way how today looks isn't the way how tomorrow looks," says Ade Kunle, my Yoruba language
instructor. It's the beginning of a Yoruba proverb that goes on to explain why
awos or diviners consult Ifa, the oracle of wisdom every day.
Yoruba people inhabit Southwest Nigeria. In ancient times, they were renowned poets, philosophers
and artists. I've learned many Yoruba proverbs and concepts during the past two years that I've been
studying with Ade Kunle.
meji," roughly translated, means a "brief talk." And "aditu oro," are words
that carry deep meaning. Aditu oro are not words to be taken lightly. In fact, one ought to sit down
for the aditu oro discourse. So, welcome to the domain
of "aditu oro."
wish to begin by sharing what I've learned from the book
Vanishing Voices. The authors of
Voices say 90 percent of the world's languages will "disappear in the next one hundred
years." And at the current rate a language is dying every two weeks!
authors also argue “that
the extinction of languages is part of the larger picture of the near-total collapse of the
death of a language doesn't simply mean that we lose words, sounds and grammatical constructions. It
means we lose priceless knowledge: historical, scientific, philosophical, medical, cultural,
spiritual, botanical and ecological. This is so because the collective knowledge and wisdom of
humanity is encoded in language, and most of the world's languages have not been adequately studied
the best way to visualize language loss is like this: Imagine what would happen if universities,
colleges, libraries and internet search engines started vanishing one by one? How might this affect
you? How rich could your world possibly be? How will your children fare in a climate of intellectual
while you ponder the implications of language loss, consider this as well –indigenous
cultures around the world are dying at a rapid rate, too. It is a global crisis, and I fear my
culture -- Virgin Islands culture –might
one day join the ranks of vanishing cultures, if we're not careful.
of cultural erosion are everywhere. My mother told me she has a "vague" memory of the
African game, Oware. But my
no memory of this game because we were never exposed to it.
Cariso, isn't a musical tradition
that my generation is intimately familiar with. We grew up on soul, calypso, soca, disco and reggae.
And the Bamboula, for all
intents and purposes, is dead.
knowledge base of traditional cuisine is shrinking as well. I learned to make a dish called kallaloo
several years ago, but most people my age tell me they've never made this dish. This cannot be
interpreted as a good sign. How bright can our culinary future be, if we can't even identify the
leaves that our elders once used to make this soup?
African dish, called mawfey, seems to have disappeared from our culinary landscape altogether. I've
only heard elders make references to mawfey. I' ve never tasted it or seen it–few
people of my generation have.
all the traditions I discussed in this site, the Mocko
Jumbies, I think, might have the best chance of surviving. This is partly due to the pioneering
efforts of practitioners like Willard John, whom have labored long and hard to keep this art before
seem eager to learn the Mocko Jumbie tradition. And why not? It's an attention getter. It's hard to
ignore the masterful antics of these colorfully clad, giant performers on stilts -- but it's easy to
ignore the wispy voice of an ailing elder in a retirement home.
feel cultural erosion isn't such a bad thing. After all, they argue, cultures change all the time.
There is truth, in this, of course. Culture is a dynamic phenomenon, and it tends to change as we
change. Stagnation is seldom a good thing. All cultural practices are not wise, and all traditional
beliefs are not worth keeping. But surely there are things in all cultures that are worth
the melodies of Leona Watson be transmitted to tomorrow's generation? Absolutely! Should humanity
attempt to move forward without the far-reaching vision of the Mocko Jumbies? Absolutely not! The
extinction of an entire culture, like the extinction of a species, is seldom a good thing.
Santiago, the acclaimed Puerto Rican writer has this to say: "The arts are what express the
soul of who and what we are and that expresses our humanity. I feel very strongly that if you don't
exist in the arts of a culture, you're invisible."
Melvin Claxton, a close friend of mine, and the first person from the Caribbean to win a Pulitzer
Prize in investigative journalism, feels we all must leave a legacy–no
matter how small. "People must know we were here," he often tells me. "The human mind
must be constantly challenged."
agree with both Santiago and Claxton. But I also agree with an interesting statement that Cuban composer Omar
Sosa often makes.
“The spirits, the ancestors, have the last word,” Sosa says.
“The living can say what they want, but they don’t decide.
The ancestors decide.”
dead, do indeed, speak. During the creation of this website I was visited by many spirits who still
wish to be seen and heard. From the great beyond, they
hope to inspire and strengthen us, in the hopes that we might become beacons, for those that have
stumbled along the way. It has been said that the
ancestors need us as much as we need them. We
“share” the same voice –- our bodies move on their behalf.
And the work – their work, gets done.
ancestors are pressuring me to share more things with you. And
please be assured that I will. What you’ve witnessed
is only the beginning of an explosion of voices that are yet to come.