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
2. Meeting the Collective Trauma Landscape
3. Exploring Individual & Collective Conditioning
4. Listening to Ancestral Roots & Voices from the Field
5. Integrating & Restoring
6. Transforming & Meta-learning
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.
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 & 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.