“Conscience is a man’s compass.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh.
I am not sure when my fascination with the history and culture of Native Americans began. When I was about 7 years old, my mother was not able to be present with me for some event, and I was rewarded with a special doll I had been asking for. It was not the type of doll that you could play with, but it represented a Native American woman with a baby on her back. She was sufficiently exotic, dressed in traditional costume, hair (unlike the dolls of my granddaughter’s generation) which could not be unplaited and combed. My interest would deepen later on in life when I would read novels and non-fiction about the struggles to survive as Europeans descended upon and claimed America as up for grabs.
Last weekend I watched a documentary about the impact of Native American music on the development of the blues, jazz and rock and roll. As an eclectic music lover, I have always recognized the role of the African American musicians upon those genres, hearing the African rhythms, the soul, the spirit of Africa infusing the sound. What I had not been aware of was the influence of the Native American sound. One of the earliest musicians, Link Wray, wrote a song that was so subversive, ‘Rumble’, that it was banned. By the way, it was an instrumental! No words, and yet the authorities felt the relentless thrumming of the music would incite people to protest. Of course, the drum of the Indians (and the enslaved Africans) had long been banned as being an instrument of insurrection and communication among the people.
There was a lot of mixing between Native Americans and African Americans. But like the ‘one drop’ rule, if you were 10% Black and 90% Indian, you were considered Black. Some amazing musicians descended from that combination, like Jimi Hendrix. His grandmother’s heritage could be seen proudly declared in his dress, his fringed jackets, his attitude. Another Native American who was making it big in the American music scene was warned: ‘Be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell.’
It is important that we know not only our own history, but the history of the people of the world. It is easy to be judgmental when you only know a piece of a person’s story. Another phrase that I heard that seems to speak to what we need today was ‘the medicine of the arts’. It is often through the arts that we are able to connect with others, to their stories, to their art.
Today we are able to connect with more people than ever. I have been blessed to make ‘friends’ on Facebook, people whose voices I would not recognize if they called me on the phone. And yet I know we are kindred spirits. People whose writing resonates with me, who help me to learn even more of the stories of others. I have also been blessed with non-blood family, people whose lives have intersected with mine from decades ago, or from only a few years. I am not able to put my finger exactly on what it is that connects us, but I believe it may be a common love for humanity.
At a time in history when we may become downhearted, fearing that man’s evil side will outweigh our good impulses, we have to believe that in the end the good will break through. Carl Jung wrote of the collective unconscious, an ancestral knowledge that connects us to each other and to our common past. It is beneath our consciousness, yet, like the underground root system of mushrooms, it keeps us connected to each other.
I used to think that my children should automatically know all of my personal history, how I had been transplanted at an early age from rainy UK to tropical Jamaica; what it was like growing up in the heart of the rural countryside; what it was like to go to Market on a Saturday morning; how to always show respect to your elders. I don’t know when it was that I realized that I had to share my stories, had to teach them of their complicated history. In time they traveled there and got to stay in Richmond Park, an area with no piped water, no cable, and certainly no hot water (fastest showers ever!!!). And the lived experience, even though it was just for a matter of weeks one summer, taught them more than my words ever could.
On Facebook I am encouraged by the words, photos and stories of a host of people. People who share a love for the natural world, for a creative cloud formation, for the refraction of the dying sun’s light at the end of a day. And I am fortunate to have so many friends that share my interests, who ‘tag’ me with their celebration of love, of life, of our world.
This Friday morning I give thanks for the people of conscience, who strive to do the right thing, to love their neighbor and to preserve our planet for the next generations. I send love and gratitude to the artists that continue to heal the world through music, poetry, paintings and sculpture. And I send healing energy to all who grieve or are broken. And if you get a chance, listen to Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’, it will stir your blood!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!