Dia de Los Muertos, November 1st, 2010
Every year our ceremony for Dia de Los Muertos is different. It can be very complex and other years it is very simple. This year it was very simple. The Day of the Dead is a day when we honor all the Dead, all the Ancestors. This includes biological Ancestors, it also includes spiritual Ancestors of the Traditions, and all the Ancestors of the Munanso and Batey (Bakongo and Taino and "other"!). We also honor the Ancestors of the African Nazarite Community who created a Spiritual Community here more than 100 years ago, and the Indigenous People whose were the original caretakers of this Land. We do not exclude any of the Ancestors who made this Land their home and worked it as farmers, as fruit growers or what have you and we do not exclude any of the Ancestors whose blood runs in our veins.
For us Dia de los Muertos is all inclusive, in the same sense that we do not exclude Ancestors from our concepts of the blood in our veins or our Ancestral Trees. We recognize that there is a complexity to our situation as people who come from across the Sea to embrace both our Ancestral Spirits and the Ancestral Spirits in whose home we are living. There is also a complexity to the Ancestral Trails within our DNA as over many years there are many "ghosts" in our DNA, people and traditions that we may be unaware of. There are many Ancestral Voices and Ancestral Spirits who step forward. We approach the Day of the Dead in a humble way, embracing our Ancestral Collective with an approach and Heart that does not offend any Ancestor, and that embraces every Ancestor who steps forward with Nchila (heart).
As we cook the Ancestral offering out on the open fire grill, the aroma of the food fills the air, and we recognize that the Aroma of the food itself is very important to the Spirit. The aroma is one of the energies of the food that the Ancestral Spirit is able to absorb. It is important how the food is cooked, and that it is cooked in a good way, with love and care. We never give the Ancestors food that has been prepared in a restaurant, we always cook it ourselves and for a number of years now we have always cooked it outside. The air is crisp, the fire is warm, and while we cook we watch the transformation of the trees around us, the way that half their leaves are adorning them in a colorful array and half their leaves lie on Mother Earth enveloping her in her yearly blanket that then becomes topsoil, the humus rich soil that sustains life. We see the embrace of death and life around us in its yearly story of the continuation of life.
Various foods are cooked, including pig heads. Although we do not eat pork ourselves, it is traditional to give the Ancestors roasted pig head, and they request it, so we willingly comply coating it with palm oil. This is accompanied by the cooked root vegetables (yucca, batata, jautia, name, and potato), with green bananas, red onions, olive oil. We also cook green bananas and eggplant with bacalao (salted cod that gets cooked), onions and olive oil. Smoked fish are cooked with whole corn and an abundance of palm oil. In addition to this we put down fresh root crops, yucca, jautia, name, potatoes, and fruits, pineapples, mangos, apples, pears, papaya, coconuts, and most importantly guava. The guava are especially important in Taino tradition as the food of the Muertos. We always seek out the guava for the Ancestors! Included in this is also sugar cane.
The aroma from the cooking food is compelling and stimulates memories of all the other Ancestral Offerings that we do on a consistent basis. The Palm oil transforms the raw corn and smoked fish into a delicacy that attracts the Spirit. This is cooked in the Iron pot. We take the time to discuss in a simple way with Anani the various Misterios involved in the process, from the Iron of the Pot (Zarabanda), the Fire (7 Rayos), the Palos themselves (feeds the fire), the air (Centeya) that enables the fire to burn, the Sun that provided energy for the growth of the woods and foods, the Rains (Chola Wengue/ Kalunga) that nourished the wood and foods, the soil (Mother Earth) that give minerals and space for the growth, and so on. Obviously it is much more complex than this, however it is good to have these conversations with children utilizing concepts and terms that they can grasp. The complexity can come later.
The pig itself is an animal that is not indigenous to Boriken, to the Caribbean. It was introduced by europeans. However the pig has tremendous cultural significance to humanity and within Afro-Caribbean traditions. The pig is one of the earliest domesticated animals (9000 plus years ago) who is linked in Palo to the Mpungo Zarabanda, the Mpungo of Iron but also of all things to do with the development of agriculture, hunting, building of civilizations. In the Caribbean the pig represents survival and wealth, and also represents the force which is wild, free and untamable of both the Forest and Ancestors! In Haiti in 1771 the witch doctor Boukman sacrificed a black pig in the birthing of the Haitian Revolution which established the first free African Republic in this Continent (post Columbus).
