Modern Griots Recap: The Rite Path


“Aiye Aiye Ft. Eli Efi, V.I., Amma Whatt, For Something & Oloriwaa!” From the Egbe Iwa Odo Kunrin/Brinrin group

I have written before on expanding what we think of as time travel in terms of mental and spiritual time travel. One way that I did not think of until last night’s program at Schomburg Center was the initiation rite. At first mention, an initiate rite does not seem to be in association with time travel or soul adventuring. But as a rite of passage, an initiation rite gives access to ancient wisdom, or at least the wisdom gained from those who came before.

Kamau Ptah of the Sankofa passage program and Atilah Kadijah Yaa Odedefaa Manyansa of the Dyebanyani Initiated Women’s Society (Eedyi tradition in Senegal) were the main presenters for the evening, along with speakers from Blue Nile Passage Program and The Egbe Iwa Odo Kunrin/Brinrin programs. The most notable presentation was that of Ptah who connected the initiation rite to an early scene in episode one of Roots in which Kunta Kinte and other males are initiated to be Mandinka warriors. I liked his presentation because this is a scene that receives less attention that more well-known scenes, like Kunta Kinte’s whipping, and I think there is a reason for that. We do not have a connection to cultural initiation rites, especially in a society that is individual-based.

Ptah stated that initiations represent a symbolic death and rebirth and initiations basically have five phases — isolation and trauma, liminal period of trials and tests, enlightenment period, celebration and reincorporation into society. Manyansa also gave a good point that age does not equal wisdom and initiation rites can be of any age because it involves training and passing from one phase to another, which can happen at any time one one’s life. The last speaker connected the process to that of the orisha Aganju, the deity of growth and overcoming. One question I had though, since programs were gender-specific, was whether there are programs for people who are not gender-specific, or do not fit the male and female gender box specifically. But I do wonder how our communities would be different if they were structured by cultural-specific initiation rites.

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