Community Culture Clinic

Embodying the Sacred: AfriKan Spirituality in Barbados

This is Part 2 of a series in the Culture Clinic blog with Dr. John

This series is a transcription of The Rev’d Dr. John Hunte, King Shepherd of Israel Chairman, Council of Spiritual Baptist Churches of Barbados, for his address at Sung Eucharist in the St. Michael’s Cathedral.


Kambire Ikaivla outlines that African Spirituality is the awareness of positioning our egotistical materialistic selves in a position of prostration before the great divine ancestral wisdom, giving it the opportunity, if it so desires, to humble ourselves to the lowest level that it manifests itself through our bodies and into the world as we walk this earthly plane.

Put another way “Spirituality is the flow of how energy moves. The problem is that people want to dictate and control the narrative, how its to be interpreted.” It is this filter that narrows our ability to align and connect. To begin to decolonize our lens it is important to change our focus from looking outward, to looking inward.

We need to be careful how we compartmentalize spirituality. Traditional AfriKan spirituality is sometimes used as an umbrella term for an assortment of beliefs that may not fit into Eurocentric dogma. Then we classify practices such as Ifa, Voudou, Santeria, Candomble or other variations of Yoruba religious traditions, coming from the region of Benin, Togo, South-Western Nigeria under this shade.

Deemed to be over 10,000 years old, the commonality of the Yoruba traditions as reverence for spirits that reflect aspect of nature or Orishas makes these practices as official or orthodox as any other practice. Still, any talk about our ancestors (being us), within us, their wisdom is embedded our DNA, waiting for us to raise our inner frequencies (above the conditioning, above the traumas) to release it gets ignored.

Such definitions injure because “dogma” implies a competitive bias: one way of connecting as superior, a dynamic that seems more culturally specific than correct.  In this reasoning, the allocation of ancestors is not explained, it is reduced and demonized along with dreams, birthmarks, race, black dolls vs. white dolls, offerings, among other things. Less problematic but still troubling are processions/parades, dancing, and music. 

Some Christian followers render our ancestors as being DEAD in a way that renders them unable to communicate with us and (suggests that) what (influences us) are evil spirits masquerading as ancestors.” These ‘assorted practices’ have tested narratives that explain their connection to the divine, that by comparative analysis and observation can shift the way we embody and experience our practice daily. Our variety of spiritual expressions reflect more of what is common at the roots/routes, even as each practice defines itself.

Tillah Willah, Afrocentric indigenous practitioner made a case for Afrocentric and indigenous practitioners in an intervention on Trinidad & Tobago social media:

1. Many spiritual systems across the world believe that plants, animals, stones, wood, trees, geographical locations etc have an energy frequency and that you can use these to move yourself or others closer to or further away from balance. This belief does not just exist in African spiritual systems.

2. Vodou is a Fon/Ewe word meaning spirit. It is a religious body of beliefs practiced in Benin and exists in a syncretic form with Catholicism in Haiti. Voodoo is anti-Black propaganda made up by Hollywood to further separate African people from their spirituality. The specific fear around Haitian spirituality stems from the fact that Vodou was a central part of the success of the Haitian Revolution.

3. There are multiple considerations of the origin of the word ‘Obeah’ similar or root words exist in Twi, Efik, Akan…but what we know of Obeah is a sloppy colonialist lumping together of complex spiritual systems that they did not understand but that they feared would be used by enslaved people to emancipate themselves. 

4. Obeah was criminalized in the Caribbean because it was a tool of resistance, the first Obeah laws appeared in 1760 after Tacky’s Rebellion in Jamaica. You should also know that in 2015 three Hindu men were arrested and deported from Antigua under the Obeah Act of 1904.

5. Obeah is not Ifa/Orisha. However, Ifa/Orisha devotees believe that all natural elements have a vibrational force that can be harnessed to achieve certain outcomes for the person requesting the ritual, or the intended receiver of the effects of the ritual.

6. All systems can be used for both positive and negative (if you believe in these polarities). Political, educational, spiritual systems around the world have since the dawn of humanity been created and interpreted by those who have more information to manipulate those who have less information.  

7. The only thing that can hurt us is fear of what we don’t understand. If people know that we are afraid of certain ways of being and seeing the world they have power over us. This has nothing to do with spiritual forces.  The perception of power is created and can be distorted by those who stand to benefit from keeping people in a state of fear. 

8. If you know your own obeah, nobody can use theirs against you.

Therefore, from an AfriKan perspective, we are surrounded by spirit, in nature, in the faces of your family and community, where is constant reminders, and wisdom to be gleaned from embracing and embodying connection in ways to do not have to conflict with religious persuasion.

Stay tuned for part 3!

Culture Clinic is a weekly column crafted by Dr. John Hunte. It identifies the impact of Culture and Creativity in the Caribbean. Photography by Adrian Richards.

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