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Who do you think you are? (08/01/2010)
By Janet Lewis Burns

“To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps, to God; or to Gods. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love, and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrows, is always a measure of what has gone before.”

This was written by black author and poet Alice Walker.

When I saw his picture in the July SUN magazine, thoughts came rushing back of the intriguing story that had broadened my horizons years back. The handsome, beaming, still delightfully youthful face of African Shaman Malidoma Some (so-may)accompanied his updated story in a SUN interview by Leslee Goodman, entitled “Between Two Worlds – Malidoma Some On Rites Of Passage.”

The article tells that, for the past 20 years, Malidoma has lived in the U.S. teaching and conducting workshops and traditional ceremonies to inform nations of the West about African ways and wisdom. I pulled the hefty book down from an upper shelf in my library: “Of Water & the Spirit”- Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman,” by Malidoma Some. Yes!

His fascinating life story begins when he, along with other small boys, were stolen from their West African Dagara village by Jesuit priests. In a boarding school they underwent 15 years of indoctrination, along with various forms of physical and sexual abuse by their abductors. The intent of the Jesuits was to convert the native population by brainwashing the village boys.

At the age of 19, Malidoma escaped and found his way back to his tribe, only to discover that he had become a stranger to his own people. Thus, another spellbinding chapter unfolds in the life of a courageous, young Dagara. In an attempt to reintroduce Malidoma to village life, he was sent to endure a month-long initiation, a rite of passage.

During his harrowing ordeal, in the depth of an African wilderness, he suffered torturous rituals, pain and mental anguish. In order to fulfill his mission, Malidoma also earned three masters’ degrees and a PhD in English and American Literature. His key message comes from the soul, however.

Has the fast pace of life in the new millennium, along with ample options for grown children to nestle away their aged and feeble parents in a “nice” facility, made it too easy to “deal with” our elderly loved ones by placing them somewhere separated from their family? Have we no room in our plugged in, whirlwind lives for their wisdom, guidance, stories, and example? In the SUN interview, Some decries that the West has destroyed society in the name of “progress,” by turning away from traditions of ancestors. He writes, “We each need to have a personal mission that contributes to the well-being of the world. Finding one’s purpose is the primary goal of initiation. It also teaches responsibility toward community, village, and culture. The indigenous formula says that we all come into the world with a gift that we must give to the world. We must undergo initiation to discover what our gift is and how to share it.”

Think of how removed mainstream U.S. society is from that philosophy...and how few are those who might see the wisdom in it.

Some readers out there may say of me in disgust, “She must have gotten herself mixed up with one of those goofy, New Age religions or cults!” No, I have not turned away from my customary way of worshiping and the Christian faith I’ve always clung to. Continuously seeking wisdom and understanding becomes a passion!

In Christianity, diligent daily prayer is a reaching out to our God and Savior - a rosary bead worn smooth – an open Bible – virtues carried down from ancestors.

In the name of peace and unity, isn’t it best to keep in perspective that, worldwide, there are thousands of beliefs, religious denominations, indigenous and other cultures, and sects? The world is so vast, one has to make their mind enormous.

More energy and hatred is spent rebelling against cultural differences than celebrating the melding and convergence of many moralistic traditions and nuances in one righteous global society that could work.

What are we thinking?

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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