K'Awo : A Reconnection With Family and Spirit
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A grand woman that I never met or knew. But I know her. My great-grand mother has been instrumental in moving me towards the worship of Orisa. I know her through my mother's stories. She would holler ?Colleeeen? with the "eeeeen" going up an octave, when she suspected that my mother was in the yard interfering with Orisa's paraphernalia. Mummy was about eight years-old then. She caught my mother just as she was going to taste some "seeds in a little clay dish full of oil.? She had a red cloth that she would place on her altar every time she prayed. She was a priest of Shango. K'abi e s' ile!
For some time in my young life, she was referred to as Gran'Ma. My mother forgot her name. I could just imagine the hard times my mother, my aunts, and uncles went through. Their grandmother was a woman who practiced "that African-devil worship mumbo jumbo." Although she was a traditionalist, her daughter, Marie was baptized and raised Catholic. In those days, post slavery, this was done for the purpose of obtaining an education and health services. Most of the schools were Christian so conversion was necessary. Marie's husband, Carlyle came from a Catholic family. Gran'Pa Carlyle worked for Texaco Oil and was building a large house for his family. He was a Black man of mixed blood, a Trinidadian through and through at a time when the folk were comfortable with diversity. His father was of African, East Indian and Spanish descent and his mother, of African and Chinese. I could imagine his family saying "This African religion just would not do and the children must follow Catholicism". That ensured that they would be educated and have a good and relatively risk-free life. It really is no wonder my mother had a problem remembering her name but I did not realize how instrumental I was in changing that. Gran'Ma needed to be honored.
I was introduced to her in a reading, done according to the Yoruba system of sixteen cowry shells by a woman who was one of my elders and teachers in the United States. She came to us crying that she was forgotten...that we did not remember her name. I called my mother after obtaining the information that the crying woman was on my side of the family. We were already aware of the situation. My teacher described her as a Creole woman with her hair combed in two. On either side, with her braids, she rolled them over her ears to simulate a pair of ram's horns. She must have loved her "father" Shango to personally embody an aspect of one of his creatures.
I gave my mother the description and the details of the reading. Still she could not remember her name. I temporarily closed the chapter.
One day, the telephone could not have had a more frantic ring. I picked up the receiver and heard "Gran'Ma Hilda Frances" then silence.
?Who is this?!?
I answered. It sounds almost like my mother, but I was not sure.
?Gran'Ma Hilda Frances!?
She repeated. I heard the excitement in her voice and my sister talking away in the background. Then I heard the other phone line open. My sister picked up the phone in my father's "shack". She interrupted...
?Hear nuh! I was asleep. It hot over here, so you jes want to lay down on the cool floor and do nothing. And I wake up, jus so??
She rattled on in dialect because she was so excited.
?Gyul I tell ya, I wake her up and asked her, ?What is your Grandmother's name?? And she told me.?
My mother was on the other line.
?Gran'Ma Hilda Frances,? she said calmly.
I felt it was my duty to compound the situation and ask an even harder question
?Mummy?you remember her maiden name??
?Charmaine man...you asking too much,? my sister interrupted.
?Bascombe,? my mother said, quite calmly.
It came flooding back. She had dreams of my great grandmother before but since that investigation by her daughters, she dreamt of her constantly. That was great for me because it brought me closer to this intriguing person that I never knew.
My relationship with her grew with every spiritual sitting and personal prayer. She would tell my mother through dreams what was going on with me here in the United States. I was glad when Mummy did not understand some of these dreams. The secret stayed with me but I also knew Gran'Ma Hilda was with me. She had a very strong character. Men respected her. Her heart was big. She took care of people. Granddaughters, nieces, cousins were all son and daughters to her. And she was not to be played with...her temper was as tremendous as a bolt of lightening.
She was one of the pillars in the community in Siparia and she had feasts. In Trinidad, you were not considered a priest if you did not hold feasts in your community. My mother and her siblings would steal away to watch many of her celebrations since it was forbidden by her "Christian family.?
My mother and some of her brothers and sisters would sneak down the stairs of their house and take a dirt road through the woods to Gran'Ma's. They could hear the drums from a distance beating rhythmically and sounds of high-pitched human voices responding in song. As they drew closer people were everywhere. At the entrance to the yard near the gate, there was a big oil drum cut in half propped on a grail. Hot wood and coal burned underneath as aromatic herbs singed inside, the wind taking the aromatic smoke through the ceremonial compound.
Some people were standing by the gate bickering a little. Others were standing around peeking here and there being obvious curious bystanders. My mother and her siblings could not be seen. They would sneak to the side of the house to a little alleyway between her house and a small room she had built for prayer. There were vines of jasmine growing over and down the sides of the small room and bushy enough to hide them. What a sweet hideout. Russell couldn't help himself, swaying and tapping his hands on his knee while he's stooped to stay low. He later grew up to fancy himself a singer and a musician.
My Mother kept watching how the light bounced off forms and faces. With her little artist eyes she was imagining what she would like to draw. Beulah kept asking where was Gran'Ma. She was one of the youngest and sneaked along without them realizing until it was too late. Then once they were too far along the track she kept asking so many questions forgetting that they were supposed to be hiding.
They turned to her with their fingers across their lips. All at once in hushed tones.
?How you end up comin'? You goin' to get us in soooo much trouble.?
?Say it not spray it,? Beulah replied giggling.
?You better be nice to me or I'm goin' to tell?
?Then you'd be in trouble too dummy,? my other uncle retorted.
He sucked his teeth. They would try to be still and observe all that was going on. On one of those occasions Gran'Ma caught them and Beulah wasn't there that time to put the blame on either. She smiled, threatened them a little with what she could tell their father but brought them inside the prayer room and fixed them a plate of food. The food had no salt. Everything had texture but no taste. But they humbly ate it so that the little threat about telling their father would remain forgotten. Everyone else seemed to be eating ravenously and there was a lot of food. Meats, rice, ground provisions, plantains, greens and lots of tasty cakes. Candles burned in corners inside and out side the room. Grain crunched beneath their feet as they walked.
Getting home was just as risky. Would Marie and Fitzroy realize that most of their children were gone somewhere? If they ever got caught, the excursion was worth the spanking.
Editor?s Note: The word "awo" in Yoruba means both divination and mystery. There is no awo without community and there is no community without connection to elders and there are no effective elders who are not connected to the ancestors and there are no ancestors who become elevated without guidance from Orisa (diety) and there is no Orisa without connection to the human spirit. An understanding of these relationships is at the heart of what has come to be known as the Afro-centric worldview. This worldview is an expression of the belief that everything is interrelated, everything is interconnected, and spirit is manifest in all things. (reprinted from http://www.awostudycenter.com/Articles/art_awo1.htm)
Author?s Note: I had an opportunity in more recent years to honor her name at the General Assembly for the inclusion of Orisa Worship as a recognized religion to the Ecumenical Council of Trinidad and Tobago. In this council, they become a part of and are given a voice in the parliament system of Trinidad and Tobago. When I carefully uttered her name some elders present in the room mumbled as if in recognition. They were old people blessed with an extremely long life. I fantasize that I might have brought back memories for them. Today, I wear a symbol in memory of her. It was a symbol most important to her and all of her grandchildren wore this from the time they were toddlers, my mother included. I suspect that her children wore it too. This grand woman that I never met or knew. I know her. I raise myself from my chair when I call on Gran'Ma. K'Awo.