Colonialism & Collective Trauma - Europe & Africa

Lab Cycle Oct 2020 - July 2021 Report


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


Judy Malan, Rasada Goldblatt, Roma Long




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 brought to the Lab.

We started out with a group of 45 participants and completed with 29 participants. We met for 11 group sessions between 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, which is itself a manifestation of colonialism. 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.

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 incomprehensible 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 with the realization that neo colonialism continues to this day. 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 the discomfort of some participants around these classifications.

3. Exploring Individual & Collective Conditioning
Reading the timeline led to a strong and necessary expression of some voices (predominantly those of black bodied people), and an increased silence of others (predominantly those of white bodied people). A stream of communication in our WhatsApp group emerged and continued throughout the Lab. While some of the posts were critical, the vast majority were informative, 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. A beautiful poem was collated from all of our contributions in the chat by a young participant from Rwanda. We explored what was being touched in each of us personally, and how this related to our experiences in our families and our societies. We deepened our capacity to stay present to one another during moments of intensity.

4. Listening to Ancestral Roots & Voices from the Field
As we examined 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 that it is not in Europe. Visolela Namises and Mugove Nyika led us to deeper places of relatedness. Some of our African participants intimately experienced 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 to be responsible not 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 and resourcing 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. This 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 and paved the way for a deep reflection on the difference between paying reparations and true restoration, which includes an ethical dimension.

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. It cannot be stated too often that a Lab such as this takes place within the context of the daily experience of ongoing trauma for many African participants. As such, even finding the time to attend and contribute can be a huge challenge. Within our Lab, we hope 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 within ourselves and in each other. The pain of the past begins to resolve through authentic connection, witnessing and acknowledgement.
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Moments of Challenge

  • Acknowledging the almost unfathomable vastness of the territory that we entered, which sometimes manifested as a lack of clarity of intention: Can we really be here to heal the trauma of European Colonialism in Africa?  Are we here to celebrate the strength and vitality of African culture and the power of resistance?  Or to mourn and grieve the pain of colonialism? Or all of this? The topic is so vast, deep and pervasive that a primary challenge was to know where to focus and what is achievable. 
  • The ongoing realities of the digital divide between Africa and Europe, so that access to our zoom sessions and the Google Drive was too challenging for some African participants.
  • 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. While some participants strongly challenged the initial white western framing (in both this Lab and a parallel online training in collective trauma healing led by Thomas Hübl), our African facilitators write: “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 neo-colonialist. Neo-colonialism has to do with ‘power over’; the Lab process expressed a process of ‘power with’, and the intention to unify, heal and transform.”  Nevertheless, the challenges set out by the Facilitation team resulted in a shift in awareness and practice within the Lab process.
  • Grappling with the tensions of working with circles within circles by creating smaller constellations for people with shared identities without losing the coherence of the larger circle.


  • 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 & Capacities developed

  • 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. 
  • Experiencing triads as a source of relatedness, release and integration for participants.
  • Living the 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.  
  • Going 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. 
  • Celebrating  where we have reached, and knowing that the process is still unfolding and we need to continue the journey. We need much more of this work – it is very long term. In Canada, mass graves of indigenous children have recently been discovered. Colonialism is not in the past. It is very much alive in the present. 

Our Lab Team

Visolela Namises

Visolela Rosa Namises

Walter Mugove Nyika

Walter Mugove Nyika

robin (1)

Robin Alfred

kosha - circle headshot

Kosha Anja Joubert

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