It might seem ironic that there should be a day dedicated to black consciousness in Brazil; a country with its history steep in the trans-atlantic slavery between 1594 to 1888 (the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery). The seed of ‘black origin’ flourishes in Brazilian society today. Its DNA evident from the very curl in the hair to the way music is assembled, dance is expressed and cuisine prepared. So why should Brazilians have to be reminded once a year to be ‘consciousness‘ of their ‘blackness’ , if it’s part their everyday life?
Our stroll through downtown Rio de Janeiro within close vicinity to the world-famous Sambadrome, home to Rio’s carnival, lead us to a statue dedicated to the memory of the legendary Quilombo (settlements consisting of African runaway slaves) leader, Zumbi dos Palmares (1655–1695). He is remembered as a leading figure in the black resistance to slavery in Brazil. Standing in front of her icon, Patricia told me:
“The problem in Brazil for afro-descendants is they do not know the history of their ancestors. Imagine yourself, would you be happy to know that you descend from murderers and rapists who came to Brazil? Because this is part of the history of Brazil we learn about in school… I am African-descendant and proud. I am descendant of a warrior people. They survived the hardship of being enslaved. They fought for their freedom and succeeded! A beautiful story so exciting with a happy ending.”
Zumbi dos Palmares was born in the northeastern state of Alagoas in 1655. Believed to be descended from the Imbangala warriors of Angola, despite being born free, he was captured aged 7 and sent to a missionary. Attempts to purify him failed and Zumbi escaped to return to his birthplace.
Zumbi became the leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares. Despite freedom being offered by the govenor of the province of Pernambuco to runaway slaves of Palmares, Zumbi was against the agreement. It wouldn’t allow freedom of the Maroons and other Africans who remained enslaved. Zumbi continued the flight for freedom until he was betrayed by a member of his Quilombo. On the 20th of November 1695 he was captured and beheaded. The Portuguese transported Zumbi’s head to Recife, where it was displayed in the central praça as proof that, contrary to popular legend among African slaves, Zumbi was not immortal.
Today Zumbi’s legacy lives on. Homage is paid to him throughout Brazil with his statues erected in various cities, a symbolic reminder of the country’s ongoing flight towards equality. Zumbi is considered one of the great leaders of Brazilian history. A symbol of resistance and struggle against slavery. He fought for the freedom of worship, religion and practices of African culture in Colonial Brazil. The day of his death November 20, is remembered and celebrated throughout the country as the Day of Black Consciousness, also known as The Day of Black Awareness. It is a day on which to reflect upon the injustices of slavery, and to also celebrate the rich contributions of Brazil’s African heritage to society.
It occurred to me that there are a string of significant events and coincidences that took place during the month of august that are somehow in twined with Tabom history, and as a descendant; this is directly relevant to me. Also today, the 23rd August, is the International Day for the remembrance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on its abolition… Nothing is just a coincidence in August!
I am currently in Haiti, the first Black Republic in history. The island Hispaniola, mother to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was the first island to be discovered in the West Indies by Christopher Columbus 1492. The island would become the gateway to the New World. A turning point in World History would be marked by the Transatlantic slave trade… The beginnings of the African diaspora in the Americas.
On the 22nd of August 1791 a revolt was staged by slaves in the French colony of the island, Saint-Dominique, which would not only spark the beginnings of the Haitian Revolution, but inspire a wave of revolts throughout Latin America. The oppressed would fight the oppressor in a bid to gain freedom.
The news of the Haitian Revolution would reach the shores of Salvador Bahia and beyond. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I am in Haiti on the anniversary of a significant revolt which took place 222 ago! My Tabom heritage may not exist had the slaves in Bahia not heard news of a colony of ex-slaves ruling themselves as a freed Republic!
I’m even more so convinced that it wasn’t by coincidence either that on the 24th of January this year, I was reading about a group of African muslim slaves who were conducting an important meeting, not so far from where I sat reading in Salvador, on the same date in 1835. The revolt they planned started prematurely hours later, on the 25th January 1835. This revolt would mark a significant part of Brazil’s history… And my own story…
It was in the month of August that the (second) group of Afro-Brazilians arrived on the shores of Ghana (then Gold Coast) on or around the 8th August 1836. The revolt of 1835 played a key role in them being expelled or winning /buying their freedom. Needless to stay, they left the oppression Brazil in search of freedom. And they would find it in Accra and become known as known as Tabom.
