Forced migration originates in the transatlantic system of slavery in which Europeans removed 12.5 million people from Africa to the Americas from 1517 to 1867. The 1.5 million who died in the Middle Passage are said to have returned to Ginen, a hidden spirit realm beneath the sea.
My friend Gina A. Ulysse gave me two calabash gourds, which Vodou practitioners use to “feed the spirits” (manje lwa).
I dreamed of a mermaid guiding me to the sacred island at the center of Lake Enriquillo, called Lake Xaragua by the indigenous Taino. The salty lake is a remnant of a prehistoric sea channel that once traversed the island; a Dominican farmer gave me a fossil seashell found in nearby fields. When I awoke, I felt called to place the shell in the calabash, and later added small pink shells from Great Bay, Jamaica.
This material-spiritual assemblage represents a (or re-gathering), from Xaragua to Xamaica, commemorating not only the Middle Passage, but also those undocumented migrants and forced deportees who traverse Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and those who continue to be lost today when boats carrying refugees from Haiti sink beneath the seas. Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous spiritual practices reanimate the ancestral meanings of specific places, names and invisible powers. The nested round forms of the calabash, the seashells, and the islands themselves, recreate what Caribbean poet Kamau Brathwaite called “the subterranean unity” of these “terraqueous archipelagoes”.
In my book Island Futures: Caribbean Survival in the Anthropocene, I connect the long-standing demand for slavery reparations with a new demand for climate reparations. Against slavery, colonial extraction, and indigenous genocide, this material-memory object honors the ancestors in the Hidden Ocean and hopes for rebuilding local food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture to enable these islands to avoid further forced climate migration.
Mimi Sheller is the Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy Professor of Sociology and a Graduate Faculty Member in Communication, Culture & Media at Drexel University.