“THE SOCIAL ACTION CHARGE FOR THOSE IN
AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS”
by Alashe Michael Oshoosi
Omo Egbe Obatala Conference
Cordele, Georgia, October 2017
ARE WE MISSING IN ACTION?
From every corner of the globe—even though, by definition, I suppose--a globe can’t really have corners—we see and hear reports of oppressed populations protesting their sufferings. Though not always, it seems that the priorities of many of these movements are couched in religious beliefs and customs, but also laudably involve causes such as “environmentalism.” “socialism,” “social justice,” “human rights” and global compassion.
Their proponents will often be heard decrying oppressions based on racial, gen- der, class struggle (including penal slavery), and sexual orientations. Specifi- cally, their priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, and lay clergy advocate for positive day-to-day reforms—e.g., reforms in the nature of human services and equit- able weallth distribution.
But in the United States (and most everywhere else to my reckoning) when or- ganizers and the masses rise up to support progressive causes, the clerical voices that we hear and the identities that we see are more often from other kinds of religionists than ourselves.
Occasionally, even First Nation spiritual leaders will be called upon to speak and offer their blessings in these rallies and mobilizations too. And, in regard to relig- ious leadership of social causes, we need look no further than the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s or even, in their own way, the “rac- ially” separatist politics of the Allah Temple of Islam in the 1940’s--which ev- olved into the the Nation of Islam in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.
But, again, when it comes to social justice movements and mobilizations we rarely hear or see the spiritual leaders of African Traditional Religions having anything to say or ritually to do to support them in regard to and maintaining morale and the courage of the activists and masses involved; those who would run substantial risks to their own well-being to snatch social justice from the jaws of reactionary oppression.
If we were to inspect the arc of humanity’s recent history--that which has char- acterized our last 500 years--which is to say to connect the bloody dots of rac- ialized capitalism (and nothing more), we find that there is an organic connec- tion between this global enterprise of profiteering for a few, on the one hand, and the strategic, wholly calculated, destitution and immiseration of the world’s masses-- particularly those of color--on the other.
Accordingly, we must ask: Where are the leading thinkers and social activists among the followers of the religions of the Yoruba, of the Akan-suma, Vodu, Santeria-Lucumi, Palo Moyombe, Ga, or the Kemetic religions? These religions, among others (except the Kemetic theologists) are of west and central African
extract--our roots. In respect of social justice movements, have we all been on vacations; indeed, very long vacations?
That is, how can it be that our religionists-- hailing from a people who have seen the worst in human debauchery and genocide at the hands of white suprem- acist capitalism--are impervious to or, indeed, feel excused from even contem- plating our obvious historical duties in regard to social justice advocacy and act- ivism? Are we not—better than most—able to connect these bloody dots?
HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS AND DEBTS
I think that our political history is replete with valiant examples of resistance to capitalism’s “white supremacist” modus operandi. I invite you to think of a met- hod—if you can—to escape from slavery or “freeman” servitude status that our ancestors and their allies did not try—often successfully—to do or to dream. I’ll save you some time. You can’t.
From around 1805, through the eve of the Civil War, over 80,000 African-Amer- ican slaves (of about four million) escaped slavery to go to the northern states, to Can-ada, to the non-slave western territories of the United States, to Mexico or to Florida. If you go back 10 years or more so before then, you will find that over 3,500 former slaves were transported to Canada as “Revolutionary War” refugees or “loyalists” who fought for the British side (starting in 1796, and again in 1812 and 1814). They—including at least one of my direct ancestors—preferred the rule of the British in the American colonies over the continuation of slavery under white American rule—the fully conscious abomination that it was on the parts of the “Founding Fathers” of this American republic.
And, in conjunction with escape, many other African Americans sabotaged and outright rebelled against the white plantation system, its overseers and its apologist enablers among common whites. Indeed, during the Civil War, around 200,000 African-American men and women (e.g., Harriet Tubman) served in or under the Union army command and in the Union Navy as well as their support organizations. Additionally, as you probably know, hundreds of thousands of our non-combatant ancestors entrained the Union armies as spies, logistical, supply and support cadres, as well as guerilla irregulars to aid them in their ul- timate victories.
RESISTANCE TO OPPRESSION IN OUR REAL AND MYTHOLOGICAL HIS-
TORY IS ALSO EASILY UNDERSTOOD AND ACCESSED
Turning to our cultural history, for example, we can profitably use the trad- itions and accounts of conflict among the Yoruba subgroups and their neigh- bors, and the history of the Igbo and the various Congolese, Cameroonian, An- golan and far west African nationalities for additional examples of our peoples’ resistance to African slavery (and other versions of African class and ethnic struggle) even before the advent of, and during, the European Atlantic slave trade.
As is the case with all nationalities throughout the world, our histories (oral, for the most part) only address the issues, conflicts, adventures and accounts of the victorious sides in their inter-ethnic and regional conflicts. But African history—minus revisionism and sanitation-- like everyone else’s was replete with class struggle in every form as well. For, after all, the first recorded instan- ces of class struggle—from ancient classical societies to Atlantic and Arabic slavery was the struggle of the Slave against the Slave Master.