Coincidently muslims celebrated Eid all over the world on this date just a few weeks ago, 8th August. It mustn’t be forgotten that the Tabom returnees were muslim. Their faith played a key role in their struggle for freedom in the Malê (reference to the African muslim slaves of Bahia, said to be of Hausa origin from Nigeria) revolt of 1835.
I would like to think that this strength of my ancestors has been passed onto me as I continue my research which took me to Brazil and now Haiti. My research has gone beyond tracing my ancestry to Brazil (which I have done; next stage is tracing the origins in Nigeria)… It is now about discovering the strengths and traits of who I am, and why I am (here).
This month also saw the celebration of my favourite Ghanaian festival Homowo. The Ga tribe of Greater Accra celebrate the end of the a plentiful harvest, paying homage to a time long ago when our ancestors experienced a great famine across the lands belonging to the Ga people. When the heavens finally opened up, they reaped their crops so plentiful, they “hooted at hunger”. This is also the start of our New Year. We say “Afi oo Afi” wishing each other a happy new year.
So with these significant events interlinked and their dates occurring in August across various countries and centuries, I think that makes this month rather special for me as a Tabom descendant!
It was also my Aunty Marian’s birthday last week- she is my talking Tabom reference book! So this is in fact a month of celebration! I’m grateful and thankful to have an aunt who I have a strong bond with. She tirelessly answers any of my questions regarding my family history and African history in general. She is proof that our history begins with speaking with our elders and recording their information. We cannot wait for until our elders pass then it becomes HiStory. It is ours- not ‘his’, first and foremost. Thank you Aunty Marian and many of my tabom family who have contributed.
I’ll end with a few supporting extracts from the book (latest edition is being prepared) “Eles Voltaram (/They returned)” by Alcione Amos which she was kind enough to send me personally. It was largely due to the writings of Mrs Amos that I was able to place together the missing piece of my Tabom ancestor.
“A second group of Afro-Brazilians arrived around August 8, 1836 from Bahia. This group included about 200 men, women and children. They were identified as “liberated slaves,” and their arrival date seems to indicate that they either were expelled from Bahia in the wake of the Malê revolt of 1835, or decided to leave because of the harsh living conditions imposed on blacks after the revolt. They were well received by Ankrah, but not by the Dutch authorities…”
“The Tabon were the first to introduce the Muslim faith in the Accra area. Johann Zimmermann, a Basel Mission missionary, reported in 1851 the existence of a Muslim school in Accra. He visited the school on January 2 of that year and found out that the teacher had copies of the Koran and the New Testament in Arabic. It is very possible that this was a school run by an Afro-Brazilian returnee, although there is no way to verify the assumption. In fact another major influx of Muslims into the area would not take place until decades later in the 1870s, this time with the coming of Hausa soldiers brought in by the British…”
Enjoy the rest of this magnificent month!
The first thing I noticed about Carlos Suarez when we first met in the Dominican Republic less than a month ago, was his height.
Standing past 6″ it would be easy to feel intimidated judging by his stature alone, had I not already communicated with him through emails. Each message confirmed a friendliness about him, always signing off with “be happy my friend!” This is not the type of person to feel intimidated by! So when I met Carlos that hot afternoon in Gazcue, Santo Domingo, as soon as he opened his mouth and kind words flowed out laced with his soft Mexican accent, I warmed towards him immediately. I joined Carlos for lunch at Ananda vegetarian restaurant to discuss my volunteer role at the Sathya Sai centre in Haiti.
