By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
As Mother’s Day approaches I think about my mother who transitioned more than three decades ago. It seemed as if one minute we were a family (mother, father and children) and the next minute, without warning, we were motherless.
My mother was still a young woman when she transitioned and her nine children (the oldest barely out of her teens and the youngest just seven years old) were in shock, never imagining life without “Mommy!”
My father was inconsolable at losing the woman who he first met when they were both children and had been his wife since he was barely out of his teens. Today my sisters and I are mothers and some of us are grandmothers. We have celebrated Mother’s Day together and commemorated the memory of our mother.
The discussion always includes the fact that our mother did not live long enough to see and touch any grandchildren and how grateful we are to have experienced that joy. I still miss my mother and find myself thinking about her whenever I look at my three sisters, Carol, April and Coralee; wondering what my mother would look like if she was alive today.
We have all lived past the age my mother was when she transitioned. Sometimes my daughter and my nieces remind me of my mother as a young woman. It is amazing how genes are passed down from generation to generation.
On Saturday I attended the eighth annual “Decolonizing the Spirit” conference at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) where Dr. Helen Pearman Ziral spoke about “Intergenerational Spirit Injury and Healing”.
There were several presentations and speakers, but this topic resonated with me I suspect because of losing my mother when I was barely an adult. I was reminded of how losing my mother affected my siblings and me, the confusion in the aftermath of her burial. The denial in which we indulged because we did not want to believe our mother was really gone from our lives never to return.
I learned that spirit injury can be passed down through generations and wonder how that may have affected my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother stretching way back to that first African woman ancestor who was kidnapped and enslaved.
I wondered how spirit injury stretching back generations affects who we are today and our reactions to various incidents in our lives. As mothers, do we through “blood memory” (another term used by Dr. Ziral) transmit our life experiences, both positive and negative, to subsequent generations?
If our reactions to situations today are affected by the experiences of those women who went before us then we today should be fighting against White supremacy, including racial profiling because our “mother” ancestors never gave up the struggle against slavery and colonization.
The stories abound about those “mother” ancestors who fought their enslavers and colonizers. Throughout the enslavement of African people, African women always played a part in resisting and ultimately ending the institution of chattel slavery. Some are well known while others are only known within the specific communities where those women lived.
One of those lesser known women ancestors is Solitude from Guadeloupe. The story of this enslaved African woman in A Woman Named Solitude was published in 2001, written by Andre Schwarz-Bart, a White Frenchman. In 1802 Solitude was involved in the enslaved Africans’ struggle for freedom on the island of Guadeloupe.
She fought alongside other enslaved Africans in a quest to gain their freedom from the French who enslaved them. Unfortunately Solitude was captured and sentenced to death along with her comrades at arms.
In their 2002 book In Praise of Black Women: Heroines of the slavery era, authors Simone Schwarz-Bart and André Schwarz-Bart wrote about the fate of the other freedom fighters: “The others died strung up on Constantin Hill, in the heights of Basse-Terre, and their bodies exposed to wind and rain ‘for all eternity’, in accordance with the ill justice dealt at the time.
Solitude was pregnant when she was captured so her sentence was postponed for a few months until after she had given birth. Her child was the property of the family who had enslaved her so the new mother was hanged on November 29, 1802, the day after she gave birth to her child.
In 1999 a sculpture in memory of Solitude was installed at the De la Croix roundabout intersection on the Boulevard des Héros, in Abymes, Guadeloupe. Ironically, in 2007, the French erected a statue in her memory in Hauts-de-Seine, Paris, France.
In their book In Praise of Black Women, the authors write: “What can one say about Solitude of Guadeloupe who is known to us thanks largely through the dry court records kept during her trial? What about the millions of mothers, our mothers, whose names are written nowhere, except as chattels on yellowed auction certificates, listed in between a couple of bulls and a few chickens?”
It is this devastating history coupled with the “blood memory” and “Intergenerational Spirit Injury” which has never been addressed that contributes to the state of our communities regardless of where we live.
It is very sad to lose your mother regardless of your age but it is devastating for a mother to lose her child. Recently we have read about a group of mothers in Nigeria whose daughters were kidnapped from their school by a group of men. Not only are these mothers suffering because of the disappearance of their daughters they have the added suffering of imagining their daughters crying out for help and being unable to help them.
These mothers have gathered together for weeks pleading for their government to help in finding and returning their daughters with no discernible results. What torture these women must be going through as they protest and plead for help in rescuing their daughters from their kidnappers.
On Sunday, May 4, I attended a demonstration in front of the Eaton Centre organized by the group African Women Acting (AWA) to bring attention to the plight of the kidnapped girls, their families and community. Although all family members of these girls must be grieving and suffering from this brutal action of kidnapping these school girls, in many of the videos (www.cnn.com/2014/05/01/world/africa/nigeria-abducted-girls/index.html) and photographs the faces we have seen are the suffering faces of the mothers pleading for the government to intervene and rescue their daughters.
As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 11, please become involved in supporting the families of the girls who have been kidnapped in Nigeria and are still missing. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers and also to the fathers who are sole support parents!!