chapter  29
14 Pages

: An Archaeologist Finds Her Voice: A Commentary on Colonial

ByWhitney Battle-Baptiste

Each morning before I leave my house, I stop by a small altar that stands just at the edge of my kitchen. I say a few words of thanks-for the new day, the positive things in my life, and the ability to maintain an open relationship with my ancestors. On this altar are pictures of family members who have passed away, glasses of water (symbolizing the medium that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead), flowers, a portion of food my family has eaten for breakfast, a cup of coffee sweet with sugar, unprocessed cotton (the sugar, coffee, and cotton are representative of those crops cultivated by my enslaved ancestors), several small bottles of liquor,

and a source of light. This altar is for my Egun, which in the Yoruba language means “bones.” These bones are the bones of my ancestors, not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense, a way to acknowledge the connection between the living and the dead. Let me explain further. I was raised in a religious community of Oris¸a traditionalists based in New York City. Followers of Oris¸a (pronounced “orisha”) are part of an ancient spiritual tradition indigenous to contemporary Nigeria and Benin. Throughout the African diaspora it is called by different names: Santería, Shango, Lucumí, Candomblé, or Ifá. I was raised in this tradition among a very active and vibrant Oris¸a community in New York City.