In Her Own Words
by Shloma Rosenberg
It has been a long time that I have been alone. I do remember, although I am old and some things fade, a time when I was not. If my memory serves me correctly then I am glad to be alone.
Like most women I was not given an identity of my own. I bore my father's name and knew that I would continue to do so until I received the name of another man. When my father no longer cared to own me he found that man, my husband Shango. An agreement was made and bridewealth exchanged, with only slightly less care than that involved in the sale of a cow or maybe a piece of fine cloth. I bear no grudge against either of these men for the events that shaped my life, as we all were simply following the examples that had been set for what seems to have been eternity.
After a time I was joined by two co-wives, Oya and Oshun, in my husband's compound. I observed Shango's pleasure at the talents they displayed. Oshun cooked for him and kept house. At night I heard his cries from their conjugal bed. Apparently she had other talents not so easily displayed to the rest of the compound.
Oya, on the other hand, was far from a traditional wife. When Shango fought, she was at his side, fighting as well or better than any of the men in his army. She is the one I admired for her independence, although as I look back I believe that my admiration manifested itself more often as disgust and shock, partly that someone who was supposed to be a wife would act in such a bold fashion, but even more so that Shango reveled in her actions.
My jealousy grew from day to day. I watched Oshun cook and took careful notes, recording each step meticulously, even improving on most of her dishes. When I attempted to impress Shango with my culinary skills, he seemed uninterested. I climbed atop his body in vain, his sex remaining limp and unresponsive. I observed Oya in action and recorded her movements to the finest detail. I became as fine a warrior as Oya ever was, developing skills even she did not possess. When I demonstrated the use of the saber to my husband, he watched only long enough to learn how to do it himself, then informed me that I was too clumsy to go into battle with him.
I became crazed with jealousy. There seemed to be a conspiracy against me. No matter how well I performed the skills that I thought would impress Shango, he paid me no mind. I was sure that it was the work of Witches, and that I had to find the magic that would counteract the evil spell.
The diviners would not speak to me. They did not want to risk their heads by advising the King's wife in matters concerning Witchcraft. No one among my family or friends had any advice for me either. Even they feared Shango's wrath.
Finally I asked one of my co-wives what to do. I cannot remember which one it was, probably because it would be too painful to do so.
She told me that she knew of the Witchcraft that had been worked against me, that a spell had been cast by my other co-wife. She said that long ago a diviner had taught her a remedy for such evil magic. I listened in a confusion of eagerness and horror as she told me what I must do.
"Prepare for Shango a stew. It must be the finest stew ever created, and to that stew you must add your own left ear. This will forever bind the King's heart to your own."
In my insanity I took to the task. I awoke long before the sun, if I ever slept at all. I ground flour until my hands bled. I chopped vegetables so fine they were transparent. I searched for the finest rooster in the compound. I remember it now as though I watched it from somewhere outside myself. The wild eyes I see in my memory frighten me. My skin was tight around my face with derangement and anguish. My body was near exhaustion when the time came for the final ingredient.
Of the mutilation of my ear I have no memory. The twisted scar, like a braid of battered flesh down the left side of my head, tells me that it was not the stuff of marginally recalled nightmares.
I came to Shango like a mad ghoul, thinking myself beautiful. My aching head bound in bloody rags, my gown soiled. He looked at me first only in disgust, then horror, as his eyes moved to the dish I held in my hands. There, atop a mass of grain and stew, overly garnished as if it had been prepared by a demented gourmet, were the gnarled, blood soaked remains of my ear.
He turned and walked slowly from the room. He must have been in shock. The palace guards, apparently on his orders, escorted me to the gates of the city, banishing me forever.
At that moment the world disappeared. I felt like a stone that had been dropped in the ocean. Everything went black, and there was a rushing of pressure and sound that filled my head. I had entered oblivion.
I do not know how long I was in that state. A thousand years, perhaps. When I regained my senses I went to live in Ile Iku, the land of the dead. I knew that was the one place where I would never have to lay eyes on my husband again. His fear of the dead was legendary. I sat quietly among their bones to meditate on my lot.
