Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ancestral Roles Of Two-Spirit People In Africa

I came across this very interesting clip on the Jamaica Land We LGBT blog. It deals with the idea of LGBTQ folks being Two-Spirit, and hetero-folks being One-Spirit. Its deep!! I just came back from Hawai'i a couple weeks ago, where i was told that the keepers of the sacred dances tend to be mahu... which translates into Two-Spirit. And Two-Spirit is also a Native American term. In the Santeria and Yoruba communities, I see surviving African tradition and dances also kept alive by many LGBTQ/Two-Spirit people. IN FACT, in Jamaica, there is only ONE man who is known to be not-straight, and still is a respected elder by all. Some may call him "Sexy Rexy", but to most, he is The Honorable Rex Nettleford... who among many deeds is majorly responsible for keeping traditional sacred dances alive in Jamaica. I remember my dad introducing me to him when i was a young pre-teen in Jamaica... and simultaneously being in awe, and also being all too aware in my young culturally homophobic mind that i was shaking hands with someone gay. Woy! Come to think of it, I think he is the first essentially out queer person I ever met, though I myself have never heard him own it... it just seems to be island knowledge that is accepted.

In the clip, the commentary on traditional Two-Spirit roles as shamans, priests, "gatekeepers" between earth and the divine realms in comparison to One-Spirit roles of making sure the earthly realm is taken care of (reproduction, making sure families prosper, traditional "hunter gatherer" gender roles, etc) make a lot of sense to me. Though of course, hetero-folks can also be very spiritually connected priests and shamans, and queer folks can also reproduce, have families, and thrive in traditional gendered roles. It however makes me wonder if a part of our colonial experience was the colonizer seeing that LGBTQ folks had roles as powerful medicine people, so it is possible that the demonization of queer folks came in strategic tandem with the demonization of our indigenous ways?

The "gatekeeper" term strikes me personally because the Orisha that i am aligned with in Yoruba tradition is Eshu, the Master Of The Crossroads, The Divine Communicator Between The Earth And The Divine, He Who Teaches Through Tricks... The Gatekeeper. It makes me wonder if I am a child of Eshu because I do not inhabit a masculinity that is common to many hetero black men. The journey continues....


yocahuna said...

Great post, especially in your daring to out Rex like that. That's the first i've seen it in print. It is not accidental that he should so engrave the ancestral rituals in our collective psyche.

I also share an affinity with Eshu/Elegba. On a visit to Haiti i picked his flag out of dozens, with no prior knowledge of him or his iconography. See my personal blog entry -

richard said...


thanks for the love on my post! I must say, i don't feel like i have really outed Rex since somehow he is so paradoxically accepted and respected in Jamaica as such... and i've never heard him refute it... but for sure, you are right- i've never seen it in writing either.

i really loved your writings on Eshu/Elegba. And for sure, the trickster lessons aren't lost on me either! Beautiful loa flag too.

May the roads continue to open for you on your journey to positive actualization and iré (good fortune)

richard said...

the post says you are in exile. may i ask if you are in exile from Jamaica?

Helen Klonaris said...

Yes, yes, yes, is what I have to say to this post. Thank you Richard for speaking this. I have written often from a Bahamian perspective, that 'queer' people were demonized by the church and the colonizing state precisely because of their/our connection to the sacred, one that does not divide sexuality from spirit, flesh from divine, and therefore is fundamentally contrary to the divisions inherent in traditional christianity, especially the legacy of Augustine who held fast to the belief that sex and sexuality were evil and should be separate from the seeking after the divine. A God apart from body, matter, earth, blood, encourages a mind-body split which encourages a power-over mentality and way of life that I believe we have all suffered from immensely. Time for transformation. Been time, long time.


richard said...

yes, yes and yes to your response too Helen! tell it!! and much agreed, time for transformation. towards holistic and inclusive spirituality, healing, empathy and deep self-knowledge.

Lenn said...

You always do it dude -- thank you! There has been circulating for some years an interview (which I just sent to your email) with Malidoma Some, a Dagara shaman from Burkina Faso, who lives in Marin! Malidoma says emphatically that in his culture and many African and other indigenous cultures that gay people are considered the keepers of the gateway to the spirit world, and that he personally believes that one of the reasons our current world is so out of balance is because gay people have been demonized and not been allowed to do their job, which is to main critical balances between the spirit and earth planes. Anyway, I can't do it justice. Read the interview, and please pass it on. Thanks for another great post!

Lenn said...

Okay, movin' too fast... I re-watched the video and felt I needed to re-post. Not to be Mary, Mary..., but I think what we might want to really examine is the concept that gay people being two spirit do not have children, which is not true and straight people being allegedly one spirit, are breeders only, also not true.

I think what we might want to consider instead is the idea that some people regardless of their sexuality, embody if you will a ratio of yin/yang -- feminine and masculine energy, that has been deemed gender inappropriate in most western and colonized cultures, where for example you have a female with more masculine than feminine energy, a male with more feminine than masculine, or an intersexed person who could have either ratio. I think that these configurations exist regardless of a person's sexual orientation -- meaning you could have a hetero two spirit person, and that because these physical/energetic configurations have been for many years been attributed only to LGBT people, that we have come to identify LGBT people with them.

I hope this is not too esoteric, but it's something I've thought about a lot, and is the subject of a film that I've been working on for some years. I'd love to dialogue with anyone who has thoughts in this direction.

richard said...

Lenn! wassup, good to see you here, and thanks for the comments- and the Malidoma Some reference!! I LOVE his work, and have much respect for him. He is very influential in my own writing.

and i am totally with you around the the problematic issue of essentializing Two-Spirit folks as not raising families etc, and One-Spirit as "breeders" etc... i wrote a mini disclaimer on precisely that point in my commentary of the film. and i am also emphatically with you on the idea of sexuality not even having to be the focus around these issues, but where along the massive spectrum each of us inhabit gender. I tend to mess with some people's "gaydar" because of my particular blend of masculine and feminine energy. i do like the idea of "Two-Spirit hetero" folks, and would probably identify as such if i didn't feel like i would be abusing my straight privilege and appropriating a term that is specifically around a queer experience.

thanks for deepening the discussion! bless up