Beautiful Are the Souls of My Black People

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 06, 2017

Ara romi o
My body is in pain
Ara romi Shango
Shango, my body is in pain
Ojo romi e e
The rain is falling on me [I am experiencing hard times]
Ojo romi Shango
Shango, the rain is falling on me [I am experiencing hard times.]

— Ella Andall, “Ara romi o”

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI want to modify the title of Jeanne Noble’s book (Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of My Black Sisters) to describe the wondrous display of African couture (exquisitely designed African dresses, elaborately textured head wraps, and intricately woven male fashions) that graced Port of Spain streets on Tuesday as black people wound their way from the Treasury Building to the Queen’s Park Savannah to celebrate the 179th year of their emancipation from slavery.

The wearing of African attire was an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The music and the drumming that accompanied the participants on this sacred occasion evoked ancient sentiments buried deep within our souls. The pulsating rhythms of the drums, the heartbeat of Africa, evoked memories of our ties to the motherland that were forcibly interrupted by the slave trade.

I marched behind Ella Andall’s music truck that was blaring Yoruba chants of Africa and its diaspora. A Cuban of African descent who walked with me exclaimed: “This is the music of Cuba.” His observation reminded me that “Orisha sacred songs of Trinidad are a reflection of the rhythms and expression of Yoruba culture” (Richard Paul, “Songs of Praise and Invocation”) and an indispensable part of our way of life.

As Andall’s music assaulted the air, Yoruba followers joined in the chants as part of an ancient ritual they brought with them from West Africa. It was almost a plea (or was it a demand?) that our long, uninterrupted attachment to this land be recognized and be respected. When participants belted out “Ara romi o,” they recalled the horrors of slavery. However, they regained hope and assurance in songs like “Baba wa ye rona” and “Shango mu ase,” all standards in Andall’s repertoire.

Through the reenactment of these rituals (the chanting, the dancing, the drumming, etc.) participants in this sacred rite reimagined their African origins which their conditions in this land demanded they replay as forms of cleansing and purification. Their reinsertion into this liminal space coincided with the Shouter Baptist mourning ground experience where devotees obtain wisdom through visions and dreams.

These ritual enactments also call upon Shango, the god of thunder, lightning and justice, to remember his people in the diaspora. Andall’s “Baba wa Ye Rona” reminds us that our father will always find a way to be with us wherever we are; no matter how much we are despised and abused.

This is why Andall and Devon Matthews “D Journey” was so hauntingly prophetic. It reminded us: “Even though the road is long; no matter what come, I know I go make it. Yes, I go make it.” This perennial assurance keeps black people alive in spite of their trials and humiliation.

As they chanted this assurance I remembered the pride John O’Brien took in his blackness when the first Emancipation Dinner that was celebrated in Port of Spain on August 1, 1849. He drew on the popularity of Alexandre Dumas, “the son of the still degraded Africa… [who] prided himself upon it [his blackness].” Lest anyone be mistaken about his claim, he reminded his audience that Dumas “nobly and exaltingly points to his curly hair” as a symbol of his blackness.

Hair was/is always important to Africans, particularly African women. On October 1, 1849, when the government tried to pass a bill to cut the hair of women prisoners, the whole island rose up in protest. One eighth of the black population (approximately 65,000 black people in today’s numbers) stoned Government House and demanded that it cease and desist from such a diabolical act. The British Despatch reported: “On October 1st we had an emenute [uprising]; but it will be better described as an affray [a fight in a public place] between the police, our Attorney General, and the rabble, consisting of poor, helpless laborers and women, many of them with infants in their arms” (“Misdoing in Trinidad.”)

Our people have always called upon our gods to intercede on our behalf as we fight the forces that seek to limit our liberty. When Matthews and Andall wailed “Ah chipping down the road; Ah feeling de power,” I knew Shango had descended from his sacred realm to dwell with us on our freedom march.

As a young boy, my mother reminded me that the darkest hour is just before dawn, thereby instilling into my consciousness that things are never as bad as they seem. That is why I gloried when Andall and Matthews offered their comforting sentiment: “There is [always] sunrise after each cloud.”

“Our bodies are in pain” but ours is the imperative to keep on fighting. This is the power of the Emancipation Day message. It’s the assurance that there will always be sunrise after the darkest clouds have passed. This certitude keeps us fighting to expand our freedom as a people.

