Evelyn Ihrke and Darice Shatteen-Jones

Evelyn Ihrke
“Horizon from Angola to Canada”
Inspiration piece

 

Sonje Lavi
By
Darice Shatteen-Jones
Response

We landed here, back here I suppose, on a Sankofa vessel. Sankofa vessels are made of Aluminum and Titanium, which, in our sacred practices, are prized materials because they are both sturdy and light. All beings are both sturdy and light when living in harmony with their own hearts.

Every one of us, descendants of former inhabitants, is required to make the pilgrimage back to some part of the ice-covered planet. We are told that it was once green and lush like home. There were 8.7 million species on this land all classified under 6 categories. It was hard to imagine this place with trees, with nurturing food growing, with hawks flying around. When you look at it from the cosmos, it appears as a white ball. It could easily be mistaken for a moon if the ice didn’t sparkle so much. Our scientists are still seeking out what in the galaxy the ice is reflecting. Our books teach us that this cold place once appeared as a blue orb with white wisps from space, before everything froze over and almost everyone died.

Our people, sometimes referred to as earth people because our skin resembles the roots of many trees and the dirt through which seeds burst into life, survived because of a turn of fate that no one could have predicted. It had been a last-ditch effort to connect. It was interesting that this icy white planet where nothing seemed to live, was also called Earth once.

After one has lived for 15 years, it is time to go to Earth. And understand how easily what is alive with promise can become cold, losing color and breath. Sankofa vessels have room for about 10 people, usually the balance is six 15-year-old youngsters and four adults.

Everyone, of every age, has to go through The Four Stations for about a week before the trip. At Station One, we are each pared with an old one who shares stories and tests us on our knowledge of Earth. Everyone passes these tests because our elders are experts at understanding what the person in front of them needs in order to absorb a lesson. They use their 10 senses extremely well.

They ask students about the twist of fate that brought about the rescue of only the inhabitants of a spirit rich and resource poor little island called Haiti, along with the entire refugee population of an island that was evacuated to Haiti due to ocean level rise, called St. Kitts. We would recount to our elders how the Sky Seekers from our current planet had hovered above Earth listening in on the entire globe – seeking people whose values aligned with those here at home. It seemed that the whole place was inhabited by people who were missing the point of life and who had no respect for their own precious breath.

In a final effort before leaving Earth’s orbit altogether, one of the Sky Seekers suggested shifting the frequency used to listen in. Perhaps, she said, there were people with a different resonance that weren’t being heard because our equipment was set to capture the most common frequencies – much lower than our own. When the team raised the frequency, one tiny island came in loud and clear, speaking of love and of life and of justice and of unity. Sky Seekers were not people to hesitate when clarity arose. The different frequency allowed them to lock onto the souls who valued life and bring them onto the vessel exclusively and immediately while leaving the rest of Earth’s inhabitants untouched and unaware. Little did they know that by the time of the next excursion to the planet, it would mostly covered in ice.

At Station Two, the luscious coils bunched so tightly atop all our heads were to be set into braid designs as an homage to our Earth ancestors who used their heads to create maps with braids – and who left no part of themselves untapped. Braiding was a deep soul ritual that connected us for life to the braider. In this way, unusual bonds were formed. Sometimes when we didn’t understand another person’s energy, a braiding session was proposed to allow two people to move out of their thoughts and into their bodies. After much negotiation about who would braid and who would be braided, pairings often resulted in a new appreciation for each other. The braiding that happened before Sankofa trips though were always with existing connections – because there wasn’t time for resistance during the lead up to rites of passage.

At Station Three, we ate gumbo, a savory mix of earth and sea life that came together to make a delicious and filling stew. In this way we honored what our ancestors from Earth who understood the importance of connections and how the whole can be greater than its parts.

At Station Four, we committed to cultivate just one personal quality for an entire year following the pilgrimage. I am taller than most my age and thicker around the chest and waist. I was sometimes teased when I was younger. One of my elders noticed, and pointed out to me, that after being teased I had created a story about myself. It was one of isolation. All those years, between the ages of 10 and 15, I held that story close to me and felt superior to my peers – more special because I was able to do so many things alone. At Station Four, I committed to cultivating the quality of connection with others. I was a bit nervous about it but decided to practice during our journey to Earth.

It was a good thing I did too. My name is Kenyatta, by the way, and my braids are long but held up by a tight bun at the top of my head.

When we landed on the part of the earth called Harriet, for a famed freedom fighter, I was not ready for the cold beauty of a land that no longer held much life. Ice is water, and water is alive, but there was not much else. Even the land under the ice had lost its color in the cold. I wondered if Earth had died because people felt as I once had, that isolation made them special, more strong, and more unique.

Could foolish pride and cutting off connection have killed everyone?

Upon landing, everyone in the Sankofa vessel spoke the words in unison, as we had been trained to do,“Sonje lavi” which meant “remember life” in the old Haitian creole. Now, we understood why that phrase.

As I stepped off the vessel with each hand gripped tightly by one of my peers, my new friends, I felt the first real chill of my entire life.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted March 3, 2019 at 4:10 pm | #

    What an incredible story. I was drawn in and wished for a trip such as this for us in current day circumstances, to bring us back to ourselves…

  2. Ti
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 9:33 pm | #

    The pairing was quite exquisite. The image has a strong feeling of cold and vastness, and the writing is perfectly paired with its cinematic prose.

  3. Posted August 2, 2019 at 7:51 pm | #

    Mercy. What a fantastic telling of an impeccable, ancient journey. The writing is a vast and expansive extension of the beautiful visual piece. So much resonates with what is real and the power of connection while the story easily guides one along and keeps them wanting more. I could clearly envision Octavia Butler setting a place at her table for you.

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