Dylan Meconis, “Oya,” 2012

Oya is the Yoruba warrior-goddess of fire, wind, magic, [certain forms of] fertility, and other chaotic, electrifying phenomena. She’s also the goddess of the Niger river…
She is not a goddess in quite the same sense as a Greco-Roman deity, but is an “orisha,” an elemental spirit.

Dylan Meconis, “Oya,” 2012

Oya is the Yoruba warrior-goddess of fire, wind, magic, [certain forms of] fertility, and other chaotic, electrifying phenomena. She’s also the goddess of the Niger river…

She is not a goddess in quite the same sense as a Greco-Roman deity, but is an “orisha,” an elemental spirit.

so-treu

so-treu:

American Apparel, Our Culture Is Not Your Trick, Nor Your Treat

In 2013, at a time when nearly every aspect of Black life and culture can be bought, repackaged, gentrified and re-sold to the highest bidder, it is still both shocking and appalling to see a makeshift Vodou altar adorning the window of a Manhattan American Apparel location. Recently, my friend Rosella Molina, a Yoruba initiate, saw just that: a larger than life vevé for Papa Legba, a spirit respected as the Keeper of the Crossroads and found throughout the Americas, and three mannequins dressed in a hodgepodge of apparel designed by social media icon/artist Kesh, mixed together with an assortment of pieces from traditional attire that may be found in a Vodou ceremony.

Once Rosella’s mobile photo was posted on Facebook, dozens of enraged people representing various African spiritual traditions, began calling the store to demand that display be taken down immediately. When  one African spiritual practitioner asked what was the meaning behind the new display, an American Apparel employee told that it was in celebration of “Halloween”

Halloween?

As filmmaker/artist/Santeria priestess Tiona McClodden stated in reaction to the display, “Our global faith is one of immense beauty in aesthetic.  From the elekes down to our self realized altars. The very things folks try and give us a hard time about are the same things that are magnified and exploited when a buck is to be made.”

Since a child, I’ve felt a close proximity to the multi-faces of God. As a former French-turned-Spanish-turned French colony, Louisiana has historically, been a Catholic state. Even the Black people in Louisiana are Catholic. So as a devout Catholic,growing up in New Orleans, I was grounded in a religion where heaven maintained a co-existence of the blessed Trinity and the acknowledgement of a host of saints. While deeply engrained in saying Hail Marys, and making the sign of the cross three times every time I passed a cemetery, I was always aware of, in tune with, another sacred religious tradition in New Orleans: Vodou.

Vodou, which has come to be known as “Voodoo,” has been bastardized in popular culture and subsequently demonized within Black communities throughout the African Diaspora. If you visit New Orleans, every other tourist shop in the French Quarter is fully stocked with so-called “authentic” Voodoos dolls meant to seek revenge on one’s enemies. This commercialized Voodoo is one of many grossly inaccurate faces of one of Africa’s most ancient traditions thanks to ridiculous stereotypes created first by French planters who escaped alive from the revolutionary uprising that took place on Saint Domingue in the late 18th century and later, sensationalized accounts of travelers to Haiti in the 20th century.

What many do not know about the Haitian Revolution—which inspired enslaved Africans everywhere from South Carolina to Curacao—was that the earliest revolts were led by Vodou priests.

In a contemporary context, it is indeed in territories once ruled by the French, Spanish and Portuguese—Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Brasil—where you see the largest adherents of practitioners of African religions. Complex religions that were brought over in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade by millions who were from different nations – the Bambara, Fon, Bakongo, Fulani, Yoruba, Ashanti, Ewe, Dongon—and adapted to the needs of Black people in the New World.

The bastardization of Vodou as a formal religion makes its entré into popular culture with the appearance of W.B. Seabrook’s 1929 The Magic Island, an autobiographical account based on loose reports of an American journalist who traveled to Haiti and recorded his limited experiences with Voodoo and a sect of necromantic practitioners. Hollywood soon made the practice of Vodou, an actual sacred African spiritual system associated with good health and well-being and this unorthodox tampering with the dead, synonymous.  Some of Hollywood’s earliest horror films, as early as 1932’s White Zombie, glorified haunting tales of murderous zombies and blood-thirsty, power hungry evil “Voodoo” priests. Most recently, Disney’s Princess and the Frog misrepresented certain aspects of Vodou.

