There is a line in Amanda Gorman’s fascinating poem, The Hill We Climb, in which she writes, “But while democracy can periodically be delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.” Similarly, in life, when a spiritual urge or idea seeks to express itself, external circumstances may frustrate it, but in the end, nothing can stop it.
These sentiments reminded me of the indomitable spirit of the enslaved people brought from West Africa in the 1500s. Brazil was the destination for a large number of them. The enslaved Africans were put on ships and carried across the vast ocean. Many of them didn't make it to their destinations alive. A third died en route, another third died after reaching the new land, while the remaining third survived.
The survivors were sent to different plantations and separated from their family units. The purpose of the separation, among other things, was to reduce the likelihood that groups would rise in opposition to their overseers. Therefore children, mothers, and fathers were separated and sent to different places.
While the enslaved Africans came with no possessions, no belongings, and hardly any clothing, they did have one thing - their traditions and religion. Those traditions could neither be taken away by the people who forced them on the ships, nor the people who received them.
Although the enslaved Africans were separated from their blood families, they decided to reorganize themselves based on their spiritual traditions. It wasn't that they belonged to different traditions; instead, they affiliated with varying categories of gods or deities that represented nature's various elements. The elements were the wind, forest, sea, and water. Consequently, they related to one another based on the nature of the deity they connected to.
When sent to different plantations, they re-established themselves not based on their blood families (which had been destroyed), but on the spiritual families under Orisha's religious umbrella. By reorganizing themselves in this way, the enslaved Africans no longer felt they were without a family; they were now part of a new family structure.
But there was a problem. The overseers banned the people from practicing their Orisha religion; they were only allowed to practice Christianity. So, when the Africans went to worship, they set up the altar with the Christian symbols - Jesus in the middle between Saint Peter and The Virgin Mary. Unbeknownst to the overseers, under the ground leading to the altar, the Africans hid pots that represented the essence of the symbols of their Orisha faith. When it was time for the Christian rituals to begin, the Africans would always lie flat on the floor with their heads touching the ground where they had hidden the African Gods' symbols.
The overseers were amazed and declared with pride, “Those people have so much devotion!" The overseers believed the Africans were expressing their devoted admiration to the Christian Saints. They were not. The Africans were paying homage to the gods hidden beneath the earth. Those enslaved people managed to keep their religious traditions despite the obstacles put in place to prevent them from doing so. They displayed their unstoppable spirit, and now there are over 30,000 Orisha practitioners and temples in Brazil dedicated to this African religion.
That unstoppable spirit is within us … like grass that continues to grow through the cracks even when covered by cement. The grass does not say, "I can’t grow through cement poured on top of me!" On the contrary, it just knows there’s a spiritual force that can make it grow anyway. Likewise, when we let this spiritual force take over our lives, regardless of the obstacles, hindrances, or obstructions that lie before us, there is an energy that keeps us moving forward.
As Ms. Gorman reminds us at the end of her aforementioned poem, “… there is always Light, if only we're brave enough to see it; if only we're brave enough to be it."
Peace and Blessings,