By PAT WATSON
Poppy pins are beginning to appear on lapels again, as they do every year at this time to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice made by many young men, as well as women, starting in the First World War. As we mature, these commemorations on November 11 – Remembrance Day here, Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and Armistice Day in Europe – generally have more resonance.
While Nov. 11 was first created for the recognition of the end of WWI there have been many wars since and each generation makes sacrifices in human lives, so that the very old as well as today’s youth can relate. And, given human nature there is no end to the war dead that we remember. Facing our own mortality, we have a greater appreciation for human life and what it means for a person to give his or her life in the better interest of the many.
Remembering those who have gone before us, those whose legacy we carry forward, has a long tradition in all cultures in one form or another. Many cultures have so-called ‘ancestor days’. Along those lines, November 1 holds significance in Western culture as All Souls’ Day or All Saints’ Day.
However, it has only been in recent years – since 1994 – that a group here in Toronto has been holding annual remembrance celebrations for our ancestors. Nakumbuka (a Kiswahili word meaning ‘I remember’) is the annual day of observance for the Maafa (The African slavery holocaust which began in the middle of the Second Millennium C.E.) honouring Africans who died in slave rebellions and resisting slavery.
Nakumbuka observances, also on Nov. 11, have also been held in the U.S. and in Jamaica. This commemoration is one worth participating in as a means of healing a wound that remains in the psyche of transplanted Diasporic African descendents.
Yet, while we remember our ancestors and celebrate them, perhaps we should consider a time to formally mourn our ancestors lost in the Maafa for this reason: The aftermath of that massive trauma and African enslavement still has a strong hold on Diasporic African descendents.
It could very well be that we haven’t begun to properly let go because, as with any funereal ritual, we haven’t made the occasion to properly mourn the loss through that immense tragedy. Perhaps every five years or every decade or so, it would do us some good to allow ourselves not just to remember, but also to grieve for the lives so wretchedly lost in the Maafa.
The aim, of course, would not be to wallow in the sorrow of it but to allow a space for it to be released so that we can then take the next step in properly reconciling the past and restoring ourselves as a nation of descendents. If we were to make that time to mourn, then probably so many of our lives would not continue to be lived as a dirge coming out of the horrendous tragedy. For have we properly mourned our ancestors’ enslavement and mass deaths?
As their descendents, our lives as a mass of people, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, are to some extent still circumscribed by that key phase of our history. These days we hear that a growing number of soldiers are returning from places such as Afghanistan and Iraq carrying the effects of post-traumatic shock. In times past, such fighters were called shell-shocked soldiers. But those who study human psychology also have come to recognize that the families, the children and grandchildren, also internalize these psychic wounds.
It is important to understand that these conditions do not for the most part spontaneously resolve themselves; real work has to be done to heal the wound. For when these conditions become fossilized they are far more difficult to dislodge and we have enough clear evidence of that as we look across our Black population.
So, shouldn’t we make a time and a place to mourn, to hold on to each other and to call on a greater strength to heal us, so that we can, in due course, cease mourning and get on with the rest of our life?
On a note of incongruity...
The very talented homeless duo, hoping for spare change in return, sang and entertained the ready-made audience in the subway car. They traveled the length of the car singing a pleasing harmony and, as they neared her, switched languages as an appeal to include her. But she wouldn’t pull her face out of reading her Bible long enough to spare the pair even a smile.