Colonialism & Collective Trauma - Europe & Africa

Lab Cycle Oct 2020 - July 2021 Report

Facilitators

Visolela Namises; Muove Nyika; Kosha Joubert & Robin Alfred​

Trainees

Judy Malan, Rasada Goldblatt, Roma Long

LANGUAGE

English

Description

In this Lab we researched the collective trauma that is present in Africa and in Europe due to the historical and ongoing injustices of colonialism. Europe and Africa are large continents, comprising many and varied countries, so we will explore these questions through the specific perspectives and experiences that participants bring. We started out with a group of 45 participants and completed with 29 participants. We met for 11 group sessions from October 2020 – June 2021 and triads were formed after our fourth session.

We explored the following questions:

  • What constitutes the historical background to colonialism?
  • How does the trauma of colonialism influence our identities and the process of ‘othering’ e.g. between Africans, Europeans, people of African descent living in Europe and people of European descent living in Africa?
  • How does the trauma of colonialism influence the development of our worldviews and shape the current relationships between and within African and European countries?
  • How does our use of language reflect and reinforce the consequences of this trauma?
  • How does the trauma of colonialism show itself through us in times of crisis (e.g. Covid-19, climate emergencies)?
  • Can we collectively create a coherent we-space and a process of witnessing that leads to an acknowledgement, integration and eventual healing of this trauma?

Stages of our process as a group:

1. Synchronising & Resourcing
Complexity and diversity were key characteristics of our group as a whole, including the facilitation team. We consisted of black Africans, white ‘Africans’, Africans with mixed ancestry, Africans with Indian roots, white Europeans living in Africa, white ‘Africans’ living in Europe, black Africans living in Europe, white Europeans, Europeans with mixed ancestry (including diasporic African roots) and African Americans. The exploration of what would be needed to build coherence and safety amongst all of us sat at the heart of our journey throughout this process. Especially participants from communities of colour met in affinity groups. We recognized the rawness of the collective trauma of colonialism in terms of ongoing neocolonialism, systemic injustice and the lack of restoration and healing. It was a technological challenge for some of our African participants to be present in our sessions, an expression of the ongoing digital divide. Also, it was pointed out and acknowledged that the Pocket Project itself and the lab process were born from a European field. Our African facilitators needed to step forward into a more central role of holding and did so with grace, wisdom and strength. Word cloud of closing chat statements after the 1st meeting.
2. Meeting the Collective Trauma Landscape
We gathered historic facts to help us relate to the landscape of the collective trauma around colonialism and touched on in comprehensible levels of inhumane behaviour on the side of the European colonial forces, and overwhelm, numbness and fragmentation in our own nervous systems, individually and as a group. Being together as descendants of perpetrators and victims felt unbearable at times and some of our participants decided that it was overwhelming and left. Large chunks of history were missing in our first version of the timeline: the depth of African history going back to the birth of humanity, the resistance and courageous uprisings of Africans against colonialist powers, the powerful circularity and wisdom of African cultures, to name but a few. We practiced connecting to the atmosphere of the collective field ‘through’ the facts nonetheless, and it shook us, individually and as a group. We offered triads according to ‘black’, ‘white’ and ‘mixed’ bodies for a few sessions, in order to support authentic sharing, while at the same time meeting our discomfort around these classifications.
3. Exploring Individual & Collective Conditioning
Reading the timeline led to a strong and necessary expression of some voices (predominantly black bodies), and an increased silence of others (predominantly white bodies). A stream of communication in our WhatsApp group emerged, some critical, some informative, some very naked and vulnerable - leading to a slowly rising sense of more co-ownership and safety in the group as a whole. We began to hear voices from a variety of backgrounds. We started to bring a focus on celebrating African dignity, African values, the beauty of African nature and the power of African music. An amazing poem was collated from all of our contributions in the chat by a participant from Rwanda. We explored what was being touched on in each of us personally, and how this relates to our experiences in our families and our societies. We deepened our capacity to stay present to one another during moments of in.
4. Listening to Ancestral Roots & Voices from the Field
As we explored how our roots reach back through previous generations into the historic wounds, we recognized that the connection to the ancestors is very much alive in African cultures in a way it is not in Europe. Visolela Namises and Mugove Nyika led us to deeper places of relatedness. Some of our African participants intimately experience the flow of qualities, strength and wisdom that are passed on from one generation to the next. We worked through the body, with music, art, dance, ritual, prayer and accessed ancestral layers of trauma, but also of resilience and strength. For some of our European participants this was the first time to energetically and consciously connect to their ancestry. Some Europeans experienced a crippling guilt and we explored what it might mean for us not to be responsible for the deeds of our ancestors, but, instead, for the effects that their deeds still have in us, in our lives, our relationships and in the world today. And to open up to the relatedness and the light that streams through our ancestry. Some received the message that it is time to put down the heaviness of the burden that we are carrying and, in acknowledgement and humility, pick up our creativity and strength for healing and transformation.
5. Integrating & Restoring
During this phase of our lab, the German government agreed to pay Namibia €1.1bn as it officially recognised the Herero-Nama genocide that took place during the first decade of the 20th century. Angela Merkel’s government spoke of a gesture of reconciliation, but was careful not to pave the way for legally binding reparations. The gesture was received with mixed feelings by the various groups in Namibia, and can only constitute a small step in the actual restoration of relationships. This was a poignant event for the lab, as we had a strong representation both from Namibia and from Germany in our group.
6. Transforming & Meta-learning
As we arrive at the end of our first lab cycle, we feel that in many ways, we are just beginning. A third spike of COVID is hitting Southern African countries. Visolela lost both her brother and sister within the week of our last lab session. The ongoing systemic injustice between Africa and Europe becomes apparent again through the global distribution of vaccines and health care access. Within our lab, we have taken meaningful steps towards acknowledgement and relatedness. Many of our participants spoke of a strong shift, a deeper embracing of African and European realities within and without, and of gratitude. For some with mixed heritage, more ownership of the different parts within themselves became possible, and a sense of connectedness and unification where there was fragmentation before. We experienced the depth, all-pervasive and ongoing nature of the trauma of colonialism, but also our willingness to engage in conversations and be with intense feelings. The pain of the past begins to resolve through authentic connection, witnessing and acknowledgement. 
Previous
Next