The same bastardization that occurred to the characterization of Haiti’s spiritual systems also occurred in those parallel systems in Louisiana. Thanks to various folklore surrounding the mysterious Mambo Marie Laveau, New Orleans’ legendary Vodou queen—who was one of the most powerful women in the U.S. in her heyday—Vodou was once again misinterpreted and slandered.

While some people of African descent maintained their traditions, even to the point of masking their beliefs behind the observance of Catholic Saints, many people of African descent in the Americas, began to distance themselves from the traditions of their ancestors to adopt the religion of their former enslavers.

Now this isn’t the first time that American Apparel has engaged in problematic practices concerning the treatment of other people’s cultures. Nor are they the only company to profit off of misappropriated cultural dress during Halloween. It baffles me as to why a store would make the decision to mis-appropriate a sacred spiritual system that is old as time in Africa itself. Alas, we know that even hipsters—for all their self-congratulatory “progressive” ways—can be just as bigoted and racist as any one else.

Slowly, but surely more Vodou and similar traditions are being brought to the light, where they have always belonged. I just hope that people take the time to learn something from this—particularly, why playing with our traditions is so offensive.

El poder suerte,” by Afro-Cuban photographer Juan Carlos Alom (in two different exposures), ca. 2005

Juan Carlos Alom reappropriates Yoruba ceremony and belief as well as photographic techniques from old postcards, daguerreotypes, and “costumbrista” portraits of Cuban society.

Alom’s still lifes, staged against a neutral, often abraded ground, feel like elegies, talismans and love letters…The hand that rises from the bottom of [a] photo is open, a tiny, pale fish limp in its palm, while dozens of similar fish cluster nearby, unchosen. Other images by Alom harness a deep undercurrent of spiritual awareness that travels through earth and bone, an organic power manifested in skulls and thorns and darkness.

"Caps and bags made of grass, and an idol given up by a convert [likely a portrait of the author himself]" in Africa for Christ. Twenty-Eight Years a Slave: or, The Story of My Life in Three Continents, by Thomas L. Johnson, 1909.
From a naïvely positive assessment of evangelizing efforts to secure “the spiritual freedom of Africa”:

Little is known about the life of Thomas Lewis Johnson (1836-?), other than what is contained in his own narrative, Africa for Christ. Twenty-Eight Years a Slave. According to his mother, Johnson was born August 7, 1836 in Rock Raymond, Virginia. The names of Johnson’s parents are unknown; his father was a free octoroon—a person with one great grandparent of African descent—and his mother was a slave. Johnson spent the first twenty-eight years of his life—until the end of the American Civil War—in slavery to a family named Brent. With his newfound freedom, Johnson became a Baptist minister and dedicated his life to spreading Christianity throughout Africa. The date of his death is unknown…
To quote Johnson himself, “For over fifteen years the one desire and prayer of my soul has been, that in some way I might be instrumental in helping to carry the Word of God to Africa…The one motto of my soul has been—’Africa for Christ’…”

"Caps and bags made of grass, and an idol given up by a convert [likely a portrait of the author himself]" in Africa for Christ. Twenty-Eight Years a Slave: or, The Story of My Life in Three Continents, by Thomas L. Johnson, 1909.

From a naïvely positive assessment of evangelizing efforts to secure “the spiritual freedom of Africa”:

Little is known about the life of Thomas Lewis Johnson (1836-?), other than what is contained in his own narrative, Africa for Christ. Twenty-Eight Years a Slave. According to his mother, Johnson was born August 7, 1836 in Rock Raymond, Virginia. The names of Johnson’s parents are unknown; his father was a free octoroon—a person with one great grandparent of African descent—and his mother was a slave. Johnson spent the first twenty-eight years of his life—until the end of the American Civil War—in slavery to a family named Brent. With his newfound freedom, Johnson became a Baptist minister and dedicated his life to spreading Christianity throughout Africa. The date of his death is unknown…

To quote Johnson himself, “For over fifteen years the one desire and prayer of my soul has been, that in some way I might be instrumental in helping to carry the Word of God to Africa…The one motto of my soul has been—’Africa for Christ’…”

howtobeterrell

They say it came from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú - generally a curse or doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World.

