Life’s Equation Solved by African Derived Religion

A painting of a Kumina ceremony.

Recalling Mother Campbell I’ll just back up a little bit. Shortly after arriving in Panama from what at the time had been my honeymoon trip, I found myself showing up at the door of Mother Campbell in Rio Abajo. She, even at that time after many years had passed without hearing from me in the United States, remembered me, whom she had known since I was a child. I had always admired her for always carrying an authoritative demeanor as the “Madame” I had known since I was about eight years of age and whose church was a frequent stop for my grandmother and me.

My grandmother, Fanny, and my Aunt Bernice who we were visiting picked up the phone and called her and announced that I wanted to see her. She was delighted to have me visit and, once we got there, as with any proven doctor of psychiatry, she led the way into her private office and sat in her favorite chair.

She then engaged in small talk with me about myself, my new wife and showed her enthusiastic approval of my educational progress in the States. This petite “little Mulatto” lady, who was what one might call elderly by now, would become familiar to me again, since she had not changed at all since I had known her as a small boy. As of old, she was again comforting me and just to sit with her for a while made me feel better. Then she commanded me to ask about anything I wished of the “Spirit,” and proceeded to go into a trance without any effort at all, speaking to me as naturally as with any other welcomed visitor. I was, to say the least, rendered speechless with veneration towards “that visitor” she so aptly had warned me was coming to advise me and comfort me.

I had never before been that close to having an advisory and healing session with her because she was always a benign and motherly presence in my life with a smile for me whenever I visited her as a kid. This was the first time in my life after becoming an adult that I would have a private healing session with her.

After that fateful and most memorable visit with my loving “Madame,” I would again visit her a few days later to tell her that we would be leaving, returning to the US. However those moments with my Venerable Queen Mother Campbell would make me again review those aspects of my research findings, then concentrate more on seeking to find the prevalence of these kinds of religious expressions amongst my Panamanian Westindian People.

Needless to say that at the time I could find very little or nothing referring to Panama at the New York Public Library, or the College Library and just some small references about black Caribbean religions at the Institute of the Study of Man. At any rate, the little that I found talked about “Kumina or Cumina” religions, with which I could compare what I had seen and partaken in ceremonies in Panama. The Cumina religion, to which researchers in the field of African derived religions made reference, signified “ancestor worship” and my studies immediately let in the light of a new day for me. At the time I had also found in my research more on the Afro-Cuban religions but discovered, through involvement with their rituals, that they did not resemble anything that I had been familiar with in my country of Panama.

The Spiritual advice that Madame had imparted to me included something that Bob Marley had often repeated in song to his adoring audiences and to politicians in his native Jamaica and abroad and it still rings in true within me since:

“The gates of hell have not prevailed against me.”*

I followed my dear Madame’s advice and have since included it in my daily prayer.

For me Life’s Equation has been solved, not from anything relating to the academic, medieval school-men of today and neither did I derive help from any one dogma but by the reliance on that part of our cultural heritage that had been the key to the interpretation of the reality of being, that integral part of the Silver People of Panama.

Mine is a task revealed to me to be important to the spirit of our ancestors and to the women, especially the ones who later followed their countrymen to a blighted environment called Panama. They quickly were moved by the Spirit of our ancestors to organize the people into churches. Thus, it was no surprise that such a pioneer woman as my paternal grandmother, Mrs. Fanny Reid, would chose me in particular, amongst all her grandchildren, to follow her all over the newly urbanized Panama City and its surroundings to participate in Beji-Nite ceremonies. In fact, researchers on the subject of African derived religions have alluded to this traditional practice in Jamaica, from where she came, of choosing one of the children of promise amongst their descendants to keep up with the ancient religious practices and revelations.

Such religious expressions as spiritual singing and dancing, spirit possession, speaking in tongues and acts of healing, combined in the syncretism of both African and Christian beliefs are now part of our “Intangible Cultural heritage.” So much so that even the word “Pocomania,” which is a conceptual aberration whose general meaning, in the European tongue, tends to view anything related to the African culture in the Americas as having a negative connotation of simulating “a little madness” as it always is with the traditional colonial system of viewing our cultural heritage.

This story continues.

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