Returning to the “Door of No Return”.

Returning to the “Door of No Return”.

I wonder if my ancestors imaged that their children would ever come back home to Africa. After experiencing being captured beat, chained together and walked miles and miles from their homes, ancestral lands, family, language, culture, religion, food, flora and fauna to sit and wait in a dungeon. To be taken to a place on boats named “Jesus” and such. The slave dungeon in Elmina, Ghana is called a castle ironically enough and a church sits on top of it. A church which was there while they were kidnapping humans and placing them in a concrete cell that was 20 by 9 of my size 9.5 feet. There would be up to 200 hundred people from differing ethnic groups: Yoruba, Fon, Bambara, Igbo, Dahomean to name a very few, from primarily West Africa. They all spoke different languages; and the females were separated from the males. No place to use the bathroom and no exit. Sometimes the level of human fluids would reach wading levels. There were two spy holds in the dungeons. In the women’s dungeon the spy holes were used sometimes by the kidnapping white imperialist men to pick a woman to rape. The kidnapped people were feed enough to stay alive and to make the voyage across the “Middle Passage”. This is what I learned on my journey. The tour guide at the dungeon told us they were going to close the door for 36 seconds, it was sooooo hot and completely black. I thought I was going to scream. I began to weep uncontrollably. I could barely bare it for 36 seconds knowing that they were going to open the door again. How can humans be so cruel? We are sooooooo strong, so strong, so strong.

After touring the dungeon in the afternoon my companion Juanita Brown, producer of the Sundance acclaimed documentary “Traces of the Trade” were asked by one of the organizers of the conference if we would perform. To dance for the “Reverential Night” which takes place at the Elmina Dungeons every other year. We agreed, thinking there would not be many people there. We experience quite the contrary; people were overflowing in the courtyard of the castle and TV cameras were there. Many dance groups came to perform. I must admit I was quite intimidated. “The Last Poets” were there to perform; Danny Glover was in attendance along with countless community people, many traditional artist, politicians and dignitaries. After coming to my heart and realizing we would be dancing for those who made a way for us, those who I call on and they take care of me, those who endured horror, my blood. We created apiece quickly to go along with the theme of the two conferences: “Panafest” and “ASWAD’s” conference on the African Diaspora and Pan Africanism”. Juanita sang a spiritual accapela and I danced then I sang a Traditional Haitian Song and she dances, we got the traditional Ewe drummers who were there to perform, to play a six/eight rhythm for us, and we danced together, a Jamaican scholar woman recited a poem about Queen Nanny of the Maroons and the organizer who asked us to perform, a Ghanaian woman and daughter of one of the prominent Prime ministers of Ghana read a poem on Pan-Africanism. It was truly a diasporic moment as we paid homage to our ancestors who gave us a legendary fortitude and resilience.

This was the first two days of the trip. All that followed was equally amazing.

Ghana is a beautiful place particularly in the outskirts. Botched “Development” residue of Colonialism, and a current attempt to strip the culture by people presenting themselves as Christians has caused the country problems. Despite this I experienced a kindness from the people there that was beautiful and supportive. Particularly the Traditional Drumming ensemble that allowed me to stay on there land after the conference. The group had toured with Peter Gabriel and Arrested Development. They have a compound called the African Music and Dance Academy. On Sundays was they would play, sing and dance and many people in the town would come to see. They are formidable. I gave me dance, song and drum lessons.

I also attended the Homowo Ceremony, which deals with the subject of poverty. All the chiefs of the area have a particular dish made of corn prepared and it is dropped on the doorsteps of everyone in the village as a type of blessing. The holy men with their entourage do a type of singing prayer at the doors of the people. There is also parading of folks dressed up funny that happens separate from the part I just described. Like a little carnival but this is with the intention of laughing at poverty. Twins are included in the festival. All the child twins in the village are dressed the same and put on the shoulders of their parents and paraded through the village. Bright yellow is one of the colors that are connected with this festival. When nightfalls there is feasting and 6ft speakers come out covering blocks and the festivities turn into the biggest most bumping block party I’ve seen yet. The is a feeling of well being, family, having enough and having something so special that it feeds the soul.

I have to admit there is a division that exists between African Americans and Africans. They share poor education with us. More specifically speaking, because Ghana just received their independence in about the 50’s they received a colonizers education. In the US we received an education from our oppressors. It is not common knowledge to Africans the history of slavery or an explanation of how what was considered to be slavery in Africa was extremely different from what happened to those millions of Africans who were stolen into the “Americas”. In Africa if you were a slave back then, it is for a determined amount of time. You were not striped of your language, culture, and religion. You did not have horrific things happen to you like having you genitalia cut off and a public lynching and sold to the highest bidder. Just as black people here in the Americas need to go through a period of re-education and healing so do our brothers in Africa. White Americans as well.

3 Comments

  • Roko Kawai

    Colette,
    ‘no exit.’ made me think of sartre & the european existentialists. i wonder if they were even imagining the anguish of the enslaved africans aboard ships laying in their own filth.

    there’s “imagined hell” — which is real, no doubt.
    but there’s also a “lived hell” — the minute by minute holocaust that some of our fellow humans have miraculously survived, who bore the unbearable, who kept breathing through the worst and then even worse.

    i’ve been trying to grapple with this “human suffering” (and rebuilding) deal. how is it that humans can do this to one another? even in the same nation? even in the same family, sometimes?

  • Dulce Capadocia

    Colette: What an amazing trip for you. So rich and textured and filled with information to feed on. I remember staying in the tribal villages in the Philippines and being with folks in the village. How life affirming, sad, and beautiful it was for me.

    Blessings to you on your soulful journey and come back with emotional stories to share.

  • devdutt shastri

    i really enjoyed the performance of your group last night and your choreography. the part where you were all sitting and singing and playing percussion was hypnotic and moving. i’m researching overlaps between choreography and architecture and would be interested to film/draw your group during rehearsal to help me understand the underlying forms and patterns.
    if you think this might be possible please email me at devdutt@mac.com
    in any case – a very powerful and moving performance – your teachers/ancestors would be proud.
    dev

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