No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed fukú on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (via caribbeancivilisation)
André Leon Talley, Vogue contributing editor and editor-at-large for Numéro Russia, by Jonathan Becker, ca. 2013

[T]he world he now inhabits is light-years from his childhood in Durham, North Carolina, in the 1950s and 60s. His father, born to sharecroppers, worked two jobs, including driving a taxi at night. Talley’s mother divorced his father when André was young, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, a maid for the men’s dormitory rooms of Duke University. At home, near the peach trees, his grandmother skinned rabbits and whacked the heads off chickens on a tree stump before cooking them for dinner, and boiled and blued their white sheets in a black iron cauldron, stoked by a fire for which she had chopped the wood herself. She ironed not only the linens but also towels, curtains, his boxer shorts, and even the doilies for the back of her chairs. She tucked her beloved grandson into these symbols of her love—“crispy, crispy, clean, clean, clean white sheets.”
…Talley was bullied; when among whites, he was required to sit in the balcony of the movie theater. Once, while he was walking down the road with other college students after a Jimi Hendrix concert, a white highway patrolman jumped out of his squad car and kicked him for no discernible reason. As a boy Talley joined the Cub Scouts but didn’t like it much…
In adolescence, he began reading Vogue, walking across town to Duke University to spend his pocket money on it and other magazines. He read John Fairchild’s memoir of couture in the 1950s and 1960s, The Fashionable Savages, so many times he “practically memorized it.” 

"It’s the famine of beauty! The famine of beauty, honey! My eyes are starving for beauty!"

André Leon Talley, Vogue contributing editor and editor-at-large for Numéro Russia, by Jonathan Becker, ca. 2013

[T]he world he now inhabits is light-years from his childhood in Durham, North Carolina, in the 1950s and 60s. His father, born to sharecroppers, worked two jobs, including driving a taxi at night. Talley’s mother divorced his father when André was young, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, a maid for the men’s dormitory rooms of Duke University. At home, near the peach trees, his grandmother skinned rabbits and whacked the heads off chickens on a tree stump before cooking them for dinner, and boiled and blued their white sheets in a black iron cauldron, stoked by a fire for which she had chopped the wood herself. She ironed not only the linens but also towels, curtains, his boxer shorts, and even the doilies for the back of her chairs. She tucked her beloved grandson into these symbols of her love—“crispy, crispy, clean, clean, clean white sheets.”

…Talley was bullied; when among whites, he was required to sit in the balcony of the movie theater. Once, while he was walking down the road with other college students after a Jimi Hendrix concert, a white highway patrolman jumped out of his squad car and kicked him for no discernible reason. As a boy Talley joined the Cub Scouts but didn’t like it much…

In adolescence, he began reading Vogue, walking across town to Duke University to spend his pocket money on it and other magazines. He read John Fairchild’s memoir of couture in the 1950s and 1960s, The Fashionable Savages, so many times he “practically memorized it.” 

"It’s the famine of beauty! The famine of beauty, honey! My eyes are starving for beauty!"

Cuban Class Photograph (1936-1937) from The Cabinet Card Gallery:

This non cabinet card photograph features a portrait of a class from a Cuban school. The photograph was taken during the 1936-1937 school year. The children are multi racial and all boys. There are three teachers evident in the photograph. Note the math problems written on the blackboard. The photographer is J. R. Betancourt. I do not know where in Cuba Betancourt operated his studio. “10 de Octubre 618″ is likely the street address of the studio. “10 de Octurbre” is a national holiday in Cuba. The day is known as “Grito de Yara” and it commemorates the 10 Years War (1868-1878). The war was fought to gain freedom and independence from Spain.

Cuban Class Photograph (1936-1937) from The Cabinet Card Gallery:

This non cabinet card photograph features a portrait of a class from a Cuban school. The photograph was taken during the 1936-1937 school year. The children are multi racial and all boys. There are three teachers evident in the photograph. Note the math problems written on the blackboard. The photographer is J. R. Betancourt. I do not know where in Cuba Betancourt operated his studio. “10 de Octubre 618″ is likely the street address of the studio. “10 de Octurbre” is a national holiday in Cuba. The day is known as “Grito de Yara” and it commemorates the 10 Years War (1868-1878). The war was fought to gain freedom and independence from Spain.

