Sun | Jun 7, 2020

Spiritual Healing: The key to black empowerment Part 1

Published:Thursday | March 12, 2015 | 10:32 AMDr Glenville Ashby
Dr Maria Hamilton Abegunde

This is part one of a three-part interview with Dr Maria Eliza Hamilton Bispo de Jesus Abegunde.

Abegunde is an egungun (ancestral) priest in the Yoruba Orisa tradition.

Her areas of research include memory and trauma; embodied memory; the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Middle Passage; community healing, grieving, and ritual Yoruba Orisa practices; Thanatology; ancestral practices; and mourning and funeral practices.

She served as ritualist-in-residence for the UNESCO-Transatlantic Slave Trade Route-USA Project for seven years.

She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University.

Let's explore the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and its enduring spiritual and psychological impact on millions of people today.

This is something I think we must constantly revisit until we are able to get literally to the heart and soul of the matter.

Do you think that the millions who have perished without acknowledgement are still begging for that closure. Is there a kind of haunting that still affects our people?

I have not ever been asked that question this way. But yes. The spirit does not rest easy. The spirits do not rest easy from violent deaths. Who could sleep? Who could remain quiet? But, still, we are not mad and insane as a people. Yes, but these experiences still haunt us.

If there are millions who have perished without a benediction still haunting our psychic space, how can this be addressed?

Just like you and others are doing now, that is, being unafraid and very willing to speak what is often silenced.

How can healing take place?

Each one, pull one. This is such a profound question and requires everyone that can do it, wants to do it and who is trained to do it. We didn't get here overnight. We must also recognise that healing does not always mean getting well. And, what works for one does not work for the other.

Would this mark a turnaround for masses of people on multiple levels?

It could. It could not. That kind of work, spontaneous or otherwise, requires a great deal of energy. It can be done and can be accomplished. Intention and agreement are needed, and then commitment to do the work always. The people have to agree that this is what they want. But the healing is just the beginning. One must commit to living and doing the continuous work needed to maintain and sustain the healing. And, again, one must recognise that healing does not mean an end to one's suffering. We must know first what is to be healed and why.

Can group progress be retarded by the spiritual infractions of a few?

If this were the case, then there would be no progress or development of any kind in the world by individuals, families, societies, or nations. Also, one must know what agreements groups made in previous lifetimes or this current lifetime that lead to infractions and retardation of progress.

What are some of the spiritual problems facing blacks?

'Blacks'. I wouldn't dare assume I know the answer to this question or that it is one that I am trying to address for 'blacks', since that term can refer to any number or groups of people across several continents. However, one of the things I would identity as a spiritual problem is a 'dis-ease' with being and a hyperawareness of being. There isn't the comfort or ability to live in the world fully, as authentically as possible without what Du Bois called double-consciousness and, what I would go as far as saying, multiple consciousnesses.

The reasons for this, we know, are historical: Enslavement, systemic and systematic oppression, micro- and macro-aggressions that remind us physically, emotionally, psychologically, that we, as a group of people identified as black, have been, and continue to be, treated and viewed as 'the other', unworthy, separate from the dominant culture ... despite how much we are consumed by that culture - and how much we consume it.

One cannot be fully in the world if she or he is constantly struggling to stay alive. Certainly, one cannot do it or be fully alive to him or herself if she/he is made to feel uncomfortable in the very skin within which her or his spirit resides. The inability to ever rest easily creates a trauma in the true sense - a tearing of the body from spirit - a tearing from reality. One must learn to live hiding the latter within the former so that when the former is wounded, the latter is protected. However, this is not what happens. Both are wounded. The spirit seeks refuge any way it can.

What are the spiritual dimensions and implications of the slave trade and slavery?

All of the above. Joy DeGruy writes in Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: American's Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing (2005). This condition exists as a result of multi-generational trauma and the inability to heal by those who have and do suffer. Now, everyone may not agree with her or others who work with this concept low self esteem, propensity for violence, internalised racism however, it makes sense to me as a healer.

When one dares to look beyond the actions of an individual and a group to find the point of origin of an action or behaviour, what is uncovered is a wound (or sometimes a joy). The slave trade and slavery, although not points of origins for all of us or for all of our wounds, are points of origins for enough of us to mark it as such and to mark, as Saidya Hartman says, "the Middle Passage as a breach of all that we knew or know to be true".

When a body does not have the opportunity to rest, there is no healing. There is only continuous infection, disease, illness, death. When have black people - and by this I am referring to black people all over the world - when have black people ever had a time to rest as a body? Even for a year?

- Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby. Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council.