Thursday, 23 August 2018
August in celebration of African Spirituality: Mami Wata Makeover, Osun Day of Love and The Outdooring ceremony
I had planned to do these articles separately, but being whooped by time I’m collating the experiences which I hope will express the richness of a special August in celebration of African spirituality.
Mami Wata Make Over (Sunday August 5th)
At some point during my travels to Guyana last year I had the idea to do a makeover as Mami Wata. I believe it had something to do with feeling the presence of this Sacred Divine Energy everywhere as I travelled, but especially when, as part of the Diaspora Engagement Conference activities, we visited the Pomeroon (river). The dark (black) waters in Guyana have a magical (mystical) essence, which I know terrifies many people. In my minds-eye I kept seeing this large, fierce entity/power rising out of the waters as though vexed and arching itself for an enormous gushing that would be cataclysmic. It was foreboding and some part of me thought it had some environmental, ecological signal attached – and maybe not least because I’d written a short story called ‘Mami Wata and the President of the Republic’ with this element as the theme. Yet, the arch appeared like magnificently large arms that could clasp and comfort. So I didn’t feel afraid of its magnificence and enormity. Instead I boldly leapt into the water when we reached Adel’s Resort, part of the Pomeroon excursion. No one joined me – some thinking me brave, others thought I was crazy. I’m no strong swimmer, either. So although the water was so beautiful and cooling I could feel that the current was too much for me. I was sailing beyond the resort too far into the open Pomeroon. I struggled, heart racing, to swim back – against the current. It was hard. When I reached safety and frantically climbed out of the water, I now understood the fear people have of the great Guyanese waters. In the stillness of my heart I heard a voice say – ‘be careful’ and I gave thanks to Mami Wata – for I knew that voice was that power communicating with me and I knew too that it was there to protect me, not to bring me harm. So began this journey of appreciating this power. Even as I write this from memory of a year old experience I can feel the same duality of fear and love commingling in the forces that comprise Mami Wata.
It has taken me too long to acknowledge my relationship with Mami Wata. Born in Guyana, where African based spirituality is retained in one aspect as Komfa, the Mami Wata or Watermamma had to be the basis for my developing spirituality. Ifa – the Yoruba tradition dominates for a lot of reasons in the diaspora (not so much Guyana, admittedly), but my initial quest for expressing my spirituality came through the waters of Guyana. It was in those waters that Africans shipped there during their enslavement by Western European imperialists recognised that Mami Wata prevails as a universal pantheon of water spirits. Africans venerated the force through ritual offerings and bathing in the waters. That is, until the enslavers placed sanctions, literal as well as socio-psychological on those retentions from Africa. Guyanese would now merge their practice with Christianity – in the main – in the various denominations and relegate Komfa (or honouring the Watermamma) to a backdoor, secret, hidden and ambivalent place, where it largely remains.
It was a watermamma who gifted me to my mother in a dream she had prior to my birth. She accepts this now. I wasn’t the only one; she says all her children are ‘gifts.’ Had she been in Africa and mentioned the dream to some conscientious spiritual practitioner they might have advised her what to do about the ‘gift.’ But the ravages of enslavement and colonialism and the yet unrepaired damage to the myriad cultures and traditions from Africa that survive meant that she just didn’t know what a watermamma gift child was. In her late 80s she is appreciating those spiritual gifts of her own she has taken for granted. For she also now recognises that she too is a child of watermamma – having seen her in her dreams many times and made promises to her she never kept. She knows not everyone would understand her evolving spiritual awareness, particularly as relates to powers like watermamma. That bothers her, and like many of us may be the reason she avoided the practice; she didn't want to be called “Komfa lady” or "obeah woman." I on the other hand... here I AM boldly acknowledging that this stage was set pre-birth. The moment I acknowledged a connection with Mami Wata – as the Sacred Feminine Divine that has been ‘there’ from creation I realised that the misunderstandings must be partly to do with a general lack of awareness about the ways we have been led to interpret our relationship to cosmic forces, spiritual phenomena and material reality.
