Reflections on “Revelations” Gathering

Revelations with M. Jacqui AlexanderThe William Doo Auditorium at the University of Toronto was transformed on the evening of March 23, 2012 from about seven to midnight as we descended, many unknowingly, into the hold of a ship of the kind that would have taken millions captive from the African continent over the course of five centuries.  The evening, called Revelations, featured M. Jacqui Alexander reading three excerpts from an unpublished novel of the same name.   At the center of the story is a woman, Kitsimba, who numbered among the enslaved, captured from the Kôngo and brought to Trinidad via Martinique in the late 1700s, resurrected that evening to tell something that is impossible to tell.

And it is with this that Jacqui began, after being introduced by Alissa Trotz and Lisa Yoneyama, reading from a scant 19th century document—two paragraphs to be exact— describing the imprisonment of  ‘Thisbe’ for “. . . witchcraft, poisoning by means of charms, knowledge of the black arts, . . . and consorting with the devil.”   There was no trial.  Thisbe was tortured, hanged and beheaded, her head paraded through the streets of (then) Port-of-Spain and later exposed on the plantation in Diego Martin, the remainder of her body burnt on a pyre.  That was 1801.  Not coincidentally, all 200 of us were gathered at that auditorium on the heels of an immensely haunting performance of Obeah Opera (written by Nicole Brooks and staged by Theatre Archipelago)— about the life of Tituba, which was similarly shattered by charges of witchcraft in Salem, Masschusetts.  That was 1692.

The evening revealed that the trumped up accusations actually hid Thisbe’s true name, Kitsimba, and hid as well the healing work that she did with medicinal plants, her intimate knowledge of the power of plant medicine and the delicate balance she lived between the poison (of oppression) and the antidote of healing.  These revelations, Jacqui noted, were divulged in ways that are not widely sanctioned in the academy.  As Tituba said in Obeah Opera,  “the Moon call me back ah mi yard; the moon give me visions inna mi mind; dreams in mih sleep.”  Images come through a scent, a split second’s glimpse of an entire life in the flash of the Spirit, a faint shadow lying under a village, the movement of a feather—all the different ways we are made to see and know what we have forgotten.

Jacqui read three excerpts: The Crossing; a reflection from the decapitated head that speaks as it is paraded through the streets of Port-of-Spain into Diego Martin; and Kitsimba’s own ruminations of the body count in the massive trans-Atlantic wreckage that still haunts as its seeks its own archive.

There is an odor that has seeped into the pores of wood that no vinegar or carbon or sulphur can eliminate.  That odor bled into our pores.  We smelled the same.  Even after leaving the ship we would be outdoors and a strong gust would stir up from ground and bring that scent right back to us; we would look around, recognize it, loose our bearings.  A scent of grief and suffering and unspeakable loss so deep it could not be uttered, only issued involuntarily, so strong it could not be contained in one place.  We could not bear any more than we were bearing. We needed Wind and Rain and Moon and Ocean and Sun and River and Love to caress and wash and hold us.  We needed the scent of infinity.

Ras Iville’s corn soup warmed us that night.  It was not cold, but we, too, needed to be held.  Our follow up conversation, magically facilitated by Gail Lewis and Angela Robertson, was probing, deep, tearful, as happens when we allow our Souls to do the searching.

We left the auditorium at fifteen minutes before midnight.  The port of disembarkation was the same as the port of entry five hours earlier.  The Middle Passage is an inheritance of each of us, ALL of us, according to Kitsimba.  For her,  “healing work is the antidote to oppression.”  Among plants, the poison and the antidote are found in the same place; so too oppression and healing work are to be found in the same place. These medicinal plant gardens that are the foundation of the Tobago Center are an ancestral mandate for healing in the present.

 

2 Responses to Reflections on “Revelations” Gathering

  1. This event calls to mind the eleven-hour durational reading of NourbeSe Philip’s poetic opus Zong! (Nov 29, 2013) commemorating the massacre that occurred aboard the slave ship of the same name in 1781. Through collaboratively and improvisationally reading the disjointed, fragmented text, in b current’s small dark candlelit space, we descended into what felt to me like an enactment of the soundscape of the holds of that ship. We remembered and imagined, memorialized and grieved.

  2. Dear Keepers of Tobago!

    Congratulations to Dr. M. Jaqui Alexander and to all keepers of Tobago! I hope to visit you sometime in the near future.

    I live in Gainesville, Florida, and had the pleasure of speaking briefly on the phone with Dr. Alexander about a year ago.

    I look forward to visiting and helping in some way.

    Your sister in One Mother,
    Vrinda JS

    352-505-0101

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