Friday, March 25, 2011
On Ancestors: "I will reach back and draw them into me and they must come. For at this moment I am the whole reason they have existed at all." -Cinque, in the movie Amistad
Eight months have passed since the opening of the Culture Center at Brain Tree. After completing the story of the grand opening, I felt like my blogger days were over. Or at least I was hoping. After the trip to Uganda, I was exhausted. Depleted. Burnt out. Blogging was the last thing on my mind.
Now I am being called to tell the stories of the past eight months. How am I being called? Through people who want to know. Through my environment that is so creative, symbolic, and suggestive. Through the light of the last full moon that reminded me of an ancient African tradition honoring life. The moon will forever remind me that "We are stardust. We are love. We are united. We are one."
When something wants to be birthed, a fire is ignited. This type of fire transforms into creation, creation of a new life. Like the Culture Center at Brain Tree. It helps too, when you are a conduit for creation; you intuitively know when it is time.
Africa has taught me stories don't disappear. Stories wait, sometimes not so patiently. They can easily wait for eight months. Sometimes they are put on hold due to sickness, modernization, or denial. They may be forced into hiding, but they are there. Waiting. Sometimes to the bursting point. Danger arises when after being unspoken for too long, they are forgotten. The elders that came to Brain Tree last year to help with the Culture Center were so full of stories. Uganda breathed a deep sigh of relief as tradition was given voice. It's as if tradition had been forced to hold its breath for too long a time. Once the elders started telling stories, they couldn't stop. It was like oxygen to the flame. CPR for the cultural soul. A spiritual resuscitation.
An interview with one elder is waiting for me to edit and publish into video format. The old Muzeeyi told me the story of how the village of Kyanja got its name. He may be one of the only people alive who knows that story. It's locked inside my video camera waiting to be set free.
If a story is silenced, it doesn't die but instead turns into something that may cause problems. Like a needed wisdom that remains hidden. Or like a fire, that instead of being tempered, rages to the point of combustion.
The first sentence in the book "The Africans" by Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui, PhD is "The ancestors of Africa are angry." Angry? Yes, because as the west and religion have moved in over the years, traditions are lost, ancestors forgotten. Mazrui says the process off modernizing Africa is a process that includes 'dis-Africanising Africa'. The stories need to be told and the ancestors are to be given their respectful place. When they aren't, they get a little upset. Whether one believes it or not.
I believe it. They won't be angry on my account.
What I do know is this: I've been given great appreciation for most of the positive change that has come to Brain Tree. I won't deny gratitude or my participation in the creating of that positive change, so I simply say 'welcome' to every 'thank you' I receive, a 'kale' (kahlay) to every 'weebale' (waayybahlay).
Being thanked gives me pause to remember the countless friends and supporters who also do good for Brain Tree. When I trace all the goodness back to its origination, there is no end. That's why my praise starts with the ancestors.
The gratitude logic goes something like this: I'm thanked for helping Brain Tree. I wouldn't have known about Brain Tree if it wasn't for Martha Mukasa. If it wasn't for Martha's Aunt and Uncle giving her a place to live when she arrived in America, she probably would not have come. If it wasn't for the American Consular who approved her visa, she never would have gotten on the plane. If her family members didn't scrimp and save for the $100 that paid for the consular interview, she would not have had the interview. If Agnes Mukasa didn't start Brain Tree in 1994, none of us would have been given the opportunities to save children's lives and educate them. If Ssalongo Lule and other village elders didn't approve of a new school, Brain Tree would never have started. If my mother didn't follow my father out to California when he tried to escape from domestic life, I would not have been born. If not for the courage and/or desperation of my Italian and German ancestors who spent countless days and nights on rickety old ships that sailed across the Atlantic, well, who knows.... And so it goes.
I am grateful to everyone. I appreciate and honor the ancestors. Without them, none of us would be here. Their wisdom lives on when we open ourselves to it. The ancestors have the wisdom and we have the means to use their wisdom for good. We exist because of them, and without us, there'd be no reason for them to exist in the form (or lack of form) as they do. Today I honor those who have come before us and realize that by doing so, I honor and acknowledge a mutually supportive and sacred relationship.