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THE GATHERING

By Vuyi Qubeka

This morning I had a dream of ubaba uChris Hani.

He stood at the edge of the horizon, expectant.

A calm and warmth from the rising sun lay itself on the air. In the far distance off along the same edge, ubaba uFela Kuti chanted and sang of a most significant ancestral gathering. At the crest of his words a pain lingered and swayed. To his left, ubaba Thomas Sankara sat on his hunches, fixated in the deep distance of the savannahs.

Dust picked up in the space further behind them and six shadows rose from the earth – they seemed to glide on the windåaas of grace and euphoria. omama Ellen Khuzwayo, Miriam Makeba, Billie Holiday, Amina Cachalia, and Ruth Mompati, and Nina Simone headed for the same bearing. From a golden, whispering river, at the cusp of dense forests, otata uWalter Sisulu, Albert Luthuli, omama Albertina Sisulu, Gwendolyn Brooks, Annie Silinga, and Nadine Gordimer drew healing waters into scorched calabashes with intricate designs. Their intense colours spoke of their powers and of their wisdom. They were massive and weightless. At that moment, a bottomless and philosophical ululation rang from the boundary of a cliff face. Its vibration bounced off of the rock, releasing a rumble that reached up to touch the skies – they seemed a painted blue, their clouds a prayer of white. The resonance had laid down a thick silence. You could hear the soil breath.

Ogogo Thandi Klassen, Audre Lorde, Wangari Maathai, Sobomfu Some and Bessie Head again pierced the stillness with more ululations as they descended down a steep mound. They each held long elaborate ofo canes and their songs of ancient lifted from the jovial leaves, riding on the notes of the birds’ song.

A deep command from the drums sounded all about the air and energies of healing, wisdom, and liberation thumped beneath the hands of otata Robert Sobukwe, Samora Machal, Kenneth Kaunda, and Govan Mbeki.

Rum. Rum. Rum. The banging cracked the heavens, blessings gathered up above and rushed down for the ground. A freedom bounded in the air. The vibrations emboldened and from their tremors, ugogo Margaret Ekpo appeared bearing a large bronze valise. She began carefully laying out the most striking African garments with futuristic twists, in the best hand painted and woven Afrikan materials. Each piece rose, to levitate and dance… bursting with life. The forms of elders Mary McLeod Bethune, Zora Neale Hurston, Harriet Tubman, and Shirley Chisholm burst forth, abogogo baxensa – the elders beating the ground in rhythmic stomps, ascending, gyrating, with dust churning between the rose iron shakers at their ankles. The sounds reached down to shake and raise the soil summoning reflective truths from the belly of the mother. Just then, omkhulu Bantu Steve Biko, Solomon Mahlangu, Amilcar Cabral, nogogo Dolly Rathebe, Rosa Parks, Nomvo Booi, and Ella Fitzgerald grew from the mud-covered plains landing on the teachings of the echoing beats with stanzas, lyric, and prose. The rains smelled of hope.

Towards the west of the mountain just below a flurry of wild flowers, a formation of tree roots and tall stealthy crops stood a soaring Mpinga tree of Tanzania. It was massive with terns feeding their young up in its branches, while the pollen called for the bees. Its branches created shadows on the grass, and seemed to stretch out to forever. The spirit of the ancestors could be felt through its resounding glow. Beneath the tree, otata Chinua Achebe, Cheikh Anta Diop, Es’kia Mphahlele, and King Sobhuzwa II laid out great amacansi – reed mats. There are dozens of them following the shade, all of them majestically woven with fine detail along the rim. Above them, a large eagle rose like a comet calling out with words of centuries, swooping down among the chiefs, resting in a space at the center of the tree.

