Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Nickels in the Nation Sack: Continuity in Africana Spiritual Technologies

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Nickels in the Nation Sack: Continuity in Africana Spiritual Technologies

Article excerpt


The ability to "hit a straight lick with a crooked stick" is recognized as the forte of Africana peoples. Many argue that the ability to do the impossible with ease and without detection results from a spiritual-genealogical relationship with Old Testament prophet Moses. Others extend the line farther to such African Gods as OlodUmare, Nana Buruku, Nzambi, and Atum. Whether their practices are called "The Work," Hoodoo, Obeah, or Ifa; (1) whether their rituals and philosophies are shrouded in secrecy, heralded, or ridiculed, Africana people have a long and complex relationship with spiritual power, and this kinship extends to African Americans.

Although the genealogical and historical connections to Africa are obvious, many well-known African American beliefs, spiritual technologies, and rituals have never been associated with Africa; they have been dismissed as idiosyncratic "Negro" superstitions. Using comparative analysis, I hope to show that African American rituals and powers are indeed part of the African continuum and that the umbilical cord that links Africa to African America is strong and intact. I also feel that this research is important because Africana philosophies and technologies continue to face multi-pronged attacks from modernization, westernization, and organized religion. Consequently, many Africana peoples discredit and are ashamed of their original and phenomenal sources of power. I hope that this discussion of the skills, significance, and permanence of Africana powers and power-wielders will inspire us to give a proper reassessment of and have a deeper appreciation for Africana ritual arts and sciences.

Marking and Signifying Behind the Veil

In the traditional African world view one's vision is not necessarily limited to the range of one's physical eyesight. Human beings can also be endowed with spiritual vision. What the Yoruba refer to as oju inu (inner eyes) and what others call the third eye is the source of spiritual vision. In Africana communities, acquisition of spiritual sight is attributed to either circumstances of birth or material preparations. Southern African American elders hold that pigs can see the wind, and, by introducing sow's milk into the eyes, human beings can see the wind too (Hurston, Mules, 127-8). Ellis Strickland of Georgia asserts that the Black Cat Bone gives one the ability to see the wind, and he states that it looks "like a red blaze of fire" (Rawick, Georgia Narratives, Part 4, 262). Use of material preparations to foment spiritual vision is also recorded by Gabriel Bannerman-Richter who discusses twin sisters who purchase a preparation that endows them with x-ray vision and the ability to look inside of the human body (41). Among the Igbos of eastern Nigeria, certain flora are combined and given to worthy initiates so that they can ifu mmuo or "see the Spirits" (Umeh 213). In addition to material preparations, many Africana peoples believe that being born with a caul (also called a veil) over one's face endows one with spiritual vision.

In Yoruba philosophy, Aje are spiritually empowered human beings, mostly women, who are revered as the Gods of Society. Aje have the power to do and undo and to create and destroy as is necessary for holistic evolution and expansion, and Aje are central to the processes of spiritual and biological creativity and creation. The Yoruba, in acknowledging the suzerainty of Aje, state that "The sack tied by the gods cannot be unraveled by anyone" (Oke ti orisa di omo ar'aiye o lee tuu) (Drewal and Drewal 251). The Gods in question are Awon lya Wa, the great spiritual and communal mothers who own and control the power called Aje. The sack to which the Yoruba refer is the amnion. In Yorubaland, children born with the amnion (oke) over their faces are recognized as the direct progeny of the Aje.

A deity of Aje who holds a unique link with veiled children is Oya whose praisename is "Iyansan, mother of nine--who bore small children in a caul" (Bascom, Sixteen, 231). …

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