Long before researching Komfa and African Spirituality, I heard so many tales about people seeing ‘fairmaids’ (as they call “Mermaids” in Guyana). The tales were always terrifying – that this half fish, half woman would leave trinkets (combs, mirrors, money) by the sea and claim for herself anyone who collected these as her lover or children and refused to return them when asked, say in a dream. She would also lure people into the sea to live with her and punish (as far reaching as death) those who disrespected her calls. I tried to recreate this interpretation in my novel, Something Buried in the Yard:
“I never tell nobody about a time I nearly drown. She nearly drown me…was me, Ross Myers and Prince Douglas. A day, early morning, we get way to go swim and ketch crab…That day we ketch plenty crab. Hide them behind a rock sticking up by the sea edge till we done swim. Sun was just coming up. Ross and Prince ducking in an out the water and I a lil way from them watching them cause I frighten to duck under water. All at a sudden, I feel something pulling me down under the water. First I frighten but then I start feel so light like I floating and I hear a voice…say open yoh eyes…I open them and see a woman direct in front of me. She skin like Sunrise mud and shining like it have gold dust sticking to it. She eyes blue like how my grandmother eyes blue…hair thick thick, shiny and look like gold clips stick on to it. It long long and floating and spread out in the water. If you see how the water clear the more down you reach. She smiling and I start smile too cause is a nice feeling as yoh going more down. She have on a blue dress. It see through and flouncing in the water… then she ask you want to stay here with me…you want to stay, live here with me…I have gold here see gold enough here for you and me…”
This is from an elder, an ancestral spirit (narrator) in the story reflecting on his youth. He never returned to the sea, because he was afraid of the ‘fairmaid’ (watermamma). He never made promises to her and suffered a lifelong injury to his leg which he related to his experience. Firstly, I was trying to show here that our elders have a responsibility to speak to us about their spiritual experiences which often repeat themselves without us, the next generation, being aware of their significance. The result is ambivalence and fear about something which should rather be embraced with care and better understanding about its generative and regenerative function in our lives. Secondly, by elders I mean also those from the continent with wider understanding of our traditions who recognise the retentions in the Diaspora and could educationally help us to advance our cultural and spiritual awareness in practice. Instead, I have been quizzed about my practice – stinging questions like ‘who gave me permission to invoke Mami Wata’ when I was intuitively urged to connect with the force. The same for my decisions to do rituals at the river – which I had been doing long before being conscious about Ifa: ‘who gave me permission to go to the river’ was a recent question I was asked as though I needed permission from some authenticating guide. The question about being initiated often surfaces as well – as though this too gives authenticity to one’s practice. If we, in the diaspora wait for authentication from practitioners in the continent by giving us permission to practice what comes natural to us we would not only exhaust our spirit but compound the systematic and deliberate attempts to deny our vibrant spirituality which has been the consequence of our contact with European imperialists. I am unapologetic about my practice, knowing as I do that my intention is to know myself, to align with my purpose and to utilise the forces at my disposal to bring into manifestation my highest good. You see, for me, African spirituality has a revolutionary impulse that begins with the individual’s attempts at self-transformation. Except for the marvellous spiritual mentors that come and go and from all walks of this life, the greatest authenticator I need is my Ori – my divine consciousness.
The Make-Over then was made possible because my friend Katherine Nanena, a professional makeup artist loved the idea and leapt at the chance to do it. Kathy made the crowns, the costumes, the jewellery (making use of oyster shells and the shells of muscles). She body painted me blue, and did golden swirls along my arms – her aim was to make me appear beautiful. I am woman and fish (or of the sea). My offerings include, decorated combs, mirrors, powder, perfume, soap, pomade, jewellery, precious stones, money, food (cornmeal, dry fish, stewed kidney beans, watermelon), sweet drink. The pictures, taken by Ateinda Ausarntu capture the serenity of the entire experience. It was one of the recent scorching hot days. We started working from early morning ending early evening; together we gently, determinedly brought the power of Mami Wata to manifestation.
