Guest post by Maria Hamilton Abegunde. Unless otherwise noted, quoted lines are from Latasha N. Nevada Diggs’ poem “Maybe.”
When We Gather is ritual.
When you watch it,
Hear the Wind. She say,
Daughter, leave what wounds you.
Touch the Earth. She say,
Daughter, reclaim what is whole.
Smell the Sea. She say,
Say: Beni. Sim. Yes.
Omio Yemanja / Yemaya / Yemoja / Iemanja!
In When We Gather: Together, Lisa E. Harris “hopes that viewers see the work [When We Gather] and feel empowered to move…” As I re-watched the film I swayed in my seat. I synchronized my breath with the movements of the women.
I paid attention to the words of Latasha N. Nevada Diggs in her poem “Maybe,” the centuries of histories she recalls when she says, “The conjure of twirls didn’t / work hiding prayer knots. … / all this / work to show we all equal before many routes … / A teacher’s cruel ruler. how proper speech didn’t / work nor kill. / …she remembers her blood & clan. remembers her ocean.”
I let the sounds of Lisa E. Harris and Samita Sinha, the movements of Okwui Okpokwasili, Dell Marie Hamilton, and Jana Harper, and the images of trees, water, sky, and a knotted piece of blue cloth remind me of who I am after two years of shaking off anger and grief that covered my skin like a scab.
The “threads” of this film “mean to open portals” that have always existed. The film begins with honoring the ancestors with photographs that tell our mothers’ stories of genocide, enslavement, internment, suffrage, love, and freedom.
It continues with the artists moving their bodies in ways that call to mind ocean, tornado, and breath — elements and energies that, when understood and practiced, can shake loose, release, and clear trauma and joy that are sedimented in our bodies, remembered by our souls. At this moment in time, who among us does not need this?
If you allow yourself to see the images in this film, to listen to these stories — “we had little & dreamt labyrinths…” — you will find yourself pulled gently into the circle by the voice of Diggs as she reads, Harris as she sings, and Sinha as she sounds with Harris.
Welcome the need to gather. When you do, you will enter María Magdalena Campos-Pons’ vision of a new reality. As Campos-Pons explained to Wendi Norris, the film’s executive producer, that vision, given to her in a dream, was “a group of women, all dressed in white, representing all races and ages, and even sizes … moving in a circular motion … a counter-clockwise direction, around the White House” to cleanse negative energy and to create space for renewal and repair.
Seven (7) bridges worlds. It is the number of Yemoja (Omio Yemoja!), the Great Mother who resides in the oceans. In thinking of Yemoja as the current under this film, I recalled the words said after the death of George Floyd: when he called his mother, he was praying, and all the mothers answered.
When We Gather then is a call for the mothers to gather, to not only come get their children, but to come and get each other. It is a call for the women to midwife each other into this world that is hurtful more than ever before.
Niro Feliciano says that “hurt often needs to be heard before it can be healed.” Campos-Pons gives us plenty to contemplate this hurt. Director Codie Elaine Oliver gathers seven (7) women, in a circle that is not round, in which time is multi-dimensional, and where all are connected by space — virtual, physical, and spiritual — to bear witness to a world that is possible only by cutting away what is no longer needed, by suturing what is.
The film reminds us that language limits how we are heard and by whom, but the moaning and humming that emanate from our bellies and hearts when words are insufficient — this is the sound of birth. In this moment in time, which one of us does not want to be rebirthed?
Seven (7) knots. This is a ritual of (re)finding ourselves and each other after years of wading not in water but in fear and pain in our nations.
Seven (7): the number of inner wisdom and persistence. This is a ritual of recovering history. The way our mothers taught us.
And, as with many rituals, what to do, how, and why are embedded and embodied within the ritual itself. Ritual has many purposes, one of which is to activate or initiate change. Both When We Gather and When We Gather: Together invite us to (re)imagine our intersecting histories and how the circle shows us how to live as human beings, harmoniously, on a sacred path.
Seven (7): the number of completion and completeness. This is a ritual of mandate and manifestation: Heal. Unite. Create.
As the film ends, we return to the summons to gather. This time, the voices of young girls remind us that the circle is neither round nor broken. Their presence with peers and elders invoke the laws of Sankofa: if we are to heal, unite, create, we must go back and bring forward our combined knowledge to simultaneously heal past, present, and future.
We move counterclockwise.
Seven (7) generations back.
Seven (7) generations forward.
And when we, the women, do this and gather
as each “others’ medicines,”
“Maybe… /… [this is] a prayer for us all…”
On December 7, join us in the IU Cinema Virtual Screening Room for a virtual screening of When We Gather and When We Gather: Together as part of the Art and a Movie series. Artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons is scheduled to be present for a virtual conversation and interactive Q&A.
Maria Hamilton Abegunde is an assistant professor in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. She approaches the Earth and human bodies as sites of memory, and always with the understanding that memory never dies, is subversive, and can be recovered to transform transgenerational trauma and pain into peace and power. She loves all kinds of movies, but especially science fiction. Learn more about her work here.