In my life I had started with nothing, nothing that was mine. The things that I had truly loved to do, to learn and to teach what I had learned, I had done only for the pleasure of a man. I had hoped that this man would complete me, would fill the hole that I had been taught existed in my life. If no man owned me, loved me, appreciated me, affirmed me, then I did not exist. I came to realize that my desire to learn and teach, and my ability to do so, is what pushed my husband away from me, for he feared my intellect and my power. In the end I mutilated myself to gain his approval, an act which left me with less than nothing.
I sat in Ile Iku and watched the souls of dead women arrive. Each bore evidence, some more apparent than others, of the same mutilation. Women from Asia arrived with bent and crooked feet, feet which were broken at birth to be made smaller and to render the women less mobile. Women from Africa arrived with scars still fresh from the genital mutilation which killed them, their vaginal walls torn and sewn back together in unnatural shapes. Women arrived from more "civilized" countries shorn of most of their body hair, their figures bound by creations of cloth and metal meant to shape their bodies into forms more acceptable to men, and wearing shoes that bent their feet into unholy, but apparently "sexier" positions.
I watched as the broken and battered women marched through the gates of Ile Iku. As they entered, they began to heal. The binding garments fell from their bodies, disappearing as they hit the Earth. Feet that were crushed and twisted uncurled, becoming once again large and beautiful. I watched as the flowers of their sex opened, becoming once again full and healthy. I saw that this was as it should be. We danced together. They brought me gifts of precious stones and shells, with which I decorated my remaining ear. I knew then that all I had was beautiful, and deserved adornment for my own sake, for no other reason than my own pleasure.
I watched also as the souls of dead men arrived. They too bore signs of mutilation. Men arrived from Mesopotamia, bearing bombs and guns meant to settle theological disagreements. Men from the United States came with glass pipes at their lips, drugs for sale in their pockets. Men came from all over the world bearing weapons of steel and weapons of flesh. They marched in droves with fear, anger, and hate clinging to their backs like disfigured monkeys.
As they passed through the gates, they too changed. Weapons fell to the Earth and vanished. Faces and muscles that had been twisted and tense relaxed. Men and women came together in peace, in love, in equality. I saw that this is as it should be. We danced together and celebrated, as they awaited their return to the world of the living. Each promised each other that it would be different next time.
Upon hearing this, a shudder moved through me. It would not be different next time. Awaiting them in the land of the living were the same lawmakers, the same educators, the same parents that had instructed them in the past. It would not be different, it would be the same.
Unless I returned to the world of the living.
So I went to work. I possessed my daughters and sons and worked through them. By creating literature, education, interaction, trade, and commerce, I empowered humanity. Books could be written, ideas exchanged. Even the destructive forces who would misuse the media that I created could be argued with, openly, honestly, publicly, and loudly.
There was much opposition at first. Books were burned, authors jailed. There were books written by devious men who wanted their word to be law. To disagree with them meant death. The struggle continued for almost two thousand years.
For my own part I recorded the ways of the Orisha. Proverbs and legends, rituals and divination verses, these would be my tools for transforming the world. The lessons we had learned while living in this world would be used to show others the possibilities inherent in themselves. When people realized the harmony that the universe had to offer, when they learned the lessons that the Orisha learned so long ago, it would bring growth, and growth brings change. I revealed these mysteries to many different people in many different lands, in many different ways and under many different names. There was growth, and there was change.
Now, my worship has spread. They call me the Teacher of the Mysteries. They call me "She Who Brings Growth". They call me the Perfect Woman. This last could mean many different things. I know what it means for me, and it is true. They say that I am never to be offended, although some may be confused as to what offends me. To set the record straight let me say that ignorance, or, rather, the unwillingness to abandon it, offends me, degradation offends me, and injustice offends me. To offend me is to offend God, to offend God is to offend yourself, and if you offend yourself, you will have no peace.
My children write and read books that speak the truth, and they cannot be silenced. No longer is there only one model to be followed. No longer is it accepted that there is nothing that can be done about the abuses rained down upon God and Her creations by those who would wallow in ignorance. Now that I have achieved my goal, now that I have given people the gift of an alternative, let us see what they will do with it.