The Ibo Landing myth – there are two myths and one reality…
Ibo captives, African captives of the Ibo [ethnic group, also spelled “Igbo”], when they were brought to the New World, they refused to live in slavery. There are accounts of them having walked into the water, and then on top of the water all the way back to Africa, you know, rather than live in slavery in chains. There are also myths of them having flown from the water, flown all the way back to Africa. And then there is the story – the truth or the myth – of them walking into the water and drowning themselves in front of the captors.
I was able, in my research [for “Daughters of the Dust”], to read some of the accounts from the sailors who were on the ship when supposedly it happened, and a lot of the shipmates, the sailors or other crew members, they had nervous breakdowns watching this. Watching the Ibo men and women and children in shackles, walking into the water and holding themselves under the water until they in fact drowned.
And then interestingly enough, in my research, I found that almost every Sea Island has a little inlet, or a little area where the people say, “This is Ibo Landing. This is where it happened. This is where this thing really happened.” And so, why is it that on every little island – and there are so many places – people say, “This is actually Ibo Landing”? It’s because that message is so strong, so powerful, so sustaining to the tradition of resistance, by any means possible, that every Gullah community embraces this myth. So I learned that myth is very important in the struggle to maintain a sense of self and to move forward into the future.
because we need reminding
" | until very recently batá drums accompanied the procession | "
por Carrie Viarnes | UCLA
Cabildo leaders were actively involved in the procession probably beginning in the late 1860’s. They conducted ceremonies to ritually transform the Virgin and other saints’ statues into representations of the orichas. During mass, the priest blessed the images and the batá drums to be played during the procession. The images were then carried by cabildo members to the homes of respected religious leaders before finally arriving at Regla’s cemetery. At key thresholds – the entrance of the sanctuary, the edge of the bay, the doorways of important religious leaders’ homes – that marked significant moments in the procession, cabildo leaders performed divination to ensure that the orichas were pleased. Possession priests were mounted by their orichas, whose presence confirmed the efficacy of public devotion.
This trajectory highlighted the centrality of African religion, reinforced the social and moral power of African and Afro-Cuban authorities, and sanctioned alternate interpretations of colonial space and images. The route of the procession from church to sea to cemetery enacted non-Western modes of interpreting the Virgin/oricha and her domain, thus reappropriating colonial space and challenging the European “spatial paradigm” that “segregated the living from the dead,” symbolically uniting them in a non-linear cycle that better represented African conceptions of life and death. This functioned as a performance that rendered the Virgin as a multivocal symbol, central to the worship and identity of Afro-Cuban devotees who understood Yemayá as embodying both life and death.
In Lydia Cabrera’s account of the procession, it is clear that she understood the procession as a performed transformation, the result of devotees’ agentive use of a Catholic icon to illuminate the presence of an African oricha. The narrative illustrates African elements in the celebration, but also speaks to the issue of ritual transformation:
dancing to the son of the batá, the three liturgical Yoruba drums, and singing songs (oriki) in the “lucumí language” [sic], they took the image of the Virgin from the house or cabildo of a santera to the doors of the church, where she was received by a catholic priest, and from there to the shores of the sea…the Virgin of Regla is transformed in the course of this festivity into a Yoruba divinity, into Yemayá, and everyone calls her that… (Cabrera 1980: 17)