Academic journal article Centro Journal

"Water Overflows with Memory": Bomba, Healing, and the Archival Oceanic

Academic journal article Centro Journal

"Water Overflows with Memory": Bomba, Healing, and the Archival Oceanic

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

I begin and end with the ocean, allowing its waters to inform a conceptualization of Puerto Rican bomba characterized by fluidity, dynamism, and healing potential through ancestral memory. I am interested in the deep figurative unknown: the site of black trauma in the rupturing experience of the transatlantic slave trade where black bodies were converted into capital for the sake of economic robustness and growth, as well as the elective and resistive processes of self-making through African diasporic subjectivity. The mid-Atlantic Ocean waters are troubled, and "the Middle Passage...is a loaded concept" (Davies 2013, 85). Not only does the Middle Passage conjure up "difficult, pain-filled journeys across ocean space...dismemberment...the economic trade and exchange in goods in which Africans were the capital, deterritorialization.and the parallel disenfranchisement," but also "the necessary constitution of new identities in passage and on after arrival" (Davies 2013, 85). As a site of disrupture, deculturation, and dehumanization, the ocean's troubled waters are a key image in the transatlantic saga that continues in the New World.

Deep within the oceanic darkness are nuanced, rich metaphors of divinity, maternity, creative potential, and restorative power. That place where Africans in passage exchanged "country marks" was, subsequently, the site of remaking; it birthed a type of resistance through re-identification and a new, composite, nation on the sea's surface (Gomez 1998, 1). In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud describes an exchange he had in which his dear friend had described the "oceanic feeling" associated with religious experience. Freud gestures toward a "limitless, unbounded" "sensation of eternity," which he had never felt firsthand (Freud 1962, 11). Inspired by this notion, in "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe," Hortense Spillers describes the liminal oceanic Atlantic and the ungendering process undergone by black bodies that traversed its vastness on slave vessels. As a site of "undifferentiated identity" where African subjects were "removed from indigenous land" and still "not yet American" or, as Spillers puts it, "culturally unmade," Spillers points out that "those African persons in 'Middle Passage' were literally suspended in the oceanic, in movement across the Atlantic, but they were also nowhere at all" (Spillers 1987, 72). In middle passage, the "human-as-cargo stand for a wild and unclaimed richness of possibility" as they were "thrown in the midst of a figurative darkness" (Spillers 1987, 72). The oceanic itself thus becomes a spatial site of groundlessness and nationlessness, an absence of borderlands but yet of transformation as African persons were forced into the throes of deterritorialization and loss of home. The oceanic waters, in their fluidity, were destined to disrupt the process of objectification and subsequent commodification superimposed by European captors. The "oceanic" gave way to reformed ontologies. Inspired by the "oceanic" that Spillers describes, and its relationship to black bodies, I employ what I name the archival oceanic to describe the complex, nuanced role of bomba in Puerto Rico and countless sites of diasporic creative cultural enterprise in the Americas.

Two characteristics of the archival oceanic are important to note here. The first part of the term, the "archival," represents a fluid site of ancestral memory. This term is informed by one of the constitutive elements of African diaspora religion, the revered ancestors-those who have died yet continue to live amongst humans and represent a dynamic realm of being (Stewart 2005). The presence of the ancestral community mirrors the subjectivity of the human community involved in the praxes of making and remaking identities. An archive, as I refer to it here, is not merely a collection of material culture in a library or museum special collection. Instead, a community and an individual can be an archive. …

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