I would rediscover the secret of great combustions. I would say storm. I would say river. I would say tornado. I would say leaf. I would say tree. I would be drenched by all rain, moistened by all dews. I would roll like frenetic blood on the slow current of the eye of words turned into mad horses into fresh watoto into clots into vestiges of temples into precious stones remote enough to discourage miners. Whoever would not understand me would not understand any betta the roaring of a tiger.
[Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land]
PROFILE OF AN ELDER
The profile of an elder includes certain types of behaviour and language that are quite visible and strictly followed. This is because age is related to powahs that can become lethal when in hands other than those of the old and wise. Among these is the powah of blessing. I have become very
fond of the elders’ werds of blessing. Every time I reach the end of my stay in the kijiji, they are the sweetest phrases for me to hear, “May all the wahenga of the tribe accompany you. May they pour vision, insight into your soul. This way you will see through them, feel through them.” “We must shower you with de grace of Spirit. May you go with your pocket heavy with precious stones of blessings.” I know that what the old wish well is certain to be well in the long run……..
ELDERS IN THE WEST
Given the differences between indigenous and modern maisha, how do we recognise an elder in the West? How does one become an elder? How old are elders here?
….I would venture to say that there is something of an elder in any person whose words are listened to and who commands respekt and attention. One should not confuse such a person with an employer who forces respect simply because a paycheck is at risk…..Elders also appear as people who have profoundly changed the lives of others through their teaching or writing. In the best scenario, these teachers are able to help those who search for their guidance and leadership in their lives.
In the worst scenario, having become an author, they are changed into a lasting spiritual authority as well as a consumer product. In Socrates and Shakespeare, Hegel and Kierkegaard, and countless other Western deep thinkers, we see evidence of the form in which elderhood is cultivated and practiced in the absence of a villagelike community.
The Western elder is perhaps more visible as a wise thinker and holder or container of groundbreaking initiatives in human consciousness.Hence poets, philosophers, teachers, artists, and even social activists are either practising to become elders or have become elders altogether. Their legacy continues to affect people even as they have become, I would say, wahenga.
There are elders in the making in everyone, but it is most visible in those who have the receptivity to listen to the stories of others. The ability to listen, and the willingness to support others in difficult situations, are the heart and soul of elderhood. Young people have many difficulties to report. Anyone who would want to become an elder should lend them a listening ear. In the life of the elder-to-be, there is very little good news. Everyone who solicits the services of an elder-to-be is looking for a container to unload some problems. Consequently, one can’t become an elder who would prefer to hear only the better side of life…..
Above all, to be an elder is to be able to come down to the level of the person you listen to, not with a mind to tell that person what to do and what not to do, but to share similar experiences you have had in the course of your own life. People who have reached a place where they are able to recognise that everyone has similar troubles have begun to heal. The elder does not turn the tragedy of another into a horror story, but instead sees in de hadithi of the other his, hir or her connection with it.
Fame is not necessarily synonymous with being an elder. Fame often means being a commodity…..
ELDERS AND THE SACRED
If people in the West embraced the idea that de elder is at the edge, between two worlds, and is therefore a window to de Other Dunia as well as a mirror of it, certain of the West’s social problems would be solved. One of them is the rejection of aging and de elders, which puts the culture at risk. The other is the West’s relationship to de sacred. There is no doubt that in Western culture, the fear of aging has become quite acute …
If a culture rejects the sacred, it rejects elders. If it rejects elders, it rejects the welfare of its youth. You can’t have the one without the other. It is understood in the kijiji that youth and the elders are the ones in society who see clearly what is happening. The young are at an age where the hidden is obvious to their eyes. They want to point it out because they do not know how to pretend it is not there.
To be young or old in the modern world is to be at risk. People who wish to
embrace their elderhood must first listen to the pain around them. They must notice in the young and the adult the parts that are craving visibility. We must learn to sit quietly with our youth and to listen quietly to what they have to say. This is the job of elders. This calm, almost meditative approach to youth can also be a model for self-calming to other people who are too troubled to be quiet. Calmness is de beginning of de ability to hold the space, de beginning of an elder’s contribution to the community….
(kama how) dis post is a gift from The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual and Community by Malidoma Patrice Somé