There seems to be a sad but comical trend lately, of “initiated” Europeans accusing Africans of cultural appropriation for practicing spirituality that we grew up with, and is our ancestral birthright.
Though I have in the past responded to this sort of thing with anger, when I took the time to realize how pathetic it is, and what kind of feedback they are going to get from Nature for it, I’m not mad anymore. I feel sorry for them.
I have European friends who practice Vodun and other African and diaspora spirituality mindfully, so I don’t see being European as any excuse. One can’t say about this, “Well, this is just how ‘white’ people are…” especially since I see some organizations doing the same with regard to European and Asian spirituality. African faiths are not uniquely put upon by the “Babylon” mentality that everything has to be documented and submit to some (when all illusions are stripped) arbitrary human authority. It is also not unique in that people co-opting it from cultures outside presume they are somehow doing it better…the subgroups of westerners who think they’re out-Buddhisting Asian Buddhists spring to mind.
How can one explain to these people who apparently missed the entire Pan-African movement that we are not as worried about people who follow our faiths borrowing from one another, and filling in educational and philosophical and practical blanks where needed, as they are?
For Africans in the community, life goes on. We’re not really worried about these people as they dig their own graves with this focus on the wrong thing. We have bigger fish to fry. So long as they’re doing the work, my main criticism is just the treachery against the people who carry African spirituality in their blood and in their hands.
Who they ought to be worried about is people who make up fake initiations and massive profits telling lost Europeans looking for some exotic pseudo spirituality that makes them feel like rebels. Then again, in many of these cases of Europeans (can’t help but laugh) demanding that I name drop and tell them who initiated me into Obeah (LOL!) and who are my “god parents”, may well be the victims of such scams. They’ve invested a good deal of time and money in their orders and organizations, and the idea that someone can get the same thing being a fisherman, that they got from spending $2000 and getting a pretty necklace and a “spiritual experience” they can tell their friends about, is horrifying.
Real African Spirituality
For the sake of consumer information, a site with no Africans is not representing African spirituality. Be mindful that not all Africans have dark skin. Still, someone should at least have some affiliation with African and diaspora activism and community aside of the spirituality. One of us is living in us and sharing our concerns. If they have no idea of the conflict in the Congo, chemicals leaked into the ground from unscrupulous copper mining, or “white” supremacists still being active in South Africa, they’re not African enough.
If you don’t see any photos of any Africans there doing anything but posing for a portrait, it is not representing African spirituality. The only excuse would be if they are a European living in an area where there are no Africans around, but you will see clearly that they are doing their best with what they have.
If it is racist against any group of Africans or trashing any diaspora Africans for their spirituality and not because they actually did something wrong to someone, then it is not representing African spirituality. The moment you see any trashing of Africans, you know you are at a site run by Europeans who are defending their money, not African spirituality.
I have no problem with my enemies worshiping my Gods. If they want to beg my Gods, this is fine with me, and will hopefully lead us to peace or a physical victory to go along with the psychological one. So I have no problem with Europeans, most of whom are not my enemies, worshiping the Vodun. It is only when they attempt to take them away that I think to myself that since they didn’t manage that with 400+ years of slavery, I don’t see how they’re going to do it with trash talk.
The people with a problem with us usually don’t even know any or many people with recent African ancestry. If they did, they would be given the same “beg my Gods” speech I just did…or since we are definitely not all angels, maybe they’re being coddled for what may or may not be an entirely ethical reason.
Real African spirituality is not dependent on any organization or priesthood, even though we rely on the recognized and/or hereditary priesthood in Africa as the keepers of our history. Santeria is only one of very few non hereditary systems in the diaspora with more than locally or group recognized ranks. I am told that this is not even the rule for many Santeros as customs vary and not everyone agrees.
When Santeros, whose system is syncretized with Catholicism and mixed with a lot of western spiritism, start calling others frauds and “cultural appropriators”, this is a red flag that maybe they aren’t very aware of the history of African and diaspora spirituality. There may however, be something else going on…
Infiltrators and Informers
Another, perhaps more sinister reason this is happening could be government or other hostile groups attempting to infiltrate Santeria and the African spiritual communities. They may fear that too many people involved in African spirituality may threaten their interests, and have recruited infiltrators and informers to report our activities and sow discord. This has already happened in Cuba. According to this article in the Sun Sentinel:
Many santeros are influential members of Cuban society, and recently it was revealed that state security had infiltrated Santeria circles.
Because many people involved in African spirituality would now be seen as radicals or possible terrorists even for small things like promoting self sufficiency, sustainable energy solutions, home farming, and natural diets, the people in power want us discredited. Since Santeria is one of the most popular and organized streams in the diaspora, they would naturally be used to attempt to stamp out others. Santeros should be very watchful that their houses do not get infiltrated, and make sure that one of the vows is to stand up for and protect the children of Oduduwa.
Just be careful out there. If you find yourself being targeted by infiltrators and those who steal our cultures and put them in boxes as if the Orishas, Alusi, Lwa, Spirits, etc. belong exclusively to them, just let them know you aren’t going to take it lying down, but don’t get overly emotional about it. They’re just lost or informers, and every morning, you still wake up African, and they wake up…not African.