Cite one example, if you will, of a slave—regardless of location—who ever voluntarily submitted to the abominations and degradation of slavery and rape. So the resistance of the Human spirit to oppression—everywhere—certainly predates the travesties of the Europeans and the invention of racism in the modern era; that is, “white supremacy” among the leaders of their ignorant classes—which is to say all of them, save few—since, about 1500 C.E.
For thousands of examples of our peoples’ resistance to African slavery and other versions of ethnic and class struggle there (in Africa) look no further than to the oral and written histories of our ji-jaga warrior societies of Angola, the ijala chanting warrior societies of Yorubaland, or among the Abakpa and leop- ard societies of the Nigerian-Cameroon border areas (later to become known as the “Abakwa” or “cinnamarones” of Cuba, the maroons of Jamaica and the Unit- ed States, as well as the Quilomberos and Cablocos of Brasil). And, for sure, who can forget the valiant and religiously inspired revolutionaries of Haiti (prn. “Ah-ee-ti”) who suffered oppression and sabotage and still pay a dear price for their self-liberation to this day?
Similarly, more recently, here in the USA, our public churches and lodges (i.e., versions of black Freemasons) were also strongholds of resistance to white su- premacy and served as the backbones of the Underground Railroad in the USA and Canada. They also created conspiratorial centers for many of the open reb- ellions of American slaves,e.g., in Chatham and Novo Scotia, Canada.
We even have a few examples of direct action and political struggle (for better or worse) in the American public sector—cite, for example, our struggle to leg- alize ebbo eje (religious animal offerings) in this country without facing the abuse of police and myopic animal rights advocates. I helped to lead a sucess- ful struggle in this are in 1992 in the Bay Area, California—when I had only four years o’cha made—at the direction of my padrino Roberto Clemente (Anya bi Osun, Ibae! who brought me into his ile (our religious house) in 1983 as his consigliere (i.e.,as his house counselor).
Our success in this fight predated the success of the santeros in Florida who led a brilliant fight for the same result six months later in the celebrated case The City of Hialeah vs. The Church of Lukumi-Obaluaiye under the great leadership of Oba Picardo in Hialeah, Florida area. (You may be referred to my book “Afric- an Spirituality vs. the African-American (IKO Press, 1997) through the Contact page of my website Oshoosi.com. $50.00 American for this collector’s item, plus postage please, for insight into building African-American Ancestral Affin- ity groups).
And more recently, we have seen the participation as individuals in the Black Lives Matter Movement of many Yoruba practitioners (Please see the Oshoosi. com web page on “Police Reforms” for some of my thoughts on this subject).
But if we can fight for our personal cultural rights, why do we not fight for the Human and Civil rights of all of the oppressed in this less-than-perfect Repub- lic?
WE MUST CELEBRATE REVERENCE FOR OUR TRADITIONS OF KNOWLEDGE, HISTORY, AND POLITICAL EDUCATION
Yes, we have a history of resistance to oppression; a history we took pains to record in one form or another. Indeed, as you know, our ancestors were among the greatest of historians: i.e., our griots and babalawos spent lifetimes memor- izing ese Ifa, (Ifa verses) and orikis (personal and heroic legends of persons, clans and towns) depicting the events and deeds of our famous ancestors and living elders. Yet today, the whole of America—since the era of Ronald Reagan—have been stupified by the annihilation of the study of history. In fact, most Americans, regardless of their so-called “race,” could not tell you what of im- portance happened last week; let alone what happened in the last century or before!
How is it then that our Ijubas, when recited, do not include our national heroes and she-roes like Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Queen Mother Moore, or Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Kwame Toure, George Jackson, Khalid Muhammad, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin and so many, many others? (Ibae! Sun ‘re-ooo to all of them!). Where are our praise songs and “raps” to them. Did they not give their lives to and for us?
If nothing else, this is how our religionists can begin—if on no other front than in our own homes and in front of our own oju-‘run (ancestral altars)—to build revolutionary resistance to capitalism’s white supremacy; by praising the nat- ional legends of our own folk; our champions and defenders.
RESPECT THE HISTORY AND EXAMPLES OF THE ORISHAS AND OUR
EGUNGUN IN THE FIGHT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
But we need not stop there! Would Shango, Oya, Obatala, and all of our other warriors ever forgive us if we did not take our place in the current struggles formunities and our own people—the children of west and central Africa?
We are not blind; we are not deaf (I hope). But still many may ask: “What else can we do? What should we stand for since we do not have experience in modern times in building consensus on political matters, or knowing how to strategically make our contributions to the struggles for social justice in this complex and now digitalized milieu?
Here are some of the simple things we can do; simple because they do not require concerted consensus-building. Each can be done by appointing our- selves as committees-of-one to do them and by joining with others.
