Black Spirituality Religion : In-Visibility and Duality of the Civil Rights and Yoruba Movements;1950's-1990's

Discussion in 'Black Spirituality / Religion - General Discussion' started by Sekhemu, Dec 2, 2006.

  1. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    By Ifagboyede

    When former slaves entered the post-slavery workforce, there were only two occupations open to them: servitude and entertainment. Those who became entertainers were required by the status quo to cast themselves into an imitation of what "white" blackface minstrel performers called plantation "niggerisms." Beginning in the 1860's, ex-slaves entering the entertainment industry applied burnt cork to their own dark skins and took to the stage in a strange admixture of controntation, resistance, and parody. In an ironic flux of unwitting racial betrayal, the "black" blackface minstrels readily and willingly participated in the dangerous "game" of denigrating their own racial identity. Although African American minstrel histrionics were invented to entertain, rationalize, justify, and bring to life white America's illogical racist laws and ethnocentric attitudes, the "black" blackface performer had a covertly veiled hidding agenda whic was to restore a measure of dignity to the stolen and trampled image of African people. Their mission was to resist, challenge, and de-script the "white" false images and perceptions on the humanism of African people against an ingrained American kaleidoscope of comic "******" humor.

    Thus, African American perfomers were forced to negotiate between representations of the "authentic" self and representations of blackness fixed in the minds of audiences accustomed to "white" created raciala smears. The paradox of the "black" blackface minstrel performer is easily applicable to the pre-1950's African American quest for a respected racial identity albeit by blending the derogatory images of beastliness, savagery, and ungodliness into a recreation of the race based on a bifurcated Americanized ideal. Noting the resulting severed and fragmented identity, Dubois wrots his famous words, "It is a peculiar sensation, this double-conciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others. of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness and American, a Negro; two souls in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

    The Rise of the Yoruba and Civil Rights Movements

    The New World racial dilemma that DuBois so passionately and poignantly wrote about in his monumental work The Souls of Black Folk, still burns deeply in the conciousness of African Americans whose racial identity remains fragmented and even more compounded with troublesome implications and ramifications associated with the distant relationship and loss of indigenous customs. Hence, Shakespeare's quixotic question "to be or not to be" is the constant irresolvable that African Americans decisively and consistantly pondered.

    The Fifties ushered in a sedate American popular culture firmly entrenched in its racist idealogy along with total control over the segregated and second class masses of African people subsisting within the dynamics of Amercian-styled apartheid. Racial attitudes of white superiority dominated in all areas of black and white contact as America ruthlessly enforced an oppressive mantle of racial inferiority on the African population. However, the dawning of the decade also saw African Americans stirring and uniting with a renewed resolve to resist attempts to undermine their humanity and racial origins. Keenly aware that African people were caught between the two opposing forces of double conciousness, the demand to conform to the distorted images created by minstrels and the desire to reclaim their humanity, two race leaders emerged that felt compelled to address the chronic malady related to the fragmented racial psyche of African Americans.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became and immediate race leader in December 1, 1955 after a woman named Rosa Parks refused to compromise her humanity and sit in the back of a public bus with designated segregated seating for African Americans. Under King's leadership, the Montgomery bus boycott culminated with the successful overturning of Jim Crow laws that relegated African people to segregated seating arrangements on public transportation. When the boycott ended one year later, King had become the celebrated and recognized national spokesman of African Americans and the undisputed leader of the burgeoning civil rights movement. The emergence of Oba Oseijeman Adefunmi I, the spearhead of Yoruba culture on U.S. soil, was far less spectacular. In 1956, the same year king was crowned by the mass media as a national spokesperson, Adefunmi took two trips out of the country. The first trip was to North-east Africa where he became enthralled with Kemetic antiquities that served to heighten his desire to know more about his African ancestry. In the latter part of 1956, he took another trip to the caribbean islands of Haiti and Cuba where he was introduced to West African Indigenous culture and religion within the New World African culture. Fifteen years later he established the only communitty in the U.S. based on traditional West African culture.