Embraces for Leah, my niece for safe travels and for Kathy as thanks for her kindness. One too, not captured for Ateinda for his good heart.
We visited the river we usually go to do our Osun ritual. There was a stillness in the hot air – I knew those provocative questions about ‘invoking’ the energy would prevail now more than before. I knew too that it was not necessary to fear anything that attempts to deny this power from being present in my life. If anything, I found the experience calming. I knew it was a power I was prepared for - had been preparing for, unconsciously my whole life. Her manifestation would be gentle – embracing us who accept her – and commanding us to know ourselves and to recognise our sacred beauty, grace and power – that this is about our connection and trust in our Divine Call to Consciousness. So – as the song by Victor Uwaifo goes “if you see Mami Wata oh, never you run away. It really makes no sense running from one’s self. If you are a Mami Wata child it’s easier to work with the power than against it. The Power after all is within you, seeking to work through you for a greater, though often misinterpreted good. The image inspired Juanita Cox to share her piece about Mami Wata which you can find on Way Wive Wordz website.
Opening to Spirit: Osun Day of Love (Sunday August 12th)
Another of the many water deities retained by Africans in the diaspora is the Orisa Osun – a river force. It wasn’t necessarily planned to do a back to back honouring of these forces but that’s how it happened. This time it was open to anyone who wanted to attend. We would go, as we did last year, to the river and make our offerings to Mama Osun. We were connecting with the Oshogobo Festival for Osun that takes place every year in Nigeria (as a Yoruba cultural event). The expected numbers we put on Eventbrite was for 100 people of which 92 registered; about half that actually came. It is possible that the threat of rain –if was forecasted – might have kept some people away. Yet, the rain, trickled, but didn’t fall or pour – thanks to our prayers to Oludumare.
The call was simple: bearing in mind that there can never be too many occasions to draw on the power of love as represented by the Orisa Osun, we wanted petitioners to come with their offerings and invite the energy into our lives for betterment. Betterment and transformation from general lack, health issues, trauma, financial burdens, impact of social deprivations and self-doubt was the intention. This Orisa, who through her cooling, sweet waters has the power to bring love, healing, joy and abundance and bless us with fertility – literally and figuratively through the imagination and the Will to create was beautifully embraced by us on that blessed Sunday afternoon.
We worked together harmoniously as we prepared our offerings - sharing what we had brought (including our growing knowledge about the Orisa) with each other. We made sure we offered some of what we brought to our ancestors and to Baba Esu – this force revealed that our ritual would be wholly successful with the four sides up divined by the Obi (Kola). We also gave some water and flower to the Orisa for herbs Osanyin – that flower emanated the essence of Mama Osun beautifully. Our white cloth was worn for peace, unity and sacred harmony with Mama Osun. Attendees came from near and far and represented Africans from different diasporic areas not just London. We were blessed with young children, a new born baby and one on the way too, elders and young in rhythm and unity.
We had made up a chant from one of her prayers: “Iya Mi Ile Odo, Ile Mi Ile Odo; O Bi Ni Sa La Ma A Wo E.” Like Mami Wata in the same area exactly a week before, Mama Osun manifested and embraced everyone with the love and healing light. The day was super special, faces bright and at peace. It was also necessary because there is a growing urgency to celebrate and honour our progressive and positive traditions without apology and we are responding to the call with pride in small but significant ways like this experience was. The more we try to break away from the psychological repression that has for so long prevented us from embracing our spirituality the easier it will be to realise its inherent power and what this means to our private and collective healing. Our transformation begins with us acknowledging the Divine within ourselves and working with this power.
