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By Sharmadean Reid
s part of understanding ourselves, we commit to building intergenerational relationships with women in each decade of life. Not merely as “mentors” but as friends and chosen family, so that we may see firsthand the self-assurance, freedom, and wealth that can come with age. We need our elders around us to pass down the stories and legends of our people.
Using knowledge from our family or our DNA, we connect to the divine source. We do this by researching the history of our ancestry and anointing ourselves with the confidence of knowing we have come from a very very long line of intelligent, resourceful and powerful women. It is our birthright to own that power.
Whether it’s Viking, Nubian, Ancient Briton, Amazon, Persian, Indian and others, dig deep into your history to find your taliswoman to remind you of nobility. Our existence is a miracle - one that started with Mitochondrial Eve, and our matrilineal human right is worth living and fighting for.
"In the beginning, there was only ocean. Until the Mother Island emerged: Te Fiti! Her heart held the greatest power ever known! It could create life itself. And Te Fiti shared it with the world."
The opening lines of Moana read like much of our human history, both mythically and genetically. Tens of thousands of years before humanity popularised the monotheistic Father God, we worshiped the Primordial, Great Mother Goddess, the divine feminine. We worshiped women.
Symbolic representations of the Primordial Goddess have been around since the Paleolithic era, which spans from 2.5 million to 10 thousand BCE. Often these images portray a fertile, rounded woman, often with a vulva with an eye or seed inside it as symbols of new life emerging from her creative power. Through the image of the seed, the female body was linked to Mother Nature's reproductive capacity leading to matrilinear practices of governance by women.
Scientific reproduction was still a mystery, and so the woman was seen as the magic and mysterious creator of life. As the creator of life, Mothers were held responsible for leading the community.
In the Upper Paleolithic era, reverence of the Primordial Goddess was widespread and many theorists suggest she was used to explain natural events. Using her body as a model for comprehending what prehistoric people experienced in their environment created an intimate connection with nature. I have long been emboldened by the fact that it is the female sex that is so deeply and cyclically connected to the planet we live on and beyond. Only our bodies are connected to our earth and the moon.
The goddess is reflected in woman. Her power was felt by early humans and manifested through seasonal changes, wild animal behaviour, and a plethora of observed cosmological patterns. The natural world such as animal reproduction, the growth and flowering of plants, or the cycles of the moon echoes the regular changes in most women's bodies - from menstrual cycles to pregnancy and childbirth, to lactation and eventually death.
Our ecological and psychological systems ran on principles related to the adoration of goddesses long before those based on male deities became dominant. It all ended with the notion of the one supreme god, who across all major world religions, happens to be male. Is that not strange to you?
For almost 30,000 years and possibly beyond, women are revered and then for just the last 8000-10,000 years, it's all about the father god, who of course passes his power through the male in the household, through law and through violence. Instead of stories of women’s divine power, we are fed with the story of the original sin that Eve - woman - sent humanity to shame with her thirst for knowledge.
It all seems strange to me.
But then it doesn't. The Agricultural Revolution was the beginning of the end. All of a sudden, women were vessels instead of fountains knowledge and wisdom. Men ruled the plough and hence from them came the new power over life, death and taxes. As the nomadic lifestyle drew to a close, there was an enormous transformation in thinking and beliefs.
The Industrial Revolution followed, accelerating the exaltation of machines. We moved from worshipping nurturers to worshipping conquerors. And now our planet is dying. We are dying.
I am skipping through millennia of course, but I firmly believe that in order to keep the current consumer generation of women under duress, it has been necessary for the West to break the cultural bonds between us, preventing the wisdom of our divine power from being passed down from generation to generation and refusing us self-security and contentment. This division can easily be created by closing this portal to the pre-historic past and instead defining the past through a singular lens, ridiculing any attributes of womanhood to make us shameful to ourselves.
The Biblical myth of Eve may have been the beginning of this shame, so let us move towards the concept of Mitochondrial Eve. When it comes to human genetics, Mitochondrial Eve is a vital concept. She holds the title of matrilineal Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) for all living humans.
To explain further, she's the most recent woman in an unbroken line that has descended purely through mothers and their mother’s maternal ancestors - all human females can trace back to one single individual: Mitochondrial Eve. In her book Women's History of the World, Rosalind Miles writes "The story of the human race begins with the female. Woman carried the original human chromosome as she does to this day."
Miles continues; "In human cell structure, woman's is the basic 'X' chromosome; a female baby simply collects another 'X' at the moment of conception, while the creation of a male requires the branching of a divergent 'Y' chromosome, seen by some as a genetic error"
This idea that the female chromosome was the source of all life and the male chromosome simply an addition felt both revolutionary and conspiratorial as I read it. Conspiracy because I had grown up with the Freudian idea that girls had penis envy. That woman was borne from the rib of Adam. That I, as a woman, was the defect.
Of course, this is a simplified take, but the simplicity of this premise was startling. That is because so many of the reasons for patriarchal dominance seem also very simple. Just simple and not in our favour. When we zoom out, further than the mere few thousand years of monotheism, further than the millennia of patriarchy, one can find solace in that there was indeed a time, when things were more equal.
If we can zoom backward, to find equality, I can imagine a zoom forward to bypass the current era of oppression. We might land on a mutual agreement that all genders and races can exist without one feeling the need to dominate the other. I feel positive knowing that inequality is a young concept and that the tenets of this oppression are crumbling each year that passes.