    When William Bascom, Professor of Anthropology and former director of the Robert H. Lowie Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, at Berkeley travelled to Oyotunji Village in the late 1970's, he expressed surprise at the level of accurateness the residents displayed in recreating and reinventing the indigenous West African culture of their ancestors. "What is truly remarkable is the success of the community in recreating, with amazing accuracy the culture of the Yoruba of Nigeria." Today, Oyotunji Village, located in South Carolina's low country stands as a testament to the resilience of Adefunmi, who is the first African American born in the U.S. to be initiated into the Yoruba priesthood approximately 600 years after the inception of the trans-atlantic slave trade. Along with the rebirth of traditional religions in the U.S., Adefunmi, who is a professional artist, also revived traditional religious art. Oyotunji Village enjoys an international reputation for its plethora of New World art forms.

    Adefunmi and King who were born in 1928 and 1929 respectively matured under the choke hold of American apartheid, yet these astute and intelligent men thoroughly understood the critical identity crisis plaguing African people at the outset of the 1950's. Although they addressed the inter-racial quagmire from entirely different perspectives and methodologies, both of these race leaders were equally challenged to resolve the unsettling questions revolving around the alleged inferiority and sub-humanity of African people. King tackled the angst by pursuing a civil rights agenda based on jure divino and devoutly advocated that God gave his people the right to pursue education, employment, housing, and all other civil and legal liberties on an equal basis with white America. He optomistically believed that an American society built upon the ideals of equality for all its citizenry would allow Afircan Americans the opportunity to strive for their highest potential and would arouse a sense of fair play from white America to implement justice on behalf of all its citizens. As a result of the envisioned success of this two-pronged strategy, King adamantly believed that the problem of double conciousness could alleviate itself and that African people would naturally assimilate into American society. His famous words form the "I have a Dream" speech in which he states that someday African people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, validates this over-all thesis. Adefunmi, polarized at the opposite end, believed that African people could only remove the obtrusive taint of their collective inferiority complex if they embraced a cultural background from which they could draw. He made this observation after attending a shakespearean drama that was staged with a cast of African Americans. He recalled that his disappointent with an African American cast playing white characters led him to Harlem's Schomburg library where he checked out a number of books on Africa. He became interested in African History, but his immediate goal was to write plays about Africa and the diasporic experiences of African Americans so that they would not have to depend on Shakespeare anymore.

    An investigation of the Yoruba and civil rights movements, one virtually invisible and functioning as an outside and the other under constant public attention and scrutiny, and striving to become an insider can help extrapolate and examine the continuing problem of Africa America's double consciousness syndrome. Could King's vision couched in such terms as universal suffrage and integration in all areas of America's political, civil, and social liberties resolve the testy crisis surrounding the cultural and racial identity crisis of African Americans? This question exposes the crux of essential aspects of the civil rights movement that were problematic to King and which he seemingly sidestepped or avoided. Furthermore, did he consider the African homeland at all as a primary source of healing when he formulated his objectives for the civil rights movement? Lastly, did he theorize as white America did that African Americans were creolized to the degree that all connections with the homeland were severed as a result of the four hundred year seperation?

    Adefunmi was undaunted by the magnitude and length of the seperation and set out to challenge and change the prevailing creolist view of American citizens, black and white. He advocated that African Americans were not creolized to the extent that a claim to a West African ethnic and cultural identity was forever lost in the tragedy of the trans-atlantic slave trade (the Maafa) and the subsequent four hundred years of chattel slavery. His unwavering belief that a return to traditional West African culture and de-hegemonization would best address the identity crisis motivated him to boldy embrace African customs during the late 1950s while at the same time, King was formulating his integrationist objectives for the civil rights movement. On May 6, 1957, Adefunmi planned and carried out an African Freedom Day which consisted of a parade on horseback through Central park and the heart of Harlem. The participants wore African garments made by Adefunmi himself. The parade launched him as a cultural leader, and form that point on, he was a recognized leader and was called upon to speak and plan various activities.