3 thoughts on “Beautiful Are the Souls of My Black People”

  1. When you look around what is reverberating, can we honestly use the term “BEAUTIFUL ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK PEOPLE”? after rendering the garments and frolicking for the day, where is the heart? emancipation to me is not willing to continue to see things as they are.doesn’t animals also have souls while lacking spirit?, what about the emancipation of the mind? the day was a feel good day, but have we seen any emancipation of their conditions? yes, beautiful might be the physical body of my people, while the spirit is clouded with darkness.How many of us are willing to grasped the belief of spiritual AFRICA, while giving up the indoctrinated religion of white christianity? a people can never be emancipated dabling in both worlds. As we continue to live the lie called emancipation,some of us will fall and die on the journey called freedom which will never be given, and too scared to fight for.

  2. African spiritism and practice should be left in Africa. We have seen the results of such beliefs in Haiti where these practices are the strongest.

    The celebration of emancipation is indeed a remarkable part of the Africana history. A way, a culture evaporated in the transatlantic journey to a world that was alien to the one they grew up in. But what was lost? When Mohammed Ali went to Africa to defend his title he noted with gratitude “thank God my ancestor made it on that boat”. It was not an insulting comment, rather it was a sober awakening to a land ravaged by war and poverty. A true experience in culture shock. Since that time there has been changes but not near enough to make a significant impact on the human index scale. African nations still hang at the bottom the ladder with thousands heading to Europe risking life and limb in the process. The superstition and occultism has perpetuated itself down through the years. However, the good news is things are changing in Africa and it is new frontier in economic development with majestic cities and enormous potential for sustainable development. This century will be Africa century if the right leaders emerge and tribalism ends.

    Emancipation presented a great opportunity for the hewers of wood and drawers of water to rise to the top of Caribbean society. Indeed Africans in Trinidad has savoured the fat of the land, lavished by an ever generous government, and have lived at the top of ladder looking down on the rest of us. But you would not know this because of the victim hood mindset. Cheers.

  3. “Indeed Africans in Trinidad has savoured the fat of the land, lavished by an ever generous government, and have lived at the top of ladder looking down on the rest of us. But you would not know this because of the victim hood mindset. Cheers.” …….Mamoo

    This is by far one of the most racist and insulting comments that I have ever read on this blog. Indeed, the intent of this forum is to allow “freedom of speech” (whatever one might take that to mean), but casting insults towards a people, in such a cavalier manner is hateful and disrespectful. Emancipation is a time when African people reflect on the journey of their forefather’s savage capture and enslavement from their land (Africa), put in shackles and forcefully taken to unknown lands and put to work for no form of remuneration. The celebration is a psychological boost to the African’s ability to overcome both physical and psychological brutality. His ability to survive and prosper inspite of this treatment, is cause to celebrate and denounce evil in all forms. But our friend Mamoo sees all this in narcisisstic terms.

    He says, “Indeed Africans in Trinidad has savoured the fat of the land”:
    Answer: Maybe we should ask him the question (given the history of our unrewarded labour), who built the fat?

    He said, that we were “lavished by an ever generous government”.
    Maybe we should ask him to explain the generosity to which we were so richly rewarded, that caused us to live off the fat of the land!!

    He said that we “have lived at the top of ladder looking down on the rest of us.” US!!!!!!!! Maybe we should ask him to tell more about this ladder that we have enjoyed, looking DOWN on “”us, them” or whomever he is talking about?

    He said, “But you would not know this because of the victim hood mindset.” Here he is saying that after we have lived off the fat of the land, looked down from the top of the ladder on “them”, we are now claiming “victimhood” of being of the mindset of victimhood. Clearly, the write of such hate and bigotry is contradictory in what he is trying to elevate as a contribution to the celebration of emancipation. He obviously want to say something. But does he want to praise the African? Does he want to denigrate the African? Does he want to denounce the African? Does he want to invite a friendly hand towards the African? Well!!! In my mind the intent behind such hideous writing is obvious, but I will leave it to others, to interpret what Mamoo meant to tell us about what Emancipation means to us.

    At the end of his tirade, Mamoo said, ” Cheers”!!!!
    Does anyone want to raise their glass of champagne to share the moment of this hate with Mamoo?

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