THE PRAYER TO OSUN
Hear me Goddess Osun
I speak to you from the energies of the Egungun
Iya mi ile odo
O bi ni sala ma a wo e
Your River ripples resonate love that can travel
It speaks in its vibration with a sound so natural
The sound of your flow is the equivalent of how love tastes
You're life and the energy behind love's gates
I seek to feed you, but not just because I need you
But as I study life, I am aware I still need to read you
You swim in my spirit
Communal love is what I exhibit
So hear this lyric vivid!
I feed you grapes
And hope your sweetness never escapes
I feed you yam
To satisfy your smile to get with this program
I feed you plantains
To let you know I bring no pains
And that my name brings a sweetness that warms inner flames
I feed you melon so I can use love as a weapon
Brought to you in the form of a Moral lesson
I feed you sugar
So my love is pleasured with vigour off the richter
I pour perfume
So the blossom of love will surely bloom
And not hide under a costume
For you will smell love in the room
Which originates from your womb
I feed you peanuts
So my love doesn't trip over like a klutz
but nibbles daily at perfection no ifs, ands or buts
And just so you know when it comes to love I won't whinge
Let this sweetness stem from the offering of this orange
There is the giving of the coconut
For I know the love you manifest cannot easily bruk
Your spiritual gifts are traditional in its strut
Embracing the drink of wisdom not by luck but destiny
For I know our sacred secrets are sought by our enemy
So may only your wisdom of heart be sent to me
To do work on this life odyssey
Accept my sweets
And may my legacy of love live on through my receipts
And not decease, but be my release of
Of Joy, Harmony and Peace
And lastly let these flowers
Help me bring love back with everlasting powers
So Ubuntu can be ours
Iya mi ile odo
Iya mi ile odo
O bi ni sala ma a wo e
O bi ni sala ma a wo e
To the great Osun who does us many favours
My offering is one I am sure has been in many prayers
But as I live life in love I know I need to peel back many layers
Help me bless myself with love,
so it's strong when I distribute it to my neighbours
I honour the river you flow in
It is your energy I want to glow in
For when it comes to love you're the all-knowing and forever showing
Your stream of serenity centers me
Bringing me purpose as it enters me
I give you this offering so you may consume love
And provide an energy of love that no one can shove
I thank the Egungun I can speak to you Osun
Bless my words
and my actions will be a manifestation of how your miracle occurs
Hear my words:
Iya mi ile odo
Iya mi ile odo
O bi ni sala ma a wo e
O bi ni sala ma a wo e
(My mother's house is the river. My mother's house is the river. All powerful one. Women who seek safety visit her often)
Written by A. Awoyemi (C)
Poem inspired by Dr Michelle Asantewa chant to Osun the River Goddess of Love!
The Outdooring: naming ceremony for Mosiah (Saturday 18th August)
Yet energised from our Mami Wata Make Over and the Osun Day of Love I joined Nana Kofi Adjetey Kuto – also known as Brother Sankhara to perform the naming ceremony (or "outdooring") of Mosiah Prince Jamaine Okello Pinder a week later. His young parents, the mother particularly, wanted to have this ancestral rite for their baby, despite the challenges facing many of us when we try to incorporate our tradition as a real practice in our lives.
Finally, leading up to these events, I shared extracts from a poem called 'As Bright As the Morning Rising' – a piece commissioned by sculptor Fowokan. I share it here for the vibration sums up my feeling that if we prepare ourselves with love, integrity and unity of purpose we will know when…
“...She is coming
earth rendered and
hurt healing so
deep scarred but
her poised lips
an untrained sensuality
lain long and alone
in the silent memory
She is rising
like potent prayers
bellowed from belly
to the hearts
Oh but she comes
with that graceful gift
of sweetly sown
and brings not simple hope
spirited from the
bosom of eternity
life not wars
She is rising
she is rising
beaming her face
She is dawning
a long time lost
but now made new
blades and resplendent
of unencountered journeys
She is rising
And I chant
in the hidden secrecies
of her eyes
And I cry
And I call
for unfolding mysteries
that will take us there
to the perfecting of peace.
She is coming
sounding from her heart
the subtle untangling of keys.
From The Awakening and Other Poems