Calling all Loas
Ouvri bayi pou' moi
Ouvri bayi pou' moi
One of my most memorable trips with Félix Morisseau-Leroy, who introduced me to many aspects of Haitian life and culture, was during a car ride in 1993 when we were scheduled to read at a Black History Month celebration at the Broward County Main Library. We'd been listening to the local news, and near the end of the announcements, the reporter made a brief mention of the sinking of the Neptune off the coast of Haiti. At first, I didn't pay much attention to the report. But when I glanced over at Morisseau-Leroy, I saw that he had been visibly moved by the news and was angry at the casual tone of the reporter. Morisseau-Leroy's anger made me realize my complicity in the disregard for the loss of Haitian lives at sea. I, like the reporter, had become so inured to the daily reports of bodies washing up on South Florida beaches that the loss of over a thousand lives in a single event barley registered in my mind. For Morisseau-Leroy, the news had a different effect. Those were his people who were dying on the high seas and when we arrived at the library, he made sure that all of us knew about what had happened.
Morisseau-Leroy loved his brothers and sisters and they repaid that love in a mural in Miami where he is seated with the loas in an imaginary village in Haiti. I repeat the story here not only as a cautionary tale about how easily our sensibilities can be dulled when faced with the daily loss of life, but also how Morisseau-Leroy's love for his people, even though he was living in exile, moved him to memorialize their lives.
Imagine, then, my concern after reading in The Gleaner about the lynching of goat thieves in Westmoreland (the birthplace of my mother and father) and reading a post by the influential Caribbean blogger, Francis Wade, about accepting the actions of what I like to call "immature warriors." I was surprised even more by the tone of his post because Moving Back to Jamaica is usually filled with practical ideas and contains many insightful posts about the Jamaican character and our "warrior spirit."
Now, I am not complaining about our propensity to "chuck badness." In the past, this "warrior spirit," identified in the Yoruba cosmology as Shango, served us well in the fight against British imperialism. It was this "warrior spirit" that Marcus Garvey evoked when he urged his followers to have "backbones and not wishbones,"and through the work of the UNIA transformed "immature warriors" into "mature warriors."
But now that the colonizers have been physically removed from our shores and this "warrior spirit" has not been channeled through education into the long-term fight against illiteracy and ignorance, we have turned this energy against ourselves and the results have been disastrous.Or as Moving Back to Jamaica says "we are a people itching for a fight, but .... we can't find a good one to fight."
So, every day we read in the newspapers, the effects of ignorance in the lives of "immature warriors" who use force and violence to gain narrow personal goals. And as they grow in numbers and our education systems fail us, all we can expect is a slow descent into a state of "red in tooth and claw" and where life becomes "nasty, brutish, and short."
But do we want to change? I can't even change myself, and as one of my dear friends always tells me, "People, without any kind of intervention never change."
So, I say,go with what we are: a nation of Xangos. But educate the young warriors. Show them the difference between "immature warriors" for whom every problem is a nail and they hold the hammer, and"mature warriors" who uphold ideas of honor and justice and who resort to the use of force as a last resort when all other options have failed. In other words, expand their sense of self--a little less Xango and more Eshu--whose world is ruled by shadows and light where intelligence prevails.
And if we insist on change, then we must believe. We must believe that ideas matter and that once these ideas are registered in the consciousness, they merely wait for an opportune time to manifest themselves. Anyone who has been seduced can attest to this.
But we must also refuse to accept any idea that does not hold every human life as priceless.I refuse to accept the loss of even one life to senseless violence. Every life counts.
For just as the epiphanies of poets such as Morisseau-Leroy, begin with the feeling that they are loved/supported n every cell by their brothers and sisters, so too the education of the young begins with the feeling that they are worthy and their lives count. Every single one should be able to say, "I am gifted." Then, Marcus Garvey's words will surely come to pass: "Rise, you mighty people."