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Art cuba Indigenous Justice Indigenous people latin america peru poetry racism Santeria

Pachacutec

This is a seven part poem I have been working on since my work, studies, and travels have taken me to South America and Cuba. I have long been fascinated and moved by the strength of peoples who manage to hold on to their cosmologies in the face of terrible odds such as kidnapping, enslavement, auction blocks, trade-sanctioned rape, forced labour, soul-searing racism, and unimaginable poverty, and social and political exclusion, even state-sanctioned annihilation.

As a woman of colour, the racisms I have witnessed and experienced throughout my time in Peru, Colombia, Chile, Cuba and Mexico have raised huge questions about the role of anti-racism in “progressive” sectors of development and education, culture, and, even political parties, in those countries. While these issues need to be hashed out in terms of policies, financing, and social restructuring as a whole–especially in those countries where colonized peoples of colour are a majority in certain under-remunerated occupations such as manual and domestic service, agricultural labour, entertainment, and the informal sector– the role of culture in accompanying such changes is essential.

As a citizen of colour in the Americas, I have chosen to seek inspiration and meaning in the beliefs and cosmologies of those of us bound together by European colonization, rather than those of dominant hegemonic religions. As the child of a colonized migrant, I belong in the Americas, as do those who have belonged here before me, and who belonged, before the words “African” and “Indian” had any meaning. The absurdity of this world turned upside down, where the poor fight each other tooth and claw for a pittance for survival, cannot destroy the connection between the gods of Santeria and those of the Quechua and Aymara peoples, especially in countries like Peru, where indigenous and afro-descended communities are integral to the country’s development and self-image, although the apartheid between European Peruvians and indigenous Peruvians is deeply entrenched and the official story of Peru may not highlight their presence except as beasts of burden or unruly mobs needing to be subdued.

That is why this following piece takes as its title the Quechua (Kichwa) word, “pachacutec” meaning “Earth Shaker” or the “world turned upside down.” I was struck by this word as it resonated with not only the the social disparagement of the indigenous people I witnessed in the Andean nations, but also the facile commodification of black religion as entertainment. An entertainment, I might add, that was almost wholly consumed by white tourists both national and international. I saw this wherever Afro music was played, whether in Cuba at the Callejon de Hamel or watching Peru Negro perform in reified contexts with velvet seats and expensive tickets. This is contrasted in the way that such religions are actually practised outside the gaze of the tourist or the anthropologist, where the deities may be termed in Arundhoti Ray’s words, the “gods of small things”, accompanying as they do the risks of everyday life under unequal social circumstances. In using the word Pachacutec I signal the “upside-downiness” of this late-capitalist world where we float through the sky and bury our crimes against humanity– for surely, colonial subjugations are just that– in the blood-stained earth from which huge profits are made at all our expense.

Pachacutec 

(Quechua word meaning Earth Shaker/World Turned Upside Down)

I.

Someone has opened

my path

brought me to these gray

and frantic streets

I count seventy firearms

on my way to work

seventy ways to say no

to life

I count twenty three banks

each with their security and arms

protecting us from our need

that they have created

I count teeming busses

crammed with morning 

hopes and remnants of nightmares

I see checkpoints and soldiers

offerings of coca cola, money

I see my stop draw near

an old man in a red and black jacket

helps me dodge the cars

at the cross-roads

Rainy street, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

II

The politcal economy of Obatala:

Sunlight dapples wall

lying on the unrepentant bed

listening to digitally mastered

Obatala’s name

dissonance dream and discord

cable wire

plastic parts

hydro stations

Japan, Korea, Africa

via Cuba

contradict each other

in mid ear

Obatala

and Bata drums

the old kind

before they abolished that 

second hand slavery

Batista, Business,

U.S Army Base, 

where Obatala cannot enter

in this,

his land.

