By Aurora Levins Morales
Artwork By Ricardo Levins Morales
By all the rivers of our many exiles, we have sat down and wept, as we remembered the lands of our ancestors, the lands that were stolen from us, the places we were stolen and driven from.
We wept as we remembered birdsong in the meadows of Andalusía and moonrise over Baghdad, the cold winds of autumn off the steppes and argan trees in the valley of the River Draa, ripening pomegranates of Jerusalem, apple orchards blossoming in Ukraine.
We wept as we remembered the waterfalls of Yukiyú, the scent of guavas and seawater, towering trunks of ausubo, guayacán, capá. We wept as we remembered the wild rice beds of the north, the singing of loons, all the forests and river banks of the Anishinaabe, the windswept beauty of Lakota grasslands, ribbons of light over ancient homelands in the deep north, the long ago eastern woodlands of maple and beech, left behind as our peoples were pushed westward by settlers from across the sea. We wept, remembering the volcanoes and lakes of the K’iché and Kaqchikel, the rivers and islands of Lenca and Miskito, the desert springs of the Nahua.
We wept, remembering rainforests and savannas, the red rice marshes of Mali and the tulip trees of Ghana, the lapping of waves in the mangroves where the Niger meets the sea.
We sat on the ground and wept our grief, and we hung our flutes and drums and the songs of our hearts upon the willows, for those who carried us away into captivity, those who drove us at sword point and gunpoint from the lands that our people knew and loved, those who stole our children and silenced our languages, those who laid waste to the earth, demanded of us that we sing and dance for them, that we entertain them, that we wear costumes, that we work the comedy circuit telling jokes that ridiculed our families, that we turn the stories of our peoples into gift shop souvenirs and mascots for their sports teams, that we get over it, that we assimilate or die, that we be cheerful.
But how can we sing creators’ songs when our roots have been torn from the ground that made us, our languages smothered, our children taken away to be raised by our captors in a world of punishment? We begin without words, to sing our grief together.
SONG: NIGGUN TISHREI
We are windblown seeds, uprooted a thousand times and blown across oceans to this place. We are from seven days walk north along the lake shore, pushed here by glaciers of greed. We are from the islands south and east of here, brought on wings of storm, and if we all carry grief in the palm of one hand, in the other we hold tight to joy, for we are still here, breathing the air, alive in spite of everything, fulfilling our ancestors’ dreams.
No matter how many times we’ve had to leave our homes, no matter how many burning villages are at our backs, we carry creator’s song within us, everywhere we go, praising the beauty of this flowering earth and all its peoples, and rooting ourselves in kinship with each other and all living things. This is the shelter we weave with our hands working together. Our friendships are our beautiful tents, and for this hour, we have pitched them here.
Ma tovu: How beautiful and good are the tents of our peoples.
Ma tovu ohalecha Anishinaabe, mishkenatecha Ysrael.
Ma tovu ohalayech Potawatomi, mishkenatayich Mizrahim.
Ma tovu ohalecha Romanyoti, Mishkenatecha Hochaank
Ma tovu ohalayech Arawaka, mishkenatayech yosh vey teyvel