The why of it
It was December 2012 when my trajectory changed. My thirtieth year of life was drawing to a close. It had been an annus horribilis: with what should have been a joyous milestone (the occasion of my thirtieth birthday), shared instead with the death by accidental drowning of entertainer, Witney Houston. It was all downhill from there.
Yet, paradoxically, throughout the course of my life, the deeper the ditch into which I have fallen, the higher I have ultimately flown. Indeed, it transpired, that what looked at first like 'a series of unfortunate events,' was in fact preparation for an ascent. And as the year progressed, I felt a strong soul urge to return home. Now, bar seven months right at the beginning of my life, I have lived continuously in England, but it has never truly been home.
I first became aware of the profound change in early January 2013, as I entered a small museum located on the Marina in Duke Town, Calabar. For having acted upon my soul prompting, I had visited Nigeria after a fourteen year absence for the first time with my daughter. She was aged then, only six. We had returned to my paternal ancestral seat during that fateful December, flying to Lagos via Dubai for a family homecoming.
It was an exhausting trip. On the day billed as the end of the world and the day immediately following; we (my father, my daughter and myself) criss-crossed through the clouds over Europe, flying over the Holy Land, over the Red Sea, over parts of East and Central Africa; before stopping for a night in Lagos. Whereupon, following brief respite, we flew to our destination of Akwa Abasi Ibom State, located in Nigeria's southern oil-producing region. It took well over two days to travel from Manchester, England, to the Great God of the Vast Universe State - my ancestral home.
That it was indeed the end of the world as I knew it did not occur to me as we clocked-up air miles. Yet, something profound was altered during that flight, but it would take a little while for me to understand that my awareness of the spirit-realm, nominal at best prior to that trip, had been greatly heightened.
"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds..."
A few weeks later, in January, we stood in neighbouring Cross River State in relative silence, perusing a life-sized replica of the hold of a slave ship. The Marina is a brief ten-minute drive away from my most recent point of entry to this planet. The setting is idyllic, but a moroseness sat low in the atmosphere, interfering with the serenity of the beautiful equatorial location. The place was swarming with spirits, and both I, and my daughter, were acutely aware of them. She squeezed my hand a little tighter, tilted her face up towards mine and whispered, “I don’t like it here mummy. There are sad spirits in this place.”
And that was all it took.
I walked out of my old life, away from a stalling career as a sustainable womenswear and accessories designer, away from Northern British town and childhood friends following that trip to our ancestral home. It was nothing personal. I simply could not bear to continue living a multi-layered lie for a moment longer.
As I was plunged headlong into the great mysteries, my life, as a consequence, was thrown into complete disarray.
Onlookers watched in concern as my world transformed into a whirlwind and I began to research and write in earnest. Clumsily at first. Yet, the oratorial seeds sown in my formative years as a Redemption Star*, had bedded deep, cracked open, rooted, and sprouted. And in shedding the first of many skins of my former life, I stumbled back towards my Christianised, scholarly roots.
Initially, I believed myself to be doing one thing, but eventually, it transpired that I was doing something entirely different. It would take three and a half years and a series of traumatic events spawned during yet another annus horribilis, for me to discover that in my deep unearthing, and after two decades of not even so much as a glance at the Word: that the Law and the Prophets were branded upon my heart; that the new covenant had indeed become flesh; and that I was in fact returning to my spiritual home.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
My daughter is of Nigerian and Grenadian heritage. Her father is, and has always been, an irregular fixture in her life. We came full circle during that trip. In my daughter, strains of slavers and enslaved peoples sit side by side. Her timely arrival, eleven years ago, in more ways than one, saved my life. Now I create in order to free up her future. The art of healing, is, after all, a serious business.
As an artist, a scholar and a mother who also happens to be a dual-citizen of two nations with incredibly rigid, yet, amorphous ideas relating to national identity; my primary concern is one of dialectical inquiry into our collectively entwined pasts. I am particularly interested in how suppression of uncomfortable aspects of those pasts continue to speak, and oftentimes noisily, within the present day.
Now you know the why of it.
The what of it
"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said to me, “son of man, can these bones live?”"
SPIRIT WORK IS BONE COLLECTING WORK
A body of creative work initiated during that life-changing trip to my ancestral seats on the Winter Solstice of 2012. The work forms a phrenic excavation of sorts, very much cathartic in nature; with an aim to giving select members** of a hierarchy of spirit interlocutors tangible form and amplified voice.
The goal is simple. Healing of a dense ancestral line.
Central to the body of work is a historicised, in-depth exploration of the intricacies of supernatural syncretism and trans-cultural fertilisation, predominantly within Ibibio, Okobo, Efik and Oron contexts.
The work takes the form of a collection of short stories: And There Was No More Sea; a series of oratorial performance pieces navigating ritual spatial thresholds: Dead Raising Work; and a soul retrieval in novel format: Mwet Uwem (Book of Life).
All pieces are forthcoming.
Select stories from And There Was No More Sea, can be found in the last three Short Story Day Africa anthologies; and also in the forthcoming Black Letter Media anthology, The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story! (Vol 3)
*At the age of five I formed a group with four of my five siblings. (The youngest was yet to be born.) My father named us the Redemption Stars. We were biblical scholars and priests before Abasi - the Most High God. Between the ages of five and fifteen, I toured extensively with my siblings amongst predominantly Nigerian-British churches, administering the Word to congregations and ministering before God. We began with oratory and progressed to song, being writers, composers, artists, dramatists and multi-instrumentalists. The material we handled as babies continues to stupefy many an adult today.
There can be no redemption without a fall, first, from grace.
**Because not every spirit, ancestral or otherwise, means well.
"Initiations only make you more and deeply what you truly are. There are in truth, no changes. And even the greatest experiences or revelations do not change a life. They only reveal what was deeply and truly there, in the depths of the personality. They only unveil the true self.
"For all initiation is unveiling, self-revealing."