In the near distance at the foot of the hills otata Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Ahmed Sékou Touré and Marcus Garvey gathered sacrificial beasts in the kraal. Ogogo Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke, Maya Angelou, Josina Mutemba Machal, Mae C. Jemison, and Cesaria Evora stirred inside big barrels of umqombothi, creamy African beer, with sizable wooden spoons. The temperature stirred with a cool balminess cloaked in a knowing expectancy. Walking about the land, omkhulu Can Themba, Nat Nakasa, Gibson Kente and Henry Nxumalo presented mbira’s (thumb pianos), kassa flutes, and juju and ankle shakers. Suddenly, a great wind stained the air with purple dust – it glittered in a rainbow of colours. In its hues a legion of Afrikan royalty of Kush, Khemit, and Nubian, the great scientists, Orishas, Goddesses and Gods materialized. They bore bronze cases of fresh tropical fruit, and hot meat stews, umphokoqo, gemere, umqushu, ting, mokgodu, yams, cassava, and plantains. In an establishment just behind them, omkhulu Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Modibo Keita and Leopold Senghor strode proud as they carried in adinkra cloth, dogon masks, and Ife heads in large white interweaved baskets. Bronze plaques with Afrikan proverbs, art artifacts of the old Afrikan religion, and carved wooden sculptures appeared and adorned the space.

Past the caves and beyond the rain forests, and at a place where the skin of the world was at its thinnest, legions of izisangoma, dibias, shamans, egungun and deities appeared held by the trance of the pounding talking drums far ahead. In incantations and supplications, they orated on our geology, astrology, cosmology, mathematics, and geometry. The vibration rose and expanded as the shamans’ cried of our sciences, vodou and ujaama. They laid down their offerings of cowrie shells, umqombothi, kola nuts, fruits, palm wine, cocoa beans, coconuts, candles, and snuff. The ground beneath them began to shake and a crack appeared in the earth. Ogogo Marimba, Alice Coltrane, Queens Nzinga and Cleopatra emerged from the ground. A gold liquid, that had licked the melanin on their skin, dissolved to reveal their dress: bright, bold white boubous, ribbed with matching glass beads. They spoke of the dreams they had had of Aba-Ntu, our tribal history, the accomplishments of our people, and Afrikan art as philosophy. Large flamingo and peacock feathers brushed at the atmosphere like fireflies.

Omakhosi Qamata, Queen Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, Mma Ntatise and Sheeba, Ninavanhu-Ma, and Nefertiti appeared on the backs of oroxes, accompanied by quaggas and dodos. Grand animal hides embraced their backs. Towards the horizon dhows and dugouts drifted in on the River bank. They were mighty with a shine that made them appear translucent. On the first vessel, omama Anna Victoria Mangena, Coretta King, Marian Anderson, and Frantz Fanon called out the names of great African tribes: the San, amaXhosa, amaTshangaan, namaYoruba. AmaMaasai, amaZulu, amaHausa, namaHimba. The Kalenjin, amaShona, amaOromo, namaChaga (ancient African tribes). From the second vessel, ogogo Yaa Asantewa and Brenda Fassie, obaba Bob Marley, Halie Selassie, Richard Pryor, and Lucky Dube had entered a hut on a raised platform above the waters. They prepared mud pipes of restorative holy herbs. The reticence deepened as anticipation groaned a furtive moan. Outside, Empress Menen Asfaw, Queens Nonesi, Hatshepsut, Candace, and Aminatu and otata Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, and James Baldwin carved out Afrikan symbol writing onto large wooden screens. Within the symbol of hope, ugog’Lillian Ngoyi emerged holding a large porcupine sling sack with bright red leather strappings. From it, she extricated seven cowrie shells, whispered to the water spirit of Oshun and threw the money into the sacred waters. She turned to face the gathering and knelt down. Then, she extracted imphepho – Afrikan sage – from her case. Fire grew from her palm, igniting the plant. The divine smoke bellowed up into the air in the direction of the caves. It touched and entered the invisible third eye of mkhulu Castera Bazile as he created murals on the walls of the grottos with umkhulu Jabu Khanyile. Besides them, umkhulu Kofi Awoonor, ever dignified, regaled on tradition and continuity in Afrikan literature. The drawings and words seemed to take on life and the gallant eagles called out in admiration. Deep ancient chanting writes itself in the air and ogogo Olaudah Equiano, Ipesia, and Madam Tinubu spread a meditative light into the unified field.

