6.13.2008

what's natural, what isn't, the ownership of african tradition, and other related obscurities

i want to speak to my african traditional religion (atr) folks for a minute.

for the most part, i don't know who reads this thing. there could be a few of y'all out there, and i hope you comment, because i think it's high time that a dialogue is started--among priests and aborishas (i.e., non-priesthood level practitioners/shrine-keepers) alike.

several months ago i met a priest and her family who are doing the work to unify yoruba practitioners and other atr folks. they have already traveled to several countries to observe various diasporan practices and plan to use our common beliefs to strengthen our people and our communities. they essentially wish to illuminate the fact that the lanugages we speak and the names for the orisa only differ as a factor of, as i like to say, when you got off the boat. the source is the same. their philosophy branches out to the understanding that, at our core, we are all africans, there is only one god(dess)/creator entity, and we all ought to be striving towards wholeness and unity.

there was no mention as to whether or not the people they are seeking to unify should pass a paper bag test, nor was there mention around who they should be sleeping with.

typically, when i meet continental atr priests--at least in the yoruba tradition-- their first concerns are iwa pele (character) and knowledge. in other words, are these people who are truly living up to the standards and dictates of their ori, ifa, and the orisa, or are they power mongering? were they trained properly? do they know the proper rituals, prayers, etc.? their level of ase and understanding doesn't rest on their heterosexuality or degree of "blackness"--phenotypical or otherwise. it's about living right.

diasporan atr folks can be quite different. there are plenty who think any white american priest is an interloper or culture vulture. the views on homosexuality are varied. some are ok with it, as long as they choose black partners. others are vehemently against it, claiming it's unnatural and that none of our ancestors were ever gbltq until they were exposed to the culture and depravity of europeans.

there are a few things wrong with this.

because of our unique history in the united states, it can be easy to forget that there are some whitefolks who are "blacker" than african americans (see: passing). hence, it is certainly possible that some white americans were born with ties to african spiritual lineages and could be charged to do some ancestral "clean up", so to speak.

in my ile, the importance of egbe is acknowledged along with ori, ancestors (egun/egungun) and the orisa. your egbe consists of friends from previous lives, e.g., adopted family members, former spouses, close family friends, etc. all those of good character who walk with us in the spirit world are acknowledged.

who is anyone to tell me that i cannot pray or make offerings of gratitude to a white person who may have helped one of my blood ancestors to freedom? what about the relationships forged in the era when just about every poor person wanting to come to america was condemned to indentured servitude?

we do not always know everything about who walks with us. the spirit is what lives on, not the societal attitudes and contradictions.

now, that's not to say that there aren't pimps and players out there. there are. but they cross all kinds of ethnic and cultural lines. there are plenty of black priests who, in the name of uplifting folks, are perpetuating the same westernized dichotomies, patriarchy, -isms, and psychological menace that whitefolks have thrown upon us. and it's a problem on the continent, too.

as far as the homosexuality issue, i ask: how can we know?

we in the diaspora are now several generations removed from africa. even in brazil, where africans were imported into the late 19th century, you'd probably have to look back to a great-great grandparent or further to find someone from the continent.

since african history is oral and tribe/clan-based, how can we say that there were no gbltq people or communities, particularly when clear gender roles dominated so much of african life. males and females had different puberty rites and, often, separate living quarters for much of their lives.

along with that, several orisa are known to be androgynous "gender benders". even clearly "masculine" and "feminine" spirits often have attributes and paths where they are considered of the opposite gender.

if we follow the logic of the spirituality, if someone is born with the ase of one of these orisa, how can we say it's "unnatural" that they grow into a glbtq identity?

riddle me that, y'all.

3 comments:

sparkle said...

i couldn't have said it better myself!

i wonder if there are any trans ppl in the religion who're actually visible and whatnot outside their ile or the city they live in.

i'ma have to do some investigatin.

ms. bliss honeycomb said...

interesting question...

while some houses completely draw the line at transgendered folks, overall it seems more accepted in the latino/a and south american houses. i'm wondering if that's because of the remnants of indigenous/indian/shaman culture, which recognizes the role of androgyny, shape-shifting and the like.

blk (american) folks generally seem completely confused and/or threatened by trans folk--or they're some sort of joke. personally, i don't know of any houses that have "out" trans ppl in them.

on the other hand, are the numbers there? i would guess that only a very small number of people(relatively speaking) identify as transgender--either post or pre-op. and out of that number, how many are of african descent or from the african diaspora?

and who would even be researching all that? LOL.

sparkle said...

me. of course. lol!