Somehow, despite the atrocious Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and the onset of chattel slavery in the New World where there were systematic attempts to eradicate our spiritual beliefs by the colonial powers that prevailed, there remains vestiges of our cosmologies encoded in our African unconscious, surviving the Middle Passage. Africans in the Diaspora—those of us removed from The Source—accept that there is another world outside and above our own: one of the spirits. We call them by different names; and despite geographic and contextual cultural differences, we, African peoples, know that sometimes the two worlds—spirit and human— meet; and its inhabitants interact. So, when preparing for my dance, part of Monica Marin’s installation for the art exhibit at St. Croix’s Landmarks Society’s Whim Greathouse Museum,
I knew that I was going to have an encounter with this other world. I accepted it…with much trepidation.
Just prior to this life-changing experience, I stood under a quite impressive tamarind tree (under which ‘jumbies,’ or spirits, live, according to Cruican folklore) contemplating what was about to happen. I cried, though I am not the crying type. As the drumming started, I approached the northern entrance of the building, said a little prayer, gave homage to my ancestors and grabbed some soil (a little ritual that I often do). I entered the Greathouse.
The actual experience inside the house is sort of blurry. I remember dancing. But aside from a few faces, there is not much else I can say about what had happened that day. My focus was on getting through the dance. I remembered my yoga. I had to focus my breathing—it kept me “there.” I knew that if I did not channel my breath, I would lose it. When I was feeling almost completely overwhelmed, at the threshold of there and here, I had to abandon the dance and run out the house. All that I have left to say in this regard is that there was an increasing sense of urgency to leave the house in order to keep my self present. I ran. I was gasping for breath. I was crying profusely. I was heaving. I needed badly to vomit, but I could not. My head was in a whirlwind. My friend, a Ghanaian national and fellow dancer who is familiar with “spirit communication” if you will; and another friend, this one an American who is an initiated Yoruba Priestess, were there attempting to get me back. I had armed myself. They put water on my head and on my feet while they tried to console me and usher me back into full awareness. I do not know how long we stayed there, but I know that when I did come to, I felt as if I had been traumatized. I was.
Then there was the immediate aftermath. (For additional insight into the dance, one will have to refer to the video or get first-hand accounts from those who witnessed it). I knew that I would never be the same. I could not speak. I had the physical ability, but the words could not form. I was in shock, I guess. To contextualize it in Western psychological terms, I think I was suffering from some kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At this point, people were congratulating me (although I did not quite understand why), while some were whispering and pointing. Everyone wanted to ask questions. One of the other artists, whose husband is from Cuba and is very familiar with these things, said very nonchalantly, (so I was told) ‘Oh, sé monté…,’ meaning I was ‘mounted.’ Someone else asked me ‘Well, what Orisha are you?’ I felt, and to some extent I still do, like a curiosity. I realized that although we acknowledge that there are spirits and such, because of our present Christian orientations, we have suppressed it. We exist, as our ancestors did, in this dichotomous place where we straddle our Western socializations and our African orientations, our feet planted in both. That day I seemed to have brought the unconscious toconsciousness—well I and whoever or whatever was there with me.