    After his initiation into Sango as a member of the Yoruba prieshood of Obatala at Matanzas Cuba, Adefunmi returned to New York consumed with the task of deassimiliating the African American psyche from its gravitational pull toward values, mores, and culture of western civilization. He believed there was an acute need for African Americans to deassimilate the mind and reinvent their West African culture if there was to be any rehabilitation of their fragmented identity. "After he was initiated into Sango, he opened the Sango Temple, later named the Yoruba Temple, and began to wear Yoruba clothing. He made a rule that no one could enter the temple unless they wore African clothes. The simplest form was the dashiki which he introduced in 1960.

    Rather than reach back to Africa for confirmation and healing of their battered and fragmented social identity, King swayed his followers to believe that they should pursue an idealized American dream based on their collaborative efforts to enter American society via the objectiveness of self-respect, high moral standards, leadership, non-violence, and a wholehearted work ethic. "Martin defined the black freedom struggle as an American dream." In his early career, King also recognized, expressed, and exhibit solidarity with Nigeria, Ghana, and other oppressed and colonized countries of Africa in the mutual struggle for human rights, but his protestant background and upbringing were too thoroughly embedded in Southern Baptist Christian doctrines to allow him to embrace authentice African beliefs and customs. King was born to a line of civil rights leaders and inherited the powerful legacies of his grandfather and father who were also prominent Baptist ministers in the Atlanta African American community. "Home and church were the most important influences upon the early life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In both contexts, he was introduced to the integrationist values of protest, accomodation, self-help, and optimism as they were related to the religious themes of justice, love, obedience, and hope.

    Like African scholars who create artificial historical boundaries because they fail to study African Americans from their collective diasporic experience as a transition, and yet a continuum of African history, did King create further fragmentation among the masses by further alienation them from the fountain of their traditional African origins? Today, we look around and can see African Americans holding prominent positions throughout American government and in all areas of the professional and business sectors. This reality can be presented in two observations: (1) King's dream is an undisputed fact for African Americans, and (2) it is a vehicle for white America to use as a tool of convenience to promote its international post-fifties political, legal, and social platforms of integrations, ethnic tolerance, and equality. Although both of these observations are true as America and its African American citizenry are witnessing tremendous reforms in all areas of social liberties, equality, and civil integration, ther is something horribly amiss with the outcome equation. A Los Angeles Times artical reported that internecine urban warfare has taken the lives of thousands of African American men and women in this country. This mayhem began during the 1970s when young African American gangs such as the infamous Crips and Bloods gangs were beginning their rise to street power in poor inner city urban areas just as King's civil rights movement was gaining momentum in terms of a noticeable increase in African American social, political, and professional involvement in American society. Crouch's disturbing commentary queations on the validity of the civil rights movement. He theorizes that African American are slaughtering each other in their own communities due to a crisis of ethnic identity that infects not only the black lower class but too many of the black middle class young as well.

    The disparity existing between those that have actually assimilated into American society as a direct result of King's vision of the masses of African Americans that continue to exist in a pseudo-integrated but marginalized and unequal society cannot justify the taking of even one life due to the unresolved identity crisis that continues the haunting question: Who am I? The mere fact that the bloods and crips gangs base their internecine hatred on the colors red and blue causes one to speculate. If the Bloods (red) and the Crips (blue) were aware that from an indigenous cultural perspective red and blue represent profound cosmological concepts in terms of West African traditions are the colors used to venerate powerful Yoruba divinities, would U.S. African American youth still wantonly murder each other in respect to colors? Hence, did King's civil rights philosophy unknowingly feed into the double consciousness syndrome and further divide the African American psyche with yet another layer of self-imposed deAfricanizations and consequently add to a more intense bifurcation problem of multiple identities and thereby manufacture an even greater schismatic alienation.

    Although the importance and relevance of an African background is recognized by the U.S. and slave descendants use the racially envogue nomenclature African American, it was not until the advent of Adefunmi's Yoruba movement that a historical correlation between the indigenous homeland and the diaspora population in the U.S. was identified and the reinvention and recreation of the "authentic" culture began to take a recognizable form. The primary contention of the creolist school articulates that the process of enslavement itself coupled with the passing on of earlier generations born in Africa and their non replacement with a continual supply of fresh slaves coming directly from the homeland helped to destroy West African Customs in the U.S. However, the revisionist school believes that the above approach is negligible because it is founded on assumptions that do not include the African component.