If we look at Egyptian Myth, the pig also is significant in the Death and Rebirthing Rituals (Osiris and Thoth Rituals), and the pig itself was utilized to tread the seeds into the Earth during planting times. The pig is historically and mythologically connected with both development of human culture, agricultural practices and seasonal cycles, and is connected with survival, and in particular the survival of African Traditions within the Caribbean which also enable Taino Traditions to survive through the incorporating of certain Taino traditions and Cemis into Afro - Caribbean traditions.
We offer the pig head to the Ancestors to honor these traditions and to empower the future generations which will be born from the Ancestral world. We hold the understanding that everything that we offer to the Ancestors is transferred to the Ancestral World where it accumulates ready to be reincarnated in the future to feed the Future Generations. We offer to the Ancestors in the understanding of Invoking the Abundance for the Future Generations and for ourselves in the near Future. In this way we make our contribution to the Eternal Cycles of Death and Rebirth, Renewal that occurs on all levels of this magnificent Creation!!!
As our cooking for the Ancestors comes to a conclusion we free up some space on the fire to cook some potatoes and eggs for our own consumption. Significantly the potatoes and eggs are direct fruits of our work upon the Land. We dug up the potatoes from the garden on the day itself and collected eggs from the chicken house. By consuming "fruits" of the Land itself we further reinforce our connections to the Ancestors and further empower our invocations for Sustainability, Thriving and the Abundance of both the Future and for the Future Generations. We also are complying with our commitment to the Misterios to manifest the reality that we are always invoking.
Invocations (and Ebo) cannot be seen in a one dimensional way. They are not simply lists of requests delivered to the Ancestors and Misterios for us to wait idly by for fulfillment. When we give the Misterios fruits, animals, foods, waters, tobacco, rum, etc, we are not just making a simplistic exchange of materials for benefits or solutions in our lives. We are empowering their realm (the realm of the Dead) as a complying within the cycles of renewal. We consume foods (vegetables, animals, fish etc) to sustain our bodies, but we also know that we will need sustenance tomorrow and the tomorrow after that, and we know that our Children and Grandchildren will also need that sustenance, so we do not just exist as consumers but also apply ourselves as producers, offering the Misterios sustenance that the cycle of renewal may continue, and we also include in the compliance not just the act of going to the market to gather the fruits of someone else's labor but also of cultivating our own abundance here to offer to the Misterio and to our own Future the fruits of our own sweat and intelligence.
In other words we are not just asking the Ancestors to do for us in exchange for one passing offering, but we are assuring the Ancestors that we also are complying with our aspect of that cycle of continual renewal, we are caretaking our domain within that cycle. It is the continual fulfillment of a pledge and commitment, made during Initiation and renewed with every Ebo, towards the Sustainability and Thriving of our Experience. Our Action on a daily basis empowers these moments of offering, such as the Day of the Dead. The Day of the Dead is a moment in time for us to pause to bring our commitment to this perpetual cycle of evolution and continuous renewal into a focal point where both the movement of the world of the Dead (Invisible to us but intertwined in the physical) and the world of the Living into a moment of mutual appreciation and a moment a renewal of a mutual commitment which will enable those very Ancestors who we are honoring and venerating to be able to reincarnate once again into Future Generations.
In a world which is suffering so much and where there are so many fears for the Future of Life, these processes are so very important. We do not allow ourselves to become paralyzed by the oppressive things that are taking place and the fear that such things as atomic bombs, super viruses, genetically modified seeds, the breakdown in the the family and communities, drought, flood, and earthquake, and so much more bring to our consciousness. In these times of so many changes, Earth and Societal, it is all the more important to strengthen the Spiritual Foundation and to strengthen the bond, the communication and the understanding between the Living and the Dead. We have to understand that the Dead are not in a different place or different World, we have to understand that we are in a World within "their" World, which is in truth "Our World".
We see and acknowledge the power of the Spirit of the Ancestors as it vibrates its voice globally through song, through garden, through movements, through poems, through choices, choices and more choices! When we offer to the Ancestors, we offer to that Spirit. We offer to the Ancient Taino Spirit whose voice grows louder, dispelling misconceptions, who manifests in Cemis created in the here and now but who bring with them Wisdom from the Taino World of the Dead. We offer to the Bakongo Spirit whose voice sounds loud, bringing forth new understandings and stimulating connections between seemingly disparate fragments of knowledge to recreate a whole, to pull together the fragments of broken cultures and traditions. We offer to the African Spirits, and to all the Indigenous Spirits who are stimulating a Resurgence which does not allow itself to be compartmentalized into "us versus them" mentalities, and that is overcoming the segregations and the pitting of Sister against Sister and Brother against Brother and Sister against Brother that has been consciously utilized as a tool of Colonization, a tool of slavery and a continued tool of maintaining the power status quo.