In the middle of the space, upon layers of massive verdant tributary leaves ogogo Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Sojourner Truth, Madame C.J. Walker, and Josephine Baker chanted as they blended healing flowers, roots, and bulbs, quietly imbuing in them their noble intentions. They prepared magical potions and tea pouring each formula into towering baroque glass bottles, with extravagant timber caps in the shapes of Afrikan totems.

Atop a rock between two caves and where the bulbous plants grew stood ugogo Sara Baartman with omakhosi Tsui’goab, Ra, Umdalidiphu, mother Theresa, goddess Mawu, and Waka Tanka. They intoned on our healing in NÁ má, turning in the tongues of yesteryears. They begun to move like snakes and flowed downwards with a domba dance towards the meadows where the berry trees were abundant. Praying under the tree of life was ogogo Nontetha Nkwenkwe, Cecelia and Daisy … Makiwane, with Olive Shreiner, Helen Joseph and Reverend Tiyo Soga. At the height of their asking, a mammoth whistle rung out from beyond the peripheries of the horizon. Umkhulu Minus Mashinini appeared powerfully beckoning the elders. In his hand he held that of Nkosi Johnsons. In Nkosi’s other hand, he held onto Lebo Mathosa. She wore a striking ibeshu (the hide of a bull) in a black heavy with a red the shade of blood. Upon her crown were golden horns of the elephant, adorned with jewels of brilliant turquoise and black. She wore beads of the same colour along her arms and legs. Besides her a great ankh stood erect talking the tales of old. She ululated and scanted. She ululated, scanted… Tears began to drift down her cheeks as her middle burst open with another, long, howling ululation. Her entire body shook. And then, she was silent. Poised. Telling. Strong.

The heavy base of a drum rung out with a beat consumed with words and heart. It banged at the walls of my heart, sweeping past the consciousness of my soul. Seated on a wooden stool with three elaborate tom tom drums was Tupac Shakur. Sweat dripped from his pores as he lamented on how far humanity still was from true awakening. In front of two djembes besides him was Michael Jackson. He too thumped at the instruments with as much urgency, spirit, and conviction. The ferociousness of their sonic thesis cut at the air and a loud hush washed down.

The silence made way for a jumble of sound and poetry. The reverberations of the saxophone purred in the air and sonnets kissed the spaces between the thudding, the dancing, the chanting, the prophesizing and celebration. From the deep horizon that had birthed the day, and at the place where the colours of the sun against the sky breathed out hues of peach and purples, omkhulu Keorapetse Kgotsitsile, Kofi Annan and Hugh Masekela emerged. With them they carried smiles like sunrise and scribes impressing on the state of the earth realm, where they had just come.

The silver of the clouds intensified, its edges darkened, and at that moment its glory splintered like glass to the ground. Umakhulu Winifred Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela with Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe collect themselves into the glitters, climbing likes leopard to the rhythm of grace and tenacity. Gogo Winnie raises her fist to the heavens and she roars and deep rumble that gathered its might from the stomach of the seas. Makhulu Sobukwe levitated along the vibration kissing the earth as she summoned the unseen and unknowns all around them.

In unison, The Elders rose, the healers bowed in appreciation, song and jubilations erupted, and the beasts cried out with nobility. Hands cusped and clapped, feet stomped and prides of spirits emerged to sashay between the ancestors.

Just then, a great inyoka slithered in between the vibrant reed mats – slow, full, and graceful. From the mouth of the serpent, diamonds and crystals, gold’s and silvers, iron and uranium, platinum and coppers, spilled out. They were blinding in their grandeur. Out of her pores, teemed oils and natural gases. The serpent swirled and spun – bewitching, and rose upwards about the skies. The praying clouds, the gregarious birds, the exquisite butterflies, the stout eagles, together with the suns rays rushed in to support her. She was tall… prancing.

With a shrill hissing sound, her tongue slithered out of her mouth, sparks fluttering at its tip. She begun to speak: ‘makehla makehla, our beloved elders, we have gathered here today for an important assembly….’

The sound of rain patters outside my window, becoming louder.

My ear is wet.

I pry my lids open and awaken.

My pillow sticks to my skin, damp with my tears.

My cells are raging with directives.

I sigh. As I am left wanting for the heavens…

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