Through the fire

As Emancipation approached this year, I found myself uninterested. It wasn’t because I had strayed from its significance or that my love and respect for the occasion had dwindled. Instead, it was because I was caught up in personal challenges, including questioning mortality as result of the recent death of a friend. It had triggered thoughts about many others who had departed and who had greatly impacted my life. As a result of this and other recent events, like the prison breaks and the never-ending tragedies we continue to experience as a people, I was left with a feeling of disorientation.

It lasted until Monday July 31st, Emancipation Eve. There was a concert, titled ‘Music Sweet – A Command Concert,’ which was held at the Theatre Guild. Organised by the University of Guyana and featuring Keith Waithe and the Makushi Players with Herbie Marshall, it was two hours of phenomenal performances that awakened the Emancipation spirit that had seemed to escape me in the weeks and days leading up to it. It was like new life had been breathed into me. The music was a reminder that there is much to celebrate in life.

Many people in our society do not appreciate the impact that the performing arts have on helping to keep us grounded, often by providing an escape, healing, clarity and happiness. It escapes me how anyone cannot appreciate their importance.

After the concert, the Libation ceremony at the 1763 Monument was the destination. Some years ago, I discovered that through witnessing the names of African deities being said out loud and the honouring of ancestors by the pouring of libation, I had found tranquility, clarity and comfort. There was a familiarity about the ritual, even though, having grown up in Christianity, African ritualistic practices did not play a significant role in my experience. Maybe there were some ancestral memories that caused the apprehension to escape me as I observed the elders pouring the libation and when I called the names of those I knew and reflected on the work on those I did not know, like freedom fighters such as Cuffy, Damon and Quamina.

Libation, for me, is a restorative experience. It helps to propel the alignment of my physical presence with the spiritual, making me whole again after some focus would have been lost and I would have become overwhelmed by some event, like the recent death of my friend. All that I had been experiencing in the weeks prior to that night had led me to that moment.

We can draw from every event in this life—the good and the bad—in an attempt to improve our human experience. We can learn to turn away from dwelling on the things you cannot change, like the pain that keeps many imprisoned and the bitterness that drives some to do harmful things, and work towards healthy relationships. We can also recognise that life and death are a part of a whole. We die a physical death but we continue to live through the memories of those who loved us and the work we would have done here. Though often we are left disoriented by the departure of loved ones, we cannot mourn unceasingly. Many of them would not want us to. Not only can our own physical and even spiritual death begin when we choose to relive pain over and over again, but we lose time that could be spent making beautiful the experiences with loved ones who are still physically present.

Year after year, we honour African ancestors. Many people become angry when they allow themselves to dwell on the cruelty that was a part of slavery; this had been my experience many times and the anger is well-founded. However, we cannot allow ourselves to remain prisoners of those horrors our ancestors went through, lest we lose our minds. They endured it so that we could be here and through their stripes we are strong and present and that is why it is important that we honour them. We must never forget and must use their experiences as a testament that a people must never again in history experience the inhumane conditions that made the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

On the evening of August 1st in the National Park, I stood by the barricade entranced by the Surinamese performing the Fire Dance. Some years ago I had first experienced the men who could play with the fire, walk on the fire, eat the fire, lie in the fire and suffer no harm. It is a mind-blowing experience, inspiring fear in many as well as awe and questions about the mysteries of life and the spiritual experience of the Fire Dancers.

There was something about his eyes. He rushed around the circle close to the barricades that separated him from us and some people retreated out of fear. But I stood there, unafraid, knowing that fire in that moment represented rejuvenation in my life. The creative passion that lies within me to be used for healing, to bring about awareness and to influence positive behavioural change had needed new inspiration and it had come.

I thought about the significance fire had recently played in our society. The destruction of Camp Street Prison forced the dawn of a new chapter and loudened the conversations about our justice system. But for the longest time, we have been going through flames as a country. I wondered about when we would fully emerge and if it would result in a new and better existence for all Guyanese. I wondered if, like the fire dancers, we would evolve, stronger, more determined and focused. I wondered if we would unite for the common good that would move us forward as a nation.

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