I am forever grateful that my parents did not raise me with a Colonizers’ name and religion and that they ensured that I understood the power and greatness of my ancestors. However, spirituality was never really a part of my life. With no religious or spiritual practices passed down through generations before me, I had a recurring feeling of disconnection from something I couldn’t verbalize.
Over the past few years, I have come to find my own personal definition of God and spirituality… but there was still something missing. I missed that sense of pride, honor, and comfort in traditions passed down from my ancestors to me.
That feeling was missing, until one day I came across Santeria, a Cuban amalgamation of Catholicism and Yoruba. Despite the slave trade, Yoruba spirituality managed to make its way to the Caribbean and has a strong foothold in Latin American culture to this day. That these people had a spiritual tradition that directly connected them to their African ancestors was amazing to me.
I began to research the Yoruba people and their spiritual practices and fell in love. It touched my spirit and had me feeling as though I had finally found my way home after centuries of being stranded.
Funnily enough, just as I was about to dive deep into this world of Orishas, a friend of mine introduced me to Rayon McLean, the Artistic Director of the performing arts group Quilt. Rayon had just happened to be directing a theatrical performance entitled "ReAshored" where the story involved the Yoruba Orishas and he wanted Siwatu Jewelry to design pieces inspired by the story. So of course, realizing that everything was coming into alignment, I was quick to say yes!
Before I get into the pieces that we created for the show, I must comment on the actual performance. From the exceptional vocals to the gut-wrenching emotions portrayed by the gifted Quilt actors, I left the theater with tears in my eyes and goosebumps all over my body. Rayon’s brilliant use of the Orishas to show the perpetual struggle between the colonized mind and the ancient knowledge imprinted in our DNA was mind-blowing. I felt so proud to be a part of such an event.
Photo Credit: Renee McDonald, Kareen McLean & Neil Waithe
Now let’s get to our designs! The Yoruba practice has a number of deities called Orishas that are believed to help humans with understanding the different aspects of life and communicating with God.
Ashenafi and I decided to focus our designs on 9 of the Orishas that were a part of the performance. Here’s what we came up with.
Obatala, meaning King of the white cloth, is celebrated as the King of all the Orishas and the creator of all mankind. He is the Orisha of leadership, knowledge, justice, those who are handicapped and the military. Always dressed in white, Obatala represents purity and calmness. He finds clarity and pureness of thought by connecting to nature high above the distractions of everyday life.
Olokun is the Goddess of the bottom of the ocean. She is the all-knowing keeper of wisdom and divination. Like her world, so is Olokun the keeper of secrets. Anything that falls to the bottom of the sea floor remains intact forever more, never to be laid eyes on by other than herself and her underwater children. She is believed to hold the secrets of the past, present, and future.
Oya is the powerful Orisha Goddess of the winds. She can manifest as the gentlest breeze to a raging hurricane. She is the Orisha of change, clearing the old to make way for the new. She is believed to watch over the newly dead and assist them as they make the transition.
Yemaya is the Orisha Goddess of Seas and Lakes. She is a mother goddess and the goddess of home, fertility, love, and family. Like water, she represents both change and constancy; bringing forth life, protecting it and changing it as is necessary.
Oshun rules over the sweet waters of the world, the brooks, streams, and rivers. This Orisha Goddess embodies love, fertility and sensuality. She is considered one of the most powerful Orishas and is depicted as the protector, savior, and nurturer of humanity.
Ogun is the God of iron, war, and labor. This Orisha is a powerful and fierce warrior who protects his people and fights against injustice. He is the father of civilization for it is by his strength that the path from heaven to earth was cleared so that humanity and the Orishas could come to earth.
Ochosi is the hunter and the scout for the Orishas and assumes the role of translator for Obatala (the father of all Orishas). He is a warrior, a magician, and a seer. Ochosi is the lord of justice and the patron of those who have problems with the law.
Elegua represents the beginning and end of life as well as the opening and closing of paths in life. He has a childlike nature and loves to play tricks and jokes on people. Elegua is a very powerful Orisha and without his permission, the door to communication with the other Orishas stays closed.
Shango is the god of thunder, drumming, dancing, fire and male virility. He is a master of drums and the rumble of thunder reminds us of his rhythmic sounds. Shango is one of the most beloved and revered of all the Orishas and teaches us to live a well-rounded life.
It’s unfortunate that in Jamaica, African spirituality and mythology have little to no place in our primary and secondary education system. Most of us raise our children with no real sense of where or who they came from. What's even worse is that as Jamaicans, most of us refuse to even acknowledge our African ancestry, much less learn about it. We cling to the Colonizer's religion and view anything remotely connected to African spirituality (eg. pocomania, voodoo, obeah) as evil, ugly and primitive.
Now I'm not saying that you should reject Christianity or any non-African religious or spiritual practice. Good and bad resides in everything. I can acknowledge the fact that despite the brutal murders and enslavement that were done in the name of Christianity, the religion itself has been a safe haven for many who have fallen and provides a moral code for those who seek it. In the same way, I would love my fellow Jamaicans to approach these African practices with an open mind.
Many thanks to Rayon and the entire Quilt family for their moving and inspiring performance. We thoroughly enjoyed designing and making these pieces and look forward to designing more pieces based on Yoruba culture.
Until next time,
Loved this post. We are the new ancients! Continue to keep the culture alive. Love you guys ❤️❤️❤️
So informative and inspiring! Really enjoyed reading this one. I saw the play too and it was exactly as you beautifully said it. Can’t wait to see your next post 😊