I saw the film “Ancestral Voices” a couple of years ago at the British Film Institute and thought it was a valuable and educational film highlighting the misconceptions of African traditional Religions and also the important task of dispelling some myths. I am really happy to offer a brief interview Verona Spence-Adofo and Dalian Adofo, the married couple behind the film. They are currently working towards “Ancestral Voices” Part 2 so please have a read and if you feel like you want to support please do by sharing the interview and getting the word out. I was quite interested in how the film has been perceived in the UK in addition to globally and proud to say that this is another UK production!
Verona: I was raised in a typical Jamaican Christian home, however in our family church was for weddings, christenings and funerals. My path right now does not fit under any label, I am open to spiritual teachings and practices and the universal core themes amongst them. Something I adhere to 100% is ancestor reverence, this is part of my daily practice and I also practice elements of IFA.
Dalian: I was born in Ghana, raised in a Catholic home and Catholic schools but noticed too many disparities with ideology and practice, even amongst the ‘Fathers’ overseeing the schools. Then I explored Islam, Hinduism and finally Buddhism. It’s in Buddhism that I started to realise many correlations in the concepts across the board with many of the African proverbials used at home in disciplining us or teaching us life lessons. I do not adhere solely to a ‘single’ system as for me, in essence they are the same, but the daily observances I follow are Ifa and Akan.
ANCESTRAL VOICES IN THE UK
The film was born out of our own questions and experiences regarding our ancestral traditions. We were extremely passionate about creating a platform for African spiritual philosophies to be discussed without the negative propaganda that is normally associated with it. The aim of the documentary was to be an educational film, which includes commentary from various people including traditional practitioners and professors on the topic. The response in the UK has been exceptionally positive. We weren’t sure what type of response we would get, but it has been very well received with a number of screenings, events and presentations. Many people have expressed how grateful they are to have this conversation addressed publicly and for many it has been an eye opening film, which has inspired them to learn more.
Yes without a doubt. There seems to be an increasing amount of people seeking this wisdom and the stigma associated with it seems to be slowly dissipating, with people more open to hear about it at least rather than reacting with fear. I would say that globally the interest is increasing, not just with African spiritual traditions but indigenous spiritual teachings in general.
We were expecting to experience it quite a lot but we have been very fortunate. I guess most people who are against the film won’t come to screenings anyway as the poster/DVD cover will most likely put them off due to misplaced understandings of the traditions. When it was shown at the British Film Institute, as part of a double screening with a Fela Kuti documentary, some in the audience walked out and only returned when the Fela film started.
Our facebook page has been steadily growing over the past 4 years, it’s been wonderful taking the concept of the film to an online platform allowing people to share information and discuss related topics. Out of our current 64k fans our highest number of fans are situated in the USA (around 60%) followed by the UK (40%). We also have growing interest in South Africa, Canada, Nigeria and Brazil.
ANCESTRAL VOICES GLOBALLY
Quite a few, there is an ongoing persecution of practitioners across the globe. Heinous incidents of people who have been burnt alive in Kenya, similar with Nigeria which also has the phenomena of abandoned children by their families due to claims of witchcraft, and reports of people being kicked out of their homes in the Favelas of Brazil in evangelical Christians.TARGET AUDIENCES:
Our aim of our research to show how interconnected all African systems are and have maintained in the diaspora and across millennia. It will be approached systematically to show it is a system that can be placed under a single label so as to benefit from the same rights and privileges other religions are given on the international stage.
Has their been any initiative to show the first film in schools?
The film has been obtained as a learning resource mainly at higher-level education, so mainly universities, both in the UK and America including institutions such as The School Of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Emory University respectively.
One of the problems I find with representing religious practice and ritual on celluloid is that sometimes taken out of context it leads to more misunderstanding and fear rather than less. How to you propose to tackle this?
Well the main way we are approaching such misunderstandings is mainly via the type of language we will use in the accompanying the voice over narratives. Language has been key to the manner in which these traditions have being stigmatised hence we will be making every effort to ensure the language we use supports the correct understanding of the visuals and not further encourage its denigration. As an example, rather than use ‘possession’ we will opt for ‘channelling’ or ‘mounting’ because it places the context in a different mental space free from the colonial frameworks that have defined it for centuries. The term possession almost suggests the practitioner has no choice; almost like it’s against their will, thereby implying ‘bad’ by extension.
Other ways as well, such as providing the existential meanings behind rituals so it can perceived in terms of its rational basis, so viewers can also understandings the whys behind the practices.
ANCESTRAL VOICES/ PART TWO
The second film will be more in-depth. The sequel will solely focus on shared African philosophies and ritual practices across the continent and the diaspora. The first film is very West African based so we wanted to use this film highlight the cultural unity that exists. The film also will act as documentation to preserve this wisdom for future generations and be a helpful tool for anyone who wishes to reconnect to this wisdom and apply it to their life.
The themes we are going to explore are those that can be consistently found in African spiritual traditions across the continent and in the diaspora, as a means of presenting them as ‘pillars to a ‘single’ faith system’ that merely has different expressions due to labels of identification for African communities. It will cover African philosophy, the nature of the Creator in African and Diasporic traditions, the deities- forces within nature, ancestor reverence, African forms of prayer and daily ritual practices for living and enhancing one’s life experience, amongst others.
We have an ongoing year-long funding campaign on our website called ‘Traditions 365’ lasting until 31st December 2014. It is open to donations with incentives given for support received. All funding will go towards filming additional locations and post-production.