Egun bi Orisha (The great Ancestral Spirit birthed the Gods)
Form Ancestral Affinity groups dedicated to the honoring of our ancestors—personal and national—and to the study of the history of the times in which they lived. And consult our egungun for guidance in specific situations. (You may again be referred to my book “African Spirituality vs. the African-American” IKO Press, 1997, through the Contact page at Oshoosi.com). Regardless of rel-
gious or non-religious affiliation, all can sit at the table of Ancestor Reverence;
and "if you do not have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu."
We can show-up and give spiritual leadership to the current Movements for social and environmental justice by, if nothing else, inspiring our people with songs, raps, music, libations and words of power in a clear, present, open, moral and pro-social. The late Kwame Toure once said to African-American activists: “Every word that comes out of your mouths should be educational!” I would modify that with the augmentation: “Every word that comes out of our mouths should be inspiritional” (…’se’re adashe, da aiye wa ofo ashe ati isiri!) which is my humble (and probably broken-Yoruba) way of saying ‘we have the right to do good (with) words of power and inspiration!’
When confused or demoralized by set-backs, we can remember that we have an owe (a proverb) that says: “It is Elegua that gives us the Road, and it is Shango who teaches us how to fight on the road, but it is Obatala who knows the Reason for the Road!” We feed them, so let’s put them to work.
When In Doubt...
We can always divine on questions that arise before us in the course of struggle for insight, protection, courage and inspiration so long that, in our heart of hearts, we truly do not know the answers.
What should we exemplify?
Our values should always reflect and be guided by the moral and ethical imperatives of Ma'at and Ifa character building from the odu Ogbe Irete (among others):
Stay true to the traditions and be of gentle and good character.
Be wise and give eshu Odara (and eshu Elegua ) special attention (do not take anything for granted in life).
Do not "snatch" the wife' (or any trusted partner of another) of an awo, a med- icine man, nor an olorisha (be ethical in life, do not be manipulative)
Do not lie to your elders, do not ask of the diviner that which you already know (do not be trivial and, again, manipulative).
In the end, from the folk-wisdom of the Yaqui of the desert southwest the
adage: "When in doubt, follow the path with the Heart"
And, do ebbo.
So goes the Road to the pools of ori're're (a good Head) and iwa pele (good and gentle character). May you drink from its waters.
Know the differences between strategies and tactics.
Study and play the games contained in my website page at Oshoosi.com cal- led “African-American Strategy Training. The games are Warri-Mancala (Afri- can—the oldest game in the world), Wei Chi (“Go”), and Chess. They emphasize that the secret to learning strategic success is probably born in the odus Okan- ran, Obara, Ogbe, and Ejila Sebora but, in plain new English, they are: Learn to attend to, master, and control matters of Tempo (timing and initiative), Pos ition, and Strength; in that order in all contests. (Please see the page “African-American Strategy Training” at Oshoosi.com).
Whether the relationships are between only two people or between the lead- ers and followers, they are actually always three-sided. Each must contend, negotiate the universals of Affection, Acceptance, and Control-- for better or worse.
Know the differences between authenticity, validity and relevance.
How old is something does not answer the question of well it works here and
now. And, note: if a thing not relevant, then who cares if its authentic or valid?
Sometimes people clash with others over thinking styles when they believe that their differences are actually about substance.
Indeed, there are only five styles of thinking: the style of an analyst, a synthes- ist, a realist, an idealist and a pragmatist. They differ in what kinds of inform- ation they seek in addressing a problem's likely solution. For example "prag- matists" drive "idealist" crazy for being unprincipled in their view, while ideal- ists drive pragmatists nuts for continuosly saying "irrelevent" things most of the time in their view. Most people have predominant and fall-back styles.
I am not a great public figure or historic person. Nor am I a well-traveled around the world. I am not famous (indeed, for all my life, all I ever wanted to be fam- ous for was not being famous).
I do not have the wonderful status and recognition as being a prolific baba- l’orisha with scores of godchildren. (My path in this religion was read out in my ita--the book of my destiny-- to be different). But, in my own way, I have managed to build up a personal history to inspire our people to resist the op- pression of all of the peoples or color, and the exploited classes everywhere. I often wish to have had the skills of the italeros and oba-oriates ; but I don't. Nor am I, physically-speaking, a great warrior fighter; too small, too old. And though I know several of our songs I wish I were a great akpwon too; but I am not; it's only fantasy.
And, finally, it is often said that 'We often know more than we than others think we do, but always less than we think we do.' I am sure that is the case with me too.
But I do know this: My personal family and my egungun, alone go back in a known and unbroken line to the founding of our ancestral village in Wetipquin, Maryland, in 1683. And in every generation they bore revolutionary omos (children). And, thanks to the supportive presence of my wonderful daughter, Marci—who researched our centuries’ old lineage and the founding of the our first “free” African -American community in the (now) “United States” in that year. She is here today to witness this wonderful conference to honor the ori- sha Obatala- Orisha’nla and, by the way, to honor me for my 70th birthday. All smiles, as far as the eye can see)!
And, of course, I wish to thank my god-sister, Omi Ade, and my new honorary god-sister, Iya Aida for allowing me to contribute to this august event.
Alashe Michael Oshoosi
Bay Area, California