (celebs) to free Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox (the other two ‘Angola 3’) from further enduring solitary confinement in the US penal system, he said this: he believed the cause was best supported by ordinary people at the grass roots; he knew for a fact that the night Obama was elected a number of random arrests of black men were made as a message that nothing was going to change – the (white) man was still in charge. So rather than a resurgence I would say that the excessive use of force, killings and harassment of black people (mostly men) by the police is a perpetuation of a wheel in motion. Hence the march was also for the most recent custodial killing of Kingsley Burrell Brown in early April.
To be vigilant then is to ‘keep careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.’ After I hung up the phone to my friend I replayed the scenario and saw that his life could have easily been snatched from him by those policemen. I would have heard the killing on the phone but who would believe it -even with the evidence on our phones? Those policemen (read vigilantes) would still walk free and I would know they were guilty. The IPCC would be called to investigate – welcomed in fact by the police to do so – and yet the men who had killed my friend would be acquitted. The wheel in motion perpetuated. What faith can we have in the IPCC when they’ve not secured any conviction for a policeman involved in the death of someone in their custody? There is no faith in the IPCC because it is impossible to know precisely what makes them independent from the police.
At the march a sound call was made by Sean Rigg’s sister. Sean was another victim of police brutality – killed whilst in their custody in 2008. His sister through trembling, tear choked voice asked why it was that with CCTV cameras everywhere there wasn’t any in the backs of police vans. Why don’t they record their ‘busts’/’raids’ as a matter of course? It’s a rational call given that the numbers are mounting on both sides – policemen are being accused of offences which they deny and young - mostly black men are dying in suspicious circumstances whilst in their custody. Video evidence would be used to support either side to give the public assurance that justice is being properly and fairly served. It would also whittle out wheat from the tares. Surely not all policemen are deserving of Smiley’s cockney translation from “Ole Bill” to “Dutty Babylon.” But can I seriously say that to the families who are frustrated by a system that since the horrific hounding and eventual killing of David Oluwale as far back as 1969 has been so wicked, corrupt and unjust.
It will be noted that I make a bold assertion with the title and constant references to ‘killings’. To refer to these as ‘deaths’ is a euphemistic play on words for which now is not the time. After all, we’ve been told that Smiley Culture ‘killed’ himself. That means a ‘killing’ took place. Like his nephew Merlin Emmanuel, whose dignity and composure as the family’s spokesperson is commendable, and other members of the black community I cannot accept the scenario given by the police. We’ve been asked not to jump to conclusions until the outcome of the investigation. In other words, we’re expected in the meantime to accept the account given by the police that Smiley stabbed himself through the heart whilst he was allowed by them to make himself a cup of tea. We must accept this insulting account whilst allowing the police time to embellish their story. This would take some doing though – rather like trying to polish a worthless piece of diamante to see it if might magically turn to diamond.
To the comfy cohort who raise the argument that Smiley was on a drugs charge I ask whether this vindicates his killing by police. And is this drugs charge punishable by death? A charge does not mean guilt. That is for the court to decide. What in any case does that alleged charge have to do with the present incident? I am reminded here of the crucifixion of Jesus – a David, an Emmanuel whose people told Pontius Pilate (symbolic of the Roman system) to go ahead and crucify him. Our march last week represented the root of ‘vigilance.’ It was a kind of ‘vigil’ meaning ‘a period of staying awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch.’ To that cohort who condemns our actions we say that’s your right - for while you criticise and sleep we’ll keep vigil for your sakes as well as ours and future generations who deserve to live freely with dignity and without fear. I walked behind a friend whose shouting vigorously and passionately summed up our feelings about what we’re protesting against: “HUNDREDS OF YEARS WE BEEN HERE AN’ DEM STILL AH PISS PON WE.” To that we say resoundingly enough is enough.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Just look at you
barefoot and free
me to see
your full face of pride
that I stand beside
The Red Brick
knows no way
to drum your dreams
and seems so silent
though a troubling pitch
of noise screams -
Rippling my miserable
compelling me to rise
from sleep’s wanton
to talk much less
and for god sake do
For Olive Morris –International woman
Certain admissions are woefully embarrassing. But the honest heart must attend to them in some way or other. Must be nearly two years now that I’ve had a picture in my house of a sister I hadn’t until now attempted to know. So why is she on my kitchen wall? She must have put herself there – at least spiritually. I did the physical action of printing it out along with other pictures of Black icons in the seventies and laminating it - this was for a ‘decades’ party I was having. After the party I kept her there – not through any kind of laziness – she just seemed to belong. She’s smiling beneath Marsha Hunt – ‘big fro... lil fro warriors’ is the caption I wrote. I didn’t even find the picture myself. A sister emailed it to me saying, ‘I had to forward this to you as Olive Morris and you so resemble...it’s a good resemblance to have as she was a warrior sistah,’ My reply was ‘thanks. My skin’s crawling.’
