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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
Art Disability intersectionality racism

Patiently Brown: Misadventures in the medical system # 1

I am always being told what to do.

Like many people with poorly understood disabilities and conditions, I have heard every possible advice that people’s grandmothers,  parents, aunts, doctors, naturopaths, second cousins, and their neighbours might possibly have to offer. 

Headache. Oh, just do this, and it will go away. My aunt/doctor/grandmother used to have them. but after they did this one thing, they went away forever!

Endometriosis/Adenomyosis. Oh poor you, your period’s hurting  you, huh? I never had that problem, but my best friend in high school had wicked cramps. She used to get to stay off school! She loved it! 

Or

Yes, I did my naturopathic training in a clearing in the forest. All the fairies and elves sang and danced in a circle after i was intiated. That’s why I don’t have a certificate, see, fairies don’t give them. 

Anyway. Basically, you take off your underpants and then we’ll have you squat over an aromatic fire heaped with herbs that will cleanse your yoni, and enter into your womb, purifying it and getting rid of the growths very gently (read over numerous sessions at $150/session). 

Yes, I’m aware this is unusual, but it’s often when we’re excruciating pain-either mental or physical- that we’re willing to take risks! That’s why I’ve been trained as well by a Mayan shaman! 

You’re in severe chronic pain? Try to verbalize what that might sound like!  (Sobbing and groaning). Good, good. Now direct that healing sound to the spot that hurts most. You know, you might be paralysed facially because you need to learn how to express yourself differently. This is a teaching!

Arthritis. Why dont you try drinking a shot of rum every morning on an empty stomach that had garlic steeping in it for a month? My mother/gardener/veterinarian does that and she swears by it! 

Why don’t you try doing weights and conditioning the joints that hurt? Because they hurt too much to hold the weights, obviously! Have you tried skating? It really strengthens the ankles!

Have you tried drinking green tea at 4 hour intervals? It will burn fat and decrease inflammation! While turning me into more of a raving insomniac than I already am? 

Sore feet?

If you wear shoes with lumpy gel points, it’s like a constant massage on your feet as you walk. Totally cleared up my grandmother’s foot pain, you must try it!

Having fatigue and inflammation? My guru and I drink our own pee and we’ve found it worked wonders for our wellness and skin issues. Have you considered it? You must start low and slow, you know!

Then there are the doctors

Barbara Hepworth, Hospitals, 1947-49

These are the people we generally trust to be able to help, guide and minister to us in some of the most terrible and bewildering times of our lives. If you are a person who doesn’t go to the doctor much, perhaps you have a friendly and benign relationshp with them. But, if you have complex and unclear multi-systemic issues,  going to the doctor can provide you with the same laundry list of offerings  as those above—except these ones come with warnings and side effects as long as your arm.

Got a headache? Try every kind of migraine abortificient whether the side effects are well-known or not. Take Gravol for the nausea. If you have chronic nausea, you can take Ginger Gravol!

Swollen arthritic joints ? Try Lyrica and gabapentin which will help with the nerve pain caused by discs compressing onto your nerve and pinching it. 

Chronic pain? Have you tried trazadone, tramadol, fentenyl patches, hydro-morphone? And then they bemoan the opiod crisis.

Feeling depressed? Try paxil, effexor, celexa, amitriptyline, etc, etc, and if you feel even more anxious than you can have Xanax. If the rebound anxiety from the Xanax unexpectedly kicks you in the butt then you can pop an Ativan. If the Ativan doesn’t do the trick than you can have a long acting clonazepam or klonopin as it’s sometimes known!

Have you been offered medicines/ treatments, where the prescribing doctor reassures you, oh we don’t really know how it works yet, but I’m sure you’ll be fine?

All of these interventions and remedies purport to bring some relief and ease to me and people like me. I have been offered every one and many others, and have even tried some, which benefited me for short periods. But I have come to realize through the experience of being ill and my frequent interaction with the medical system, that all these enigmas of blood, flesh, nerves, bone which are me— are always complicated by that MEness, because my brown skin, non-Anglo name, and gender and sexuality are as much factors in my health care— along with class and percieved class status— as in everyone else’s. How could it not be otherwise? 

Patiently Brown, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

We are ourselves engaged in multiple and sometimes overlapping constellations of social relations wherever and who ever we are. 

They are bound to be the foundation through which other relationships are built, in particular the reciept of goods and services, of which health care unfortunately is one. 

Health care ought to be a basic human right administered by and carried out by those who fully understand the human in human rights. 

But until that day comes, we are doomed to vie for human status in front of the masters (whether they be male or female or non-binary or trans) of our health care— encased in our bodies with their telling tales of burning hands and feet, flu-like symptom, chronic and sudden fatigue, disabling insomnia, erupting skin, sudden weight loss or gain. Encased in our bodies with their headaches and paralysis, their swollen knees and aching hips, stiff necks, and even stiffer upper lips! 

If you are interested in this topic, I’ll be following up in future posts from time to time!

I’ll leave you with some good and much needed discussions about the multiple evils plaguing our health care systems in both the U.S. and Canada.

https://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Colour-Coded-Health-Care.pdf

https://medium.com/@isabellarosario/viral-tweet-highlights-disbelief-of-black-womens-pain-by-doctors-11107fbbcd89

https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/wjzynb/after-the-white-doctor-tirade-doctors-of-colour-discuss-racism-on-the-job