Dangerous storms of ignorance
by Jerry A. Enriquez, Amandala, April 10, 2016
Reprinted with the Permission of Jerry A. Enriquez
In 2005 and 2006, when we were both Academic Directors at the Vermont-based School for International Training, Dr. Imani Tafari-Ama, a leading Jamaican social scientist, and I co- organized and co-directed a six-week international summer program entitled, “African Spirituality in the Caribbean”. The aim of the program was to engage U. S. university students in rigorous set of academic and experiential learning activities that would enable them to examine the roots, current practices, challenges, and impact of African-based religions in the context of Caribbean culture.
A broader goal was to bridge cultural gaps, increase cross-cultural understanding through positive human interactions and diminish the dangerous storms of ignorance that have historically divided, controlled, oppressed and destroyed people of color. The course was born from our academic backgrounds and interests in sociology of religion, psychology of religion, U.S. and Caribbean history, culture and development.
During the first three weeks of the course, students were based first at UWI campus in Kingston, Jamaica and then in different rural communities to observe, participate, reflect and analyze their experiences with Rastafarianism, Kumina and other African based spirituality there. In the final three weeks of their course, the student groups (of no more than fifteen each) were based in Dangriga. There each student was very graciously hosted by a Garifuna family to gain firsthand experience of the culture, including the food, music, language and whatever are the daily family expressions of culture. After very special permission was granted by the buyei and the family in whose honor the ritual is performed, the students participated in every aspect of the dügü.
In both countries, students were also engaged in top-notched academic presentations that enriched group discussions as they processed their experiences from a Rastafarian nyabinghi, kumina, or the dügü. In Jamaica a number of senior lecturers and Professors from the University of the West Indies as well as expert practitioners of the various traditions were involved.
For the Belize portion of the program, I continue to deeply grateful for the dynamic and deeply thought-provoking presentations delivered by Canon Jerris Valentine of the Anglican church, Mr. Roy Cayetano, Dr. Gwen Nunez Gonzalez, Dr. Joseph Iyo, Baba John Mariano (the buyei), Mr. Marion Nolberto among others, as well as the warm welcoming kindness of homestay coordinator Mrs. Phyllis Cayetano and the Dangriga families who so kindly hosted each student.
Invariably, the participants reported that this course was the most thought-provoking, awakening, and insightful that they had ever experienced. The program not only enabled them to gain a deeper appreciation and respect of other cultures but also to critically examine their own cultural beliefs and practices to which they have been socialized.
On a personal level, my engagement in all aspects of the program from its conception, to planning, participation in the activities, facilitating a learning process, discussions with the resource persons, evaluating students’ performance was a great opportunity to delve deeply into the traditions of my culture as well as that of others.
The students were also deeply moved to be among the very few outside group to ever be welcomed to the inner sanctum of spiritualties that have been carefully guarded in both countries after centuries of ethnic, racial and cultural assault and persistent attempts at extermination by dominant Eurocentric interpretations of Christianity.
By the second summer, the program had become increasingly popular. Encouraged by its success and potential opportunities for program growth, Dr. Imani and I envisioned the possibility of later expansion to include learning opportunities in Haiti, Cuba and Brazil.
As the demand for the program grew, however, I began to feel deep concerns about the likely impact of an annual flow of outside participant learners on the sensitivities of the local people and their traditional sacred rituals. Rather than involve a privileged few who could afford the course, I often wished that members of the native cultures and their fellow citizens could afford such dynamic participant learning experiences in order to enrich their own connections and understanding of their common roots across borders. Torn by such internal conflict, my colleague and I immediately closed the program at the end of its second season.
Hopefully someday, such an initiative could be rekindled in order to reconnect people across our borders and region. The depth of unawareness of historical-rooted current forces that continue to batter our nation’s politics, culture, economy, communities and families is staggering. As the saying goes, “When the roots of a tree die, the branches will die, when the branches die there will no flowers; with no flowers there will be no fruits and seeds; no seeds, no more young trees.” Faced with increasing threats by Euroamerican values, might such slow death be the current path of Garifuna, Creole, Mayas and other Belizean cultures. With the onslaught of holy hypocrisy, in religion, politics and economics are we becoming trees with dying roots? Is it too late to water our roots?
One of the greatest absurdity that humanity faces is the egotistic and fanatical delusion that one group of people and one religion, highly divisive in the interpretations of itself, have sole access to a supreme all-knowing all-loving being, and by virtue of that belief, engage in racist and misogynistic behavior, ridicule, oppression, warmongering aggression, enslavement and genocidal slaughtering of others over centuries. Under the notion of “religious freedom”, and convinced that they are vessels of the entire truth, many have sought to forcefully impose their own belief on others. Similar to John Godfrey Saxe’s poem, The Blind Men and the Elephant, in which each of six blind men, touching different parts of an elephant became deluded to passionately argue that he knows the entire elephant.
The relentless attempts by fanatics to ridicule and exterminate the traditional beliefs of Garifuna, indigenous, African and others should come as no surprise. It is born from the European belief in their own moral and cultural superiority. Those who do not profess Christian European ideals were considered inferior and in many cases eliminated. Although they proclaim themselves “Christians”, many Europeans had no qualms about destroying African, indigenous and other beliefs that were not to their image and likeness. The most heinous and cruel crimes have been done under the cover of religion. Such behavior was noted by Mahatma Ghandi who once retorted, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
It is also not surprising that the Africans who were most rooted in their traditional spirituality were the ones who tended to be more confident to rebel against the yoke of marauding European enslavement and domination. The Haitian revolution against the French did not come from the Africans who were indoctrinated to fervently pray to the white deities in a white heaven for relief from the brutal oppression by white “Christian” French masters.
Neither was the rebellion by the Garinagu against the British at St. Vincent, led by those bewitched in delusion that singing to white deities would save them from brutal oppression from white masters. Rebellions for freedom and dignity were led by those confidently rooted in their common traditions, collective vision, unity of purpose, and strength from deep inner spiritual sustenance to change their conditions of life on for the benefit of all.
Perhaps the following letter to Belgian missionaries to the Congo, allegedly by Belgian King Leopold II, who was responsible for the brutal slaughter of near ten million Africans in the Congo, provides a glimpse to the spirit of European colonial assault on others through history:
“The task that is given to fulfill is very delicate and requires much tact. You will go certainly to evangelize, but your evangelization must inspire above all Belgium interests.
Your principal objective in our mission in the Congo is never to teach the niggers to know God, this they know already. .. Your essential role is to … interpret the gospel in the way it will be the best to protect your interests in that part of the world.
For these things, you have to keep watch on disinteresting our savages from the richness that is plenty in their underground… You have to… make them disrespect everything which gives courage to affront us… I make reference to their Mystic System… you must do everything in your power to make it disappear.
You must singularly insist on their total submission and obedience, avoid developing their spirit in the schools, teach students to read and not to reason… Evangelize the niggers so that they stay forever in submission to the white colonialists, so they never revolt against the restraints they are undergoing.”
Sounds familiar? The real witchcraft can be masked in hoods of holy hypocrisy to continue a process of dominating the minds of Belizeans towards a monoculture of their own image and likeness. As Bob Marley said, “We’re sick and tired of the isms schisms game…You can fool some people sometime, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
So now, you see the light numada, amigo, mi fren? Remain vigilant. Remain aware. All a we inna dis togeda. Au bu, amürü nu.