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Honoring the Spirit of Resistance!

November 19, 2012

Hetepu (Peace) Family

The 20th of November marks the official death of Zumbi dos Palmares (1655-1695), the ex-slave and last leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares, who fought the Portuguese on behalf of the Maroon society in Brazil. Many people I have talked to about Zumbi asked "Why should we celebrate this event? It happened in Brazil."

Well, I use to think the same way. I changed my thinking because the 20th of November is celebrated in Brazil as Black Awareness Day and is used as a time to reflect upon the contributions made by people of African descent, as well as erase the vicious stereotypes that have been created about blacks.  In the beginning, I found this to be a little odd because throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, there are a lot of stereotypical images that are held dear to people of African descent like the Mammy figure. I remember, the first time I met Mammy it was at my padrino's (my spiritual godfather's) house. She stood next to his Ellegua and he told me that she was his Ellegua's wife according to his spiritual practice. Being an African American I was a little offended by the image until I began to really learn the cultural connection.

[caption id="attachment_857" align="aligncenter" width="144"] Mammy also called La Madama in Cuba[/caption]

You see, when the Africans were brought to the Americas. Many of them finding themselves in a foreign land, living as prisoners under the yoke of a racist slave owner, tried to recreate the life they knew in their homeland.  But they were unable to do so because the same social system did not exist. So, the Africans had to create a new cultural model in order to survive slavery, racial discrimination and most importantly resist the propaganda directed at them that they were inferior to whites.  So, having no kings and queens to turn to, the Africans turned to the wisest amongst them, which was their elders.

[caption id="attachment_417" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Preto Velhos of Brazil[/caption]

Contrary to popular belief, the elders in the slave community were the most beloved because they were not seen as a physical threat to the slave owners.  As a result, the slave owners were more inclined to trust them versus younger slaves. But, the elders were also the most knowledgeable about the old ways of Africa. As a result, the spirit of resistance (from my research) in the slave community began with the brave men and women that worked in the slave owner’s home. Afterwards, these same men and women would return to their community and teach what they had learned to help their people. The elders of slave community basically played a dual role and they taught everyone they knew how to do the same thing until conditions were more favorable for them to institute the desired change.  It was from the elders religious syncretism was born, along with the whole idea of masking ones true intentions.

[caption id="attachment_864" align="aligncenter" width="144"] Uncle Tom's Cabin[/caption]

Now, when some whites got wind of how the slaves were living.  They tried to sympathize with their plight as Harriet Beecher Stowe had done in her antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. What Stowe was trying to show in her book was how contradictory it was for them as Christians to enslave other Christians based upon the color of their skin.

[caption id="attachment_863" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Uncle Tom's Cabin was made into a play, which was performed all over the country and even the world.[/caption]

What ended up happening was that millions of her books were sold and a number of Uncle Tom’s Cabin plays were performed around the United States and the world. It was from this book that a lot of whites got the idea that slavery was not the Christian thing to do.  But, the book also laid the stereotypical foundation of what the African way of life was all about. This gave rise to numerous stereotypical images and icons, that blacks were either pleased being meek, happy-go-lucky, submissive, singing servants or were brute, unruly, sex-craved animals.  This stereotypical imagery of people of African descent dominated the Western world. Although, many of these images that were embraced by people who never even read Stowe’s book or saw the cinematic viewing of the story, simply perpetuated the racist belief that blacks were inferior and meant to live in servitude.

[caption id="attachment_865" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Mexican black cartoon character known as Memin Pinguin[/caption]

Todays although many of these stereotypical images have been removed from the public’s eye. They continue to rear their ugly heads in the entertainment industry and other areas because of people refusing to embrace their ancestral heritage.

[caption id="attachment_866" align="aligncenter" width="300"] A Big Italian Newspaper Published A Shockingly Racist Cartoon Of Soccer Star Mario Balotelli As A Monkey Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/racist-mario-balotelli-monkey-cartoon-2012-6#ixzz2Cd1NMkN9[/caption]

African Americans were the most damaged culturally by these stereotypical images I learned because we were outnumbered by the whites in the United States, but in places like Cuba and Brazil. Where the African descendants managed to preserve the truth about who these individuals were prior to the creation of this stereotypical attack. The images did not do much to destroy their cultural psyche because they knew that this was just a war on their cultural way of life. A war that they were determined to fight to win.

[caption id="attachment_862" align="aligncenter" width="219"] El Negro Jose[/caption]

This is why an analysis of all of these ancestral archetypes will reveal the same thing, which is that these individuals were very knowledgeable slaves with high virtues and integrity. Many of which became or were the leaders of the slave community.  The darkness of their skin, as was in Kamit, symbolized that they were the original Africans of one’s lineage.  They all had white hair, indicating that they were wise and knowledgeable.

[caption id="attachment_851" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Francisco, Francisca and La Madama on a Espirista shrine.[/caption]

In Brazil the so-called Uncle Tom and Mammy figures of the United States were commemorated, honored and respectfully known as the Pretos Velhos (the old ones’).  In Cuba, they are sometimes known as Francisco and Francisca, or Jose Negro and La Madama.  In Puerto Rico they are known as El Congo (the Congo) and La Negra (the Black Lady). Their respectful names in Southern African American culture are Uncle Joe or Ole’ Black Joe and Auntie or Big Mamma.

[caption id="attachment_860" align="aligncenter" width="300"] A Black reader reading tea leaves for a young white patron, painted by American Artist Harry Roseland.[/caption]

By the way, the real Big Mamma was usually a cook or house servant, but she was known throughout the slave community as a midwife, herbalist and a fortune teller, that was sometimes called a Black reader or Black Gypsy. Notice the similarity with the reader below.

[caption id="attachment_858" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Card reader reading cards for a client in Cuba[/caption]

 As you can see, the stereotypical images was a ruse by the oppressors to ridicule our cultural way of life. In these contemporary times it is not the oppressor that ridicules our culture, but our own out of disgrace, ignorance and shame of who and where we come from. 

[caption id="attachment_854" align="aligncenter" width="202"] The new image of Big Momma[/caption]

e now, but our selves out of disgrace and ignorance of our own culture.

[caption id="attachment_852" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The new image of Uncle Joe[/caption]

So you see, this is why Zumbi should be important to people throughout the Americas (and others like him such as Gaspar Yanga), because he is the epitome of what our ancestors did in order for us to live today.

[caption id="attachment_867" align="aligncenter" width="158"] Zumbi dos Palmares the celebrated hero of Capoeira[/caption]

By celebrating the life of Zumbi and others that resisted in their own way. We not only honor them but erase negative imagery created to ridicule our cultural way of life and show the true power of why our culture is so beautiful.

[caption id="attachment_853" align="aligncenter" width="173"] La Madama in all her beauty[/caption]

Celebrate the Day of Resistance by watching the movie Quilombo and Sankofa.

* Please note that I am not against Martin Lawrence, Tyler Perry or any entertainer that makes films. It is just important for people to realize the impact that negative images such as these has upon the rest of the people in the diaspora.

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