"The rooster that sits atop the iron chalice of Osun, one of Santeria’s protective Orishas (deities)—Osun [as distinct from Ochún/Oshún] is one of the four…Guerreros: Eleggua, Ogun, Ochossi and Osun,” as photographed by Thomas Altfather Good, 2012.
In “Migration and Slavery as Paradigms in the Aesthetic Transformation of Yoruba Art in the Americas,” Christopher Adejumo quotes ‘Wande Abimbọla to shed light on the African roots of this orisha:

An interesting change has occurred [in the African Diaspora] with respect to opa orere, also known as osun, handled by titled babalawos [diviners of the Ifa divination system] of Africa. This staff is usually made of iron in Africa. To the sides of the staff are attached rattles, also of iron, so that it rattles making the sound “jin-win-rin-rin" when it lands with its pointed base on the ground as the babalawo who uses it as a walking stick goes about on the streets. The top of an orere staff of Africa is dominated by eye kan (the lone pigeon), who watches over the affairs of a babalawo even in his absence. 
In Cuban Lucumí and Santería, osun is received as part of the artifacts given to a new initiate of any orisa and not restricted to a babalawo. Furthermore, it is made of a zinclike object, and it is not a walking stick. It is about 10 inches (25 cm) high compared with the African type, which can be in excess of 3 feet (90 cm) depending on the height of its owner. Moreover, the top of a Cuban osun is dominated by a rooster and not a pigeon.
However, osun, in both Africa and Cuba, is highly regarded as a ritual and sacred object. In Africa it is believed to be an orisa in its own right. It must never be allowed to fall with its sides lying on the ground. Hence the babalawo keeps it in a sacred corner of his shrine and makes sacrifices to his Ifa. If it accidentally falls on the ground, a special sacrifice must be made to restore its ritual potency. That is why we have the following saying among Ifa priests: Oorogan gaangan la a bosun. (Osun is to be found standing erect at all times.)

"The rooster that sits atop the iron chalice of Osun, one of Santeria’s protective Orishas (deities)—Osun [as distinct from Ochún/Oshún] is one of the four…Guerreros: Eleggua, Ogun, Ochossi and Osun,” as photographed by Thomas Altfather Good, 2012.

In “Migration and Slavery as Paradigms in the Aesthetic Transformation of Yoruba Art in the Americas,” Christopher Adejumo quotes ‘Wande Abimbọla to shed light on the African roots of this orisha:

An interesting change has occurred [in the African Diaspora] with respect to opa orere, also known as osun, handled by titled babalawos [diviners of the Ifa divination system] of Africa. This staff is usually made of iron in Africa. To the sides of the staff are attached rattles, also of iron, so that it rattles making the sound “jin-win-rin-rin" when it lands with its pointed base on the ground as the babalawo who uses it as a walking stick goes about on the streets. The top of an orere staff of Africa is dominated by eye kan (the lone pigeon), who watches over the affairs of a babalawo even in his absence. 

In Cuban Lucumí and Santería, osun is received as part of the artifacts given to a new initiate of any orisa and not restricted to a babalawo. Furthermore, it is made of a zinclike object, and it is not a walking stick. It is about 10 inches (25 cm) high compared with the African type, which can be in excess of 3 feet (90 cm) depending on the height of its owner. Moreover, the top of a Cuban osun is dominated by a rooster and not a pigeon.

However, osun, in both Africa and Cuba, is highly regarded as a ritual and sacred object. In Africa it is believed to be an orisa in its own right. It must never be allowed to fall with its sides lying on the ground. Hence the babalawo keeps it in a sacred corner of his shrine and makes sacrifices to his Ifa. If it accidentally falls on the ground, a special sacrifice must be made to restore its ritual potency. That is why we have the following saying among Ifa priests: Oorogan gaangan la a bosun. (Osun is to be found standing erect at all times.)

Images from Gagá & Vudú 1990-1993, by Puerto Rican photographer Héctor Méndez Caratini.

These images are part of an anthropological research [project] illustrating the book Gagá & Vudú en la República Dominicana by José Francisco Alegría-Pons. Gagá is the name given to the [Vodou] sect of Rará in the Dominican Republic. Gagás are organized in a hierarchical order and constitute a social—religious society in the sugar cane plantations. 

thefemaletyrant

Congolese Dance originated in Central Africa. Incidentally the movements which constitute Congolese Dance are generally focused on the center of the body. It is in the mid-section of the body that both the digestive and reproductive organs are housed. This is probably why the movements associated with Congolese Dance or any dance that has a focus on the mid-section of the body, are healing and along with a change in diet will help combat reproductive disorders such as fibroids, ovarian cysts, irregular cycles as well as disorders of the prostate. The movements increase the flow of oxygen and blood in the body’s mid-section, which aids the body in the prevention of disease.

Many modern dances we know of today have their roots in Congolese Dance. Some of the dances that have their roots from the Congo are the Lambada, Samba, Salsa, Merengue, Calypao, Reggae, Soca, Afro-Caribbean and “Belly Dancing”. Congolese Dance is among “our” medicines, it is a dance filled with healing vibrations and pelvic rotations.