    The revisionist explain that historians must view New World slavery as a continuum in the overall evolution of West African people, their culture, and history. Lovejoy explains, from the perspective of Africa, therefore, it is fruitful to examine the condition of slaves in the Americas on the basis that they were still Africans, despite their chattel status, the deracination that accompanied their forced migration, and the sometimes haphazard and sometimes deliberate attempts of Europeans to destroy or otherwise undermine this African identity." Inquiries into the nature of post-slavery African customs in line with the revisionist approach require a cultural reconstruction of the African past in order to uncover historical links between West African traditions and a critical examination of how the authentic culture was impacted in the U.S.

    Adefunmi's revisionist approach to the identity crisis was soon dominated by the ancient religion and culture of the Yoruba people whose geographical home is southwest Nigeria. Bascom concluded that Adefunmi's choice of the Yoruba is not surprising. "Not only are the Yoruba one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, but they also have had a greater influence in the New World than any of the other African peoples brought here during the slave trade." Like King, Adefunmi was also heavily influenced by his father. However, his father unlike King's was an ardent supporter of Marcus Garvey's Black Nationalist movement and the Moorish Science Temple movement of Noble Drew Ali. Young Adefunmi learned early in his childhood that his responsibility was to concern himself with the condition of his own people before anything else. He recalled asking one of his father's associates if he was going to join the army and fight in the second world war. The man said, "No, why should I go to war?" Adefunmi replied, "To fight for the country." The man told him not to be a fool because this country is not yours or mine. Differing distinctly from King's southern Baptist background, a Christian ideal based on a western value system was nonexistent in young Adefunmi's childhood, for his father adamantly espoused that freedom for the African American would become a reality only if the people had the foresight and ingenuity to culturally identify with their West African origins. In fact, Adefunmi's father planned to repatriate to Africa, but the war hampered his plans, and he died before it ended.

    Meanwhile, in 1957, King had become the first president of the newly formed SCLC. The purpose of SCLC was to eliminate segregation from all segments of American society and nonviolent direct action was chosen as the best method to achieve civil rights. As the 1960s came into view, King's goal was no longer human rights and racial dignity for the slave descendants but a newly directed objective based on an integrationist policy. "Integraton is the great issue of our age, the great issue of our nation and the great issue of our community." In sharp contrast, Adefunmi was in the process of recreating and reinventing Yoruba traditions and customs in the "inner sanctum" of Africa America's most populous community, Harlem, New York City. Working far from the spotlight and the roar of the crowd, Adefunmi and a Haitian singer that he met while designing the costumes for a folk play co-founded a society called the Order of Damballa Hwedo in 1960. This event is significant because it marks the resurgence of organized traditional West African religion and its practice in the U.S. by the descendants of the slave population. Damballa Hwedo is a Fon/Yoruba Deity that travelled to the New World in the conciousnsess of captive Africans bound for plantations on the Island of Hispaniola, present day Haiti and Dominican Republic.

    The veneration of Damballa Hwedo required Adefunmi's early followers to disavow all of the basic tenets of their Judeo-Christian background and embrace the large pantheon of West African Yoruba deities. The order of Damballa Hwedo dissolved after several years because its members began to argue that African Americans could not understand the comlexities of venerating a pantheon of deities. Adefunmi disagreed because he believed that African Americans could re-inscript their culture even after such a long seperation if they were strict and based the foundation of their teachings and religious rituals on traditional West African religious "doctrines". Although Adefunmi's early goals were to arrest the images of the minstrel show and bring some measure of respect to the African American image on the stage, he began to advocate that the recreation and reinvention of traditional African religion was a required element in the restoration and reconstruction of the battered African American image and identity. "History has shown that religion can be, and has been, used as a tool to oppress, exploit and alienate or discriminate. It has also been used to liberate and restore people's life and dignity. Either way, it offers to those who view it as the basis for struggle a realization of their full humanity, faith, hope, and courage to continue struggling in spite of all obstacles and cost.