It wouldn’t be long before I discover traits of Carlos Suarez that make him an ideal humanitarian: kind-hearted, softly spoken, generous and dutiful (and an ability to add a sprinkling of humour to any situation!) If I didn’t already know he was a Sai Baba follower, his actions spoke louder than words. I was intrigued to know more about the teachings of Sai Baba. Himself who was a humanitarian, encouraging love, peace and unity as well as respect for all religions. My opportunity for discovery started when I arrived in Haiti…
When I told my New-York-born Haitian friend Guylene that I was considering to volunteer in her country of origin this summer, she immediately recommended I contact her friend Carlos. We were introduced informally via Facebook and kept in touch weeks before I would know my exact plans of coming Haiti. Carlos was my first introduction to to Sathya Sai Baba, in a spiritual sense. Before he sent he the videos about the organisation, I admit, I didn’t know who Sai Baba was. I had heard of his name, but whether he was a religion, a cult, an organisation? I wasn’t sure.
And despite this unsurity not once was I asked if I was a Sai Baba follower.
Not once was I asked to write a formal letter stating why I wanted to help.
And not once was I asked for a penny to volunteer at the centre, as many organisations demand.
My eagerness and willingness to help was enough (and I’m sure having the reference of a mutual friend helped) and for that I am grateful for this unique opportunity. It is ironic that I came to help children, but I also opened my mind to the teachings of love and service, prayer and worship which would help myself, thanks to Carlos Suarez and his fellow coordinator Shanti Paudel. The two individuals, on surface, couldn’t be more different. But like ying and yang they are a complete package! Their personalities go side by side as do their work ethics and energy. It has been a pleasure to be in the presence of these two extraordinary men.
Carlos was kind enough to share with me his story during our various conversations. It is a truly inspirational one. Taking on such responsibility despite the language and cultural barriers. As supervisor of the feeding program his role is to foresee everything that goes into providing 2000 meals a day (except rest day sunday) for children living in various camps across Port-au-Prince. This service guarantees a child at least one nutritious meal for the day.
I witnessed the living conditions of the camp sites personally. These children literally have nothing. The limelight of the devastating hurricane which brought plentiful aid has faded. The media have turned away their cameras and the children are no doubt reluctant to smile for any camera which promises them nothing…
But seeing their faces light up as they spotted the Sathya Sai Baba vehicle was priceless. Their excitement expressed in seeing Shanti ‘Paudel’, who played a key role in sourcing accommodation for many of these children’s families when they were left homeless after the hurricane of 2010. They chanted;
It took me a while to realise that it was Shanti they were calling! I captured pictures of their faces as they ran to greet Carlos while we drove up in the car. When I look back at the images I captured, I understand why Carlos gains so much satisfaction from his work. It would be a loss if the smiles were wiped from these children’s faces.
When Carlos embarked on this voluntary mission, leaving the tranquil settings of his home in Cancun Mexico, for the poverty-struck environment of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, he expected to stay for just a month or so. A year and nine months later, he is still here carrying on his dutiful mission. It has been a pleasure to listen to Carlos speak about his love for the children, “my children” he often refers to them as.
And I don’t doubt that each one has a special place in his big heart… All 2000 of them!
For more on Carlos Antonio Suárez Pérez, visit: http://sailoveinaction.org/project/haitiCarlos
Also see the videos of the feeding program produced by Shanti Paudel
“Narayana Seva Haiti Carlos Charley”
Tropical Storm ISAAC Sai Service Narayana Seva Haiti
The Sathya Sai World Foundation Haiti plans to continue the feeding program until the end of 2013. After which, it is unsure how these children who rely solely on one meal a day, will survive.
If you would be interested in helping in some way, please contact the coordinators directly firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Sathya Sai Organisation.
Here are 5 quotes I found on the ‘walls’ of my Facebook friends that make me realise I am ‘normal’ like everybody else!
This post is inspired by Thiapisto, a blogger writing about her experience travelling through South America for a year!
You may have noticed my name change a few weeks ago from ‘Findingme’ to ‘MakingKai’.
I think this quote by Thiapisto is so fitting… I had to use it!
“the fact that I’m still alive and there is still a whole world out there I haven’t seen yet…”
My inspirations. Edrin Kondi on what motivates him to get up in the morning.
Inspire people to discover for them what is essential to live a happy life.
My Inspirations. Gerry Haag on his legacy
MEG 2010: Peace Message