I was keen to learn more about my own DNA so I submitted my saliva to learn about precisely where my people came from. I am 47.6% South Asian and 47.4% West African via Jamaica. While my knowledge of my Jamaican culture and family is fairly strong, I knew little of my Indian heritage or African ancestry so I have taken measures to learn more about the culture of where I come from.
It was illuminating to know that I am specifically Punjabi, and while I don't know if my family was Sikh or Hindu, both religions have deeply ecological roots. I find a lot of comfort in practising yoga, chanting and listening to Indian prayer music. Ayurvedic principles and chakras make sense to me.
For my African heritage, I read about Oshun, an orisha (deity) of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. Oshun is commonly called the river orisha, or goddess, in the Yoruba religion and is typically associated with water, purity, fertility, love, and sensuality. She was the only female of 17 deities sent to restore Earth after an attack. None of the male deities could complete the task, but she brought forth her sweet and powerful waters, bringing life back to Earth and humanity and other species into existence.
Artist and businesswoman, Beyonce regularly channels Oshun in her yellow dresses, especially in the music video for Hold Up. I have enjoyed watching Beyonce move into her Goddess Era, becoming a mother, retreating inwards, seeking solace from her power within. “I am Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter,” sings Beyoncé in “Mood 4 Eva,” one of the tracks on her visual album Black Is King. But that’s not all she is: “I am the Nala, sister of Naruba, Osun, Queen Sheba, I am the mother.”
While I am planning a healing trip to India, and I loved the energy of Lagos, I still feel most at home in Jamaica. With each visit, I was learning more about my people. I met an older woman in Treasure Beach - Sharon - who had left London to live permanently in Jamaica. She had glistening skin and a greying afro. Her body was strong and firm. She and her partner taught me about Rastafarian culture and Ital food. They served me soup – 'sip' while teaching me about Nanny and the Maroons. Nanny was a hero, leading a community of formerly enslaved Africans called the Windward Maroons, fighting a guerilla war against British authorities to battle for, and subsequently win, their freedom. She is the only female national hero of Jamaica. She is part of my history. Connecting with Sharon brought me closer to that history.
I want to interject on what I see as the difference between ancestry, culture and tradition as I believe they are three parts of the same animal. Ancestry is the heart, it is the life force. It is the essence. It's from the beginning of time, before the fiction of country borders and religions our ancestors roamed the Earth and followed a beat, a cadence of nature. Calling on your ancestors goes beyond the last few hundred years of what you know. Culture is the skin, it envelops us. It's taken for granted as the largest organ but one that bears witness carries scars and ages over time. Culture is almost invisible, and before you know it, it is just who we become. And tradition? That is that hand. When it is good, it is a limb that guides us and holds us. It’s the hand that reaches out in peace. When it is bad, it is destructive - it’s a pounding fist.
Tradition is not the same as ancestry in my opinion and it has been used time and time again to justify global male violence against women from female genital mutilation or bride burning.
From the original patriarchal myth of Eve, our lineage has been packaged as the weaker, oppressed sex, created merely for the service of the male. What does it do to a young mind? To be told that you have been born from a perceived degenerate, shameful sex? That to be born a female is to be "less than", viewed as so worthless that being killed by your own father or mother upon birth was routine?
But what would it do if you knew the true origin of your peoples and their Goddesses, Queens, and noble ladies? What would it do to go all the way back mythically to the Great Mother Goddess, but also genetically to Mitochondrial Eve? To uncover the women in your history from ancient times and learn their stories of resilience? Had I known the true source of my power earlier, I don't think it would have taken me so long to feel the strength of my divine feminine. To feel proud and strong.
So call on your ancestors and dig deep into your cultural history. Connect with your elders and ask them for stories of female hope. I implore you to expand your knowledge of your ancestry by going deeper and further into your past until you can find a story or myth that speaks to you and inspires you. Regardless of whether it is fact or fiction (after all even Napoleon Bonaparte said 'History is a set of lies agreed upon") find the part of your past that helps you walk with your head held high.
Start at 39BC and beyond. Go back as far as you can and then turn around and work forward to your present day. Ask your family, check your DNA, and if you are estranged from your family, just use your name origin for inspiration. You can even make up your own name! Walk barefoot on the earth of your land. Go to the museums and see your stolen artefacts. Read your books. Get yourself a goddess statue. Visit the ancient temples. Research the culinary history of your people and cook and eat your food. Eat it with your hands. Communal meals are the cornerstone of our human survival. Meet with other women of your ancestry for supper and talk about your experiences.
Or simply sit quietly in your room, breathe deeply and call on your ancestors. Imagine yourself on an infinity plane, looking to the past, the present and then to the future. You are the beginning and the end of time.
In the documentary Goddess Remembered, Luisah Teish states, "It helps me a lot to remember that I am an ancestress of tomorrow and that what I say and do today, a thousand years from now may be coded into the symbolism of what they believe then." The way we exist today is just a few millennia old. The next 1000 years will be different.
So after you've called upon your ancestors, remember to also be a good one.
Whether it’s Viking, Nubian, Ancient Briton, Amazon, Persian, Indian, and others, dig deep into your history to find your taliswoman to remind you of nobility.
By Sharmadean Reid
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