It has always been my belief that the lack of that ingrained sense of a cultural heritage in us Panamanian Westindians has been due to the missing factor of home and schooling. Home schooling had always been an integral part of our make-up in the early years of our history, however as that marvel of the world the Panama Canal evolved, the issue of our home becoming part of our cultural and spiritual lesson plan became less important or non existent.
Home schooling became less important as the Silver People bit the bait of their destruction by rushing to gain employment in the Canal Zone. Those times in history required Silver People and their children to gain employment at slave wages to serve the welcoming of white families from the U.S.
Amidst an environment of economic and mental depression, Panama’s Westindian Black families’ distress would be manifested in silent messages to adolescents that they should also seek employment at the tender ages of 14 and 15 years and plan to get married or, as in the case of the male children, gain employment and take care of their own needs as soon as possible. The labor scenario then became, for any sensitive observer, one of very young adolescents on labor gangs and little black girls working long hours as nannies, maids and cooks, tucked away in kitchens and as washer women at the Ancon Laundry Plant.
Early on in life these children, for that is what they were, had to forget any dreams of bettering their minds and furthering their knowledge through schooling. I am talking about the vast majority of young people as I know there were exceptions to this rule whose parents strove for something better for their children.
The few Westindian private schools that did survive faced a real dilemma because the homes of Silver People would have that empty nest appearance and feeling since the homes were bereft of, sometimes, both parents who were away at work. Teachers would have the added duty of becoming social workers and child psychiatrists trying to mitigate the inevitable learning and other problematic issues of abandoned homes.
The Black Church whether organized or African derived in nature was leagues away from taking up those issues I have enumerated above as important to spiritual and thus material advancement. In my estimation the Beji-Nite church was even more hard pressed than any other Church due to not being sponsored or supported by any large religious organizations.
Our Panamanian brand of Beji-Nite Queen Mothers of old had their hands full with life and death issues. In my perspective they were the only religious group to take on the healing of physical and mental illnesses and pressing issues of death and dying. However, they could not take on the issue of socially controlling their associates if they did not, at that time, know about the salient issue of uniting the spirits with the ancestors in a war against evil, as clearly as I have found it to be for me today.
For any one community church to reach the surety of the how and why of our people, of how our black families who were near and dear to us made out and gather the boldness to preach on the lack of cohesiveness in our cultural heritage would have been a miracle. The scenario I’ve outlined above, in fact, was a reality for many of us youngsters growing up in our times in Panama. The how we children and youth fared while our parents and immediate families were out laboring long hours, we can only conjecture on, and it would never sufficiently provide the reasons for our “failure to thrive” in many respects, which would take its toll in our adulthood. For the Black man, in fact, the whole scenario would invite their demise at an early age due to the fact that that tender loving care cannot ever be replaced by anything but the Holy Spirit.
The notion that we are minding our business, while we are out minding other people’s business, is a farce and a sure producer of failure and premature death. The fact is that we have in our modern times been politically voting in the wrong people. Dispersed as we are we cannot even physically unite to agree to disagree. We need our people here at home in the Mother Land together caring for our people’s business and providing the reassurance that our ancestors’ resting places on the banks of the Panama Canal are cared for in perpetuity.
Scenes of our ancestors being exhumed to make place for another recently deceased person or being threatened with being disappeared all together by urban encroachment is a horror and a burden I do not wish to live or die with. The thought of people who cared not a hoot for us as persons or for the welfare of our families or communities ordering the digging up of our ancestors appalls me. These events are presently imminent in our midst as you read these lines.
It was a true God sent to me when I discovered in my research that at the core of our African derived religious practices was the goal of keeping our families and its members who are living connected to our God and to all our ancestors who were long deceased. That alone for me has been such a joyous discovery that it has kept me working feverishly trying to find someone or some organization culturally minded to assist us in these times of violations- one more violation of our cultural heritage.
More than at any other time we the Silver People of Panama are in great need of unity for the sake of our descendants.
This story continues.