Pititi, /Afro-Peru, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

III

Aching water

the queen of waves

is drowning

Cliffs split

gray veins open

garbage fills crevices

Yemaya is drowning

5:30 a.m

dawn is still future

drizzle and damp

enter their salvaged bones

as the maids

Wait 

for the crowded desperate buses

to bring them closer

to the daily dollar

They pass

the screaming sea

clutching vinyl purses

Only

a blind musician 

singing for alms

in his imprisoned voice

whispers

ashe

Yemaya, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

IV

Shango trapped 

in the cajon

rushes out into his fingers

syncopation cries

his name over

and over and over

White faces 

cannot glimpse him

in half empty Rum glasses

Shango trapped 

in black thighs

majesty and mourning

bisect his myth

feet invoke

his sacred thundering name

domesticated by dollars

they grow weary

After the show

young black men

rub hands and feet

away from that

bright hot light

that makes them sweat whirl

faster faster faster

same bitter enslaved scent

as the sweat that irrigates

poisonous cane

Shango’s name

just the same

echoes

on sleeping wooden boards.

Uprising, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

V

Oshun

They tell me 

glances at you from a woman’s eyes

or hips or

the faces of five o’clock

Dreaming of the moon’s hands

in night’s dark river

curved around earth

where Oshun

honours you

or

so they tell me

by calling your secret name:

the free one.

Oshun, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

VI

how easy to find the hills

and stranger as i am

i come home

amid the stormy red roofs

limewashed walls

spattered with last night’s mud

here in this peaked valley

grey green blue ochre

stone sky water earth

recombine

peaceful mountains

pure light

horrific

iron smell of blood haunts

stones and crucifixes

in the war of the worlds

all is imbalance

precarious

neither end nor beginning

Hills, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

XII

I love the soneras

women whose spirits

cut air like butter

whose rhythm improvises

soundwaves

whose vibrations 

dance sorrow to her lonely home

among the unwashed dishes

and dirty clothes tossed about

like newspapers in the plaza

I love too, the soneros

men whose music

was wood and horsehair

hide and yellowed ivory

in bars on streetcorners

where customers rehearse

for Dante’s infernos

Seven sins cleansed

by Seven powers.

Sonerxs, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019
Categories
cuba poetry

Song for a City

(The poet is you who reads)

Graffiti, 23 y G, Vedado, La Habana, 2011, Copyright Kaushalya Bannerji

Song for a City/Fieldwork

I walk

Sun at my back. Sun in my face.

The pavement licks my flip-flops.

There are surreal and abstract buildings

Where you can see dream and sky

through the windows that do not exist.

There are plants and flowers that salute

the cocktail of the evening with the perfume of their grace.

And everywhere you look, the palms

applauding our errors and victories.

I walk up

and down,

of course, down.

I see boys and girls with their schools and parents.

Going to the park or some museum.

I see drivers and old cars.

I see walkers and new buses. And I walk.

Under a tree, a cigarette.

The birds yell, and with their voices,

bring the dusk. Their purple songs mix with the clouds

in the infinite. The solares and houses

fill with people and the scents that comfort.

Garlic, meat, onion, coffee.

Through the glassless windows you listen to everything

and hear nothing. Behind you, a stray dog,

and in the sweet evening Havana purrs and turns on her lights,

paints her face with music.

Cancion para una Ciudad

Camino

Sol a mi espalda

Sol a mi cara

El pavimento lame las chancletas

Hay edificios abstractos y surreales 

Donde ves al otro mundo de sueño y cielo 

A través de la ventana que no existe. 

Hay matas y flores que brindan

El cóctel de la tarde con el perfume de su gracia.

Y por dondequiera mueven los brazos las palmas

Aplaudiendo nuestros errores y victorias. 

Camino hacia arriba,

Y hacia abajo 

De hecho, hacia abajo. 

Veo niños y niñas con sus padres y escuelas. 

Yendo al parque o algún museo. 

Veo chóferes y carros viejos. Veo peatones y 

Buses nuevos. Y camino.

Bajo un árbol, un cigarro.

Los pájaros gritan y con su voz traen 

El atardecer. Sus cantos púrpuras se mezclan con las nubes 

Al infinito. Los solares y las casas se llenan de gente 

y los olores que confortan;

Ajo, carne, cebolla, café. 

Por las ventanas desvidriadas oyes de todo

Y escuchas nada. Detrás de ti, un perro callejero

Y en la tarde dulce, La Habana se ronronea y prende sus luces,

Pinta su cara con la música. 

Copyright 2011, Kaushalya Bannerji