    Oyotunji Village

    Although Oyotunji Village is off the beaten path (no pun intended), many devotees throughout the New World African diaspora and from the homeland itself come there to venerate sacred Yoruba deities enshrined there to fulfill obligatory rituals and initiations. Adefunmi envisioned Oyotunji Village as a monastery where worshippers could come to be initiated into the various priesthoods and be trained to serve the Yoruba pantheon of deities through chants, dance, and ritual sacrifice. From its founding in 1970 to the present, many hundreds of African Americans have come to Oyotunji Village to perform initiation rites and complete the necessary training required to become a novice. Some of these devotees went back to their urban communities located in inner cities throughout America and established temples and shrines for the feting of the divinities.

    Currently is it impossible to qualify with accuracy the degree of success that Adefunmi's movement has enjoyed in terms of throwing off the chains of mental slavery and healing the African American psychosis of its double consciousness. However, the impact of the Yoruba movement has osmotically expanded to every large city across America that has a sizeable African American population. "If one considers the large groups that have evolved since Adefunmi began promoting cultural nationalism in the late 1950s, it would appear that they have already had a noticeable effect. In many cities across America groups whose main purpose is the worship of African religion in particular and the resurrection of African culture in general are evolving." The tidal wave of African-based religions sweeping across the U.S. caused Dorothy Ferebee, a radio station administrator and journalis in Philadelphia to remark, "This is not an alternative religion. If you're black, this is someting that's in your cultural DNA. Professor of Religion Dr. Tracey Hucks added, "while churches have spawned great civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., some young people still think of them as the institutions that taught slaves in Haiti to rise up against their French masters and fend off Napoleon's army.

    When King's great voice was silenced in 1968 by an assassin's bullet, he was a recognizable icon on the international stage where he lobbied for unconditional love and nonviolence as universal values for all of humanity. King's evolved efforts and advocacy for nonviolence as a method of protest and civil disobedience won him world-wide praise and in 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. However, even with integration and the visible progress of African Americans assimilating into all areas of American society as well as King's much deserved praise, the ramifications of the following underlying issue have yet to be explored in terms of double-consciousness and the ongoing identity crisis: Because religion in America is based totally on Christian doctrinces, no one, especially an African American, could become an influential spokesperson representing American ideals without identifying with and appealing to the spirit and teachings of Christianity which are the antithesis of indigenous West African religious and cultural beliefs. Therein lies the enigmatic duality of King's civil rights movement. Indigenous Yoruba religion with its blood sacrifices, trance possessions, divination, polygamous marriage, ancestor veneration and nonwestern forms of medicine and healing was unacceptable to status quo American philosophy of religions. Its villification and demonization by the status quo dimished its acceptability as a source of moral and ethical philosophies that could provide a guide for the good life. This made it impossible for King to embrace the culture and the origins of his forebears if he was to lead his people into an equality of civil rights. Thus, King was constrained to be totally unaware of his traditional origins. In essence, he was forced to repudiate and align the civil rights movement with Christian ideals that validated old, entrenched notions advocating European values and Christian ideals as superior to the "savage" paganism of traditional African religion and culture.
     
  2. Amnat77

    Amnat77 Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Very good information Sekhemu, i am yoruba,# and was not aware the there is actually a town the Us with a yoruba name; oyo is a yoruba state in nigeria and tunji means 'awoke again' Mr Adefunmi's name means 'give me the crown
    just wanted to share that with you, the names are very appropiate for the situation. Thanks again
     
  3. Love_Unknown

    Love_Unknown Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Hello Sekhemu.
    Wonderful piece. Excellently written and very informative. This is good. I see many more websites, books, blogs, posts, and many other things that are moving us in that right direction as compared to 5, 6, 7, years ago. We're picking up speed. More energy like this will get us there faster. Ase
     
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