Moments of Challenge

  • Acknowledging the vastness of the territory that we entered
  • The ongoing realities of the digital divide between Africa and Europe, so that access to our zoom sessions was too challenging for some
  • Experiencing the painful struggles of discomfort in diversity, and amongst both ‘perpetrators’ and ‘victims’ of atrocities
  • Seeing the need for both personal healing and collective trauma integration. Both seem to intertwine, but there is more to learn about how to actively engage in both in these lab journeys.
  • Grappling with the question whether we are, in fact, recreating neo-colonial structures in this lab. We shifted from a more Western framing and “this is how we do it in Thomas’ field”, (e.g. silent attunements) to a more African way of being. From our African facilitators: “The fact that the Pocket Project created a space with the intention to look at this issue, an openness about being influenced by their own European background and the wish to learn from and collaborate with the African perspectives, made it a process that does not qualify to be described as a neo-colonialist. Neo-colonialism has to do with power over, the lab process expressed a process of power with, and the intention to unify and heal.”

MOMENTS OF GRACE

  • WhatsApp allowing for people with digital challenges to participate more fully and for challenging information to be shared
  • The beauty and grace of dancing to music together and feeling the rhythm in our bodies as a mode of coherence and joy in the group
  • Sensing into the extent of history of subjugation between human tribes and cultures, including the Roman Empire colonising the rest of Europe, and allowing for the depth of pain and grief in all of us
  • The depth and grace of ancestry as manifested in particular through Visolela’s sharing, but accessed by many
  • Authentic connection, witnessing and acknowledgement in triads and in the whole group with an increasing compassion for the sharings of all participants
  • Experiences of synchronicities
  • Pulling together of our group when individuals faced challenges

INSIGHTS

  • Gaining humility in terms of what was ready to be integrated and what was not. Not seeing success as completion.
  • Learning to sit with dissonance.
  • Triads as a source of relatedness, release and integration for participants
  • Differences between African and European societies, from the digital divide, the strength of connection to the land, to the relatedness within the extended family system and ancestry. When we work with diversity we need to deeply acknowledge the contrasting contexts in which people live.
  • We went through a rich and dynamic journey together. We could only plan so much, but the actual process was dictating what needed to happen next. The facilitation needed to be responsive to what was emerging and unfolding.
  • We celebrate where we have reached, and know that the process is still unfolding and we need to continue with the journey. We need much more of this work – it is long term. In Canada, they found mass graves of indigenous children. Colonialism is not in the past, it is very much alive in the moment.

Our lab team

Visolela Namises

Visolela Rosa Namises

Advisory Board member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) and former member of the Namibian Parliament from 1999-2005 and again from 2010-12, lives in Windhoek. Visolela spent time in solitary confinement under Apartheid and spoke up against the torture of South West African People Organisation (SWAPO) members in exile through founding ‘Breaking the Wall of Silence’ (BWS), an organisation for former SWAPO detainees. She is known as a social, gender equality and human rights activist. Visolela also founded ‘Women’s Solidarity Namibia’ in 1989 and is its current director. Visolela is a wisdom keeper of the traditional and herbal medicine of her Damara Culture. She is a graduate of the 2017-18 Pocket Project Training.

 

Read more
Walter Mugove Nyika

Walter Mugove Nyika

Walter is a community development facilitator focused on building resilience and food sovereignty in African communities. His mission is to use life skills, land use design skills and passion for the environment to listen, encourage and share with everyone, especially children to be empowered to look after themselves and the environment for the common good. Over the last twenty years he has played a central role in developing the integrated land-use design (ILUD) process as a tool for green school design and the establishment of school food forests. He is an Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) facilitator and member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) Africa Advisory Council. The focus of his work is based on valuing the young people as the custodians of the future and helping them to participate in building resilient communities.

 

Read more
robin (1)

Robin Alfred

is an organisational consultant, facilitator, trainer and executive coach – and a Senior Programme Director for Olivier Mythodrama. Robin worked in criminal justice in London, before moving to the Findhorn ecovillage in Scotland in 1995 where he founded Open Circle Consultancy. He has extensive experience of leading and developing groups and individuals across all sectors – corporate, public, and third sector. His facilitation work is designed to cultivate the self-organizing principle in groups and individuals and to support the emergence of transformational fields. Robin is a registered facilitator for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Robin has been studying with Thomas Hübl for the past 12 years. He has served as a host and mentor for almost all of Thomas Hübl’s online courses, co-moderated two of the Celebrate Life Festivals and was a co-host of the 2019 and 2020 Online Summit on Collective Trauma.

Read more
Kosha Anja Joubert

Kosha Anja Joubert

serves as CEO of the Pocket Project. She holds an MSc in Organisational Development, is an international facilitator, author, coach and consultant, and has worked extensively in the fields of sustainable development, curriculum development and intercultural collaboration. Kosha grew up in South Africa under Apartheid and has been dedicated to the healing of divides and collective trauma ever since. She has been learning with Thomas Hübl for 15 years. She has served as a host and mentor for almost all of Thomas Hübl’s online courses, co-moderated two of the Celebrate Life Festivals and was a co-host of the 2019 and 2020 Online Summit on Collective Trauma.

Read more