Ancestors & The Land
If I close my eyes, I can still smell my grandmother’s house. The scent of something delicious cooking or of fresh laundry. It was the meeting place of the family, and I always rememebr the house being filled with family and friends.
I can remember the garden full of apple and pear trees. The land used to be an orchard and the garden stretched back so far, that I always used to turn back and head to the house, afraid that I’d somehow wondered out of the property bounds. How could a garden be so big? My cousins and I would spend hours in that garden, playing hide and seek in the outbuildings or sitting on the low wall that separated the patio from the garden proper. Or we’d play with my grandfather. A particular favourite was when he would pretend to be asleep, so we would creep closer and closer still, until he would all of a sudden he’d lurch forward thrust out his false teeth and chase us.
And I remember her too, my nana. In my earliest memories, she was always polishing or sitting at the dining room table (it was in the living room, and food was passed through a serving hatch from the kitchen), never in an armchair. Later on it was the motorised chair, one designed to help her sit down and stand up. Later still it was her bed, but even then, her hair was as dark as night with only a white hair or two, and her face still beautiful and mostly unlined.
It’s a shame that when we are young, we don’t always realise the gifts before us, but before her passing and as I matured, I would ask about her life in Jamaica and she would tell me about her life. How it was hard but snatched between those times were the good. I suppose it’s the same for most of us.
How I would love listening to her speak in her quiet Jamaican patois whilst the kids, only young back then, would go and play with the cats, or my uncle would take them to go and pick apples and pears if it was the season. The story I remember the most though, was when she became vegetarian for a short while.
I think this one stuck the most, because I’m vegetarian too, and so it was another link between us. She was only a girl and she’d been sent on errands when she happened to come upon the slaughter of a pig. She watched as the man approached the animal, backing it into a corner so it could not escape, with a huge knife hidden behind his back. But it knew. The animal knew and oh how it screamed, even though it couldn’t see the knife ( ‘‘eyah squeal’’). And so she didn’t eat meat for a while after that.
I remember her room clearly, like a photograph imprinted upon my mind, but especially the pictures hanging on the wall on either side of her bed, photographs of her and my grandfather. I think they were taken before they came to England, though I’m unsure. I only know how young they looked. Even then, her picture fascinated me. That beautiful, strong woman! Sometimes I fancy, when I catch my reflection, at a certain angle, for just a second or two, I can see her staring back at me, those dark, dark eyes, like she’s looking at me, through me.
I fancy she is…
As I write this, I’m preparing for a conference I’ll be speaking at in just a couple of days time. The topic, predictably, is rebel magick and rebel women, and will focus on a Jamaican National Hero, Queen Nanny of the Maroons. Thinking of her makes me think of my nana. In fact, it seems to have been a day of synchronicities. Earlier on, I was flicking through the TV (I was off sick from work), and just so happened upon a local TV station. The programme was called Caribbean Conversations and in this particular episode, five Jamaican ladies were discussing natural healing and medicines. And whilst it lifted my soul and gladdened my day somewhat (as well as reminding me of my nana), it was also tinged with sadness because so much of this knowledge is slipping through our fingers.
The knowledge of those who came before us, our ancestors, is becoming lost, forgotten and we are weaker without it. So what can we do to preserve what we already know and relearn what we’ve already lost?
I propose that connecting to the land where we already are is the answer. In my research on Nanny of the Maroons and as the ladies on that TV show were saying, the land heals us. When you sting yourself on a nettle, nine times out of ten there’ll be dock leaf growing nearby. When you’re feeling down or upset, sitting quietly, or walking out in nature makes us feel better. Nature provides, and our ancestors knew it.
And it doesn’t matter where your ancestors hail from either. I am mixed race and so honour all aspects of my heritage, all ancestors, black, white and otherwise, no matter the opinion of anyone else. In this modern world where many of us are disconnected from the homelands of our ancestors, or have ancestors from many homelands, it is easy to believe we aren’t connected to the land in which we find ourselves now, but that is not the case, far from it in fact.
The truth is, we can only connect to the land where we find ourselves now, whether our ancestors hail from there or not. If we look at Nanny’s story, we see the truth in this. She was originally from Ghana, but found herself in Jamaica via the slave trade, and so she practised her craft, her Obeah there. She knew the sacredness of all land, and knew that in all places, nature provides, and so she became proficient in her craft, which ultimately secured the freedom of not only herself, but countless others. It is a similar story with Tituba, the woman who, courtesy of the slave trade, found herself in a foreign land (Salem), and so she continued her craft (Obeah) there.
Wherever we find ourselves in the world, we can build a relationship to the land, to nature, right there. We can meld the knowledge of our ancestors to the land and in doing so, we make ourselves stronger.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!
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