Artist Gabrielle Tesfaye channels spirits, ancestors for new film

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — From the early 1600s to the mid-1800s, living African slaves would sometimes be thrown overboard from slave ships sailing the Middle Passage, as the transatlantic voyage of the slave trade was called. If the slave ships faced water shortages or any kidnapped Africans came down with a disease, slaves could be tossed overboard, sometimes chained together en masse. “So many bodies of dead or dying Africans were jettisoned into the ocean that sharks regularly followed the slave ships on their westward journey,” according to that encyclopedia entry. In the new film The Water Will Carry Us Home by multidisciplinary artist Gabrielle Tesfaye, those ships are followed by a very different entity: Yemaya, the Yoruba orisha of the sea and the mother of all life. “There are many stories within African spirituality of water spirits following the slave ships, Mami Wata, the presence of Yemaya,” Tesfaye said in an email interview from her home in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Column: The Magic of Juneteenth

“Juneteenth isn’t just a celebration of emancipation, it’s a celebration of our commitment to make it real.”- Jamelle Bouie

This time of year is associated with the heat, vacations, and the Summer Solstice. Kids are out of school; people are preparing for the 4th of July and many are  giving a collective sigh of relief as summer marks a milestone in the evolution of the calendar year. But for a portion of Americans, there is a milestone in June that has nothing to do with any of these things and instead is solely about freedom. Juneteenth is just that – an historic day of freedom for Black Americans. Filled with celebrations, festivals, and remembrance, the date June 19 marks the end of chattel slavery in all of the states within the U.S.  According to the Juneteenth historical website:

“Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.