The Implications of Remembering

In an interview with Patricia Saunders, author M. NourbeSe Philip says: “What if the Ancestors intended some other purpose for us to have been brought to this part of the world, entirely different from the European lust for profit. It seems to me that just asking that question puts us in a different position and releases a tremendous amount of energy. In honoring our own dead… by focusing on ourselves and what the experience of slavery has meant and can’t mean, even just embracing all that, somehow helps to contain the experience so that we can benefit from the memory rather than being crushed by it” (Small Axe 26, June 2008, pp. 63-79).

In the introduction to this issue of the journal, David Scott writes about what is “sedimented into the [black] body” (p. xvi), referring to Paul Connerton’s habit-memory in which the past is – to quote from Toni Morrison – (a) “rememory” (Beloved 1987, p. 47), that is re-experienced and seen as if it is present.

Since reading this edition of the journal, I have thought often of the implications of “just embracing all that”, all that the body remembers about being Black in the world. Of course, this has only produced more questions. These include:

How would Black communities create spaces in which this process could be safely engaged beyond performance of historical events? What kind of healing is possible when we allow what the body re-members to emerge? Would we have to create new healing modalities to understand and accommodate the range of Black experiences connected to slavery? Would the concept of “collective memories” be helpful or hindering? Or would we need a way to organize types of memories? What is it necessary for us to forget in order for some memories to exist?

Of course, there are always these questions: what constitutes a memory? A rememory? A sediment?

Works Cited
Connerton, Paul. (1989). How societies remember. England: Cambridge University Press.
Morrison, Toni. (1987). Beloved. New York: Knopf.
Small Axe 26, June 2008.

When the Past Becomes [the] Present

Nine years before I completed the 30th year at my job, a year synonymous with retirement for some, I resigned my position and entered a doctoral program in African American and African Diaspora Studies.

Why would I leave a stable job and move my family to a city and state we had never visited to study and research full time about Black history, embodied memories, Middle Passage, healing, and past lives; topics without theories; liminal spaces with little hope of becoming more real outside of personal experience?

Because over twenty years after my first encounter with spiritual phenomena related to the ancestors and the Middle Passage, ´╗┐my life continues to be transformed by what I experienced.

Since that first encounter, I have discovered that I am not alone: others have had similar “memories”, “rememories”, and “re-experiencings”. We have all agreed on one thing: Our lives have been changed and healed in ways we would never have intentionally chosen for ourselves.

Notes of an Ariran documents my past and current encounters with memory through my experiences and research. It is an attempt to articulate more fully, through community sharing, the ways in which these encounters have helped heal me, my family, and the communities I serve.

I am hyper-conscious of what it means to remember and forget: I am the descendent of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and of people whose histories were/are forcibly and/or selectively dis-remembered.

For me, then, memory and re-membering are not simply academic subjects or spiritual phenomena. They are precious “things” because I still have the gift of both.

This work is dedicated to my ancestors who speak through me, and to my living family members who speak through the ancestors because neither this time nor this space have meaning for them.

Starting at the middle

“In the workings of memory, there is an endless reiteration and enactment of this condition of loss and displacement… The Middle Passage, the great event of breach, engenders this discontinuity” (Saidiya Hartman, 1997, Lose Your Mother).

My journey begins with and in the Middle Passage. Stephanie Smallwood (2007) suggests that there is nothing “middle” about this experience for Africans. Middle implies a beginning and ending, something linear, or progressive. Instead, the Middle Passage was the beginning of a permanent removal from home for most Africans (Morgan, 2004).

For millions, it would be the end of their lives. Their bodies would be thrown overboard after dying painfully horrible and isolated deaths.

For those who survived the Passage, it was the death of an old life, and the beginning of a life full of violence, re-membering, forgetting, and recreating that would effect them and their descendents as long as they lived and died.

I am a descendent of slaves and freed people, Africans and West Indians.

I enter this narrative in the Middle.

Morgan, Jennifer. 2004. Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Hartman, Saidiya V. Hartman. 1997. Scenes of subjection: Terror, slavery, and self-making in nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Smallwood, Stephanie. (2007). Saltwater slavery: A middle passage from Africa to American diaspora. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.