Spirit knows the significance of vanity on a feeble conscience. But it’s always a matter of time before the divine purpose of a connection is manifested. I didn’t take time to look for Olive. It seemed enough to parade her on my wall, utterly pleased at the physical resemblance. People would ask, confusedly, if it was me they were seeing. And I wouldn’t properly reply, I’d giggle - idiotically almost, basking in something I didn’t comprehend. Who was this woman? If they asked me her name, I really couldn’t say. I didn’t feel embarrassed that I couldn’t explain who she was; that I didn’t consciously register her name after being forwarded the email. The resemblance seemed to me to say all that was necessary. How shamefully wrong that was.
After the last Shout, which privileged three brothers it’s as if I felt her spirit straining for some of that – or the same. What about me – she was saying. Don’t forget me. The picture on the wall began to take on new life, pressuring me to look for, not simply at Olive. The purpose of those two years hence connection was manifesting. How many times had I driven past that building in Brixton where she has been memorialised? But on discovering this, something still bugged me about how little she is known. I don’t know if I’m saying that the building isn’t enough or whether there’s something too silent about it – maybe something missable as well as missing there. Online entries about her note unspecific birth and death dates – ‘1952-1979’. But when exactly? I needed, for some yet unfathomable reason to know the precise dates. I kept searching but every entry was thus limited and it annoyed me. I know the annoyance was probably more at myself for my belated interest.
I determined to visit the Lambeth Archives where I was sure I could find her exact dates of birth and death. That place – which houses archival material about Olive – was snaky to find. My heart was drumming as I drove round and round, knowing with each mistaken turn (no sat-nav in my beat up banger) that I was so very near to finding Olive. Once there, I was overcome with that satisfied feeling of achievement. The effort mattered. Two boxes – one they couldn’t find without some tumbling up – held images and recordings of a life briefly lived. My eyes lit up – this seems pathetic now- when I noticed a passport because I was determined more than anything to know how specifically brief that life was. Olive Elaine Morris was born 26th June 1952 and died 12th July 1979 after completing almost exactly 27 years of life. I breathed.
The life was brief but full. It expresses that utmost urgency of spirit that is beyond the weights of gravity. She was on spirit side from time and so utterly fearless. That’s what we see in that barefooted feature – some spirit up in the face of human oppressors. The warrior weapon is her voice – an unbounded one – whose pitch and dramatic soprano held accented Jamaican notes. The adorable lyrics of that line crucially said everything about what she meant. How do I know how she sounded? It is simply that the loudspeaker is still sounding: ‘stop police Nazi activity in Brixton’ shouts from one of her flyers. The leaflet highlighted the systematic harassment of Black youths in Brixton following one of the many Notting Hill Carnival riots. That harassment persists in differing signs.
One of the photos in the archive - and there are so many that depict snatches of a full-on activist’s life – is particularly grievous. It is 1969, Olive looks mashed up – you can see the ashy skin even though the image is black and white. You notice still a troubling smirk escaping despite the ordeal. She looks much older than 17. The picture was taken at Kings College Hospital following a police assault. At the back she found it necessary to inscribe “taken at about 10pm on 15th Nov ’69 after the police had beating me up.’ You’ve read the verb correctly – that’s exactly what she wrote, ‘beating...’ Why struggle to find the past tense of a verb for which the action is perpetual.
Yet there's an image that delighted me – made me smile someplace surreal - one where Olive is up in the face of two policemen. The veins in her neck are straining as if she’s attached to invisible chains pulling her in the opposite direction. A white woman is watching, as others are, stunned, silenced by this warrior’s unrelenting will.
On 14th March 1986 she was honoured with the naming of Olive Morris House in Brixton. You will have passed it many times. But I don’t think that if you’re now compelled, as she has made me to really look for her that’s where you need begin. Spirits don’t remain where they’re buried - in cold coffins and tombs. Memorial buildings tell you that they’ve once lived but hardly say for what and how. And if you’re really curious to know why so brief the life and for what purpose it came, perhaps you’ll have to be ready like Elisha when Elijah was mystically caught up and had to leave behind the prophetic mantle.