This past Sunday marked the anniversary of Juneteenth. Although long recognized within the African American community, many people are unfamiliar with this June 19th event. Briefly, Juneteenth reflects the time in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in the Confederacy. However, it wasn't until June 19th, 1865, when Federal troops showed up in Texas to take control of the state to ensure freedom for all the enslaved people. After that, Americans recognized June 19th as the date of the official end of slavery.
As I reflected on this milestone event, I thought about the story of when the enslaved people were taken from West Africa and brought to a different part of the world. Brazil was one of the destinations for many of those enslaved people. After being transported across the ocean, only 1/3 of the people survived.
When the enslaved arrived in their new land, they had little or no possessions. Family separation took place. However, there was something no one could separate - their traditions and religions. So the enslaved Africans reorganized themselves based on their spiritual elements. The categories included the gods of the winds, forests, seas, waters, and fire. Each of the enslaved related to at least one of those elements.
Consequently, when they ended up on different plantations, the enslaved Africans reorganized themselves based on the spiritual families of the religion of The Orishas. They formed new groups based on the various aspects of the Orisha religion, such as Oshún, the god of sweet waters; Shangó, the god of lightning and thunder; Ogún, God of iron, and so on. As the enslaved people reorganized themselves in this way, they were no longer lost because they had created a new type of family.
The overseers forbade the enslaved Africans from practicing their native religion, and forced them to follow the Christian faith. The overseers instructed the Africans to put the Christian Saints on the altar. They placed a statue of Jesus in the middle, and on either side figures of St. Peter and the Virgin Mary. However, in the ground under the rains, the Africans hid pots that represented the symbols of the Orishas gods they worshipped. So, when it came time to start the Christian rituals, the Africans would lie flat on the floor with their heads touching the ground where they buried the hidden symbols of the Orishas gods. They had managed to keep their religious traditions.
The overseers believed the Africans were paying homage to the Christian saints. The taskmasters were amazed and proclaimed, "We have never seen such devotion or faith!” Years after, those in power fought to keep the descendants of the enslaved Africans from practicing their native religion. Many people who continued to practice the Orisha religion had their temples destroyed and burned. Until 1965, the police arrested the African descendants who practiced their native religion. After persevering through the attacks for years, there are over 500,000 practitioners and celebrants of the African religion of Orisha today.
Most importantly, we must know that the same power is within us. This survival and thriving of the Orishas religion demonstrates a potential within us that is more potent than the forces outside us. This power is always seeking to be released. Hurdles may frustrate this power, but nothing can stop it.
Peace and Blessings,