DEPARTURE AND RETURN - In Honour of "Mr
"At the end of a terrestrial life, at the last physical
vestiges, the departed soul continues on, into the invisible
realms of eternity and spiritual existence. Ancestors,
sovereigns, deified spiritual, or founding heroes constitute a
group of mediators
in the next world. They keep an eye on the smooth running of
their original communities".
-Lucy Pradel, African Beliefs in the New World.
The ancestral dead are ever present in Carriacouan and Grenadian
affairs; indeed, they are historical and psychic agents that
"clear the way" and "fix up things" for their obedient children.
Ancestors are venerated and appeased in Shango, Big Drum, Saraka,
and Praise, and even the Jab Jab's ( Devil's devil) fornicatory
jookings are kinetic prayers that beg the "Old People" to send
down fertility and abundance.
The dead are everywhere in our country. They are in the backyard
cemeteries, in the awe-inspiring silk cotton trees, and in the
bustling crossroads where humans traffic with quirky,
anthropomorphic gods. The dead are even in the rumshops, where
men who drink to forget their sorrows somehow remember to pour
generous libations in honour of " the ones who gone in front ".
For us it is death that defines life. We pay homage to the dead
because death is the everlasting precedent; It is the attainment
of wholeness, a return to the source. Return. Flight. There are
countless stories that tell of Africans who flew all the way
Home- "Flyin' Africans".
My own great-grandmother delighted in telling me stories about
dem Afrikens who went back. She was sure of that . She knew that
the old people flew back.... "They didn't eat salt and so they
was able to fly back. Salt make you too heavy to fly back. So
the ones that really wanted to go back never ever touched even
one grain ah salt. Never."
Talking about salt, in a novel of the same name Trinidadian
novelist Earl Lovelace tells the story of Guinea John, who
placed two corn cobs under his armpits and then flew all the way
back to Africa. Guinea John flew all alone; his hapless
relatives could not make the journey back as they had become
On this matter of Flying Africans Esteban Montejo, the
foul-mouthed Cuban ex-slave, tells us that in Cuba "Negroes
escaped by flying. They fly through the sky and returned to
their own lands", he said. (Autobiography of a Runaway Slave,
Norman Paul ( 1885-1976), the Grenadian seer, also heard stories
of flying Africans. In his 1963 autobiography Paul tells us:
At one time they used to make sugar and rum on Hamstead estate,
but at that time I was not born. That was the time of
my grandfather. They were Africans and they used to work at the
time of slavery. My grandmother told us of the time of
slavery, and when Africans were in Grenada. She showed us a
mango tree in the yard , big as the whole of this yard here,
where some of them went and gone up. They went into the clouds
and they never see them again, they understand they
had gone back to Africa. My grandmother said they were
dissatisfied, so they went up the tree and away". ( Dark
In Tobago there is the legend of Gan Gan (Nganga) Sarah, who
clambered up a silk cotton in an attempt to fly back to
Back in the late 1920s Alexander Bedward (1859-1930), a Native
Baptist preacher and Rastafarian prophet made an
unsuccessful attempt to fly back home to Africa. The Rastas of
course contemplated flight (repatriation) from the very
earliest days of their movement, and they published this idea in
one of their best known "chants":
One bright morning when my work is over I will fly away home.
It is hardly any wonder that the first big ska record was
Revivalist hymn entitled " If I had the wings like a dove"?
If I had the wings like a dove
If I had the wings like a dove
I would fly
Fly away and be at rest
A hard dough bread made in the shape of a dove is a staple in
Jamaican Kumina ceremonies.
Olive Lewin, Rock It come Over,2002:225
© 2006 C.Taylor