While we speak in terms of Bakongo and Taino, we cannot possibly exclude the influence and intertwining of multiple African and Indigenous Traditions within the Trails of Bakongo and Taino both BEFORE and AFTER the psychopathic occurrence of the serial killer columbus and his gang. Traditions within Africa, although diverse in terms of expression, still held to a common Root, which is the Root of all Culture and Spiritual Traditions World wide. This common Root honored the Ancestors and honored the Earth and strove to not just Survive but to Thrive upon the Earth. This is the Common Root that has allowed Humanity to Live and Grow for hundreds of thousands of years. And it is this primordial Spiritual Root which can allow us to continue to live for Hundreds of Thousands of more years, but only if we come back to the true knowledge and wisdom and practices of those Traditions, only if we Embrace the Principles of those Traditions.
African and Indigenous (which is still African in primordial origin) Traditions are not about empty gestures, actions by rote, or blind routines. Traditions are living breathing entities based on the Foundation of the living breathing relationship between the LIVING and the DEAD because of a basic understanding of the CYCLE between the Living and the Dead, which is ONE WHOLE CYCLE, not two distinct ones.
There is an interesting development of Myth that has to do with the pig as it moved from Ancient Kemet (Egypt) to Greece. In Kemet the pig was, as mentioned above, utilized within the cycle of the Agricultural Cycle, symbolizing the fertilizing of the soil so that the growth of the next year could be assured. And in contemporary Ebo the pig or other animal is Sacrificed in a way where there is a consciousness that this pig or other animal is being transfered to the Ancestral world so that it can be reborn to sustain future generations. The SKY Goddess Nut was seen at one point as a Female pig who ate all her piglet children (Stars) every morning and gave birth to them all again every evening, suckling them all night long. This represents a clear understanding of the CYCLIC nature of the Life. However when this understanding was transferred to the Greeks (ie. Stolen Legacy), the Greeks had problems understanding the Spiritual Message and Concept within the Myth, and approached it in a very linear way, although retaining important aspects of the cyclical quality of the Myth. The Greeks raised piglets in their homes all year long until October, then these beloved piglets were sacrificed directly to the Earth and buried, there would be great weeping and grieving because of the sacrifice and because a emotional and shortsighted relationship or attachment had developed. At the same time the old corpses of the previous years piglets were dug up and utilized to fertilize the seeds that were to be planted. This reflects a breakdown in understanding, although the symbolic gestures are spiritually relevant and indicate a full cycle of Season, and of Birth and Death and continual renewal. It was a failure in the ability of the Greek mind to conceive of the Universal Truth of the Cycle of Birth Death and REBIRTH! And we can trace this mental breakdown to a slew of modern misconceptions and emotional problems, as well as to the great grieving and fear of death prevalent in the so called modern world.
As a note we have seen this attachment to the animal within the Ebo manifest in some individuals due to their misconception of the Cycle of Life and Death and Life. They developed sympathy towards the animal that was shortsighted and created problems within the Ebo. This could also indicate in some circumstance a deep psychological desire to avoid the commitment towards spiritual-physical development that Ebo signifies! (This can also be seen on a societal level within this society in particular where there is an obsession with pets, which are often given more attention and protection than Children, or those individuals and families that find themselves without food, water and shelter).
Even a simple Ancestral Ceremony, such as the one we did this year can bring us so much Abundance. It brings us Wisdom, Understanding, it brings us Inspiration, and it Teaches the Young Generation and grounds them in the Spiritual Tradition.
In Palo we say "We are here Today and gone Tomorrow!" which is a continual acknowledgement of the Cycle of Life and Death, because we are not utilizing "gone" in the sense of being nowhere tomorrow, but in the sense that we will not be in this physical experience forever but will enter that next phase in the Ancestral Cycle of Life. We do not want to forget, while we are in physical bodies, about the whole cycle and we do not want to become bloated consumers in this phase, forgetting about the Ancestors, and only bringing our self serving obsessions into the Ancestral world when we INEVITABLY do make that Transition. The Ancestral World certainly has a consciousness about us, and we must strive to develop a vital consciousness about them, because after all, WE are THEM and THEY are US!
May the Ancestral Spirit continue to be empowered and continue to Bring the Winds of Transformation into our Lives!